IMAGINE the USA was your city. Go a step further and imagine it was your community. One more step, your neighborhood. What do you think? Are you safe? Are you prospering: emotionally, professionally, financially? Are your circle of friends, family, associates dancing jubilee? Is it my age? I don’t know. If I wake up adding hope, commitment, and love to my coffee, then it is a JUBILEE
WHAT ARE THESE LISTS... the long list is the list you started as a youth without even knowing you were making plans for your future. This is the list that does not have to be in writing, keyed in a Blackberry or posted on the calendar.
The long list is about cutting out, shocking the system and coming back unharmed. It is an exceptional adventure sensation we visualize while waiting for a flight at the airport, for the neighbor to turn off the leaf blower, for the light to turn green.
All of the things we monitor in our lives, like the need to have a cavity filled or checking the coolant level is multiplying and that short list is so long we rarely have time to consider the long list. None of those items will make any difference in ten years, not one.
The short list is a big obstacle in the way of the long list. By the time we get to the long list, we may be crippled by fear, turned into a sofa shouting grumpy cynic or, worse than all the above, we may have forgotten what we wanted.
Waiting too long to start an adventure on the long list is looking at me in the face. It is September, this is the month of change. It is going to be autumn, and if you live in a seasonal climate, it is going to land on your front porch. Before the fall is scooped up in garbage bags and placed by the dumpster, my next adventure is moving to the short list.
SARATOGA SPRINGS BATTLEFIELD 2010- OFF THE LONG LIST
This is a previous post (2011) that I am re posting for new readers.
MY FAMILY history was brought to life in an unpublished memoir. The stories lived on during a long arduous journey of research and trying to get published. Sometimes I read pages to get close to my parents. I squeeze in between them like a ghost, hear their voices, and see their expressions. If I remove the outside world, the hum of the hotel air-condoning , the delivery trucks, and speeding motorcycles, I can remember swimming in the pool with my mother. I see her bathing cap strap pulled down across her chin, her red lipstick, and her one-piece strapless bathing suit. I can see her freckles, and her long slender arms backstroking as she swam.
Early in 1960 my father decided to build a swimming pool in the backyard of our house on Thurston Circle. I had just completed swimming lessons and asked my father for a pool. Years later he told the story: “My little girl asked for a pool, and I built her one.” I think he built the pool for my mother. He was under investigation with the FBI and Department of Justice, and spent most days in court defending himself against a deportation order to Russia. Subpoenas, arrests, and trials were routine events that tied my parents together against a world of misunderstanding. After eleven years of nail biting suspense, my mother just wore out. The pool was built with the intention of removing my mother’s anxiety and sadness. My father designed the shape of the pool around the original pool at the Garden of Allah, a highly scandalous Hollywood hotel apartment that attracted starlets and gangsters in the early 30’s. I know this tiny detail from photographs I’ve seen of the Garden pool. More obscure details surrounding the building of our pool were found reading his FBI files.
My father accused the pool contractor of being an informant for the government. One sunny afternoon he marched him out of the house. I was hiding behind a drape when the confrontation broke out. I recall the big shouldered contractor running from my father’s threats. Most likely an FBI agent was parked outside and followed the man after he scampered out.
The pool was finally completed in mid 1961. There are photographs of my mother and I in the pool; her smile is radiant and naturally composed. She and I swam everyday. My father loved to swim too, but he was busy with court proceedings and meetings. Before the year ended my mother filed for divorce, the house burnt down, and I was released from childhood. I don’t regret those events any longer. They were steps that shaped my character, and what brings me back to the topic of growing up with gangsters.
The best memories of my childhood are in swimming pools and restaurants with gangsters and gamblers. They were part of the family, and when they were around my father was on very good behavior, and my mother defenseless against their irresistible humor, pranks, and generosity. She just sort of glided in and out of activities, and helped me ride the vibrations. She didn’t laugh out of herself like I do, and she rarely yelled. The older I get, the less I seem to be like her. Maybe the passage of life experiences determines which parent you will take after. Had I married and had children, maybe I’d be more like her. Since I get into all kinds of tricky situations, and throw the dice, I need my father’s strength more.
Over the years, I have forgotten some of the dead reckoning discoveries I made about our family history. Still nothing compares to reading about my Aunt Gertie. She was my father’s sister. Until I read about her in the FBI file, I didn’t know she existed. I haven’t figured out why my father left her out of our life. According to the FBI files she was a remarkably loyal sister. Gertie was the one who confronted the federal agents when they arrived at the family home in Winnipeg, Canada. She pushed my grandmother out of the interview, and spoke for the family. The agents showed her a recent photograph of my father. She told them that her brother left home when he was twelve and they had not seen him since. She could not verify the identity of the photograph because almost twenty years had passed. The agents left without any evidence and continued to search for the birthplace of my father. Every time he was arrested, he entered a different birthplace. He named Chicago, New York, Detroit, and Los Angeles. His origins were discovered through a letter that his mother had written when he was fifteen and confined to a boys reformatory. The letter was turned over to the FBI, and that is how they discovered his parents lived in Winnipeg. The government could not deport my father to Russia without verification from his family. Eventually my father won the battle. He was granted citizenship in 1966, two weeks after my mother died.
Gertie died after my father. I don’t know if they corresponded over the years. I have learned enough about my father to know he was protecting her from further harassment. Maybe if my father lived longer they would be coming after me.
I was there a few days before I noticed a figure darting from one sea-lion to another. He gestured for me to follow but I couldn’t catch him.
He caught me by surprise from behind and wiggled over to me.
‘Let’s eat. I’m starved.” The Thinker dove down then up above my head. He cupped his fins around my head and pulled my hair.
