Appearances

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The other morning, as my wife and I were leaving our over fifty-five community, we were stopped by Ken who let us know that some of the residents were upset that we were allowed into the mobile home park. No, it wasn’t because we threw wild parties, played loud music, or drove much faster than the ten-mile-per-hour speed limit. No, it was because we were clearly not fifty-five and older. My wife and I laughed as Ken explained there was only one real vocal person expressing his discontent. He also explained that the man is quite the complainer anyway.

The truth of it is I will turn sixty on the 21st of this month and my wife is now fifty-five. Both of us were blessed with the genetics that kept us on the youthful side of aging. Both of us were carded well into our thirties and I angered a coworker a while back when he discovered that I was actually five years older than him. He had believed it was the other way around.

Appearances – we’ve all heard it: Don’t judge a book by its cover, and yet, judging people based on their appearances is still a widespread problem. Be it racial profiling or just plain profiling people have been maimed and killed over our little differences let alone hurt or embarrassed. I was in a restaurant this week and two businessmen were talking about some women in the office. You know the tripe; one’s cute and he wants to know her better but the other one is just plain ugly. I just want to scream when I hear that kind of talk but I keep quiet and remember a line from one of my favorite philosophers: Andy Warhol, who once commented that: “If everyone isn’t beautiful then no one is.” I was trained to see the world as an anthropologist but I have also learned to view the world as an artist and I do my best to see the beauty in all things.

The world I am a part of seems to have developed more tolerance for diversity. A whole generation of tattoos and piercings that had people upset hardly seem to turn an eye anymore. The length or color of one’s hair, their gender, their orientation, their ethnicity, and their spiritual preferences are more acceptable. I say the world that I am a part of because I know these advances are not happening everywhere but, like John Lennon, I like to Imagine that maybe some day they may.

Imagine all the people.

Mountain Dreaming

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I grew up on the South End of the Santa Monica Bay, near the Palos Verdes Peninsula and with a view of the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains. The allure of the distant peaks permeated my childhood but I was not to visit them and spend some time getting to know them until my first Boy Scout Summer Camp in August of 1965. The Scout Master of Troop 97 allowed me to don a Boy Scout Uniform a few days early because I would not turn eleven until the middle of that Camping Trip.

In the Summer of 1965 we still gathered firewood from within the forests of the Lake Arrowhead Boy Scout Camps and I was even sent out with an ax to cut wood from the fallen trees. We’ve learned since then that these are not necessarily healthy forest management practices but they seemed perfectly natural at the time.

There would be a second Summer Camp in August of 1967 and a few years later, once I had my motorcycle, there would be numerous day trips up into the mountains. Then more years later, as a father and an uncle, their would be trips to Santa’s Village and to Mt. Baldy so the little ones could play in the snow. Then, in the late 1980’s, I went to work in Greeneville, Tennessee. The inhabitants of the area referred to themselves as Mountain Folk and had a pleasant, kind of laid back and unhurried, life style. I remember an interview with Park Overall, one of Greeneville’s own, in which she spoke quite fondly of her Mountain upbringing. And so, after nearly a year of two weeks there for every week home, often with my wife who worked on the same software development project, we made a decision to move up into the mountains and reset all of our clocks to Mountain Time.

We lived in Running Springs from 1989 to 1997 and continue to miss that lifestyle. It was a number of events and circumstances that made us decide to leave our mountain home for the foothills where we will still see snow once or twice a year when the snowline falls below four-thousand feet.

We just returned from a short visit to the mountains on the occasion of our 26th Wedding Anniversary. It was something we did for our 25th as well and each time I am reacquainted with that old home sickness for Mountain Folk, Mountain Time, and Mountain Hospitality. I would like to think that perhaps someday we will be able to afford a small cabin where we could spend our summers exploring our creative aspects like writing, composing, and painting. Let’s just call it my Mountain Dream.

Missionaries

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Several years ago two young women visited me from Utah on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I had finished my morning chores, showered, and then sat down on the couch with a glass of wine to keep me company while I was reading when the doorbell rang. The spokeswoman for the pair asked if they could come in and talk to me about their Mormon faith and to present me with a copy of The Book of Mormon. As my son and daughter were in their bedrooms I acquiesced and permitted them inside.

