Winter in Surf City

  

 
The wind rousts the waves, whipping up a spectacular show of nature’s force and beauty to those witnessing the tossed foam-topped ocean performing under a late winter sun. From across a busy mid-day Pacific Coast Highway, I play poet peering through the glass of an upscale oceanfront cafeteria serving curry roasted cauliflower salad and vegetarian chili–my odd lunch pairing. I enjoy the view thanks to a brand new construction, Pacific City, which is the latest installment of gentrified downtown Surf City.
 
Downtown Huntington Beach (aka Surf City) has come a long way since I first took up residency in 1977. Back then, the spot upon which I write in this clean, stark-modern restaurant with solid white, kelly green, lemon-aid yellow and teal faux art deco tables, chairs and leatherette booths, was probably a run down gas station or liquor store back then. An outlier of Main Street where the original Jack’s Surfboards and the YMCA youth hostel sucked up a city-like block with its ramshackle broken down brick front and faded letters, my current location was a strip of highway fodder to drive past on the way to more happening places like the arty Laguna Hills or more-widely known for its naval installation, San Diego.
 
If memory serves, my dining spot sidles the former location of the Golden Bear nightclub, which drew significant music-loving crowds. Featuring artists such as Janis Joplin, Arlo Guthrie, Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia, the Golden Bear cafe, turned restaurant turned music hall hosted serious madcap concert-going experiences for a good 63 years before it closed in 1986, probably at the advent of the city’s huge facelift planning phase–even before the Waterfront Hilton and Hyatt moved in to accommodate tourists venturing into this former sleepy beach town.
 
Only I would not characterize the downtown of the 70s and 80s as sleepy so much as sleazy. Yes, the surf culture pervaded, which in itself did not account for the run-down, neglected downtown even local folk felt slightly wary of at night. No, between the oil drills along the beach by the dozens and the off shore rigs peppering the ocean front view, there did not seem to be reason for investors to take note. And lease holdings were tied up tightly at that time to oil contractors and developers.
 
So, with the world-renown U.S. Open of Surfing’s arrival each year for the last 60 or 70 years (and its 9-day festival), only one of about 50 surf competitions that take place in Huntington Beach annually, I’m sure many chop-licking promoters, developers and real estate moguls begrudged the wasted, unexploited prime realty. Probably about the same time some of those long-term lease holdings expired and the oil drills disappeared, money rolled in and Huntington Beach began its slow 20 year upgrade.
 
So here I sit, thinking about that grungy YMCA with its “dirty hippy” (as my friend’s parents would say), drug-addled or merely down-and-out on their luck clientele, where my best friend stayed while he visited me a few months after I moved to Southern California from the suburbs of Long Island, New York that winter of 77. We were dirty hippies back then too so didn’t think twice about the sub-par accommodations. It was affordable, and I did not feel the “unsavoriness” of the place until a well-intentioned passerby informed me that the place was a dangerous dump full of criminals.
 
My best friend was no criminal unless you consider smoking pot and under-age drinking criminal rather than mere exploratory indiscretions of teens being teens. We two criminals or adventurers (depending on your rigid adherence to the law) flop-housed at the Y and dug the ocean’s roiling and rolling, its contrasting aqua marine to the Atlantic’s sea salt brown, and the frisbee-throwing 65-degree winter weather (from an east coaster perspective).
 
Disheveled downtown was our town back then–for that week anyhow–a place to kick around and watch the placard-waving, end-of-times barkers and strung out sun-and-booze blanched surfers splayed here and there against downtown restaurant or head shop walls, or near the Golden Bear, probably scene of the last sober moment before getting tossed or passing out. We walked the length of the city’s beach front and all over the town, miles of it, as tourist-residents.
 
A far cry from this pleasant, well-dressed, muted-pretentious, upscale open-air strip mall on steroids with its second tier cushioned lounge chairs parked alongside a balcony view of the ocean dancing before a paying audience. It’s clean. It’s orderly. And it smells better than the vomitous former downtown stench emanating from alleyway pockets, but somehow not quite as personable and dauntless.
 
Taking one last look at the rarely clear outline of Catalina Island jutting into the horizon, creating the illusion of the ocean-as-bay from my limited human perception, I pull out the parking ticket for validation. The $12.00 parking fee, yet another reminder that I am, yet again not, in my own hometown, is a first for this town. I know of no other place in the city with comparable parking fees. But hey, I could have walked the mile to get here too. Just like I did in 1977, the last time I pal’d around with my best friend, just being us.

