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In Memory of Ish

March 25, 2020
Ish watching Elephant Seals 2011

Ish in 2011, watching Elephant Seals near Cambria

Ish died of a heart attack on March 20. He had been a good friend, but we had drifted apart over the past few years. It was a complicated relationship where I chose loyalty to one friend over friendship with him.  He understood.

He was a funny man with powerful enthusiasms and tastes. He had an unstoppable zeal and curiosity. One time, we went to a Jewish film festival. Another festival-goer, seeing Ish’s obvious Filipino looks, asked “Are you Jewish?” Ish replied happily, “No, I’m just a fan.” That was Ish. A real fan.

No one could order food like Ish. We would go out to dinner, discuss the food and think we had our order set. Then he would throw in more and more items, until the server started looking at us with wide-eyed skepticism. We would end up with a table overflowing with food and bags full of to-go boxes.

Ish July 2010

Ordering food at a fancy restaurant on my birthday in 2010. He bought new shoes for the occasion. He usually wore black t-shirts with a dark overshirt and jeans.

He loved music. He went to every concert he could make time for. I don’t go to many shows, and yet I look back and remember off the top of my head that I was with him at Los Tigres del Norte, Cafe Tacuba, Dwight Yoakum, Adam Ant, Los Lobos, The Bangles – an eclectic mix for sure. He was on top of the latest bands – Pitchfork and Rolling Stone were his bibles – and he always caught KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.

He worked as a contractor for the military and spent years out on San Nicholas Island, or “San Nick.” He was proud of the dock he maintained and loved fishing off of it. When we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, his primary comment on the fish was “Oh! These are good eating!”

He loved cooking shows and the idea of cooking, though he was more likely to eat out. A ribeye was probably his favorite thing on earth. He won our church chili cook-off by making steak and bacon chili – but who wouldn’t win with that?

He loved security. Guns, knives, locks, self defense moves, tips for avoiding scams and criminals, and flashlights. The best present I ever got him was an AAA membership, which he thanked me for every time he saw me.

He was a US Army veteran who served in Germany, cementing his love for a good schnitzel. For some mysterious Army reason, he always backed into parking spaces.

Ish was devoted to his mom, Bernarda. He lived with her on and off for years and loved helping her out, taking special care with her yard and swimming pool. He admired his parents for taking the risk to move to the US from the Phillippines. His father was serving in the Navy in Kodiak, Alaska when the terrifying 9.2 (second most powerful recorded) 1964 earthquake struck.

I have missed Ish a lot recently and will miss him even more. Rest in peace, my scrappy friend. Thanks for all the flashlights.

Ish and CC at Los Tigres del Norte

At Los Tigres del Norte, with a jalapeño cheese dog

Ish at Hearts Castle crop

Hearst Castle, where his highlight was talking about the pool filtration system with the man who worked there.

Ish Bernadette Georgia

Mom Bernarda, sister Georgia and Ish

Ish wins chili cookoff 2007

Winning the chili cookoff, 2007

Sue and Ish at Morro Rock

Visiting Morro Bay, 2010

Alone Again, Unnaturally

March 22, 2020

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Ever since I was a toddler, my main goal in life was to get some peace and quiet. When I was little with 5 siblings and 2 parents in a small house, I hid in the hall closet where I made a comfy nest.

I remember walking down the street at age 8 and crossing the street to avoid someone I knew. Even back then, I thought “This is probably not normal.” Nobody had told me about introversion.

I always lived with someone – family, roommates, boyfriends, more roommates – until I finally got my own place when I was in my 40s. It felt like a puzzle was finally complete – “Oh, HERE is what I was looking for this whole time.”

And then 14 months on the road by myself in an RV. I met a lot of people who said “I could never do it by myself,” and I would think “I could have never done it with someone else.”

But even the lifelong hermit has her limits. I was talking to my friend about the COVID lockdown the other day and she said “It’s like I have lost my identity.”

We all have. We derive our identity from our friendships, our work, our community activities, our clubs and teams and churches, temples, gurdwaras, mosques, ashrams. We want to reach out and connect and hold each other, and we can’t. And we’re all mourning that loss at once. It’s significant, and it’s ok to grieve.

Take some time to process your emotions, to be afraid and sad and let those feelings flow through you. As Glennon Doyle says “We can do hard things.”

Breathe. Write, dance, make art, sing, set up a Zoom meeting. Do what you have to do to survive isolation. But also realize that your identity is far beyond what you do or create.  You were made a precious child of the universe, period. Doing and making are just the icing on the cake. You are you, and that is enough. Breathe.

