July 17th, 2014
I live in an elder care facility. Atria, In Daly City. At 73, I’m among the younger people, but I’ve really gotten to enjoy my mates. The meals are delicious and the company, though quite old, is fascinating.
Yesterday morning, my friend Dorothy wrenched herself out of her seat and, after a few tense minutes, was on her feet. Her walker is big and hard to manage, but she was soon on her way. I asked her friend, Kelly, what she thought Dorothy was up to. “Aw, she’s just got a wild interior and I’m pretty sure she’s off to relleve herself. Number two is probably what it is. I done told her to see the doctor, but she does pretty damn well what she wants to do in the moment.”
After ten minutes, Kelly was wondering what was taking Dorothy, so I wheeled out of the dining room to see what the problem was. I pulled up to the bathroom door and asked, “You okay Dorothy?”
“That you, Fred?”
“Yeah. D’you need help?”
I had my ear on the door by then. “I sure do.”
I heard banging around inside the little room. “Can you open the door and get out.”
No answer, just more thumping.
I hollered over to the pill dispensary and asked someone to call the people who attend to these matters. No response,
I rolled into their workroom and said, “C’mon people, Dorothy’s trapped inside.” It took a few seconds, then a woman picked up the phone. She didn’t really seem in much of a rush, but she got hold of somebody. I went back into the dining room and took my seat.
Another ten minutes — no Dorothy. I hollered down the hallway. Nobody reacted. Pretty soon a couple eighty-year olds chimed in with me, and the pharmacy worker pulled out her phone and called again.
“Just a minute. I got through to them.” But the just a minute meant nothing. Nobody showed. I tapped on Dorothy’s door and said I’d get somebody in there if I had to pull a gun on them. That comment rattled a cage and a woman came over. I explained the situation, “Incontinent woman stuck in the john.” She went down the hallway, making an effort to help out. I guess she made the difference because in a couple minutes I saw a couple men in blue work clothes heading our way. The were able to unlock the door and squeeze their way in. I went back to the table to let Kelly know the good news. We waited and waited. I went back and the workmen were handing in some clean and dry garments for Dorothy to put on.
I went into the neighboring restroom to relieve myself. After ten seconds, just as I dropped my pants, the lights went out. I waited. This happened from time to time. I knew they’d snap on in a couple seconds. But they didn’t. After a minute of total darkness I began exploring the room. I leaned down to see if I could find a keyhole, but no luck. I was about to start yelling for help myself. I stood up suddenly and crashed my head into the paper dispenser. It didn’t quite knock me out, but it left me pretty loopy. By the time I stood up, the lights came back on. Miserable fucking timing was all I could think. Eventually I was through in there and let myself out. By that time Dorothy and her crew were gone.
I settled back at the table with Kelly and told her the whole story. She laughed and suggested I needed a drink. She was so right. I slumped in my chair and thought about a drink until I sat up and rubbed my head until the idea of a drink left my sore little brain.
May 8th, 2014
It’s 11 a.m. I’ve been up since long before dawn, wondering what in the hell to do with all the time I’ve got on my hands. It occurred to me I might write a blog piece. Blogging’s been my intent from the beginning of the stay. Write something every 2 or 3 days, I said to myself, then I realized that would require a good bit of sitting up. Well, I’m in writing posture now, so here goes:
A couple days ago, my friend and roommate, Jim, had his son in. I can’t remember his name, but the boy is 50 and has a powerful build and a friendly way. The kind of guy it’s easy to like. His dad is in his 80s. He’s feeble, and moves his walker about as though it’s a probe — which, I noticed at 4 am this morning. He was up and trying to find the door to the room, but something kept striking the bottom of my bed. His walker. I put him on track and he made his way out. But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the father, who is now rail thin, is a model for the son. Genetics, it ain’t all that predictable.
Later, I began a conversation about sports and athletics in general. I learned that Jim and his son were both pitchers in high school. Jim was a motorcycle rider. too, and a surfer, water skier, soccer player. Even an Olympic hopeful as a snow-skier. Not making the Olympics turned out to be nothing of a disappointment to him. It led to a job as a bartender. Olympic bartending gives you little in the way of bragging rights, but you have time to chat with all the women –in a very pleasant setting. Although I’ve known him only a couple weeks, we consider each other friends. (Jim checked in just now and found out I was writing about him. I read him what I had and he added only, “One thing that’s nice about a walker is you don’t have to carry a heavy backpack.” Got that.)
The remainder of the morning I spent watching TV. It struck me that TVs have finally reached a size that works with those old rooms that were built for the business gatherings of the 40s. Pretty damned big, but not airplane hangar size like today’s. Those of you who are military thinkers might call this one the ‘Day Room’. One of our cartoon characters is Jack — a long retired military man — who struts about as if he owns the place. (Strutting may be the wrong word for his locomotion. He moves at about 1/50th of strutting speed). Jack’s a bit of a pain, but I will spare you the particulars.
The day moves on, as days do. My friend Per just called from the city. We don’t talk all that often, but one thing got my interest this time; his grandson’s getting married and, presumably, will be pumping out great-grandchildren in a few moments. It’s interesting that that was the subject of my last night’s dream, generations and generations and generations of people. The setting was a soon-to-be overpopulated south sea island, presumably in the Philippines. (I believe my mental software selected the Philippines because the workers here at St Francis Assisted Living Center are all Philippinos). Anyhow, the island was jammed so I set out by canoe to look for islands I might direct the newborns to. Every place I came near was playing pop music on loud radios. Those islands wouldn’t do. Finally, I came to one featuring classical music — Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto. The pianist was on a stump, I would imagine from the island’s largest tree. The orchestra was assembled also, on stumps. But there were no trees. The few buildings were wooden, constructed from former trees. I listened for a long, long time, believing there was a message for me in the music. There wasn’t.
