I think of the comforts of exhibiting my life on paper. It is not the act of writing with pen and paper moving along at a steady rhythm; it’s the activation of the heart and mind, collaborating to unravel the relevant from the irrelevant. To reach this state of matrimony a writer needs not a Tuscan Villa, or an English Castle, but experiences that flake off the skin, the mise en scene that shakes its relevance.
Page 525. Terrified to post this but it is Sunday and I’m brave on Sunday. The book is fiction, first-person, and close third person so you’ll need a jogging suit to read. Based on true events.
Greta let the moment of the village rescue stay with her, like a new pet for as long as she could hold on to its beneficial ointment, away from what she calls her immersion into self. She gives me examples that illustrate her obsession with matching outfits in her closet.
It’s a bedroom she converted into a dressing room. There’s a single bed against one wall, a cabinet where she stores the winter boots, and an eight-drawer French nouveau dresser and mirror. She sits on a chair facing the windows so she can watch the trees live through sun, wind, rain, and snow. Across from the chair is the bed. She diligently arranged her summer pastel skinny jeans on the bed, and next to that row she arranged the T-shirts, camisoles, and shorts. It’s quite practical considering Greta as she has admitted to me half a dozen times, that she was born without common sense or practicality. At the base of the bed, she lined up her shoes, the slip-ons, the flats, the pumps stuffed with tissue paper to preserve their shape, and the wedges. After a breach of sanity, she goes into this room and visualizes outfits and color matching like someone might play chess. ‘ It does have a purpose, this way I visualize without wrangling with hangers and you know it just takes too much time when you’re in a closet.
‘”These days I look at them as if they belonged to someone else, I mean the red suede with gold heels that I wore on a New Year’s Eve of gaiety and not since, the black velvet pumps that always make me feel dainty and light. What care I give to all these garments when in the other part of the house, Dodger was descending into a financial coma.”
Greta did not acknowledge the few months before his departure that he was riddled with abject unfulfilling tasks, bills, and construction jobs that no longer fed him purpose and accomplishment. She did not notice that his slacking posture on the front porch, head lowered and staring out without any body movement was a sign, she in fact despised it and walked away. In the last few months, all of this seemed to rise up like a curtain before a play, in a theater and she witnessed his insolence and his silent howl for help.
The irony of her activity is that she doesn’t go to the events that she plans on going to wear the outfits.
It was a day like today, just after the rain soaked every blade of grass, and the world looked squeaky clean as if it had been mopped with God’s soap. I was sleeping in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar berth on a ferryboat that swayed like a rubber raft. I was awakened by a knock at the door. “Ma’am. We’re here.” I looked at the young man questionably.“Ireland,” he added and shut the door. “We’re here?” I twisted myself round in the blanket and raised my chin to the porthole.Oh my God– It exists. Look at that tiny little village and the little harbor and the colors.
I landed at the Port of Rosshaven from London where I’d spent two nights in a room the size of a cigarette holder. I loved London as much as I could in two short days; carrying thirty-five pounds of clothes. Part of one day I spent packaging up half my wardrobe to ship back. The plan was to spend one month in Ireland. Other than that, my itinerary was unplanned. In those days, I leveraged myself to the outskirts of foolery.I gathered my Northface garment duffle, shoulder bag, and departed the ferry. It was Sept. 5, 1987, and I was thirty-something, recently separated from a career in commercial real estate and my pad in the Bankers Hill neighborhood of San Diego. Everything went into storage so I would be free to conquer whatever it was I thought I was conquering.
That first day I made my way to the picturesque village of Kinsale. The tourist office made the reservation for me and suggested that I rent a car. No need, I thought. I’d get around on my own for a while. She slapped a map of Ireland on the desk and pointed to several towns and then counted the miles between each town. “The buses stop running in September because all the tourists have gone home. You be wee on your own.” “ Well, I’ll look into it tomorrow. I’ll just get a cab to the Bed and Breakfast tonight.”
That night ended faster than any in my life. I woke up and decided to stay another. I could not part with the warmth of the Innkeeper’s country kitchen and the canary yellow bedroom, or the county road, the red barn and the miles and miles of rollercoaster hills cushioned in that indescribable Irish green. Her house was a quintessential B & B, blushing with the right bedding, Irish linen, French and English antiques and contemporary restaurant-grade kitchen.
I remember the Innkeeper drove a BMW, and her house sparkled as if it had been photographed earlier. That first day I walked into dreamland, and I did not come out until I left Ireland. This was my first solo trip to Europe. I began with Ireland because my friend, Kenny, insisted I go find the Casey in me. That’s my mother’s maiden name. Everyone thought I should be institutionalized for taking off like I did; mid-career on the rise and all of that.