 

The Narrator Voice

March 18, 2020

The more time you spend by yourself, the more you talk to yourself. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself, out loud and often.

My trip has a narrator, and that narrator is British. From her accent, I think she’s a Londoner, slightly upper crust. She is encouraging and slightly enthusiastic.

“Why, yes, darling, I do think a rest stop would be a good idea.”

“Darling, do be careful backing. That tree is frightfully close there.”

“You can do it. I know you can. It’s simple, really.”

If you hear me talking to myself in a British accent, don’t worry. It’s just my narrator.

To honor my narrator and her helpful advice, I got a pretty tea mug. As she knows, a good cuppa and a bikkie sets everything right.

Do you have a narrator?

Cuppa

Huelga

March 17, 2020

IMG_20200315_130204My travel plans change minute by minute, turn by turn. It’s how I do it, and it has worked out for me so far. I was headed into Death Valley. It was very windy, and the messenger in my head said “Nope.” So I turned as soon as I could and headed in a different direction.

A while later, the nudge was to get off at the next exit, up in the mountains near Tehachapi. A road sign pointed me to the César Chávez National Monument in Keene.

A narrow winding road led to a building set in the middle of a beautiful garden. Only one car was in the parking lot, and a woman was raising four flags – US, California, National Parks Service, and the red and black eagle of the United Farm Workers.

The flowering plums were dropping their petals in the breeze, a spring shower of soft white floating down onto the walkways.

After a little hesitation, I entered the building. Social isolation from the Corona virus was just starting in earnest, and I wasn’t sure they were open, but the young woman said “For today, we are. Today.”

The museum has many photos from the UFW organizing and strikes, as well as an example of farmworker housing, Chávez’s office, and a shrine.

The Corona virus and our coming struggle were much on my mind as I learned about what the farmworkers went through.

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The first strike lasted five years. Five years. On day two of Corona virus panic, people were already losing their minds, and these humble workers had spent five years giving up everything – their homes, their cars, their health – for a better future.

They had faith…”the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” No one guaranteed them anything. There was no sign they would make any gains. And yet they persisted.

In the center of the garden, near a waterfall representing the martyrs of the movement, lie the graves of César Chávez and his wife, Helen. I stood there and prayed a while. May we all be touched by their strength.

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Self-Isolating

March 15, 2020

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I headed to the desert to self-isolate because of the Corona virus. I feel like the luckiest person on earth to be able to do this. It feels surreal, like another world. It’s weird knowing I won’t be meeting other people. No museums, no Elks Lodges, no church. It’s a strange time.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to isolate, here are my podcast recommendations to pass the time.

This American Life – the radio show that started it all. There are hundreds of great episodes archived, and each one holds different surprises.

The Daily – your quick deep-dive into one of the day’s issues, brought to you by the New York Times. Consistently brilliant.

Armchair Expert – I always assumed Dax Shepherd was kind of a bonehead from his roles on TV shows. His long, free-associating interviews with all kinds of interesting people prove otherwise.

The Moth – True stories, told live. Bonus: my lovely blogging friend Alexandra Rosas has several stories.

Fresh Air – speaking of interviews, Terry Gross has interviewed almost everyone of consequence in the decades of her show. If you have a favorite celebrity, flip through the archives to find their moment at the mic.

Throughline – modern issues enlightened through the frame of history. It often leaves me literally open-mouthed with amazement.

Here’s the Thing – Alec Baldwin’s voice is like deep chestnut honey. It’s a good (if very occasional) interview show, but for me it’s main use is to soothe me into an instantaneous, deep sleep. Better than a meditation app.

Enjoy. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Pray for us, all of us.

 

 

 

 

Three Short Lessons I Learned From Rving That Can Be Applied to the Corona Virus

March 14, 2020

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I learned some valuable lessons from RVing that are helping me panic less in this time of Corona virus.

1. Pay attention to the conditions around you. You might save your life. Traveling in an RV, it might be the person with the overloaded trailer weaving in front of you. In CoronaWorld, it’s the person coughing into their hand and then using the door handle you’re about to use. It’s better to open it with a tissue and look like Howard Hughes than to spend two weeks in quarantine.

2. You can redefine “necessary.” You need so much less than you think you do. Hunker down. Look out the window. Make some calls you have been putting off. Enjoy what you have. Say a little prayer of gratitude. You’ll feel better.

3. The best thing about being human is being adaptable. Adapt. If you run out of milk for your coffee, bust out that can of coconut milk gathering dust in the pantry. Trader Joe’s doesn’t need you today, trust me.

