Thursday, November 8, 2018

Another day. A day. A day where everything went wrong, and everyone was to blame.

Okay, so not everyone and everything, but you know what I mean. Woke up to the notification on my phone of another mass shooting at a club, many killed. Went down and got coffee, checked Instagram. A friend was supposed to be there last night, but didn't go. The kids were wrangled off to school and I didn't mention it. Didn't even read the news piece on it. I know. We all do. People were killed. The details will kill us all.

Drove out to the manufacturing plant to pick up the materials, only to see a bunch of the workers out front, strangely watching the highway, and who just nodded my way as I drove in. Walked into Will Call just as the paramedics arrived, moving past me. I stayed out of the way of the action, as they tended to an employee who needed medical attention. When I finally got up to the desk I mentioned quietly, without inquiring on the details, "I hope everyone is okay."

"It's been that kind of week," was the solemn response, and I nodded/shook my head accordingly.

Eventually the factory guys came out with the materials and greeted me with a hearty, "Moneybags got a brand new truck!" referring to me, using the unlikely moniker I am always greeted with, and gesturing to my recent purchase. I defensively reminded them that I'd been coming here in the same old beat-up truck for fifteen years, until now, but there was head shaking, all around. "Moneybags got a full kitty somewhere... Counts it on the beach, doesn't he?"

I forced a laugh and tried to change the subject. "A lot of action around here, today. Everything okay in there?" One of the guys blew out a broad, white cloud from his vape, and then mentioned completely without irony, "One of the ladies was having a hard time breathing. She's got real bad asthma."

Anyway, the components had the wrong cuts on them. Corbels here, scallops there -not my fault. But, in a travesty full-blown and rarely committed: wrong color. And that was my fault. But easily made, in my defense. THESE parts "Mojave Tan" and THOSE parts "Spanish Brown"! Oh well. That's my life. I placed a rush re-order, loaded up, and moved on -just as the paramedics were loading up the sad woman, and moving on. I breathed out a short prayer, remembering a question someone asked me once: "How would you feel if you were in an ambulance, being rushed to the hospital, with the sirens blaring, and knowing that at every intersection, the people in the other cars were praying for you?"

So, I arrived at the lonely job site only to find that the measurements were off. Couldn't get a hold of the homeowner, whom I'd never met, to hammer down the details, and then I realized that moment had passed -noon on Thursday- where my re-order was already processing, and now I was going to have to re-reorder. This was getting expensive, and depressingly so.

Here, Moneybags headed to the nearest microbrewery to put this down on a blog, where he could at least push "publish" and log the word count.

Across the street from the nearby humble, local airport is Legacy Brewing, where I ordered The Chesty Irish Red, but the bartender brought me a beer. (I'll beer here all week, folks!) And no sooner did I sit down and open up the screen did my customer from today's job call and ask what was going on. Now: it looks like Moneybags has a decision to make. Do I drink the beer? Do I go back to the job site? Do I do both? Can anything be solved? And on a day like this?

There's a long table at Legacy Brewing. Ten distinguished looking older men are sitting at it, on a Thursday, having a pint, but otherwise the place is quiet. The men are planning something. A proposition. A journey. A business endeavor. They are serious, but satisfied. And then six of them get up, shake hands, and leave. The other four finish their beers, watch them exit, and say, "The married ones have left." And they laugh a bit. And that's when my phone rang, and I swear my customer was one of those guys, calling from the parking lot, probably leaning up against my truck, not noticing the materials in the bed. Materials with his name on them.

I have declared the day is over. Hell, it's almost 4:00. Got the word via wife-text today that our youngest, according to the parent-teacher conference, is "a perfect student and a dream to have in class." The teacher must not have got the memo about the recurring meltdowns he has at home. Must be us, then.

The phone is ringing again. It's my customer. I think I gotta go. But I don't think another meltdown is going to solve anything today.


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Election Day. I jogged past my polling place this morning, just to see the turnout (mild) and confirm the location. Then I went back later all sweaty, wearing red (my gang colors) and stinking up the neighbor's garage with my bad self, like a good republican. This is California, where you can't get a republican on the ballot, since there's only ten of us and since those spaces go to the top two vote-getters anyway. So here, instead of getting to choose between country and rock and roll, you get to choose between country and western. But it's also trash night. So you can actually count on something getting done.

