Friday, February 24, 2012

Truth and Lies

One of the reasons I so treasure Rachel Maddow author and host of the Rachel Maddow show is her dedication to truth. Tomorrow night in San Jose she receives the prestigious Steinbeck award given annually to an activist who exemplifies the themes and values found in the writings of Steinbeck and his commitment to the common people. Particularly in politics Rachel searches for the facts behind the stories. When her research is wrong, occasionally, she rights it without hesitation. Steinbeck's son, Thomas, comments "Listening to Rachel Maddow is like listening to Walter Cronkite. We have that kind of trust in her."
At a much simpler level the struggle with my own truth, or lack thereof, has long been a theme. Perhaps you will enjoy this story of my remembrance of my first lie. Or was it? You decide. I'm relying on my childhood memories for I have no way to check the facts.

I was six and a half or seven at the age of the first lie. It is imprinted in my memory because I felt so unjustly accused. Maybe you can decide.

My voluptuous young mother whom I loved but could seldom fathom was shunned by most of our neighbors who envied her seductive appearance yet frowned at her scandalous behavior. To us she was funny, flamboyant and loving. Mostly my mother just wanted both of us kids to be inconspicuous to deflect the unwanted negative attention of all but the milkman or travelling salesmen at which times she wanted us to disappear into the basement or the nearby woods.

In sharp contrast to her beauty and outgoing ways I was duck-footed, myopic and introspective. Dancing school did little to improve my coordination or thin, straight hair cut in a boyish bob. My black pit bull, Mike, slept at my side and trailed me everywhere. In his eyes, anyway, I was perfect and could do no wrong.

Arriving home from dinner my mother struck a petulant pose.

“Did you have another fight with Barbro,” she queried? Bewildered, I denied her charge.

“You’re lying to me” she accused. “Barbro’s Mother just called and told me you two were fighting again.” I’m telling your father when he gets home from work that he has to punish you.” How confusing. This was the first time I had ever heard my mother express a cross word. The only punishment I’d known was to sit quietly in the corner for five minutes or to have my flashlight temporarily confiscated for reading under the covers after lights out. I was either a very obedient kid or my misconduct went unnoticed, possibly a little of both. I’d never had a reason to lie that I could recall, and from the Presbyterian Sunday School three blocks away I well understood the moral of honesty and the punishment for sin.

I intuited the wisdom of being invisible as well. Since about four I’d sensed I was different. I did not have a name for it, but I realized I had uncommon feelings from and for other little girls. Unlike my big sister, I felt utterly no interest in the neighborhood gang of boys who habituated the swings in our back yard and played kick the can in our alley till the light faded. Sadly there was only one girl to play with, Willa. Willa lived half a block north. She was chubby and a bore. Besides, her mother was a prude.

A dramatic change happened in the second grade. Playing hopscotch alone one Saturday afternoon on 27th Ave. I encountered a new girl, Barbro. Not my usual haunt, this was the only street around with sidewalks which were needed to accept chalk markings. Barbro had just moved into a rundown old house a half a block south. Her family was fresh from Sweden. I was smitten. Barbro was petite and graceful. Her thick wavy hair was the color of a newly opened bar of ivory soap. She was dressed in a colorful embroidered dirndl and wooden shoes. Her cheeks shone pink like the peonies in our side garden. Her accent was magical and her blue eyes danced. She played Hopscotch like a pro even in her clogs. She knew how to charm. I was hooked, an infatuation that was destined to last well into our teens.

Barbro turned out to be not only the most popular but the smartest member of our second grade class, and Willa second. I was somewhere down the ladder, though I excelled in reading. I decided their superior achievement was because they were both left-handed, and being a rightie I could never catch up. Surely I was genetically deprived. I saved my weekly 25 cent allowance for gifts and treats for the new object of my affections. I was tormented when at times Barbro would favor Willa over me. I could only stand it so long, and then being a little sturdier I would throw Barbro to the floor, yanking her thick blonde hair until she screamed. Willa would quiver in the corner. Of course Barbro knew I worshipped her and this was a game she invented to get my goat. It ended quickly with no tresses to sweep up. I hardly thought of it as fighting, for I worshipped the ground she walked on, as the expression goes. To me it was a way of showing my undying affection. Apparently her Mother did not understand the ritual or grew tired of her daughter’s screaming.

