Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Last Christmas with Mom

It wasn't fun, but I'm glad I was there.

Everyone in Billy C's family was sick with that thing that was going around last year and they didn't want to expose any residents at Mom's assisted living facility, so they stayed home.

My gift to Mom was my time--money being tight, that's all I had.

So I drove through the pouring rain to Rubydoo to see her. Getting off the off-ramp, I was surprised by homeless guy sitting at the curb, holding his sign "Merry Christmas, anything will help" and scowling as the cars drove by. Also, another man stood on the island in the middle of the road, holding a sign advertising a local taco shop open for business nearby.

At Mom's, I put on a new DVD I had of the Soweto Gospel Choir for Mom to watch. I thought she'd like it more than she did. But she may have also been sad that day and, therefore, a little unresponsive.

While she watched and I listened to the choir, I tried to help her clean up the clutter of her room. She was wheelchair-bound and couldn't do much, so I did what I could and made a little more room for her.

The plan for the day was to see a movie and go out to dinner, so an attendant came and got her ready, giving her a bath and getting her dressed, while I repeatedly watched this one song that I liked on the DVD. The Soweto Gospel Choir sometimes does this weird harmonic thing where several people sing the same song at different times but somehow make it stick together. It's not exactly a round. I'm not sure what they called it. But I played this song many times because I just liked it a lot.

The rain came down hard and I hoped it wouldn't work against me. The food at this place wasn't so bad, but I didn't want to spend Christmas Day in an almost empty dining hall with silent old people who had no one to come get them. I wanted to get Mom out for a few hours.

I parked the car in the covered parking area and helped Mom get in the car, hoping that the rain would let up by the time we got to the Plaza, where we would be seeing the movie and having dinner. As we came out to the car, we had to pass a coroner's truck with a recently deceased person in a body bag waiting to be loaded up. I had noticed that someone might have died while going back and forth to Mom's room earlier.

We drove to the the Plaza and yes, the rain let up. But it was still cold as Hell.

First, I parked close to the theater and took Mom in to see "Doubt." A good film--but every few minutes, Mom would go "psssst" and ask me what had just happened. Now Mom couldn't hear very well, so, when I'd tell her what had just happened, I'd usually have to repeat it again. Louder. While other people tried to watch the movie.

After the film, we walked to the Mexican restaurant at the other end of the Plaza. The rain had stopped but a post-fog mist had settled around the shops and the cold bit at our faces. On our way, we ran into two teacher friends of mine, a couple, who were on their way to see a movie. I introduced them to Mom who told them what we had just seen and began critiquing the film for them , there in the freezing, foggy cold.

At dinner, I gave her her meds. And, as she often did, she began to zone out. Still, we had a pretty good talk.

My second gift to her was the gift of light. It was around 10 at night, and, as she always did, Mom began to dictate how we should get home. But I, as we drove down Arlington, turned down the first of the Wood streets and tuned to a radio station playing Christmas music.

"What are you doing?" she crabbed.

"I wanna show you something," I replied.

And there was the beginning of the Christmas lights. "Ooooh," she said.

And, except for the occasional "look at that house" or "those are pretty," we drove up and down the Wood streets, studying the light displays, filled with silent awe .

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

John Lennon's Dead

At the time, I was 26 years old, renting a little guest cottage on Larchwood Place, behind a larger house where my landlord lived. It is among my favorite places where I have lived, almost like a studio apartment, it was so small.

I worked at Montgomery Wards, managing the catalog department. A job I hated, except for the parties after work most weekend nights.

I had just gotten a cassette player/recorder for my stereo system and had started transferring my LP's to tape. My brother called me with the news late that night. I had been recording my favorite songs from the White Album. In fact, I was recording "Julia."

I made joke (which I forget), mostly out of disbelief. It gradually sunk in about how this man was a force in the world who tried to use his popularity for good in the world.

Tom Snyder, host of Tomorrow on NBC, replayed his interview with John that night. Half of the interview covered the usual Beatle stuff and was pretty interesting. The other half included John's lawyer and was about his fight to stay in the USA--not really as interesting.

Double Fantasy had been released a short time before. Immediately after his death, local record stores had jacked up the prices for his albums...and people were buying them at these inflated prices. One record store manager told a local newspaper that it was only good business to do so. Eventually with enough public outcry, record stores brought the prices back down.

Yoko asked that people stop and observe ten minutes silence on a given day. I remember reading later in a newspaper that a girl had gotten fired from her job because she tries to observe the silence while on the sales floor.

A sad time.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Writing Runs Through It

Today at school, I had the students do a bit of SSR (Sustained Silent Reading). During past SSR's, I had been re-reading The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, a pretty good play by Lawrence and Lee, the fellows who wrote Inherit the Wind.

I had my TA re-arranging the books on my bookshelf, filled with books that I have recycled from my personal home library. The Thoreau play had been on that bookshelf, but rather than disturb my TA's progress, I just picked up a worn paperback copy of Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It that was on top of the pile of books he was re-shelving.

As I opened it, I found an inscription: "To Jeff, with Love, Christmas 1992." There was no signature, but I knew my mother's handwriting.

This book had been among my favorites. Mike Gribble had recommended it to me a couple of years before. Mike, a producer of Spike and Mike's festival of Animation, was always recommending books to me. As an English teacher, I envied that Mike always had the time and energy to read so much.

He died in 1991 of cancer. I called his home phone, hoping to get information from Dickie Mo, his housemate, regarding the memorial service. Instead I got the answering service. From it, came Mike's voice, thanking me for my call and telling me about future Festival of Animation shows coming up.

In an odd way, it was nice to hear his voice one last time.

I have no idea how Mom picked this book as a gift for me. When I picked it to read today, I had the notion that I had bought it for myself shortly after Mike recommended it.

Apparently not.

Mom had taught me about loving literature. When my 1st grade teacher told her that I had trouble with reading, she supplied me with lots of comic books to get my interest. Then, when she determined there really was no reading problem, she kept the supply coming and gradually introduced me to more challenging fare. I graduated from Donald Duck to Superman to Classics Illustrated to, eventually, books that had few illustrations, if any.

