Forced Remodeling

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I don’t mind a fearless toilet every once in a while,
but there comes a point at which it’s all too much.
I mean, having your downstairs toilet just up and go,
slide out the back door into the yard and disappear
for Crissakes.  
What’s worse, however,
I mean the absolute worst,
clearly it took hostages.
Now the upstairs toilet has gone missing,
and I can only suspect coercion or bribery,
some sort of malfeasance.

Upon closer examination,
they–the runaway toilets–lifted a few items
from both bathrooms.
One medicine cabinet and linoleum flooring
left blatant voids,
a rectangular hollow
in the canary colored wall downstairs and
the 1960s avocado and brown squared linoleum vacancy
in the top.
A chalk dust trail of scuffle and drag into the yard
made my detective work easy. 

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No motive to hang my ass cheeks over,
but I’ll gamble a guess that they got tired,
fed up with getting shat upon,
chided for being old, chipped and wasteful,
and so walked.
They’re definitely gone–
no trace but the chalk prints.
Rather an aggressive move,
but not much else to do now but find replacements.

Travel Notes Sitting on a Bench at the Farmer’s Market

Woke up to sleeping bodies in the dark, slurping in sleep’s sweet succor. I was ready. Yoga at the hotel fitness center cured the morning blank canvas of what will it be today? It will be all right, says yoga on the mat in a small hotel fitness room with one other exerciser on the treadmill making miles go statically by.

Before long, the world intruded. Breakfast with Pascal and talk of more violence, Facebook posts on how to understand Black Lives Matter and white resistance to the reality that no white person has ever awakened black in America. How can anyone not black know for sure? Listen. What can we do? Keep compassion in our hearts; let it soften fear at the lack of control we all surely have over what happens despite our illusions. And no more than ten minutes pass and my voice raises in anger at the lack of care, people, fear, ignorance, helplessness. People die, no stopping it. But people got to live too, be allowed to live.

For now, however, the warm breeze in a characteristically cold place soothes the upsurge in remembering the world out there spreads chaos inside. But oh, there is a bass fiddle and tuba piping out deep sonorous puffs of scales, notes and contrapuntal tunes, while the appreciative fold claps. Two low lying dogs yap at one another in the passing. There are dogs and people and stores with reggae music drifting in the rests of the two live musicians on this wood and concrete terrace along the store fronts, sidling the quaint corner farmer’s market.

The booth in front of me advertises Capay organic cherry tomatoes 2 baskets for $8. And now the bass fiddle takes up the bow, and there is a sweet, lilting classical tune that tells the story of parlors past with hooped skirts and tight ankled pants, wide buckled shoes. 

The air passes in muted bustle, not quite loud and frenetic as Saturday morning’s cruising in this Sacramento side street tucked between a bank building and artisanal strip mall, boutiques and coffee shops, and Peets coffee, the largest one I’ve entered.

Pregnant young mom, ahead of trailing chapeau’d dad and stroller. They are on their second. He wears mustard colored shorts with his felt feathered bowler and sky blue shirt. She wears running shoes, baggy grey shorts and beige shirt. They scuttle between tomatoes offered here, mini watermelons there and cantaloupes.

Straw stetson’d tattoo young man with a full bust of some man tattooed on his left calf and a mythical looking,  hair-flowing, witchy woman on the right. He and his son pull up on mountain bikes. The son plops the mini melon on the scale.

Colors of the market cheer up the asphalt upon which merchant stands rest under canopies like a parade of white circus tops. One stand sports a red umbrella for shade: Certified California Grown. And the bodies saunter and browse, dogs or kids in tow, some singles and childless, dog less couples. Mostly white folks selling and buying. Very few people of color. And there it is, the crying toddler that incriminates the moment’s peace.

Sipping a one pump vanilla soy long pull latte from Peets, Bob Marley says, “Everything gonna be all right…don’t worry ’bout a thing…” And it’s true. Buy the shirt or shoes if it pleases you. Small pleasures. Dogs bark to each other, communicate or ignore one another, just like we do. Hey, see me, I exist. See me. No, huh? Maybe the next one. And so it goes. 

