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There Is Superstition

. . . . written on the Ralph’s receipt. The total for my purchases Friday was $13.13. I wanted to ask the cashier to take something off, but there was a line and I didn’t want to delay the people behind me.  So I just exclaimed, “That is so unlucky!” as she looked at me uncomprehendingly.

Like my mother, I am very superstitious.  I run like hell to avoid a black cat crossing my path, throw spilled salt over my left shoulder and make a wish, regularly chastise David and Christopher for putting a hat on a bed, and wouldn’t consider having any plant with ivy inside the house, as that would surely hasten someone’s demise.

The ominous receipt was only one indication that we shouldn’t have hiked Jones Peak yesterday. I didn’t want to go in the first place, as the description of the hike – vertical climbs, loose soil, scrambling – didn’t appeal to me at all, but David talked me into signing up.

The onramp to the 91 East was closed when we started driving yesterday morning, another warning that we should have turned back, but we went another route, making two wrong turns and arriving scarcely in time for the 7 a.m. start of the hike.

The hike leader mistook the trail, so after one very rough vertical climb we came to a 1,000 foot drop-off and could go no farther, meaning we had to scramble down and get to the right path and start again. One member of our group sensibly said adios when we got down from that initial errant climb.

The rest of us soldiered on, but David and I didn’t make it to the top. It was extremely hot, and David got brutal leg cramps, meaning that we had to stop every few minutes.  What should have been a four-hour hike took us seven hours, and we didn’t even scale Jones Peak!  We got within about a half-mile of the summit and decided we had to start back down, oh so slowly, hobbled by cramps, sliding down the steep incline some of the time, falling again and again.

But there’s more. Buckwheat is still blooming all over these hills, attracting lots of bees.  When a few buzzed around my face, I idly swatted at them. This was a mistake. I succeeded only in driving one up my nose, where it stung me.  Now I’ve been stung by a bee many times and never experienced this as terribly painful, although it’s unpleasant. But being stung in the nose produced a shocking, violent pain unlike anything I’ve ever felt.  I screamed and screamed like a bloody banshee – David said later he thought surely I’d been bitten by a rattler.

After we got home, filthy and exhausted, I Googled “stung by a bee inside nose.” The first result was “The Worst Places to Get Stung by a Bee.”  Evidently the nostril tops the list at 9 on a pain scale of 1 to 10, even higher than the male unit and the lip.

Now I really, really wish I’d asked the cashier to put that green salsa back.

Unlucky Receipt


Stick a Fork in It

I saw “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at the Ahmanson Wednesday night. I loved the Mark Haddon book about Christopher, the eccentric boy pursuing the murderer of Wellington, his neighbor’s dog.

Curious Incident

The production startled me. I wasn’t expecting computer graphics, choreography, or a clanging soundtrack, but these special effects worked wonderfully as Christopher, played with brilliance by Adam Langdon, parsed out complex maths problems, grew disoriented and frightened in the London train station, and mimed being afloat in outer space.

Even while intent on the play I thought a lot about my own Christopher, who read “The Curious Incident” when he was only 10. I knew he’d love the book, so I read it to him first, carefully skipping over the F word, which peppers every page. But he seized the book from me and devoured it on his own, and decided to do his “Book in a Bag” project on the story.

This alternative book report format requires a book summary, a decorated paper bag with items from the book inside, and a copy of the book displayed on students’ desk. Christopher tucked a fork, a tiny plastic dog, a scrap of yellow cloth (Christopher in the book abhors yellow), a letter, and a model train in the bag. He was in 5th grade in a parochial school at the time, so the adult book with the salty language gave the project a deliciously subversive quality.

His teacher, Mrs. Hapgood (name changed to protect the incurious) bestowed an A on his project, but never asked about the book or flipped through it to see what it was about. Christopher and I shared a conspiratorial snicker about that.

I went to the theater alone Wednesday night, riding the Blue Line from the Wardlow Station in Long Beach and trekking the mile or so from the 7th Street Metro Station to the Ahmanson and back after the play ended. Everything about the evening seemed somewhat strange, wandering around Los Angeles on a weeknight, being in a theater audience, which is now a rare experience for me, and listening to the assortment of slightly mad people on the train back home.

I told David the following morning that I wanted to go to the theater every night from now on.  So far I haven’t made that come true, but I can always fantasize.






Christopher left today to begin his new job in Sacramento. This felt different from other leave-takings—he is no longer in school with all the structure—and expense to us—that college education involves. He won’t have the luxury of coming to visit during long breaks from school, and we won’t have the treat of seeing him that often.

After he graduated from UC Davis in June he spent a month in Europe, biking from Prague to Vienna, seeing the sites in the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Spain, France and Ireland, having his possessions stolen from a hostel in Nice, connecting with friends here and there along the way, and arriving back in the U.S. dead broke.

He was here for 10 days before taking off to start his post-grad career, strewing his belongings about, eating gargantuan amounts, and making us realize again, as we have every time he has come and gone, that we will miss him terribly.


CJD in Barcelona

Overheard During Graduation Weekend

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


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

“Just walk away.”

Richmde better

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?”

Strawberry shake BJJ

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.”

016 (2)

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.”


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.”


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.

Ides of Trump

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?


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.