Today, I did something with A River Runs Through It today that I rarely do with any book. I read the introduction, written by Norman Maclean. He talks about writing the book in part to hand down his life's story to his children--something Mom talked about doing, partially did, but never completed--in part due to her inability or unwillingness to master her computer and partly due to her lack of discipline when it comes to just sitting down and writing. She got some of it out, but not as much as I would have liked.

Before she got her computer (was it her 80th birthday?), I offered to let her come over and use mine--I'd teach her how to use it.

She only came over for that purpose once. She was in her late 70's at the time and could still get around pretty well, if somewhat slowly. She had the Parkinson's, but it was in the early stages, barely noticeable.

I got her set up in my office. While I did some house cleaning, she wrote, occasionally calling out for help. I then went out for Subway and when I got back, we had lunch.

We sat in my living room and she told me about her vision for this--"I see this little girl telling her story through the different houses that she lived in."

Most of these stories, the ones that I know anything about, never made it to print. Sometimes, when I was with her, she would start telling me about her family history. A lot of characters in her family.

Her Mother and Father were among the most colorful of them. Grandpa was an alcoholic and the primary reason they had to keep moving from house to house. Grandma contracted Multiple Sclerosis and was the main reason they eventually had to move in with us toward the end of their lives. Grandpa just couldn't take care of her by himself anymore.

Grandpa started collecting birds in our old pigeon coop out behind our garage. He had a couple of parakeets, a canary, a cockatiel, and a myna bird that said "Hello, Bill." He spent a lot of time in that coop with his birds. Drinking.

He was supposed to have stopped drinking. When Mom and Dad found out that he had a hidden stash back there, it was good-bye birds.

Grandma was bed-ridden. She could move her head and had only the use of her left arm. She read all of the time: books, magazines, the morning and afternoon newspapers (my job was to help her find Ann Landers).

Mom had hinted a couple of times that, before Grandma became bed-ridden, her marriage to Grandpa had been troubled--that there had been loomings of divorce. "I've seen some pretty ugly things in my life," she'd say, and stop there.

After Grandpa died, Grandma would tell me daily that he had loved me. After she died, their bedroom became our den, but the walls were still lined with her books, most of which never left the house until Mom did. The shelves reached almost to the ceiling.

Some of those books, along with other memorabilia (and even some trash) sits in my garage. I have gotten rid of a lot of Mom's stuff. But I have trouble throwing away anything with writing on it. Some of it is hers, some of it dad's, some of it Grandpa's--mostly notes and letters, none of it organized for posterity.

I have found old birthday cards Dad to Mom, Mom to Dad. Some unsent letters from Grandpa to people I never knew.

I haven't thrown this away because, it seems to me, that's where their spirits are.

Today, I even found a part of Mom's spirit on my school bookshelf.

After my last class, I walked up to the office to drop off my weekly attendance report when I ran into a former student--now a senior--waiting outside another teacher's classroom. He was reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, another book about another river. I stopped and asked him how he liked it. We talked for a little while about that book and books we had read in my class and which ones he liked better and about books in general.

As I left him, he shouted out "Thanks for teaching me to love literature!"

I am haunted by books and untold stories.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

10 Things I Learned at Open Mike Tonight

1. No matter how unprepared you are, no how badly you need to rehearse your song, you're probably going to be much better than a guy with a puppet and a kazoo.

2. Stand-up comedy is always better when it's done by someone funny.

3. Dylan+accordion = just might work

4. Feedback happens.

5. Enthusiasm does not make up for being tone deaf.

6. Repetition usually works best in threes. But, if you're going to repeat the same word more than that, you'd better commit to it.

7. Wild Card performers are often more risky than satisfying.

8. SOME Wild Card performers are worth the wait.

9. The older folk are sometimes the best performers.

10. Some people who aren't ready to sing a deeply personal song to that special someone are often somehow ready to to sing that same deeply personal song to a large audience.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Last Musical Moments with Mom

Last night, Billy C and were jamming on our ukes with our friend Victor K on guitar. This was a different kind of jam for us as Victor is a talented musician. I'm not saying that we don't know other talented people, but when you say "take it, Victor," he takes it. In fact, when Billy C or I asked one another to take it, Victor usually took it. The only thing we took was credit.

We finished our set with "So Lonesome I Could Cry," with Billy C singing melody and me singing harmony. It evolved into a meditation of sorts with Vic taking solo duties as we strummed along.

At the end, we began talking about music and its spiritual essence--not the exact words Victor used, but close enough. The main point was that words couldn't really express what he felt. He told us how there was nothing like playing with friends just for the sake of playing.

It made me think of Mom's last couple of years. Do did some research on Alzheimer's and learned that musical memory is something that stays with us even as our other memories leave. Mom didn't have Alzheimer's. She had Parkinson's. But the same truth still holds--at least in her case.

I stayed with her one night at one of the facilities where she had lived. She had had a very bad day and the woman who ran this home didn't know what to do with her. So I stayed the night.

I didn't sleep much because about every half-hour or so, Mom would try to get out of her bed. At the time, she couldn't walk much and getting out of bed would have been disastrous for her. So I'd go over and take her hand and say "Mom, you don't have to get up yet." She'd say "Can I sleep for just one more hour?" I'd say "yes" and then stroke her hair as she lay back down. Eventually, she'd drift back off.

At around 3 AM, while still sleeping, she started singing. Now Mom had studied opera and had been an excellent singer in her day. She sang an aria and, considering she was lying on the bed, she sang in perfect pitch and kept perfect time, her foot tapping out the rhythm as it stuck out from under her blanket.

And she sang the whole thing. At full volume. Sublime.

A year or so later, as her disease progressed, we moved Mom into a rehab center for evaluation. Most of this time, she ate and drank very little and slept a lot. Sometimes, when awake, she would hallucinate. We would be sitting and talking (she, her bed), when she would suddenly get this look of horror on her face. She say "Don't let me go!" and I would hold her hand more tightly while the episode passed. I realized, finally, that she thought that she was walking with me and was losing her balance--that she was falling. So, when it happened again, I'd say, "It's alright, Mom. I've got you," and she'd calm down.

