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Keeping Watch

April 25, 2018

As I walked the dog around the high school area tonight, choir practice was getting out. It was about 9 pm.

After almost everyone was gone, one girl remained. She stood near the lit-up statue in front of the school.

She had long, straight hair and artsy glasses with chunky sienna-colored frames. She held her phone in her hand. I could tell from the way her shoulders were hunched that she wasn’t happy waiting by herself.

I let Abbie mosey around the lawn on her long leash. We made one lap. Two. We went over and sat on a bench for a bit. We moseyed some more.

I didn’t say anything to her.

I saw a car pull up and her shoulders dropped. She ran to the car.

Abbie and I began to walk away and the girl’s dad drove her off.

She doesn’t know me and I don’t know her, and I don’t think I ever will. I just want parents to know that some people are watching your kids and they’re not all bad people. Some of us are looking out.

Keeping Up

April 16, 2018

When my dad first died, of course I worried about my mom. They had been married over 60 years.

She was sad, of course, but nowhere near as devastated as I had feared. Some parts of her new life gave her great joy, and none more than having 100% control of the TV remote.

As a faithful wife of the Greatest Generation, my mom had never for a moment inconvenienced my father by watching any shows he didn’t want to watch. She sat through endless years of endless seasons of baseball and football, never complaining, standing by her man.

With him gone, mom was free to explore 256 channels of cable fun, and she found what she truly loved fairly quickly.

My mom loved the Kardashians.

She watched every dang Kardashian show she could rest her eyes on, sometimes the same episodes over and over.

The problems were two: she wanted to share her newfound love for the K’s, and she has a terrible memory for names.

Cue me perched in a recliner chair, trying to muster up an interested face while my mom recounted what had happened on last night’s episode.

“The one, you know, the one who married that basketball guy, she came in and just ignored that other one, and the mother didn’t like that but she had to leave with that guy, is he her husband or I don’t know, I don’t think he’s the father of all those girls…”

That’s my problem in life folks. I just can’t keep up with the Kardashians.

April Foolishness

April 1, 2018

I haven’t been to the gym in a while. I mean, a long while. Since I last went, babies have been conceived and born and have begun walking. I keep my membership for 2 reasons: blind hope I may someday get my butt over there and the fact that my work reimburses me for my membership.

I recently changed credit card numbers, due to fradulent activity on my account. The gym called and left 2 messages for me to update my information. Two messages in two hours.

I called back and gave the woman, Shelly, my info. She was very nice and friendly. She told me she noticed I hadn’t been in in a while and wanted to give me the option – if I needed it – to freeze my account. I wouldn’t be able to use the gym, and they would just charge me $10 per month.

I said “Shelly, I feel like the only time you ever call me is when you need to…”

“To talk about billing!” she said sympathetically.

“Yes,” I answered. And it makes me feel like no one cares about my health. Would you or someone call me once a week to remind me to come in and work out?”

This was my April Fools joke. I was waiting for her to sputter in shock at my audacity.

“Sure, I’d be glad to!” she chirped.

Joke was on me! “Oh, Shelly, you’re too kind. I was just messing with you because it is April Fools.”

“Well, when you said it, I thought, wow, there are a lot of times I wish someone would call and check up on me, so I said yes.”

“Have a good day, Shelly.”

“Ok, hope to see you soon!”

There ARE nice people in the world.

Make a Right

March 24, 2018

The grocery store closest to my house is a little neighborhood market run by Syrians. I love it. Not only can I get a quart of milk, but some labneh, a giant jar of tahini, and a chunk of sheep’s milk feta.

Last night when I went in, I noticed the ice cream freezers near the cash register (these people have the impulse buy thing figured OUT) were completely empty.

“Someone got hungry for ice cream?” I joked with the cashier.

“A lady get really hungry for ice cream,” she said. “She drove in store.”

I thought the language barrier was causing confusion.

“What?”

“Her car, she drove in store.” She pointed to the front doors, which were boarded up.

“WHAAAAT HAPPENED?”

“She get confused, she hit gas instead of brake, she drive in store, smash ice cream.”

“Was everyone ok?”

“Yes, only cashier was here, she was in back of store thanks God.”

“Was she drunk?”

Shrug.

“Her car come all the way in store, then she make a right and end up in front of milk.”

And that, my friends, is why the market has no ice cream. The most exciting thing to happen around here all weekend.