Mrs. Ditchman is running for PTA president, not that she campaigned. She was vice president until the president showed up late to the last fundraiser, and then just to post selfies on Instagram, so that president was kindly asked to step down, before the cries of IMPEACH! reverberated from the walls of the teachers lounge. The principal was already referring to Mrs. Ditchman as Ms. President before election day, and one of the ladies in the office told her she wasn't going to congratulate her, but that she was just going to thank her. Politics is local.

I just laugh. But this morning I went to get some coffee and poured myself more than my fair share and we got into a bit of a row about it. But she always pours herself the last cup and then never finishes it! Just leaves it sitting there on the counter, getting cold! Previously rendered undrinkable by that nasty Coconut CoffeeMate! Defiled! So I announced I wasn't voting for her. I led the children in a loud, rhythmic chant: "DON'T VOTE FOR MOMMY - SHE DRINKS ALL THE COFFEE!" Gin up the base. Politics is local.

It's a two-year stint. She's the best they got. Everyone was relieved. She has my utter and complete admiration. I'll make the coffee.

I'm looking forward to this election season being over, although the 2020 presidential election season begins tomorrow. I'm looking forward to all the emails, brochures, robocalls, and political ads coming to a halt for a while, even though this is THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION IN HISTORY! You know, until next week.

But I admit to being a (lightweight) political junkie. I like reading about the issues, watching the strategy, the gamesmanship, following some of the polls, following the bellwether states. It's like a furious, massive multiplayer video game. Complete with all the goofball gamertags, errant bomb-throwing, fiendish emotes, and lucky breaks you'd see on Call of Duty or Battlefront. Very entertaining.

And the ultimate reality show. Tonight is the season finale, so I am going to barbecue some blood-red steaks, pour out a nice full-bodied, deep red wine, remind myself of the time zone map, and sit back and watch the returns.

The PTA vote is at 6. It's going to be a blowout.


Monday, November 5, 2018

Up early again, after a night of heady dreams. Went downstairs to find the youngest on the couch, under a blanket, watching highlights of an MLB all star game on YouTube. The cat wanted treats, but wasn't satisfied in the amount I gave him. I wanted coffee, but wasn't satisfied that the timer hadn't clicked on, and here I had to wait, while the world slowly turned it self to face the sun again.

There was a time change, so Sunday had us a bit disconnected from the normal way of things. We were all headed this way or that, off an hour or so, with the daylight confusing the perspective. And there's fifteen clocks in this house. You think you caught them all early, and then you turn a corner, see another one, and you're not sure. But the cat wanted his treats exactly one hour earlier than usual last night. Refuses the change.

I see the time change is on the ballot here in California. I worked my way through the arguments on the sample ballot, and it reads like we are living in some crazy future, arguing nonsense, wearing sequined jumpsuits and silly hats, with nothing left important enough to complain about. I'm tempted to weigh in on the whole thing, too, but aayachhh... I must be getting older. The world is full of crazy crowshit. I've got other things busting me. The office phone rang at 2:30 in the morning last night. Give an hour or take an hour, it's whatever time you say it is, but that was the wrong damn time to call.

And I was dreaming that old dream that I was back in college again, failing a class. It was a writing class, and I hadn't been all semester. I'd written one of the two required essays, quick and half-assed, and didn't do the other, so here I had shown up on exam day with a fifty/fifty chance of passing. I suddenly realized I didn't have any paper, so I decided that was it, and got up to walk out, taking the F with me. Then the prof (who, as it happens in dreamland, was Mr. Kumano, my 8th grade science teacher) saw me ditching out and said, "Hey there Mr. Hawkins you sit back down and take the test. I've got some paper right here..." and he handed me a few sheets of blank 11x17 copy paper, redirected me to my seat, and saying loudly, so the whole class could hear, "You can do it. Your one essay was surprisingly well-written..."

And I woke up to the phone ringing. Mrs. Ditchman got up and just closed the office door, which was at least a proper response. I rolled over and fell back asleep, where I was then in a strange neighborhood and the cat was missing. We couldn't find him, and I was angry and sad about it, as usual when this kind of thing happens, and then I was in my living room. I saw it was raining outside, and through the curtains I saw a long-eared coyote in the yard, chasing the cat. I ran out, the coyote came for me, and I went to kick him good and hard.