Two Years


 

Two years ago, life was as different as it was the same as it is now. While so much has changed, not much has either:

Two years ago, my mother could speak and recognize me fairly often. She does neither now, or rarely. But she is still here.

And both daughters were in high school then, the older just having turned 18, a senior and the younger a freshman. They both played soccer for their school, which took up much of our time between playing, attending and enjoying games, volunteering and fundraising, etc. Now neither does. One left home and came back. The other continues on without and now with her sister. We spend time doing other things now, like talking in coffee shops, shopping, bookstore browsing and eating. Sisters are still sisters, daughters, daughters.

And about that same time, I was teaching six classes and running–and not just exercising. Too busy to think about anything. Two years later, I teach two classes and refuse to run.

People have moved in and out of my life yet somehow all still remain, though the live connections grow more tenuous and infrequent. 

Stronger, thinner, and lighter then but calmer, wiser, and slower now, I am, all for the better and worse, in just a matter of days, weeks and two years.

Two years ago I started this blog with no other intention than to write, no expectations. That has not changed. And though WordPress reports hundreds and thousands of posts and views and followers attributed to this blog, which has grown in words, mine, yours, and others’, the daily writing discipline over the months has not changed–I write. 

I am still happy then as now to have shared words for all eyes who have cared to read–and am grateful for any morsel of insight, amusement, pleasure or education I may have bestowed upon a passerby here; touching another is the aim and hope. 

Peace and blessings.

Thank you,

Gaze    

David Bowie

No doubt music marks our days, sometimes quick phases, oftentimes longer, a decade or a lifetime. Bowie marks a near lifetime for me. Not too many artists have kept me listening as I pass through the decades with morphing styles and tastes befitting the ages, mine and the world’s.

I first heard Bowie in late 75, Ziggy Stardust most prominently but all of his early albums. I remember his young scratchy nasal voice (“Oh cacti find a home…”) that blossomed into that deep sonorous sometimes bass trilled at the edges full of flair and drama. My sister adored him and played his albums continuously in the basement room we shared back in Long Island. And when she slipped off the edge a bit, Bowie seeped into her paranoid delusions. She saw prophecy in him. Even in her mania, she appeared to capture the essence of him–enigmatic and forging.

We saw him, my sister and I, in the late 70’s, maybe early 80’s, if my poor memory serves me (and it rarely does), at the Forum in LA during the Low tour (or maybe the early 80’s Serious Moonlight tour–or both). He had already abandoned Ziggy and the thin white duke by then. I remember feeling nostalgic every year or two when he changed his style yet again, transformed into someone else, some other alien, sliding into the latest (industrial/Eno influenced) or setting the trend himself (Ziggy).

Some might characterize him as a chameleon or a dragon of sorts with his commanding fire burning everyone and everything up in frenzied delight or disintegrated fury if you read the stories of his professional and personal life, a long list of gone-throughs. But there is no doubt that the music world has been much influenced like a meteor scar on the earth, the crater of his prolific creative output over several media–music, art, film, drama–ever communing with the stars he brought our eyes to time and again.

Up to his probable scripted death by the seemingly indomitable cancer yesterday, he was in charge. He made the trends, first had us look gender fluidity in the eyes on such a grand scale. And glam rock, I believe, would not have come to the fore with its serious spark without him (okay Queen was pretty cool too).

Of course I am no music historian nor critic, just a listener, appreciator and star gazer. But as a fan, I know I will sorely miss the years’ passings without a Bowie change-up around the corner (just when you think he’s resting comfortably…). He seems to have synchronized my days, kept me abreast of the new, the old-new, the new-new and the new-old. But just as I said it as I watched his Lazarus video from his just-released BlackStar, “amazing”, as I’ve exclaimed it so many times before when he sent chills down my spine with some profound lyric, performance and/or song.

Peace, bro. I will miss the latest and greatest you sorely.

 

The Two of Us

  

There is a photograph of you and me, our heads are contorted from sleeping upright in the back of a car, your face clearly lost to sleep, my long neck extended bent as far back as humanly possible without losing the head–only my head is actually cut off. My face stops at the chin; only the widely exposed distorted neck, almost serpentinely composed, and your sleeping face suggests that I have surrendered to what I could no longer fight.

Your haircut reflects the 80s, mullets being the fashion, which you sported briefly. I had one too, though straight hair does more justice to outline the do than my curly hair. We were young, maybe our mid-twenties and traveling, exhausted with too much caffeine and too little sleep. Our clothing suggests spring time or fall, light half sleeved unjacketed shirts and jeans. 

