Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Christmas 2021

January 2, 2022

It was a wet Christmas this year in San Diego, which is our version of a White Christmas. Not much happened this year so there’s not a lot to say. But our newest family member Enecko enjoyed the holidays in Texas. My nephew Ian visited us after New Year’s Day, taking a flight in from Bloomington, Indiana.

My niece’s baby Enecko enjoyed the holidays in San Antonio. The hat says it.

Sophie and her friends got together a few days before the 25th to make gingerbread houses. The heartwarming holiday event was marred by the brutal murder of Mr. Marshmallow, who was found stabbed to death just outside Sophie’s gingerbread house. We hope your Christmas was less gory. One observer suggested they won’t have to move Mr. Marshmallow until the spring thaw sets in. Happy Holidays! We’ll stay in touch.

Mr. Marshmallow lies dead outside Sophie’s gingerbread house.

West Side Story

December 15, 2021

I was preparing to watch a movie on Prime Video when the trailer for the remake of West Side Story came on, and it sent my mind wondering about that story and that show.

I don’t really know New York, but I wondered about the West Side of Manhattan today. Is it still a haven for tough kids or has it gone the way of most of coastal urban America?  Gentrifying to the point where your greatest fear, entering those neighborhoods, is being attacked by a small yappy dog or being dangerously scratched by somebody’s jewelry.

A scene from the 1961 movie West Side Story

Mostly, the trailer made me think about how West Side Story has been a part of my life. It started many decades ago. I directed a high school production of West Side Story while a high-school student myself in my home town in Iowa. I also got to play the role of the hot-headed Jet named Action. We were a bunch of small-town kids pretending to be New York gang members but we had fun, and the audience seemed to like it. So what the hell.

I was also in an amateur production of West Side Story later in Saint Paul Minnesota. It was actually staged outdoors, on the street, alongside a downtown building with a fire escape. Perfect for the romantic scenes between Tony and Maria!

My best story from the production of that show: We were rehearsing the rumble between the Jets and the Sharks, which culminates with two guys pulling knives, when a cop car pulled up onto the parking lot that doubled as our stage. The car knocked over a barricade and screeched to a halt as the cop warned us to disperse or face arrest.

We actually got the neighbors, who called the cops, to buy into the whole scene! When it comes to performing a drama, it doesn’t get better than that.

But let me tell you about one other thing. This one is from my high-school West Side Story. If you know the show you know the character Lieutenant Shrank, a cruel, burned-out New York cop patrolling the neighborhood where the kids lived. 

The actor who played that role in our show was an interesting guy. His parents were well-known in the school district for being conservative Christians who were trying to ban “indecent” books from the school libraries. It so happens their son was an outgoing, likeable kid. In fact he was a good actor.

In one scene, Lt. Shrank is mocking the Jets whom he considers pathetic white trash. And he says to the character I played, “How’s the action on your mother’s mattress, Action?”

Our guy playing Lt. Shrank approached me, since I was the director, and asked if he could say instead, “How’s your mother, Action?” I didn’t like it but I said OK, not wanting him to get in trouble with his parents. Then came the performance, and Shrank’s scene with the Jets.

“How’s the action on your mother’s mattress, Action?”

He said the line. The way it was written.

This was a long time ago and I can’t remember if I thanked him. Doing what he did — when his parents clearly didn’t want him to — took some courage and integrity.

The story of West Side Story comes from Romeo and Juliet, which tells us that politics don’t stand a chance when up against the power of young love. The story is also VERY relevant to the America of Donald Trump, where poor whites resent Latino immigrants who they believe have come to take what’s theirs and to mess up their lives. 

The new movie, the remake of the ’61 version, is directed by Steve Spielberg. I hope they get it right.

Roundabouts

December 7, 2021

The city where I live, San Diego, has begun using roundabouts to channel car traffic and to slow it down. I’ve spoken with people who don’t like them because they think they reduce parking spaces. Around here, eliminating any place to park is an assault on our way of life, though I’m not convinced roundabouts really do make it harder to park.

I think roundabouts are kind of fun. I like driving in circles and figuring out which exit to take. And they do slow traffic, which makes me feel a lot safer when I’m biking on Meade Avenue, where they just created what look like about a dozen roundabouts.

One of the new roundabouts on Meade Avenue.

The problem in the U.S. is people don’t really know how to use them. I’ve noticed this riding my bike.

When I’m in a roundabout cars seem like they want to barge right into them even if there’s somebody in the circle already. Of course, they’re used to just barreling ahead whenever they’re traveling on a through street. The only impediment. they think, should be a stop sign or a stop light.

So I did a Google search of the phrase “traffic rules for roundabouts.” Here’s what I found, and it sums up the main point pretty well.