And I had kicked my heal into the side of the bed, with force enough to wake Mrs. Ditchman, a second time. I saw her sitting up, looking around. I told her it was me, sorry, and the damn coyotes...

After that, it took me a while to get my eyes to roll back, and when they finally did I had one of those semi-coherent dreams that played out like a movie, with a beginning, middle, and end. This one had all the sumptuous production design of a Terry Gilliam film, colorful and bizarre, and I was right in the middle of it, although I struggle to recall the details... World War 2... World travels... Something about an antique fork and knife, and I had to find a buyer, who, in the end, rewarded me with the finest meal in the world, which I spilled. It was a tale of struggle, persistence, and inspiration. An artist's journey. The critics raved.

It's what I did with the extra hour. They can have it back in the spring.


Saturday, November 3, 2018

The cats are racing about the house at 5AM. It's just kerflumpuh-kerflumpuh-kerflumpuh up and down the hardwood stairs in the dark, and then scritchety-scritchety-scritchety on the base of all the doors. What do they want? I don't speak cat. Approach one, and he runs in the opposite direction. He's meroarwing in the other room now, clawing the forbidden ottoman. I got up and gave him a kitty treat. Seemed to make things worse.

It was 85 degrees yesterday, with a warm Santa Ana wind that swept out the sky and left it a deep, San Diego blue. The leaves come off the trees and whip about, settling in house corners and streetside pockets. I had just gotten used to wearing a sweater on the chilly nights, and shutting the window before bedtime, but here now, pre-dawn, the air is dry and warm again. The summer refuses to die.

The cat has clawed the office rug and is now rolling himself up in it.

There must be catnip in the air, or some other energized dust. A static electricity, which is not really static at all, but more of a pervading electrical charge. An invisible, pulsating field of energy moving the trees, blowing old paper upwards in a spiral dance, and causing the cats to freak out.

Moby, our Himalayan-Siamese mix, has a soft thick coat that stands on end when you bring your hand to it. He's anxious, restless. His eyes dart back and forth like he's following some invisible flying insect. And then Moby leaps onto the high back of an office chair, grips the leather with his claws, and holds on as it spins in circles from the force of his landing.

Weather like this stirs something up from the bottom of the pot. An old memory. A forgotten joy. Or pain. It makes you smile at a stranger, and tip your hat at a lady, which no one does anymore, which is why you do it, and then follow it up with an impulsive off-color joke. Because you'll never see them again, you see. It's a time to take a chance, be a little different, accept a new idea. Laugh it all off when no one gets you. And hurry. Because this rush of mood will soon be gone with the wind, and then it's back to our old, tiresome ways. Winter is comning.

The sun's coming up. I have a slight headache, since I had wine for dinner last night. And here, we're all out of half and half, which I prefer in my coffee, and so it tastes different today. The sky is clear, from horizon to horizon, like a full glass of room temperature water, no ice. I may go for a run, before the kid's baseball game this morning. Try to get something done this Saturday. Or start a new project again.


Friday, November 2, 2018

Up early again. Fell asleep on the couch late afternoon yesterday sitting straight up, Xbox controller firmly in my grip. Awoke to find the sun going down on the first day of November, and Mrs. Ditchman looking over from the sink, "Game not exciting enough for you?" And then I felt nautious and congested. I took a Sudafed, and ended up awake all night.

At one point I heard the unforgettable stirring Randy Newman anthem from the movie The Natural, and I went downstairs to check it out, and found my wife falling asleep to that old award-winning classic. I hadn't seen it in years and got hooked on it for about an hour, but I missed the beginning, so I wasn't committed, and instead went upstairs to bed and read the Wikipedia entry.

The film is about a baseball player whose bright future evaporates when he, essentially, makes some bad decisions and runs into some bad luck. Years later, he returns to baseball as an aged rookie on a last place team. The whole film seems to be shot through a gauzy lens with silhouettes, shadows, backlighting, colorful sets... and it all gives the story a nostalgic American air about it, as if we're not really watching what happened, but how we remember it, or merely wish it all was. The music is moving and emotional. (You still hear it today in sports montages, used as a go-to musical track when a star athelete's bio is relayed in hush, impressed words.) And the characters, with the bad guys in black and the good guys in white -there's even a quirky, one-eyed sage and a storied baseball bat in place of a sword- reach obvious mytholigical heights.