2:52 pm. I’m heavily pissed at the moment, watching the movie, “Beethoven” — about a St Bernard who bears the composer’s name. He’s on the verge of being put down by a vicious bureaucrat behind a tabletop loaded with pet-killing drugs. The good guy’s 9 year-old son takes the wheel of the family car and rams it through the heavy garage doors. Next thing you know the bad guy’s falling on his ass, his chest full of needles. Pandemonium. I want to cheer, but before I can, one of our own bureaucrats has flipped the switch to channel 40. Bahhh. Cars racing on a dirt track.
3:25 pm. Johnny Greaves is the champion. His right rear tire is shredded. His fender blown away in the wind. That’s right. These drivers have to contend with wicked crosswinds. Certainly the case today. I didn’t know anything about dirt track racing until now — 72 years old. If Floro hadn’t changed the channel, I’d know only what I already knew: Beethoven survives. I figured that out when I watched this damn movie three years ago. Thanks, Floro.
It’s getting near dinnertime. We eat at 8 am, 11 am, and 4 pm. That’s when they hand out our drugs, too. In my case I get my 5mg oxycodone, a necessity. Yeah, serious upper back and neck pain. But there’s been a drug mixup of late. A month’s worth of my oxy is missing and if we don’t get it figured out in a couple days I’ll be without. Now I don’t want you guys mailing me your pain pills. That’ll just get us all in deep doo doo. I don’t know what you can do. Maybe prayer is your thing. Goddam it, Jack the oldest guy in this place is at my door, giving me an “I can help you” look. He can’t. Go away. Jack.
Go away, Jack.
Go away, Jack.
I’m burping up a strange mixture of noodles, beef or ham, carrots, tropical veffies (that last was a typo that I thought you might enjoy solving), and a very gently flavored baby’s broth with nicotine overtones. I’m sitting straight up in a comfortable new chair (new to me) with a thick yarn throw. It’s 5:47 and I’m wondering if this bubbling mess in my stomach is going to settle, or find its way onto the lovely furniture before the Giants game comes on in one hour and thirteen minutes.
Go away, Jack.
May 3rd, 2014
On the wall over my lunchroom seat is a carefully framed picture of praying hands with the plea “Father in heaven hear my prayer.” Grandchildren of both workers and inmates race in and out and under dining tables making a great deal of noise. Hearing any prayer is unlikely until dinner is over. Then the TVs up and down the long hallway click on. Talk shows and sports — lots of sports.
This is St Francis Assisted Living. At 72 I may need an assist every so often, but to live in a place like this requires a radical adjustment of my sense of self. First off, I am the youngest of 22 presently in the care of St Francis. I was counting my marbles this morning and after nearly an hour of tallying I came up with 32. What kind of nonsense is this? I can’t possibly explain the rules I made up, but I simply knew I had to have a way to check my wits. Is this any nuttier than a ten point questionnaire that supposedly determines my fitness to own and raise a bull mastiff? Okay, I scored 32 on a scale I made up on the fly in a hot room at ten o’clock in the morning. This is a week dedicated to stupidity. Nothing is supposed to make sense.
In the bathroom across the hall. two strong young Phillippino men are yanking on a toilet seat they seem unable to unseat. A more sensible way would be to get a large screwdriver and a wrench. But what makes me think they haven’t tried that? I’ll tell you exactly what, it’s the way they pronounce “accurate”. Over and over, they both said “ahh-cyu-ahht.” Surely I can’t overlook a mistake of that amplitude then look myself in the mirror. Well, I could, but I wouldn’t want to. Oops, there goes the toilet seat. They pulled it out without a scratch. But you should see the way they high-five. Certainly not the way you’d teach your children to high five. And isn’t that just a little bit braggy? Being a fair-minded man, I have to ask myself what exactly is high-fiveable. I honestly haven’t created a set of rules for that yet.
The sun will soon go down and I will have spent another unproductive week in my new Santa Rosa digs. Rereading what I have written tells me I have been terribly hard — nay unfair — on myself. Dammit, tomorrow I will lighten up. Promise.
March 26th, 2014
Don’t know why, but hunger usually strikes me when I’m eastbound. On the One California I realized I that if I waited til I reached Noah’s on Fillmore it might well have closed down it’s food line by 4 o’clock — and it was 3:56 now. I hopped off at the corner where the Italian fast food joint waited. Ah, it was empty. Seconds later I saw the sign on the door, “closed until four.” No signs of life. I had to cross Locust and find food quick. I checked in Cal-Mart. It was clean and busy. In the back there were the workers I remembered from the last time I’d shopped here. A few aproned visitors from south America and China. I took a just-built sandwich from the top of the shining counter, grabbed a combination coconut juice and chocolate flavored-water drink, then crutched it to the checkout line.
I’d shopped here in 2007, the last year I had my right leg. This year it was a whole new experience. The cramped turns and doglegs from start to finish were agonizing. I got as far as the yogurt-free peanuts and was funneled into foot-long narrow corridor. There was no getting both crutches through, so I passed one of them over a waist-high rotor which had no apparent function other than to slow the progress of shoppers. I side-hopped a few baby steps until I’d covered sufficient ground to reach another section of the counter which had been constructed, I don’t know, to confuse engineering design majors at SF State. Eventually, I made it.