Turn About

December 25, 2017

After 20 years of doing my laundry at home, I found myself, with the move 2 years ago, being forced to use a laundromat once again.

(huge sigh)

It’s not like I don’t enjoy shelling out $50 per month to wash my clothes in machines reeking of Downy Ultra Infusions (damn them to hell!). Ok, it is exactly like that. But at least I have the best laundromat in town right across the street.

I tend to go early in the morning, with the other very responsible and tidy-type people. I mean early like 6:30 on a Saturday morning. I’m always shocked when there are people there almost done with their laundry by the time I get there.

One day I was bumbling around with my cart blocking the aisle, and I could FEEL someone be impatient with me.

This Asian guy with a long ponytail was standing there, fully disgusted with my disorganization that was causing him to have to wheel his cart all the way around a row of washers because he was sick of waiting on me to notice him.

I felt bad, and also mad. Why didn’t he just SAY something? Jerk.

About 10 minutes passed, and the guy came up to me. He handed me a warm cinnamon roll in a square of waxed paper.

“This,” he said, “Is for you. My name is Kainoa.”

Kainoa had realized he was being a bit of a jerk. And he had taken steps to mitigate that. He brought me the most delicious cinnamon bun from the bakery down the way.

We started talking. He and his wife always did laundry there. They were Hawaiian.

Kainoa took the extraordinary step of turning a regular stupid bad interaction into something good, and we became happy acquaintances. I always say hi to him, he always says hi to me.

That’s how it should be.

So this morning, Christmas morning, I was delighted to see that Kainoa’s van was the only car in the laundromat parking lot when I was walking the dog at 6:08 a.m.

I stuck my head in the door and began to sing.

“Mele kalikimaka is the Hawaiian way to say Merry Christmas, a very merry Christmas to yoouuuuuu.”

Kainoa laughed and gave me a two-handed Shaka and said “Aloha!”

Pretty great way to begin your Christmas day.

Mele Kalikimaka.

Shadowy Figures

December 19, 2017

Things have been so weird here. Our town was partly destroyed by fire. We were under a blanket of heavy smoke for 2 weeks. Schools have been closed since December 5 and will remain closed until January 7 (I KNOW, RIGHT, PARENTS! THE HORROR).

Parks and parking lots are closed due to fire or to being used as staging areas for fire personnel and electric company trucks. Whole neighborhoods are closed by checkpoints except to residents to keep looky-loos and looters at bay.

I don’t even know what to expect anymore. So when I drove by a local park one night and found it fenced off, I thought it must have something to do with the fire. It was a dark night already, but the cloud of smoke in the sky made the blackness extra impermeable.

I glanced over and saw shadowy figures gathered in circles in the park. I looked closer. There were no lights, no motion. Just these circles in the dark. I thought “Are those firefighters? Are they praying or what?”

I went by a couple times on different nights. The shadows, eerily, were always there.

Today I drove by in the light.

Plaza Park

In case you’re out and about, Plaza Park has lovely displays of Christmas trees. In circles. Maybe they’re praying.

Late last night when we were all in bed

December 6, 2017

I have been staying in a hotel since Monday. What day is it now? I’m starting to feel like Joan Didion, who used to check into the Beverly Hilton indefinitely to write. If I stay any longer, I may have to take up smoking, being thin, and writing well.

On Monday night, I was at my mom’s place to meet her new helper, Jennifer, who started her shift at 7 p.m. When she came in, we could hear sirens outside. She said “I think there’s a fire somewhere.”

I went home at about 7:30, suffering from a massive sinus headache. I checked online and there was a small wildfire way out in the hills about 15 miles away. The wind was blowing in hard gusts, slamming the trees against the house, trash flying through the air. I thought “It’s blowing away from us, isn’t it?” So I went outside to check. No. It was blowing straight toward us from the direction of the fire.

Then the lights went out. With rising concern, I added more stuff to my already packed suitcase just in case we had to evacuate.

My sister called at 9:30 pm. She had heard of the fire and had called my mom’s care facility. They told her she needed to come get mom. She told me that and I did what I always do in a crisis, which is panic. “Oh my god oh my god oh my god What are we going to do?” I babbled.

Mom is disabled. Very disabled. It’s not like she would be comfortable just anywhere. She can barely move her feet. She can’t get up a 2-inch step, much less the stairway into my home.

