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Posts Tagged ‘George Washington’

A. IN THE GOLDEN HILLS.

Thanksgiving Day brought with it an intermittent sun playing hide and seek with the rain. We had lunch in the Golden Hills with HRM, Uncle Mask, Adrian and N. I was surprised to see N there. She had come to California a few days before and will remain until late December when she will take HRM to Italy for the Holidays. The lunch featured a well-made ham with several toppings to choose from. I was a bit disconcerted because I had expected I would be minding H during Dick’s absence in early December but with N there, I expect that would not be necessary.

N and HRM

Later, we drove back to Sacramento for dinner with Naida’s Daughter Sarah, her family, and their two dogs, a black and white brindled standard poodle named George Washington and Franklyn Delano Roosevelt, a large mixed pit bull and retriever. We brought along Boo-boo, a mixed Chihuahua and whatever, who although he may have lacked the size and prestigious name of the other two dogs, by the end of the night had clearly acquitted himself as an equal.

Dinner included turkey with all the fixings and pumpkin pie and cheesecake for dessert. The cheesecake made by Sarah’s son Charlie, who happily explained to all of us the secret of making a perfect cheesecake — first rule “do not beat your eggs,” mix them slowly using only a certain rotation of one’s arms and shoulders. He then demonstrated the movement. It looked quite painful

B. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THE ENCHANTED FOREST:


The rains have returned soft and gentle. The streets, lawns, and pathways in the Enchanted Forest glisten a brilliant red and yellow. Here and there pods from the Deodar Cedar litter the walkway like little banana slugs. For the first time, it seemed like autumn.

As usual, we attended the Saturday morning coffee at the clubhouse. Surprisingly, as many men attended this week as women. I sat a bit off to the side, observing as I often do. I could not help noticing the usual neatly coiffed hair on the spy who goes by the name “Ducky.” It always looks as though she just came from the hairdresser. Unlike most of us at this advanced age whose hair of various colors gone drab, interlaced with streaks or dreary grey, and winds about our heads like birds nests, hers, a brilliant white, sparkled like icy snow in the sunlight.

I decided to survey hands today. Most of the woman had long slender fingers gone knobby with age. The model’s fingers were the longest. Like many whose movements are often characterized as elegant, the tips of her fingers seemed to move as though they were independent of the hands to which they were attached. Naida’s hands, unlike the others, were the hands of someone who spent a life of a farm or a ranch, thick and strong.

I noticed while most kept their hands relatively still when they talked they would now and then gesture whenever they were making a point. Naida again was an outlier. Her hands flew about vigorously as she talked. She would not be out of place in Southern Italy. In fact, in Sicily, the Sicilians would consider her an uplifting and ebullient person before even hearing a word she had spoken. Alas, to these same people, her hand movements would appear to them as gibberish — meaningless noise. Americans use their hands while speaking only as punctuation. Without words it is meaningless. In Sicily, the gestures are words and have meaning independent of what is spoken.

We then returned to the house, Naida to work on her Memoir and me to write this. Later we walked the dog along the levee beside the American River. The setting sun shining through air recently washed clean by the rains lit up the autumn colors like fireworks.

On Sunday we sat around the house. Naida read to me sections from her memoir. As she read the words, my mind transformed them into scenes from a movie — the frightening 25 mile skate down the frozen Big Hole River; learning of her parents divorce; the comical introduction to her father’s new girlfriend; the infatuation of a 13 year old girl with her handsome uncle; the fight with her brother over a plate of macaroni and cheese; the dreams, the fears and the sorrows… It will be a wonderful book — a Little Women with real drama.

The Author at Work in Her Studio

Monday I had an appointment with my primary care physician. As he entered the examining room, I said, “Since my surgeons agree I am a dead man walking, I intend to go out happy, pain-free and without my bowels turned into cement. So, I need you to prescribe the pills that will allow me to do so.”

“We are from birth all dead men walking, ” he responded. “Nevertheless, I think I can provide what you need. I even know of something that relieves pain without constipation.” He added that he understood what I was going through because he has had two bouts of his own with cancer. Also, his seven-year-old child was struck with bone cancer and had to have his leg amputated below the knee.