That first evening I walked into town and ate at the restaurant the Innkeeper recommended. I wish I could remember the name of the place. It’s written in my journal, but the journal is in Taos, NM. Anyway, that dinner still rates in the top ten of all dinners, including all those four-star French Michelin Chateau feasts I found my way to later on in the trip. I hit a dozen villages between Clare, Kerry and Limerick. I took a seaweed bath at the seashore of Ballybunion, stayed in a folk singers
luxury hotel for a week because he wanted me to bring his tape back to America, attended an Irish wedding and the racetrack in Dublin. I watched the Farmers Matchmaking Festival in Lisdoonvarna and climbed the hill to the Cliffs of Mohr. On my hike up to the cliffs, I passed a man gardening in his front yard. He stopped and began to chat. His house was so beautifully Irish, handcrafted in brick and stone with acres of fertile land as his back yard. I told him it was the most beautiful home I had ever seen. He turned around in his rubber boots, leaned against his pitchfork, and said, “America, that’s where I want to go.” He said he would give me his house if I would take him with me. We talked for a long time about what matters, and as we parted I remember what he said, “Send me a postcard from America.”
I understand how to harmonize with tragedy. Tomorrow I may be Loulou, but tonight I am all adult. The crashing of my life is cushioned and softened by music. Thank you, Puccini. Photo of my Malibu residency, it just seems to fit the opera. Or it could be Stairway to Heaven? I can’t write any more now, the music has modified my sadness so I’m going to say goodnight and pray for South Carolina and all my fellow Americans in the path of more disaster then me.
RELOCATION isn’t just about the physical exertion of packing, and unpacking, I’m learning this as I swirl onto the 10 Freeway in a cavernous flow of luxury automobiles headed west from downtown LA. Self-doubt is not an option driving the freeway, you have to be a lioness or a cougar, imagine me more like an indoor cat going outside for the first time. On the 4th of July my transport from Santa Fe, NM to the city of Angels, ended in the late afternoon as I pulled up in front of a new place to call home. Fireworks beginning, palm trees rippling, dogs barking, and sirens escalating, all a safe distance from my front door. Noise in Santa Fe is Church Bells, bad-ass guys on motorcycles and an occasional siren. First step to ‘when in LA,’ block out the noise or turn up your head set-by the way everyone is strapped to a headphone. I noticed this phenomena on the few trips I’d made to LA while deciding if I should move back after twenty-five years.
As I entered the 1940s period bungalow for the first time all was very familiar. Thirty five years ago I lived in the same compound. Mine was across the common garden area, but the floor plan is the same with a built-in vanity, windows on every wall but one, fireplace, and a small kitchen. It’s like a doll house, four-hundred square feet. The landlord delivered a newness to it with freshly painted walls, polished wood floors, and a spotless kitchen and bathroom. I set my luggage down, took a shower and bounced.
I headed for Westwood Village, where I spent years eight through thirteen. I remember the Dog House, Mario’s, Fedway, Capezio, Bullocks and Desmonds where I worked one summer in Women’s Apparel. The best of all was Ships. My gang used to go there for breakfast in our pajamas to celebrate one of our birthdays. The Village is so close to my defining history, why I ended up there and why I left. We lived on Hilgard in what was then called the The Hilgard House, a microcosm of modern living in a new hi-rise with a pool. It was like living with a family; unguarded neighbors that knew my name, a Fred McMurray type Building Manager, a few famous actress’s, and me, one of four or five blossoming teenagers.
I drove past the renovated building now condominiums renting for seventeen times what I expect my mother paid in 1962. The neighborhood hasn’t been gentrified! It is still a quaint collection of Mediterranean and Mission style homes and four-flex’s.
I stopped in front of the second Hamburger Hamlet location, now Skylight. It took about five minutes to decide I’m going to love this first experience in Los Angeles. On the 4th the restaurant was empty, the room exposed and free of human camouflage. The brick walls remained, giving off some whiff of history and the rest of the room was finished in youthful coziness. Coming from Santa Fe, a city of minor extravagances, the two mirrored lit up bars, stacked with more choices of liquor than what I know existed is my focal point.
” Hi, how you doing? Do you know what you’d like to drink?”
” Well looking at the selection, what do you suggest?”
” What do you like?”
” Wine, white wine by the glass.”
They don’t have as many wines as they do Bourbons, so I ordered Sonoma Cutrer and a seafood pasta dish.
” I grew up here, right here in the village.”
“No way, that’s cool. I’ve met a few guests who lived here a long time ago and they tell me stories.”
” What happened to Westwood? Last time I was here, around the late nineties, it was really depreciated and unkept. It looks better now, but not completed you know?”
” Yeah, Westwood went through some really hard times. We opened this a few years ago, and now more restaurants are coming in.”
” So you’re busy during the week?”
