Friday, May 27, 2016

Operation Just Reward

"Justice is a knee in the gut from the floor on the chin at night sneaky with a knife brought up down on the magazine of a battleship sandbagged underhanded in the dark without a word of warning. Garroting. That's what justice is."
 - Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Instead of musing on the unfairness of life, I thought I’d write about lifestyle choices. In choosing to use the term “lifestyle” instead of, say, life, I deliberately set the bar of philosophical depth at about twelve inches. I mean, you could still drown in this post, but you’d have to be pretty drunk.

Now, by lifestyle, I don’t mean the latest topic of the politics of division: transgender rights and all the carefully crafted euphemisms we now tiptoe through in such discussions. Due respect, but I’d be a neutered dog in that fight.

I mean choosing the penultimate stage of life – the one we chose while we can still compos enough mentis to be as independent as possible and minimize the responsibility for our own maintenance and upkeep.

No more lawns to mow. No more stairs to haul laundry down and back. Uber and curbside assistance. Grocery delivery. A landlord to replace light bulbs. Utilities included. In-apartment laundry. Proximity to life-flight and good ER response times. Seriously? Sadly, yes.

For my next trick: an apartment on the 16th floor of a building with a steakhouse adjacent to the “controlled access” lobby. My mission is to make this the next act of my lifestyle choices. The current act began when I bought an expensive piece of furniture from my sole savings in a color that wasn’t brown. I bought a comfortable couch in green and loveseat in blue: the colors of my freedom from brown and dark wood. Then, when my spouse died on the green couch, I sold the whole house and moved out of state, leaving my former lifestyle – real and imagined – behind in San Diego. I took the couches to Seattle, but they're staying behind when I move. I’m buying a new couch in greige.

While I will dearly miss Paulo, my imaginary pool boy, I’m thinking there will be a doorman. I’ll need to find some American heartland name instead of the vaguely un-PC Hispanic name. (I love the Hispanics, and taco salads and mild salsa as much as the next pumpkin though. I have a tremendous respect for the Hispanics. Ask anyone.)

My imaginary doorman’s name will be Corey. Is Corey. If there is any justice in the world for privileged boomers who outlive their spouses and live on double dip pensions and consult their tax advisors about where to invest that mandatory 501(k) distribution, it would compensate us by providing individualized Coreys to offset our failing health. 

The world’s most entitled generation will not go gracefully into the good night, leaving behind a totaled economy, political system, effective antibiotic treatment and, well, planet. We’ll spend our children’s inheritance first. Therefore, along with my prediction that the next trend in senior living will be leaving the coasts and moving to a small Midwest urban center or a mountaintop in rural New Mexico; and that seniors will take over Uber like we took over Facebook; I have one more prediction.

Expect an uptick in “assisted” suicides and sudden deaths in my generation, as our middle-aged former latchkey children implement Joseph Heller’s justice on their clueless parents. My apartment  pictured at left has a balcony and my balance is tricky these days... Corey, help!

Friday, May 20, 2016


When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring,

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

 - Walt Whitman, Memories of President Lincoln

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

For Now

Joe Gillis: I didn’t know you were planning a comeback.
Norma Desmond: I hate that word. It’s a return!
-       Sunset Boulevard

I visited Iowa. It’s not like any other place. Wikipedia says Des Moines has extreme seasons – hot summers, cold winters. It feels so uncrowded it might as well be empty.  It feels new and clean after the moss and pollen covered surfaces here that are interrupted by ant hills.

Before I left Seattle, a rheumatologist x-rayed my hands swollen with arthritis and took some blood tests and when I returned for results after my visit to the suburbs of Des Moines, offered to write a prescription. No thanks. I know a lot about what isn’t wrong with me; and a lot about what is wrong but isn’t bothering me. I got a referral to a dermatologist next.  My skin itches and I'm losing enough hair to make a small pincushion each time I shower.  

