Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Cold

Woke up to another below zero morning. -5º right now, or so the weather thing on my notebook says.

This is fairly rare around here, thankfully, though there was a period back in the Aughts when it was below zero overnight for several days and never got much above the teens in the daytime. I wasn't here at the time, but I got a call from the city to tell me my water bill was going through the roof and I might want to check on things. In the meantime they'd turned off the water to the house. I flew out from California the next day and sure enough. None of the pipes had broken, but the valve in the toilet was stuck open after it unfroze and it was running constantly. That was an easy fix, but many neighbors had broken pipes. And some had no heat or not enough to keep warm. It was pretty bad. People still remember it as one of the interesting hazards of living out here in the wilderness.

Oh,  I did say the city contacted me and turned off the water when the bill suddenly went very high after the cold snap?Though we're in a rural area in the unpopulated central highlands/East Mountains, we are actually within the city limits of a tiny town that gained a city charter in the 1950s. Among the things they did to become a city was install a city well and piping to a number of houses and businesses -- perhaps 400 or so -- and (get this) they put in a sewage system too. So even though fewer than 2000 people live in this area, maybe 1200 or 1500 within the city limits, it is surprisingly well serviced. Most roads are paved (not necessarily an advantage in the winter), there are streetlights here and there, we get city water (which we don't drink or cook with -- a topic for another post maybe), the sewage gets treated so we don't have to have a septic tank, there are two stoplights in "town" (!), and so on.

One day I might do some research and find out how this happened back then, as such services are very rare anywhere in rural New Mexico. There are very few actual cities in New Mexico, and this is definitely one of the smallest. In the '50s it must have had a much smaller population,. I seem to recall hearing that it was an era of drought and dust storms, too, worse than during the Dust Bowl era.

And here we are now, freezing our hind ends off. It's not so bad in the house, even though it's somewhat drafty thanks to self-built incompletion  -- like fitting the floors all the way to the walls. It was particularly bad in our bedroom, where there was a gap of as much as an inch between the floor boards and the north wall. Well, that let in quite a lot of cold air, and it was only a week or so ago that I got around to fixing some of it. There are still some drafts, but it's not nearly as bad. There are drafts elsewhere in the house where uneven settlement has opened up some gaps. But they are relatively minor. I've fixed some, and others I'm still searching out. One day, I hope to find and fix them all.

As for heat, we have a great big gas fired behemoth in the living room that heats most of the house relatively well. It replaced a  '40s era gas heating stove that looked something like a streamlined console radio. I wanted to keep it, but the renovation contractor (who apparently didn't notice all the drafts) said it wasn't salvageable. Sad. He installed a new Williams fan-forced console heater. The fan gave out a while back, but we really don't need it. We use portable electric radiators where we need spot heating, and they work pretty well.

We have one frozen pipe right now, the hot water line (ironically) to the bathroom, and it's not likely to unfreeze until the outside temperature is above freezing for at least 24 hours. Not gonna happen for the rest of this week and possibly not next week for long enough. We still have hot water in the kitchen, and if that one freezes too, we can use the heating stove or the gas range to heat water as long as one cold water line stays unfrozen.

We have been through this before.

Before we bought the house, we were told that the pipes froze and burst one winter (probably 2003) and were replaced with plastic which wasn't supposed to burst when it froze. So far, we've been lucky.

I spent my first winter in Iowa where the Christmas picture in the last post was taken. That was a cold winter, I'm sure. When I went back in January, 1969, after my father died, temps were in the single digits. I have no memory of cold in Iowa when I was an infant but I do remember the smell of the coal fired furnace in my father's house. I don't remember seeing or experiencing snow in Iowa either. So it was kind of surprising how cold it was in Iowa when I returned in the winter of 1969.

Cold used to make me angry. This was practically a Pavlovian response that I didn't understand. Yet any feeling of chill was likely a trigger for anger that left me bewildered. As I say, I had no memory of my first winter in Iowa. And in California where we lived near the Coast or in Los Angeles County or in the Sierra foothills or in the Central Valley, cold, real cold, and snow and such were almost unheard of.

And yet...

Cold is a relative thing, isn't it?

You're cold compared to something else; "warmth". Cold is uncomfortable compared to what you're used to. Cold is an absolute depending on the thermometer, but your feeling of cold depends on a variety of factors including how well you're bundled up in cold weather.

I had a brief introduction to cold weather in Iowa in 1969. I stayed only a few days, and all I had were "California clothes" so I got pretty chilled, but I didn't think it was so bad. And I recall anger. It's complicated because I was also mourning my father's death, so I couldn't really sort the anger I felt at being cold from other feelings at the time.

Years later, I spent entire winters in Upstate New York and Alaska, and I'll admit those were cold. Very cold. And they did sometimes make me angry. Anger that I didn't understand.

There was no reason for anger or so I thought, and letting the cold get to me seemed stupid. I felt it might have been a body memory. In other words, something must have happened to me when I was young to make me angry when I was cold -- even if the cold wasn't anything like that of Iowa or Upstate New York or Alaska.

For years, I had no idea what it might be. What could have happened and where?

These days, my memory is not what it used to me. It's pretty much shot to hell. Many memories are scrambled. Others are gone (Ms Ché likes to taunt me about it because her memory is still very sharp -- though it too isn't quite what it used to be...). But while pondering the issue I had with cold and anger, I was able to figure out some things that had long perplexed me.

I remembered some times when I felt shivering cold when I was an infant and toddler, up to age three or four, and how in some cases, I was furious about it.

Let me explain. We lived in Santa Maria, California, which usually doesn't get very cold or very hot at all. It's about eight miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, in a valley surrounded by hills and mountains. It's foggy on a lot of mornings and evenings all year long. It rains in the winter and spring. Almost never freezes. It may have snowed once in the last fifty years.

My mother was a late shift and on-call hospital employee which meant she had to go in at all hours after she'd worked a full shift -- which was sometimes 3p-11p and sometimes 11p-7a. Until she left to break into Show Business in 1951, my sister would  take care of me at home no matter what my mother's on call and regular shift hours might be. But after she left, my mother had to figure out something else, and what she figured out was to put me in the back of the car and take me to the hospital with her.

In the wintertime, it was foggy, damp and relatively cold and being woken up and hauled to the hospital in the backseat of the car (at that time, a 1942 Packard Clipper on its last legs) was not a treat for me. I had to stay in the car while she did what she had to do in the hospital.  I had a blanket but it didn't keep me warm. The nuns ( it was a Catholic hospital) wouldn't let me stay in the hospital lobby to keep warm. Sometimes my mother had to stay at the hospital for hours before she could go back home to get some sleep herself.

But even when we got back home, I probably did not sleep myself. I would probably still be shivering cold, as the only heat in our house came from a gas radiant heater in the non-functional fireplace. It heated the living room but not the bedrooms or bathroom.

The warmest room in the house was probably the kitchen where the gas oven was lit and the oven door was left open heating the room nicely.

When I thought of those late-night treks to the hospital and how very cold I felt, I could easily imagine becoming angry at a situation I could not control, and I could see that as a trigger for my later feelings of anger at being cold.

I remember particularly Ms. Ché and I were in New York City at Thanksgiving one year and it was cold. We were enjoying ourselves even so until... we got caught in the Macy's parade crowd, and for a time we couldn't move. I wasn't scared, I was angry, and that anger actually helped get us out of that predicament. Our hotel was only a block or so away, so by dint of fury, I was able to thread a path for us out of the crush and escape back to our hotel.

But fury and rage at cold didn't always have a positive effect. It could also be utterly inappropriate. So many times I responded with anger to something that didn't call for it, and every time, I would be bewildered.

Now, however, though it is freaking cold outside, and not that warm inside in some rooms, I don't feel angry at the cold. It's just another experience to cope with. I am grateful that the anger I used to feel at being cold no longer applies.

Only memories -- maybe scrambled -- now.

Happy New Year!
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1/5/2019 UPDATE -- This appears to be the seventh day in a row of single digit or below zero overnight temps, and so far only one above freezing daytime temperature (yesterday) -- 37º for a couple of hours. Frozen pipes all over the area (our bathroom hot water pipe is still one of them, but so far the rest have stayed unfrozen thanks to running a stream of water all the time. Most of the main roads are clear, but there is ice in patches, and our local roads are packed snow and ice. Have to go to Santa Fe today. What fun...

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas Memories

My one and only Christmas in Iowa
That's the earliest picture of me taken at Christmastime. There are some others taken later but none after about 1952. By then my life seemed to have taken a strange turn from which it would never entirely revert to... well, "normal."