One day, I brought my uke by for a visit and found her asleep. I sat there for awhile, strumming a random chord progression. Lo and behold, Mom started singing with me--again, on pitch, even though my fingers traveled carelessly from chord to chord. No words, just notes. But I felt like we were talking, so I played until she came awoke and talked with me a little bit.

Soon Mom moved to hospice. We kept reminding ourselves that sometimes people go into hospice and they're still around for years.

Once in hospice, she began the three-month decline until her death. In the beginning, she'd drift in and out of consciousness. She'd be out most of the day because, at night, she would go into sundowning mode, staying too antsy to sleep. She said very little during most of my visits.

One time, again armed with my uke, I brought a fake-it book and played some songs for her, many of them hymns. I came across one I didn't know. It had a Latin title. I asked her if she knew it. She then awoke to lecture to me about an aria with a similar sounding title and then sang it to me--again in fill voice, in perfect pitch.

And then fell silent.

That was the last time she sang for me.

Now, I'm thinking of how Billy C and I used to play with our Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and Erector Sets, sometimes building hybrid constructions using all three, while Mom had Madame Butterfly playing on the stereo as she did her housework. We didn't think much of it because we figured that's just what everyone's mother did.

Thanks for the music, Mom. I can hear you still.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Random Act of Kindness

I have this thing called trigger finger. It causes your tendon to lock. So when I make a fist and then open it, the unaffected fingers open smoothly, but the affected fingers flick open like a switchblade. My ring finger on my right hand is not too bad. I have mostly a full range of movement, depending on how badly it's flaring up. My left birdy finger is worse. I can't easily close it all the way. When I do, it often locks pretty badly.

I demonstrated this phenomenon to my classes awhile back. I was trying out a splint to give my birdy finger a rest, so I felt I should explain it , so my students didn't think I was flipping them off. I made light of it as much as I could.

You see this thing has occurred in the past--maybe for five or so years. The first time it was pretty mild and it went away for a long time. Then it came back a couple of years later and I got a couple of cortisone shots from my doctor. It went away for about a year.

It came came back over the summer and got worse. I'd wake up in the morning and my birdy finger would be locked and would refuse to open. I'd have to massage it. During the day it was better, but could be painful at times.

And of course my left hand is the one I make chords with. It is usually flexible enough for that--but there have been a couple of times that I had trouble getting that finger to go where I wanted it to.

Anyway, today, as fourth period was starting and I was firing up my computer to take attendance, this little girl walks up to me and has this bag with the Victoria's Secret logo on it. She gives it to me and I study the logo and the look on her face--a look of compassion. I decide it's alright to see what's in the bag.

Now, aside from my concern about the logo, I'm also wondering why I'm getting a gift a week before Thanksgiving. I usually get stuff from kids just before Christmas, but not Thanksgiving.

I open the bag and there inside is a box with some kind of gloves in it. My first thought is mittens for the winter. I read the label and it says these are therapeutic gloves that encourage circulation for people with arthritis.

There's a card inside from her Mom. In her note, the mom explains that she wears these gloves mainly at night to help relieve her arthritis pain and that she thinks they might help me too. She also tells me that I can get them exchanged if they're too big.

I got big hands. No glove is too big.

As I realized what this was about, I was just a tad choked up. No tears, but that lumpish feeling you get when you realize that you could cry.

So this girl probably went home and told her mom about my trigger finger. The mom files the information somewhere and then, one day, probably while getting herself a new pair of these gloves, gets a pair for me.

God manifests himself in acts of kindness.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

10 things i saw today

In no particular order:

1. a little girl in a restaurant, a toddler, waddling around her family's table giggling, making me wish all children could be that happy all of the time.

2. Ruby and Pearl not wanting to go on a walk, but willing to practice a few commands.

3. a hawk flying over my high school's campus.

4. the listing of aspartame as one of the ingredients in my yogurt--blecch

5. an old dog toy that looked like it had been buried years ago, dug up, and then chewed up

6. a closed sign on a bike shop I had hoped would be open

7. a girl walking by who looked like one of my students but wasn't

8. two employees closing up the clothing across the street, checking one another's bags to verify no one had stolen anything

9. mom's cat sitting outside, looking through the screen of my open window, meowing to be let in

10. a hand-written sign on the corner of my street teling how I could make money while working at home

Friday, November 06, 2009

An Attack at School Today

Our AP sent out an e-mail that said that this muslim girl, one who wears a traditional scarf to cover her hair, was walking to class by herself. On her way, she crossed paths with five boys, whom were laughing amongst themselves, not paying her any attention. When they got close, one of them from out of nowhere, slapped the girl hard across the face. Then they ran off. She gave descriptions of them, but not very detailed as she didn't recognize them from anywhere.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Leader of the Pack

So an earlier dog-walking adventure led me to wonder what it would be like to walk both dogs together. You'll recall that, when I walked Pearl one night, two escaped neighbor dogs went with us around several blocks, walking in step with pearl like a school of fish.

I got one of those Y-shaped leashes for two dogs and gave it a try tonight with Ruby and Pearl together.

I discovered that 90 pounds, eight legs,and two heads' worth of dog is not as easy as walking 45 pounds, four legs, and one head's worth of dog. Fortunately, I'm bigger and heavier.

Getting them out of the backyard, into the house, and then out the from door was the hardest part. We've developed this ceremony where they go flat to the floor and become dead weight and I have to coax them out one way or another. Once I got them to the door, they bounced right out and, other than getting confused about being on the same leash, they were relaxed.

Once I picked the direction, they were fine on the street. Ruby (the smaller dog by about 3 pounds) took the lead, walking on the left near the curb. Pearl (the bigger dog) followed Ruby.

Once in awhile, when we paused or turned a corner, the two of them reversed positions. When that happened, they started walking into each other a little, bumping shoulders--kind of like those two guys in Stuck on You.