Be well, my friends. Be kind. We can do this.

Recalled to Life

March 6, 2020

I have been home in Ventura for three weeks. I had forgotten how utterly nice the weather is here. I tuck my head down and smile secretly when people complain that it is “freezing” when the temperature drops below 67 degrees F or “so hot” when it is above 72. People, it is neither freezing nor hot. It is perfect, as it is day after day after day here. The sunlight has a pure, clear quality. The air smells like ocean and strawberries. Aaaah. Home.

Gladis is off seeing Mike at the RV spa, getting some treatments done – a little Botox, a little herbal wrap. I am renting a bedroom from a lady and her grown daughter. It’s clean, comfortable, and a real bargain.

And my health is improving. It is an odd feeling. It’s like when you live next to a busy road for or so long that you get used to it and there’s a road closure and you can hear the birds again. You think “Oh, I forgot about birds!” I forgot about energy and waking up feeling good.

I have to thank Dr. Cold Russian Fish, who was the first person to take my concerns seriously. I had been unwell for so long that it seemed normal to me to have no initiative and to need naps every hour or two. I felt kind of sheepish even mentioning it. But her eyes flew open and she got very, very interested. She did a lot of expensive testing and gave me a protocol to follow and guess what? It worked.

I had been convinced that my life would be one long tired beige slog to the end. Then I woke up in full Technicolor in Oz, and I’m not quite sure what to do with myself, but I’m positive it will be good.

 

 

 

 

A Day in the Glamorous Life

February 7, 2020

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This morning, I awoke in Gladis on the shore of a crystalline lake. A hot spring bubbled near the shore, so I slipped off my silk robe and took a quick soak before…

Joking. What really happened is that I awoke about 4 am in the back parking lot of a Cracker Barrel in Albuquerque. Hey, Cracker Barrel is an RV-friendly place, and free is free.

I finally got up at 5:30, made coffee, and put on sweats. Going out to turn the propane tank off for travel, I noticed that the homeless guy I had given $5 to the night before was taking a leak in the drainage ditch at the back of the parking lot. His buddy was still sleeping under a blue plastic tarp. Flurries of snow were starting to fall.

I started Gladis and got on the road at 6:15 a.m. It was still dark, but I really wanted to escape the snow. My weather app made it seem like the storm was landing in ABQ and heading east. We were going west. Good.

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Stopping at a casino outside of town to get gas, the wind cut like a knife. I was completely overjoyed to find my favorite kombucha at the mini-mart. Gas stations NEVER have good kombucha. It’s the little things.

I was feeling smug about leaving the snow behind. Then it began to snow. And snow. For three hours, the snow fell in tiny flurries and we crept slowly along on the interstate. No side roads for me during a snowstorm. I was thankful all the cars and trucks were keeping the road fairly snow-free. A semi truck lying on its side on the highway served as a cautionary tale.

I stopped in Gallup, New Mexico to work. I had technically taken the day off, but you know how that goes. As soon as you say you have a day off, everyone has something that just has to get done. A Subway parking lot was my office. It also gave me a chance to cobble together a breakfast protein shake with ingredients I had on hand. The secret is cinnamon, people. Lots of cinnamon.

After that, I only stopped to buy gas and to eat lunch at the entrance to the Petrified Forest National Park for about 10 minutes. I was tempted to visit and see the sights, but I knew it was already going to be a long, long day. I kept asking google maps how much further and then swearing loudly when I found out.

I went from the plains to the mountains back down to the plains and up and down mountains. The west wasn’t won, people. It’s still out there, and it is gorgeous.

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What did I do to pass the time?
I listened to podcasts. Throughline, The David Chang Show, Good Food with Evan Kleiman, The Daily, Fresh Air.
I sang songs, badly.
I talked to God.
I thought about my trip and all the places I had visited.
I checked google maps again. Swore again.

When I rolled into Mesa, Arizona, it was 4:03 pm. I had been on the road since 6:15 a.m. 475 miles, probably my longest road day ever, but I’m that much closer to home.

I may not have started my day soaking in a mineral pool near a crystalline lake, but I ended it in a jacuzzi in an RV park across from a strip mall in suburban Phoenix. Close enough.

The Great Burrito Hunt

February 2, 2020

I never thought making a burrito was difficult. You heat up a large flour tortilla. Slap some beans on it. Rice if you have it. Salsa, onions, cheese, cilantro. Lettuce if there is something wrong with your head. Meat if you are so inclined. A splodge of sour cream adds a nice touch. Roll over, fold ends in neatly, complete roll so you have a tidy little package.