Meanwhile, I saw EB and applied for a lease on a 16th floor southwest corner with two tiny bedrooms.  Building occupancy is a bit behind schedule. We had to wear vests and hard hats and be accompanied by a construction guy. The local news says that the most recent construction scandal/delay with the project was a complaint filed by a contractor a mere month ago. He complained of concrete dust that isn’t being cleaned up and poses a danger to workers exposed to it daily. The state is investigating, and the contractor was fired. This is just the latest in the problems that have plagued this historic building. After years of neglect, the building was to be renovated for condos a few years back. It was shut down for violating laws about proper removal of asbestos. The investor who spearheaded the upscale condo reno went to jail for a few years and then killed himself when he got out and was broke and disgraced. Funny, the sales agent mentioned neither, nor did she speak about the delay.

Back home, summer in Seattle is nicer than winter even though it pisses rain every few days and remains in the cool 60s. It doesn't rain enough to prevent plants from wilting or to wash the pollen dust off the cars. I’m going to have to figure out how to turn the outside hoses on. 

Meanwhile, I’ve been taking care of business inside. I fixed the problem of the collapsing bed by replacing 4 too-short 4” wide slats with six longer slats each 6” wide. I got some screen drain covers to catch the hair in the shower. I'm doing some leisurely unpacking, sorting, disposing, repacking of stuff in the garage. A casual observer might think they see more of a mess in the garage - but would be kicked in the nuts if disparaging comments slipped out. A casual observer would be wrong: that pile is empty boxes. The trash has been picked up. Another pile is to give away; and the final pile is to be consolidated and re-packed. So, shut up.

I’ll probably return to Iowa for the state fair sometime in mid-August. Maybe by then either the rental agent will be able to give me a precise date, or I’ll get the hint that this place is cursed and look elsewhere. I'm pretty mellow about my return.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Still Here

Step by step and breath and by breath
It’s a trail of doubt.
-       Danny Schmidt, Know Thy Place

Stubbornness is underrated as a survival skill. I was too stubborn to die recently. I don’t want to die here. I may not know my place, but I know this isn't it.

I’ve always been better at knowing what my place is not. I know it by heart, but also by seasonal allergies to pollen-producing flowers that know So Cal’s climate is not their place. Such floras however, are very comfortable after 20 inches of winter rain here in this corner of Zone 9. The pollen on the skylight is thicker than ash from a nearby wildfire. It looks like yellow snow. My nose hasn’t stopped running since things started blooming.

Examples: Forsythia that I haven’t seen since I was in my 20s. Lilacs so profuse that people trim them with hedge clippers to keep the blooms from pulling the branches into sidewalks. The plum and cherry trees lining the streets leave puddles of lovely pink and white snow blowing in the curbs. Camellias drop their rusty fist-sized flowers that gradually dry and turn a pink-brown color to complement the puddles of cherry blossoms. My flowering quince bloomed itself out before I could cut any blooms. I think that’s dogwood blooming now. There is lily of the valley beneath my font porch. M’s red azaleas are shouting down the softer pink ones. I saw a ceanothus  so covered with blooms that I barely recognized it, having only seen thirsty southern-Californian relatives struggling to be a pale imitation of a syringa.

Lilacs remind me of K who would buy me a bunch every March from up the mountain in Alpine. In my opinion, every perfume ever made from lilacs has failed. Even the essential oil is too sweet and cloying. But the fragrance of a real lilac is something that evokes the purest innocence of childhood. I have no doubt that the first time I smelled a lilac, it was in the hand of my mother and it smelled like love.

I’m going to another place. I’m going sometime in the next two or three months. I’m reinventing myself. Again. 

Before I leave here, I’m having another heart ablation, a few expensive microdermabrasion treatments from an aesthetician, and I’m stocking up on my medications in preparation for yet another adventure in switching health insurance which is related to but slightly more important than finding another health care provider and totally more intimidating. I’ll  also get another haircut before I leave this hip urban town.

I ran out of an important prescription for a few days but finally managed to set up a mail order prescription plan that enables me to never again enter the doors of the Rite Aid down the street where it took an average – not hyperbole: a freaking AVERAGE  - of 3 trips to the pharmacy to refill each of my five prescriptions. That means for the one time I got a prescription on the first try, I gave up on another one after the 4th try. A more incompetent pharmacy would be hard to find, even with my luck. When I couldn’t get my blood-thinning stroke-preventing meds recently (4 tries), I went home and contacted my prescription plan provider and they walked me through the mail order enrollment process. It took one 30 minute call to be saved from Rite Aid and certain death by another stroke.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying the smell of fresh lilacs picked from the bush in the tiny communal garden between my house and the mailbox. I have to go outside and plant two tiny mail-order lilacs in the front yard.  Then I will get mail and pick fresh lilacs and smell them while I drink my decaf latte and have homemade corn chowder for lunch.