Travel Meanderings


A yellow school bus slices open a wide swath of chaparral, the road it travels invisible to the distant traveler, me, him and them. We travel north til nearly the northeastern edge of the state, destination Davis soccer tournament. Mounds of tomatoes peek above the semi’s trailer, slowly steaming along this blanched roadway from heat, oil, dust and wind. 

Passing telephone poles look like cemetery markers, wired crucifixes, testament to scorched lives and anonymous death. 

Stockdale Highway in one mile, roadway to The Tule Elk State Reserve and CSU Bakersfield. Never far from a Jack in the Box and Subway at a gas station, even when the surrounding desert flecked with patches of green, low lying crops of indecipherable genus paint the landscape endless. Astonishing that this waterless wasteland harbors any life: bleached rock and sand. But there they are, tiny patches of great pines and firs engulfing secluded ranch homes visible from the highway, a contrast forest green to the sage, amber and tans of the desert floor.

A glance at a blur-by motel housekeeper outside the door of a room leaning upon her cleaning supply cart, seemingly hinged on the highway’s terrace, checking her phone. Who texts her at work? Who stays at this hotel in the midst of nowhere?
 
Long green corn stalks half grown, foreshadowing the kernel largesse to follow in a month’s time when seeking the sun’s vigor–sustenance–the sturdy stalks stretch open to the sky 8, 9 and 10 feet tall, or so it seems.
 
The hay tractor kicks up the dust as it slowly rounds the corner of a field’s dirt pathway, and of course, he has to say it, “Hay!” Hominem of humor on repeat. Now I know I am on a road trip. That and the question, “How far are we?” To which we reply in unison, “Half way.” No matter where we are, we are half way. That is our tradition–to torment further our restless children, now adults, or nearly so.
 
The almond trees. I’m not sure why they pique curiosity in me: Where did Christo install his umbrellas? Was it in the Grapevine or somewhere past Bakersfield? I tell my students the latter when we read Dillard’s essay about the stunt pilot who renders the air art in shredded ribbons of lines drawn and dissipated. 

Lost Hills Paso Robles sign reminds me of the trip we made in the 90s to the Central California wineries. The two-lane highway dips and dives through hilly tree covered expanses ranches tuck into. We found our dream ranch home hidden just off this little traveled wending way.

San Francisco is 238 miles away. She wants to go to school there. She and her teammate traveling with us plan to attend SFSU. Or prepare to by attending the JC there. Far away enough to inhabit her styled rebellion and independence but still an hour’s plane ride for safety net parents.
 
Romas on the side of the road arranged like marbles readied for the game do not look like they fell off a truck so much as were placed there, a peculiar sight.
 
Low lying shrubs dot the clean shaven desert floor in tans and ecrus. Twisselman Road. Spell check tried mightily to fight that last road name. 

Heather lined highway, peppered with sage colored brambles and bushes, blonde dirt, sticks, twigs and tumbleweeds every where halved by the steel girded dividing rails. C.R. England semi sidling by. Slower traffic to the right. We travel the passing line a bit just like the other California drivers. Except we know better. They probably do too. Some of them–with impunity.
I tease, “You think you’re thug coming all the way from Huntington Beach? Oh wait, you were actually born in Fountain Valley. Oh, you bad.” I laugh.
She pipes up in a flash, “I’d kick your ass even if I came all the way from Belmont Shores!” Her friend and teammate spits her water in laughter. Some of it splashes on my face turned to my opponent in the rear most bench in the van.

Coalinga Canal, near Fresno. Trucks parked, their cargo brimming over in red roma ripened in stark contrast to the surrounding dessert. A dairy farm, dismal to witness and inhale. The heat, dung, lethargy, exposure and pollution overwhelm the senses. Factory farming. 

A burst of Gerber daisies or black eyed Susans flash by, a couple dozen in a row, brightening the heather in sun bursts. Card board boxes fallen from some speeding vehicle mar the steady stream of browns and tans, sage and hunter greens. We swerve. He’s typing on his phone. “Do you want me to drive?” No. Apologetic and slightly defensive.