The film was criticised for its overwrought sentimentality and fantastical indulgences, but so what? It's baseball, after all, and wasn't that the point? All this to say that, we're human. Life is in the way all the livelong day, and stubborn facts bog us down. What we want is the Legend. Or, perhaps, just a Standard. Take the boring, bungled facts of our daily lives, and bend them into an arc that shows purpose, intent, passion, sincerity, and maybe, if we could, some integrity. Please.

I actually watched baseball this year. It was a bit of a struggle, I admit, since I wasn't born with the sports gene and still don't grasp the rules and strategies of the game, but I have a knowledgable spouse and a passionate 6-year-old who are more than willing to clue me in.

The Dodgers went to the World Series! I grew up outsdide of L.A. so, hey, they're my team. And the World Series is, you know, important, so I watched with the family. They lost. We'll get them next year.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Thursday. And the first Thursday of the month. Streetsweeper Day.

Seems appropriate, this being the day after a particularly raucous Halloween scene in our neighborhood. I went full-bore yesterday on the house decorating. Boarded up the windows and dumped trash on our lawn. Neighbors drove by with raised eyebrows, and I got a solid approving smirk from the recycling truck driver, who was tempted to whip the can down off the truck at a mechanized speed that would create a windy whiplash of papers all a-flying. He didn't.

And it's Streetsweeper Day. Where we blow through this life and try and put some pieces of things back together. This old blog hit a sandbar nearly a decade ago, and has foundered since. Looks a little rusty, as I make my way through the cabin and sift through forgotten remnants of times past. There's a few other blogs in here, once started and soon abandoned. Old posts never posted. These things have just hung out there in the Interland, taking up space, darkening the Cloud.

Unfinished projects are my bane, and I've accumulated so many of them over this last decade that I swear my joints are finally giving out under the weight of them all. Old projects, with their half-baked inspiration, started and abandoned, still hold sway over a part of me. I've got an old garden, weedy and unkept. (When the sprinklers broke down I just walked!) I've got new parts on my work bench, that go on that old boat. I've got work materials, piled en masse, the same on this office desk. I've got breakfast to make for myself, (which I always skip and always pay for) and I've got unfinished exercise goals, unfinished business, unfinished laundry. And old relationships, long diminished, for lack of a single phone call.

Honestly, I'm surprised this old Blogger machination still works (does it?) Seems the world gave up on The Blog over a decade ago, in favor of the stripped-down, dumbed-down, mindless input of The Facebook machine -an appliance so misused over time that the simple (otherwise necessary) truths of communication and friendships were tossed thoughtlessly onto a cultural ash heap, and the real value of words and images kindling for its holocaust. Because Obama! TRUMP! These are crazy times.

That Streetsweeper just went by my window, as it has every first and third Thursday of the month since I've lived here, these fifteen years. The parking attendant drives close behind, and behind him those half awake pajama clad neighbors, moving their cars out of the way in our bi-weekly cul-de-sac parade. I suspect the Streetsweeper himself sees a few more candy wrappers on this Thursday, more than usual. And broken pumpkins, Halloween paraphernalia, holiday excess, which built up, wound up, reared back, and POPPED last night, in a frenzy of childhood memories made, and kept. The Streetsweeper moves ever-forward, unstoppable. I hear the rumble and hum of his machine in the distance, and he slows only for some larger pile of trash, or a car in the path -the car whose driver was unstirred this morning (after a heady night) to get up and move it, to get in line behind him. To get in that parade that trails the Streetsweeper, Grand Marshall of the Suburbs. A parade the Streetsweeper never slows for, pays no mind to, and never sees from the sidelines.


Monday, October 18, 2010

I was the favorite.

It's an in-joke with my brothers and sisters. I'm not sure I get the joke. It's possible I was favored somewhat because I was the quiet one. When you have six kids, the quiet one is the favorite.

It was nice to be back at the old church, though it's changed somewhat -as we all have. But when I was young, the place was like a second home to me. I remember my mom trying to get me to go to church when I was a kid. It was a battle, but she finally found the one thing that would get me to go. She paid me. It's true. In the fifth grade, I got, like, 50 cents every Sunday. By Junior High, I had upped it to a dollar. We both won.

Though her parents were of dedicated, Bible-Belt, Christian stock, she never spoke to me of Jesus. She never quoted the Bible, prayed with me, or pondered aloud -at least to me- the Big questions of Life and The Universe. She was busy with six kids. I guess she figured, at a dollar a week, it was a bargain to pay me and have someone else do it.