I stepped into the late afternoon sunshine. The fixtures were simple and dull — round tables on welded armatures. On each, a round seat sprouted. The loose round cup-tops on the concrete plaza hinted to me that even the litter fit into the plan. I pulled my sandwich from the bag and put everything on top of it — napkins, a smaller bag which carried the coconut juice/chocolate water combo, and a plastic knife and fork. I was eager and tore the stretchy peel only to the extent that translucent fluid now covered my fingers. I had all the other papers in place just as the first blast of wind came through. I snatched up a nearby bottle and placed it on top of the collection of “blowables” on the tabletop. Then I smelled trouble. Literally. The vinegar and oil constituents of the fluid sandwich dressing. I’d lost control of the elements — three kinds of paper (bag, sandwich wrap, napkin), along with tape, plastic wrap, and salt and pepper micro-bags. I’d better take a bite before things get bad, I thought. And indeed, the sandwich was incredibly delicious. But it was the only enjoyable moment in the entire exercise.
Ten minutes later, my arms and sweatshirt covered with grease, after several mouthfuls of food, I was trying to reverse the results of too many quick mouths full. I was standing (to the best of my ability), stretching my frame into a reverse “c” shape and hoping the most recent and desperate mouthful, would reverse course and come up and out. It would not.
I will not further gross you out other than to say the ugly remains of the whole mess are on the soggy bag which, I hope, has been picked up by a store employee or a team of pigeons.
March 21st, 2014
A sudden burst of laughter. “What’s so funny?” I ask. “Terri Gross.” Renee says, then continues, “No, she’s not funny. What’s funny is she looks exactly like she sounds.” I quickly agree. “Little boy haircut, sweet grin, and ever so slightly protruding chin (that last one might just be the light — and what’s the chin got to do with how a woman sounds, anyway?) ” Okay, this I have to investigate. I swirl my lifted finger and Renee turns her computer around to show me. Damn, she’s right.
Now, is this phenomenon simply planting something in my brain but I can’t find a way to plausibly deny it? What we could do to test it is to find ten thousand people who’ve never heard of Terri Gross, then build a town for them to live in, Grossgone, where they will never come in contact with Terri Gross. Next we come up with 500 Terri Gross shows simply by taking advantage of the best talents in voice re-creation. Over the next couple years we play these shows for the Gross-deprived — all the while making sure none of Grossgone’s villagers ever see Terri’s picture. After having played all these shows we post her picture on the town’s twenty best billboard sites.
Will we hear choruses of surprised laughter as I did this afternoon? I hope so. I don’t like to have my nutty experiments suck the big asparagus spear.
March 19th, 2014
All right friends, I’m back. After working on this piece for about an hour and a half, I lost it. The good Fred says, “I hope you believe me.” The bad Fred says, “Believe what you want.” The totally childish, bedwetting, toddler Fred says, “Put your baby spoon where…
March 17th, 2014
We were not a polite family. I thank my parents (and older sister) for allowing me to jump on the relatives’ loveseat (shoes on). If Aunt Dina didn’t have the brass to to slap my scrawny butt, then, as I would say to my cousins, tough tittie. I now feel sorry for Uncle Ellis because during the years he and I worked as salesmen for my dad, he would often correct me (in front of my father) for what I considered imaginary slights. “You did not signal to let those women know you were turning left, Fred.” I’d go heavy on the attitude, “Sorrrry, Ellis.” Later, when he told the story to my dad, I jumped in, “I was turning left out of the DRIVEway.” I didn’t often make my dad laugh, but that did.
Fifteen years ago I took my son, Max, to a party. At the time, he was nine, and I recognized the nine-year-old smartass in him while he was trying to lure a small boy into pushing a half-full cocktail glass off a table top. The boy, standing across the table on a stool, could barely reach it. He’d lean and stretch out, inching it closer and closer to its shattering doom. Then he would stop. After that he’d smile at the boy — an alluring “you can do it” and the boy, now a partner in big-boy crime, would stretch even further and push it, impossibly, another quarter inch toward the edge. The little boy, now rapturous, was fully on the table when a man slapped his hand over the child’s. The ice cubes chattered. Then all progress stopped. The man reset the cocktail glass where it belonged, hauled the boy aloft by his teensy wrist, gave my son a dark look, and marched out of the room with the now crying toddler hanging by a wing. I only then realized he was the man’s son. Who was the bad guy in all of this? My son? Me?
The cocktail glass doesn’t fall very far from the father.
I’m quite sure I can dig up plenty of examples similar to this. Frankly, I find rude behavior fun. I don’t believe I have ever — as a grown up, at least — been unable to distinguish rude behavior from criminal behavior. In the example just given, I wanted to see how the children (little boy and my son) would react when the thick, heavy glass shattered on the brick floor. Both kids were shod, no pets were lurking, my military life-saving credentials were still in date. Adults wore jeans — no high heel shoes were in attendance. All was good.
Let me counterpose my rude witnessing of Boy with Cocktail Glass with Andrew L’s behavior when he encouraged his wife, Dolly, to dress to the nines. He hectored her. Told her she would meet some very important people — folks who could make her career as a freelance newspaper writer take off. He sent her to an NWA meeting in Ferndale, Michigan. Andrew published a small newspaper for his company and told Dolly to cover this upcoming story. When she arrived at the designated hotel room, there was only an NWA note posted on the door telling her the meeting had been rescheduled at another hotel somewhere in Detroit. She drove around for a long afternoon before it sunk in that there was no hotel in that part of Detroit. Hadn’t been for years. As the sun was setting over 8 Mile Road, she called her dear new husband. Only then did she ask what NWA meant. Hubby laughed hard and long. “NWA stands for Niggers With Attitude.” Great joke, huh? Evidently she shared her husband’s racist attitudes, and his sense of humor, too. Last I heard they were still married, and when I last talked to her on the phone, she spoke elegantly and with delicate politesse about her silly hubby. It was a rude joke between spouses and it did not endanger anybody’s life.