But they both relaxed more than previous walks and seemed to have a good time. Ruby was still the more nervous of the two, looking around when she heard a car approaching and maybe getting out of step with Pearl. But being with Pearl did calm her down.

I worried that the evening would be a tangled mess, but the pack menatlity kept things pretty orderly--except when we rounded the last corner and they sensed that we were near home. Each dogs speeds up when we get to that part of the walk and I have to pull back a little to get them to slow down. This was much harder with two dogs.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Like a Kid on a New Bicycle

Took my bike to get tuned up today and got a bunch of gizmos put on too. I could have installed every one of them myself, but I am mechanically challenged enough that I would screw something up. The shop charged me next to nothing for the installation and I figure I helped their economy a little by letting them do it. The main thing was getting new tires. My old tires are mountain tires and I never rode this or any bike through actual mountains. The closest I ever came to that was when I used to ride my bike around the paved bike path at Lake Peru. There is one hill that you have to climb if you want to do the whole loop, but I always walked my bike up and down that.

I almost got a new helmet, but thought I'd stick with my old one for awhile.

I miss the days when I would ride without a helmet, the wind blowing through my hair--but these days, wearing a helmet is pretty important around here.

So I go to a nearby Starbuck's (I know, again) and sat and did a couple of crossword puzzles and graded a few papers.

As I walked in I found a familiar scene. It was like watching myself or an actor playing myself and an elderly woman playing my mother.

Parkinson's Disease.

A middle-aged man sitting with his elderly mother, drinking coffee and eating pastries in silence. She had the sad, drawn face my mother often wore--a symptom of Parkinson's. She was dressed up to go out--sometimes Mom would do this for the simplest trips, usually to go to the doctor.

So they sat in silence, mostly. An occasional word--the son trying to get his mother to talk. After about 20 minutes, they got up, he said "thank-you" to the barrista and headed for the door, his mother walking slowly behind him with a walker.

It reminded me of a time when I took Mom on an errand--again, probably a doctor visit. She still lived in her house at the time, but it had become more difficult. Her world had shrunk to three tiny spaces: Her bedroom, her den, and her bathroom.

Her hallways had become long journeys from one point to the next. It could take her ten minutes to get from her bedroom to her chair in the den. It could take her that long or longer to get to the bathroom when she needed to get there. And, of course, there was the trip back to her bedroom at night.

And transferring from her wheelchair took that much time as well.

She used to like to like to travel, when she was able.

A friend from her church gave her an electric wheelchair that had belonged to their mother, and that made things easier.

When we'd visit for Sunday dinner, we'd end the night by taking her to her room and setting her up so the transition from wheel chair to bed would be easy. When that became too difficult, we'd help her into bed. She would watch TV until she dozed off.

At that point, we had visiting caregivers who would help her in and out of bed during the week. But they were expensive and we could only afford a few hours a day. Eventually, of course, we had to put her in assisted living.

But back to our errand: On our way home, she asked if I would take her to Starbuck's. We went through the drive-thru window. I had asked her if she wanted to go inside, but she said she wanted to stay in the car.

We parked and she asked me to roll down the windows so she could feel the breeze. I realized that, at this point, she could no longer go outside on her own and just wanted that breeze while she was out of the house.

So we sat in silence. Once she muttered "That feels so good."

After that, when on errands, I'd ask her if she wanted to stop somewhere on the way home. And we'd sometimes go inside--but sometimes we'd stay outside with the windows down, sitting in silence as the breeze blew through my mother's hair.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Another WTF @ Starbuck's

So my engine light came on this week. Then it went off. Then it came on today. So I decide that I should take it to the dealer's service center, where a former student works, and get it looked at. Whenever I take my car there, I walk over to the Starbucks about two blocks away to relax read, write, or do a crossword puzzle while I wait.

So I'm wearing my wide-brimmed hat that protects me from the sun's rays. I am a little phobic about too much sun exposure, partially because of my reckless youth and partially because a medication I take makes me sensitive to sun exposure. So I wear a hat most of the time, or duck for the shade.

But, I digress.

So, in Starbucks, I place my order--a venti, iced, non-fat, chai tea latte (not a coffee drinker). As I wait for my drink, I realize the guy ahead of me is a former colleague from work for whom I did not care. I didn't want to talk to him, so I used my wide-brim hat to incognito me. I feared that I was trapped and that I wouldn't be able to get around talking to the guy.

He didn't notice me, but I did notice that he was picking up three drinks in a drink carrier: two venti ice coffees and one venti iced, non-fat chai tea latte. He carried the drinks outside and set himself up, alone, at a table. And began reading his paper and drinking his chai tea.

Meanwhie, I stood waiting for mine. After a couple of minutes, I noticed no one was making a chai tea for me. I asked about it. They apologized for the mistake and whipped one up for me. As the barristo handed me my drink, he said that he had already made one, but must have given it to another customer by mistake.

So my former colleague was sipping on MY chai tea! He ordered TWO drinks, got three, and decided to keep them all.

Nobody arrived to join him. It was just him and three beverages, one of them mine.

And he just thought it would be ok to slurp them all down.

I have no pint here. I'm just sharing the moment.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What Befell Me This Fall

I tripped today in a very public way.

I was at UC Riverbed with a flock of high school students who were working on research projects. Sophomores.

So my partner teacher and I are in the library working with the kids. I noticed one student on her cell phone. I go make sure she is on task. She tells me that another student called her to tell her that she and two others were lost.

A big bell tower with a Carillon stands at the center of this campus and the library is very close to it. That's what we told the students yesterday. So I tell the girl to tell them to keep heading towards the bell tower and I will wait there for them.

As I approach the bell tower, I see the three girls. I walk to them. As I do so, I have to walk down the steps at this series of shallow steps (there were only three or four) at the base of the bell tower.

I am looking at the three girls and think that I have already stepped on the last step and am now on solid ground.

These steps, by the way, are kind of wide. That is, each step is probably a yard or so in width. So it takes a couple of strides to cross each one.

So I step out on what I think is level ground and realize too late that I am stepping into air.

