Saturday, July 14, 2018

Between Meals and Semesters


I don't know if I should be ready to take to the street or trust, that the America that was great Before, will survive and that our nation will inevitably take a progressive turn. If it ends badly I will endure the shame of Pollyanna-ishness. If it all blows over, then I will regret all the time I wasted being distracted from my exponentially diminishing moments.

Still, it's summer. The first few weeks of vacation are lush. Coming home from work and making dinner instead of having to rush out and teach is nice. I'm still not caught up on TV but I've made a good dent.

I check out four library books, start them all, and complete only one-- Property a fantastic collection of two novellas and some short stories by Lionel Shriver, one of about ten authors that I'm faithful to. It's about money and what it can buy and and how it can fuck us up worse than love and is more taboo to talk about than kink. Himself leaves me articles every day about retirement. We have property problems. My business is seasonal. Our other employment is always somewhat tenuous. The dog is getting old. Will we splurge and have the euthanasia vet who comes to the house? There are no bandaids at the office. I have a million of them at home, purchased a decade ago at Costco. Some of them still stick. The cheapest box of bandaids at the CVS is $6.00 for the store brand. Just the plain ones. No Neosporin. I am more compassionate now about my aging parents' constant sticker shock.

We spend a few days in the redwoods and stay in the cabin next door to our friends. It's a bit remodeled every year. Now there's a new stove. For years I send the owner a note saying that the oven was too dirty to use (I use it anyway and just open a window) and the new one is really good. The kitchen's better organized. And the chintzy ceiling fan that the bedroom door hit, has been removed. Plus there are two new recliners.

The Felton New Leaf Market that I always complain is way too expensive but inevitably end up needing something is now Wild Roots but is pretty much the same except that they don't sell aprons anymore. Uncharacteristically, I forget two essentials from home-an apron and coffee. I hate cooking without an apron. Our friends, like Himself, are vegetarians, but unlike Himself, actually like vegetables. I make simple meals in a simple kitchen. We go to a mediocre movie in the afternoon. I walk the dog. They've fenced off the quarry we'd walk at but the path along the creek has been tamped down and it is easier to follow. The cabin is one of a smattering of privately owned houses within the boundaries of a Christian conference Center. The neighbors are mortified when the camp installs a zip-line course that very nearly abuts their property. It is an eyesore but it the days at least are filled with wails of delight as the helmeted, padded-suited Christian youth, of a different denomination every week, soar by.

We often take 101 back from the Bay Area and ease back into our real lives. We'd stopped for mind blowing Mexican food in sleepy, seaside, agricultural Guadalupe but the whole town pretty much shut down for five years for earthquake retrofitting. Cecil B. DeMille filmed the Ten Commandments here and parts of the set occasionally rise from wind swept dunes. There is a museum but we arrive in town too late. But the restaurant we always liked has reopened and expanded. I remember the owner. The food o.k., but very tiny, like toy food.


Number One Son and his ladyfriend arrive, having proactively provided me with a spreadsheet containing twenty-five restaurants. We make a serious dent. They arrive on an early morning flight and decide to start the bacchanal at Langer's. I pick them up in the electric car and meeting Ladyfriend for the first time I start to jabber and miss the freeway transition and we end up in Norwalk. We're an hour in traffic consequently. Fortunately, the food at Langer's lives up to expectation but by the time we get home the electric car warns me with increasing frequency and direness, that it is nearly out of juice. We refuel the car and kill some time trying to decide the next destination for refueling ourselves.


Between pho and barbacoa we walk around Chinatown and Olvera Street. I highly recommend the (free admission!) museum La Plaza de Cultura and Artes, on Main St, right across from Olvera. The permanent exhibit is a well designed history of the city, including a realtors map color coded for racial covenants. My parents, in the late forties, were evicted from an apartment when they were revealed to be Jewish. The temporary exhibit chronicles the East L.A. student walkouts of the sixties. There are photos from two schools I've taught at, Roosevelt and Lincoln and an excellent assemblage of artifacts. Both of these charming old campuses, having been the epicenters of the Chicano walkouts, are on the list of most endangered historic buildings in Los Angeles as LAUSD intends to replace the 1930s buildings.