I have quite a few Christmas memories. Most of them are good ones, so even if things weren't exactly typical of a White-Boy Childhood in the '50s otherwise, Christmas was almost always a happy time for me. I never felt like I lacked for presents at Christmas. If anything, it sometimes seemed like I had too many. In a sense, the abundance of gifts at Christmas may have been meant to make up for some of what I lacked the rest of the year.

Christmas in my childhood always meant a live tree, one that smelled strongly of pine forests in winter. Lots of decorations on the tree, different kinds of Shiny Brites in a range of sizes, the old-fashioned lead tinsel (or was it tin?), icicles made of silvered glass and later white plastic, glass birds with long white tassel tails, lots of multicolor lights including those bubble lights that I guess are still available. The tree-topper was usually one of those glass spike things, but we had a star as well, and some Christmases, we put the star on top of the tree instead of the spike.

We still have some old Shiny Brites on the tree we keep up all year in New Mexico. I'm not sure that any of them were saved from either my childhood or Ms. Ché's. I know I've been collecting them from thrift stores for several years, and I think that's where all the Shiny Brites we currently have came from. We also decorate the tree with newer imitation Shiny Brites that aren't quite the same as the genuine articles. We also use lots of local decorations like glass chiles, tomatoes and saints in their nichos and such. No tinsel though; too risky for the cats.

After about 1951, the Christmas tree always had the Lionel train set my father gave me around the base. There's nothing quite like them any more. The steam engine was long and heavy and intricately detailed.

There were little tablets you could put in the smoke stack to make smoke. The headlight lit up as the engine chugged around the three-rail track. The whistle sounded 'whoo-whoo!' when you pushed a button or moved a lever on the power transformer. I don't remember which, but I do recall there were two levers on the transformer and one of them controlled the speed of the train. There was a little black plastic thing with two red buttons that allowed you to switch the track the train ran on.

There was a coal car, two freight cars -- one red, one white, a flatcar with logs, a tank car, a baggage car, a passenger car, and a caboose. There were milk cans in the white freight car and a man dressed in white who unloaded the milk cans onto a platform at the station. The passenger car windows lit up. The brake wheels on the cars turned. It was a nice train set, and I kept most of it through all the many moves of our household around southern and northern California. The pieces started disappearing when I was a teenager, and the only one I managed to hold on to was the caboose. And now, I'm not sure where it is.

I have some other train memorabilia, but nothing like the Lionel train set I'd get out every Christmas when I was a kid. One of the ironies of my ancestry research is that I discovered that my father's German grandfather (as opposed to his Irish one) worked for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway in the Iowa yards as a carpenter. More irony was that I learned my mother's father was killed in the St. Louis Wabash rail yard where he worked as a switchman. One of his brothers was an engineer with the Wabash line. I was surprised to learn of my ancestors' railroad connections and still haven't absorbed the significance of it -- if any.

Gifts at Christmas usually included lots of school clothes, and typically science or art supplies. Toys? I suppose, but I recall very few. One that I remember was a large model airplane that had a motor and propeller and was supposed to fly at the end of a long double cable. I could rarely get it into the air, and when I did, it usually crashed within seconds. My friends weren't much more successful with it than I was, so in the end, the plane wound up as decoration hanging on the wall in my room.

I received a number of you-put-together model cars at Christmas, all antiques and classics. I had a collection of Floyd Clymer Historical Motor Scrapbooks and the model cars were in many cases examples of the cars in the magazines. The one that took the longest time and most patience to put together was the Dusenberg, which ultimately was pretty spectacular, but I'm not sure what happened to it.

One year, I received an elaborate chemistry set with which I made much mischief. Another year, it was a rock and mineral collection. I kept the garnet from the collection for many years. Still another year, I received a crystal radio kit which I put together and was amazed at how well it received stations, though I had to listen through earphones.

Then there were the encyclopedias. I remember we had a complete set of the New Standard Encyclopedia, but I would also receive one or two volumes of a child's encyclopedia every Christmas for several years. Since I was a voracious reader, both sets were paged through again and again. I had a lot of books from an early age a few of which I still have (I think!)

One Christmas, I think it was  in 1957 or 58, I received an "all chrome" bike. It wasn't actually all chromed; I think the frame was painted silver, but it was very fancy and unusual. There wasn't another one like it in the neighborhood. It was a full-sized adult bike, and at first, I had difficulty riding it because it was too big. But eventually, I got the hang of it, and I rode it everywhere. I didn't have to ride to school because the school was right behind our house, but after school and on weekends, I rode that bike all the time.

One day toward the end of the school year, I rode down to the Stassi and Humphrey market about a mile from my house and I parked the bike outside while I went in to get some chewing gum and soda. When I came out, the bike was gone, stolen.

I didn't have a lock. Nobody locked their bikes in those days. Bikes were stolen fairly often, but usually they were recovered within a few days, so it really wasn't a big deal. I never got my bike back. Police were notified, and they said they checked with known bike thieves and fences, but no luck. I suspect the thieves promptly sold the bike out of the area because I never saw it again, nor did I ever see one like it in my neighborhood.

My mother bought me another bike soon afterwards, a plain-jane Schwinn, and I kept it for several years and several moves until it, too, was stolen, lock and all.

Throughout my childhood and well into adulthood, I looked forward to Christmas, not so much for the presents, but just for the simple joy of the holiday and its festivities. As I got older, it really didn't matter so much, but even now in my dottage, I find I enjoy the holiday more than not.

And as my memory fades (oh yes!) I am grateful for the snippets I  can recall.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Who Are These People?

My great-grandmother Carrie with three of her grandchildren, George, David, and Florence, c. 1910
Yes, who are these people?

While checking my Ancestry.com profile the other day, I came across pictures posted by someone descended from my mother's father's family tree. I don't know who it is. I'd seen one of the pictures before, but the rest were new to me. The one above was particularly interesting.

Carrie and three of her grandchildren... She had at least one other grandchild at the time, but it was complicated. There may have been others. Some she may not have known about.There was a boy living in Wabash with his mother. His father, Carrie's son  Clyde, had been killed in a hunting accident shortly before the boy was born. There would be other grandchildren later, including my mother. But these three were interesting to me for who they were.

George, David and Florence were the three children my mother's father sired with his first wife Maud. By 1910, Maud and my mother's father (Lawrence) had divorced and by the time this picture was taken, Lawrence and my mother's mother (Edna) were married. Maude, so far as I've been able to figure out, had moved to St. Louis and become a housemate/companion/wife? of Lawrence's brother Hal. The boys were sent to live with their grandparents. Florence, on the other hand, was sent to live with another of Lawrence's brothers, Frank and his wife, a different Edna. But exactly when that happened, I can't say.

So what I see in this picture is my great grandmother, two of my uncles, and an aunt. Though these children were my mother's half-siblings -- and there would be others -- they are my grandfather's children and thus are my uncles and an aunt, without a half-measure.

George came to visit my mother and me in the mid-Fifties, I believe it was 1956 or 57. My mother had tracked him down by calling everyone in the LA phone book with her father's last name, and sure enough, she located George. I'm not entirely sure that he knew of her or she of him beforehand. But they got together, and I remember him as a rather jolly fellow though I can't say that he seemed like any kind of relative at all. So far as I knew at the time, I didn't have aunts or uncles (later I would find out I had quite a few of them). I didn't have grandparents. My father was far away. My (half) sister had moved away when I was three and I very rarely saw her. I didn't even know she was living in Los Angeles the first few years my mother and I lived there, for example. She was a student at LA City College.  And trying to break into show business.

Through relatively recent research, I found out a bit about George. He had quite a life. When I look at the picture above, I see a striking resemblance to his father. What I remember seeing when he came to visit was a rather distinguished middle aged man, salt-and-pepper hair, wearing a suit and tie, polished shoes, smelling of Old Spice. I think he drove a black Buick. He smiled and laughed a lot while I was around, but my mother wanted to talk to him privately, so I went in the other room and watched TV while they talked. It seemed serious.

They no doubt talked about their father. George was born in 1898; my mother was born in 1911. There was quite an age gap. Another half-brother was also born in 1911, but I doubt either George or my mother knew of him. A half-sister would be born in 1914, and my mother certainly knew about her as she mentioned her to me by name (Helen) as someone she had seen/met at her father's funeral in St. Louis in 1916.

I wonder if George and David and Florence and Carrie went to Lawrence's funeral. The pater familia, D. H., probably didn't go, as he didn't look well in a family portrait taken the year before at the 50th wedding anniversary of Carrie and D. H. Given that Lawrence had established yet another family in St. Louis it was obvious things could get ... complicated.

