Thursday, October 15, 2009

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More More.
Our enormous hibiscus hedge has been shorn and ravished to please the neighbors and I am happy that this week’s rain will help restore it to showy pink blossomed brilliance. Himself works nights and alone in our bed, the pounding rain agitates me with visions of a car hydroplaning on the flooded Long Beach freeway. Finally I hear him on the stairs, tuck him in next to me and hold him through fits of sleep and wakefulness; the typical restless night he has when he must teach early in the morning the day after teaching late into the night.

We drive a different route to the north, going through the hair’s breadth short of twee wine town, Los Olivos. There are many motorcycles. When did a long line of bikers stop being fearsome and start screaming mid-life crisis? Accountants and architects with tricked out Harleys wander from tasting room to tasting room, tallying case discounts and shipping charges. There is a ginormous public portapotty and oodles of winery rooms but we are unable to find a restaurant. We continue north to our usual stop in the town of Guadalupe, a time warp agricultural community at the very northernmost portion of Santa Barbara County. We dine there in a family run vinyl boothed formica tabled restaurant on the type of Mexican cuisine I remember from childhood at Ortega’s on Ventura Blvd. when it was called “Spanish” food.

East of the erstwhile Ortega’s, on Ventura Blvd is the Sportsman’s Lodge. This was the center of valley society. Robert Kennedy stayed there on the 5th floor the night before he was assassinated. Swans and ducks roamed the property and machines dispensed popcorn for a nickel so you could feed them. You could catch a trout with a tiny pole from the pond and it would be whisked off to the restaurant and served “to your taste.” The fancy “for the valley” as my mom would always qualify, restaurant had an accented maitre d’ and finger bowls. My graduation from ninth grade was a big event because it was the first celebration since my graduation from elementary school that my parents would both attend. I poured frequently over the old family albums and it made me happy how handsome and perfect they looked together. I selected the Sportsman’s Lodge, not having the vaguest clue that the fancy restaurant did not serve lunch during the week. My parents got off cheap and fast in the coffee shop, where at least I met my friend Paul Harter, who had been similarly duped by his family. The Sportsman’s has been closed for remodeling for nearly a year and it will reopen this weekend. I looked at some photos on their website and they are hideous but I do not know if they date pre or post refurbish.

Bob and Chris’s celebration is at Quail Hollow Park which is fortunately not done over ala Beirut, like the Sportsman’s Lodge, and is a well preserved slice of old California. The lodge and ranch there were originally owned by the Lane family, founders of Sunset Magazine. There are people I haven’t seen in years and no one looks as old as I’d expected when I’d mentally evaluated the guest list in the weeks prior to the event. A Tibetan friend, now of Northern California, blessed the 16 year old with a Tibetan kiss when he was a tiny infant and I implore her to grant one to Spuds too and she obliges, rubs her forehead against his and blesses him as he glowers at me.

Although most people call Bob “Bob,” I have always called him Harry, as he is Harry Robert, son of Harry Otis. I have a nickname habit and it is probably rooted in some sort of control freaky pathology, and is on the long list of topics to explore if ever I am able to afford therapy again. I started calling Bob “Harry” when we were impossibly young. It was the old man name of an old man, Bob having been, like me, a late in life baby. Calling him Harry was a smug reminder, from me, seven years his younger, of his inevitable decline into decrepitude. He writes about discounting his father’s prayers as simplistic although we never questioned his goodness, just his relevance. Thirty years later, Bob is still Harry to me but as we have both gone gray despite our morbid dread of it, I call him by his father’s name without the irony I used to. We are old enough now to drink in old Harry’s relevance and marvel at the grace and serenity that defined him until he breathed his last and that he is still remembered for. I still call Bob “Harry” but now it is something triumphant, something we’ve both earned.

We stay in Felton at the Fern River Inn, a group of cabins in a beautiful setting on the river and one of the few accommodations in town. I realize after I booked that there are a number of complaints on Trip Advisor and Yelp about the management and inflexible rules and inordinate bullying signs. The section of their website explaining the Internet service soberly disclaims any responsibility for the consequences to minors of surfing the Internet on their premises. In the office the signs overlap. One indicates that if guests come to visit during your stay, there will be a $10.00 per person charge after two hours for wear and tear on the septic system. The utility and laundry bills are prominently displayed, lest you consider leaving the heater on when you go out for dinner or using separate towels to dry your hair and body. The cabin itself is actually fine and while the signage dire and imperative, it is kept to a minimum. The blankets however are of the cheapest polyester pilling variety but if you covet one anyway, get your stinkin’ hands off. They are hugely emblazoned Fern River Inn in red spray paint.

The Dow hits 10,000. The 16 year old passes the written portion of the driving permit exam and is now a (n extremely) provisional driver. We receive a sane and fair letter from a real live person regarding our frustrating attempt at mortgage modification. I remind the assembled at Chris and Bob’s celebration about others who are now denied the privilege of state sanctioned marriage. Judge Vaughn Walker rules to compel supporters of Proposition 8 to substantiate their claims. It is strongly intimated that the measure will be proven unconstitutional. Oddly, as Secretary of State, Jerry Brown has been named as a witness by the defense. Having publicly supported the plaintiffs, he is unlikely to be called to the stand.

I write an e-mail to my beloved that concludes with “I am happy” and realize that this is something I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say. I have learned to accept this, given his “expect no rewards in THIS world” papist brainwash. There is much buzz on the net this week about an Ariana Huffington piece regarding a study revealing that women’s happiness has decreased since the 1970s. In counterpart, Gail Collins has just published “When Everything Changed,” a history of how radically the role of women in this country has shifted since 1960 when a woman in New York was kicked out of a courtroom by a judge who ordered husband to come fetch her and set her straight. On a work errand to pay her boss’s traffic ticket, she outraged the judge because she was wearing pants.