I asked if they minded if I sipped upon my wine while we talked and they insured me that it was perfectly fine and we entered into a back-and-forth discussion of their faith and my own particular spiritual bent. Even though, I explained, that I attended church with my family, was a youth group leader, and had spent five years as the Board President, I had never considered myself a religious man although I do consider myself a spiritual one.

I listened to the young women and they listened to me and we genuinely respected each other’s beliefs and could see the value in them. There was once a time when I had trouble with three tenets of the Mormon faith but they demonstrated the value of two of those leaving me issue with only one, which is their idea that the Latter Day Saints practice the one and only true religion. I always figured if there was an infinite God then there must be an infinite number of paths that lead to Him/Her/It.

One of the two young missionaries hailed from Ogden and the other from Salt Lake City continued to visit me once a month or so for the remainder of the Southern California Mission and we spent many pleasant hours learning about each other’s beliefs. They were quite happy to learn that I had visited Palmyra while on a business trip to Rochester, toured the facility there, and was shown the spot where Joseph Smith was said to have retrieved the Golden Plates. They were also pleased to know that I had also been to Joseph Smith’s home in Salt Lake City while on a business trip there.

On their last visit to see me they said their mission was over and they were returning home and that other missionaries would visit me. It was a bittersweet farewell, as if I was seeing old friends for the very last time. I had, after all, truly enjoyed their company, our discussions, and our explorations into faith. Blame the anthropologist in me for being so interested in other’s beliefs.

We said goodbye and sometime later two young men stopped by on a Saturday afternoon. The spokesman for the two introduced them and that asked: “Are we ever going to convince you to visit our church.” When I replied in the negative they said I would not be visited again and left.

I still have The Book of Mormon the young women had presented me with a personalized inscription on the inside directing me to some passages they believed to be of particular import. I read those passages along with others and rarely I’ll pick it up and read a little bit but the truth is I may never finish it, although I should so I can better understand the faith of coworkers, neighbors, and friends although I don’ t know how much of a difference it would make. I suspect very little.

I will always treasure the memories of the two inquisitive young missionaries and of lazy Saturday afternoon discussions and of the fact that we could follow different paths and maintain a relationship that was not only pleasant but also one of mutual respect. It’s something I think our shrinking world could use a little more of.

Downsized

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My wife and I have downsized. That is to say, we have moved into a double-wide mobile home in an over fifty-five community. The real truth is that the mobile is nearly the same square footage as the home we left behind so that our daughter, her husband, and four children could move into because they had sorely outgrown their two-bedroom.

The four-bedroom (plus office) home we gave up was finished in the Craftsman style (by me) with extensive built-ins and storage galore. The double-wide is a two bedroom with large rooms, loads of wall space, and minimal storage, which of course met the necessity of a yard sale. Now, I loathe yard sales, but I trimmed my possessions and sat it up, but left the running of it to my daughter and son while I boxed belongings.

As our previous home had the built-ins we were forced to purchase new furniture. After all you can’t just take chests of drawers, bookcases, desk furniture, and entertainment centers out of the walls that they are an integral part of. The mobile is slowly taking shape but the expenses (including some large unexpected emergency outlays) have slowed us down in replacing what we gave up, which were things like a desk, a piano, and storage space for my things. My current desk is a little 2’ by 4’ white plastic craft table but it supports my laptop perfectly well and now that we have reliable Internet things are slowly getting normalized.

Not only have we downsized but we’ve become empty nesters because in order to make this whole transition work our youngest son (21) and daughter (19) have moved into that aforementioned two-bedroom, which is some 40 minutes away. The good news for them is that, not only are they closer to their respective colleges (they don’t even have to get on the freeway), they get somewhat of a sheltered independence. The bad news is that they are learning how to be independent and I miss having their voices around. A double-wide can be a lonely place when you’re in it all alone and a little scary when the normal creaks and groans sound like footsteps and people mumbling. You see, I’ve never lived in a mobile home before and so it’s a different experience, to say the least.

I have learned, although, that downsizing is a lesson in letting go. Letting go of record collections and stereo equipment, of books and hobby magazines, and handmade furniture and fixtures, of the accumulated knickknacks of twenty-eight years together, and of all the familiar sights, sounds, surroundings, neighbors, and routines. It seems almost that letting go is a lot like pruning the deadwood and overgrowth.

