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Overheard During Graduation Weekend

“It’s been getting some pretty bad reviews.”

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Christopher’s description of his new, very short haircut.  Evidently his roommates Evan and Francis didn’t entirely approve.

“Just walk away.”

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Richmade in Lodi, California dates from 1938 and appears frozen in time. Our waitress’s name tag said “Renee.” She looked to be in her mid-40s, meaning she wasn’t born when the Left Banke—don’t forget the “e”—had its one hit, “Just Walk Away Renee.”  We couldn’t resist asking her if she’d heard that song, and she gave us an aggrieved eye roll. That, of course, prompted us to break out into the chorus.

“Did we bring my purse?”

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We were traveling with David’s mother, Bonnie, in tow. At 87, she’s still an absolute trooper, sitting patiently through the long card ride and lengthy graduation ceremony, and making her way up multiple flights of stairs. Her short-term memory has gotten porous, so we needed to assure her many times that yes, we’d brought her purse.

“I can’t believe it.”

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David’s uncle Bud Jardine kept repeating this as he clasped hands with Bonnie, who he hadn’t seen in more than 40 years, and they both choked up.  We stopped to see him and his wife, Elsie, on their ranch in Galt on our way to Davis.

“Toro, toro, toro.”

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My sister-in-law Connie thought it would be amusing to try to summon Uncle Bud’s bull, Edy, with this classic phrase.  David shushed her, afraid the beast would begin pawing the ground and charge through the fence.  We didn’t want to mess with Edy.

“Help me with the beer.”

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This was the command from the waitress at Plainfield Station, which is on a country road in Woodland, just outside Davis. If you go with a crowd, plan on pitching in with the serving.

“Chris is so tall.”

The family with the graduate

He does grow weary of hearing this.  I’ve advised him to carry a photo of a Munchkinlike couple, and show it while saying offhandedly that he doesn’t know where his height comes from, because his parents are very successful “little people” actors. But he isn’t cynical and flippant like me, so he doesn’t.

 

 

Postcards from the Ledge

The post office won’t open for another 8 hours, but I’m all ready for the Ides of Trump.

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I gathered faded postcards I’d hoarded for decades, from a solo trip to Ireland, a day at the Bonnard exhibit at MOMA with my mother, an afternoon at the Jumel Mansion with my friend Julietta, a trek to the swamps of Jersey for a high school reunion, a hitchhiking tour through Brittany in my reckless days.

I’m slow and ponderous lately and writing seems more difficult than ever, so it took me weeks to get these done, a few at a time. The limited space forced a stinginess with words, but I added “naïve,” “appalling,” “aghast,” “corrupt,” “irrational” “small-minded” “petty” “vindictive” and “wrong-headed” in voicing my opinion of the administration’s bizarre and unskilled ideas on health care, immigration, women’s rights, climate change, and separation of church and state.

I tried to be serious and thoughtful, but couldn’t keep that up, unable to resist writing one congratulatory postcard to the president for being named Kremlin Employee of the Year.

Yesterday as I drove to my monthly writers’ group I was thinking ashamedly of how little I write lately. I was wishing I’d had the skill to write a haiku on each of the 39 postcards I’ll mail on the Ides of March. I did come up with one, a lousy homage to Tricky Dick Nixon who, while stridently opposed during his administration, almost seems like a fine fellow in comparison:

Spinning in his grave

Your disgraced predecessor

Pities us all now

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under Attack

I snapped this photo 7 years ago as we drove around in Washoe County, Nevada. The angry sentiment, complete with spelling and punctuation errors, was meant for President Obama. Many of us feel the same now, with President Bannon, er, Trump, threatening everything we revere about our democracy.  If you were to paint a sign expressing your views, what words and images would it contain?

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Crusty Old Girl

I’m on the down slope to 60; only a week until I hit that number. It’s a big one, and I had planned to rest up a bit before the day and reflect on how I’d like to spend the next decade.  But life intervened, with the holiday season and run-up to my birthday spent dealing with family issues, to use a vague, polite euphemism.

I’m grateful to make it to 60 – provided I live until next week, that is. My sister didn’t see 35, let alone 40, 50 or 60, so her absence has served as a steady reminder that every day above ground is a good day.

Christopher has been home for the holidays.  It’s been a messy holiday season, literally, with the house an unholy wreck, holiday meals hastily flung together, no time to shop for Christmas presents, nothing under the tree for him, and little time to spend with him. I’ve noticed that Christopher uses “crusty” as a catchall pejorative, applying the term liberally and making me laugh every time he says it. He’s used it to mean something dirty or nasty, whether describing the wreckage of his own room or peering dubiously into a wastebasket I’ve asked him to empty. Maybe it’s a millennial thing.

According to Webster’s, “crusty” means “giving an effect of surly incivility in address or disposition.” As I approach my dotage I’ll try to avoid that sour outlook even if the times, both personal and global, seem to justify it. Instead, I’ll take crusty in the form of a freshly baked baguette — warm, fragrant, and eaten in its entirety with butter.

