Chokeberries

He had only wanted to see the great flat world that stretched out below his mountain in squares of brown and green. “Ma,” he’d said, “I can’t spend my life in this little valley. These chokeberries are killing me.”

Ma thought, he’s too young to understand what he has here. She gave a terrifying roar. “Go on then. I’ve got cubs on the way and can’t be bothered by your nonsense. But I will worry about you every day. You are very young and the world is not a bowl full of ant larvae as you may suppose.”

“Ma, I never thought that. To me, the world is pupae.”

They both cracked up.

He descended the creek and followed it for miles. In the distance, the great flats extended to the horizon where dark clouds bunched against the greater mountains. His huge nostrils flared to a thousand new smells: citrus sweet, nuts he had never known, mutton and chevre (August, before the rains.)

His mistake had been to leave the river. He passed through domed buildings and delicious raised beds. Soon the rolling nearly hairless beings appeared and held up little squares smelling of mercury and death. He galloped across grass and climbed.

Later, he looked down upon them and felt a fear so complete it seemed the world were over, its possibility crumbling inwards as the distances blurred, until he saw only the circle of men and trucks, and then he could only focus on his claw around the branch, squeezing marks into the soft wood. Little marks cut into the wood. He grew sleepy rather suddenly, closed his large brown eyes, relaxed his grip and began to fall.

When he awoke, he was in a metal box rattling up an incline. It came to an abrupt halt and he heard voices, smelled his valley. The door was flung open, clanged down on the ground at an angle, and he burst from it with all his strength, his paws touched grass and he leapt and then leapt again. He rose up the next hill running faster now, reached the top. In the huckleberry breeze, he picked up a pungent whiff of honey bee larvae, a fabulous bit of tender venison, and the sweet smell of Ma and home, which were the same.

(Inspired by true story)

We Drive

My mom and I drive the wide open fields outside of town. We can’t stop in at any restaurants because she might catch the deadly virus and die. We have to keep moving though we have nowhere in particular to go. Her little off-white dog sits in the back seat with his head on his paws.

Right on Road 99? Why not? We’ve got all day. Left on Road 45? Don’t mind if we do! We crane our necks for big red barns, recently groomed, infinite fields, the sudden appearance of an almond orchard. She points at huge clouds forming off over the mountains. “Wow, look at those!” She is particularly impressed by clouds.

We don’t talk much because she can’t find the words. She still has a few sentences she leans on during our drives. Cruising a road we’ve taken a hundred times, she’ll remark, “I don’t think I’ve ever been this way before.” Pointing out a hundred year old structure, she’ll theorize, “They must have just built that.” Every now and then, she pulls out, “We’re really out in the country!”

Mainly, we listen to music. I play a playlist of her favorites, the same list every time. Maria Muldaur sings, “Hasn’t it been a long hard climb? / Everything taking its own sweet time…” and she nods and the fields give way to foothills. We wind through green hills, orchards, past a ranch. She points at some sheep or a cow and I supply the word.

We turn towards the mountains and James Taylor croons, “In my mind, I’ve gone to Carolina….” She sings along. She was born in Charleston and, I imagine, often does go to Carolina in her mind.

If I yawn, she asks, “Tired?” And then she offers to drive. “I still can, you know.” I thank her and say I’m fine.

We reach a fertile valley between robust farms and steep hills climbing up towards mountains and wine country beyond. Horses run free across sloping green. The sun is setting behind the mountains. I ask her if she’s tired of sitting in the car.

She says, “Actually, I’m happy to be out of the house.” She laughs.

And so we drive some more.

Walk Out That Door

The other day I had had enough of thinking about this awful pandemic, so I got out my earbuds and my loudest dance playlist and headed out for a run. I often run without music so I can work through things I’m thinking about, but my purpose here was simply to escape, enjoy the music, and get away from it all.

As I did my warm-up walk up the hill from my house, the music kicked in. Elvis Costello began to sing, “She’s been a bad girl / She’s like a chemical / though you try to stop it / she’s like a narcotic.”

My first thought was, is this about the virus? It’s like a chemical? Though you try to stop it, you can’t?