Once again, I found myself embarrassed and humiliated by my misplaced sense of humor.

The doctor a youngish man, in his late thirties or early forties, is built like an NFL linebacker and specializes in sports medicine. At my prior visits to his office, I noticed a deep sadness in his eyes that made me wonder. Now I know why.

He prescribed a healthy supply of Xanax to keep my spirits up, a pain reliever that keeps my bowels lubricated and even a topical that eliminates the irritation caused by my clothing rubbing against the tumor. Finally, he explained that the most important thing he’d learned from his own experience with cancer was that one ought not to concern one’s self about the future but concentrate only on what needs to be done that day. In other words, take it one day at a time. I am not a fan of platitudes (unless they are my own, of course) but appreciated the effort.

C. TO SAN FRANCISCO AND BACK AGAIN:


On Tuesday we left for San Francisco to spend the evening with Peter and Barrie before my visit with the physician at UCSF early the next day. We brought the dog along with us because Barrie thought it would be a good idea to see how he got along with their dog, Ramsey.

That evening, leaving the dogs with Barrie, Naida and I went to a French restaurant on 24th Street where Peter’s trio was performing. They were very good, as was the food. Peter played bass, the leader of the group, guitar, and the third member, the violin. Peter told us he (the violinist) is or was first violinist in the LA Symphony. If you’re ever in the Noe Valley area on a night they are playing you should drop in.

The Boys in the Band.

The next day, I met with the oncologist at UCSF to explore potential treatment options including clinical trials. As usual, I began with an inappropriate joke. When the doctor entered the room and settled into the chair opposite me, I said, “Now that two surgeons have agreed that ripping out a part of my throat and slicing off parts of my body with which to fill the resulting hole was not advisable, what options are available to me?”

The doctor a youngish Korean-American oncologist with a national reputation was not amused. Nevertheless, after asking some questions he played out a treatment program that appeared to me to be promising if we could get the insurance company to approve it in a reasonable amount of time.

D. BACK IN THE ENCHANTED FOREST AND A VISIT TO THE RIVER OF RED GOLD:


On Wednesday, I rested all day and Thursday, I turned my attention primarily to a request of Terry’s that I am sure, as usual, will turn out more interesting than beneficial. I also received a call from my doctors that the insurance company approved my treatment plan and it will start early next week. Hooray!

If I have learned anything from life (I am pretty sure I have not), it is that that one learns less from success than from failure and it’s more interesting too. Also, behaving foolishly is a lot more fun than propriety could ever be.

On Friday, I accompanied Naida to Meadowlark Inn at Slough-house on the old Jackson Highway. There Naida had a luncheon with a small book club (about eight women). They discussed her California Gold Trilogy. Later we all went to the historical Slough-house cemetery several of the characters mentioned in her books were buried. Naida told some fascinating stories about the area — the Native American, Chinese and European settlers, the gold discoveries, the massacres and the private lives of the people buried in the cemetery that she had garnered from their diaries. She even found the grave of the old woman who had become her friend and whose diary had begun her interest in the area and became an important part of her books.

The Girls at the Cemetery.

Following that, we drove to the bank of the Cosumnes River in Rancho Murieta where the Indian village described in her books stood. She became quite upset when she saw that the great old mother oak, sacred to the Native Americans who were buried in the ancient midden that lay beneath its branches, had been chopped down by the developer (despite his promises not to.) We then walked along the river bank and explored the rocks containing many native grinding holes and the stepped stone platform where she was sure the natives gathered to listen to the orations of the head man whenever there was a festival or a party. Naida mentioned that the area was so productive that it has been estimated the average time native male worked (built things, hunted and so-on) was only 45 minutes a day and the average women 3 hours. It was a peaceful paradise that existed for over 600 years until it was utterly destroyed by European immigrants from the United State in less than twenty.

On the Banks of the Cosumnes.