” Oh yeah, we get a lot of businessmen, and some students, you should come back and check it out”
” I will, it has an openness about it, room to move.”
I was the only customer until the staff’s friends showed up to have a party of their own. The high-kickers in mini shorts, and skimpy tops, they were cute, like cut-outs from a magazine. I’d been on the road all day, and skipped the meals, so when the seafood pasta arrived, not only was the dish plentiful, it was deliciously fresh and spicy.
After dinner, I strolled along Westwood Boulevard, in a cube of surrealism, the homeless man hunched over his life remains in garbage bags, a Security Guard in front of an abandoned storefront, students striding along as their phones lead them, What happened to Westwood? Why are the store displays bland and conventional, street art, vendors and performers absent? The unmistakable sense of abandonment piqued my curiosity so I drove around the neighborhood, simmering in the memories of my gang. What a utopian place to go through puberty; the College boys spilled out after classes and we waited to see them, on Saturdays we’d meet at the UCLA cafeteria and test our flirting finesse. We spread out on skateboards along Weyburn and Westwood Boulevard flexing our budding egos and breasts. They are the flagship years of my life, maybe that’s why I came home, to flex my bruised ego and budding independence.
When I laid my body down on a blanket, with fireworks as my backdrop, it was like a celebratory musical overture to a new beginning. The painfully hard wood floor slapped the idiocy of not bringing foam or a sleeping bag. I’ll buy a bed tomorrow and my furniture will arrive Friday. The first night faraway from my La Posada de Santa Fe Hotel family, friends, my old Discovery SUV, my house, my cat, and my best friend who initiated the change is not in my head! To be continued.
I’ve had bar chats with Sam; many Santa Fe locals claim friendship; he’s our Santa Fe Shepard for independent thinking, accessibility, dust-bowl prolific honesty and still a flush hand of rugged classic looks. The last time I saw him, he was sitting next to me at Geronimo, writing in his little notebook and eating steak. He put his fork down when I said ‘Hi Sam.’ He talked about his novel (Inside Man), his Kentucky ranch, and showed me his new cell phone. When he held it, it was like a man holding a gun for the first time. Nothing about him was robotic, on cue, or predictable. When he gave me his phone number and said ‘Call anytime,’ I resisted throwing myself into his arms; now I wish I had.
When Shepard & Dark opened in town for three days, I was out the door within hours. I figured the movie theater would be packed, so I brought earplugs. I take my films too seriously and refuse to be interrupted with slurping and munching. Into the first scene, my concentration was bulletproof; I would have protested if anyone said a word.
Beginning with the footage; incredible home-made movies and photographs of early Sam. You will see him as a youngster on the ranch where he is raised, and Sam leaving home as he kicked his way through puberty. Then we see that chiseled frame of masculine sensitivity as a young playwright in Greenwich Village where you meet Johnny Dark. The dialog between the two men and the dramatization of their adventures through home movies and collected letters they exchanged over a forty-year period broke my heart. I felt the pain inside of Sam as if we were best friends.
It is as honest and genuine a continuum of conversation between two men that I’ve ever witnessed. The subjects: their father’s, destiny, fate, women, writing, dogs, tragedy, and loss. It is a wrap of cinematography, humor, philosophy and a pool-of-tears-ending.
Yes, there is a dusting of emotions on Jessica Lange.
Several lines I recall, in particular, to paraphrase Sam:
We can change our lives, our work, our wardrobes, our women, but we never really change. Our essence remains constant. I’ve always felt outside the whole thing, sometimes more than others. As a writer, you have to be selfish with your time. I’m always moving, going on the road, I didn’t know that was how my life was going to turn out, but it did.
If we experience disappointment our inner oars, the ones that carry us over the tidal waves, must be accessible, we must pick them up and bash the waves. If you are at a red light in life-like me, get a tune-up and then floor it!
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.
After I published this last story, I spoke with White Zen, my palgal in Santa Fe. She said the last paragraph of the story made her cry. Juxtaposed between writers Zen of exporting such feeling, and the sadness we both shared. White Zen had a Thinker too. I guess there are more of them than I knew.
Having had six true loves in my life, who impregnated me with knowledge generosity, and loyalty is what made me so unprepared for the Thinker. He does resemble Macedonio; the first man to peel off the woman in me. They both have charisma, mystery and good dark looks, Macedonio is dead now, and the memories of him still glisten; like the day in Golden Gate park under the cherry blossom tree.
What I miss most, is the giggling, dancing, folly-maker that the Thinker pulled out of me as If I were a puppet. He called me Puppet because that’s how he saw me. I’ve got to get my Jojo by tomorrow. I live Thanksgiving as a day with admissions of selfishness and greed. I need to be washed away into thanks that I am here with a mouthful full of food, and a napkin.
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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“Message in a Bottle”