I’m not a fan of this style of levity, and I never would have personally indulged in a joke like Andrew’s. But when, in the company of partygoers, I happened to laugh a tired laugh, a nearby couple Xed me off their friendship list. And they made sure everybody knew it. I didn’t bother to explain I thought the gag was stupid. Ah, the Politeness Patrol.
If, in the company of ignoramuses, I seem to be amused, I’ve just been having a bad day. All I need is a nice back rub.
January 20th, 2014
(Nine months ago I wrote about my fear — some 25 years earlier — that my son would be born on Hitler’s Birthday. I’m reprinting that article now because I am unable to figure out how to link another persons’ video to my blog, thus publishing the article I had already begun writing. I need two things, 1 — your indulgence in my recent republishings and, 2 — any first-rate memory (i.e. magical thinking) treatment you might recommend. Thank you. FW)
Today Adolf Hitler is 124 years old. Of course, this is not difficult for me to remember. It’s a day that loomed worrisome in the second and third weeks of April, 1989. My son’s mom, Katie, was out to here (I am making like a very pregnant woman while sitting at my keyboard). Like most fathers-to-be who were Third Reich history fanatics at that time, I was worried my son would pop out on April 20th — Hitler’s 100th birthday.
I’ve never thought of myself as superstitious, but it’s pretty damn superstitious to worry that my son would grow up to be an a) Evil, b) Mass, and c) Killer just because he shares a birthday with someone having those character defects. That’s the problem with living on a planet that circles the sun once every 365 days, 36,500 days later is a big-ass anniversary called a centennial, and this fact invites magical thinking.
Whenever I see a digital clock that reads 12:34, I quietly rejoice. I don’t know why, but once I came before a digital clock on a bank that read out all the way to the seconds. I waited about four minutes for it to read 12:34.56. It made me feel especially good — partly because it was raining.
Hitler was known to be a superstitious man. If a new Hitler comes along and he happens to be born on my son’s birthday, he won’t have much villainy to look forward to, because my son is a good boy.
On a non-superstitious level, I once shaved my mustache in the Hitler fashion. But this was in my twenties, I wore it for only ten minutes, and my head and facial hair was a rich chestnut color.
Enough about Hitler. Katie gave birth to our son, Max, on April 17, 1989. I breathed a sigh of relief. A few days later, when we all felt he was up for it, his doctor strapped him onto the Olympic Circumstraint, and I held it, and him, in place while she removed his foreskin. I’m certain Hitler never got that treatment!
January 17th, 2014
(I did not cry during “August, Osage County,” and a close inspection of my seatmates showed me to be in the majority. Still, a few tears were somehow jerked. Compare the habits of five years ago.)
The title character in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is born a hideous old man. We soon learn he is aging backwards, and in the course of two hours and forty-five minutes we are treated to about ten stages of his life in reverse.
I won’t tell you more than I have to about his story, only that the movie is sentimental (not mawkish). I hesitate to call it a tearjerker, but the fact is it jerked three of my tears.
When I cry in a movie, I try (a) to hide it, and (b) to see who else is crying. My first tear came when Benjamin left home at about seventeen (having been born in his late eighties, he appeared to be seventy at this time).
I had a knuckle up to the corner of my right eye. My friend Mike was sitting to my left, but exhibited no signs of crying (although he told me later this scene brought a tear). Two open seats to my right was a woman. A rivulet ran down her left cheek.
Benjamin’s (Brad Pitt) love interest was a young girl named Daisy. He met her when she was twelve and he appeared to be eighty. But there was a spark, and it was clear that the age of mutual desire and consent would mesh nicely after a few more scenes. Before long, the director dispensed with the child actor and replaced her with Cate Blanchett (as a young ballerina). There was a heart-breaking shot of her in tights. Simply put, her ass was so lovely it made me cry.
The woman to my right was not crying.
Okay, now I’ve cried twice, and the movie isn’t half over. But because of the way I was sitting in my seat, and the woman’s obliviousness to my spying — or her disinterest — I could see she was crying at quite a few things. For the sake of the scientific paper you’re reading, I wish I had committed them to memory.
I didn’t cry again until Benjamin met his father. Although it was a wonderful scene, that’s not what made me cry. It was the gorgeous postwar Packard the man was driving. That big fat vertical front end — it’s what the Beemer was always trying to be but never accomplished.
After that, my tears were done. But I was in a good position to see the eye-daubings of quite a few people. Men and women. I think it would be nice to have a camera or two pointed at the audience from above the screen so this matter could be given a bit more study because I was torn — make mental notes or enjoy the movie. I decided to enjoy the movie.
But when Benjamin died as an infant in the now elderly Daisy’s arms, the woman to my right, and her woman friend to her right, were weeping. I got nothing out of the scene. It just wasn’t that affecting.
As you can see from the above Venn diagram, I take my analyses seriously. My weeping habits, and those of my female neighbor, met only at Leaving Home. I’m not ready to make the sweeping assertion that all men and all women will react to this movie as we did. But I am willing to make the generalization.
There is a difference. I have a Venn diagram somewhere that proves it.
January 12th, 2014
I step onto the top step of my ten-step stairway, lose my footing, then my grip is pried loose from the handrail. After that it’s three somersaulting seconds of pain. I still play the video in my mind a few times a day. It’s not enjoyable, but it is impossible to shut off. There’s no volume, and my crutches take flight, I believe, in slow motion. Already a few sets of eyes follow as I bounce into new territory. The three fellows who live upstairs from me are witnesses, along with Alexis, the art dealer who used to sell my paintings. I think of myself as a colorist, but there is no color in the scene. Just movement and shimmering reflections from the parked cars at noontime.