Los Angeles Unified schools would admit new kindergartners in the fall and then again in the spring so there were A and B grades. The year before I began junior high the district decided to streamline and eliminate the B section. This meant that all B students would either leave the sixth grade after one semester to enter junior high or finish out the year and then spend three semesters in the seventh grade. An official announcement was made of the students chosen to advance sooner to the seventh grade and about seven of the smartest boys were named. Then the honorable mentions were cited and I was named, along with a couple of other girls. The counselor added that they’d felt the boys would be more up to the rigors of 7th grade, what with algebra and geography and all, even though most of us girls already had boobs. To illustrate though the beginning of a condensed period of radical changes for women that Gail Collins chronicles, my friend Julia was also on the B track at a different elementary school just a few blocks away and she and other girls were indeed selected for early junior high entry.

The three semester 7th grade program at Millikan Jr. High was filled out by a ton of electives. I took cooking but having cooked meals at home since age seven, it wasn’t very challenging. I took sewing with Miss Cornelius, a former Southern beauty contestant with an enormous stiff flip hairdo. I got a “D” on the gym bag project although it only required sewing two seams. When I attempted to make a jumper, she glared at me and said, “These darts are lousy.”

I completed a semester of typing and never got above 30 wpm because I liked the boy who sat behind me. At the beginning of my final semester of 7th grade, I received my programming card and saw that I had been scheduled to take Floriculture. This was off at the far edge of the campus in the fenced garden area and taught by Mr. Ito, who was never seen without a bright blue smock. I would have liked to plant things but the actual agriculture classes were comprised of boys who had already been relegated to the “occupational” track. Floriculture meant making corsages. We were given stacks of flowers, green floral tape and stick pins and then instructed to copy designs from a book. Adapting the expression my mother vociferated in a crowded theatre when I took her to see Slumdog Millionaire, thinking it was a big colorful Bollywood dance movie and it opened with a scene of the main character being tortured with electrical diodes, Floriculture was not my cup of tea.

I had run through most of the electives but I begged my counselor to save me from learning to coordinate a corsage and boutonniere with the color scheme of the event. I suggested woodshop and she laughed at me. “We’d no sooner have a girl in woodshop than a boy in cooking.” My mother took pity on my desperation and got a note from one of the doctors she dated asking that I be removed from the garden area and attendant flowers due to seasonal hay fever. To fill the slot I was assigned as teacher’s assistant to Miss Gray, the aptly named, quintessential old maid in orthopedic shoes choral teacher who collapsed into a heap of tears when someone played “In-a-Gadda Da-Vida” on student choice Friday.

The Gail Collins book nails how the status of women since the beginning of time was completely redefined in mere decades. I am watching the brilliantly acute series Mad Men, which is set on Madison Avenue in 1960. The pill was available but professional options were still limited. In 1960, women accounted for 6 percent of doctors, 3 percent of lawyers and less than 1 percent of engineers. These percentages are way up now but apparently this hasn’t made us happy. Before 1960 women were very limited in what they could do and I guess if you did what you were supposed to-marry someone presentable and bear kids who weren’t axe murders- you were entitled to consider yourself happy. Now we create our own expectations and apparently we have gotten less happy since the 1970s and some attribute this to the greater stress inherent in trying to do it all instead of ascribing to the preset, limited and pretty trivial criteria of what women do. Did our compartment corrupt our notion of happiness so our idea of it was trivial too or is the whole concept of happiness a trivial one?

My husband doesn’t bring me flowers or open the car door or pull out my chair at a restaurant. At the risk of embarrassing both of us, although I am pretty uptight and usually scrupulous about such things, once I accidentally left a blood stained undergarment soaking in the bathroom sink. He washed it. At first I was mortified but then it seemed tender and natural and a potent symbol of how we take care of each other. Sometimes this simple, almost trivial, feeling of happiness rushes through me but more often I am aware of the safe sureness of being loved for who I purely am. Maybe we are less happy but there is so much more more. And anyway happy would seem trivial to describe the sound of regular breathing as I hold my beloved, home safely on a rainy night.

1 comment:

Fionnchú said...

Didn't Dorothy Parker muse, "You can take a whore to culture but you can't make her think?" Synchronicity: I wrote my entry "Fern River Resort" yesterday with but a slightly different picture (slim pickings) and its sequel "Quail Hollow Ranch" about to be published now, but both written before I read your typically insightful entry, with "horticulture" as one of its first words. Floriculture-- that's a new one for my spellcheck.

Very sad to think of you after mastering such a skill set at the Sportsmen's Lodge coffee shop for ninth grade graduation, but my eight grade equivalent was at Howard Johnson's in Baldwin Park, which was a comedown from papist First Communion at the Castaways high above Beautiful Downtown Burbank, speaking of a decade if a bit later for women's supposed lib than Mad Men. We've come a long way separately and then together from "the Valley", and the "Other Valley," which is even worse, culture-wise or cookie-crumble-wise, as Miss Kropotnik a few blocks away from that Mad Ave milieu might've mused.

Dorothy Parker wound up, by contrast, far from the Big Apple's Algonquin Table, teaching at Cal State LA's nascent postwar campus. Of all places! Bet she never thought she'd end up there, as an accomplished dame of a certain age and era. xxx me