If you knew her like I did, you know she was a saint. She was not like my father, who was more the "hardened adventurer." She was like Mother Teresa, and he was like Humphrey Bogart. They were an unlikely couple. As a matter of fact, a good portion of my youth was like being a deckhand on The African Queen. I remember, distinctly, one time being on our boat, the whole family. I was probably about ten. We were motoring upriver, and my Dad spied a large cave, port side. He wheeled the boat around, excited for some spontaneous exploring. It looked dangerous. When my mom saw what he was doing, she stood up in protest. She groaned and said something like, "Oh, Gary. No." My Dad just smirked and said –and I'll never forget it- he said, "Oh, Lois. The world is probably going to end in the next five minutes. What are you going to do about it?"

He was a tough guy. But she sat down and took it, prepared for anything. She made sure our life jackets were properly buckled. And I remember thinking, The world's going to end in the next five minutes? And we're just sitting here? In a boat? In a cave?

My mom could take anything. And she didn't play to win, she played to outlast. She knew a certain wisdom of life: that it's better to use your strength absorbing the blows in defense of others, than it is in delivering the punches. She was like Muhammad Ali.

But she didn't see herself as Muhammad Ali, or Mother Teresa. I think she saw herself as more Audrey Hepburn or Cyd Charisse. Or, on her bad days, that character in the 1948 classic film, The Red Shoes, about the ballerina who dances to her end by way of a pair of enchanted slippers. It was one of her favorite movies. But when I think of her, I think of the Gene Kelly classic, An American in Paris. She loved Paris, though she never went there. It’s good to have a dream like that, in life. And that Paris that she loved was not the real Paris, but the Paris of a Hollywood soundstage. And I think that even she believed that sometimes it’s better to just leave some things as dreams, where they are sure to be beautiful forever, and where hope can spring eternal.

The cancer was her toughest fight, and she fought it for a long time. But in the fight she never gave any thought to any preconceived, inevitable end. Her doctor would never say how long she had, probably because he couldn’t tell himself. “Your mom's a fighter,” he would say. And, as far as I know, she never asked how long she had, either. She asked when she could go back to work.

And that's who she was. A fighter, a dancer, a hard worker, and if you thought you were the favorite... well, you had five brothers and sisters, and there were hundreds of other children she was off to take care of there at the church, at the hospital, and elsewhere. And then, eight grandchildren. But she made you feel like you were the favorite.

She had her ditsy moments, as we all do. But she took them all in stride, with her ever-present, self-deprecating laugh and smile. I hesitate to tell the story, but my family will never forget the Christmas a few years back when one of us had gone to open a gift from her. It was wonderfully wrapped, but upon opening we'd found that the box was, well, empty. She'd neglected to put the gift inside! It was actually pretty funny, and my mom laughed about it, too. And, to be honest, I don't remember any gift she's ever gotten me. But I remember The Empty Box. We all still laugh about it. Just last week, after my mom died -it was so hard- and we all got together at my sister's and we ordered a bunch of pizzas. When they were delivered, it so happened that one of my nephews opened one of the pizza boxes and it was empty. There was no pizza in it. My sister said, "That's mom's!"

Maybe my siblings claimed I was my mom's favorite because we both liked the movies so much. But even though I was the one who went to film school, she liked movies more than me. At film school they taught you to analyze and critique them, pore over static images and look for symbolism. But my mom just loved them. She loved all of them. I don't know a frame of celluloid that she didn't enjoy. So often it seemed she was incapable of criticizing a film, and it drove me crazy, for some reason. But what a lesson: Let it go. Just enjoy it, while you have the chance. It’s a movie, after all. What was the point, otherwise? My mom. Always a positive outlook. Never critical. Ever-loving.

She was a Christian like no other. She didn't preach the gospel, she bore it out in her life, and in her manner. She was humble and unassuming, but mighty. And she was good.

This is what I learned from my mother: That you should work hard, but enjoy the movies. That you should surround yourself with children. That the world, in many ways, really is going to end in the next 5 minutes, and that you can turn the other cheek and take the blow with more strength than was used to deliver it. And that, like her unforgettable Christmas gift, the Tomb is empty. That there’s always hope.

And that we are all God’s favorites.