Saturday, July 25, 2009


I ran by a house last night and almost tripped over a Christmas tree. Despite tinsel and a few Styrofoam balls, the tree showed its age -- the last six months had not been kind.

Though not the best housekeeper in Altadena, a dead tree, or any other decaying body, would have caught my eye by April at the latest.

My mother never taught her kids the finer points of housecleaning, believing our time should be spent on education and in pursuit of a stable profession. She dearly hoped the muse of dentistry would touch one of us on the shoulder. Or orthodontia – why not reach for the stars? Can’t blame her. I had an intimate relationship with the reclining chair and nitrous oxide as early as 10 years old. Poor Mum, she must have justified the expense as part of my apprenticeship.

Anyway, back to housecleaning, I don’t like it, but I do it. Usually with some sort of bribe involved – Snickers, for example.

I hired someone to clean on a weekly basis when I broke my leg back in 2006. This arrangement worked out ok for a couple of months. E would (sort of) vacuum and dust and polish and (definitely) gossip for four hours each Saturday. I learned she was divorced, remarried, born again, and that her three grandkids lived with her in a motel -- two angry boys who were in some sort of juvenile-psychiatric program, and one girl.

Once ambulatory, I kept her on , partly because E needed the money, but mostly because of her granddaughter. Alizza was 11 years old. She did homework at my kitchen table, then went outside to sketch my dog. I’d take her to the park and she’d tell me stories about life with her brothers. I didn’t want to get involved, so I worried in an uninvolved sort of way. “Alizza,” I’d tell her. “Your brothers shouldn’t push you off your bike.” Or “Alizza, your brothers shouldn’t hit you. Tell your father [he lived in another state, with a new and improved family]. And if that still doesn’t work, I’ll tell someone.”

Back from the park, we’d find E on the phone, or at a nearby garage sale. E now spent the four hours on Saturday in a variety of pursuits, none of which involved cleaning my house. So I started thinking of the weekly payments as a donation to Alizza.

This could have stretched on for a long time, and my worry might have morphed from uninvolved to involved. Who knows? But a few months later Alizza went to live with her father.

This bit of history nags at me, as one of many things I’ve left undone or could have done better.


  1. It looks like Alizza has a natural talent for art. Hopefully, she'll pursue art or some other dream. I think she did a beautiful job of drawing Boz deBoxer.

  2. KB,
    You did what you could do and did it well. I feel like I know ALizza from you piece. You have a good heart my friend. The world needs more of the likes of you.

  3. Where was her mother in all of this? Would my first guess be right?

    I hope her new and improved situation includes a step-mom that treats her well.

    I have a story on the same line that occurred when I lived in East L.A.. I too am uncomfortable about the ending.

  4. This art page is well decorated and colorful !! I think this is a god gift..Thanks for sharing..Unseen Rajasthan

  5. San Diego FarmgirlJuly 26, 2009 at 11:05 AM

    You don't want to be a dentist, they all go looney and/or get tumors from the mercury exposure.

    My mom is an excellent housekeeper, but me, not so much. I leave a trail.

    My grandparents used to take in kids like Alizza, back in the days when you could do that without the authorities getting involved. Dad recalls they always had a spare kid or two living with them when he was growing up. But these days, in reality, there probably wasn't much more you could have done for her without running afoul of the law. Sounds like telling dad was the best course of action.

  6. Alizza's portrait of Phoebe is wonderful. From what you say, it sounds like she acted on your advice and got herself out of a bad situation.

  7. I looked at the enlargement, I was really impressed with Phoebe's expressive eyes and other features. I see a lot of adult art that never addresses those kinds of details. I think Alzza may not have great life, but she's got a few things going for her. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Never mind the facts--I hope you'll make up a continuation of the story, which I find prety compelling. All three characters (4 counting the mom, 5 counting the dad, and so on) command my interest.

    I still have a hunch you write fiction professionally, or at least for the so-called "little magazines." You really know how to move from point to A to B to C right on through the alphabet. Here you start by tripping on a strange Christmas tree and end up where you end up, which is an open door to still more events and character developments. Wow.

    Finally, and at the risk of beating a dead horse about Bridge of Sighs (I wrote about it on my own blog a few days ago), toward the end of Russo' novel there's an episode involving a woman's informal adoption of--and teaching art to--a hard-luck young girl. I just read the episode two days ago.

    Anyway, thanks for another good narrative, but it would also be fun to hear more about you and writing.

    Or, are most bloggers also writers in other modes, public or private?

  9. Banjo, an insightful comment. The only Bridge of Sighs I've read is the one by Robin Trower, which as a fellow guitarist you may be familiar with. Great work.

    And, yes, I've also had a hunch that KB is a great writer of the 2nd act of her life. I'm also sure her co-blogger's would love to hear more about her.

    Maybe KB will answer your last question.

  10. Ah, the muse of dentistry bestows her favors on but a few...


  11. House cleaning is a simple task. If a leaf blower is good enough for Carl Spackler, it's good enough for me.

  12. It's stories like these that make me realize I really have no problems.

  13. Alizza's artwork is now on my desktop. '~)

  14. PJ, I just love that.

    So now, to plug up a few holes:

    Julie: I disengaged E the next week when she was going to start bringing her grandsons to my house on Saturdays.

    PA: Her mother was MIA. I believe she had a habit of taking off with the flavor of the month, and would show up once a year or so.

    SDFG: Bet your granddad was quite a guy.

    Banjo: No fiction in even the littlest magazine. I've done corporate fiction, however, and a little magazine and newspaper non-fiction.

    To all: I know, Alizza has a talent and sweetness that really comes through in that picture. Maybe luck is on her side now.

  15. You can't help but be involved.

  16. Just one last thing:

    Alizza was always bothered by the fact that Phoebe had an amputated boxer tail. It made no sense to her (she's right).

    Look at the picture. Phoebe grew a new one.

  17. I love that Alizza worried about Phoebe's tail. I hope she is okay now.

    Thanks for this, Karin. I'm with Kevin.

  18. (Back in town and catching up on blog reading)

    I can't imagine that you could have done more. I'm sure Alizza will always look back on her hours with you as a time when an adult gave her undivided attention, treated her as an equal, listened and loved her.

  19. Ah, the things that nag you. I have so many, but you've written about it so beautifully.