Sunday, January 31, 2010

Time and Tide Wait for No One

Anna and Ella, in the 50's. I would give anything to have an afternoon with them. To ask questions, hear their stories. To help me figure out the mosaic that is my heritage, my reality.

Anna and Ella

This is the earliest photo I have of my grandmother, Anna. This photo is likely taken in east Texas, Waco or Mart, the small town where they lived in as teenagers. 

Anna looks contented, perhaps in contrast to Ella who appears nervous. Looking at this photo now, I am surprised at the strong resemblance between my grandmother and my mother, June. Why have I not noticed this before? 

Preparing once again to delve into this convoluted, troubled, and fascinating family, I feel somewhat removed, like I'm seeing everything for the first time. 

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tired and Restless

It's Friday night and I'm home multitasking: eating, blogging, watching tivo'd Steven Colbert, and browsing my bargain version of The Dangerous Book for Boys

I'm torn between wanting to flake out and wanting to get something done. Tomorrow John and I will review the layout of my new kitchen. So maybe I should focus on getting a good night's sleep. WooHoo!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

In This Picture

In this picture you’re holding my hand in front of the small rock house where I spent my childhood. You must have been dropping me off. Your face has that pinched look from too much mothering. 

Maybe I was returning home from one of your parenting flings, a euphoric couple of weeks filled with dress-making, iced cinnamon rings from the Betty Crocker cookbook, trips to the zoo. A fantasy family life, usually ended by a painful slide into a two or three day drinking binge, followed by tears, remorse, and a solemn drive back to Grandmother’s house.

Sifting through the box of photographs there’s rarely any taken on the high side of this roller coaster. Perhaps we were all too caught up in the hope that this time would be different. Maybe it was your fear that there might not be a next time that brought out the small box camera to capture the moment.

This particular photo was mounted on a button, surely something special. It lay in the bottom of the box, next to one that proclaimed "I Like Ike" which I wore to school all one fall. I can’t imagine anyone in my family caring about politics or even voting. But I remember wearing that button and walking around chanting “I Like Ike! I Like Ike!” Scratch even the staunchest liberal and you might find a dirty little secret.

The Hurried I Go, the Behinder I Get

This too shall pass. I will survive. 
What goes around, comes around. 
It's just a barrel of snakes. 

The real question is, 
what happens if he catches it?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Only God Knows

When she was fifteen, she rode the school bus home, leaving behind walks to the burger joint with friends and gatherings in someone’s bedroom to experiment with new lipsticks or hairdos.

Instead she trudged up the bus steps, made her way down the aisle to the back seat where she would immerse herself in other worlds for the next half-hour. She’d explore unknown worlds where teenaged suitors were cast out when they accidently clanged a spoon against their teeth while eating ice cream. 

She tried to imagine such a life, where girls went to college before marrying the handsome law student. Or maybe became a nurse or missionary and went to unknown dangerous places to minister to the needy.

One summer she convinced her parents to let her work at the Little Chef drive-in where she put potatoes through the French fry slicer and helped the dishwasher. Rarely, she was allowed to work the front counter, mixing vanilla Cokes and clipping burger orders on the cook’s wheel.

It didn’t last, of course, cause the owner found out she hadn’t picked out the rotten potatoes before sending them through the cutter. “No one told me to,” she countered but it didn’t save her job. Back to being on the outside looking in wasn’t too bad. Her best friend got to use the family car and drove everyone to the drive-in for fries and Cokes. 

Chance accounts for more than planning can ever accomplish. On a warm Saturday afternoon two young airmen decide to cruise the Little Chef. Bored or feeling lucky or just being friendly, they chat up the girls in the next car. One of them asks her to go to the movies and she says yes, but only if her parents agree. They don’t of course. He’s 21, an adult, in the Air Force, and from New York. God knows what that could lead to.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Women's Work

Keeping clean. Not always that easy.


If you live in Texas, one of your hopes/desires/ dreams is that you will make it big in oil. It's an unrealist dream, but one that endures. It's fed by movies (Giant) and real gushers (the Daisy Bradford, the Lucas gusher at Spindle Top). Dream on!