I cannot place the specific occasion of our sleeping in the back of a car or who took the picture. Our sister in law gave it to us this past holiday season and laughed, saying she had meant to give this picture to us for years, each time she came across it in her belongings. And this year was the year, though I don’t know why. The randomness of things stuns me slightly.

You and I share so much history, large and small, remembered and forgotten, largely the latter, and not for lack of significance so much as sheer length of time, the innumerable moments we have lived together. We grew ourselves from teenagers til these current waning years of our youth, of our lives. 

And we have suffered and joyed in measure to most, all of life’s gifts and trials. We have fared well you and I, though you would look askance on that affirmation. And then I would remind you about the synaptic net you form in your brain with such negativity. 

Thus it is with us, we who co-exist inhaling the dust of our pasts every day, lugging it inside us like weightless trunks of paperless snapshots and report cards and love letters we never kept or even wrote except in the air, in the doing and being of us, so that when life folds up neatly to square off a life lived, we’ll have nothing left to us but shared time, the illusion of being.

Lord knows, I cannot imagine having shared illusions with anyone else.

Slow but Quick Day of Enforced Rest

 
 
Christmas day felt like a jail sentence to a Jewish kid growing up in a largely gentile neighborhood in the sixties and seventies. When I was 4, my parents moved the family out to the burbs, away from Brooklyn’s dirt, crime and Jews. It was not their intention to remove us from tribe, but the trade off was a clean newly built blue collar neighborhood in which my mother could build a home. Ours was the lone house on the block without Christmas lights every December, the one with the large bay window sporting an electric menorah with blue light bulbs that turned slightly to the right to light up, each of the 8 nights. I remember both loving and hating the singularity of our tradition on this street in our town on Long Island.
 
But nothing compared to the boredom of Christmas day when there were no friends to call on, no malls to hang out at, no stores to browse in or anywhere to go really. My folks could not afford to take all 7 of us to the movies and only every once in a while we made it out to a Chinese restaurant. The day seemed endless, especially since I never watched much television and was not much of a reader before age 12. Time made its magic back then, elongating for miles in psychological hyper awareness and mental ticks to routine stuff I was not able to do.
 
Now, the opportunity to be imprisoned, pajama-clad in front of the fire the entire day, watching movies I did not know even existed, not cooking, cleaning or even eating most of the day winds down the year perfectly, like a day-long vacation. Permission granted, I laze and luxuriate in voluntary house arrest that whizzes by in the magical time of a slow-but-quick winter day. Gone too soon.
Peace.

Happy Thanksgiving!

  

Once again, just like the last ten or more years, I got to host Thanksgiving dinner for my loud, wacky family, both immediate and extended. I spend days cooking and cleaning for this event, pulling a 14 hour day of non-stop cooking, serving and cleaning today. And the clean up will not be done for another couple of days, maybe three or four dishwasher loads on top of a few sink loads of dishes by hand and dismantling the serpentine table and chair arrangements wending through the dining and living areas. This year there were thirty of us, including the usual stranger who has no place to go for Thanksgiving. I am proud of my family members for offering a spot at our table–and there is always one or two each year. I love my family. They’re good people.

I have the great good fortune to belong to a family that can gather once or twice a year like this and break bread together, catch up on lives, loves and laughs. I take great care to provide them with a memorable meal and gathering, cooking two turkeys, one barbecued and one roasted, accompanied by apple-leek stuffing and cider gravy, the butternut apple cider soup they all love and rave about all year long, and pumpkin pie from scratch. And everyone else brings the wonderful sides: mashed and sweet potatoes, fresh asparagus in butter sauce, fresh cranberry sauce, honey baked ham (Dad doesn’t care for turkey), root vegetable medley, and pies, lots of pies. We love our tradition, and these foods make up our tradition no matter who has been added or subtracted from our gathering.

Though she stays in the back room now, unaware that her entire beloved family that she grew and raised and helped raise, my mom is still with us bodily, and sometimes mentally. But I am hopeful she knows with some other part of herself that we are here, senses it deep within her neurons, some vibrations. And I am so grateful to have her, have them, and have all that I have. I truly won the lottery. I hope I never take that for granted. 

Peace and love to you and yours,

Gaze

 

In which we bow and break in bearing it

 
 
It’s five minutes before class begins and one student, a mousy girl who twitches occasionally and whispers answers to my questions after I respond to her half-mast upraised tentative hand that must be propped up by the other hand in order to give it any height, says, “I think no one’s here because of the shooting.”
 