A faraway lover professes sweet adoration in my memory chewing upon the scenery. Warmth in the desert.

Twelve Minutes at the Bar


Perfect. I’ll do my ten-minute write here, a place I haven’t visited in a while. The last time I imbibed here–my usual IPA per the bartender’s suggestion–I wrote a piece that my editor thought worthy of publishing. Perhaps inspiration will visit again. 

Swallowing quickly the two offered shot glass sampler selections, surprisingly I choose the Pale Ale. It’s smooth and hoppy, more like an IPA than the IPA the bartender had me try.

I have not been here–a place exactly five minutes walking distance from my house–because I drink beer here, always drink a happy hour beer here, and I have not wanted to anesthetize in beer-land for a couple months or so. But today feels like the day. There is nothing to hide from, just the spirit of the day I nod to in being here.

Tomorrow I will embark on a road trip up to the far up north, another soccer tournament. With three soccer 17-year olds and a commiserating partner in tow, I will head for Davis and watch the road blur by as I gaze out the window and ponder the big and small questions: What did Jack Kerouac do on the road when he wasn’t taking notes for his novel? How many almond trees are actually out there in endless rows? Will I have time to yoga? Will she play well? How did pioneers foot and horse all of this, leagues and leagues of open vistas, dirt, dust and brush?

My eyes welcome open spaces, too often closed in confined spaces of the classroom, bedroom, kitchen, grocery store and local restaurants for a bite. Change of scenery flips the creative thought channels. Floating. Not like a pc drags me through the cyber-sphere.

The ten minute timer went off, but so did my notification buzz for a text message. She got a haircut and lost ten pounds. She looks the same–memory mine. 

Seated at the after thought extension of the bar, maybe the disabled low table, the woman next to me, leaving half her appetizer over, declares to the server, “Close out.” I ignored her while I wrote this but meant to pay her a few words of invitation to conversate. Too late, as ever.  But I’m sure her life bends back way past this moment and my feeble speculations about her momentary needs, wants and reasons to be at this bar. Now I’ll just have to create her story without her.

Road Trip


Travel jumpstarts wonder. 

Leaving the usual haunts along the same paths to and from work, market or eateries, draws out the dormant words, smoldered sparks awaiting flint. 

Nothing but changing scenery piques alertness, imagery and observation so profoundly. 

I eat nature.  

Travel bits piece large land masses speeding roadside to tiny impressions, ideas and memory fragments, creating a large mosaic of tile-words. 

As I write, I fly over the Pacific on my way to Seattle to meet a connecting flight to Spokane, where she awaits.

More likely she waits for my call: “I’m here.” 

She and I will drive the distance Google reports as 19 and a 1/2 hours, but I know better. 

Last June, we drove her to Spokane for school. 

She left school–and Spokane–in December to come home and heal.

Last week, she finally returned to the life she began to make there before the unfortunate detour, the accident.

Her head.

She, who took me to a radical feminist art show last April, who sometimes wears a “cunt” pin, who sports Klimt’s The Kiss line drawing of two women tattooed above her ankle, and who smirkingly cranks up Taylor Swift’s “We are never getting back together” on the car radio, will be my car companion across three states homeward.

Road trip.

Just like last year, the rain astonishes us, its violent insistence.

And again, the greenness of green, the way rain pelts the tinny Honda framed windows reminds me of crackling gum chewers, and the nod to engineers knowing that windshield wipers need three or four speeds, these three I recall in a whirlwind road-swallowing marathon beside a semi-conscious travel mate.

She peered into satan’s screen for 23 of the 24 hours. 

But she never could figure out how to find the nearest vegan restaurant to the five freeway in downtown, perhaps too daft from sleeplessness or not acquainted with practical phone features as much as the camera, social media apps and texting.

I grow older in bounding leaps, too old for freezing, middle-of-the-night rest stops along two-lane, farm-house roadways without gas stations for 94 miles and cramped, compact car cabins designed for legless sleepers.

It could have been the blue moon.

