Friday, August 28, 2009



Aquarius (January 20 - February 18)
Others will look to you for advice today because you have a pretty optimistic picture of what is ahead. It's not that you are in denial; it's just that you choose not to feed the old paradigm of living in fear. In the final analysis, your words will have the greatest impact now if you can keep your positive spin while presenting both sides of an issue.

The Palomino tent trailer is back in Glendale and as is typical, my family presented me with no tiara upon my completion of ten loads of laundry. It is hot and the air is filled with smoke from fires in the Angeles Forest. It is weird to fold quilts, and sweatshirts and jackets and if I’d known what I was returning to, I might have savored the cool Northern California air more than I did. The summer of ’09 is grinding to a halt. The economy was supposed to be much better by now but by most indicators, it is worse. Michael Jackson is dead and now Ted Kennedy too. Both did the legacy dance in the public eye and they are among the few who can be called, without hyperbole, American icons.

Despite my horoscope, for the last few days, facing my life and the world with optimism has been a challenge. I am weary of treading water and juggling bills at the office. An old friend and competitor suddenly closed the doors of his library and walked away. There are other friendly competitors I would chat up on the phone once in a while but I have stopped calling them because these conversations are too depressing.

The kids go back to school in a week and are alternatively gloopy and urgently trying to suck the last bit of fun from these sizzling smoldering days. Soon I will make lunches and drive in traffic for an hour each morning. Spuds will be attending the same charter school as his brother and I worry that while the administration is well intentioned, they are in over their heads, spread thin and making it up as they go along, to use three clichés right in a row. It is a mixed blessing that most of the teachers from last year are not returning. I hope that from among the enormous array of qualified secondary teachers who received layoff notices, the administration of our little charter school has chosen replacements wisely.

We spend three days in Mount Hermon with Bob and Chris and leave them with only a modicum of structural damage. Chris, after banishing all witnesses, backs the Palomino up a rocky dirt road with the expertise of a seasoned trucker. Faced with drastic cutbacks, running the largest adult education program in the country has been heart wrenching for Bob. He is as personally invested and gratified by his work as anyone I have ever known and every cancelled class and laid off teacher is a huge kick in the gut.

Himself receives his Fall schedule, and is relegated to late evening and early morning classes of remedial English. Despite promises otherwise, his request to attend two conferences he’s been invited to present scholarly papers at, has been denied. He writes an eloquent single page letter requesting the reconsideration of this decision. The letter is returned to him by the president of the university demanding it be resubmitted in bullet points, like a Letterman list of the top ten reasons you should spring for these conferences. .

A bill which encompasses some substantive humane reforms to California Corrections passed in the state senate but seems doomed in the house, due to law and order Republicans and wussy Democrats who are up for re-election and don’t think they can afford to be seen as soft on crime. The bill is being watered down in attempts to get some version of it approved. It is expected that important provisions for releasing elderly and terminally ill inmates to house arrest and the creation of an impartial, independent sentencing commission will be eliminated.

I have been reading a blog written by my former employee Jamie Madrid, called Swimming in the Sea that is My Family,, a sadly beautiful snippet of cyberspace. Jamie worked for me about a dozen years ago and she will correct me if my memories are a bit off, but I recall that during this time she became pregnant and planned a quickie marriage to her boyfriend, a Marine. This prompted me, with my usual sensitivity, to rename her Shotgun. They are still married and have three kids. He left the Marines nine years ago, I glean because Jamie wanted him home more. They live in a small town in Northern California and after both are laid off from their jobs, economic Armageddon leaves both of them unable to find steady employment.

Jamie states that Dustin is a proud soldier but I suspect that if their financial circumstances were better, he wouldn’t attempt to reenlist in the Marines. Despite his many years of service and experience, he is rejected because his daughter’s name is tattooed on his neck above the collar line. If I have my choice, neither of my children will tattoo his neck but this seems like a stupid assed reason to reject someone who is experienced, mature and willing to go. I will add, that given my druthers, my children would also not enlist in the Marines, so this has nothing to do with my dislike of conspicuous tattoos. The Marine’s loss is the Army’s gain. Dustin’s signed on the line and will leave for training in November. Jamie suspects she’ll end up in Germany on a base with the kids but really isn’t sure of their eventual destination. The only certainty is that she will endure long stretches without her partner. She is cleaning and throwing out and packing up and has enrolled her kids for home schooling. She writes with extraordinary equanimity about change, enormous and unknown. I am touched by Dustin’s desire to serve our country but he has already served well and it makes me sad that a combination of obscene fiscal malfeasance and our country’s commitment to so many wars, has forced young patriotic families to make choices like this. I know Jamie’s sweet open spirit will make it a wonderful adventure and I hope that God keeps them all safe.

Rover’s day centers on his 10 a.m. walk but it is so hot that he is eager to return to the office and flake out on the linoleum. It is trash day and redolent and a few woebegone people trudge up the streets with shopping carts rummaging through other people’s garbage for recyclables. A large group of Hispanic Jehovah’s Witnesses turn the corner. They are dressed business professional, the women in skirts and pantyhose and the men, hair slicked down, in suitcoats and ties. Many carry black umbrellas as protection from the scalding sun and most clutch copies of “The Watchtower” and “Awake!” in a plastic folder close to breast. Like the Mormons and millenarian Evangelical Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses endure blazing heat and chafing hosiery and doors slammed in their faces with rage and derision for their fervent belief that God wants them to. We call through the screen door politely that we are not interested when they timidly approach our own door having made the dogs go ballistic. Their object is to convert as many souls as possible, before inevitable Armageddon, to guarantee eternal life in the warm embrace of a loving deity. Perhaps the indignities and discomfort they suffer is worth it, to know with sureness, that there exists a God who will end the suffering of the righteous.