When Daddy got home he asked me to come sit in his lap in the living room. He explained softly that my Mother had told him to punish me for lying. I still didn’t get it but I lay obediently across his knees as he directed. My Mother was out of sight in the kitchen. His hands made contact with my buttocks seven or eight times with about the force of a puppy batting a kitten. I looked up at his face, still confused. “This is hurting me more that it does you, ” he murmured. It was then that I noticed two tears sneaking down under his thick trifocals. My heart sank. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt my gentle, adoring father. I still felt totally confused but I knew that somehow in the future I must figure out a strategy for coming to terms with lying and furthermore that it meant I might have to construct some kind of a secret double life, which is what in essence I did.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Blue Mood Valentine

A littler snow graced the mountains this week. Down here we’d welcome more precipitation in any form. Alas, it might be a drought year.
It will soon be five years since my personal valentine departed this life, but not my heart. Nevertheless life is stirring on Cathy Lane, that is except in the loins of this author who is still dragging in energy from last month's pneumonia. Patience, Bonnie, patience. Something for which I am not noted. The good news is that many Guamanians hereabouts have responded to our neighbor’s plea to register to be a bone marrow donor. A gynecologist in Guam has taken up his cause as well and has so far registered 200 residents there. Next door activity in the form of insurance inspectors and septic tank servicers have begun to be noted at the abandoned repossessed house, and the real estate agent hints they may close soon. Birds are seen in profusion at feeders around the neighborhood and one neighbor had a hawk pose in her back yard (eyeing the smaller birds at the feeder of course).

Lucky I love to read, puny or not, but I could use some suggestions for happy books. No kidding. I keep picking morose ones. Is this unconscious punishment for putting off the gym and my taxes? I got half way through the Orphan Master’s Son last week (about N. Korea) before I decided I could take no more. Then I downloaded two equally depressing novels which I promptly rejected for a more cheerful month, like August. Now I’m half way through Killing the Messenger, a non fiction murder story taking place in Oakland. For nine years I taught school two blocks from the site where the action takes place, Our Black Muslim Bakery. I did not know all the facts then but I would shudder inwardly as I putted by in my old ’64 VW bug. There was something eerie about it. How little I knew!

Lacking any ornamental branches I purchased a flowering quince on Tuesday. I painted a flowering almond at my art class last week but could not find any in the nursery. My camellias are almost done, but still fun to paint. I’ve included one above. I hope the spirit of wellness and get up and go strikes me soon.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Time To Reflect

Though the weather has been stunning and my camellias are in full dress array an air of sadness hangs over Cathy Lane. My next door neighbor, Joey, only 40, needs a stem cell transplant to survive Leukemia (AML). The registry for members of his gene pool must be Guamanian or Pacific Islander, ages 18-60. My genes are not eligible, sadly. So if you know anyone who qualities urge them to get info at 1-899-59-Donor. The test is quick and painless.

Speaking of genes, I want to boast a bit about my cousin Doll. I just got word that she may be visiting again soon from Canada. What’s stirring my joy buds is that every minute spent with her is a delight. Though legally blind and hearing impaired, she infuses every discussion with positive joy. While I grouse and lament about the economy and various body aches, she never complains of a single thing.