Then, when the Spring flowers are done, I will move to a new latitude and longitude.  I can always come back next Spring. I’ll bring Benadryl and stock up on legal medications while I’m in town. Maybe get a haircut.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

I Hope We Make it Home

If you choose to jump off a cliff
We can talk as you fall
But I can’t promise you, no
When you hit the ground that there will be
Something there to break your fall
Well, I guess you know it all.

It’s as if you were
Waiting around to die
And you found something to mend
The frayed corners of your mind."

 - Emily Jane White, The Cliff

When I first realized I was a grown up and I had to become a single mother and I needed a job and I was younger and stronger than I am now, I wondered how I would survive. For years, I had dreams of jumping off a specific cliff on the coast of San Diego. Ten years later I would walk to that very same cliff at lunch from my nearby ocean view executive office. I survived.

I faced a few other hard times over the years, but I have always remembered taking that very first death-defying leap of faith off a cliff of complacency and unhappiness for a chance at happiness. As the years roll on, the cliffs have become less precipitous, but that is a good thing because my bones have become more brittle. I no longer believe I can fly. 

I have moved to a house with safer stairs  than my old house, but I’m sorry to say that making it upstairs at night with a kitty asleep in my arms is a big enough challenge for me.

I miss California. In a while, I will miss Seattle. I will move to the heartland, to Zone 5 from Zone 9. From sun-drenched deserts and from rain-drenched coastal jungles I will move to the middle of the country: Des Moines, Iowa. I know, right?

It snows there, but it might not be as dark at daytime. It’s cold there, but it might not be as wet as all the time. I could really use something to mend my frayed wits and to distract me from waiting around to die. I need to make a leap of faith to a new home where I might make some new friends. I’m still determined to try. 

I’m told it’s flat: no cliffs. So, I have that going for me. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Expect Surprise

But I'm here to tell you this

That the sky is yours to kiss

So go and lift your lips and raise your eyes 

And expect surprise
And know thy place, and know thy part 

Know it by name, know it by face, and know it by heart 

And don't look down, cause that's all been seen 

Step by step and breath by breath 

It's a trail of dreams
-       Danny Schmidt, Know Thy Place

You don’t have to pretend to be one thing when you’re another. Even if they ask, nobody hears what you really say. Me too. Hell, I often don’t hear what I say to myself, so how can I listen to you?

“I couldn’t be sorrier, I can’t tell you how sorry I am” can mean I can’t tell you this but I’m not sorry at all. “It doesn’t get any better than this” can mean it only gets worse from here. “Never better” in response to how are you can mean never any better. When talking about how much you care about your lover, “Every breath you take” imparts the sour whiff of a stalker.

I know someone who died of colon cancer – never able to get rid of poison that was killing her, keeping it locked tight inside. I knew somebody who died of heart failure – from a broken heart. I knew someone who died of kidney cancer – he was able to piss his poison out on his loved ones until he wasn’t. The last year of his life his poison had no place to go. He spent a year emptying a catheter until he couldn’t. His loved one had to empty his bloody catheter for him. I have decided that dying of anger is a total pain in the neck.

So, while telling someone to expect surprise may be intended as an affirmation, a hope of better things to come unexpectedly, don’t forget the dark shadow of unpleasant surprise that has nothing pleasant about it. You might as well say expect disappointment, betrayal, and a slow, painful and undignified death because they are at least as likely as winning the lottery.

Fortunately, platitudes suffice in most of our dealings with each other. Which is just as well when or if you think of it because we are each so wrapped up in our own place following the trail of our own private dreams. A wise woman recently told me, “Fucking renarration, man. It messes us all up.” A.E. Houseman, that poetic pessimist, wrote:

The thoughts of others
Were light and fleeting
Like lovers meeting
Or luck or fame.
My thoughts were of trouble
And mine were steady
So I was ready
When trouble came.

