Friday, June 27, 2014

The Final Leap Perhaps Not So Final Now

Today the Golden Gate Bridge Authorities vote of whether or not to fund the suicide barrier. In the larger scheme of things, I understand both the pros and cons. Yet I surely hope they vote to make the decision positive which will not only prevent some of the death attempts but will provide added safety for bridge maintenance employees.
I've actually never known anyone who made the jump, although I had one client in my years as a psychotherapist who planned it, and for her it was certainly the choice death venue, and the only choice; it called out to her like a magnet.  Ive had two other clients who made serious impulsive attempts however, one from drug overdose and one from climbing the north tower of the Bay bridge. Each of these women were precious lives as far as I was concerned.  Last I heard all three are still alive and in their own ways contributing positively to their families and community. I hope I played a positive part in their recovery from depression and hopelessness. Sometimes the urge to jump is situational, a broken heart from a love affair, for instance. Sometimes it is despair, as in a financial crash. Other times it is genetic. Whatever it is, the Golden Gate seems to hold out its finger beckoning, like the worm on a hook. We need to intervene in every way possible, including continued suicide prevention services. About 80 people per year are taken off the bridge who go there with the intent to end their lives.
Of the 1600 confirmed suicides from the Golden Gate since it opened in 1937, the number is probably misleading. Even if an abandoned car is found in the parking lot, a death is not confirmed until the body is recovered, and if you've navigated the "potato patch" on a fishing boat (I turn green and hang over the rails)  you know how treacherous those waves are. Often bodies are carried quickly out to sea never to be found, or to be washed up somewhere down the coast. The saddest to me are the teenagers, bodies and souls not yet fully formed. Lets prevent some of these needless deaths.

Postscript: It passed unanimously! I was shocked this afternoon when I spoke of it at Current Events here which is attended by fifty or so thoughtful, well-read residents. My guess is that ninety percent
of the members disagreed with my position and that of the Golden Gate Bridge Authority. So I'm curious. What is your position?

Saturday, June 21, 2014


When I lived in Oakland I sometimes went to the Walnut Creek DMV to renew my driver's license though I felt guilty about it; the lines were shorter, the clerks more respectful, and the floors cleaner. So it was with some trepidation I signed in for my appointment at 2:40 pm in Santa Rosa yesterday. I noticed the lines extended way out to the hot parking lot and the population was probably 80 per cent latino. Most everyone looked tense. I felt immediate compassion. Approaching 84 in three weeks  I was tense as well. Did anyone notice? My lips were sealed softly but firmly, for since my big dental surgery Tuesday I am missing my four front teeth. (Hopefully by next Tuesday I will be able to wear my "flipper" which is a temporary partial that will do me until December when my implants will take over.) After signing in they called me within three minutes. I had just started reading the DMV handbook, although I had studied the test questions provided on line. At the first counter they took a thumb print, instructing me the machine was slow and to hold it down hard for a very long time, changed my address (hmm, I thought AAA had handled this two years ago) took my $33, and instructed me to follow the yellow line to the next counter. The clerk could not have been more articulate or courteous. When I couldn't read the letters on the third line on the eye chart which was posted high in the air, the clerk allowed me to look into a lighted box sitting on the counter. I could read that fine and pronounced the letters quickly and confidently, aware she could not see my knees shaking. I noticed a beautiful patriotic display in the distance and was informed the office manager did it. It might have gone in a fancy bank or winery. The display made the very worn and soiled carpets look even worse.
In the second line I only waited one or two minutes before I was standing in front of the camera and instructed to remove my glasses. "Oh, no," I winced to myself. "Now my slightly black and watery right eye from the dental extraction will glare at me for the next five years." Nevertheless I complied, trying to hold my sealed lips just right. Then she handed me the test and I proceeded to the counter to answer the questions. Only one perplexed me. I guess I have been driving so many years I know everything by heart. People around me looked in various states of anxiety, but all nervous."Anyway, "
I thought, "I am allowed to miss three questions." I advised myself not to analyze them or read things into the questions."
Nine minutes later I was rewarded with a perfect score. I told the clerk I had puzzled over question number seven and she agreed with me that it was worded strangely. The only other senior citizen I could see among the 300 or so people there was much younger that me. She was wringing her hands since she missed five on the exam.
 I was out of there in 22 minutes, and once back in my own car allowed myself a giant toothless grin.
Above, Thursday night's sunset from my front yard, which does not compare with Cathy Lane but is kinda nice none the less.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Art from Junk

Nearby Sebastopol is not only a tourist jumping off place to the Russian River and the ocean, it is a center for all kinds of art, including the quirkiest. There an imaginative artist has transformed old junk like batteries and dented fenders into art objects. One can read about it on Google, of  course. He lives on Florence Ave., a four block stretch along which almost every front yard displays his work. I took a break from appointments this week to play tourist. How fun! In half an hour one can walk both sides of the street. No matter how cranky you feel, you come away smiling.

