Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We Were

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don't.

I think that’s F S Fitzgerald.

I once lived with a philosopher. A philosopher who actually made a living by philosophizing. And he was always going on and on about the space-time continuum. Which strikes me as funny because, to any appointment, he was terminally late.

This philosopher knew where he should be, but he didn't know when. I knew when, just not where. We made an odd pair of missed connections.

G would end most conversations with, "Enjoy!" And, and ... there are so many things that disturb me when I think about G, these several years later. For example, I remember how he wanted to live a long life, even to the point of eating wheat toast dry, without any butter, as the butter might harm the heart, shorten his time.

But G didn't know about time.

And one day he put a gun in his mouth, when I was far from his space. And he has missed a sunset tonight. We'll all miss a sunset eventually, but if you eat dry toast, why the rush?

I should have been a better friend.

He knew space, I knew time. This time I was late, and somewhere else.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lincoln Heights, Eastlake Avenue

Eastlake isn't east of a lake -- Eastlake was a who not a where. You probably knew that, but I didn't. Nor did the 80-year old resident I talked to. "There's never been a lake here as long as I can remember," she told me.

Eastlake authored in a Victorian style of architecture, bits and pieces of which still exist on the avenue, an old avenue in the oldest neighborhood in Los Angeles. I'm sure the prime examples of Eastlake Victorian were at the top of the hill; you won't find them now.

You won't find the horses, either. But if you look really hard, you will find what's left of the old corrals.

(Thanks to lincolnheightsla.com for the old horse photo.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lincoln Heights Library, continued

I'm impressed by the curve of the walls, the quirky stacks, the natural light. Far more impressive is to find a library filled with parents and children. Not only that, it's parents and kids who aren't jockying for a place at the computer (uh, that would be Altadena Library).

Here, they sit at tables and read books. How novel.

I like this neighborhood better and better.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lincoln Heights Library

Second oldest library in LA. 1916, or thereabouts. Yes, it really is a crescent.

On my way to Spring Street.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


We follow our destiny. Tricky, capricious things, those moon and stars.

Fifty or sixty years ago,the Danish artist Kay Nielsen lived four blocks due south of the house I live in today. An illustrator/artist/muralist, Nielsen followed his moon and stars from Scandinavia to California to fame to fortune to failure.

Growing up, in the library of my childhood there were some Grimm’s Fairytale picture books illustrated by Nielsen. I don’t know if we had something that beautiful and terrifying because my father was an artist or because my parents loved Danes. Or maybe it was just something we inherited along the way.

The illustrations were intricate but insistent, cold and frightening, like seeing someone trapped in a pond below the ice. I tried to perk up the Snow Princess with my flesh-tone crayons. I gave her yellow hair. Nothing seemed to touch her, so I retreated to my Mary Poppins and Roald Dahl.

Nielsen died, forgotten, but for a devoted wife and a few close friends, in 1957. He could have illustrated a broken heart. I think that’s what he was doing all along.

If you want to see more

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Conversation on a porch, overheard while walking dog

Man, on cell phone

“I love you. Did you hear me? I said I loooooove you, love you. It’s true, true. You’re so quiet; talk to me ... Oh, honey, don’t say that ... No, not that, that’s ... No listen ... Ok, give me a moment here ... No, of course, you deserve a moment ... I just ... I just ... Are you finished ... Just tell me this, tell me, will you ... Oh, well, that. I’d like to think we’re past that ... Yes, I know how you feel ... Yes, me too ... Yes, yes, really ... yes, yes, time, time ... Do you ... Do you think ... Don’t you think that we ... Yes, I think that, too ... Are you well? ... I wish I could kiss you right now. .. Do you have some money?”

Friday, September 17, 2010

Growing Home

Somewhere, manywheres, you can find a calculation for what it costs to grow your own tomatoes -- construction, trellis, soil, seed, water, labor. And yes, it’s something like $1 million.

Money well spent
Put a seed in the right ground, cross your fingers and wait for a miracle. Some years are more miraculous than others. This year the miracles wouldn't quit.

Everyone I know eats their first ten or twelve tomatoes right off the vine, bending low so all the juice falls on the ground.