George and David both went to Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis, a rather prestigious technical school, but I have found no record that either of them graduated or even made it to senior year. If that's the case, it would be sad, to say the least.

Florence seemed to flourish in the household of her aunt and uncle, and died in Florida 92 years old. The boys didn't live so long. David died in San Diego at 55; George died in Los Angeles at 65.

Carrie died in 1918, I suspect she was one of the hundreds of thousands of Spanish flu victims in the United States. Her husband, D. H., died in 1921. By then, the boys were grown and one assumes they were on their own. Lawrence was dead. Maud moved back to Indianapolis.

Marie, Lawrence's wife in St. Louis, married the yard boss of the rail yard where Lawrence was killed and she died there in 1987, two days after my mother died in Butte County, California. Marie's daughter Helen committed suicide in 1940 on the anniversary of her husband's death from cancer.

I'm sure there are amazing stories for all  of these people, but for the most part, I didn't know anything about any of them. I wish I could have asked George about his stint in San Quentin when he came to call. But no.

Surprising how many records, though, turn up on Ancestry.com.




Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Fires This Time

California burns. We  know this, right?

When I was a snot nosed kid in LA,  every year I'd sit on my back fence watching the San Gabriels burn about eight-ten miles north. One year the fire came up the hill down at the end of our street, and when it started burning on our side of the hill, neighbors  panicked and got their garden hoses out to wet down their roofs, and some packed their cars and made a hasty escape just before the fire trucks came and put the fire out. 

Sometimes ash and smoke was very heavy in the air, and I already had breathing problems from the smog which was crisis-terrible in LA in the 1950s. So Fire Season and the Santa Ana winds were not a good time for me healthwise, but it could be exciting.

Moving to Northern California in 1959, we at first lived in a rural community on the edge of the Sierra foothills. Our house was in an oak forest, which my mother called a firetrap. She worked up the hill in Auburn, and in those days, the I-80 freeway had not been built yet. Highway 40 got you up the hill and eventually over the mountains into Reno, but it was a haul. She didn't feel safe if there was a fire, because it would be too hard to escape, and she angled to get us out of there as soon as possible. 

Of course there were numerous fires in the foothills and mountains in those days, and every year, the rice growers would burn their stubble in the Valley.  It was  considered normal. It may not have been healthy, but what could you do? And in those days, too, it was understood that fire was part of the cycle of nature, and it was a bad thing only when people and houses and businesses were in the way and burnt got burnt up. That happened from time to time, but it was fairly limited. 

The tragedies were limited in part because there were fewer people in California, particularly in Gold Country --- the west side of the Sierras and the Sierra foothills. In those days, the Gold Rush communities were mostly ghost towns with a few  dozen to a few hundred people still living in them at most. They were not bedroom communities for people working in the Valley as many of them are today. They were not retirement communities as so many are now. They were not surrounded by extensive suburban style real estate developments as they are now. They were what was left after the gold was extracted and the miners and fancy women left for greener pastures.

Consequently, when forest and brush fires burned, as they were bound to do, it was fairly simple to protect towns that might be in their path. Volunteer fire departments were the pride of many small towns in the foothills, and they were generally sufficient to keep fires at bay and protect the towns from incineration. Many of these Gold Rush and mountain communities had buildings that dated back to the 1850s and 1860s, and there has been many fires since then. Residents coped.

Though there must have been some, I don't recall evacuations of whole towns in those days. If fire came close, some people in the way would get out of course, but many stayed to fight the fires and keep them from destroying the towns. And they were mostly successful.

The really bad fires seemed to be burning in Southern California in those days, and they were bad because houses burned and sometimes people burned with them. The population of Southern California was growing fast, and some were building and living on hillsides and ridges that were natural fire paths -- in other words, where they shouldn't have been building and living -- and so, year by year, there would be more houses burned to the ground when the annual Fire Season commenced. The Santa Anas blew the fires into firestorms and there was very little you could do about it except get out of the way.

And hope and pray. 

So there have been a few bad fires recently in both Northern and Southern California, with thousands of homes burned and many people killed and missing. The term "Apocalyptic" is hardly too strong for the scenes that have been playing out during the coverage of the fires. It's been terrible. Heartbreaking and gut wrenching.

Paradise above Chico was all but wiped out, but so were most of the towns and settlements up there: Pulga, Concow, Magalia, and so on. Most of the media attention has been focused on Paradise, partly for the name (even though Trump called it "Pleasure" several times; I wonder why... no, I don't), but also because it was the largest and easiest to reach fire location.

I've been to Paradise several times, and Ms. Ché and I briefly considered it for our own retirement. But no. No. The forest within which most of the town was built was beautiful and it smelled wonderful.... BUT it was an obvious and rather horrifying fire trap. There were too many houses built too close together and too close to the trees, there were too few ways out should an evacuation be necessary, and it was becoming too big a town (this was during the early '90s) for the area. If anything, Magalia was worse. Not so big, no, but even more of a firetrap. More and more real estate developers saw big money in putting up homes in both places, bugger the risks. Besides, the demographics were... how to put this gently? Inevitably terminal... Lots of old people, plenty of "rugged" types, not a few "sovereign citizens", druggies, and bikers. A mixed bag to be sure, but for the most part, not what one would think of as productive movers/shakers.

But it was the forest setting that put me off. Nice place to visit. Wouldn't want to live there.

Apparently there was a fire about ten years ago that took out a swath of homes west and south of the main part of Paradise, and it was discovered at that time that evacuation was darned nigh impossible. So they came up with a plan to order phased evacuations in the event of a future fire.

Problem was that the fire this time moved too fast and communications with residents were spotty or nonexistent. Too many people didn't know until too late that they needed to get out. And those who tried to get out were too often caught in hours-long traffic snarls... and some of them burned to death in their cars or trying to escape on foot.

Most people got out, but too many didn't/couldn't/wouldn't. The death toll so far (Tuesday morning 11/20//18) is about 80, but it is expected there will be more, perhaps many more, bodies found -- or what's left of them in the ashes. There are still 600 or so missing and unaccounted for. Some of those who perished in the fire will never be found.

More than 10,000 homes burned in the fire. This is unprecedented in  California -- with the exception of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire which destroyed 2/3rds of the city and left perhaps 3000 dead. For decades, the death toll was deliberately misreported as 360 or something like that. It wouldn't be surprising if the death toll in the Camp fire is underreported as well. The devastation is almost too horrible to imagine as it is.  Adding in hundreds and hundreds of dead -- if that's what happened -- is likely too much to bear.

Trump went and saw a bit of the devastation and said many stupid things and left to go "console" the survivors of the Borderline mass shooting in Thousand Oaks. Bless his heart.

Of course there was a fire a couple of miles from there, too.

What a nightmare.

To the Trump regime, the problem is entirely one of "forest management." If the forest floors were raked and cleaned the way they do in Finland, there wouldn't be these problems, right? It's all the environmentalists' fault, right?

Well, no. Not exactly.

The problems in Paradise specifically  include a multi-year drought followed by one season of heavy rains followed by return to drought -- both of which can be attributed to climate change. Building right in the very stressed forest is a disaster waiting to happen anyway. There were few ways out and evacuation notices didn't reach everybody. High winds blew the initially small fire west at break-neck speed -- witnesses said it traveled horizontally burning everything in its path. Most of Paradise and Magalia were in flames before people could evacuate, and it wasn't because of poor forest management.

In fact, from the videos I've seen of the aftermath (kudos to the reporters who've gone back to document the destruction) many of the homes that burned had requisite "defensible space" around them. It didn't matter. The fire was being driven by the wind, and no amount of space seemed to be enough in many cases. Some of the houses that survived did not appear to have sufficient "defensible space," and yet they stand, some of them completely undamaged. It seemed to depend, more than anything, on the wind and whether or not embers were blown directly onto a building or not.

From what I could tell, there wasn't a lot of brush and small-tree cover that would result from "poor forest management." Instead, there was a lot of dry grass which burned fiercely and helped spread the fire very quickly. A controlled burn might have mitigated the dry grass problem, but you can't do it in high wind conditions. And given the long drought, it's conceivable that a controlled burn would quickly get out of control no matter what.

It was a perfect storm.

So what do you do?

There's been a settlement in Paradise since the Gold Rush, and it survived until now. A key to its survival was that it was very small until fairly recently. More than 90% of the homes in Paradise were destroyed in the fire and nearly that high a percent burned in Magalia. I would say the number of surviving homes is probably the maximum residential carrying capacity of the area for the foreseeable future, and that means that rebuilding should be very limited. From what I've seen, most of the forest withstood the fire, the way forests tend to do if they are maintained properly (which means brush clearance and periodic burns.) But houses should not be built among the trees the way they were.