Paula said she and her husband would drive the 90 minutes to come get mom, and I gladly agreed, happy to outsource this task because I was busy freaking out. I am the worst. I swear, I would be the kind of person who ran TOWARD the oncoming swarm of bees.

At 11:00 p.m., Jennifer called to tell me the lights were out at mom’s. I got in the car. With the dog. On the way to mom’s, the staff there called and told me to come evacuate her. That was their whole evacuation plan. Call the families to do it. (Note to self: raise hell with the assisted living management soon).

On the way to mom’s. I could see the fire glowing over the hills and then coming over them. It had traveled 15 miles in 4 hours. It was cresting the ridge a few blocks from my mother’s house. The place was chaos. The staff was freaking out as badly as I was. They were yelling into walkie talkies, the parking lot filled with cars parked all wickety whack.

I roused mom from a dead sleep and she – normally cantankerous as hell – was surprisingly calm and compliant. Jennifer got her dressed as I pulled mom’s van around. The elevators were out, so someone – I didn’t see – carried Mom down the stairs. We loaded mom in her wheelchair up the van’s ramp and tied down the chair.

I thanked Jennifer profusely. Her first night working with my mom, and an insane one. Mom had the clothes on her back and her purse.

I started the van.

“Where are we going?” Mom asked.

“I don’t know,” I told Mom truthfully. My entire plan was to drive away from the fire. That’s as far as I had gotten in my mind.

I drove, chatting with Mom with forced cheerfullness. What a fun adventure we’re having! My sister was texting me because we could not make calls. All the cell towers were down.

Traffic lights were out and the streets were full of people evacuating. As we got further to the west, the situation looked worse and worse. Fire was pouring down the hills behind town and the wind was still howling.

I met up with my sister and her husband in the eerie, dark parking lot of a supermarket. I couldn’t see their car, so I just yelled their names until I found them. The hills about a mile away were on fire. Everyone was just staring up at them.

We did a complicated do-see-do where my sister took mom and the van, her husband took me and the dog back to my car, and we all agreed to head in our three autos to a town about 90 miles north, since that was the first place where the power wasn’t out.

I took Abbie Lynn to her boarding facility, where the woman working there was freaking out worse than me because she was waiting for her mom, who was evacuating herself and the woman’s grandfather to the dog boarding place (they have bedrooms there) and it was taking too long.  I talked to her and calmed her down, told her the area her mom and grandfather was where I had come from, was still safe and the roads were open. She took in Abbie, who was overjoyed to see her (naturally) and knocked her over with 62 pounds of fierce doggy love.

I headed north. As I came down the freeway through town, the fire grew scarier and much closer. All of the canyons were full of fire. Smoke was roiling through town. Visibility was only about 50 feet in some spots. People were swerving and pulling off the road. I barged on, doing that thing where you put your face up over the steering wheel to get 6 more inches of road visiblity.

After about 30 miles, I began to relax some. We were heading out, we were safe. I got phone service back about 50 miles later and made hotel reservations via my mobile phone (thank you, 1-800-HILTON) – one room for them, one for me and mom.

I was kind of hoping that by the time I got there, Mom would be happily tucked in bed. No such chance. She was calmly sitting in her wheelchair, in a room that seemed all too small for 2 beds, three people, and a wheelchair.

Mom decided she needed to use the restroom. My sister and I had to help her get out of the chair – no handicapped bars like at home – and onto the toilet, all three of us in the bathroom with the wheelchair, bumping and bashing and lurching.

After all that, mom said she couldn’t pee. She had forgotten she has a urinary catheter. The whole exercise was completely for naught. We lifted her back into the wheelchair.

It was 2:30 in the morning.

Then the next obstacle. The beds at the Hampton Inn are lovely. And tall. Mom cannot straighten up or hop up onto a bed. My sister and I had to heave her up onto the bed, then jerk her up to get her butt fully on it, then climb around with our arms locked under her armpits, pushing and pulling to try to get her all the way into bed.

We were panting and sweating and bruised. Then we realized she was on top of the sheet.

Paula simply untucked the sheet and folded it over, making a mom burrito. She went to her room. It was 2:45 a.m.

Of course I was too wound up to sleep. I sent an email to work. I looked at pictures on Instagram and Facebook. I cried in the bathroom a little.

At about 3:30, I fell asleep. My mom woke me up, wanting to be shifted in bed. I thought I must have slept for a couple hours. It was 4:03 a.m.

I gave up and looked at Facebook under the covers. I slept a little.