But, letting go has also met leaving behind things that exacerbate my middle-aged onset of allergies and physical trauma. Letting go of mowing the lawn, of pruning the fruitless mulberry that left bumps all over my body, cat dander, of the mule on the next street baying in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, with the voice of a thousand pained banshees, and of letting go of those nasty allergy medications. I’ve even let go of the idea of being downsized and I have embraced the changes. I have even drawn plans up for a storage cabinet to sit bellow the window next to my desk, and for two window tables to sit behind the two couches and under the two east windows in he living room, for DVD cases to sit on either side of the LCD TV (we hope to have before too much longer), a wine rack, and I am now dreaming up plans for a replacement desk in the French Country style.

I think being downsized can be a lot of fun once you recognize it’s a bit like starting over and maybe, just maybe, it can all be done even better this time around.

Sweet Friendship

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My wife and I went to visit the Huntington in San Marino this past weekend and I’ve been trying to remember the occasion of my first visit and what my memory has suggested is that it was on a field trip while I was in the sixth grade and attending the South Bay Junior Academy in Torrance. That would have been in 1966 and I was, to say the least, awed by the experience and fell in love with the Japanese Garden and the portraits of The Blue Boy and Pinkie, for which I envisioned a deep love between them such as what I felt for my classmate Bonnie Jean.

The Huntington remained in my mind although I did not possess the means for a revisit for several years. I turned fifteen in August of 1969 and the following month my older brother and I went halves on the purchase of a motorcycle and since he was then serving in the Coast Guard that meant the bike was mostly mine and one of the first places I rode to was the Huntington where I refreshed my memory of the two young portraits then ate lunch on the grass beside the Koi pond.

On my second motorcycle ride to the Huntington a week later a young woman who either worked or volunteered there stopped me by the gift shop and bookstore to ask about the red book I carried along with my sack lunch. I was embarrassed by her curiosity at first but explained it was a book of Romantic Era Poetry and featured such poets as Blake, Coleridge, Scott, Moore, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Hood, Landor, and Praed. I also explained that I enjoyed sitting by the Koi pond to eat my lunch and read poetry. Diana joined me that day and I read some of my favorite poems of Keats and Shelley to her and then she borrowed my book and read to me some of her favorite Blake poems.

During my fifteenth year I was to make frequent trips to the Huntington and my new friend Diana, who was a full-time student at Pasadena City College, would join me by the Koi pond. She introduced me to a cadre of poets I hadn’t yet experienced like Charlotte Turner Smith, Mary Robinson, Ann Radcliffe, Ana Seward, Felicia Hemens, along with many others. In time we even became brave enough to read each other our own poetic creations and congratulate each other on our brilliance.

Now summers melt into fall, which ices into winter and then thaws into spring and with that last change of seasons into the following summer my Huntington friend went off to University and I set about on the path of finding myself and transitioning into manhood. In that year of sweet friendship the two of us never went beyond first names, nor did we ever exchange phone numbers or addresses, and we never met anywhere other than at the Huntington. What we did exchange was a love of the Japanese Garden, of the Romantic Era Poetry, and the gift of each other’s voice.

As I think back to those days when I normally disguised and hid myself behind different personas and pseudonyms I recall, that to Diana, I was Sam, not Steven or Nick, but just me unmasked and to her I bared my innermost feelings through my own Lyric Poetry with all its angst and pain as she in turn did with me, without judgment, without condemnation, without obligation, and given the human condition for what it is, that was a rare experience.

Now, forty-five years later, I still possess that 1934 printing of Romantic Poetry and, the truth be told, it is one of only a handful of artifacts I retain from my adolescence. While the memories of Diana’s face and voice have dissolved into blurred reflections with the passage of time, the memory of that sweet friendship fortunately lingers and I am grateful for how it helped to shape the character of the man I became.

Submarine Races

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A favorite spectator sport of the young people coming of age on the south end of the Santa Monica Bay were the late afternoon and evening Submarine Races visible from lonely bluffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. It was normal that when a young man would propose this attraction to his best girl she would feign gullibility, agree to the excursion, and then stare intently at the Bay in an attempt to discern the radar towers protruding above the water, which would mark the progress of the Submarines as they raced across the bay.