This took place two weeks ago, today. I spent four hours in emergency, had many bone photos taken, showing no breaks. I underwent the usual round of memory tests. I neither passed nor failed the tests, I survived them. This was good enough for the medics. I was released to my family. Then I set foot outside the hospital, ready to repeat all of the above except…
No, I will not do this shit again.
Two years ago my sister, after one of my falls, began nagging. “Get out of that apartment, Fred. Too many damn sets of stairs. Move to a less hilly part of town.” She was soon joined by my boy’s mother, and my brother-in-law. Then my brother, and my sister-in-law. Then these same basic sets of relations, only long distance, with slightly different genetic makeups. My response has always been, “Get off my case.” But this time, before anybody could stick his or her nose where it didn’t belong, I jumped in. “Get out of that apartment, Fred.” This time I listened. My son has taken my lodgings until I am ready to return. I am sleeping in his bed in his mother’s apartment. Somewhere, a cat figures into this mix. By the time I am seventy-three I will have this figured out, but that’s six months off.
In the meantime, in between time, ain’t we got fun?
December 27th, 2013
Once a week I do a horribly tiresome job. I dole out the 30+ pills I take each day of the week into a compartmentalized plastic tray — morning, noon. evening, and bedtime. It takes only about 38 & 1/2 minutes, but it seems much longer. Some pills are more difficult than others — cholecalciferol (don’t know what it’s for, only that’s it’s small and slippery, causing droppage either on the floor or, worse, in the wrong department of the tray, which makes it difficult to retrieve and place properly), gabapentin (a HUGE pill I take three times a day to combat phantom pain), and prasugrel (a blood thinner, which I wish I didn’t have to take because thin blood means they can’t operate on me. I desperately would like my left knee replaced).
At the outset of each weekly session I have the annoying sensation that I just did this job a few minutes before. This truly messes with my sense of aging because the six days, 23 hours, and 21 & 1/2 minutes of actual living that takes place between the tasks slips my mind entirely. I experience only a dull, repetitive hell wherein plays a horrifying mantra from my Christian Science upbringing, “There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter.” Christian Scientists profess to be ennobled and love-charged by such a negation of material pleasures. Well fuck them. That clump of words can only bring a sane person down.
So 7 times 4 equals 28 little plastic doors that must snap shut to avoid a massive pill spill. One of those doors, Thursday Bedtime, is faulty. The snap will not hold, so I place a rubber band around the door at its center and hope the five pills behind that door stay in place. And Sunday Noon holds too solidly. The little ledge that gives your fingernail a point of access has broken off so it takes effort and lock picking expertise to open it up. You didn’t ask for all this detail, I know. It just comes with your Bullseye Rooster subscription.
The entire kit occupies a place beside my bed — on a small, custom built table. I will explain the table to any fan of Per Madsen, the furniture maker responsible. He is a genius, and it’s only too sad that there aren’t more small table fans. The space also holds my earplugs, but they’re not custom. I had a large cup of water crowding the space, but a friend brought a good-sized dog into my room one evening. The dog started drinking the water and knocked the cup over. It happened on a Friday, so there were five days of pills. Some got wet, some didn’t. They all required inspection, though. I know germaphobes who wouldn’t touch a pill that had been possibly splashed by a dog’s tongue. The following night, though, I noticed that one of my earplugs was wet. I looked into the mirror and saw my ugh-freaky face contortion. Why would a micro-drop of dog saliva make me do that? And why, since we’re calling on the crime lab, would there not have been noticeable saliva the night before? These are the things that make me wish I had a woman in bed with me at all times.
I learned to dissect my ambien and oxycodone pills into small pieces (half, quarter, or an eighth of a tablet). I do this in order both to take microdoses when necessary, and when, if the pill creates a high, I want a good feeling to last a bit longer. I checked with a friend who uses these pills. She does the same thing. Also pills which, at first, taste wretched, taste better when you know a good feeling follows — either a high or the relief of pain.
My word count just passed 625 — 5/8ths of the word count I planned to use up tonight. With that I must sign off in order to do my 375 word midnight mantra.
December 26th, 2013
I got left behind in the world of automobiles some time ago. About ten years ago I got rid of my 1994 Ford Escort and became a bus rider. Naturally, I’ve been driven around in some nice cars, but I can’t get used to them. I keep comparing them — neither favorably nor unfavorably — to my Ford. They are just all such different species. Christmas day I rode to my brother’s in Sebastopol in a brand new Mercedes SUV. I never noticed what the model was, but that’s not because I’m inattentive. To my left was the driver’s seat, occupied by my friend and family member, Dean. Now, this seems obvious, of course — driver sits on the left in America. But it was difficult to move my gaze past the screen on the middle of the dash. Sure GPS is all run of the mill to you, but I’m slow on the uptake. I’d look at the solid blue water, the orange highway, the solid green representation of the natural world, and the arrow threading its way — moving, and yet not moving — through the maze, I’d feel the heat bleeding into my butt and back from the magic seats, and I could only think what has the automobile wrought?