What will be done, as opposed to what should be done, is still up in the air. We'll see.

In the meantime, I've been feeling as devastated by the fire as some of the survivors. It hit me hard, and I'm still in a state over it. All good wishes to the survivors. Respect for the dead.

Thanksgiving tomorrow. We're headed to an Indian casino to celebrate Indigenous People's Sunrise...👍👍


Monday, October 1, 2018

Intermission

This intermission in the absurd Kavanaugh high drama (or is it low?) gives us a chance to consider what we've seen so far and come to some conclusions of our own regardless of how the Senate eventually votes. My bet -- right now -- is that the Senate majority will confirm him by a hair, but he may not be seated for reasons I'll try to get into below.

I've watched the hearings and tried to keep up with the chatterati about his nomination. It was clear that Kavanaugh was trouble, though initially, that was overlooked in the widespread bipartisan belief that he'd have a relatively smooth ride into the Kennedy Seat on the Court. He was OK to the Rs and enough Ds to ensure it. Or so it seemed.

He wasn't as radical as some of the potential nominees  (they said) and wasn't as ideological as others, though he was said  to be "more conservative" than Kennedy. But that was OK given the tenor of the times. Or something.

But when I saw him at the first hearing, it was obvious to me that there was something off about his presentation. He was performing the role of an independent judge, but he wasn't believing it. Rs were lavish in their praise and Ds were circumspect and careful in their questioning about matters that had apparently been bothering them for quite a long time, such as stolen emails used by Kavanaugh and others in the Bush White House to formulate strategies to get their judges approved. Inside baseball, I know, but this was an obvious bone of contention. Other matters included peculiar rulings once he was on the bench in the DC Circuit, attempts to make law from  the bench, and an apparent cruel streak toward non-whites and the unwashed who came before him. From what I could glean he was largely a standard model corporatist/authoritarian on the bench, but with a definite mean streak and a very odd -- indeed, false -- way of describing his own rulings and dissents. He was defensive to say the least.

It became clear that Kavanaugh was a right-wing political operative who had been put on the bench as a reward for loyalty and service to the Bush II regime. Oh. Swell.

It was also clear to me that he didn't know the law or precedent and didn't care. He was a political operative on the bench. He didn't so much interpret law as he ignored it and created his own whenever it suited him. He wasn't very bright, and he was repeatedly slapped down by other judges on the DC Circuit. He didn't know what he was doing, and it didn't matter to him. A suck up, a fuck up, a kiss up, a kick down.

Very interesting, but not that odd. Courts throughout the land are infested with just this sort of person. They are there as a reward for political service. Ms. Ché has worked for a couple of them at the Superior Court level, and I've encountered them in my own work. Most, I guess, are harmless enough -- the institutional inertia usually controls them -- but some cause havoc due to their ignorance and arrogance among other things, and they taint the whole judiciary.

This was the picture I was getting of Kavanaugh. It wasn't pretty. And he couldn't tell the truth.

He routinely lied or distorted facts.

On that basis alone, he disqualified himself from the Supreme Court, and I felt he shouldn't be serving on the Circuit Court, either. Or any court for that matter.

Then came the recent hearing on the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford that he sexually assaulted her when she was 15, and oh my god on a crispy cracker. What a hot mess he was.

His guns blazing deportment, his crying, shouting, lying deportment said it all. Dude is whack.

If he kept that up, he'd have to be taken out in a straightjacket. No, a judge does not -- ever -- behave that way. Kavanaugh demonstrated that he lacked proper judicial temperament when under stress.

It just got worse from there.

Now I understand Trump loved the show, but maybe he didn't care for what was revealed. I'm certain he doesn't care about whether Kavanaugh assaulted Blasey Ford. That would be for them to work out in his book. What he might care about, though, are the reports of Kavanaugh's drinking and drinking and drinking, which we're led to believe is one of the few red flags that will get one ejected from Trump World in a New York minute.

Observers pointed out that Kavanaugh appears to be and acted like a severe alcoholic in need of intervention and treatment.

During the first hearing Kavanaugh had been drinking from two different cups, one clear, one a Dixie cup. The clear one appeared to hold water. Ms. Ché asked what was in the second one. I speculated it might be coffee or juice. She said, "Or vodka." She recognized the signs of an alcoholic from that first hearing. I didn't see it until the second. When you couldn't miss it.

He sure wouldn't be the first alcoholic on the bench. Far from it. For it to be so in your face, however, has got to raise red flags if nothing else had up till then.

Dr. Blasey Ford has been criticized for not having a complete memory of her assault when she was fifteen. Yet she has a very compelling memory.  And one that is certainly believable. She's been criticized for alleged CIA ties which I haven't explored, but I wouldn't be surprised. She comes from a relatively small circle of suburban Washington elite families. They are all interconnected with various elements of the government and with one another. Blasey Ford's father is said to be golfing buddies with Kavanaugh's father. Etc. And sure, a CIA connection is possible. But is it meaningful? Probably not. Especially since Kavanaugh seems to be quite favorably disposed to government power and authority -- in the right hands of course. He's a Bush and Justice Kennedy protege, and I don't see the CIA ginning up a fuss about him.

Based on his behavior, Kavanaugh probably needs to be in a recovery program, not elevated to the SCOTUS. And here's where I suspect this drama will lead:

Kavanaugh, I think, is probably a victim of childhood sexual abuse himself. Possibly by a priest or potentially even a family member. Who knows how long it went on, but it was likely long enough to transform him into the kind of hyper alpha he describes himself being in high school and college: number one student, number one athlete, virgin goody-two-shoes... and described by friends as a raging drunk who could become a nightmare of belligerence and... worse.  While I don't know whether he was the one who assaulted Blasey Ford, he easily could have been, as his assaults on female committee members made manifest.

For someone who "always treats women with respect" he sure didn't do so with Dianne Feinstein or Amy Klobuchar. No, just the opposite. I wonder if he treats his mother and wife that way.

So what do we make of this?

My sense of things right now -- subject to any kind of change as the week wears on -- is that he will be confirmed no matter what the FBI reports to the committee. However, he's likely in my view to go off the deep end into alcoholic despair either before or soon after the vote to confirm him, and will wind up unable to take his seat on the Court.

We'll see, won't we.

Note: once he is confirmed, even if he can't take the seat, a vacancy no longer exists, and someone else cannot be appointed. Talk about "checkmate..."










Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Problem With Kavanaugh

He's a dick, sure, but that was obvious -- at least to some of us -- from the outset. It was clear, long before the emergence of these multiplying sex stories, that this man should not be serving as a judge in any court of law let alone the Supreme Court because he's a "Bad Judge."

No matter what he says, he doesn't understand the law or precedent, he doesn't comprehend the proper role of the judiciary, and he misuses the power of the court to attempt to enforce his personal will. He misrepresents his own opinions, and in too many cases, his opinions misstate or misunderstand the plain wording of the laws he's supposedly devoted to and in the end they present novel interpretations that cannot withstand the slightest objective scrutiny, though they certainly serve to advance a corporate, partisan and cruel agenda.  This appears to be his purpose. That and ensuring that no Republican president ever face the kind of scrutiny that, say, Clinton did.

This was all very obvious and nothing about the sex stories when he was in high school and college changes any of that.

But apparently it takes "the sex" to even begin to derail his nomination.

That's a big, big problem.

The courts throughout the land are chock-a-block with bad judges like Kavanaugh, and that is a problem. But you'd never know it, and you wouldn't know it about Kavanaugh if one of his victims hadn't brought up his long ago propensity for drunkenness, assault and sexual highjinks. In other words, his bad judgment from the bench didn't really matter all that much. It was mentioned of course, but apparently he was to be given a pass on that because, well, why not? In fact, his seat on the Supreme Court was pretty well secured until... the sex stories started.

I suspect he will be confirmed despite all, just like Thomas was, simply because there seems to be an agreement that unless a nominee is some kind of raving communist or completely unreliable to the ruling class, they will be confirmed come hell or high water. In the current situation, an agreement to confirm Kavanaugh seems to have been reached even before he was nominated. He was something like the consensus candidate given the others in line for the seat.

That's why I think he will be confirmed despite the accusations.

And he will be a problem on the court, but so was Scalia.

If people had any idea how common his kind is in the judiciary, or how common Trump's kind is in the high and mighty class...

I don't know that anything would change, but maybe it would.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Living With The Old Things (Redux)

Our 70 year old coffee percolator seemed to be on its last legs the other day (still works, though, as long as you jiggle the electric connection just so) and I got to thinking about living with the old things again.