It was, however, just a short matter of time before the young lady would become bored with the activity and turn her attention and affections to her young man, which was after all the true purpose of parking in the moonlight on a lonely, lovely, Palos Verdes Peninsula Bluff.

Now I never believed for a moment that any of the young ladies were ever tricked into accompanying their young man up onto the Peninsula for what was really a contact sport after all. But, even as I now approach the age of sixty, I cannot think of many things I’d like to do more than to ask my best girl if she’d like to go with me and watch the Submarines as they race beneath the waves of the Santa Monica Bay.

Now that’s amore.

Time Travel

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Last night I went time traveling and I didn’t even need a Tardis. I awakened in August of 1971 inside that old familiar roller skating rink in Santa Ana. Mozart was playing, the lights were low and strobing, I was skating backwards, and sweet blue-eyed Jennie was smiling at me as we sashayed around the rink holding tight to one another. Round and around we danced on white rented roller skates, content to glide slowly and evenly, disdaining speed, and allowing ourselves to be immersed within the simple symphony of youth.

When I was young and love apart
I drove into the night
I stopped to skate with old Mozart
And stepped into her light
She touched my hand and then my heart
And held my fingers tight

And then Jennie kissed me
She took me by the hand
She gave me love I’d never known
She helped me be a man

We rode our ponies through the hills
And out along the shore
Rolled in the sand and had some thrills
Enjoying native lore
Bounced off breakers and took some spills
While learning to explore

And then Jennie kissed me
She took me by the hand
She gave me love I’d never known
She helped me be a man

While empty seashells tumbled
And the winter slowly stumbled
I watched her footprints wash away
And smiled through the salty spray

And remembered
Back when Jennie kissed me
And took me by the hand
She’d given love I’d never known
She helped me be a man

Umm, I remember
I will always remember
When Jennie kissed me

May all your time travels be as sweet.

Perchance to Dream

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I have completed a short story entitled Fantasia in C, which developed an irresistible life of its own while I wrote it. What I had expected to be short grew to nearly 14,000 words and 62 pages in length but what has been fascinating is the way in which I’d crawl inside the story from within my dreams. It is a love story told in the first person by a man who is 32 when it begins and 38 when it ends and in my dreams I have become that man and took on his persona and worldview. It has been both a joy and an affliction.

I find that my dreams are often vivid and so realistic that they become indistinguishable from the outer reality and I fail to comprehend them as dreams until I awaken – and even then sometimes, I need to awaken yet again in order to return to this plane.

Many years ago I remember John Lennon once said in an interview something to the effect that – who’s to say that our dreams are no less of a reality than that which exists when we awaken to the world? Who’s to say?

A dream, a nightmare, composing a story or novel at my computer: who’s to say which experience is any less real than the other? In my dreams I breathe, blood courses through my veins, I love, I desire, and often regret the inevitable awakening. In my nightmares I sweat, I fear, my heart races, my blood pressure increases, and I cherish that eventual awakening.

In the real world I waffle. On a good day I may loathe to let if slip away and fall asleep. On a bad day I am grateful to put it behind me for a good dream. Some days I simply need the rest and respite.

Fantasia in C is part of a series of short vignettes that I have written as part of a collection I have titled Tales from the South Bay, after the area I grew up in on the south end of the Santa Monica Bay. The stories blend personal history with fiction and have been a lot of fun to write: Ryan’s Fall, Seventeen, Museum Pieces, Northbound, and of course, Fantasia in C. It is my intention to self publish them through Amazon and other channels in the near future as soon as my editor (that’s my daughter) gets a break from her busy life.

It’s a good dream.

The Undoing Of Fear

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Today our A Course in Miracles study group started Chapter 28; The Undoing of Fear, and, as we read through Section 1, I recalled Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Speech of 1941, which I understand was technically his State of the Union Address, but growing up with Norman Rockwell’s paintings forever at hand it will always be remembered as the Four Freedoms Speech. The Elementary School I attended had copies of the Rockwell paintings displayed along with portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Our family had reproductions as did most of my friends’ families whose parents were all of an age to have listened to the speech on the radio on that 6th of January, eleven short months shy of Pearl Harbor.