I glanced up the sidewalk to make sure no one was coming around the next bush.

But narcotic? I wouldn’t say that, except for the talking about it. We all keep talking about it. How could we not? That’s definitely a drug right now. Stop thinking. Just walk, enjoy the music.

Then it hit the chorus.

“Pump it up / when you don’t really need it / pump it up / until you can feel it…”

Oh god. Pump it up? When you don’t really need it? It’s about hand sanitizer. Like a chemical and a narcotic? Yes, because it’s only available on the black market. I mean, you have to know a guy.

Yo, what you got? I got some PURELL motherf&%$. This Sh&$s real good. With a double-action pump!

Having reached the top of my block, and sufficiently warmed up, I turned on the flatter street and began to jog along, nice and easy, hoping the next song would allow me to stop thinking about the virus.

As I broke into a stride, Soft Cell began to sing. “Sometimes I feel I’ve got to run away / I’ve got to get away from the pain you driving…”

OK, it’s just a running song. No big deal. I ran faster.

“Once I ran to you / Now I run from you”

Oh no. That’s about the virus for sure. I saw someone running down the street on my side and switched over to the other side of the street. Now I run from you too.

Tainted love is right. We’re all tainted right now. If you give someone a hug that could be some seriously tainted love…

I passed a free little library in front of someone’s house and wondered if the books offered tainted love. I was running even faster now, sweat forming. The next song began.

“Watch out, you may get what you’re after…”

Ah, David, sing your crazy song. Take me out of my talking head!

“I’m an ordinary guy / Burning down the house…”

OK, I mean it’s kind of about how we’re all going crazy in our homes, ready to burn down the house, but that’s a stretch. Just enjoy the music…

I smiled at a couple with a baby, being careful not to show my teeth as I smiled.

“Hold tight wait till the party’s over /  hold tight we’re in for nasty weather
there has got to be a way…”

There has got to be! Got to be. And when will this horrible house party end? I love you kids but…

“Here’s your ticket pack your bag / time for jumpin’ overboard…”

Amen, Brother! I’m weaving a rope ladder with my own pulled out hair…

I sprinted across an intersection and began to climb another steep street.

I need to stop reading meaning into these lyrics. This song is so clearly not about…

“Close enough but not too far / maybe you know where you are…”

Oh god, it’s about social distancing. Is there no escape?

What I need is just a mindless song. One of those party songs added for the teens on the dance floor…

Oh here we go. Who is this? I glanced down at the screen. Missy Elliot’s Get Ur Freak On. This oughta do it. I don’t even know what she’s talking about. Good beat.

I’m running up the steepest hill. I’m over it. I streaking past the market where they’re lined up six feet apart, washing their hands out front before they go in. Doesn’t matter. I’m singing “Get Ur Freak On / Get Ur Freak On!”

And then this happens.

“Shh, hush your mouth

Silence when I spit it out

in your face

Open your mouth

give you a taste…”

Hands to my ears. Oh god, no. Should not have heard that. Should not have heard that. I don’t like that image right now. Missy, how could you? Next song quick!

There are people on both sidewalks of the bridge so I run right down the middle of the street. No cars? All clear.

Guitar kicks in. Aretha begins to sing.

“What you want

Baby I got it

What You need

You know I got it

All I’m asking

Is just for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)…”

That’s not too much to ask, Aretha. Now this is more like it! Aretha has everything I need. It’s all going to work out. She’s even going to give me all her money. All I have to do is give her respect when I get home!

This is great. I run, I smile (no teeth), and the light turns green just as I hit the big intersection. I’m sailing into the rich neighborhood, winding between the mansions singing, “Sock it to me / Sock it to me / Sock it to me…”

But then suddenly I hear a very quick line…

“I get tired (just a little bit) / Keep on trying’ (just a little bit) / You’re runnin’ out of food… (just a little bit) / And I ain’t lyin’ (just a little bit)…”

Wait, did she just say “You’re running out of food?!” That’s right! I forgot to buy more eggs and Milo ate all the frozen personal pizzas and when I tried to make my friend Cristen’s magic rice and beans in the rice cooker, I doubled the recipe and it overflowed and the switch flipped off way too early and now I’m running out of rice.