I spent the next morning trying to find a temporary care home for mom because being in a hotel was going to kill either her, or me and my sister. Her hospice helped find a place she can stay until her facility re-opens (the fire is still very close). I was cross-eyed tired but I could not stop looking at the news. Many people had lost homes. Somewhere between 150 and 400. The fire almost got our City Hall, which was built in 1926. Our botanic garden is gone.

So that was that. My home is standing, my dog is safe. I have resources to pay for a hotel and dog boarding. A lot of people are in shelters, not so lucky. The fire is still very active. I’m afraid to go home.

Now I am Joan Didion, writing in a hotel. If the New Yorker calls, I’m ready.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Si se puede, or Some Things You Can Do

November 28, 2017

If you’re like me, the current political situation gets you blue. But there are things we can do, yes there are! It’s Giving Tuesday, and there are more ways to give than money (though money is important, too).

Let’s get busy creating networks and vibrant communities, shall we? Here are my suggestions:

  • Subscribe to a local newspaper and a national newspaper. The only way the information providers will survive is with our help. I hate piles of newspaper, so I do a digital-only subscription.
  • Support the art you love. I realized this watching Ozomatli the other night. Art is what saves our souls and makes life worth living. Go to the shows, buy the albums, collect the work, tell your friends.
  • Gather your people. In person. Now more than ever, we need to see each other, look at each other, hold hands, share stories and secrets. Create a pleasurable event or space – even if it is just lunch or watching the game – and get with your people.
  • Support local merchants. As much as possible, quit going to chain stores, chain restaurants etc. Money you spend in your community stays in your community. You influence and empower them as you help them be profitable. They can improve your community through better wages, supporting non-profits and just by being a valued part of your town or city.
  • Hear diverse voices. If all the books you read and podcasts and radio and music you listen to is from people who look just like you, branch out. Diversity brings strength.
  • Commit yourself to a volunteer gig. Anything that brings your heart happiness. Volunteer with kids or dogs or the elderly or doing accounting for an organization. Just do something.
  • Give yourself permission to step back when you need to. Rest, relax, have fun. Take a news sabbath. Our mission is to create a better world, not to become cranky, burned-out people.
  • Make a giving budget and plan. Figure out how much you can afford and who you want to give to. Then schedule it and do it. You might want to build in some discretionary funds for emergency appeals, like medical bills or funeral expenses for families you care about.

Action always feels better than worry. We’ve got this. It may take some time, but love will prevail. This I believe.

 

Bits

November 27, 2017

It was Lucky Laundry Night and I got thirsty at the laundromat, so I went to the liquor store to get some water. Every liquor store around here, it seems, is owned and operated by Syrians.

I took the bottle up to the counter to pay.

“Do you have bits?” the clerk asked.

Bits? I looked down at the two dollar bills in my hand, confused. Was he doing that old-timey thing of calling quarters “Two bits”? That’s usually something only men over the age of 80 do.

“Doog? Kits?”

He looked at me appraisingly. “I bet you have doog.”

All of a sudden, it came to me. I looked down at my sweater, which was made of some weird toothy synthetic material. I had washed the dog’s blankets and had hugged them to me on the way to the laundromat.

I was covered in fur.

“Yes, I have pets! Well, one pet. A dog.”

“I knew it,” he said. “Bits.”

Unstuck

November 26, 2017

The end of days are hard.

My mom wants to die. Asks why she is not gone yet. Asks why things are taking so long.

She says she wants to be with dad.

She calls out to my sister “Laura, how do I do this?”

But then she loops back and perks up and chats and tells stories, just like always.

She’s unstuck from the everyday world, though. She doesn’t know what time of day it is. On a bright sunny afternoon, she will ask “Is it 8 pm? Is dinner going to be here soon?”

She begins sentences in the middle of a story and ends without ending.

“The hats are something we need to see about when we.”

Then she looks around, puzzled. She knows she has done something odd but doesn’t quite know what it is.

“What was I saying?”

It’s hard not to correct her. I have always been the fact-based tail to her kite of stories, stories that soar high above reality and into the realm of fanciful tales based only on her interpretations of things she heard halfway and bent to her liking. My mom is the original unreliable narrator.

I always made it my business to probe and fact-check, especially after I became a journalist, seeking truth.

But now I try to let her stories be hers. There is no reality for her to return to, so why torture her by imposing a cage of truth over her flying mind when it is the only escape she has?

 

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