Yeah, we still do. The house is old (c. 1900), and most of the stuff we have inside is old as well. So are we, both Ms. Ché and I now 70 ourselves. The car is ten years old (and supposedly needs a new engine thanks to extreme oil consumption, but that's another issue for another time.) The van is more than 20 years old and is decrepit, but it runs and transports things just fine,  so we keep it though there have been many offers to buy it from passers-by who want an Astro van (who wouldn't?)

Most of what's in the house is old, from the Philco radio (c. 1942), to the "Downton Abbey"-ish floor lamp (c. 1930), to the high back chair (c. 1880). We kept our California neighbor Joe Francis's easy chair (c. 1940) after he died, though the Pickles (other neighbors who took care of Joe until they put him in a home) wanted to take it to the dump. Looking around the room, the only things that aren't old are the couch (c. 2015), the TeeVee (c. 2014) and a shelf unit and a small table I picked up for my meds last year. Oh, and some books and magazines. Always books and magazines!

Living with the old stuff is comforting in many ways, but it requires a certain level of constant care to keep the old things decent condition and I couldn't do much of anything those several years I was pretty much incapacitated with RA.

Then you wonder: should we just get rid of it?

Like people, stuff deteriorates over time. Especially in the dry and dusty air of our current home in New Mexico. We don't require utility from things, but I know that some of the older books (and we have many of those) have reached the point of disintegration. They look fine as long as you don't open them. If you do, the pages may crumble away to dust.

Now that the treatment I'm having for RA seems to be working, I can do more things -- yay! -- but I'm still limited, and under the circumstances, it's wise for us to consider eliminating the unnecessary old things we've lived with for so many years.

That won't be easy.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Rebel Rebel

The "Trump-Traitor!" meme is now embedded in the firmament. After their tete-a-tete in Helsinki, Trump and Putin have become the New Not-Normal destroyers of worlds (riffing off the Oppenheimer Bhagavad Gita quote.)

OK. So now what? When you strike at the King, you must... There can be no backing down or away from the next step or...

We've been in the strangest pickle for the longest time. Trump was not supposed to ascend the throne, but the truth is that nothing was done that might have been done to stop it. All along the way from the campaign to now, Trump and his cronies have been mostly enabled rather than thwarted (despite the catcalls and lies). The #Resistance is focused on electoral triumph in the fall and periodic street demonstrations about this or that, but not about interfering or intervening in the course of events transpiring under the current regime. 

Our Betters, the High and the Mighty, the Oligarchy, in and out of government is doing essentially nothing about the regime's chaotic wrecking crew. In many ways they enable it. There is no discernible  effort from any quarter to be done with this nonsense, even if the cry today is one of Treason! Most Foul! They may cluck their tongues from time to time but that's about it, while everything short of The Revolution roils the media and the masses. 

As I've said more than once, Trump is entertainment. Whatever damage he's doing in office -- and there's plenty of it starting with beclowning the office of president itself--is considered either repairable or necessary destruction. Creative, right?

But what happens when he ceases to be an entertainment and become a clear and present danger?

Look away? Say it can't happen, institutions are strong enough? I don't know. Constant crisis is not a sustainable path. And we may have reached the limit of crisis. Where to now?

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Leering Sphere or The Bomb in New Mexico


Today July 16, 2018, is the 73rd anniversary of the detonation of the first atomic bomb at Trinity Site in New Mexico.

Santa Fe Opera interpretation of The Gadget -- "Dr. Atomic" 2018 Season

This titanium sphere -- or was it stainless steel? -- hung menacingly over the entire production of Peter Sellars' and John Adams's "Dr. Atomic" which opened at Santa Fe Opera last night [July 14], shortly before the 73rd anniversary of the detonation of the world's first atomic bomb at the Trinity Site in New Mexico's White Sands Missile Range (then the  Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range.)

The Gadget as it was called, memories of The Gadget, the enormity of what was created at Los Alamos -- a bare 25 miles from the semi-outdoor Opera House ("the audience can see Los Alamos from their seats" quoth librettist and director Peter Sellars in one of the talks we heard before the performance), and the aftermath of the atomic bomb test at Trinity Site, July 16, 1945, some 200 miles south of Los Alamos resonate profoundly in New Mexico, in some ways more profoundly than anywhere else in the world except Japan.

There were far more US nuclear tests outside Las Vegas, NV, and in the Pacific than in New Mexico (just one -- the first one --that we know of in our backyard) but ultimately the atmospheric tests elsewhere became a kind of twisted Cold War entertainment - "whoa, wouldja lookit that!" -- that was sometimes shown to school kids before their Duck and Cover exercises to scare the  shit out of them (how well I remember.)

"Dr. Atomic" deals with the tragic story of Dr. J, Robert Oppenheimer ("Oppie") at Los Alamos and Alamogordo, New Mexico, in the hours leading up to the first atomic bomb test and its echoes through time to today. 

It's a complex story that doesn't exist in linear time, and apparently the complexity and non-linearity as well as the often jarring contemporary musical score can be off-putting to some opera-goers though it wasn't apparent opening night. It was a full house. The audience's attention was as intense as the music and performances. The response was enthusiastic.

I overheard one rather fancy looking woman talking during intermission: "My friend told me I wouldn't like it. Well, I rather think I do," she said. Indeed.

I can't say I "liked" it, no. But I will say I was quite taken with it and had no problem staying for its 3 hours and 20 minute length (with intermission) and the interminable after performance getting-out-of the-parking-lot minuet. (I said to one of the parking boys, "At this rate, we'll be here all night." He grinned and said, "That's only because my co-workers are incompetent. Have a safe trip home!!" Chuckle,)

We got home at 2:45 am tired but moved.

We've been semi-immersed in the story of nuclear weapons and the struggle against them in New Mexico for as long as we've been here, for almost as long as we've been coming here (more than 35 years now). I've written several pieces about it, about visiting Trinity site, about going to Los Alamos, about duck and cover, and so on and so forth. No one of my generation escaped fear of the looming mushroom cloud. It was the defining image of the post WWII era, one that seems to have been largely forgotten now or set aside by the younger generations. Thoughts of nuclear annihilation, instant incineration, barely reach consciousness except under the most extraordinary circumstances these days. And then the images seem to be off the mark.

Hardly anyone seems to understand what a nuclear weapon is or does anymore. And maybe that's a good thing.

Peter Sellars said he tried to maintain the classical tragic unities of time and place, and he tried to tell the story of the tragedy of what happened not just to Oppenheimer but for many of those who worked on developing The Bomb and of course for the hundreds of thousands of Japanese who died as a result of its use.

It's pointed out during the opera that many more Japanese civilians died during the firebombings of Tokyo and Yokahama that preceded the use of nuclear weapons on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To say, then, an atom bomb is a unique horror is something of a stretch, no? No, it's not a stretch at all when one bomb can cause in an instant more destruction than thousands dropped over a period of hours or days.

The scientists at Los Alamos agonized over the use of nuclear weapons, and hundreds tried to convince Washington authorities not to use the creation of their laboratories on populations -- ever, if possible. Of course, then and now, there was a contrary faction who dearly wanted to use nuclear weapons, not just for effect, either.

Particularly torn by his creation was J. Robert Oppenheimer himself. A point is made that he is driven mad by what he has created. He never fully recovers, and in a sense, his creation kills him -- as well as many, many more.

Sellars reconceived the production for Santa Fe. For one thing, the production takes place within sight of Los Alamos (if you look hard!), and within hailing distance of Trinity. Those of us who live here and have paid attention know these places and these stories rather well. Earlier productions (we have a DVD of one, I believe it was in Amsterdam) focused more on the story telling than on its meaning, and they were visualized much more completely. The DVD production uses a close replica of The Gadget that is brought out at a particular time to be hoisted onto the tower, whereas in Santa Fe the Sphere that represents The Gadget and much else is never not there; its presence looming -- and leering -- throughout.

Sellars said the shiny Sphere was meant to reflect the audience, but it doesn't really do that (at least not from where we were sitting in cheap seats toward the back of the orchestra section.) What it reflected instead were the lights on stage which had the effect of creating many different facial expressions, from evil and bloodthirsty to almost benign. It was remarkable and mesmerizing. The picture above was taken by your correspondent some time before the beginning of the performance, and it is one of the many instances when the "eyes" of the Sphere gazed impassively on the scene before it.