Why didn’t I listen to Mary the hair dresser that first week of hoarding when she said, “I wouldn’t worry about toilet paper. You can survive without that. What I’d buy is rice.”

How did Aretha know I was running out of food?! [I later realize she said “fools”]

Am I escaping yet?!

The streets are getting narrower here amidst the mansions. Runners, walkers, families…too many cars to fit in their garages.

Oh wait, Sinkane is singing. I love this song!

“It’s been some time since I have seen your face

Seems we both gained some weight”

Oh MAN! You’ve got that right. I run faster.

“We had to know the simple things would change

we knew they’d complicate…”

Well, you might have known, but I didn’t think things were so simple to start with. I mean most of us were hoping the elections were going to start undoing some of the complications…

“When the end is coming

we probably won’t be around to see it”

What? What kind of attitude is that? You’re bringing me down, Brother! OK, that’s it! You’re out, buddy! I need a good pop song.

Time to turn around and head back. I need to get back in my house and stop thinking about all this stuff. I’ll give it one more song.

I break into a run back up out of the mansions. Ah there’s the radioactive cell towers to show me the way back home.

And on with a guttural shout comes that awesome song Maya and her friends were singing in the back of the car, back when friends rode together in the back seat of a car. You know that want you back song, the song with the animal yell in it…

“Remember all the things that you and I did first?

and now you’re doing them with her?”

Ah, just a good angry stilted break-up song. That’s more like it. Testify!

“….And now you’re taking her to every restaurant?”

Well, I mean, you can’t really GO to restaurants now, but…

“We used to be, but now there’s a separation between you and me”

And there it is. It’s hopeless. Every song is about the pandemic. I give up. I’m just going to run in silence and hope my mind doesn’t go there.

Well, let me just see what the next song would be…

“At first I was afraid

I was petrified

thinking I could never live without you by my side…”

OK, Gloria, whatever. Bring it home. Tell Coronavirus how you really feel.

“Go

walk out the door

don’t turn around now

cause you’re not welcome anymore…”

O snap! Covid just got told! Go on, Girl!

I streak past the market. The line’s gone! I head down the hill, curving my way back home, and Gloria takes me all the way there…

“Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye

do you think I grumble?

did you think I’d lay down and die?

Oh no, not I, I will survive

oh as long as I know how to love

I know I’ll stay alive

I’ve got all my life to live

and I’ve got all my love to give

and I’ll survive

I will survive

Hey! Hey!”

Just another run in the pandemic.

(Actual songs on my shuffle. Health and Safety to all! My heart goes out particularly to New Yorkers and their loved ones right now!)

Fountains of Snow

In the midst of days without form, nights of escape and news that makes your chest thump. In the midst of shopping trips which feel like military operations, people creeping around aisles and a tension so thick you could shout “Boo!” near the peanutbutter and half the store would drop its jelly. We found ourselves today in the car, heading out through the tunnel, winding up the road to a nursery. I’d gotten a tip they were shutting operations this weekend and now was the time to get some friends for the ground. We parked and were relieved to step into a wide open maze of color and scented breeze, with only a couple other humans mulling about.

And suddenly we could breathe again.

I could have gladly just walked the aisles for hours, drawing, writing poems, talking to the plants. Noticing their tiny leaves, the upright pride of a rosemary, the glorious fountains of snow. We scooped up tomatoes and parsley and nasturtiums, whatever caught our fancy.

Was this essential? Was it a violation of sheltering in place? Perhaps, but, it was both food for the future and exercise for now, and we were gone before you knew it, off to hike fire roads in the green rolling hills.

But those purples and reds and pinks and whites! The waving of tiny leaves in the sweet breeze! I think of it now, after I’ve unwittingly stumbled into another barrage of news and statistics, and it helps the tightness in my gut loosen. I can picture the space between the green, that air, the young trees in back wearing badges of what fruit they promised to grow for you if you brought them home. I can still feel the peace of that place, the hills behind it, the cars on the road a million miles away. Just the squeak of the wheels of your cart and so few people mixed in with the green.