I drove and drove, sidling mountain edges; through snowy pines and meadows, rain-soaked forests and cloud-burst flashes drenching miles of almond trees squared off in rows blurring into golden heather fields dotted with black Jerseys ruminating time and space in their masticant jowly bovine stares prescient with the soon-approaching L.A. traffic psychosis.

And home.

Only my biceps carry the road residuals: the mindless painful wheel gripping in the desperate fight against gravity’s theory. 
 

All Good Things…

Opening Night of Thomas Keller's Bouchon
November 16, 2009 – Beverly Hills, CA Environmental Opening Night of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Photograph By Jacqueline Miccalizzi© Berliner Studio/BEImages

I am fortunate to be a writer. I have worked doing what I love, even if not all writing has been fun. Writing fun quickly withers if you have to do it for a living. My paid writing assignments have varied in scope and subject matter from the mind-curdling banal to the wildly exciting.

One assignment I rather enjoyed for the research I had to do on subjects for which I have passion, food and travel, was writing for the DaringPenguin.com site, which kept me researching and salivating while luxuriating in luscious pictures of gorgeous food, decor and scenery. I loved the job and am sad to see it end as the site is taking a new direction and/or going on hiatus.

Here are five articles I wrote for this site that I hope you enjoy:

For the Finest Dining in Los Angeles, Feast at These 5 French Restaurants

Our Choices for the 5 Finest French Restaurants in Las Vegas

 

10 Great Things to Do in Seattle for Free

 

Santa Monica’s Amazing Seafood: Ten Spots to Try

 

7 Unique Seattle Hotels That Will Truly Amaze You

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate’s Day!

Female_pirate_Anne_Bonny (1)

When I was girl, aye, many a moon ago,

a landlubber me, me mateys too

sailed the ocean in books from the bilge,

the library basement racks, and ventured far,

anchored only by words like hook of the captain

luring us in like Moby, wee urchins to the salty seas,

uprising smartly when it was time to go.

But we’d come another day for a skull’s whistle.

“For a tale awaits on the shores of shelves,”

the spectacle’d lass in pumps and plum lips said.

“Pirate the world in an open palm, my beauties,

Steal the wind with a spell set on shivering leaves.”

Ahoy and avast! And we did, alit below the stars

of blackened ceilings open endlessly beyond

and long before days peering into Davey’s Locker..

Time Travel

Travel Hangover–

Pouring damp memories over dying embers, 

anticipating the pop, sizzle and hiss of regret,

I refuse the temptation to stir the ash,

re-confirm the smolder hides no live fire.

Driving a rented van packed with her–

obstructed the view of road left behind,

held fleeting glimpses, speeding past blades

grass, roller, razor, “Did you bring knives?”

A mother reviewing, checking, fretting

the details whirring ahead to the horizon.

Unpacking the view clear, opened us up

to ponder, muse the hours in notes, little

cares, rehearsed sentiments, deficiencies

repeated with silent knowing nods, all said.

I play the game of focused movement 

to wile the hours, trick time to obey, my eyes

follow, attached to the point out there as all

else spins and races, rattles empty spaces ablur.

A splinter swollen sore and angry, riotous red

throbbed through a chipped thumb reminds me

I waited for you on wooden slats in the park

while you twirled a dizzy dance of fractured tune.

I stifled an urge to call out, make you notice,

but the stretching sound that circled us then

that moment I was churning in your disregard

of the world, of me, of the beckoning children

could not blanket the distance between us,

the one I carried up to your bed, squared 

to the wrong wall on the wrong floor in a room. 

  
 

Sharon Olds  

I Go Back to May 1937 (from The Gold Cell)
 
I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges, 

I see my father strolling out

under the ochre sandstone arch, the 

red tiles glinting like bent 

plates of blood behind his head, I 

see my mother with a few light books at her hip 

standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the 

wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its 

sword-tips black in the May air,

they are about to graduate, they are about to get married, 

they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are

innocent, they would never hurt anybody.