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What Is an Intellectual?

I’ve always voraciously consumed the news, but I’m checking out during Les Folies Trump. As I drove home from visiting a hospice patient yesterday, I listened to KUSC instead tuning in to “All Things Considered.” After “The William Tell Overture,” which I turned up to a deafening level and thoroughly enjoyed, the announcer asked, “What is an intellectual?”  He answered his own question: “Someone who can listen to ‘The William Tell Overture’ without thinking of ‘The Lone Ranger.’” That made me laugh out loud, and despite the hazy, grief-stricken pall of the day, I felt a small spark of joy.

As we do every four years, we invited the neighbors in to watch the returns Tuesday night.  I chose these wines both facetiously and with an undercurrent of nervousness.

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As you can see, they remain unopened because the gathering went quiet pretty quickly and the crowd dispersed without partying much.

I won’t be able to bear reading or hearing about the Donald and his Super Model, so in the coming months I’ll pass my free time reading, writing, and listening to music instead. I’m going to start with the work of Irish poet Michael Longley:

The Design

Sometimes the quilts were white for weddings, the

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Made up of stitches, and the shadows cast by stitches.

And the quilts for funerals? How do you sew the

night?

The sky may indeed be falling, but at least for awhile, I’m going to pretend not to know about it.

Party Politics

Like the swells that we are, David and I hobnobbed with Michelle Obama and Donald Trump this weekend.

On Saturday morning, we went to the dedication and ribbon cutting at the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library on Atlantic Avenue in North Long Beach. The First Lady wasn’t there, but even without her presence the community turned out in force, all dressed up for the occasion.

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The site of the new library was once a movie theater, built in 1941. The building has been completely refurbished, but the original spire that glowed atop the theater to lure the crowds was preserved.

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dsc_0073The throngs who turned out for the opening, cheered enthusiastically and streamed into the new facility outnumbered the few haters in the community who opposed naming the library after Mrs. Obama, an effort spearheaded by Jordan High School students who successfully petitioned the Long Beach City Council to vote unanimously in favor of the name. Hundreds of people filled out applications for library cards, which was great to see.

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The space will be a vital place to gather, read, and learn.  Or perhaps even worship.

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As for the other party, we picked up our piñata from Fiesta Piñatas on Friday. We ordered it quite some time ago, but heard nothing. When David called to inquire, he learned that there had been an accident. The first one’s head was damaged in transport, so they were making another one for us.

Because we didn’t know quite what we were getting when we ordered this, sight unseen, both of us laughed when we saw it.  It doesn’t bear quite the resemblance we expected.  Maybe the (yet undamaged) head isn’t yuuuuuge enough?

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Done All Right for a Girl

I fall into that sad category of “too young for Woodstock and too old for Coachella.”  So while at age 12 I missed Melanie at Woodstock, I did see her in summer 1974 at the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park, shelling out a meager $2 for that privilege. I’ve always loved her — her surprisingly big voice with its occasional slight rasp, the way she stood up on stage with just her guitar.

Melanie performed last night at a house concert in Claremont, an intimate gathering of about 30 people. Before I went, I fished out my Melanie songbook and remembered my insufficient attempts to strum “Peace Will Come” or “Candles in the Rain.”

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It was sad and slightly shocking to see that the years haven’t been kind to her. I anticipated a silver-haired version of the Melanie I’d seen 42 years ago, and winced guiltily when she recited a monologue from her 2012 musical, “Melanie and the Record Man,” in which she admonishes her audience for expecting her to remain frozen as that sylphlike, iconic version of herself.

Melanie

She looks to be in poor health, helped on and off stage by her son Beau, whose solicitousness of his mother was touching. She spoke with a hint of wistfulness about performing for 500,000 people at Woodstock. Still obviously grieving her husband of 45 years who died in 2010, she mentions that he “took care of everything” and said that until recently, she’d been drifting on her own.  I suspect that she struggles financially now despite two gold albums, a gold single and a Billboard award for Top Female Vocalist.

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When she developed a tickle in her throat during her set of old and new songs last night, an obliging fan jumped up, dashed out to his car and retrieved a half-empty bottle of tequila. A shot was sloshed into a coffee mug and downed by the singer. “Did you drink the other half on the way in the car?” she asked her impromptu voice doctor, and the audience laughed.

Although “Brand New Key” sold 3 million copies worldwide, Melanie described coming to loathe it for years as a “silly” song that branded her as “cute.” She’s come back around now to appreciate the hit again, she said. It wasn’t the song’s then-risque sexual double-entendre that made it revolutionary, or even the supposedly sinister reference to “key” for kilo of drugs. When she sang, “Some people say I done all right for a girl,” that bit of social commentary went unnoticed in 1972.

The evening left me thinking about how fleeting the time seems, the nature of success, and girls who have done all right despite setbacks, sudden losses and things that can’t be helped.