I hope I remember this next week when on Tuesday I surrender to the new dentist in Santa Rosa who is extracting the broken off roots of my two front teeth and starting the implant process,
The damsel on the right is my favorite. Her tail seems to be made of old tin cans.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Stand on Your Tiptoes

Left, Celia, with friend Abbe, France, 1918

 Exactly seventy years ago today 160,000 Allied troops stormed German-held western Europe from the bloody beaches of Normandy. France. I was thirteen, living in a rooming house in Seattle with my father and big sister, so I vaguely remember the headlines in the Seattle Times and Post Intelligencer. My sister would soon marry a handsome Ensign in the Navy, who would serve in the Pacific theatre on the heavy cruiser St. Louis. My father, too old for active service, was serving in the Coast Guard Reserve, as well as helping the government in various secret ways regarding radar and underwater communications, his professional expertise with the telephone company. Most all of my male ancestors on both sides served in the military, and my father even served in the US Cavalry. Patriotism was in my blood, one might say, and yet it never enveloped me..

It was some thirty plus years later when I would first meet my father's older sister, the most patriotic person I ever met. Veteran's Day was the most important day of the year to her. Aunt Celia was already retired at this time from her later career as a public health nurse. She was living alone in an apartment in Los Angeles, and soon to move into a US Army domicillary.
I would probably never have met her except Lee guilt-tripped me into it. "Your Aunt Celia is all alone" she commented regularly. "You should make an effort to meet her." And so I did.

From the beginning it was an awkward association. She loved me because I was her little brother's child, and because she needed me, but she never understood me, nor I her. I found her high squeaky voice, judgmental attitudes and Republican mentality off-putting. She found my informality and life values beyond tolerance. Lee and I supported her financially and somewhat lovingly until her death at age 96. At times I suffer guilt that I never truly loved her or got past our differences. Perhaps I could have tried harder.

In the  downsizing  before I moved up here I eliminated almost all of what was left of her earthly possessions. Yesterday, the anniversary of D day seemed like an appropriate time to go through the one shoe box left: her war records, diaries, and photographs, not of Normandy but of the first Great War. I hold in awe the stories of her service in France, some of which she told me in the years we knew each other. And so for my creative writing group last night I wrote the following. I have written in first person, in the hopes it would bring me closer to understanding her. I've taken some liberties in creating dialogue.
 With beau, (I think) Richard Preston in Paris, 1918

My favorite photo, Public Health NurseTexas,1922, What model car is this?

Stand On Your Tiptoes

Even though I knew none of my family would be there to see me, my pious aunt and uncle who raised me the last few years being too poor to make the trip from Northern Maine, I stood on my tiptoes for the photograph of our graduating class of June, 1918, from the Boston School of Nursing.  I was nineteen, and it was certainly the proudest day of my whole life, or so I thought.
Shortly thereafter  the Great War was declared and I enlisted with the American Red Cross.. With 750 other nurses we were  loaded on a troop ship to France.
The crossing was rough, and so it was with surprise that on the 7th day the ship’s captain ordered all of us on deck. “A U boat has been sighted,” he announced over the loud speaker. “The president has ordered all nurses to be inducted into the army.” He continued without a pause: ”Raise your right hand”. After the oath was administered we were once again ordered below deck, this time for our mandatory physical.  All four foot eight of me was quaking in my bare feet. When the doctor got to me he frowned. The army required inductees to be five feet minimum. “Stand on your tiptoes” he commanded. I did. “Passed” he said.

What followed was four years in rural France staffing field hospitals, often in the trenches. Without chloroform, which was scarce, I would hold the hand of soldier as his arm or leg was amputated. We were often standing in water, so my tiptoe practice came in handy.

I nursed and fell in love with a Brit. My beau, as I called him. He didn’t make it.

When the armistice was declared we were sent to Paris for mustering out. A giant parade was scheduled and all of us nurses were given an allotment to purchase a new uniform for the parade. Mine, like the rest, was filthy and in tatters.  I was not about to spend money for a new uniform  that would only be worn for a parade. So I took the money and bought a beautiful French chapeau with lavender and pink silk roses. And yes, I got in trouble on the day of the parade, but it was worth it.