I want to go up to them and say Stop, 

don’t do it–she’s the wrong woman, 

he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things 

you cannot imagine you would ever do, 

you are going to do bad things to children,

you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of, 

you are going to want to die. I want to go 

up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,

her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,

her pitiful beautiful untouched body, 

his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,

his pitiful beautiful untouched body,

but I don’t do it. I want to live. I 

take them up like the male and female 

paper dolls and bang them together 

at the hips like chips of flint as if to 

strike sparks from them, I say

Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

 
credit: maphappy.org

Traveling On 

  
Emerging from the mountain forests, Dunsmuir.
 
A few hours’ sleep at a rest stop north of Eugene and we rise early to greet the day bleary-eyed. Hard travel brings back the days of recent college graduate pals taking a road trip across country on $300.00, Michael Jackson’s Thriller playing on cassette the whole way. It was the 80s. 

Passing through Redding, CA, I thought of you Holly and wondered how you fare. I saw your telephone listing for a massage therapist in the Redding White Pages a long time ago, which has not changed–no email address, no Facebook or Twitter listing. Maybe you no longer exist except in a journey I dreamed. 

That trip marked me, the wonder and adventure of freedom: two young girls setting off to see beauty up and down the west coast and across the Rockies to DC where Holly’s pastry chef boyfriend awaited and our fabulous meal at the Watergate Hotel with chef Jean Louis pulling out the culinary stops to impress him. Best meal of my life up til then (not hard given my humble beginnings). The VolksWagen bug Don had us drive, the one built by a friend, gave us hell, but I would not have it any other way. That VW thematizes the adventures and misadventures of youth without plans or time to savor–just doing. 
  
We laughed getting high and chasing deer in the Rockies until Holly got altitude sickness and I was tasked to figure out how I was going to get her out of the field and back to the car. I was so thin then, her too, which was unusual for her. She tended toward the thick. Her green eyes were fierce cat eyes, her brows perpetually shaped in perfect arches, a gift of her mother’s singing praises of electrolysis. 

I still see her putting on lipstick, covering the thin bottom lip and then using that lip to coat the nearly non-existent upper lip. I watched that so many times. I coat my lips the same way, when I wear lipstick, which is not often. And I think of her doing that each time. Amazing how time sticks to the bones of memory, especially from youth. I recall reading that those early incipient memories recall to mind the clearest due to their being memory-etching first-timers, before much clutter dulls a mind to narrowing newness.

  
The green of Holly’s eyes are unmatched to the green everywhere outside Southern California, which refreshes always. Flying into LAX continually reminds me that I live on a desert, brown and brimming in short scrubby smatterings of life thrust. The effusion of greenery near Portland contrasts starkly. Of course the cloudy skies also remind me of why. 

We search for breakfast. Driver’s choice so I prepare myself for sweet, blanched flour French fine pastry.

I have married my father, someone always looking for the next meal, the gourmand’s preoccupation. Only my father feasts at the other end of the culinary spectrum: Burger King hamburgers and fries.
   
The Columbia River pours by in majestic pines, thick lush Douglas fir lined highways guided magisterially by the Cascade mountain range overlooking its charges. Keep green. Between the Dalles and Hood River, the sun bathes the trees, big leaf maples, Ponderosa pine, cottonwood and Oregon white oak, green glossy frost. The heaviness of the dense foliage leans in to the road with a threatening call. 

Crossing Bonneville dam, the daisies line the road spotty white among the tall wheatland grass and Western hemlock. Mountain crags, humps of black rock jutting through the pines decorating its crown like liberty, pop from nowhwere. Stone walls line a country road nearing the cobblestone bridge. And the clouds hover and stare.

  
Deforestation scars the mountain tops, golden grass exposed through the sparse trees, soldiers left standing in the war against industry, disrespect for the land, chunks of the grab gone for timber. Small vineyards orderly tucked behind a hill also pen the hand of man on nature’s back.

Hairy rocks, like my old man’s shoulders. What grows there on the spiny rocks fungus stained hard knocks of geological story?

4 hours outside Spokane.  

The four hour rest at the truck stop outside of Eugene refreshed what little remains of our spunk and patience. Traveling with two teens and their corny-humored father wears the patience of even saints. I am no saint. I am not remotely patient.