There is shriveled black man with snow white hair, wearing filthy clothing, strewn on the concrete in front of the Rite Aid. He is clutching a Cup ‘O Noodles. His body is heaving in what could be a seizure and from a distance he appears to be frothing at the mouth. I approach though and see that it is not effluvia but long strands of noodles hanging from his lips and he is not seizing because he continues to mutter the word “fuck” as he sprawls there shaking and flinging noodles. There are about 300,000 homeless people in Los Angeles and it is estimated that about 25% are mentally ill. Reagan era mental health reforms and cuts mean that homeless people in need of psychiatric intervention usually end up in the criminal justice system, which lacks the necessary resources for treatment. Inevitably, incarceration exacerbates mental illness. Customers walk around him and pretend not to see. The drugstore security guard stands within the air-conditioned threshold, occasionally glancing out at the gyrating noodle man. I force myself not to look away but take no more responsibility than asking the guard if the police have been called. He affirms that they have, but adds, with a shrug, “They never come.” If I believed in the second coming would it be easier to witness degradation like this in the now?

A variety of cinema verite prison shows accumulates on the DVR but often lately when I go to watch them, it turns out that MSNBC has reprogrammed a Michael Jackson interview. I catch bits and pieces of it over the last month and am intrigued/repulsed by the astounding ickiness of all things Michael Jackson. I watch also, though by choice, a documentary about Ted Kennedy who had an even larger than life family than Jackson and who also veered far off course a number of times. I think Jackson was a substantial musical talent but was more famous for acting out on the tragedy that was his childhood for all to see. Ted, for the enormous weight of being born Kennedy, and a number of public humiliations, never renounced his commitment to public service for the peace of battling his demons in private. My accomplishments will never be headline news, but at least my fuck ups won’t be either.

The office toddles along as the week winds down. An ex-employee brings us an angel food cake and a basket of berries and a current one, a big batch of tacos from one of the best trucks in East L.A. We sit together for lunch everyday and always manage by Friday to have eked out enough orders to keep the lights on.

The new school year is about to begin, It is impossible for our boys to attend a school as good as the ones Himself and I attended. Nevertheless, they live in a house full of books and sometimes, when we are having Shabbat dinner or are fast forwarding through commercials on the DVR, we talk with them about ideas and beliefs and while I do wish there were better learning institutions available to them, and for millions of other kids, their substance and curiosity is palpable and the universe is their classroom.

My beloved scholar is relegated to four sections of dumbbell English and a colleague proclaimed that this is a waste of his talents. Given that this is at an institution led by a man who is either unwilling or unable to read a brief letter and demands Cliff’s Notes, I am sure there will be huge classes full of drooling, barely literate, militant book haters. Yet, I know of no one more qualified to reach out to a kid branded dumbbell and light the first spark. Most of these students will never pick up Shakespeare or Joyce but if one or two are able to find a bit of pleasure in reading a story or feel the satisfaction of having written an effective, cogent paragraph, then my overeducated beloved’s talents will still be underutilized, but not wasted.

Bob, the other stellar educator in my life, is probably making Sophie’s choice many times each day as the cuts get deeper and deeper. A comforting ray of hope is a special program to get high school dropouts back into the educational system that he is coordinating. This is an enormous challenge and the conventional wisdom has yielded dismal results again and again. The missing quotient I think is empathy and as much as I admire Bob’s experience and professionalism and work ethic, I think that this is his greatest gift. I am excited about what he will make of this program and happy for all who will partake of it.

Legislation to overhaul our corrections system faces obstacles born of political cynicism and self interest. It does seem possible though that in the next few weeks the house might at least approve legislation to reinstate the policy of taking time off prison sentences for good behavior and participation and rehabilitative and educational programs and also a reworking of the ass backwards parole system. At present, a sensible reclassification of certain felony property crimes, like receiving stolen property, to misdemeanor status also remains part of the bill. Legislation to create an independent sentencing commission, which was politicked out of the current incarnation, might be proposed later in the year and perhaps this will also include provisions to release infirm and elderly prisoners from overcrowded, ill-equipped prisons to house arrest.

Jamie is scaling down and getting ready to mobilize a house of five. She discards remnants of childhood and family artifacts without mercy as she prepares for the journey. The rubbish bin grows fuller but the words roil and flow, God or no God, this is our legacy, righteous and optimistic.


FionnchĂș said...

You should write sitcoms, being adept at juggling the A-, B- and C-plots so nimbly. Thanks for your kind praise and I add that ten laundry loads were often of the clean clothes that you deemed unfit to wear due to one microgram of dust from Big Sur scattered therein from the campsite dryers. Such is your noteworthy diligence, to writing and to washing. xxx me

Jamie said...

To find myself in your blog is wonderful! Yes, you did brand me shotgun all those years ago and it was most definitely due to my youthful ignorance (or avoidance)of the uses of contraception and speedy marriage to my then Marine boyfriend. The Marine has grown into my husband and I into his wife and us into the parents of our 3 lovelies. Life has done its best to make our life an amusement park roller coaster ride, but then what could we expect... tying the knot after a short 4 months?
There is much pain and sadness in this world and it is all too easy to look away. Being sure to stare that hurt in the face to let it know it is not alone and we are watching drops that pit into our stomachs and that ache into our hearts, but we come out all the better for it. The placement of a tattoo, a noodle man strewn across the ground, students eager to relearn and teachers eager to touch minds, memories/artifacts tossed aside to make travel through life lighter and an old boss who cares enough about the word and world to wish blessings... this is all part of life. Beautifully sad though it be <3 Thank you Layne.