Give way: the most important rule – when entering a roundabout, give way to traffic on the roundabout, unless road markings or signs say otherwise. If the way is clear keep moving. Stopping at a clear roundabout slows traffic and can cause frustrating delays.

It’s funny that I found this very helpful advice on a British website, http://www.nidirect.gov.uk. It’s a government site that has tips about motoring, crime and justice, property and housing… among other things.

I was on vacation once when I rented a car in the UK and had to navigate their roundabouts, which was pretty tricky when you’re driving on the wrong side of the road and shifting with your left hand.

Let me just say I am a supporter of roundabouts in America but I understand if people here think they’re a little too foreign. Just give it some time.

Blue Line Trolley

November 21, 2021

Today San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) just got 11 miles of new track.

The Blue Line trolley extension heads north, starting at the Old Town transit center and connects the VA Hospital and then UC San Diego, where it’s takes a jog to the east, followed by a bend to the south, making it look like a shepherd’s staff. It’s terminus, the UTC Mall.

San Diego’s new trolley map

I am a public transportation geek going way back. I have loved exploring subway or trolley systems in New York, London, Minneapolis and Mexico City and not long ago I served on the board of Circulate San Diego, whose goal is to get people to travel on anything, including their legs, that’s not a car.

I love trains and I love looking at transit maps. They look like needlepoint designs. They’re like a spiders web that tries to catch any fly buzzing around the city. San Diego’s map just got a little more comprehensive but there are some missing links.

You can’t take the trolley to the airport and you can’t take it to the beach. Can’t take it to the beach! In San Diego for fuck sake! Something’s gotta be done.

Today, on the first day of its operation, my son is taking the Blue Line up to UCSD where he is working a shift at the on-campus Target store. He is as covetous of the environment and as devoted to alternative transportation as I am. Maybe more so. He’s always looking for a way to kill some more carbon emissions.

I asked him if he thought there would be a lot of people riding on that trolley leg, maybe because they were excited about the extension’s premiere day of travel. He said he didn’t expect so. But I bet they were there. The transit geeks. The train lovers. The environmental puritans. My kind of people.

THIS JUST IN!

Here’s a next-day update on my trolley blog post.  Like I said, my son took the Blue Line extension on Sunday afternoon to UC San Diego. He got on at Old Town at about 130 pm, and the trolley was crammed with people! He had to go to 2-3 three different entrance doors before he could find a place where he could push his way onto a trolley car. He said these people didn’t look like joy riders, excited about the first day. They just looked like everyday transit users.

Her (a love poem)

November 16, 2021

I think about time I could spend with her.

When I dream of the future, I dream of her.

I think of her body and the ways I could touch her.

She fills my mind like an overbearing presence

Though I could bear her as easily as the scent of a lilac. 

I sit at a table and try to write a love poem 

While she listens to the calls of owls and sandhill cranes.

And sees an egret on the river’s edge.

The miles between us don’t stop me from imagining

That I can see her standing by a tent at a campsite 

As she teases me for being a man too weak to pitch a tent and rough it.

And she says this in a text that ends with a semicolon and a rounded bracket

Which form a smile that makes me see her. And want her.

And wonder when I will be brave enough to tell her.

Just her.

 

Rocks on the property

November 15, 2021

My land in San Diego is a graveyard of rocks.

I don’t know where they came from or why they’re here.

Landscapers call them river rocks because they’re smooth, burnished by erosion.

But a river? Around here?

Maybe this was once an ocean whose waves polished these stones

That now lie just under the soil where they stop the steel end of my shovel.

They’re the size and shape of a softball, a football, a gourd or maybe a mound of clay

Waiting to be turned on a wheel to become a pot or a bowl, but no hands can mold these rocks

And nature’s hands have already made them beautiful with endless shapes and grades of color.

In back of my house they border the gravel paths that wander between the plants.

They’ve been mortared into stair steps and they cover the steep slopes of a terraced garden,

Sometimes looking like waterfalls that tumble onto the flat ground

And collect at the bottom or surround a newly planted tree.

These stones… they are the land and they are this place

So they’re here to let us build our walls and our steps with a sense and a look of the place.

Might as well because I got tons of those rocks. No shortage whatsoever.

Freaking Out

October 2, 2021

It’s funny that marijuana is legal. And it was funny to have a container in my fridge filled with pot edibles. They were each about the size and shape of a Twix bar that is split into two colors, brown and white. My son told me that white half was congealed fat from the coconut oil they were made with.

I have gotten stoned before from smoking marijuana and I never really liked it. It shut me down. It made me tired and unsocial. I got no thrill from smoking marijuana and not much peace either, since it made me paranoid.