I am in mid-air and trying to correct myself--but quickly realize that I either am about to step on my ankle instead of my foot and that I could sprain it or worse,so I decide that I am going to have to take the fall to save my foot, so I collapse and roll. The minute my hand hits the cement, I let my arm collapse and roll onto my shoulder and over onto my back.

Then I get up and the three girls, who think I'm very ancient anyway, run over to me and ask if I'm alright. I tell them that I used to be a stunt man. I try to casually walk back to the library with them, pretending it never happened.

I feel a little bruised up and down my right side: my hand my shoulder, and my hip. But no real damage.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Things Ruby, Pearl, and I Saw Today

A couple of places where Ruby and Pearl tried to dig under the new fence my neighbor built.

The pain in a teenage boy's heart as he stood amongst friends, among whom was his recently ex-girlfriend, whom he clearly had not gotten over.

A half-dozen kids strumming different chord progressions on their ukuleles.

A locked front door with me on the other side without my key, which I had left inside.

A window through which one could get access to my house if they wanted to.

Ruby panic at the sight of cars or people as we took our walk.

Pearl not panic so much.

A cat who really wanted to jump over two dogs to get from my living room to my bedroom.

A fast-talking woman who didn't breath between questions nor wait for answers.

Four colleagues who sit in the front row of faculty meetings but don't all seem to pick up on what is said.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Random Things I Saw Today

A guy standing in a public restroom standing there talking to himself but actually talking to a guy in one of the booths.

A former student walking to class at RCC.

An ambulance driving away from my school as I was driving towards it.

A large group of punk kids loitering around a local strip mall disturbing paying customers while doing tricks on their skateboards.

My tuxedo cat chasing a cat with her tuxedo colors in opposite places, like she was wearing a white tuxedo with black socks.

Some kid jumping out of his parents car and running in front of mine as he ran to class, his image a silhouette in the glaring morning sun.

Ruby and Pearl running out of my house into my back yard and looking around as if they had never been there before.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Long Time No Blog; Walk the Dog

Maybe I'll write about some of the things that have gone on with me since the last time I blogged here. But suffice it to say I just haven't felt like blogging.

Tonight, I walked Pearl, the less trained of my two dogs. She and Ruby are both very skittish about walking. Ruby,after doing dog obedience training has become moreso. Oh, she's become more OBEDIENT. She sits, she stays, she shakes hands. Just likes going out less. I think the three incidents that happened at dog obedience school might among the reasons.

First Event: One night, about the 5th meeting, some guy who had to switch classes brought his schnauzer, a little bitch who tried to pick a fight with other dogs before she even got inside the building where we had class. Once in class, this little shit of a dog would not stop barking and growling at the other dogs. Now ALL of the dogs had some sort of barking behavior, but most of it was playful. This dog was being very aggressive. Ruby is shy enough, but this dog just made her very uncomfortable. So, for about the first half of the night, Ruby would do what I told her, but wasto upset to take treats.

Second Event: Same guy, different schnauzer. The Schnauzer was ok at first, when all of the others hadn't arrived yet. But she went crazy when the bigger dogs started showing up. Again, non-stop aggressive barking. This dog also got into a fight and bit one of the other dogs on the nose. No blood drawn, but it freaked Ruby out.

Third event: As we got out of the car, a big Ralph's delivery truck pulled up in the parking lot and, as it bounced over the speed bumps, made a huge racket that spooked Ruby.

Anyway, she passed the class, but is still a little jittery.

Back to tonight's walk, as Pearl and I left the house, I was surprised with the relative ease with which we hit the sidewalk. But, just as we got going, two strange dogs ran up to us, having escaped from their yard. I could tell by their behavior they were very friendly dogs--but my two dogs don't like to make friends very much. So I tested how Pearl might react and kept an eye on her body language and facial expressions and listened for that low rumbling growl that signals a dog's intentions.

Pearl tensed up a little, but didn't make any suspicious moves. So I tried walking a ways and the two dogs followed. Pearl was a little uncomfortable at first, but soon walked pretty freely.

Soon, they were like a dog pack, running as a herd, with me as their leader.

Every house I passed told me who the dogs belonged to, but they were wrong every time. This one kid told me he thought one of the was his dog, but couldn't tell me its name. He told me his brother who was playing down the street would know his name. His brother down the street didn't seem to know for sure whether he had a brother--let alone whether one of the dogs was his.

One guy said that the dog belonged to his next-door neighbor, but the next-door neighbor didn't recognize them.

None of this bothered me too much, because the dogs were clean, well-groomed, and very well-behaved. So we just all four of us had a very nice walk. When I got home, the neighbors across the street told me that the two dogs belonged to the house next door to them. The gate was open, the neighbors not home, so we got the two dogs back in and closed the gate.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Teen Pregnancies from Hell

I have 5 former Rancho students in my night class at RCC. Two of them are girls who got pregnant while still in high school.

One is no longer a teenager and her son is probably around 3. She's still so young. Her son is autistic and subject to seizures. It's obvious that motherhood has not been easy for her. She balances child, work, and family and she's only about 21--if that. The father is still in the picture. They live together and apparently are engaged. But, at that age, it's going to be hard. I gather that money is already a problem. And I wonder, if the father is anxious to stay in this relationship, why he hasn't married her yet. I may be judgmental, but this is a red flag to me.

The other is this little girl from my class two years ago who got knocked up by this football player (a real creep, in my opinion), who, as far as I know, never even made an attempt to be a part of the baby's life. The girl was a real sweet kid, but very naive and maybe got taken advantage of by this kid. Anyway, I pulled into the parking lot and coincidentally parked right next to this girl's mother. I went to the cafeteria to get a bottle of water for class and, as I came back to the parking lot to get my briefcase, this girl and her mother were having a shouting match about the baby, who they were taking turns holding. The girl had apparently kept her mother waiting in the parking lot and it had gotten pretty ugly. Again, it build down to this girl, still a teenager, not being very successful at balancing school and motherhood.