As we read about the Undoing of Fear I thought back to all the times I was taught to be afraid while growing up in Los Angeles County. The first thing I was taught to be afraid of was the Commies and their Atom Bombs all reinforced by the regular Duck and Cover drills in school, the monthly test of the air raid siren that could be heard for miles and miles, the atomic bomb bunkers on the nearby Palos Verdes Peninsula, and of course that was all capstoned by the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Then it was George Putman’s news where his conservative coverage of the Civil Rights Movement was portrayed as something we should all be fearful of and then brought home in August of 1965 when we all stood upon our rooftops and watched the flames and smoke rising from Watts. All too soon though it was back to the Red Menace and that dirty little Southeast Asian war and the Hawks were clamoring for a nuclear strike on Hanoi. It always amazed me how Ho Chi Minh, who stood 4’ 11’’ and weighed all of 90 pounds, caused so much fear in the self-proclaimed most powerful country on Earth.

China, the Ku Klux Klan, Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Iran, Iraq, and Terrorism comprise only a partial list of reasons to harbor fear. My wife and I were watching Brian Wilson’s news show last night and there was coverage of the TSA and their new scanners and footage of the heavily armed agents in the airports and it hurt to remember as a teen and in my twenties there was none of that. Loved ones could even accompany the passengers out to the plane and kiss them goodbye then wave as they walked up the stairs. The only fear of flying seemed to be restricted to mechanical failures and Acts of God.

After last nights news I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to be afraid of, the threat of terrorism or the worst drought in California History. I suppose we’ve been given so many things to be afraid of that maybe we’re being desensitized to fear itself. At least that’s the way I feel these days. I think the last thing I really worried about was a war with China. In fact, on the morning of September 11, 2001, I was away on a business trip and awakened by a phone call from my wife who declared that; “We’re under attack,” and my immediate response was to ask; “The Chinese?”

I’m sure it was also Franklin Roosevelt who declared: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” and that’s what The Undoing Of Fear is really all about – simply changing our perspectives and choosing not to give fear a place to roost.

A Helping Hand

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I have always been an independent person used to doing physical things himself and rarely asking for help except when physically impossible. I know this is a result of my father who practiced that proud American tradition of self-reliance and perceived it a weakness to be otherwise. This is not to say that I never ask for help and have always been the first to admit I don’t know or understand something and to seek clarification or assistance from those with the better qualifications, although I usually try to figure it out and muddle through on my own first.

Just over a month ago I had reconstructive surgery on my left arm to repair a badly healed broken wrist that at the time I had only thought sprained. Prior to the surgery, knowing I was to be impaired, I installed several devices to make one-armed living more amenable as well as safe. After the surgery it was apparent that while I could still do most things by myself there were some that were physically impossible and some that were prohibited by my surgeon, such as lifting anything with my left hand. One of the things I could not do was to pull my boots on and off. Fortunately, we had the foresight to purchase a pair of slip-on shoes, which caused me to joke with my wife that I had always figured that when I could no longer pull my boots on and off that I would walk alone out into a forest in the mountains of western North Carolina and let my body become part of something new.

It’s been 33 days now I have been able to get my boots on and off with my right hand although it is a bit of a struggle as is putting socks on with one hand. But in these 33 days I’ve had to ask for help a number of times, especially when it comes to lifting things that requires the use of two hands, and I haven’t felt like I was exhibiting too much of a weakness but just today I was reminded of how deeply ingrained my self-reliance really was.

My wife and I ran a couple of errands today and in-between stopped at a Mediterranean restaurant (the chef is from Syria) for lunch. Now this particular restaurant features a daily luncheon buffet and I self-reliantly picked up a dinner plate, which I balanced on the cast of my left arm, and proceeded to serve myself. It took less than a minute for the friendly young host to approach and offer to serve me and my first impulse was to decline his offer and trudge on alone. Fortunately, I realized the ridiculousness of my attempt to be self-reliant and accepted his offer of assistance, which obviously pleased this young man who, also Syrian, heaped overly generous portions on my plate and insisted on my having a second so that the salad items wouldn’t lie beside the main dishes.

Today I was reminded of how rewarding it was to offer someone a helping hand and even though I will likely mostly return to my old self-reliant self I do hope the next time someone offers to give me a helping hand I won’t be quite so quick to refuse.

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