Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Poem for Kevin Wilson

July 28, 2020

I was walking a block of my neighborhood when I noticed for the first time a telephone pole covered with poems and tributes and the photo of a man. It was a picture of our mailman who was killed while riding his bike. I thought I should write something too and tack it to the pole with the others. I did. And here’s a Poem for Kevin Wilson.

 

I finished the ride for you Kevin

You were riding your bike on Dehesa Road

When death came in the steel skin of a car.

Saturday I cycled that same road into Harbison Canyon

Then struggled up Mountain View Road to Crest

Thankful for the pain that showed me I was alive.

I’m older than you were then, and likely not so fit

But fortune is a bitch that fears not God nor justice

The priest says to believe in the life of the soul

But is that like believing in ghosts?

I will try to see your spirit walking to my house to bring the mail

And I’ll try to see your spirit where foolish men like you and me

Travel highways only on the power of our breakable bodies.

Maybe I’ll see you best when I am struggling to climb

And not knowing when or if I’ll arrive at the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dogs and Life

July 20, 2020

Cooper, the day after we brought him home.

Dogs have been a part of my life nearly all of my life. And two weeks ago I got a puppy.

It was a Brittany Spaniel. I was ready to adopt a dog and the Brittany had become my dream dog. But I’d briefly given up trying to find one since they weren’t that popular around here. But then I found some breeders in Arizona, and on July 4th, Nicholas and Sophie and I drove to Coolidge, AZ to pick up an 8-week old puppy we decided to name Cooper.

I thought Coolidge was going to be a tidy bedroom suburb of Phoenix. But it turned out to be a country town, if you could even call it a town, on a flat patch of desert that was quite a ways south of the metropolis. A dirt road took us over an irrigation ditch to the breeder’s rural house where she had a kennel of Brittanies out back. We paid $1300 for Cooper, who the breeder was clearly sorry to part with, then we put him in our car and drove away. The temperature was approaching 110 degrees.

Maybe the dogs in my life were evidence of my middle class existence. A family portrait from the mid-sixties shows my dad in a suit, my brother and me as little kids wearing jackets and ties, my mother looking beautiful in a red dress and, seated at her feet, our fox terrier Freddy.

In fact the presence of a dog at home became a cliche of family bliss. Right? A man’s got it made when he’s got a house, a wife, two kids and a dog. So it’s funny that I’m getting a dog as my marriage is falling apart. In my family picture the wife is a missing puzzle piece. But at least I’ve got a dog.

Cooper is orange and white, with a white stripe descending from the top of his head that broadens over his muzzle. The white stripe bisects the orange fur that surrounds his eyes and covers his ears. They’re the signature markings of a Brittany Spaniel. One reason I fell for Brittanies is they’re so damn handsome. And even though I’ve never hunted, I love gun dogs. Maybe their instinct to bond with a hunter makes it natural for them to bond with a family.

When you walk around the neighborhood with a puppy you attract attention. The same guy drove past us on two separate occasions as other people were admiring Cooper. The second time he stopped to tell me that I had become the most popular guy in the neighborhood. If you’re a single man, a puppy is the ultimate chick magnet. But they’re a magnet for pretty much anyone. It helps that Cooper seems to like anyone, dog or human.

I remember reading John Steinbeck’s book, Travels with Charley, about the time he toured the country in a camper with a standard poodle named Charley. He said he brought Charley with him for several reasons. The first was companionship. Also, he was going to be camping in a lot of dark, lonely places and standard poodles are good watch dogs. The other reason: Being with a dog is a great way to get people to talk to you.

The ice-breaking nature of a dog lets us connect with people, even those with opposing political views, and these days that’s saying a lot. The attitude of gratitude and the non-judging nature of a dog is something we can all agree to love. Even in my own home, Cooper has brought me and my two kids together.

I’m taking a couple weeks off from work. It’s been a summer vacation like I used to know, when school was out and you spent the summer around the house in idleness. The laptops and smartphones are still there, seeking our attention, but now there’s something else to we can do. We can watch Cooper’s antics and tell stories about him. We can wrestle with him and complain about him as he tries to nip our hands. We’ve focused our attention on the puppy, and he’s united us in that extraordinary way that a dog can do.

 

Am I?