I ate one of those bars — yep, curiosity got the better of me — and I felt nothing immediately. I guess edibles take longer to reach the bloodstream and the brain. But when it hit me it was a hammer.

I was dizzy and confused. I had no short-term memory and would repeatedly find myself somewhere, wondering what I was doing or how I got there. I tried to read something and the lines of text jumbled together. Remember the paranoia? I started to wonder if I was going to fall asleep and die. I couldn’t pee. Seriously! I had a full bladder and would stand at the toilet waiting for it to come out and it wouldn’t come. When it did, it seemed to take forever.

God, I must have looked so stoned! Standing at the toilet, staring downward with my hands on my dick, waiting for an eternity.

By the morning I was pretty clear again. The guy who made the bars said he was sorry he didn’t warn me because, dude, they were pretty strong.

The one thing I will say in favor of the experience is I suffer chronic pain, which is the most pronounced it my feet and lower calf muscles. When I was stoned, the pain was gone.

I have wondered before if I might be a good candidate for medical marijuana. It appears the answer is ‘yes’ IF the chemical that makes you high (THC?) can be isolated from the one that kills the pain.

A medication? Maybe. But a recreational drug? Not for me. We get high so we can feel invulnerable and like we’re living above and apart from the world of fears and cares. Pot don’t do it for me.

Romeo and Juliet and the Culture War

September 16, 2021

Usually the American culture war is something you see from a distance, that you read about in the media. But sometimes it’s a person you know and it’s something that stops you in your tracks. 

I met her at some tennis courts I frequent in National City, when she was by herself, practicing serves or hitting a ball against a backboard. I asked her if she wanted to hit the ball with me. 

I’m going to call her Gabi, which is not her real name. What drew me to her? The novelist John le Carré called it love or lust or whatever it is that makes us into fools.

She looked like she was close to my age, and she was beautiful in that way Phillipina women often are. She had a pretty smile, a soft voice and expressive eyes. Her figure looked youthful and, well, sexy.  

We ran into each other several times and we played a set once. Gabi was basically a beginner but very fit and a natural athlete. I asked her for her telephone number. Soon we played together again, and I asked her if she’d join me for lunch. It wasn’t a big deal but it was definitely a date, which I hoped would lead to others. 

Gabi was a schoolteacher, a profession I thought had some things in common with me, being a journalist. I remember exchanging texts with her, where I described my reaction to getting a COVID vaccination. She told me she wasn’t going to get vaccinated. It was a time when pandemic politics were still not entirely clear to me. 

If they had been more clear I don’t think I would have asked her, as we sat in that restaurant, why she decided not to get vaccinated. But I did. She looked downward and shifted in an awkward way. She told me she was a born-again Christian and belonged to a church that was well-known for refusing to wear masks or disband their worship services, due to COVID concerns. 

Pretty soon she was telling me she thought Anthony Fauci was a fraud. She told me I should read what some guy, I’d never heard of, said about the pandemic. What she said bore all the signs of Trump politics, religious fundamentalism and distrust of mainstream science. As you can guess, our date did not end well.

Before we talked about COVID that day Gabi and I talked about some of our travels and we’d both been to England. She told me she loved Shakespeare. I told her I did too.

After politics pulled us apart, I thought about Romeo and Juliet. The intense sexual attraction of that story didn’t apply to us. I guess we are a little too old for that. 

But I came to see our story as a version of the play. We were like members of warring families who could have fallen in love. But the politics in our lives meant we — becoming a couple — was just not going to happen. I expect that’s a story more commonly true than the one you hear in Shakespeare’s play.

On Tuesday the California Recall Election took place, when Republicans tried to remove Governor Gavin Newsom from office. I heard from Gabi that day.

She sent a text to me and several others she knew, urging us to vote for the recall, which ended up failing by a wide margin statewide. That election was a referendum on dealing with COVID, and the governor had created regulations and urged people to get vaccinated and wear masks, the kind of things Gabi and her fundamentalist friends opposed. 

I expect I will run into her again at the tennis courts, and I’m sure we’ll be polite to each other and exchange a few words. But I think that text she sent me on election day will be the last one I’ll get from her. 

 

Enecko (Anna’s baby)

August 30, 2021

Enecko. His name sounds like an echo

He has fat arms, a broad nose and black hair.

He lies on his back and holds his pink palms open

Like he’s telling something to stop

But his face is quiet and sure.

His puffy eyelids leave open a slit that seems to make

Even a baby’s rest a time to collect

Pictures of the world.

He was premature. Just two pounds when he entered

The light through a cleft in his mother’s belly.

A Caesarian birth that made his coming

More urgent and violent than what even most people see

As new creatures arrive expecting nourishment

And a gentleness that follows the pain of birth.