My son and his sister are in back, arguing about wind noise. Just as I had thought Mercedes had ironed out all the wrinkles in its transportation machines, I find that there is a strange occurrence in the way wind wraps around a vehicle moving between 35 and 80 mph — which is to say, at all highway speeds. An annoying flutter develops and doesn’t stop until my son loses the battle with me, Dean, and Renee, and he rolls — excuse me, “buttons” — the window back up tight. A few confabs with a major aircraft manufacturer might have served Mercedes well on this problem. Maybe by 2015? While we’re on the mysteries of wind, we have just passed the house up on the bluff overlooking 101. The steel-barrel windmill house. I don’t know whether it powers anything, but it was in place, and working, when I moved here in 1975 — long before the second age of windmills began. It’s a clunky, but lovely reminder of the human mind plugging right along. If you have never seen it, wait for a windy day and look to the west side of the highway on the ride north. The rotors are made from 55-gallon steel drums, cut in half and placed on a shaft in the horizontal aspect. The bearings are old and it doesn’t spin as fast as it once did.
The arguments have settled down thanks to the discovery that the fluttering wind noise lessens when you open the roof window a crack. I’ve always enjoyed looking at the wind vectors drawn around cars in wind tunnels. The arrows pointing sleekly along the windstream except when they’re all mixed up and tied in knots — which is what they were doing a short while ago. We’re on 116, heading west now. I’ve turned the heat off in my seat and have my nose in the GPS system again. Another dozen changes of headings and we’ll be pulling into my brother’s property. Oh, there’s their coyote.. er dog, right now. I’m ready to eat.
December 22nd, 2013
A week ago I was in a very good mood (spoiler alert: I still am). I’d invited my kids to show up at the bar where the post-improv gang hangs out. Yeah, they showed. They had a great time, too. Max, now 24, had done improv seven or eight years ago with a different group that had five or six of today’s players. Renee, 18, played with a different selection of this gang. They were both damn good improvisers, but Max plays music with a band these days, and his sister is in the UCLA theater program — which I hope, at some point, will throttle her with some more improv.
We hung out, making nuisances of ourselves to the Silver Cloud’s crowd for two hours, then we (just Max, Renee, and myself) headed off to dinner. Through the insane traffic, we somehow ended up at Perry’s. As soon as we pulled into the parking garage adjacent to Perry’s we saw the list of parking charges — $2.50 for each 15 minutes. Renee quickly backed around the car pressing up behind us and soon we were free out on Union street. No way was I going to be able to enjoy a leisurely dinner with a time clock wound that tight.
We found parking on the street a couple blocks up. Good thing I had my handicapped parking pass with me. No cost to me and no danger of timing out, either. San Francisco treats cripples right. Our luck held as we walked up to the host’s stand at Perry’s. A table just broke (not the splintery kind of a break, the opening up for another group of diners — i.e. Renee, Max, and me).
We ordered. Max wanted a cocktail. An Irish Coffee, which this non-drinking alcoholic considers to be — well, let me bow out of the booze debate, I’m just glad my son is not a heavy drinker (I wish only to thank the hand my son was dealt regarding the way our bodies process alcohol).
Renee ordered a hamburger, medium rare. There is a shade of pink which can be measured on the colorimeter. Medium rare at Perry’s always comes within .006247 — that is six one thousandth of a grannum. No hamburger anywhere can match that. Juiciness and taste are consistent with the measurement, as well. Max chose a sandwich that cannot be measured yet. Pulled Pork. Oddly enough, Eskimos are the best judges of pork. There is no lexicon for pork perfection, but part of the New Years fun is the Pork Poke, in which a team of Eskimo men and women walk on an inch of hot pork, just pulled from the fire.
Pork holds heat
Better than any meat,
Be it hooved, clawed, or shod.
Pork can be gnawed
Off’n any bone, by God,
So step right up and chew
Until your forehead turns blue,
And the number of your fingers,
As you count them kinda lingers
And your eyes then just fall closed and you nod.
Needless to say, my son wants to keep going back to Perry’s for the pork. Myself, I love the Club Sandwich. I ate only half, but finished it off the next morning. I’m not a leftover kinda guy (there’s a song in that!) but oooooh, the turkey, the bacon, the tomato, the sourdough, the toothpick.
Dessert! Imagine you’ve never believed in God for all your years and a storm comes in. Your brother goes out in the yard with a loaded shotgun. He kills a rattlesnake. He kills a salamander. Then a bison charges him and he shoots, but misses. Fortunately, bison are extinct and your brother survives. The Apple Brown Betty is like that. Confusing, but deliriously satisfying. He shoots again. This time there is blood all over his shirt. But there are no dead creatures in the yard. You promise yourself to look into this God business, but you are not able to keep your promise due to the shortage of Bibles. Then you learn that the stories in the bible are just that. Stories. You can believe them if you want, but there’s no law that says you have to. You go back to your yard with a shotgun and shoot a small tree. It takes fifteen blows to cut it entirely in two. But now you know that you can win this game. And you do. Time after time, the Apple Brown Betty survives.
Put yourself in the place of the man with the shotgun. You’ve got fifteen shots. Look, the Apple Brown Betty is laughing. Is she laughing at you? At the sourdough bread? Or the colorimeter. You can never know.
That is the mystery of the colorimeter.
December 17th, 2013
Jack, who has a museum membership, took me to see the Anders Zorn exhibition at the Legion of Honor today. If I wrote “marvelous” twelve times it would take a hundred and eight keystrikes. I don’t want to do that. But marvelous, marvelous, marvelous it was. I’d never heard of this Swedish painter of the turn of the 20th century until a few weeks ago. So Jack and I agreed it was a better idea than spending the whole afternoon at Peets, and off we went. It’s funny, I hadn’t been through the Sea Cliff neighborhood in a long time. A house on a curve in a neighborhood that had an unobstructed view of the sea caught my eye. I don’t know why. Pretty soon we were in the Legion parking lot and making our way up the long ramp to the entrance.