Etta James is a part of our history. For years my "clan" gathered at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Etta was sexy, substantial, cool. Our icon, our voice, our lady of love. Long live Etta!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Good Years

In the summer of ’67 a young mother bundled up her two sons, aged 4 and 5, and boarded a bus for New Mexico. They had spent the previous two years living with a madman: a brilliant, self-taught artist/sculptor and precision machinist, who was also a former inmate at Camarillo. 

She met him at a roadside bar in Huntington Beach where she worked nights serving draft beer and peanuts. Tall with red hair and freckles, he was intense, unpredictable, and married to a nurse who was addicted to painkillers.

He bounced back and forth between the wife and the girlfriend until the wife came in the middle of the night to vandalize the girlfriend’s '55 Dodge (that she had just bought with a month’s wages). For good measure the wife shot out the windows of their upstairs apartment with 30-06 armor piercing. 

The police came and made a report, retrieving a spent cartridge from the rumpled covers in her children's bed. The machinist stayed. Her riddled car was towed away and a few days later his was repossessed.

Everything changed. Everything stayed the same.

Eventually they moved to a nicer, bigger apartment. At times things seemed almost normal. She quit her job at the relay factory in southside LA and stayed home. She took in ironing, made lemon meringue pies, and ate them before he got home from work. Her sons remembered this as the good years. 

She babysat his three kids alot. Most afternoons she’d load the baby into a shopping cart and trek over to Kmart. They all loved it except her youngest who would trudge behind, his chubby face screwed into a child’s version of The Scream.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pipes, Beautiful Pipes

So, the rain continues, making it impossible for the plumbers to pursue their usual trade. 

So, they come, cheaply, to my little hacienda and install the maze of 21st century plastic pipe that will make my dreams come true. A small step for mankind, a gigantic step for me.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

For Chris

I miss your calls on the weekend
full of medical details
and updates on your beloved granddaughter

I miss your spontaneous visits
driving five hours from King’s Beach
to celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday
or just to watch an old black-and-white movie

I miss the bottle of wine 
that loosened memories,
our shared histories, exaggerated
for their comic relief and ability to heal

I miss the idle hours together
fantasizing a compound where 
as crazy old women
we’d sit in a garden 
tended by young men and women
in daffodil yellow and cornflower blue

I miss your anger at injustice
your unrelenting introspection
your blind faith in a higher power
I miss knowing that a visit
was just a phone call away

Monday, January 18, 2010


In celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, go to the above link to view details from the exquisite photomosaic at the Museum of the African Diaspora at San Francisco.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

On Sitting

She sits
waits for her self
to come to the place
where silence meets energy.
She stares through the smoke
from fires not yet dead.
She listens to those who would
show the way
filtered by their own longings.
She looks for a tool
to cut away the underbrush
that blocks the path.
She waits.

Happy Anniversary SFMOMA

"Country Dog Gentleman" Roy De Forest, 1972
January 18, 2010, marks the 75th anniversary of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). In honor of this special occasion, the museum opened it's doors for free this weekend (Saturday thru Monday). Check out details at

It's a Great Job If You Don't Weaken

Sixty years ago today a group of armed robbers walked away from the Brinks Building in Boston with $1,218,211.19 in cash and more than $1.5 million in checks and money orders. 

See Wikipedia for more specifics. 

See The Brinks Job (1979) with Peter Falk, Gena Rowlands, and Peter Boyle for the really fun version of the story.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Frida, Again

Went with friends, Cindy and Saundra, to the City to visit the Museum of the African Diaspora (more about that on Monday). Afterwards we walked around the corner to MOMA where I picked up several new Kahlo art books. Her art and her courage continue to inspire me. 

So Sorry

This first week back at school was a butt kicker. I could barely manage to drive home and had no energy left over to blog. One night I was so exhausted I couldn't even find my car. I thought it was stolen and called the police. Fortunately it was just parked in the dark. So, I'm making progress and hope to be back among the living soon.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Road

My mind is gone
on the trip
the trip  the trip  the trip
I want to be on the road
sharing the wind with strangers
I’m ready to get on with it
ready to ride
ready to roll

Back to the roots
back to who I was
back to two-bit towns
and dirt roads and small grocery stores
a thousand churches
and No Dancing Allowed

But it’s gone  
the house is gone
the flowers are gone
gone to seed
to weeds skittering across the dry land

And I hear the past calling my name
and I cry  
and cry
and cry
Where are my people?
Where are my people now?