A few months later he’d be smiling and laughing at the harness

Parents strap on to suspend him from their bodies.

At the hats they make him wear.

At the cameras they continually point at him as if

They’ll forget everything about the time he was suckling,

Shitting his diaper and trying to hold himself upright.

They’re hilarious to think they’ll forget the love.

And to think that I’m so beautiful.

RAGBRAI 2021

August 15, 2021

The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, aka RAGBRAI, skipped a year in 2020 thanks to the pandemic but in 2021 I was ready and eager to do my 4th bike trip. And we did, during the last week of July.

Our NPR cycling team was familiar. Scott Horsley (of course) along with Richard Harris and Les Cook. Our Iowa partners known as Team Groucho featured Shenandoah’s Bill Danforth (of course), the Birkby Brothers, now of Montana and Seattle, Bill’s daughter Betsy and two dentists, Matt and Jaye. He was known from our rides past. She was a new face on the RAGBRAI landscape.

The 2021 route took us from Le Mars on the western edge of the state to Clinton, on the Mississippi River. Our overnight towns were all just north of central Iowa and they were mostly places I’d never been, even though I grew up in the state.

Fort Dodge, Iowa Falls, Le Mars, Anamosa and Sac City. They were places as strange and exotic to me as to anyone who’d never set foot in Iowa.

Me and Goats

 

We had hosts in every overnight town. These are people who Bill Danforth could find some personal connection with… we’re talking many degrees of separation. But they were close enough so that that Bill, a man of consummate charm, could call them up and ask if it would be okay if we camped on their floor for one day of RAGBRAI.

Le Mars calls itself the Ice Cream capital of the World, due to the long-time presence there of the ice cream company Wells Blue Bunny. Our first host was a man who worked for the Wells company for 30 years, until corporate restructuring forced him to lay off many of the people he knew. He ultimately created a downsizing plan that eliminated his own job. After what he’d been through, he was happy to do it.

Anne sitting atop a sidewalk paver made by her grandfather’s Waterloo construction company.

In Waterloo, we stayed with a gay couple who were involved in politics. The older of the two was a county supervisor. They lived in an old brick house, once owned by a family that ran a prosperous meat packing company. It was a three-story house that had an impressive staircase and one-time servants’ quarters on the upper floors.

One member of the NPR team, Anne Olesen, was approaching the front door when she looked at a sidewalk paver that bore then name of her grandfather and his construction company. Anne is a Waterloo native.

It’s a Team-Groucho custom for us riders to give a gift to our host families. It should be something small and inexpensive but something that tells our hosts something about ourselves. One member of the NPR team called Jim caught us all off guard when he told the story of how he just learned through genetic testing that his father was not his biological father. His biological father was a man he knew, his Italian Godfather (no joke), and so he gave our hosts a pin showing the Italian and American flags.

Jaye and me posing in front of the old Wonderbread factory in Waterloo.

Jim was due to meet with his elderly mother in the Chicago suburbs right after RAGBRAI to get things sorted out, to the extent such things can ever be sorted out. She and the man who raised Jim are still married.

I mentioned Jaye. She is a dentist who lived for 14 years in Montana, where she still has a home, but recently moved to Clinton, Iowa to work another 12 months to become vested in a federal pension. She didn’t quite know what her job would entail. It entailed working as a dentist at a max-security federal prison. Her first two weeks on the job showed that she would have to carry a firearm and her patients would be handcuffed. I guess I don’t need to say she had some serious questions on whether she would see it through.

One night Jaye and I drank wine at a family-room bar and talked after the rest of our team had turned in. One of our hosts half-jokingly told us it was “closing time.” She invited me to visit her in Montana. Maybe I will, but we’ll see. The future hasn’t happened yet.

About half of our cycling team worked in the news business and we biked along the county roads of Iowa, trying our best to ignore what was going on. More and more cases of COVID, caused by the Delta Variant. That’s what was going on.

The Iowa River

We were in Iowa to celebrate the chance to finally meet up and have a group adventure, and it started to sound like we’d once again be seeing that liberation in the rearview.

We rode our team van back to Des Moines to catch flights back home, and some of us camped in Betsy Danforth’s home which was in the country, but also very close to the Des Moines airport. The house was designed by her husband Ryan, an architect, and it has great floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the farm fields and forested patches nearby. A deer ambled past the house one evening and Richard Harris, a bird watcher, got out his binoculars to view the avian life.

The Iowa countryside

Another memorable moment this RAGBRAI was hearing my friend Scott Horsley tell how important the ride is to him. In fact it was his favorite week of the year. I was wondering whether I would bother to go again next year. I think I will.