The classroom is one third full, not unusual for the hour and time in the semester, about one third of the way through. 
 
I wanted to doff off her suggestion as somewhat silly or illogical to assure her, actually, but as is always the case in teaching college students–or any students–sensitivity is paramount, so I pause a complete second. But in drawing up my response, I immediately flash angrily, “No, probably not. Why wouldn’t they be used to this sort of news by now? After all, mass shootings happen every other day now. It’s just become the new normal.”
 
I immediately regret my callousness.
 
This student has confessed in her second essay written for this class that she suffers from epilepsy, a recent discovery that has left her to picking up pieces, rescuing remnants of her former life that held nothing but unfettered future, the worst day up until then being when an elementary school kid called her a mop-head. She told me her medication affects her memory, slows her.
 
When she confided in me, I thought of my daughter in college two states north from home. She suffers from a recent sport-inflicted concussion, confused and depressed, her mind sluggish and stalling–going on too long now. She fears. I fear.
 
******
Last week at the head of the classroom, I repeated the line from a prose poem assigned for that day, “In the end, we are alone in the house of the heart.” I then asked the students if they thought that was true. Some thought so. Most did not know.
 
I offered my story of watching a cancer patient die, slowly, how, after months of gathering her family around her, then one by one sending each off not to return to her as she got sicker, she hunkered down inside herself the last three weeks, doing the difficult work of dying. It certainly looked like no one could help her do it, that she had to do it alone. To further illustrate, I likened that aloneness to being elbowed in the diaphragm, down on the soccer field, fighting for air. All of the hovering bodies above you as you lie on the ground can do nothing for you–you don’t even see them–as you fight the pain and fear of never breathing, diving deeply inside yourself for that will to bear it, to survive or brave surrender.
 
I thought the dying example was illustrative, poignant. Some stared in reflection, some in emergency-broadcast-test-pattern mode, others in churning liquid emotion. One young man gripped his head in his hands, face hidden, staring down the sheen of the teflon coated desk.
 
My heart winced.

Singing Joni

Joni Mitchell sings, ” I am a lonely painter. I live in a box of paints.” And when she does, I am stilled. But it is not the last sentence so much as the first, and not the last word so much as the word before–lonely–that moved me dozens of hearings. She moans the word, extended ‘O” evocative of Munch’s howl, though far more subtle, deeper and soulful. The anguish is not Munch’s, overlaid with fear, so much as the rooted, internal groan, petulant sugar, that she bemoans.

I sing that line out of nowhere driving in my car or listening to a conversation drifting in and out, particularly imbalanced ones where I witness more than counsel or contribute.

At first the metaphor of living in a box of paints brushed up against the literary lover in me. I imagined her a genie in a bottle, except a box of paints, transporting me back home–in my imagination–just visiting others’ worlds when I choose or must. But I know it’s the howl of the loooooooo that draws me to the line, to sing it. And not the lonely of loneliness. We are all lonely, though more like unsatisfied, unfocused and disassociated too often. A spiritual loneliness more than a lost or severed connection with others often characterized by missing someone or something. I do not consider that lack as lonely. It’s bigger yet smaller than one human or animal or other being, one activity.

No, the oooo in the looooo is both a ‘no’ and an ‘oh,’ like a sort of toggling between braking and accelerating a car or a dance, patterns of release and restraint.

Joni wants to paint but she sells songs instead. She is an artist, vast and particular. Many artists tear at the thrust of creation thwarted to pay the bills. We yearn to paint.

It is not so much a complaint–I can find a modicum of pleasure and certainly gratitude in anything I do, given that I allow myself to do so–as much as it is a longing, a desire ever felt, within centimeters of impossibly outstretched fingertips, a taste, a scent, a faint melody or flash of recognition come and gone. The hollow left behind–of not reaching–the come and gone, is the oooo. Both full and empty space, both present and absent. An ache. But one informed by the mind’s consent. I hurt because I worked out, something good for me. It will get better.

A promise. We live on promises. Some say that is wasting time, wasting away. Waiting is my least favorite thing to do. Impatience is my pratfall. But there is the impatience at not getting what I want–an open lane for some fucking space, room to race onward!–and there is impatience with something larger, more profound. Not attaining because…Perhaps that is the larger impatience. The because. What follows elicits the moan, sigh and gut grief.

Today “I am a lonely painter” with many mutterings to utter before the day is through, puppeteering a teacher, word-pump, and merchant. And as I dive into a replenishing yet jolting plunge into gratitude, I will channel Joni, fighting for all that is ordinary and plentiful right now–air, thought and motion.