“Where you been my Fins?” I asked.
“Why?” He said as he let go of me.
“ It’s just a normal question?”
“I don’t answer those kinds of questions. I am building my sand castle! Wait till you see it–it’s going to blow you away. Everyone will be blown away!”
“Exciting! I’m so happy for you. Will you show me?”
“ Maybe. Don’t look at me like that. Your eyes, they draw me in. It scars me. I don’t know what to do with you little one. Who are you?”
He lowered his eyes and sucked in his gills.
“I really love you. I mean I want to be with you forever!”
You should make a book of shells and tell their stories. ”
” You’re right! I know their stories too!”
” You could make a lot of money.”
” I don’t think about that. When I need money I just ask for it and it comes. All you do is count what you have. ”
” You think that!”
“Yes I said it didn’t I. ”
We carolled between starlight nights and crimson sunsets on the rock porch exploring varieties of sea mates. He used his fancy fish feet to get us into private ceremonies, and parties. The fish authorities didn’t bother us at all. We crashed into a party of penguins, and we weren’t eaten alive. My eyes were always on the thinker; as pleasurable anticipation bubbled inside. In the morning he read to me from his bible, and watched the seagulls. He drove me in many directions, unfamiliar ideas, and habits that got me to thinking so when we swam we were always talking.
“You need to lower your voice. Make it deeper.”
One day he swam me to a blow-hole.
“I’m not sure I can get through as easy as you do.” I said.
“Don’t say that. Follow me.” so I followed. I’d waited a long time to see the sand castle. As we expanded our gills and soared upward, my eyes searched for the castle.
“You see it? Isn’t it spectacular?”
“I see the sand yes, but where is the castle?”
“You don’t see it? Come on—really. ”
“No my fin. I don’t see anything but piles of sand.”
“ Look beyond the piles. You have to see between the lines. You don’t get it do you? You only look at what’s right in front of you. There’s castles everywhere; huts, hideouts, back alleys. ”
“Is this what you mean by patience?”
“ No! This is conciseness of the universe. We’re not alone you know. The skeletons and ghosts are here.”
“ Have you seen them?”
“ The water of Santa Fe is as crowded as pavement. I’m telling you what no one else will. You should thank me for that. I’m handing you the key to the universe.”
“ How about the key to a warm place to rest and food?”
“ You’re such a brat. Come on. I’ll take you
I met his power posse; and they all assured me they could reverse or promote anything I wanted.
“If you are ever in trouble call me. I can fix it.” the Thinker said.
“ Like what?”
“ Whatever you ask. You want to live forever under our safety net. You have to trust me. You’re a city cougar with a Range Rover and a brick house above water. Come on–don’t you see that. Most of the fish hate you. You need me.”
His eyes narrowed into dagger like bits of darkness.
“I’m not a cougar. You are the first young exotic fish I’ve swam with.”
“ Oh really. That’s not what I heard.
“ What did you hear?”
“ I know about you?”
“ Really. Then tell me what they say?”
“ You’re impatient, aloof and swim alone. ”
“ I’m not like that always.”
“ Well I know, I’ve seen inside you.”
One day he emerged as a sea monster, holding empty bottles and wailing. I felt a rush of empathy and covered him with my body. He wrestled in pain for days and then when he surfaced, he was wearing a different face, and his touch was absent. His teddy bear eyes were like bricks of strength.
“ I’m not coming back.” He said
“ Why?” I pleaded
“ Wrong question.”
“ What did I do?”
“ You don’t see my castle. I can’t be with you. All you think about is lobster and hotel vacations.”
“ I haven’t had lobster in years, or a hotel vacation.” He swam away, just as suddenly as he appeared.
It was like a knife severing me from one place to another. He despised me. His curiosity and mischievous cleverness triumphed over affection and companionship. His splashes exploded into monsoons of tears inside of me. I returned to my brick house and closed the drapes. Every night I danced and cooked. I sat on the porch in a spray of solemn sunlight and didn’t miss the waves or blow holes. I’d missed my dance music, old movies, journal and sanctuary of comfort. I made him vanish with a vow.
As I cut his sunflower from my yard, placed it in a vase and said, ‘when the flower dies so does my love for the Thinker.’ The sunflower died yesterday. I pulled off the wrinkled yellow petals and scattered them in a planted pot. Maybe he will come back as the beautiful sunflower I once knew. But I know he won’t. Love is in all of us. How we give it and cherish it is unique. I still have my love. No one can take that.
I asked the Thinker why the universe brought him to me. ‘To guide you through Santa Fe and teach patience. Without it you will find yourself where you are now.’
‘Where am I now?’ I snapped. He clasped my arms around his neck and we swam to the center of the Plaza. There he opened a porthole and asked me to look through it. Historical images emerged like a kaleidoscope and the Thinker told me stories of Santa Fe. Some were humorous; like the bank robbers who dragged a safe down Palace Avenue and left cracks in the stone sidewalk. Other stories pointed to the feuds, violence, and mysticism surrounding the Vortex. He whisked me away to a mirror, floating sideways, and asked me to look into it. The reflection was me curled up with my knees to the chin, while a school of fish surrounded me. They were talking about my mermaid skin and long fins. I was touched. Then the Thinker took me to another mirror and there I was poised on a chair; reserved and grave. I looked like I was somewhere else.
He tossed me in a circle, waved his arms in conductor fashion and said, ‘Get rid of her. She’s not liked.’
The image troubled me and so I jumped off his back and crawled behind a sunken wooden door. I was there a few days before I noticed a figure darting from one sea lion to another. He gestured for me to follow but I couldn’t catch him.
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