Just a reminder in these times of anxiety and tension, to sit outside if you can, even if just, find a leaf or two for your eyeballs to relax on, and remember to breathe.

Buddha Board

(Reposting this, slightly revised, four months later….It felt too raw, too personal back then, but I think really I was just too vulnerable at the time, too raw, worried this move to Davis would be a disaster, worried she wouldn’t survive it, but here we are in springtime, and she is doing well. I aim to post a follow up video of her soon.)

Yesterday I arrived in the morning and drove my mom back to Oakland where I live, so she could go to a birthday party in the park with a lot of my friends who she knows and loves (and they all care about her and give her love back). She was amazed to hear that Oakland was an hour away from Davis but was a good passenger and stayed mostly awake on the drive, pointing out signs and scenes as she does and has done my entire life. Back in the day, she’d swerve into the other lane to point out a nice barn in a field and we’d cry, “Mom, watch the road!” Now, she’ll point out a barn and say, “That wasn’t here before. I think they must have just built that.”

Yes, because barns are all the rage right now. (Actually, come to think of it, they probably are.)

It is impossible for me to understand how she sees the world right now. It seems it is constantly being built and torn down from day to day, like some sort of Twilight Zone episode or scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. What does place even mean to her anymore? When I say Oakland is an hour from Davis, where you live, and she seems amazed, how many misunderstandings is she stringing together to form that amazement? What is “Oakland?”

After the party in the park, we brought her up to our house. She hasn’t been able to visit for…what? (Do I have a memory either? Google Calendar…) Two years. The last time she came was when I somehow convinced her to leave her Volvo with me and get a ride down with friends, marking the end of her driving career. I am amazed to think she was still driving two years ago. Her confusion is so extreme now. The same Volvo now lives at her house for others to use to drive her. She has no connection to it. Never once has she looked at it or climbed in and said, “Say, didn’t this use to be my car?” She just rides along dutifully, perhaps at some level thinking, this feels right.

Climbing the many stairs to our house, she was excited. “Are Yia and Papou home?” she asked. That’s what we called my grandparents, my dad’s parents, both gone now, 17 and nearly 40 years ago. I tried to brush it off, as sometimes she’ll randomly throw out a name, but she was persistent. “Where are they?!” I finally had to tell her they had died a long time ago. She was devastated. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?!” We spent the next hour, sitting on a back yard couch, looking out at the tree tops of the neighborhood and processing it, not just that they were gone but her own realization that her brain had let her down. She made comments about being an idiot and asked if everyone knew. “What?” “That I’m an idiot.” Other times, she got mad at all of us for neglecting to inform her.

What triggered her brain to go down that path? To suddenly think, oh, wonderful, I’m going to see my wacky father-in-law who I love to make fun of and the mother-in-law I value more than anyone I know? I’m going to be in their lovely house in Palm Springs after a nice drive from San Diego? Did driving through the hills between the Sacramento River Valley and Napa and the Bay Area remind her of the mountains between San Diego and the desert? Was it some word or phrase someone said? Or does her mind just spin like a wheel of fortune sometimes and land on a given memory?

Later, as we drove back to Davis, I tried to distract her by talking through all our family members still living. Not only had she erased the deaths of family members, she had also erased the weddings. She was stunned to hear that Amy and I had gotten married and kept asking if I was serious. After a few miles, she asked, “Should I have a party?” For what? “For you and Amy getting married?” No, I said, let’s just focus on Thanksgiving. I dove into the details about that, hoping it would take hold.

Meanwhile, she must have been thinking, what is it with this guy? His grandparents die. He doesn’t tell his own mother. He gets married. Doesn’t invite me. Won’t let me throw a party. Starts talking about this so-called “Thanksgiving,” like that’s a thing…

It’s easy to see how ridiculous it appears, but how horribly confusing and frustrating to lose one’s marbles. In fact, my grandfather, Papou, used to answer “How are you?” with “I’ve still got all my marbles. I count them every morning.” He was one of the lucky ones. Kept his marbles till the age of 96.