 

Disturbed

dis·tur·bance

dəˈstərbəns/

noun

the interruption of a settled and peaceful condition.

I can count on this like exhale to inhale. The interruptions bombard, whether from the knock on my door while I am in the quiet focus of writing, grading, thinking and/or reading or from some other outside intruding force I happen upon, like the petty and sensationized news, the pitfalls and false allure of Facebook or my own clumsy stupidity. 

No matter that I spent a langorous 45 minutes stretching, breathing and calming, that first misstep and stubbed toe while folding up my yoga mat sends me to that screechy, enraged place of pain and impatience. Ugh.

synonyms: disruption, distraction, interference; bother, trouble, inconvenience, upset, annoyance, irritation, intrusion, harassment, hassle

The minor hassles like pages that do not load on Google Chrome or clicking the wrong button to make wanted things disappear or unwanted things appear when I am trying to work under deadline do not make me scream, but almost..sometimes.

a breakdown of peaceful and law-abiding behavior; a riot.

The unruly mob resides inside my head, riot in full swing, some days. Like getting sucked into a social media grab, meant to suck me in, plodding to, which I am wise to, but succumb anyhow, only to get riled up, appoplexed and ennervated. An entire session of yoga inverted.

plural noun: disturbances

Yes, on any given morning they might start with a door slam that awakens me from much-coveted sleep, only to follow up with dog barking and outshouting dog discipliners. No antidote to those sounds, not a Native Flute Ensemble plus fan white noise blocker–attempt. 

Wait…hold on…someone is yelling into my open front door, “Hello! hello! hello!, in quick succession and loudly, so much so that I jump despite the closed door, fan-blowing and Andean flute singing of my room. 

The washer-dryer delivery scheduled to arrive 6 hours ago has made it. Just when I finally sat down to write, believing they were not coming. At least the installers obliged me with an example for this blog post.

My washer does not spin dry, and my dryer is wheezing from wet loads that take four cycles to do the job. 

synonyms: riot, fracas, upheaval, brawl, street fight, melee, free-for-all, ruckus, rumpus, rumble, ruction

A rumpus, fracas, melee and free-for-all sound far more fun than any disturbance I have known; a street fight, brawl, or rumble too violent; and a ruction too virulent. Upheaval feels like getting off my ass after slumped in a chair working too long. 

A riot describes the heaving thoughts and sensory invasion that strafes my days with piercing knocks on my door, hoarse shouts in and around the house, trash barrels banging against the metal sides of the garbage truck’s claw, roaring drills of sound from lawn mowers and trimmer, shrill barks of the panicked dog and various summoning yowls and whistles and whines and entreaties with my name on them.

the disruption of healthy functioning.

Yes. They make my mind and guts spin.

synonyms: trouble, perturbation, distress, worry, upset, agitation, discomposure, discomfiture; neurosis, illness, sickness, disorder, complaint

These run deep: no answers, helplessness, fear of the unknown, inability to keep present and focused, difficulty breathing, paralyzed panic, stomach aches, brain freezes, and labotomized boredom.

METEOROLOGY

a local variation from normal or average wind conditions, usually a small tornado or cyclone.

Real and metaphoric: being overwhelmed.

LAW

interference with rights or property; molestation.

And I am back to the day’s opener responding to Facebook posts about religious clerks in Kentucky and crazy hijacking rogue poets who steal Facebook pages and ‘likes.’ Silly suckage that bothers me that I bother in the first place.
 
I let it own me like any mean-willed mistress.

But lookie here what I have now.

  

  

Autophony: The sound of living inside a mother’s dementia

  

I scrapped together a few writings I blogged over the year and produced this piece that was published yesterday.

Tripping on sounds, I hear birds outside my window, muffled, over the swish-throb of a heartbeat in my ears, a pulsing slightly alarming and soothing all the same. I also hear a dish clanking outside the closed door of my room, emanating from the kitchen where I imagine my mother is sitting, skeletal and serene in her wheelchair, gazing off through the filmy stare that inhabits her face now. The cataracts of her mind’s eye reaches some unknown space outside or inside her head that swirls and lulls the cerebral juices to twitching stillness, her jerking to and from that space in split-second recognition of a face, idea, song slice or voice. I imagine her waiting like the baby bird with beak wide open in anticipation of its mother’s nurturing tongue, depositing the meaty worm of egg or pear. She is spoon-fed…continue here.