Pretty soon my second bed

Will join my first.

It's a pleasure to tear out summer vines and make way for fall. Damn straight we’ve got seasons.

When you catch the fever, much of your yard looks like wasted space. So I’m double digging this

And raising that (this guy thinks he has a following; I promised he could be in one picture)

I won’t touch the pink Cinderella. Another month to go.

Today I was in a filthy mood, so I got in the dirt and played awhile.
A million bucks? I break even.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

As you were

I don’t know why those who swoon over “Es muss sein,” sneer at “It is what it is.” The latter is just Beethoven at the kitchen table, wiping strudel off his chin.

What is done is done. Shakespeare wrote that. And just in case we were confused – saying, wait, wait, I don’t get it -- he clarified with, What is done cannot be undone.

So let it be known right now, I’m slapping my name on, What is can’t be isn’t, and, That which was isn't wasn’t.

They’re all mean verbs, anyway; ones that scowl, crack a whip, and hold kangaroo court. They admit no reason because they are the reason, and allow for no extenuating circumstances.

I prefer the pillowy verbs, the helping verbs -- the patient ones that need a friend. The coulds and woulds. They’re accommodating, and, as far as possible, allow going backwards and forwards in time. They only ask for a little direction, and don't mind if they have to wait awhile – your choice, your death, or eternity … whichever comes first.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Another Lesson

Just one more school story.

When we moved from the West Coast to the Midwest, overnight I changed from a so-so gymnast into Nadia Comaneci.

Two –thousand miles hadn’t altered my accuracy or timing; I still often missed my mark and went SPLAT off the unevens. What had changed was that only I dared to swing at all.

Gymnastics in this instance proved my entrĂ©e to instant acceptance and popularity. Though no one else particularly wanted to perform or ever performed, they loved to watch me. Back in California, I would occasionally ribbon in balance beam or tumbling; in Naperville, I was a middle school version of cirque du soliel. I’d open every school event and assembly on stage with a cartwheel, roundoff, and back walkover.

Regardless of whatever play we put on at school or in community theater, they’d insert some scene to justify a two-minute backflip routine. The Glass Menagerie or the Iceman Commeth, no play was so august that, at some point, the characters couldn’t pause while I performed a series of hand springs.

I didn’t wake up from this dream until the school entered me and only me in the Regionals at Peoria. I had a nasty realization while waiting my turn at the floor ex -- maybe the girls in Naperville didn’t practice gymnastics, but the girls in every other Illinois city did. And they must have practiced a lot because they were really, really good.

Fame and early acclaim had made me lazy. I had forgotten the nicities, such as pointing my toes and clean lines. I rarely worked on the little dance steps -- the glue that held one’s routine together. To make matters worse, I hadn’t vaulted in months. Well, it was too late now.

Fortunately, only my gym teacher witnessed the humiliation (no one ever made a trip to Peoria unless absolutely necessary). I think I excused my performance by saying I strained my ankle. But hell, Miss Shotz wasn’t blind. In the end, Naperville had been Brigadoon -- my talent existing only inside city limits.

Though intellectually I understand relativity, emotionally it has been and will continue to be a cold, hard battle. I should have reconciled myself back on the day I went to the mat in Peoria, Illinois. Acceptance wouldn’t have stopped all my SPLATS over the years, but maybe it would have lessened their velocity and softened the blow.

Or maybe not.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dena Garage Door Smackdown

1910: Housed a horse and a model T

On Las Flores

Great garage, but you'll have to take my word for it

If I had a garage, which I don't, I'd swing in this direction

Dena blog friends have given their best, from Petrea to Laurie. I say (all photo talent and effects aside), nothing compares to the Alta.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Lesson

A week before fifth grade started, my friends and I walked up to Laguna Hills Elementary to check out our fate. Critical issues hung in balance and beyond our reach: Teacher, classroom, and whether we’d get to stay together. A different state or a classroom wall; it didn’t take much to lose a friend. We were savvy kids and, between the three of us, already had about 30 states we called home.