Expect surprise, everyone. If you don’t like it, just re-pave the trail of your dreams.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Not About the Weather

You stayed to long
Though you never intended to linger
‘Til the hand of fate
One day gave you the finger.
            -           Anonymous

For the purposes of this conversation, an Optimist and a Pessimist are discussing the rocky transition I made through December, 2014 when TSG died and December, 2015 which I moved 1,200 north on Interstate 5 where I life alone in a different latitude with my surviving cat. Both ends of the conversation are mostly inside my head.

P:         It’s raining, as usual.
O:        Can we please talk about something else?

P:         It’s downhill to get to the new house. How symbolical, and shit.
O:        You had to go uphill to the old house. You can coast home now.

O and P:         In an effort to process and benefit from the lessons of the past year, let’s review. Let’s review the stages of our life changes in the past year or so.

P:         The bad news is it still sucks after the stress of moving ends. The stages of moving begin with disbelief. Then, the stress of deciding what to leave and what to pack; the stress of disposing of what to leave; of packing what to take.  Then, the stress of logistics of renting POD and later truck, hiring POD/truck loaders, scheduling truck driver, hiring truck unloaders three different times.  And including missed deliveries, inadequate room in trucks, rooms, and my brain.  Then, the health effects including depression, insomnia, hives – again with details too depressing to detail, and with the whisper inside my head saying Don’t pick the scabs. The hilarious health insurance carrier switch-over fubar too depressing and expensive to detail aside from that fact that nobody prescribes antidepressants anymore for reasons having to do with the fascist state’s depressing decisions to prioritize anti-addiction over treating depression. Thanks. Obama. Then, the disruption in blood-thinner medication schedule and resulting spike in rat poison-to-blood ratio resulting in bruising and bleeding. Which isn’t so much fun when combined with hives, as it is un-seeable sight in the already unflattering buzzing fluorescent light in the overheated cramped master bath. Finally, there is acceptance, followed immediately by second thoughts, regrets and unfocused anger. Finally, acceptance?

O:        Interspersed with a sunny afternoon here and there and a smell outdoors of fresh life awakening. There is the (no longer rushed) intermittent unpacking and commensurate feelings of satisfaction at putting shit away. There is the inevitable making and revising a mental short list of what’s still missing – perhaps in some misplaced Mystery Box that might also include stuff I knew I didn’t have room to pack and regret leaving behind. There is the fun of buying replacements for mysteriously missing things like power cords, cat vitamins, a single brand new sock, a vial of medicine, paprika. Because, shopping is always fun. I’ve never seen dwarf iris with such a beautiful deep blue that I would have chosen myself and that are coming up in several places by my front door.

P:         Shopping isn’t the answer. Because, finding stuff that wasn’t actually lost so much as it was found huddled shivering in a dark corner with its fists in its mouth and a dead stare out the dripping window offsets any shopping-induced joy. Then there are the early twilight afternoons spend ruing poor life decisions as they accumulate behind me like duck chicks after their mama duck only not so much cute as heavy. Endless recursive ducks behind me, all in a dripping wet row.

O and P: Acceptance with the melancholy realization that it all has to be accepted over again tomorrow. Knowing – most of the time - that we can do this because what other choice do we have.

O:        Noticing with unaccountable gratitude that the days are slowly getting longer and counting the minutes that sunset is deferred each day.

P:         Refining and revision definitions of justifiable suicide. Why should such a stigma be associated with deciding to quit before being fired?

O:        Carefully defining the distinctions between suicide and merely wanting not to wake up tomorrow, and then making it through another dark night. A single long sunny therapeutic afternoon online shopping spree of nice new clothes more suitable for this foreign clime, including new boiled wool slippers with backs instead of the Grandpa Simpson scuffettes that worked before.  Shopping is too the answer.

P:         Self-pity, followed immediately by guilt and shame at being weak. Shit, I can’t even enjoy a pity party without a judgey hangover of self-loathing.

O and P:         The fortune cookie in last night’s dinner, “This year is your year.”