It had been a couple years since I’d been inside the Legion. I pretty quickly realized the marble-hard floors would be a challenge for my one foot to endure for a couple hours, but I made it. There were about eight rooms dedicated to the show. In the first were the early watercolors. Nice, but we moved on quickly. Pretty soon it was clear we were in the presence of a major artist, though, when we moved into the oils. Loose, brushy surfaces. His wife was among about six models he used over and over, but there was no sense of over and over. Everything had its own stamp. One of the oils stays with me. In the last room, on the central pillar, was a large self-portrait. Fascinating to see how quickly, from his slender early years, he fattened up to look like an executive of today. He held a cigarette like a cigar. I totted the years and figured he was 55 at the time of this painting — five years before his death. If it hadn’t been for the colors, I would have guessed it was President Taft. But god, the colors. Zorn stood in the foreground of a muted gray cottage room in a wide, wide suit with wider yet lapels. His suit was a rich, gorgeous orange. You have to see this to believe how orange can work on a conservative looking gentleman. But it does. I don’t know whether it took more balls to paint a suit like this or to wear one. In any case, it was — this word again — marvelous.
We spent two hours going from room to room, back and forth, just as you surely will, if you go to see the show. As we sat on a bench, just minutes before closing, we talked with an usher who knew more about art than do most ushers in my experience. The man looked young, but it turned out he’d been working at this job for more than eighteen years. I don’t know what it is about me — nosiness? — but I asked if he was getting minimum wage. Much to my pleasure I learned the city paid these guys pretty well — although he didn’t specify a figure. We laughed for a few minutes about my willingness to stick my nose in his business and then it was time to go.
On the way home, Jack and I went back through that same Sea Cliff neighborhood. We went by the house I mentioned in the first paragraph. “That’s where Robin Williams lived in the early eighties,” Jack told me. Oh my God. I looked at that house again and it hit me. I knew what was familiar. In 1982 I ran the San Francisco marathon. On one of my training runs — running the perimeter of the city from my home in North Beach, Sea Cliff was at about mile 17. Here among the beautiful homes, lush greenery, imaginative topiary, and freshly laundered hummingbirds was that house. On that training run I realized I had to poop. It was about three in the afternoon on a warm July day. I investigated the greenery in every yard (there were no empty lots). Finally, I entered Robin William’s yard, downsloping towards the sea. In the corner of the property was a pine forest of four or five trees. I had gone in, investigated the lines of sight, and although it was far from perfect protection, I could wait no longer. I did my business. How fascinating, I thought, remembering my little dungheap — San Francisco in the eighties, when Robin Williams did his best work. And I did mine.
December 16th, 2013
The woman holds the bathroom door for me. She has to reach in and push with all her might because her foot placement does not give her upper body a strong position. “Thank you,” I say. “No problem,” she replies. Of course, it was a problem. She should be given a medal. Or I should have bought her a double espresso. Neither of which happened. Still, there are many who would fault the woman for her use of language. “No problem? That is incorrect. She should have said, ‘You’re welcome.’” I argue with my friend about this. He is a firm believer in using correct language. 88% of the people under 35 use the term “No problem” in this situation. (my stats). 10% say “You’re welcome.” 2% say “My pleasure.” But my friend, who is my age (72) insists “no problem” is incorrect.
My friend will concede that language changes. That a “living language” is a healthy part of a growing world. But these damn kids today have no respect for the English language.
I seldom quote Shakespeare in these battles simply because I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. I probably would have got him if I grew up in his time, but I would be long dead and wouldn’t have the pleasure of this particular argument. Anyhow, he used the word “fond” as an adjective to mean “foolish.” Today, does the word bring foolish to mind? But since Shakespeare is often given place by today’s correct language cops, why did he confound his playgoers by using new words — made up, usually, by him — in all his plays? Why did Zigfield zig when Zagfield just sat there? I think people change because its more fun than deepening the rut they’re in. Mrs. Schaum, in 1955, insisted that the correct past participle of the word prove was proved. As in “it has been proved.” Those of us who mistakenly said, “it has been proven,” were marked down on the quiz by Mrs Schaum. Still, there was something about proven that had, well, a more impressive sound to us. So we just kept saying it.
These kids today! They don’t give a damn about the things we hold dear. I mean, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is okay, but supercalifragilisticexpialicocksucker? Way out of line.
December 14th, 2013
One of the neighborhood twins greeted me outside my apartment tonight. She looked defeated. She’d just returned from Walgreen’s, a lengthy receipt hung from her pocket. “What’s the matter Eliizabeth?” She grinched up her face and said it was her mom. “Really?” I asked. “What do moms do to teenagers that’s so damn awful?” She tells me the whole story. In brief: She and her pal were buying toys for homeless boys. She bought Hot Wheels. Lots of them. When she got home, her mom hits the roof. No no no, that’s all wrong! That sort of thing. So Liz goes back to Walgreens and follows her mother’ directions this time. Which was to buy stuffed toys. Even me, I can see what a mistake that is. Boys in their early teens want things that make noise when you crash them. Stuffed toys, I don’t even know how to write the word for the lack of noise they make. Something like
bshhhshshh. Fogettaboudit. Anyhow, she’s got two bags of fresh and quiet toys in her arms. What’s a 13 year old girl gonna do? By the way, what’s the word for compressing your face so your nose and eyes and lips are all out of whack? Squinched up or grinched up? Okay, no more of this tough talk. I thought I could pull it off. Clearly, I was wrong.
So I was thinking about the dumb things moms do to try to make their fellows in parentage think they are miles above them in parental behavior. That’s why the stuffed toys. It’d be pretty doggone easy put an eye out on the back bumper of a ’85 Oldsmobile when it’s pulling out of a two couch cushion garage. It’s sad. That’s probably the reason girls tend to take up filter tip cigarettes when they graduate to smoking — it’s less likely to make your lungs look bad when you expire from this terrible practice.