When I saw my name on Miss Coogan’s roster, I wailed. “Oh no, not old lady Coogan!” Kim and Jane were with me at the time; they commiserated, but with relief. Their names were on Mr. Fletcher’s list. The only male teacher in the whole school, we had issues with him as well. He dressed like a father and wasn’t the least bit sweet, but he took students on field trips to the ocean, and kept a live octopus that spit ink in an aquarium next to his art supply and cleaning cabinet.

Though pretty cocky 10-year olds, Miss Coogan scared us. I think Miss Coogan even scared our parents. She was short, really short; probably due to shrinkage. She had gray hair in tight curls, and weighed about 5 pounds. She wore some weird stockings rather than pantyhose; we knew this because on hot days she rolled her hose down and kept them just above her knees with rubberbands.

When she was playground proctor, she’d point to a transgressor with her middle finger, and to make matters worse, wag it.

On this particular day, in the midst of my complaining, the classroom door swung open, and a wizened face looked at the three of us and then fixed on me. “So, who thinks I’m old lady Coogan?"

“That wasn’t us,” I said, dodging, artfully. “That was three other girls and they just left.”

My mom would have already taken me to the drugstore for supplies – the things I absolutely had to have for the first day of school -- the zip-up notebook with plastic pen and pencil protector, PeeChee folders, magic markers, black eraser. All the things I’d lose in a week or two.

Obviously, Miss Coogan never thought I said those mean words, because that whole year, she was extremely kind to me. One day I came to class crying because my dog had died (Heidi #1), and she put her arm around me. She liked my poetry, and gave me books by poets who were also pretty good. And when I was put in a gifted program, one where we moved at our own pace and graded our own work, she never questioned my straight-A performance.

Odd as this may sound, Miss Coogan was the first old person I ever knew on an intimate, day-to-day basis. As the child of immigrants, I had no grandparents, let alone great grandparents. And old people didn’t live in subdivisions built for traveling executives.

So though I never forgot she was old, I eventually ceased to hold it against her. I’m sure Miss Coogan has long since gone to that great chalkboard in the sky, she and her wagging middle digit. But she gave me good advice. One I particularly remember though never really followed, “You’re a smart girl, Karin. But one day you must also learn to try.”

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Even internationally famous watchdogs

and Financial Prognosticators deserve a break.

Happy Labor Day.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Taking turns

For years, I thought the poet Wallace Stevens was one of my favorite all around great guys. But then somewhere down the line, I found I had been confusing his verse with John Ashbery’s.

Well, never mind. Stevens is still one of my heroes, because he served both the muse of poesy and insurance. By day, he was a lawyer for Hartford Accident and Indemnity.

That might not seem such a big deal to you, especially if you can tee off both the left and right side of your brain. But that’s not the way I swing. In my little mind, shifting from linear to creative is like turning the Titanic, except right turns are relatively easy. On a turn to the left I have to dive into the drink and rescue stuff that, when the sun is shining, I evidently jettison with mad abandon.

Normally, I have freelance writing jobs; but right now, I’m working in Steven’s day. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining; almost anything pays better than writing. And I’m working with good people, and blah blah blah. But for the first couple of days I felt faint and dizzy; on the third, when I got home, you could find me spatchcocked to the couch, drooling.

On the fourth day, I grabbed my dormant left brain by the stem and slapped it around. When it finally woke up, it staggered about, flabby, inarticulate, and disoriented. By the fifth day, we found a suit and remembered some of the old language.

Of course, I’ve lost the right side for now – it’s somewhere, singing mournful Elizabethan tunes and sulking. I promised it a great dinner, champagne, and a new roof if it holds out for a month or two. Life goes on, I tell it; with this, and sometimes because of this, life goes on.

Late Echo

Alone with our madness and favorite flower
We see that there really is nothing left to write about.
Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things
In the same way, repeating the same things over and over
For love to continue and be gradually different.

Beehives and ants have to be re-examined eternally
And the color of the day put in
Hundreds of times and varied from summer to winter
For it to get slowed down to the pace of an authentic
Saraband and huddle there, alive and resting.

Only then can the chronic inattention
Of our lives drape itself around us, conciliatory
And with one eye on those long tan plush shadows
That speak so deeply into our unprepared knowledge
Of ourselves, the talking engines of our day.