Well.

On Friday in San Antonio, I went to a humble Mexican place and considered the long list of meats for burritos. At the bottom was “Aguacate.” Avocado. Lovely. I do love some avocado on my burrito.

“Un burrito de aguacate,” I asked, having heard the order taker was much more comfortable in Spanish than English. “Sin lechuga.” No lettuce for me.

“Solo aguacate?” she asked. Just avocado? I expected this. Most people think I’m crazy for not wanting meat on my burrito.

“Si, no carne,” I said.

“Tomate? Crema? Lechuga?”

“Sin lechuga.”

I waited a long time. The woman who brought out the burrito out said “Un de aguacate. No tomate.”

Oh no. I hated to tell her it was without lettuce, not tomato, but lettuce is the one thing I cannot stand on a burrito. She had it remade.

I grabbed the bag and drove off, peeled my burrito and…it was a large tortilla tube of avocado. A few pink pieces of tomato and a squirt of sour cream were in there too. Solo aguacate, though. No rice, no beans, just unrelenting avocado for about 7 inches. I could have made 2 orders of guacamole with all that avocado.

You know what is boring? A whole tortilla stuffed with avocado.

Strike one.

So today in New Mexico, I went to a place that listed the ingredients. I ordered a bean and cheese burrito, confident that it would also have the rice, tomato, salsa and sour cream listed on the menu.

It came on a plate. It was a tortilla rolled with both ends open, beans and cheese inside the tortilla, rice, salsa, onion and tomato on the plate.

WHO DOES THAT? Who leaves both ends of a burrito open? These were runny beans, too. I tried to add the other ingredients inside, but by then beans had gotten everywhere and the whole thing was a floppy damned mess.

I never thought that burritos in California were California style, but I’m starting to think that the way we make burritos might be very specific rather, a local thing rather than the rule. In CA, if you order a burrito, it always has beans and cheese and salsa. If you want all-meat (or all-avocado) you have to ask for it and pay extra.

How are burritos where you come from?

 

 

 

 

Remember Me Well

February 1, 2020

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The way I understand Christianity is this: Learn to love people in all their fullness.

That’s it. That’s all I have, but on the other hand, it’s a lot, because people are messy and complicated and weird and unpleasant and mean in addition to being kind and lovely and generous.

One day I took a bouquet over to the house of a woman my BFF and I know.

“Why did you do that?” my BFF asked. “All you do is complain about her.”

“But I love her,” I said. “Yes, she’s fussy and a pain in my butt and she never stops complaining about things, and she drives me crazy on the reg, but she’s also caring and concerned and tries to make things better, and she’s just a dear. She’s one of my people.”

It’s like that.

I have been thinking about how, earlier this week when Kobe Byrant died, some people immediately wanted to talk about how weird it was seeing him being lauded. In their minds, his admitted rape (which he said had been consensual, in his mind) outweighed his stellar basketball career and his charitable acts.

Others said how dare anyone bring that up during a tragic time like this, when people are mourning? We shouldn’t talk about that NOW.

Kobe was all of it. He was a guy who came straight out of high school to play in the NBA, so great was his talent. He was a guy who raped someone. He was a loving dad and someone who granted more than 200 Make-A-Wish requests. He was good. He was bad. He was awful. He was arrogant. He was kind.

If you love the player and the wish-granter, you love the rapist. You don’t love the rape, obviously, but you have to acknowledge the deep flaws in him and then choose the path you want to go down. Do you offer him a crown of thorns, or grace?

We have to be honest with one another, especially in this world, where increasingly we use don’t want to admit terrible things, so we surround them with flowery language. Torture in “enhanced interrogation.” People killed in wartime are “collateral damage.” Getting fired is “involuntary attrition.”

We have to see our sins and talk about them honestly and still keep loving. Covering up for someone never does any good. Unclean wounds fester under a bandage and the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons – unless we admit our shortcomings and vow to do better. Father Richard Rohr says “What is not transformed is transmitted.” The transformation comes from being real and honest.

When you remember me, it’s ok to say I was a bit of a shit. I know I’m quirky and weird and impatient and judgmental and have a mean streak, and I love being right and I can show off and I am too often a people-pleaser. And on some days, I’m pretty all right. But I would expect those who love me to be honest with me and want me to do better.

It’s ok to tell me when I have fallen short. Do it gently, of course – I am still me, as sensitive as a venus fly-trap and as quick to clam up. But please don’t stop loving me, and I will try to do the same with you. As Ram Dass put it so well, “We are all just walking each other home.”

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