Besides that cousin Dolly‘s memory at 95 surpasses most of ours when we were half her age. She was only six when her family arrived by train to Moosejaw. The trip with her parents and older sister Flossie from England was arduous, first by ship and then by train via Halifax. My Mother, a little older, remembered meeting her little cousins at the train station on the day of their long awaited arrival. My grandmother, who ran a boarding house on Fairfax Street, was slowly enticing her family to immigrate to Canada. Doll’s dad, my uncle Alf, soon found work at the flour mill, for of course the vast Saskatchewan prairie was the heart of wheat country. Except for the extremes of weather Moosejaw was welcoming to immigrants. Most Saturday nights the extended family would gather at my grandparents for poker, and singing into the night for her Dad’s voice, once lubricated with a little brandy, enchanted all. My Mother, whose reputation for exaggeration was significant, always said Moosejaw was 120 in the summer and 40 below in the winter. I think it was a rugged life. “Anyways” as Dolly says in her enchanting musical voice, “it was sure different than green and rainy England. “ Life settled down for about five years until like others in the family they elected to move west. Once more the great Canadian Pacific Railway carried them across the continent. After a bit Dolly’s Dad, a small man more fitted to lighter work found employment at a lumber mill but quickly dropped a log on his foot, breaking it. There was no workman’s comp then, of course. Eventually he was employed by the City of Vancouver in various capacities.

Of the two girls, Dolly was the quiet steady one, often lost in the shadow of her outgoing stagestruck big sister. She remained in Vancouver, married and raised four children, meanwhile working most of her life at Eaton’s Department store in downtown Vancouver.
She lives in an apartment there now which she shares with her faithful son Ed. Sadly two of her adult children died of lung cancer. Of course she grieves their loss, but one never hears a whimper from her. The highlight of her life is weekly bingo games at the casino. She can neither see the numbers on the cards nor hear when they are called out, but that seems to make no difference. Her presence alone is enough to keep the staff enthralled. When she fell two years ago at bingo and broke her hip we all thought “oh, no” this is the end. She prevailed and recovered with her usual gusto.
From a photo I took of her on her last visit I painted the rendering on the left. Its painted on tyvek paper. Yes, the kind of paper used in building construction. I call it “Time to Reflect”.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

View From The Moon

Last week I spoke of the challenge of maintaining my sanity as I am housebound recovering from pneumonia. One of the practices I do nightly at 6 for attitude adjustment is to watch Rachel Maddow. I’m indebted to her for the inspiration to compose the following satire.

Recuperating in my Lazy-Boy the last two weeks I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate how to accomplish Romney’s vision of solving our national crises.
Firstly, self-deportation. I am high on his list of undesirables, as are most of my LGBT friends. This also incudes the bulk of my artist clan, for anyone with their own vision is discouraged from belonging to his society. Secondly, converting to the middle class, the class that really matters to him.

At the same time, we could attain Newt’s dream of farming on the moon by 2025.
All of these goals could be accomplished in one swoop by convincing those of us in the undesirable categories (including Newt’s half sister) to self deport to the moon.
Since the Super Bowl is about to happen, I think we should buy three minutes to advertise my concept at half time. I wonder if his Super Pac would finance us? By the way, wardrobe malfunctions would be required in the moon congress at 2pm daily, thus avoiding any cover up operations. Everyone not in congress would be employed as a lobbyist, thus achieving universal middle class, or maybe even upper middle class, as the lack of gravity would allow us to bounce higher and higher. The job of a lobbyist would be to supervise bridge games with the new rules: NO Trump. We might also have to staff the PALE INN.

On the moon we would have many temples. In fact each person would have his/her own, as long as it didn’t weigh too much. Entrance would be allowed to anyone with a thought in his/her head. It would be a utopian society, for only wise old women or men acutely testosterone deprived would be allowed to rule, with the possible exception of older men with erectile dysfunction. All illegals would be welcomed, especially those who know how to milk cows and grow vegetables, which includes all the Mexicans in California and Arizona. Every moon resident would be required to subscribe in principle to joining the middle class, for the day might come all of us would have to stand on the moon’s equator to balance things. War would be out of the question for we would all know that any form of physical aggression might tip the scale throwing us out of orbit, and who wants that?

In order to keep from being bored we’d have convinced Ellen to self deport to lead moon dancing. Skinny-dipping and streaking competitions would be encouraged. At 4pm each day volunteers would hostess the TEASE party where food stamps would be freely distributed. Each citizen would initiate a raucous caucus on the day the lunar eclipse approached. Occasionally all residents might be called out to stand asteroid watch and/or to repair the safety net which Romney wisely included when he accepted our self deportation application. But I doubt any of us would want to return. What’s your hunch?