In this peaceful house in Davis, where I sit now while my mom naps, there is a Buddha Board, those magic painting boards where you use water to create temporary little black strokes on the white board. They hold the image for maybe 30 seconds and then it begins to fade. Soon, you’re back to the clean slate. When my mom first bought this house and furnished it, she bought a Buddha Board at the local bookstore and all the grandkids would “paint” when they visited. It was one of the nice details particular to a specific home where you only see that one thing when you visit.

Now, in this home where she lives again, we have bought a new Buddha Board. I’ve just poured fresh water into it and set it up on the table for when she emerges from her nap. Last time I was here, I set it up for her on the back patio with the sun filtering through the tree. She dipped the brush and painted little dashes, like the leaves all around us. I had to occasionally remind her how to hold the brush or to dip it in the water (or, to be honest, not to use the brush on the dog) but for the most part, she created her own images of black swirls and dots.

I wonder now if this is how she sees the world? Each day, painting it fresh, needing help remembering how to do it, trying to construct an image that makes some sort of sense or at least feels right. At first, it’s just another wide open white board. She doesn’t know where to start or what to make. Someone encourages her. Try this. Try anything. It’s OK. It’s good. By the time she’s got a handle on it and a new, unique image of the world emerges, the earlier lines begin to fade. Wait, what is it I understood again? Slowly it changes from black to gray.

She’ll say, “It’s like the guy.”

What guy, Mom?

“The guy who…I don’t know.” A little laugh. Then it eases into a faint shadow. I try to help…

“Leave me alone. I can do it myself!” Then, before she knows it, the image vanishes back into the whiteness. Time to start over.

Come to think of it…what sort of monster gives someone with dementia a Buddha Board?!! Ohhhh, did your wittle drawing disappear again? In fact, what drawing? I didn’t see anything. No, really, go ahead. Draw something this time. Surely, this time it will stick.

A little like Lucy setting her finger on the tip of the football.

Maybe I should just get her a drawing pad…and a permanent marker.

IMG_0800

 

 

Fly Away Home

As the winds whistle cruelly about, knocking autumn leaves into explosions of confetti and the wildfires rage through wine country like a parade of terror, she dozes and wakes on a couch in Yolo County, brushing her beloved dog and whispering to him. She looks up suddenly, calls me by my brother’s name, and points towards the bathroom. “What’s that?” The tree above the rooftop in frantic climate dance, is sending waves of green and yellow light through the portal in the bathroom ceiling, resulting in a light show in the doorway. The hallway is filled with flashes of light and shadows, as if a great fire consumes the bathroom. I explain it to her and close the bathroom door. “That makes it stop?” she asks. “Kind of,” I say, settling back at the nearby table behind my laptop and essays to grade. She brushes the dog and nods off again. Peaceful until I sneeze and her eyes shoot open, alarmed. Then back to brushing.

We call this house she now lives in the Duck Pond House. She would probably tell you she is just visiting. She would probably tell you she will soon return to San Diego. Yesterday we walked the dog to the path along the duck pond, only there is no pond and there are no ducks. As we walked, I told her about the geese who like to stop here when the pond is a pond, about the beautiful sound of honking, the flocks in formation overhead, the dramatic water landings, and the way she used to watch them. But all that takes rain, not wind. She listens as if to a bed time story. This, a pond? What were they again? Geese?

When we first moved her back to this little house in Davis, she could walk to the first bench and plop down exhausted. Yesterday, however, she pushed on to the butterfly garden, sitting on a bench with a wonderful view of beautiful red, fuchsia and orange flowers able to thrive without rain. We sat for an hour and watched joggers and walkers and dogs on leashes trot by. As we left, she snipped off a few flowers, despite my rule-follower protests, and fashioned a lovely tiny bouquet as she walked, her hands twisting them about and joining the flowers together in a way I didn’t know she had in her.

When we returned, she settled on the couch and I put on one of my favorite movies, Fly Away Home, the beautiful movie about the girl and her dad and their journey to help geese migrate from Ontario to North Carolina (If you’ve seen it, you’ll remember young Anna Paquin calling the geese, “Come on, Geese, hey hey hey hey…”). I hoped she would focus less on the title (her wish as well) and the fact that she also wants to migrate south again, and more on the beautiful story and all the fabulous footage of the geese from hatchlings to goslings to adult geese in flight. She loved seeing the geese and made happy noises every time they appeared. Still, near the end she turned to me and said suddenly, “Hey, you could drive me to San Diego!” “Sorry Mom, that’s not going to happen. You live here now.” Angry silence.