It's been years since I'd seen the murals at Terminal Annex. I'm not sure if the building was closed to the public for a period or if I'd just never tried during regular hours. Only a few of the original paintings are visible but you can see a couple of great examples of the WPA mural. In Union Station, there is a piano that anyone can play for twenty minutes. No singing. No busking. Popular songs from the thirties and forties are performed by a quite adroit pianist.

Spuds has a few days off that overlap with Number One Son's visit. As a surprise for Himself's birthday, he comes on a red eye. We watch Atlanta, Vice Principals and Eastbound and Down. Three Chinese restaurants and two Mexican are checked off. The kids attract an entourage and the house, after months of quietude, is a constant buzz. Full of kids, just like the old days. Much beer and coffee is imbibed. They trek, late at night, up the hill to a friend's pool.

I find myself, after five days of feeling full to the gills, not really being interested in food. For the short term I will associate a number of my favorite dishes with that uncomfortable feeling of fullness. I am certain that this is not a permanent condition and will add, that the list was excellently chosen, the accelerated pace of consumption is not optimal.

It is a great month with time in a favorite place and visits with favorite people. It culminates in a Dead and Company concert. Himself opts out due to heatwave. In addition to moths, has a visceral fear of the sun. The pale thing needs a wide brimmed hat and 100 SPF to walk across a parking lot. My friends wait in 104 heat for two hours to get us an excellent spot-close to the stage and dead center. I travel separately and waft in close to show time. During college I listen to the Dead a lot and attend a number of their concerts. I remember at the Long Beach Civic there was a hippie girl sitting under the bleachers and nursing a baby. I'd never seen a baby being breast fed before. But things ended badly with the Deadhead boyfriend and it's been many years since I've listened or attended a concert. I expect that the concert will be kind of a hippie kitsch fest and indeed there are some pretty silly looking people but it's really organized religion. Three generations. A time to commune with the family of man and enter the trance of the music. Almost all of the songs are very familiar. It is fascinating to hear how they've evolved over 50 years. I am remonstrated when I mix Bill Kreutzmann up with Micky Hart. I'd heard the name John Mayer but can't place his music. He sounds like Van Morrison and is one of the finest guitarists I've ever seen. His hopping energy is a great counterpart to his venerable companions. In my twenties, I dreaded the essential drum solo but now it's soaring and gorgeous and transcendent. I posit that kids who enjoy The Dead with their parents are probably kinder and better adjusted. Tie dye and all.

There's another month before I return to school. Spuds is driving a car to the Goldrush country. We'll meet him there, visit family and return with him to L.A. for a few days. After teaching for a full year, I've re-channelled that feeling of summer specialness from my own school days. Childhood summer was two weeks at sleepover camp and a few of day camp. Otherwise, it was me and my record player. There was no air conditioner on Fulton Avenue but my front bedroom had large banks of windows for cross ventilation. In gardenia season, the aroma from a large bush would waft through the room while I listened to Dylan and Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Too lazy to get up, I tossed peach pits from the window and discover that by fall, a tree had sprouted. Back to school was fall colored plaid and a new lunch box. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas vacation. Looking forward to things that felt a million years away. Now, my pains and pleasures whiz by, breakneck. In the blink of an eye, summer will be over and I'll be planning lessons and setting up my classroom. America's peril is ever on my radar. Maybe it's just liberal self-righteousness, but our presidential leadership is frightening to me and has caused a palpable decline in my mental health. Having some time off school to spend with loved ones and indulge in sensual pleasures elicits a twinge of guilt but also reminds me that there is an America worth living in and fighting for.