In this production, too, Sellars made a conscious and mostly successful effort to include Native Americans on stage and integrated into the story in somewhat the same way they were part of the story of the creation of the Bomb. This is Indian Country, the events happened in Indian Country, and the effects are still felt throughout Indian Country -- particularly on the uranium miners in Navajoland and at Laguna Pueblo. That deadly effect is not dealt with directly in the opera. Sellars was asked by a Diné gentleman at one of the talks whether he'd included the miners, and he wouldn't answer directly. He said something about the "effects on everyone then and now" are included, but that isn't what he was asked. In fact, there is no mention of miners at all. There is only passing mention of Downwinders -- people who were unwittingly affected by the fallout from the Trinity test,. But at least they are there -- actual Downwinders on stage -- along with dancers from the Tesuque, Santa Clara and San Ildefonso Pueblos. They performed a ceremonial corn dance prior to the performance of the opera -- as a healing gesture -- and then returned in the second act as a Presence, representing the Original Peoples upon whom and among whom but not by whom this monstrosity of war was created and perpetrated.

The presence of the Indians helped to ground the production but I felt they were not integrated into it the way  they might have been -- and that that was probably their choice. It's not their story, and they're not telling. They could and one day probably will tell their own story, though, and it will be quite different.

As we were making our way to the parking lot before the performance, there were sheriffs deputies along the road, signs saying "Ticket holders only beyond this point" and at the entrance to the parking lot a young man asked to see our tickets. He said there were protests expected, and they had to check. Hm. As we were making our way from the parking lot to the Opera House, a young man in the high priced parking area near the venue asked that we take some literature  from the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition protesting the production and the proposed increase in nuclear weapons development in New Mexico. This was intended, said the literature, to make New Mexico the sole production site for "plutonium pits" -- something I'd never heard of -- that were the essential cores of nuclear bombs.

They were protesting the production because they saw it as a celebration of nuclear weapons and war.

Uh. No. It's not. Far from it. That's the thing about tragedy. It doesn't celebrate.





Monday, July 9, 2018

117

Early 50s Color
[July 5 would have been my father's 117th birthday.]

The faded Kodachrome above was among the 100 or so of my family photos we brought back with us from California on our quick trip in May. Ms. Ché probably has quite a few more of her family and adventurous life photos to sort through.

The picture was taken in Santa Maria in 1951. I had a sudden flash of memory and recalled an address. Googling, I discovered the picture was taken on the front lawn of the duplex where my mother, sister and I lived at the time. I was three years old. My father had come to visit from Iowa. He was a lawyer. He always wore a suit. I don't remember him ever wearing casual clothes.

This particular visit is burned in my memory. My memory, however, is often faulty. What I don't recall are the other visits my father made to California after my parents divorced and my mother, sister and I moved back to my sister's birthplace, the town where my mother grew up. He apparently came out to California at least once a year between 1949 and 1951, and there are hints in some of my mother's letters to him that he visited more often in 1950 and 1951.

What I never knew until recently was that he had several siblings in California -- in fact, practically all of them had left Iowa and lived in California by 1951, including his older brother who lived in Santa Barbara, three sisters in the Bay Area, and two younger brothers in Los Angeles. Two sisters continued to live with or near my father in Iowa until their deaths.

I don't think he ever returned to California after that visit. I went to Iowa a couple of times later on, but I did not enjoy it. I can understand why so many of my aunts and uncles left and why my mother hated it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

She was the only brown person there





I may have mentioned that Ms Ché spent the last three weeks at the Naropa University Summer Writing Program ("The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics"). She just returned yesterday, her flip phone (sometimes called a Rez phone) loaded with photos of her adventure, her bags filled with papers and books from her workshops and instructors. She did not visit Allen Ginsberg's grave (well, the depository of a third of his ashes on the Shambhala mountainside two hours from Boulder.) She's an Old Lady, aka Elder, now. Climbing that mountain was not either necessary or physically possible for her. Oh well!

On Saturday, students from the Summer Writing Program assembled on Pearl Street in historic Boulder, Colorado, to participate in the nationwide -- actually international -- demonstrations: "Families Belong Together."

It's been a long time since she took to the streets -- I've been much more active on that front, though not lately. She said she looked around and realized she was the only brown person marching and carrying signs that morning in Boulder, though the Latino garbage collectors tooted their horns as the modest multitude of mostly Anglos marched by. I've seen reports that that was the case in many other locations too -- Anglo allies marching and chanting on behalf of the mostly Central American families separated at the border by order of the regime in Washington, an order carried out by the more and more notorious Gestapo-like border patrol and immigration cops who seem to relish their freedom to harm their victims.

Given the tensions of the time, it's understandable if brown people chose to stay away from some of the demonstrations. They might be targets. When Ms. Ché stopped for a moment along the route of the march in Boulder, a man sidled up to her and whispred, "Better watch out that some yahoo doesn't run his car into the march." Yep True enough. These are the times we live in.

There's been some discussion about why some -- or many? -- Native Americans have been supportive of the migrants who have been so cruelly abused in the current roundups and family separations. After all, weren't the Indians overrun by immigrants back in the day? Shouldn't they want to keep them out now? (Besides, Hillary!, Obama!, etc.)

Ms. Ché's father was a non-white immigrant; her mother was full-blood Cherokee. Her mother was sent to Indian boarding school from the first to the eighth grade. Her father faced the kind of racial and new-comer discrimination that has infected this country from the outset. Many Natives do support the current migrants ("legal" or not) because they understand the suffering so many have experienced, and because so many of those are being abused at the southern border are indigenous peoples. There were no borders before the white folks invented them.

People migrated from place to place throughout the Americas before the white folks came and divided the land into countries with secure borders. People who needed help got help in most cases. People from elsewhere were often integrated or adopted into the tribes who offered them assistance. This is not to over glamorize Native society. It wasn't necessarily rainbows and unicorns, but there wasn't the routine sorts of cruelty we've been seeing from the Trump government (and previous ones.)

So Natives are not inclined to follow the government's lead regarding the current migrant crisis. Regardless of who occupies the White House.

Colorado still has a lot of cruel history to deal with, and progress hasbeen slow. The demonstration in Boulder was small, but the one in Denver was huge. For Ms. Ché, her participation in the Boulder demonstration was an important statement. She has plenty to say about the bullshit infecting the country. And she'll do her part...

[Meant to post this yesterday, but life intervened ... 😎😎]

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Christmas Comes But Once A Year

For some reason, there are a lot of Christmas pictures among the ones we brought back from California. I guess most families take pictures at Christmas time, but the focus on that particular holiday seems like a function of the era. Christmas was the time to take pictures. It was special. It was only.

There are a number of photos of me posed in front of the Christmas tree taken year by year: 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1952. This is the first one, and it's probably the only one I will post.

Christmas Kid
There are more pictures of the tree than there are of me so don't get the wrong idea. We would see the same general pictures each Christmas until I was four, then they stop. In fact, there are very few pictures of me taken at any time after the age of four. Don't know why, but that's the way it is.

My mother is holding me up in the picture above. I recall the bracelet she is wearing. It was her mother's, rather baroque, silver and turquoise, but not Native American. It may have been Turkish. Or an American design.  From the 1920s. The turquoise stones were intricately carved, and they may not have been turquoise at all. The bracelet was part of a set that included a necklace and earrings. My mother wore the bracelet frequently, but she rarely wore the other pieces. [I've studied the picture more carefully. It's not a bracelet. It's her watch, a tiny Hamilton on a braided cord wristband. I remember both the bracelet and the watch quite clearly, and in this case confused the two.]

She also liked to wear a ring that had been given to her by her mother shortly before she died in 1941. It was topaz and diamonds mounted in filigree white gold. Topaz was my mother's birthstone. She's wearing the ring in the picture of the two of us after returning home from the hospital after my birth.

The Shiny-Brite ornaments, the tinsel, the carefully wrapped packages stacked all around the bottom of the tree, the tree itself -- always a cut tree, never artificial -- would be repeated over and over again with little or no variation. This one was perhaps the most luxurious tree of the Christmases I have pictures of, but the others come close. It was a ritual, an important one in our household, even when the household broke apart as it would repeatedly.

We have a tree up all the time in New Mexico to honor Ms. Ché's mother -- who loved Christmas more than anything. In front of our all the time Christmas tree is a company of nutcrackers, manifesting our own admiration for Tchaikovsky and the quirky "Nutcracker in the Land of Enchantment" presented annually by the Festival Ballet of Albuquerque.

The tree we have up all the time is artificial of course, but it has a selection of antique Shiny-Brite ornaments (a few saved from childhood, others collected over the years) as well as modern imitations/interpretations, but mostly it's ornamented with New Mexico keepsakes such as St. Francis, cats, road runners, rabbits, prairie dogs, etc.