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Since I have returned to California I have experienced a sudden decline in almost everything; vision and hearing, strength and endurance. Perhaps it is temporary and will pass. In the past during my bouts with depression and its physical effects, I have always been able to convince myself they would soon be gone. Now I feel like a specter or ghost watching life go on around me through an ever darkening scrim, unable to do anything about it until I eventually disappear into the wherever or whatever; something like the ineffectual angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I wonder if I will get my wings after it is all over. (This last is an allusion understandable only by those over 70 years old.)

After finishing Sheldon Siegel‘s book and being in the mood to read more in the Jewish policeman genre, I began Michael Chabon‘s “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.” It is a novel of dazzling style and inventiveness but lacking a soul. I prefer Sheldon’s relentless humane optimism to Chabon’s unrelieved cynicism.

I like William Kotzwinkle however. He is an incurable optimist like Sheldon. He wrote “ET.” I do not think he was all that proud of it. But hell, it’s a living.

Like Chabon he could unleash the literary pyrotechnics. In one book, he was able to fill an entire chapter with the single word, “dorky.” Dorky repeated 400 times a page for the 10 pages of the chapter, 4000 dorkys (or is it dorkies?) in all. And this was while everyone was still using word processors.

Chabon, were he the one writing the same chapter after about the first hundred or so dorkys would probably write something like, “Shit, if I have to write dorky one more time, I going to plunge a zhmenye of cyanide up my tokhes” or something like that. Like I said Chabon is a real stylist.

To Kotzwinkle’s character, however, Dorky Day was the day he looked forward to. It was the day he said nothing except dorky. It was his favorite day, better even that Christmas or Passover or even Presidents day.

Speaking of President’s Day, what’s that all about? Why did we change from honoring two of our greatest presidents, one who wore wooden false teeth and liked riding his horses almost as well as sleeping with his slaves and the other who had a glandular dysfunction and was always hearing voices in his head, to honoring them all, even the non-entities and borderline loonys? Do we really want to honor, Chester A. Arthur, George Bush or James Buchanan at the same time as we honor Washington and Lincoln?

Buchanan by the way was our first openly gay president. He was called “Miss Nancy” by his political enemies and affectionately “Aunt Fancy” by his friends.

Miss Nancy was born on April 23rd. Wouldn’t it be appropriate for that to be the day to celebrate gay freedom, or better yet marriage equality day? April 23 is celebrated in England as Shakespeare’s Day. It is also the feast day of St. Adalbert of Prague, National Book Day in Canada and English Language Day in the UN. Unfortunately, I do not know the actual date of Dorky Day, but April 23 would be as good as any.

While I am at it and since I have little to do for most of the day except sit around the coffee-house and fool with my computer writing messages to myself like this,… why do the self-proclaimed serious literary critics appear to so often look down on “genre” fiction? Why do we so often consider the literary pyrotechnics of the borderline depressive, even a humorous one, serious literature while gentle optimism is dismissed as superficial? I am sure Ruth knows. She seems to understand these things.

Is it simply the strictures of plot required of genre fiction somehow make it more artificial than the meanderings through the minutia of life of much of modern “serious” fiction, even if that minutia is outside anyone’s experience, or beggars credulity? I mean, have you read “War in Peace?” Do your really give a shit about Pierre or Prince Andrei? As for other characters in the serious literary pantheon, most were despicable. Roskolnikov, Ahab and even Achilles were assholes. You can add Heathcliff to that list and don’t even mention Dorian Grey. OK, I admit Jane Eyre has something to recommend her, but talk about missing the obvious…. Did the reprobates that peopled Faulkner or Williams’ novels really do anything for you. The characters dreamed up by Elmo Leonard or Carl Hiaasan probably appear just as real, perhaps even more so, to most of us.

If one reads at all, by all means, one should read the classics and as much so-called serious fiction as he or she can digest but not too much. It can give one gas.