Sunday, January 10, 2010


If life were a play
I’d choose a supporting role
perform my part flawlessly
bask in the applause.

Sometimes I’d improvise
keep the other actors on their toes
but not so often that it became expected.
Wearing red velvet and purple silk
I’d dance on stage in gold slippers
and toss them to the audience.

At Saturday matinees
I’d ignore critics, play to the gallery.
Sometimes I’d choose
a young girl from the front row
to take my place
and when the final curtain fell
I’d throw roses.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Blurtin' Burton

Tim Burton. Love this guy. Not sure why, except that he's brilliant. I guess that's enough.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mutuality: a sharing of sentiments; intimacy. 
Sweetie loves only me, an exclusivity that comes at some cost. He's demanding, frequently bites me, and will have his way, always. But, as with most relationships, the costs are far outweighed by the benefits of unconditional love.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dear Harmon,

I know I said I was leaving
but then I saw
the dog doesn't have any bones
and the cat box hasn't been cleaned in a week

The fridge is full of stuff
that looks like it’s growing
the hall light’s burned out
and the garage door won’t close

So I can’t leave
until I clean up the yard
clean up the car
clean up this mess I call my life

Then I can say I left you with a clean slate

Best wishes,

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

If These Walls Could Talk

If these walls could talk they’d tell of dreams
that came here to die
a young woman who outlived her husband
and left with three children to raise alone
married a widower with five of his own

Who found strength to wash mountains of clothes
feed them, send them off to school
but could not find enough love to go around

If these walls could talk
they’d color the night with blood
from three more babies
born in the kerosene light of the east room

If these walls could talk they’d tell of the night
he lifted the bottle of carbolic acid to his lips
the shame of sending the eldest to fetch the pharmacist
They’d tell of her face, void of emotion
her ambiguity about the outcome
her resignation

If these walls could talk they’d tell of her shame
as she sent the eldest two away to live with an aunt
the relief she felt with two less to feed
two less to hate

If these walls could talk
they’d choose silence instead
and weep for lost hope

Cat Play

I just spent the last half hour watching my cat, Sweetie, play with a rubber band: flinging it up in the air, holding it with one paw while he snaps it with his teeth, pretending to let it get away and then grabbing it at the last minute. In my next life, I am definitely coming back as a big fat cat.

Friday, January 1, 2010


Street lamps sputter on, lighting the deserted boulevard. Inside shadows fill the corners of Muriel’s tiny apartment. She pulls the sports bra over her head and carefully positions her left breast to conceal the nipple.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this.” Her daughter sits on the floor in the corner of the darkening bedroom. “What will you do with the pictures? What if someone at the photo lab recognizes you?”

“That’s just the point,” Muriel answers. She snaps the remote control shutter and for a moment is blinded by the flash. “It doesn’t matter who sees them. In fact, I want them to see, to know. I’m not trying to impress anyone.”

“But you are!” Amy lowers her head, extends one leg and stretches to reach her foot with both hands. “You always want everyone to see how strong you are.” She switches legs and leans forward again. “You don’t take your problems seriously. You’ve just had major surgery, for God’s sake. They cut off your breast and you want to make it into a political statement.”

“That’s it, Amy. It is political. It’s about beauty, about what makes a woman valuable. Do you realize we never talk about these things? I’m fifty-seven years old and I’ve never seen a woman with her breast removed. The real thing, the part that’s left.”

“OK, so I get it that keeping it secret doesn’t make sense. But I worry about you. I’m afraid you’ll put all your energy into going public and not enough into getting well. Mom, there are huge groups out there already helping other women with breast cancer. Why can’t you just take care of you.”

“Don’t need to. Don’t need any help.” She turns the camera on her daughter. “Look this way.”