June 6, 2020

Am I a racist

Am I afraid of young black men

Do I see a stranger when a black person stands before me

Are their thoughts and feelings a mystery that would shock me if I heard them

Am I a racist who thinks black people are superhuman or subhuman

Do I watch them play sports and believe they’re bonded for my entertainment

Have I seen them killed by police so often I believe it’s a natural state

Does my white skin make me a brick in a racist wall that cannot be knocked down

Am I a racist

Am I?

 

Moved to the Head of the Line

May 26, 2020

During the great sickness we stand in line at grocery stores, especially Trader Joe’s where there is rarely not a line. They fear if we’re too crammed into their space we’ll give each other Covid-19.

I was in line one day shortly before 9 a.m. but it seemed strange because the store was clearly open and the line was not moving. People would come out of the store and none in line would be let in.

The sign I must have missed

Then a woman approached me and said, ‘Are you in the senior line?’ It was a funny question since the other people in line were clearly NOT seniors. In fact, I didn’t know what she was talking about.

The woman went up to the Trader Joe’s maitre d’ who was standing outside the entry door. He nodded his head and sent her inside. I decided to make an inquiry and I learned that seniors had carte blanche on the place from 8 to 9.

‘You can go in,’ he said. That kind of pissed me off. How does he know I’m a senior?

What’s a senior? I asked, then learned that it was anyone 60 or older. I barely qualified, but I did qualify. I wondered why they didn’t card people. You card people if you think they’re too young to buy alcohol. How did he know I wasn’t actually 58 and was just lying so I could get in ahead of everyone in line?

He knew because people who are getting on in life don’t want to claim they’re older or pretend that they’re older. People who are young do want to claim the’re older, not just so they can buy booze but so they can enjoy greater status and respect. By the time you’re my age being older is something you dread, not desire.

But I took the chit and went in to gather bread and wine with the other old folks as the young and waited outside.

 

 

 

Gotcha

May 22, 2020

I work at a radio-TV station located on a college campus. It’s got a big staff and there are two people I’m thinking of. One is a man that’s an editor who’s been in journalism for a long time. The other is a female student employee. They both say Gotcha.

You know what I’m talking about. I tell them what I think about something, and they say Gotcha.

I’m not saying they give me a big exclamatory “Gotcha!!” They both say it in a sober, serious manner to tell me they get me. But Gotcha is a funny thing to say. Kind of old-fashioned, like something you’d hear from some colorful old codger. But the gal who says it to me is 21 years old.

The one thing I know these two people have in common is they’re from Kansas. He’s from Kansas City and she’s from a little town in the north-central part of the state. I thought maybe this could explain it. But then I was listening to a podcast of the show RadioLab, which is produced in New York.

The host was listening to the response of a guest on the show. The guest was done making her point. Gotcha, he said.

I actually looked up the guy’s bio on the show’s website, and he wasn’t from Kansas. It says he grew up mostly in Tennessee, and maybe that’s kind of like Kansas.

When I lived in Minnesota they’d answer in the affirmative by saying, You Betcha. You could compound the term by saying ‘Yah sure, you betcha’ or ‘You betcha, by golly.’

Maybe it’s just a part of the American language to take the word ‘you’ and turn it into ‘cha’ when the previous word ends with a T. And I guess we should make the most of it.

I heard that big dog bitcha. I knew he was gonna gitcha.

You should stay away from dogs like that.

Gotcha.

 

 

 

 

 

A Place without People

April 5, 2020

The barren heart of San Diego State.

I’ve worked on the campus on San Diego State ever since I moved to San Diego. And during the semester it’s a place that’s filled with people. When I got here it was full of kids walking and talking on their cell phones. Now it’s full of kids walking and staring at their cell phones.

But I shouldn’t say “now” because, once the great sickness spread across the world, SDSU students were sent home. So were their professors and everybody else who worked on campus. This place has the same shape with its paths, hills and buildings. But it no longer has a human spirit.

A place isn’t a place without people. Even in the summer, when class numbers shrunk to a minimum, there were still people in transit from the bookstore to the ATM’s and the food court then to some mysterious activity they had in some academic hall. You still heard music played by SDSU students who’d gathered to form ensembles in the music building, on the edge of an athletic field.

A couple days ago I stopped to take a photo of an empty campus (the one you see above) that I would have never been able to take in the daylight before this.

Nobody seems to know when we’ll be able to meet and touch each other again. Now we’re hiding from others to avoid infection. All of this virus avoidance makes me I wonder how we will be able to build up immunity and ultimately be protected from COVID-19. From what I hear a vaccine is years away.