Elizabeth and her friend wandered off downhill in the general direction of Walgreens, or it could’ve been the coffee shop that treats young teens with as much decorum as their mothers and fathers. (The shop is doing very well, by the way). Their assignment for tonight, come back with stuffed animals. And forget the rhinos and wolves. Silly bears and flightless birds — you know the ones that just waddle.
Okay, honey, you’ve got you marching orders.
December 12th, 2013
There it lay on the floor of my entryway. The man on the cover holding a sandwich aloft as though it was an Olympic torch. He was familiar looking, but so what, it wasn’t a photo, it was a painting. But a very good painting. Probably totally realistic. He was dark-skinned, probably black. But the sandwich was confusing. Was it thin round bread, or a brown wafer — the kind of thing that made you think it was an ice-cream sandwich?
Was the man Teddy Roosevelt? Something in the way he filled out his jacket. No, no single round lens — in fact no glass, or glasses, at all. If I were better at this sort of thing, I’d go upstairs — NOW before I forget — and scan the cover and…there’s this app where you can put a photo in it and it will identify the celebrity. And there’s no question, this guy is a celebrity. Damn my memory — or lack thereof. (How is it that I can recall all these words — celebrity, aloft, Roosevelt, sandwich, ice-cream sandwich — and not bring this presumably well-known African-American to mind?)
Just think about it a moment, Fred. That is not an ice-cream sandwich. What looked like an ice-cream bite under the last section of his index finger is the highlight on his thumb. And the whole shadow is chocolate simply because this is a chocolate-skinned man. More and more of these people are given prominence thanks to an increase the in efforts of fair-minded gentlemen — and
The wide part in his hair, again, tells us that no matter the hue of the printing job, this is an African-American. Only nappy hair can be divided so deliberately. Lips and mustache are another clue. He is very proud, and rightly so, if indeed he is an Olympic champion. And if he is not, he is an actor who portrays Olympic stars.
This is fun. I could run upstairs right now and scroll the news sites and figure this business out in a half-hour, but I need my memory to kick back in. I’m close on this fellow. It’s not going to start working again unless I stick to the game. I tend to give up too easily on these puzzles.
Is it Teddy Roosevelt? No, I guess I tried that. Robert Kennedy? Oh, right. Teddy Kennedy? Carl Kennedy? How does anybody keep these Kennedy’s straight. Besides, Kennedy’s skin is not pierced. And he has a sister — Clark, not Bobby.
Let’s just look it up. Bobby. Bobby Orr. American hockey player. Married to Gilda Sparkman, AKA Winnie de Clerk Mbeki, African-American novelist and gymnast, daughter of Mbobby, sister of Nelson Mandela. South African. NOT an African-American.
How did I get so mixed up? What was that thing what’s-her-name-used to say on Saturday Night Live? Yeah, you know who I mean. Long black hair. Exactly.
December 9th, 2013
Tim and I at Peet’s, early afternoon. Two very attractive women in their mid-sixties joined the dark-haired fiftyish woman sitting next to us. I looked at them for awhile, then said to Tim, sotto voce, “Do you often see sixty year old women that good-looking.” Tim said quietly, “No. They really are. “I wonder if they’re twins,” I said. “Why don’t you ask them.” Tim said. I breathed in, “Excuse me.” They didn’t hear. Then louder. “Excuse me.” They both looked at me. “Are you guys twins?” Very matter of factly, one of them said, “No.” “Uh, sisters?” I asked. “Yes, “the same woman answered. That was it. This comes across as rude, of course, but nothing in the woman’s voice was rude. But it did say, end of conversation.
It brought me back to a Starbucks give and take four years before. Two attractive dark-haired women I took to be sisters. They were dressed not as sisters, nor was their haircut similar. The only thing that said sisters was their facial characteristics. The one I took to be oldest had been doing all the talking. “Are you sisters?” I asked, my voice 95% charm. I didn’t have to repeat the question that time. “Yes we are,” said the sister, who later identified herself as Rebecca. After a few minutes of small talk, her sister, who seemed rather meek, joined the conversation. I could see she was trying to get a word in and finally, no thanks to Rebecca, she managed. “My name is Sarah.” She reached across for a handshook and I shook it. She may have had other things to say, but her sister chimed in again. All her attention directed at me. “We’re up here from L.A. I’m thinking about grad school at Dominican College. In philosophy. I don’t know why philosophy. I guess my Dad was a philosopher. I got his genes. I’ve read a book…or twelve…ha ha ha. But really, these are the books that count. Have you read Kant? No, no, now don’t tell me you couldn’t…ha ha. Seriously, though, a lot of people think Kant’s so heavy going, but you have to be in a receptive mode. Damn thing is, I don’t know how to tell you to get in a receptive mode. If you looked at it from — (Sarah takes the floor, eyes alight with fury, voice steeped in bitterness).
“Shut up, Rebecca.”
Rebecca looks around for support, but everybody is looking the other way. She begins talking again but I say, as I rise, “I have got to go.”
Bitterness ensues followed by “REALLY, SHUT UP, REBECCA.”
It took me a moment to get my bag off the floor, and put it over my shoulder. As I get up, Rebecca notices I have a prosthetic right leg. “Oh, I see you’ve had your leg replaced. What a feeling of freedom…ha ha ha.”
Finally, I speak to her. “Rebecca, I think she wants you to shut up.”
As I step free of the table I can hear Sarah’s sarcastic comment, directed at her sister: “Oh, I see you’ve had your brain replaced. What a feeling of freedom…”