I just feel sorry for the babies.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I Lose Things Sometimes

I just got a new flashdrive to back up my other spare flashdrive, which had nothing on it. I did this because I lost my old flashdrive I don't know where.

I think I lost it last Thursday, or whenever it started to drizzle. I remember going into Target on Day Street. I put my cell phone in my front pants pocket and remember the sensation of feeling two flashdrives rolling around amongst the pocket cargo. While in target, I called Mama C to she what supplies she needed.

Much later, I was getting my car keys and felt only one flashdrive in said pocket. But it felt like the one I now think I lost. The one I didn't feel is the one with all of the slide shows from the past five years of teaching.

Much, much later, while in a different pair of pants, I found the flashdrive I thought I had lost in a pair of pants I was preparing for the laundry. Somewhere along the line, I could not find the flashdrive I thought I had, which is now the flashdrive I think I may have lost.

The flashdrive I now think I lost has pretty much all of my school-related stuff, pictures, writings, etc. on it. I have most of this stuff--almost all of it scattered amongst my computer at school and my laptop at home--but the missing flashdrive has a couple of things that I have recently updated but not saved to the either computer, like my RCC syllabus.

If my past experience is any indication, I will probably find it in some pocket or shoe or something a month from now.

In the meantime, I did go back to Target to see if they had it in their lost and found. I discovered that the Target lost and found is at the photo developing counter. The girl working their looked through about eleven different drawers, several of cabinets, and even a couple of pencil holders.

I don't think she'll find it even if it's there.

So now I have two flashdrives with everything from my laptop on them. I got a little flashdrive holder to put on my keychain. It can hold both my flashdrives and, since it's attached to my keychain, they will be harder to lose.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

I Know How Richard Nixon Felt

I remember reading somewhere that former prez Richard Nixon cried during the finale of a revival of Carousel. I kinda know how he felt, although I don't know that I can explain it. I find myself feeling emotional about things sometimes, these days. I wonder if it's part of growing older.

Back one Christmas, when Pammmmmmy C-Hicklebottom and her family came out, we all went to see Finding Neverland the story of James Barrie and how he came to write Peter Pan)--Billy C, Leemie C, Princess C, Virginny C, Dave (Hicklebottom), and Laura, Michael and Emily Hicklebottom. Tears weeled up at two points: first where Nana the dog made her first entrance and second, where Julie Christy clapped to save Tinkerbell. I sometimes get misty just talking about that moment.

I think it's because I grew up when the Mary Martin version of Peter Pan was broadcast every year--not to mention that Peter Pan was the first musical that Mama C and Daddy C took Billy C and I to see back when we were just lower case c's. Pammmmy C-Hicklebottom was just an unplanned in Mama and daddy C's eyes at the time. Or maybe she was still an infant C.

Ruta Lee played Peter in this version.

So I took Mama C to a production of Peter Pan last night. I'm not sure the occasion meant as much to her as it did to me. Emily Hicklebottom, now a student at a local university joined us.

I mentioned to Emily the emotional tug of this show. I was kinda kidding, but not. Sure enough, through the first half-hour or so, I watched teary-eyed. Strangest thing.

The lady playing Peter was quite good. Her voice was strong and clear, boyish enough. During the one tune I had forgotten about, "Mysterious Lady," she also showed she could sing with great ellegance and range.

Hook also was good. His Mr. Darling portrayal was perhaps a little to fay, but effective.

The flying, while fun, did not have the range I remember. Peter especially had a good time with it. But the kids' flying seemed pretty one dimiensional. Peter used the body-language of flight. The kids often looked at times like they were just being suspended in air.

Mama C began to drift around nine, because she was so tired. So, I think it's matinees from here on. She just can't handle late nights so well.

But we all had a good time and she got to visit with Emily, so it was worth it.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Uke Circle

We never potpone uke circle. Ever. Not even on Superbowl Sunday. It's just as well, because it had only just started when we broke up at 3.

We had about 9 people in attendance I think. I had told everyone that a couple of us would be there at noon to help people get tuned up and help beginners. Do got there on time, but I arrived 15 minutes late due to the fact I stopped by Staples and made copies of some songs.

When I did get there, I tuned my three ukes (I always bring extras, just in case we get a newbie--that, and it's nice to be able to switch instruments when the whim strikes). Then, we got to relax a little and chat with 2nd-timer Sidney, who showed up about when I did.

I think Billie C came in around 12:30.

Showing up early was a good idea because I could be a lot more relaxed--not to mention prepared to play.

I brought copies of three songs. Ana brought a couple. And Fu manchu Rich brought several. I had also laid out stacks of leftover copies I have made over the months--mostly songs that we have played and then lost by the time of the next circle. So we had lots of songs to play and we got of the ground right away and played almost all of them with time to spare.

I like it best when we play a lot.

TV's Kyle guested with a song about a cellar door that wasn't there, Do accompanying him on her uke. Then Do sang the classic "Health Science," a song that she wrote about her Health Science class last summer. Billy C sang the Jacques Brel hit "My Death."

I sang nothing.

We wrapped it up with a rousing rendition of "This Land Is Your Land."

I think next month is the 2nd anniversary uke circle.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Archy and Mehitabel

Every once in awhile, I walk into a situation that makes it hard for me to defend the public school system. Today, I walked into another teacher's classroom to borrow a USB cable for my digital camera. A student teacher was discussing "poetry." She had a "poem" on the screen, the following selection from Don Marquis' Archy and Mehitabel:

The Lesson of the Moth

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself

I approached the teacher and said, "I'm a big fan of Archy and Mehitabel. She said, "Oh yes, I love poetry too"--not having the slightest idea what I was talking about.

I asked her if she knew the origin of this "poem." Not a clue. I explained how Don Marquis was a very popular columnist from after WWI and that he had created this character, Archy the cockroach, as a part of his weekly newspaper column. I explained that Archy was the soul of a free verse poet reincarnated as a cockroach and that every night Archy would crawl up onto Marquis' typewriter and hurl himself into the keys one by one and leave Marquis a column for the next day and, because he couldn't manipulate the shift or enter keys, the column would end up looking like a free verse poem.