Yesterday before our walk to the alleged pond, she and I had lunch downtown with my sister. We sat outdoors at a beautiful spot on a perfect day, pre-windstorm, with just the right balance of sunlight and shade provided by trees all around us. As my mom carefully devoured an open-faced crab and shrimp cheesy and delicious sandwich, my sister and I discussed habit change and neural pathways, a topic in my current English 1A class at the community college. I compared the fact that old neural pathways never really go away with the memories of river and stream beds, how when it really rains, the water reverts to the old pathways. Now, as I drape a warm blue blanket over my mom, sleeping on the couch, I think about migratory pathways too.

The goose knows it must fly south for the winter. My mom has never stayed in this house beyond a long visit before. She also wants to migrate. Her brain, beneath all its confusion, tells her it’s time to return to her two story house crammed with furniture, throw rugs and memories. She has so many routines and friends so far away now. At some level, though she can’t name it, she misses her dinner parties, the traveling-circus-music-and-love of her musician housemate, lunch with friends, her neighbor bringing her a quiche or walking her dog for her.

This all feels completely new to her. I look over at her in this peaceful, safe, cozy home, so close to her three children who now visit her every week instead of twice a year. She is building new pathways: the walk to the butterfly garden, sitting out back and looking at that same beautiful tree which now dances above the roof, trips to the Austrian bakery on the other side of town with its gorgeous fresh fruit pastries and cakes, her daily life here with a new live-in caretaker (on respite this weekend), who takes wonderful care of her. But it’s so new.

The winds have filled the back patio with green yellow and tan leaves. Every window is alive with flickers and flashes. The fires still burn through the vineyards. My family in Oakland reports the power is out. And yet she sleeps on the gray couch with a blue blanket thrown across her. Her dog sleeps too, though he looks up at me briefly as I type this.

Can we build a life here for her to be happy in this chapter of life? I ask this and stare out the back glass door as the wind picks up again and lights up the leaves on the ground in a gorgeous flare of yellow and green, better than any lava lamp. The shadows of skinny leaves dance across the bamboo floor to the table where I sit. Tiny shades of geometry, stretching and falling, crisscrossing in sudden animation, then slowing. Her days here are filled with mostly happy moments. She is like this lull now, calm between the flare ups, warm and happy, asleep or chatting. She smiles and hugs us when we visit and has even learned to let us go when we need to leave.

When her desire and anger flare, however, everyone who loves her knows she can rage. The tree bends, the limbs thrash. There is a strength which can be terrifying. There is a kind of a howl in the air and we hunch our shoulders and pray nothing breaks, nothing burns, nothing floods. There is nothing we can say to replace all she has lost. All we can do is stay with her until the next lull in the storm and then delight with her as the peaceful moments stretch and begin to gently take hold.

Perhaps soon the winds will stop all their horrible mischief, and, later, the first drops of rain will fall beyond the butterfly garden, drop by drop, transforming the empty gully of bush and grass back into their memory of a wet, glistening pond. My mom will wake to the sounds of excited honks, telling each other, “It has returned!” She, her lovely caretaker and her little dog will shuffle out onto the quiet street, down to the pathway, to find a real pond again with a Canada goose swooping down the long runway, its wings thrown suddenly back, feet outstretched, reaching, until it finally finds water and lands satisfied in the pond.

Sochi on the Train

(Another episode of the ongoing saga about my mom’s dog, Sochi, a lhasa apso.)

Rough night last night. Had a brain loop about what if I were a cat, would I chase that cat, but then if you’re the cat you’re no longer the dog, it’s like a property of physics, so how are you going to chase what you can no longer be? Insomnia is like an argument between two stupid people in my head, both of them me.

I board the train at some godforsaken “depot,” at least that’s what Amtrak would like you to call it. More like four benches surrounded by guys with no shirts pushing shopping carts down the tracks, a pregnant woman with a short skirt smoking a cigarette, and an empty parking lot probably used for anything but railroad activity. Someone shows up to drop off a passenger and the parking lot dies of shock.