Anyway, I’ll look forward to seeing you in the line to enter the grocery store, though I probably won’t know it’s you unless I can recognize you behind a medical mask.

Knowing that it’s Over

April 4, 2020

My parents were married until death came, just like in the wedding vow. I have wondered whether people remaining in long marriages made perfect sense or required a huge act of will. My marriage has been a long one, 29 years, but now it’s breaking up.

I got married to a woman I fell in love with and we seemed very compatible. We were together for a long time and I was happy. I didn’t ever give much thought to whether I should get married to somebody. I just assumed that I would, and I did. In the same way I assumed I would have children, which we did.

Now that the marriage is done I still have two wonderful kids. They’re not little anymore. But the memories of holding their hands, throwing them up in the air and being greeted by them when I picked them up at daycare are like stones so precious I could never trade them or lose them.

I have never been a guy that made many friends. I don’t have a group of buddies I hang out with. Sure, I’m social. Great at parties. Great at striking up conversations with people I don’t know. But forming strong friendships? For some reason, I’m not good at that. After I got married, my wife was kind of it for me. She was my lover and my best friend and I thought that she was enough. And now that’s over.

I guess what we think of marriage is a transitory thing. Maybe it’s crazy that I ever thought otherwise. We used to think marriage meant starting a new family. No longer the case. We used to think a marriage was a union between a man and a woman. No longer the case. I guess marriage means whatever we decide it means. If we decide marriage is a ham and cheese sandwich, then that’s what it is.

As for that “til death do us part” thing, you gotta admit that was a lot easier back when we didn’t live so long.

The woman I married is still in my life. When you have kids there’s no other choice, really. The divorce, which will soon be a reality, was not my idea. And for a long time all I wanted was to get her back… to somehow turn this ship around and make things the way they were, only better.

But I’m tired of wanting her back. The marriage is done and now even I know it’s done. And, you know, maybe that’s not so bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Toilet Paper Story

March 29, 2020

Warning: Some may find this story distasteful because it involves… well, you know.

Now that we’re in the midst of the great global sickness, toilet paper is flying off the store shelves. I don’t know why. Does coronavirus give you the runs? Maybe. Or maybe people just stock up on toilet paper when they fear disaster is imminent. My home supply is getting short. I now have three toilets and only two rolls of toilet paper.

Yesterday this caused a problem.

I was on the phone with MetLife trying to work out an insurance problem that I feared could result in a huge, unexpected bill. I finally got them on the phone, after being on hold forever, and they told me I had to contact my bank.

I called the bank (was put on hold) and then realized I really had to use the bathroom. I took my phone into the bathroom, not expecting to need it because this would be another huge wait on hold, right? I passed my fecal load before I realized there was no toilet paper left. Then the bank suddenly came on the line with a cheery, “Can I help you?” There I was with a unclean backside, no toilet paper and separated from my laptop computer that I now realized I should have also brought to the toilet.

I heard my son rummaging in the nearby kitchen.

“Nicholas! Bring me some paper towels!” He was unresponsive. “Nicholas, I need them now!” All this was heard by the bank employee since I’m not used to putting my iPhone on mute. I’m sure she found this strange/uncomfortable so I hope, at least, it gave her a good story to tell.

I got cleaned off, got back on the phone and was able to check some stuff on my laptop. Following this event, all my bathrooms are equipped with something, either a roll of TP or a box of kleenex. I’ll visit the grocery story again today to find out, probably, that they still don’t have any toilet paper.

The call to the bank, BTW, did not solve my problem. I had to call the insurance company again.

UPDATE: Yesterday my son looked in one of our closets and he found 3 rolls of toilet paper. We’re back in business baby!

 

 

 

 

 

Life in the Pandemic

March 26, 2020

If there were a movie with the title of this blog post you’d expect danger and action. But life with the coronavirus is just the opposite. I’m at home, often by myself, and doing my best to avoid people. When you do that, things are still and dull.

I walk outside in the morning and I’m struck by how quiet it is. Even if you live in a quiet neighborhood you always hear the drone of city traffic in the background. I’m outside now and that sound is absent.

It’s the eerie silence that comes from fear… not of violent people or some monster but a virus, something that makes no noise and cannot be seen. When you see people they may have it. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not freaking out. I don’t look at people now as sinister harbingers of something that will kill me. I smile and wave as they walk by.

But constantly telling people to stay away from each other creates distance and dread.