I then explained that the Mehitabel was a cat who had been Cleopatra in a past life and now found herself living on the streets of New York.

She had no idea what I was talking about.

I didn't bother to tell her that, while certainly having certain poetic qualities, that it better fit the definition of parody because, in actuality, it Marquis was making fun of this new form called free verse, not to mention writers in general and how they suffer for their art.

Anyway, I love Don Marquis and I love the fact that people who have been to college have no idea who he is and don't bother to do a little background work on him. For that matter neither the teacher nor the student teacher had any idea that this poem had not actually been written by a poet named archy.

Don Marquis would probably be laughing his ass off.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cooking with BABoR

1. Chop two medium-sized onions
2. Mince four clove fresh garlic
3. slice one cup fresh mushrooms thick
4. Layer in crock pot
5. De-skin four bone-in chicken breasts
6. Place on top of vegetables
7. Pour in 1/2 cup of dry white wine
8. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon each dried rosemary, oregano, thyme, cayenne pepper
9. Add one bayleaf
10. marinade in refrigerator over night
11. Wake up next morning, but not too much
12. Put on bathrobe
13. put marinading chicken crock in pot.
14. plug in
15. feed dogs
16. take shower
17. get dressed for work
18. put pop tart in toaster
19. Put water for tea in microwave
20. Note, while not yet fully awake, that crock pot appears to be set on too high temperature
21 Turn temperature down to lowest setting
22. eat pop tart drink tea
23. go to work
24. forget about chicken, except when anticipating how tasty it will be when you get home
25. return home after work
26. having forgotten about the chicken, stop by MacDonald's and get a Big Mac Combo
27. What the hell, get an extra big Mac
28. Arrive home
29. Fire up the computer and eat your first Big Mac
30. Try to figure out why you eat Big Mac's in the first place
31. eat your second Big Mac, not because you like it, but because you paid for it
32. begin to notice a faint death-like odor
33. remember the chicken
34. return to your crock pot
35. observe the chicken and lack of evidence of its cooking
36. remove the lid
37. note the lukewarm, disgusting chicken laying there like a corpse
38. note that, when you turned the heat down in your still half asleep fog, that you actually turned the setting to OFF
38. begin to throw the chicken, spices, and vegetables into the garbage
39. remember that tomorrow there is a potluck at work
40. Remember you signed up to bring a main dish
41. It is now too late to fix anything
42. set crock pot to LOW this time
43. allow to cook over night
44. take to the potluck
46. The next day, insist that you got sick after the potluck and that you think it was the lasagne someone brought to the pot luck

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Snowy Egret?

Thanks to Billy Canary, who really knows his birds. It was probably snowy egret, shown in flight here:

Except the one I saw looked more like this one, with the yellow beak:

A Big White Bird

Today at school, after the bell rang, a group of students were stood around the window at the back of my room enthralled by whatever they saw. I could hear them saying something about a bird, so I went back there to get them to sit down, thinking that I've seen birds back there too and that it wasn't any big deal. Lake Perris sits in that direction and I have even seen hawks sitting on the fence outside my window.

This time outside my window, a tall white bird (I thought it was a white Ibis, but I have looked it up on Google and this wasn't the same species), strutted slowly about. This type of bird is common at Lake Perris and I have seen them flying over head many times, but never standing this close up.

It stood about three feet tall, maybe four, with long black legs. It was pure white with a long, straight yellow bill. The bird it most resembled would be the Great White Heron, picture above. But those don't go far beyond the Florida Keys. Also, I think Great Whites are bigger than this.

I went out and tried to shoo it over the fence back into its own territory, but it would just fly away a few feet ahead of me. I worried about what might happen if kids saw it during break. But, hey it wouldn't cooperate with me, so I went back to class.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I Thought Obama Was Going to Wait for Me

I missed much of the inauguration festivities today. I had to go to Kaiser and do my annual diabetes triathlon with a registered nurse. The good news: I can still see , feel, and my blood pressure is down.

My intention was to go very early so I could wait in the waiting room and watch Obama's speech. But I couldn't find my car key, which has the little beeper alarm thingy attached to it. My first thought was that either Ruby or Pearl had nabbed it. They come from a long line of technology-eatin' dogs and have chomped down on a remote control or two themselves.

I spent an hour or so rummaging through places where I might have put it accidentally. Finally, I found it on the counter under the mail.

But I was an hour late for my appointment and the inauguration had already passed.

So I went to Kaiser anyway to see if I could get in because it says on the little card that no appointment was necessary, even though they had scheduled an appointment for me.

They told me to come back at 2 because they had an opening then

So I went to Starbucks and had some tea. Then, I went to Magnolia Bird Farm to look at the parrots and such.

They and some new birds in stock, many of which I had never seen before, species-wise. I am toying with the idea of getting a couple of birds, but am only at the early window-shopping stage. I used to have a few birds a long time ago and learned not to get another unless I could commit some time to it. While beautiful additions to any home, parrots and related birds are not good furniture. Canaries and finches, while they may appreciate the free food and water, would just as soon you leave them be. Parrots and related birds are very social and need attention.

They have a variety of cockatoos and Macaws at this place. But I'm thinking about smaller birds.

Actually, I'm toying with the idea of raising either parakeets or cockatiels.

Among the details of my visit, I noticed that a couple of Macaws had plucked their breast feathers out. I have a feeling this place is also a convalescent home for birds who have been neglected because the people here are very attentive to their stock. They hand raise many of their birds and give them lots of attention.

Another detail: there were at least three woodpeckers in the cages--two with the Indian Ringnecks and one with another mish-mosh of parrots.

Visiting this place relaxes me.

Speaking of relaxing, I walked the Roob and saw that fox again. This time, I got a real good look at him.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Add a Verse

Just leave it where Jaysus flang it.
No reason to frame or hang it.
Forget who or whatever sprang it,
And leave it where Jaysus flang it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Where Jaysus Flang It

I think this may be a good euphemism for dying. Lately I have been referring to people who have "passed," because it sounds so much gentler than saying "he died." But to say that he or she passed describes few of the deaths I know of, because they were either sudden and chaotic or long and drawn out and probably painful.