I grow cynical in the heat with no sleep. I need coffee. I board the train and make a beeline for the club car. A little sign reads: closed until later notice. That’s the same as saying closed. Am I right? Or, closed until open.

Turns out they’re switching teams at the next “depot.” I sit down and wait, along with a restless blond with a skunk tattoo on her ankle. That’s hurtful to me and my people, well, other dogs, glorifying that monster. I should totally say something.

The guy shows up to open the club car and he’s got a beard and apparently a minute to spare for every hair in that beard. He announces to the train, “This is Kevin in the club car. I’m going to need some time to open up the club car, so hold off on visits for now.” Thanks for that important “update,” Kevin. Closed until open.

I head back to my seat because I can’t bare to watch the ankle of skunk girl. I curl up on the seat and look out the window at some really good graffiti, excellent tags on the back of god knows what walls. Each abandoned lot a tableau. A rusty pile of wheel parts, hundreds. A lot of plowed up dirt with a security guard parked sideways in the corner, standing outside his vehicle, arms at his side and frozen, like he’s just discovered the bulldozer is gone.

Suddenly, the voice behind me. “Bro, you see our game? I was controlling the field for 90 minutes. I’m a playmaker. It’s what I do. Coach pulls me out for stoppage time. Who does that? They score in the second minute and we take the L. It was brutal.”

The first “friend” somehow gets out of the call, so he rings up someone else and gives them the same exact story. “It was brutal.” He’s on to the third call, “Bro…” when I bail out and head back to the club car.

Skunk girl is still there and she’s got a friend: an older woman in a red plaid shirt who just wants a bottle of water. She watches Beardo in the club car, moving from cabinet to cabinet and then says to Skunkina, “He’s moving. As fast. As he can.” He turns from his preparations to chat with a guy who leaned in to ask about reopening and plaid shirt says to skunk, “Oh good. Have a conversation.”

The line grows. I notice everyone seems to be wearing a shade of red for some reason. Beardo opens to great anticipation. Skunk Girl orders up several food items and then changes her mind mid-order and starts the whole order over. Plaid shirt turns to the line of red shirts and says, “I just upgraded my water to a beer.”

 

Sochi at Denny’s

Sochi sat in the back seat of the Earth Destroyer 3000 (rented) en route on The Big Move.

So, they’ve gone into Denny’s to probably enjoy countless orders of Moons Over My Hammies and left me here in the heat of the parking lot. Thanks for cracking the window to let the heat in. Thanks for the those kind-hearted check-on-me moments, Son of Mastress. Such a shot in the arm to smell your Moons Over My Hammy breathy concern.  I’m not made for heat you know. These robes are meant for guarding buddhist temples, not Denny’s.

Sochi shook his head sadly and looked out through the massive front window of the Earth Destroyer 3000. He replayed in his head the moment when Son of Mastress reached to adjust the rearview mirror and missed it. He hadn’t reached far enough into the horizon. Hilarious, swatting the air, grabbing nothing. It’s that big, this monster.

Beyond the immediate rows of trees, cars sped back and forth from the gas stations to the freeway on ramps, North and South and from the off ramps to the burger joints.

I could kill a burger about now. Oh great, Son of Mastress is back. What’s he got for me? Fries? Are you freaking kidding me? He presses that big On button and makes air blast from the vent. Hey Genius, you just turned the air on the driver’s seat, but there’s dual air control in the front and back seat. Oh never mind. He’s gone.

What’s the sound? He left the engine running? Hmm…

After a minute moral dilemna, Sochi leapt to the front seat, pawed the dial to D for Drive (it’s not rocket science), and leapt down onto the gas pedal. With a tremendous roar, the Earth Destroyer 3000 laid out the skinny trees like asparagus and rolled down the grassy hill onto the main drag.

Whooo hooooo! Sochi let out a triumphant high-pitched bark that even hurt his own ears and leapt back up on the seat to try to steer.

What were those bumps? Oh, flattened a couple of Bay Area Liberal Priuses. My bad.