And no tinsel. Well, we have cats, and cats love Christmas trees, especially hangy things on trees that they can pull off and eat. In the old days, Christmas tinsel was made of thin strips of tin or lead, and of course was poisonous. Now it's made of plastic, Mylar, and is potentially equally deadly. So we don't use it.

Enough of this reminiscing for now.

There are things going on in the wider world that may need some attention.

I understand, for example, that Trump is terrified the Democrats will abolish his Gestapo, ICE. Aww. Poor baby...










Thursday, June 28, 2018

Feeding Baby


Feeding Time 1948
Things got better the way they sometimes do. Here I am grinning ear to ear around Christmastime 1948 while my mother tries to find and pick up something I've thrown on the floor.  It was not the first nor will it be the last time I threw something on the floor while sitting in my high chair.

I'm not sure I remember this particular high chair -- although it seems sort of familiar. The one I remember clearly was painted white and had a flower decal on the seat back. This one could be it, if my mother packed it into the trunk of the Packard Clipper with her various house dresses and Cuban heel shoes, and then painted it, but somehow I doubt she did that. More likely she used some of the money she got from my father in the divorce to buy a new high chair along with various other furnishings when we got to California. I know that some of her friends gave her furniture and other household items when we got settled in.

This picture was taken in the kitchen of my father's house in Iowa. I remember that room as being the largest in the house. It was in a one story addition on the back of the house, an addition that was almost as wide as the house and about 12 feet deep, not counting the screen porch.

This is a Google street view picture of the backside of the house taken in 2013. The kitchen is the part with the french doors beyond the triple window.


The room wasn't that wide when I was a tot. Beyond the french door -- which was a window back in the day -- there was a screen porch that was later glassed in and here you see it is completely enclosed.



They cleaned me up after feeding me, and here I sit on my father's lap after a good scrubbing.

Some of the things on the  bookshelf are intriguing. The photo I believe is of my (half) brother Terry whose mother died giving birth to him in the hot summer of 1935. If that's who it is, it is the only picture of him I've ever seen.

There is a laughing Buddha figure on the same shelf and a Chinese enamel vase or perfume bottle. My mother took the Buddha and vase when we left Iowa in 1949 and they were on a different bookshelf in our various houses for many years. I still have the bookshelf, but not that laughing Buddha. I have another, much larger one that sits on a Chinese style knick-knack shelf along with a seated Buddha and various other things of that sort. I also have a similar Chinese vase. These are not things I consciously acquired. They "just happened."

I have some of the books from my father's house, including some that are in the shelf seen above.

And then it was time to take a spin in the runabout stroller.
Let's go strolling 


I remember that particular stroller, and it may have come with us to California on that long drive in the Packard on Route 66 the next year. How much stuff could fit in that car anyway?

Things seemed to be working out, but no.

We'll get to that another time.

-- To be continued





Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Child Is Born

So the Blessed Event finally happened. Here I am in my mother's arms -- well on her lap -- the day the two of us came home from the hospital:

Mother and Child
My, my. I don't look happy and neither does she. Well, I don't think she was; as for me? Who knows.

Many years later, my mother told me that when she first saw me, she was shocked. She said I was all red and had some kind of scrofula all over my skin. You can see what looks like a white patch on my forehead. I believe it was an ointment put on at the hospital. There's something called "crib cap" that babies sometimes have, and that may have been what I had.

She also said I cried and cried pretty much all the time. Not the best of debuts, eh?

Though the fancy new windows are open, I've noticed there are no fans blowing through the house on these hot August days and nights. That surprises me. Electric fans were not uncommon in those days, and their absence that summer must have compounded the misery. Years later, my father would install upstairs and  downstairs window air conditioners, but I can't say they cooled the house particularly well in the hot and humid Iowa summer time. He changed out the coal furnace for gas too, but the smell of coal lingered in the house, and some of his things I brought back to California after he died and have here in New Mexico now still smell of that coal furnace all these years later.

Hot and sweaty with a crying, scrofula covered new-born, my mother was not happy those first few months after delivering me. My sister was a teenager in high school at the time, and she would wind up looking after me as often as or more often than my mother did. She was, at least in my view, very good at it, but I would later learn of her resentment. After all, I wasn't her child, and besides, it wasn't fair to make a young girl like her the surrogate mother for... well, me.

So they told me my first few weeks were kind of rough as all sorts of conflicting interests and emotions collided that hot and muggy summer in Iowa. Things would start to settle down some by the fall.

--To be continued


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Reminisce

One of the purposes for going to California last month was to clean out stuff we'd had in storage in Sacramento for years and years. We probably got half of the contents removed -- either to the dump or to Goodwill. We brought back a few boxes of keepsakes including several dozen (actually maybe 100) of my family photographs, many of which I thought had been lost years ago.

The last few days I've been going through them, trying to organize them, emailing back and forth with a cousin in California (that I didn't know I had until recently) to try to figure out who some of the people are in early family photos, and trying to remember what was going on in some of the pictures of me taken when I was a few weeks old until I was perhaps five or so.

At first, I didn't recognize or remember many of the pictures, though I had seen them before. As I get older, my memory is getting worse and worse. But also, I haven't seen these pictures in years, some of them I'd only ever briefly glanced at.

So let's get started.

Happy Couple - 1


I call this "The Happy Couple - 1". My mother and father are sitting on a loveseat in my father's house in Iowa shortly before I was born. My mother is not obviously pregnant. There is an orange cat on the coffee table. I used to know the cat's name but I've forgotten. Don't ask me how I knew the cat's name before I was born, but there you go.

My mother seems happy in this picture. My father seems... anxious? I'd guess so. My mother was his third wife. He and his first wife got an annulment after ten years of marriage. Not sure what the deal was -- I didn't even know he'd had three wives until recently -- but it wasn't long afterwards that he married "TED"-- Thelma in 1934. He was wildly in love with her. I have some of his love poems and letters and such that he sent to her. They're very sweet and touching and seem almost like the words of a teenager encountering his First Love. My father was 33 when he and TED were wed.

Well, she died in childbirth in the summer of 1935. I'd known  about the tragic circumstances of her death pretty much all my life, as there was a constantly repeated story, but what I didn't know until recently was exactly when it happened. It was August 12, 1935.

The picture above was taken in 1948, on a hot and muggy August night, just days before I was born. If my father was anxious, I can easily imagine why for my birthdate is nearly the same as the date of TED's death -- a dozen or so years apart.

Some things about the house. It had been in my father's family for many years, and it was already old when my grandfather acquired it around 1900. This room may have been one of the original two rooms of the house and I'm guessing it was originally built in the 1840s or 1850s. It was old, almost a pioneer house in the area.

Over the years, it had been added to in several different directions. Eventually it came to resemble a rather grand Victorian with one of those Gothic arched windows made famous by Grant Wood:


By the time I was born, that window had been partially covered and made rectangular on the outside, but inside on the second floor, it was a near twin to the one in "American Gothic".

While the house appeared to be rather grand on the outside it was actually very small, almost a miniature house. It had been cut into upstairs and downstairs apartments sometime in the 1920s, and over the years, various members of my father's rather large family had taken up temporary residence there. My father inherited the house when his father died (actually, he bought it from his father's estate), and when I was born, the upstairs apartment was occupied by my father's youngest sister Eleanor. She lived there until she died in 1960.

Speaking of windows, the triple window in the upper picture was something my father did for my mother. When she first saw the house, she thought it was dark and dreary. She was from California, and she wanted light and air. She asked my father to put in more windows which he did. The triple window here and another wide triple window in the front room brought more light and air into the house and had a modernizing effect. I understand there had been a wraparound front porch as well, and that was removed at the same time the windows were installed and asbestos siding was put on. My mother was terrified of fire and always referred to this house as a firetrap even with asbestos siding.

The door on the right goes to a small entry hall. On the wall to the right of it (not seen) is a door to the front room which at the time served as my sister's bedroom. Later, it would be turned into the living room, and the pictured room would revert to a dining room which it had sometimes been in the past.

Another view from a different angle:

Happy Couple - 2

From this angle it's possible to get an idea how small this place really is. The room is about 10 feet wide and 12 or 13 feet long. The door on the left is the door to the front room. In the rear is the door to the bedroom. On the left inside the bedroom is a door to the bathroom. In between the desk in the foreground and the chair where my father sits with the orange cat in his lap is a door to the kitchen -- which is nearly blocked by my father's chair-side table.

It was cramped and yet it looks comfortable enough.

My mother told me it wasn't. She hated that house. She hated living there. She hated Iowa.