I’ve been occupying myself by working on my garden. I climbed a ladder to cut off the tops of some overgrown hedge trees. I fell off the ladder and landed on my side, which knocked the wind out of me and later hurt like hell. Stupid! I didn’t have a plan for losing my balance and jumping to safety. And I’m too old to be stupid. I could have busted my head! Did I break a rib? I don’t think so and I’m sure not going to the ER for an X-ray, the way things are.

Earlier in the week I was exchanging messages with a woman I know. I think she’s pretty good at tennis. We’d never played and I asked her if she wanted to play. We’d been texting rapidly but suddenly I was waiting a long time for her response. That’s right… we’re not supposed to spend time together these days.

“Sorry,” I messaged her. “Sometimes I forget that things aren’t normal.”

I have the week off. I work in the media and I’m usually swimming in the current of news. Now it’s in the background. I spot a headline that says unemployment claims are at a historic high. Governments are trying to stop home foreclosures. I see an email from work, telling more and more people who work there to socially isolate and stay home… not come into the office.

We’ve got a stay-at-home order from the governor. The mayor has closed parks and beaches, and San Diego kinda looks like a ghost town. Shops are closed and the only thing you see are people in their cars, those mobile extensions of the stay-at-home space.

My mother is blind in one eye and she has an appointment with an opthamologist a week from Friday. Mom says she doesn’t want to go to it. Partly because it puts her in more danger for coronavirus but maybe more because she hates getting injections in her eye. They’re trying to save her good eye, so her doctor told me what her advice was.

I’m thinking, do we put my mom at more risk of getting COVID-19 as she leaves her apartment to make her appointment? At her age of 92 it would likely kill her. Or do we risk her going blind in both eyes because she’s delayed treatment? It’s her decision, not mine, and she has a week to make it.

One good thing. The kids are at home with me.  So I get to watch movies with them, eat dinner with them and talk with my daughter about her school work. She’s doing classes remotely, of course, so she’s here all the time, at least until she goes to her mother’s house at the end of the week. The thing I like about COVID-19: It doesn’t kill people under 20. It might take me, but God willing it won’t take my kids.

 

 

Two Friends, Gone at age 56

January 26, 2020

A long life these days means you live to be… what? 80 years old? Both my parents lived beyond 90. In fact, my mom’s still going. But even now there are people who die when you don’t expect it, and it happened to two men I knew. One I knew very well and the other, I knew well enough to feel the shock.

Albert Webster. RIP.

Albert Webster and Kevin Wilson both died in January 2020 at the age of 56. I’ll start with Albert Webster, who I knew best.

Albert was a New Yorker. His dad had a long career with the New York Philharmonic and Albert also went into the business of managing the performing arts. He worked backstage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and moved to Minnesota, where he eventually became the stage manager of A Prairie Home Companion.

The last time I saw Albert, he was at a distance. I was in the audience in a big auditorium and he was walking across the stage at a performance in San Diego of “Live from Here,” or maybe it was still called a Prairie Home Companion. I can’t recall. I’m sorry I didn’t go backstage to say hi to him.

Albert died in January of a pulmonary embolism. It’s a blood clot that gets in your lungs.

I got to know Albert through his wife Kristina, and I got to know his wife through my wife Karen, who went to law school with Kristina at the University of Minnesota.

I spent a long time thinking about Albert before I could write a sympathy card to Kristina. And I thought about Albert’s generosity and his calm, peaceful nature.

I thought about the time he came to my house in Minneapolis and helped me install a dishwasher when I was terrified of connecting the electrical circuits. When Albert was involved in a project you knew things were going to be okay. I thought of him visiting us in San Diego and talking to my son when he was a toddler.

Kevin Wilson I knew less well. But he seemed to be a kind soul who reminded me of Albert. He was my mailman for many years and I remember seeing his tall, thin frame approaching my house then continuing along the block. He and I spoke frequently when we realized we were both bike enthusiasts.

And that’s how Kevin died.

A resident of La Mesa, he was riding his bike on the morning of Martin Luther King Day when he was hit by a car, east of El Cajon. It was a hit and run. The CHP arrested a motorist, suspected of running into him. Kevin was pronounced dead at a hospital later that day. A news report said the guy driving the car was also 56.

Two men I knew died at the same age at virtually the same time. I might say ‘go figure’ but it can’t be understood or explained. The living have to move on when the dead are gone. We just try not to forget.