The mugs and the fire burnished hills, repaired by time and patience, sprigs determined to fulfill their seeded destinies. 

The Columbia Gorge, a myriad of textures and vertical measures, scrubbed to ethereal. 

  
And the sterile blanched wheat colored hills remind us that altitude changes flora. The high desert provides stark contrast to the lush landscape of the Gorge. We must be headed to Spokane soon. 

A huge expanse of farmland and chaparral heading east to Spokane peppered with silos and green houses on near barren landscapes under a great polka dot open sky. The clouds form cotton balls. Water sprinklers look like sin here in a drought. Perhaps Oregon has forgotten our drought. California certainly has not. Water will drive the next world or civil war, I am reminded.

  
And the car ahead contains my two daughters speeding up and leaving us behind. Somehow that seems destined.

The hills are dusted with aqueous green scrub, mid-high interspersed with deep forest greens and kelly greens, hunter and sage too. The nature paint protrays delightful. Somehow I think artifical irrigation is the cause.

Umatilla Irrigon region.

And she is gone. Her sister will wean her these two weeks before returning as the lone twin of upstairs living.

  
He complains of the enormity of it, the lack of planning, the endless driving non-stop, sleepless roadside napping round the clock and the expense of renting a van with its out of state costs, yet the real vastness of disbelief is in her leaving. While nothing is ever permanent and kids go off to college and come back, live back at home, the leaving and living on her own is an indelible shift forever away from the cocoon years that stretched from conception to that first departure. 

She has left her childhood behind for good as the step back in will always be from a distance, a retrospect. Like unringing a bell, she cannot ever live the purity of those flexed years of growing up seamless from birth to first steps, first walking away to another’s hands in school, first kisses, first heartbreaks, and first flights of freedom. Thoughts of self, identity and independence color a life once only colored in coloring books, backyard swimming pools, trips to the candy store or tear-stained shoe box coffins for small beloved hamsters named Hammie. 

  
No, your beef, man, is not with us, our slap dash, rag tag impromptu impossible road trip, the one with endless miles of road bearing insights among the natural sights and blights of countryside and cityscapes of the northwest, sorely needed respite from the daily doldrums of grinding work hours and spatial deprivation you also complain about as likely to kill you. 

And here we are speaking lightly of the shame of it all, the clear cutting demoralizing the Oregon hills along the Columbia, deforestation in the Amazon rain forest and water wasted on the open expanses of thirsty crops along the Washington thoroughfare while our first born worries about being good enough to last, to make it under the pressure of intense competition and her own perceived weaknesses. 

  
Struggle coats our innards, the outside world only the mirror and consequence. 

But I caught a glimpse of wince in you yesterday, the pinched frown of devastating knowledge held in check–but not enough. Despair leaked from your downward cast lower lip and fallen eyes, a momentary slip of the heart spill. 

“You okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just Jordyn leaving.”

“I know.”

And we each look to our respective windows for escape into the landscape upon which we hurl our pain masked in observation, a costume of the fearful. Tears haunt us. Afraid to unleash the avalanche of suffocating cold loneliness threatening to smother us.

Through Sacramento to the California border

  
Layers of landscape stacked on the side of the road, the mountains sporting their billowy cotton-cloud-topped effusion, preceded by the barren slighted desert floor sandwiched between the tawny mountains and the tree dotted fields of golden grasses. The blur of the road smears the beauty of the region, the chaparral shrublands, open oak savannas and woodlands, smattering of pine forest, among the California buckeye, manzanita, redbud, chamise and scrub oak.
 
The vistas are heavenly golden blankets of downy cover, resting the blue of the sky, but for the serpentine wend of the wire fences, the blare of bill boards for fast food fare and home cooked rest stops miles upon miles of scarred two-lane highways, truck lined and road sign adorned.
 
We will be leaving the Cottonwood historic sections, headed to the border, through Redding to Ashland, Oregon, where we intend to dine like the gourmandisers we cultivated lo these many moons. The Sacramento River tags us “it” now and again along our straight and narrow, sometimes three-lane highway, connecting the trailers and cows and tomatoes with the rest of the world. Shasta approached.