Sochi managed to turn the car completely around and plough right back up the hillside, into the Denny’s lot and up to the door. Slammed on brakes.

That’s what I call a Grand Slam. Yawn. Can we go now?

Sochi and the Therapist

Sochi walks into the therapist’s office. Whatever. They told me to seek help, so maybe they’ll get off my back. My back! Reaches up with a hind leg and scratches. Ahhh, that’s the stuff. Pads into the open door.

The therapist looks up, smiles. “Ah, Sochi.” Please won’t you…” Sochi hops up on the couch, scratches his hind quarter again. The therapist steps back, opens eyes wider, sits down in his chair.

“Well, Sochi, how are things between you and Noni?”

Sochi studies him for a minute, sniffs the air. Any bacon in his pockets? No, this man has no bacon. He begins to lick his paw, loudly.

The therapist waits, patiently, though the sound of the licking is already hard to bear. “Sochi,” he presses, a little too firm, too soon. Back off and ease into it.

Sochi pauses, looks up and thinks. Listen, what do you want me to say? We live an endless cycle of bacon and cheesy pasta? Nights are filled with strings and piano from the back porch, with closed sliding doors and an unforgiving carpet…Everyone blames me the stains. They’re not my stains. It was one…well, a few times.

Of course, I get my walks. The Artist takes me out, a reasonable distance, though I still sting with the disappointment of our first adventure. He said we were off to the “Bacon lot.” Turned out to be “Vacant.” Now it’s filled with buildings anyway. Everywhere, the sound of hammers.

“Sochi, would you say you’re ready for a change?” The therapist glanced out the window where a bluebird was pecking its own rear end. He looked away.

Sochi was now lying on his back, paws in the air, eyes slitted.

“OK, I get it,” said the therapist. “You’re dying for a change. But break that down for me. What do you look for? What change would, to quote the parlance of the day, spark your joy?”

I’ve got something you can spark, said Sochi, closing his eyes and releasing a cloud of gas. He rolled from side to side, sniffed the couch and was satisfied he’d covered it in a thin sheen of dog oil. Hopped down and went under a chair. Began to lick the floor. Hmm, what was it? Pad thai, three days old. Not bad.

The therapist tried to play it cool. Leaned down to talk to him under the legs of the chair and said, “Do you mean you feel caged? Is it Noni or is it circumstances?”

Sochi curled under his own chest and began to lick his stomach. It created an off-putting slurping noise. He saw a flea hop and began to chomp on his underfur. He growled and rolled over while he chewed. OK, this is awkward even for me.

The therapist had had enough. He stood up and paced to the window where thankfully the bluebird had flown away.  “Look, Sochi, god…” He took a deep breath. “Let me ask you this. Why do you scratch? Can we just get at that? The scratch? What are you trying to get at, really? Your mother?”

Sochi came out from under the chair. I don’t have to listen to this. He shook his head rapidly from side to side causing his collar to ring like an alarm. Then gave a little bark and trotted out of the room with his head held high.

Grant Park

Early afternoon

She sits there in the park,

head bowed,

on a bench dedicated to a friend

gone

and wonders what am I thinking?

 

First they came for her Volvo

 

now she can’t be left to sleep

without…

Mary, Tracy, Martiza, Something, Someone

Do you need to go to the bathroom, Dear?

would you like something to eat?

if one more person knocks on her door

sets Sochi barking

moves through the dark wood hall

and leans down with that smile…

Someone is going to get smacked

 

she lifts her head

Ah, there’s my beauty!

 

Late afternoon

I walk through the park

after a run through the streets

where I learned to be a kid

learned to wait outside the nursery for my mom

learned to steal candy bars

and learned to get caught

(whaddya got in your pockets? stuff. whakinda stuff? good stuff. giggle)

I cut past the long row of eucalyptus

with ever falling limbs

and come suddenly upon the open patch of bumpy grass

where, with shorts and a bowl cut of blonde hair,

I sped full speed in the twilight

glove outstretched to capture arcing balls

towards that same bench

beyond the strongest swing

of Pa’s bat

his wild thick hair and gentle swing

lifting one for his son

 

our heads back

in the dying light