So I think from now on I am going to say of the recently departed, "they went where Jaysus flang 'em." Special thanks to Howlin' Hobbit for the turn of phrase. I'd send you some cheese, but I'm broke right now.

Uke at Do's Dos

Uked at Do's tonight with Billy C in attendance.

The night started slow. I got a call on my cell from Mike C, former student of many years ago. He's about 40 now and he's in own because his uncle is dying. He wanted to get together some time this weekend to take a break from the hospice.

Worked on Sweet Jane, which sounded pretty cool. We tried sneaking into it without the traditional opening riff, using Do on the dumbek instead, followed by me singing the first verse a capella (except for the dumbek), and then Billy C coming in with the riff on the chorus. After finishing one run-through, Billy C started into Satellite of Love which I thought was a cool blending of the two songs. It sounded like he was just finishing Sweet Jane, but--surprise!--it's now Satellite of Love!

The we did Tweedley Dee. I kinda suggested it because I felt Donita was getting sad. This weekend is the anniversary of Jim's passing. A couple of Jim momentos around the house caught her eye and she became bummed. I thought the song would cheer her up a little.

We then did Ofuskee. Not our best rendering, but we all like that song. One thing that pepped it up is Billy C doing a solo that was both odd and sublime. Up until that point, none of us did solos, I don't think.

Tomorrow, I'm going to join Mike in Murrieta for breakfast. Afterwards, Do and I may take Mama C to see her friend who is not doing so well. She and her husband are old friends of the family and they are the parents of a good friend who passed away a few years ago. She has diabetes and recently had her leg amputated and has trouble taking food. No appetite.

A sad weekend shaping up, but it had a good start.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

For Those of You Who Think Obama Hasn't Done Enough

I thought Obama would get me laid.

From Brecht to Gruber

Last night, I went with Do and her girls and their boyfriends to the Largo at the Coronet to see Gruber--the Comic formerly known as the Naked Trucker--perform with some other guys, featuring sketch comedy from Gruber and his group, Two-headed Dog. I guffawed several times.

The The Coronet, by the way, is famous for being the venue where Bertolt Brecht and Charles Laughton premiered their English version of Brecht's GALILEO.

The Largo is a theater that used to be located elsewhere, but then moved to the Coronet, hence the name Largo at the Coronet.

Greg Proops had the actual Largo theater, while Gruber performed in a little room called the Little Room, which could hold maybe fifty people, tops.

As we waited in the Foyer for the doors to open, celebs abounded, most of them waiting for the Greg Proops show. Among them: Greg Proops, Margeret Cho, Andy Richter, Fee Waybill, This Guy Who Used To Be On Saturday Night Live, and I'm sure I have forgotten a few.

Like I said, the show made me laugh out loud. If you ask me to explain why, I couldn't tell you. I guess I could say that I just know funny when I see it. I once saw Lawrence Ferlinghetti give a poetry reading, during which he said trying to explain poetry was like trying to explain a bowl of roses. So, I guess trying to explain comedy is like trying to explain a bowl of rubber chickens.

That, and I think most comedy is disposable and, like a bowl of rubber chickens, is bound to wilt with time.

But, at the same time, I marvel how this ex-naked Trucker guy seems to churn out bits and pieces and do new material all of the time. I recently listened to a CD version of Steve Martin's "Born Standing Up," and it seems that Martin worked for years developing about three hours worth of material, then quit.

I met Gruber after the show. A pretty nice guy. Kind of intense, but upbeat and positive.

As both shows ended, the two audiences mingled again in the foyer, and, like Gruber, Proops walked through the crowd thanking people for coming. At one point, he walked up behind me and squeezed my shoulders and patted me on the back as if to thank me for being there.

I dind't tell him that I had just come out of a different there.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Climax Interruptus

I have this condition called the I'm-Almost-Done-with-This-Book syndrome. I had an attack today.

It occurs when I'm reading a book and I have gotten to the climax and, just as the tension is building, I get a phone call, someone drops by to tell me about Mormonism, or something explodes and I have to run out of the house for my dear life.

Anyway, I have been reading this one book since summer. It's called Cloudsplitter and it's about the abolitionist John Brown as told by his son Owen, the last surviving member of the raiding party at Harper's ferry, who, by the way, settled in a shack out in Alta Dena after the raid, tending goats and sheep. He's an enigmatic figure because he kept to himself and never much talked about his father or the raid.

Anyway, I've got 20 pages left and I am at the part where the raider's kidnap George Washington's nephew, Col. Lewis Washington, and take him and others hostage in the fire station, when the phone rings. It's a friend. We talk for a bit. I get back to the book.

The phone rings again, just as Oliver Brown walks out of the fire station with a white flag and a hostage and gets shot. Another friend.

It happens again and I let the phone ring and the answering machine clicks on. It's Do. I am 5 pages away from finishing this book, so I figure I'll call her back. She will hopefully understand.

This happens to me almost every time I read a book and get close to the end. I get into the rhythm of the final moments and am really engrossed in what may happen next and I get interrupted. That's why I prefer reading late at night.


No, this isn't going to be about some religious conversion. I just wanted to add to yesterday's blog that another benefit of the CPAP is that I haven't felt like dozing off in the middle of the day. There was a time that I thought I had become narcoleptic. I would be in the middle of something--like teaching--and, if there was a moment when I was not being active--say, listening to a student presentation or showing a video clip or sitting in a meeting and listening to the discussion on a topic I had brought up--I would nod off. On days off, I would find myself wanting to nap, even if I had slept in that morning.

On those days that I would complain about being too tired to do anything, folk, you have no idea how wound down I was feeling.

I only noticed yesterday, but I haven't even thought about taking a nap for about three days. And I haven't been sleeping excessively--just around 8 hours. before, I would sleep in and still feel unrested.

We'll see if this holds over when I go back to work, but I have a schedule next semester that should allow me to get to bed earlier.

So, if the people who make CPAP machines need an endorsement, I'm available.