Nevertheless one should also read those authors not cursed with seriousness. Authors like Leonard, Hiaasion, Siegel, Weber (the Honor Harrington books the rest of his books suck), Terry Pratchett, Nora Roberts and on and on; even Danielle Steel (well maybe not her). There are thousands and thousands of people out there writing fiction. Even if they have little to say, they say something.
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Elmo Leonard’s tips on writing fiction.

Alas, in the age of u-tube and instant communication among perfect strangers, most of whom appear quite willing to spew out the most intimate and often embarrassing details of their lives, who needs fiction anymore? Maybe we are all becoming ghosts, viewing life through a LED display in a darkened room or an internet café somewhere.

Even that may be a passing fad. Given the amount of time we spend on our computers or smart phones socializing and collaborating or whatever, who has the time any more to take a video of oneself trying to jump off a roof into a tea-cup? Will future generations feature prehensile pinkies and double jointed thumbs?

Stay tuned to life, it always surprises.

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English: Henry David Thoreau, photograph taken...

Henry David Thoreau decided that it would be a good thing to take Horace Greeley‘s advice to, “Go West Young Man.” However, our Henry being the imaginative sort decided that instead of fording rivers, climbing mountains and crossing deserts to get to some fabulous place like California, to confine his westward migration to a few mile walk from his home to his cabin on the shores of a small nearby lake. There he was able to spend his mornings allowing his mind to wander as it will and be back home for lunch. It the afternoon he would return to his not so remote and not so rustic cabin and further indulge himself in the conceit that his perceptions of the natural world around his retreat revealed to his mind and imagination all of the wonders that others experience in old Californy or wherever.

After about a year or so, tiring of the rigors of the remote country life, Henry then took a rowboat trip up the stream affectionately called the Connecticut River and dreamed he was traveling down the Mississippi. Among his other adventures, our Henry travelled for a while in remote Cape Cod where he met a man who had seen George Washington riding his horse and recalled something or other about the attractiveness of George’s leg.

Now I write this, not to make fun of Henry, but as an explanation as to why I have always viewed him as a role model. Day dreams can be adventures too.

My morning walk to through my neighborhood in Bangkok Thailand where I now live for part of the year to the health club and back elicits in me similar transcendental impressions to those old Henry experienced in his New England perambulations. Alas, I am not Henry. I cannot write as well as he, nor are my impressions as…well transcendental.

Henry during his boat trip marveled at the humanity of a man standing on a bridge as his boat passed under, spitting in our Henry’s face. I could never do that; marvel at his humanity. Spitting in someones face is beyound the realm of possibility for me. In fact as often as not, I can find nothing particularly interesting memorable or romantic about what I see, hear or otherwise experience. Sometimes a dirty, boring street is just that, a dirty boring street.

I live on a dirty boring street in Bangkok Thailand. My apartment building sits on one side of a  cul-de-sac that after a few jogs exits at Soi Nana, the neighborhood main drag and one of Bangkok’s prime red light districts. Along the little street from my cul-de-sac to Soi Nana there are two hotels and a cement wall that comprise the visual horizon and little else. A man with the blue shirt almost always stands across from one of the hotels, day and night. I haven’t the slightest idea why. Sometimes a motorbike, or taxi or the Boss Suites Tuk-tuk goes by. Now and then a ying (young woman) who works nearby passes, going to or from work in one of the local bars or Go-Go places; outside of that nothing.

Oh, once I saw an injured bird hopping about on the street. I did not touch it since I have an aversion to touching small living things other than dogs and cats and some humans. Large animals I have no aversion to and can be persuaded to touch a horse or even an elephant. Other large animals are ok too, except bears. I am pathologically afraid of bears. I did touch one however, once.

I was walking along one of the seedier parts of Istanbul when a couple of Russian Gypsies came along leading a bear on a rope that led to a ring in the bear’s nose. I was allowed, for a price, to pet the bear. I paid and did so. It made me sad. The sight of the creäture who so terrorized my nighttime dreams as personification of arbitrary and unlimited power reduced to such a state repulsed me. I still have terrifying dreams of ursine ravening. I used to run away as the beast bursts from shadows, but now I turn and apologize for the ring and the rope.

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