What she particularly hated was the summer heat and humidity and the god-awful smell of the place. It made her sick.

There was a Purina corn-processing plant in town and that plant stank to high heaven as corn was processed into various products including animal feed. There was no escape from the smell. There was no escape from the heat, no escape from the humidity.

For someone who had lived much of her life in coastal California, it was miserable. Misery was not my mother's favorite state.

Nevertheless she looks happy enough in these pictures taken by my sister a few days before I was born.

-- To be continued



Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Llorar y llorar

Images of migrant remains -- seized and discarded at the border.

Please click through the entire slide show.

http://www.tomkiefer.com/2016/7/14/reinforced-water-bottle

Yes, and we can do these kinds of displays for all our many gulags at home and abroad.

Don't say this is not who we are. This is not who some of us are, but it is what the nation has become.




Thursday, June 7, 2018

On Returning to Sacramento for the First Time in Almost Six Years

What an adventure.

Strange as could be, though.

Both Ms. Ché and I have deep roots in Sacramento -- she was born there, I became a resident when I  was 10 or 11.

After being away for so long, though, much was still familiar, some was not. And one thing we both said was "this is not 'home'". And it isn't. It's a very important place in our lives, but it's not "home."

Sitting outside  of Gunther's having ice cream on an extraordinarily beautiful day



we thought that if we did live there, we'd have compensations.

Gunther's is an iconic neighborhood ice cream place that's been in Curtis Park for decades and decades. It's always been popular, but it seems to have become a fashion destination for the whole city in recent times.

We lived a few blocks south in this house


Small by today's standards, it was considered more than adequate when it was built in 1940. Two bedrooms, one bath, a living room with fireplace, dining room, kitchen, laundry room and hall, that was it. There is a porch behind the overgrown shrubs in front, and a two car detached garage at the rear of the lot. We lived there for over twenty years, and truthfully it was a very warm and welcoming home for us at the time. When we checked it out this time, it hadn't changed much since we moved. It looks like there have been a few interior renovations (kitchen at least) and central air conditioning has been added, but that's about it.

Across the street, this place still commanded the block.


I'm sure it's not the biggest house in the neighborhood, but it's close to it. Dorothy lived there as a widow with her two standard poodles until she died in the mid '90s. There was a big sale of her things and then the house was sold to a doctor and his boyfriend (I think they got married as soon as same sex marriage was legalized in California.) It's a beautiful house, no doubt about it, and like most of the others in the neighborhood, it's been largely preserved intact through the years. Occasional redecoration and infrequent kitchen and bath renovation are about all that happens to most of these places.

Nearby, one of Ms. Ché's work colleagues lived here:


This house had quite a history.  One day in the late '90's the housekeeper found the owner shot dead in a pool of blood in front of the fireplace. A few things of value had been taken from the house. At first it was assumed that a burglar had broken into the house and killed the owner before absconding with whatever it was that was stolen. 

However, soon enough, suspicion fell on the 16 year old boy the owner had taken in some weeks prior. Exactly what was going on with the two has never been entirely clear, but the boy was found in possession of some of the man's things at his grandmother's house not far away, and shortly he confessed to the murder, saying he had killed the man because he was being molested by him. Whether it was true or not could not be determined, but if I recall correctly, the boy was not tried as an adult and I believe was released from juvenile custody when he was 21. 

This is where my sister lived from 1956 to (about) 1963.

It was built by her then-husband's grandparents in 1924 from plans they apparently got from House Beautiful magazine. I know of at least two other examples built from this house  plan, one in upstate New York (I believe in Scarsdale) and one in Connecticut (Greenwich?). 

Until about 1961, my sister's then-husband's widowed grandmother lived in the house with my sister and her then two children. Though the house is large, it was becoming cramped and crowded what with all the children and their things as well as three adults, two of whom needed special care. My sister's then-husband was legally blind and his grandmother was in deteriorating health. 

Eventually, Grannyma went to live with her daughter in the Bay Area. As it happened, she outlived her daughter and died in a care home. The house (and another one she owned at Lake Tahoe) was put up for sale, and as I recall the Sacramento house was purchased by a doctor whose fancy house a few blocks away had become somewhat notorious for his over the top French decorating scheme. 


The houses are somewhat similar, though I believe the one above was built in 1928 or 29 and is actually smaller than the one he purchased from Grannyma's estate.

The house where my sister and her then husband and children lived with Grannyma was in remarkably original condition when they lived there; everything was from the '20's except for the kitchen which had been modernized after WWII with a six burner electric range, a built in dishwasher and an enormous built in refrigerator -- which didn't work and was supplemented by a newer, normal sized fridge on the service porch. I thought of the house as Spanish revival -- due to its tile roof -- but it was actually Norman French revival, and when the doctor bought it, he went whole hog with a rustic French theme, painting much of the interior white including some of the heavy oak woodwork, and adding crystal chandeliers in practically every room. 

We went downtown while we were visiting Sacramento last week, and we walked around some of our old haunts. Surprisingly little had changed. Except for traffic -- which was horrendous. Well, it was horrendous everywhere we went in California. I can't believe it was this bad before we left, yet I could be misremembering, and I've been spoiled by the relative lack of traffic in New Mexico.

McCormick & Schmick's is now Claim Jumpers -- which is kind of sad as McCormick's was one of our favorites in Sacramento, San Francisco and Seattle.  We tried Claim Jumpers. It was... adequate though it seemed to take forever for us to be served our main course, and by the time we got the plates, some of the food was tepid. 

The space where we had our theatre is now a (ahem) talent agency. On the other hand, the space also  hosts an art exhibit area  with large windows on the sidewalk. There was an angel-figure in the window that we found quite charming. 



Homeless wanderers were everywhere in Downtown Sacramento, many more than we remember when we lived and worked there. I asked a friend what if anything was being done about homelessness, and he said that the problem of homelessness was national, and until something is done about it nationally nothing can be done about it in Sacramento. I told him that was bullshit. But apparently, even some of Sacramento's most influential "progressives" believe it.

We only stayed two days and spent four days driving to and from Sacramento. Traffic on Highway 99 through the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley was sometimes terrifying. Drivers didn't think twice about going 90 miles an hour bumper to bumper, weaving in and out of slower traffic, and causing wrecks and near-wrecks all along the way. The Highway Patrol seemed only interested in stopping truckers and cleaning up after wrecks. 

The weather was surprisingly sunny and cool. The temperature never rose above about 75° in Sacramento, and it was barely above 90° in parts of the Mojave Desert. 

Unfortunately the car had an unanticipated problem on the return trip. The Check Engine light went on just after we crossed into New Mexico from Arizona. As soon as we could we stopped to try to figure out what was going on. Turns out the crank case was bone dry. No oil. We'd had the car serviced including oil change only a month or so before, and as far as we know there are no leaks, so the absence of oil in the crankcase was a puzzlement. I suspect the oil was never replaced or never fully replaced when the oil was changed in April.

I put oil in the car, and it seemed to be fine for the rest of the way home (about 160 miles). It's going back to the dealer where the service was performed to figure out what happened.

It was a decidedly quick and focused trip to start the process of clearing out our long-held storage unit. When we moved, we didn't have time to sort everything and get rid of things we didn't need, so we just packed the leftovers into a storage unit and said we'd deal with it later. It's been almost six years, and this is the first time we've been back. We loaded the car with things we had forgotten or thought were long gone: family photos, Ms Ché's mother's rolling pin, a few books and so forth. The rolling pin was especially important because Ms Ché was certain it had gone to Goodwill or the dump with other excess stuff we got rid of before we moved. She'd written a story about it and the memories she had of her mother making donuts when the thunder roared, and how important that rolling pin was to her memories of her mother. When she found it in the storage unit, she cried. It was almost overwhelming. So it was with a number of other items we brought back with us.

There is perhaps one small truckload of stuff remaining in storage, some pieces of furniture, boxes of photos and books, a mattress and springs and bed frame, a few other things, but we've reduced the accumulation by about half, and one more trip to Sacramento is being contemplated for October. And then? Who knows.

Ms. Ché leaves on Sunday for three weeks at Naropa in Boulder, CO, where she'll be studying with the "Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics." I told her I hoped the surviving Beats, like Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and such -- I think Ferlinghetti is still alive too -- would show up just because. And I've been re-reading the original scroll version of "On the Road" to get myself in the right frame of mind for her departure. It's been interesting, too, because Kerouac trod many of the same paths we have, including mad dashing up and down the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley back in the day. I think there must be a psychic link there.
-x----------------------------------------
Of course Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) died some years back, but in my mind, he lives forever.