Thursday, May 7, 2015

Un Poco Triste

Sweet daughters in the park below their former home
This past weekend my Sweet Daughters and I spent our final day all together before the move to Mexico: tasty breakfast at a boutique bakery, round of miniature golf in the spring sunshine, improv comedy matinee show, ice cream cones, and, finally, a visit to the funky school-turned-art studio where Daughter 1 grew up and Daughter 2 was born--a place where our three lives were intimately connected for a decade.

It was a fun day except for the ending which left us feeling a little sad--this place of many memories is now overgrown or being slowly torn asunder.

Heavy equipment is digging through the overgrown garden;
piles of building materials are stacked and strewn around the
property. Some murals we don't remember remain below the
roof, on which pyramids once lit up to represent the Pleiades.
After nearly 30 years of sheltering poor people with artistic intentions, its residents have been evicted, the site has been reclaimed by the school district and is currently surrounded by a nearly quarter-mile long, chainlink rent-a-fence enclosing a deserted-looking worksite, completion date unknown.

It was a place of comfortable gardens, idiosyncratic rooms and installation-art hallways, huge stone busts of obscure scientists and poets, a heritage apple orchard, vast graffiti murals and bumpy relationships. Now, the colorful rooms are no longer visible. A wall of gray concrete blocks has replaced the generous many-paned windows of this early Baby Boom building.

"Non-significance" of existing use as
an art studio is the school district's
justification for its costly plan to turn
the building into a temporary school.
We walked along the perimeter looking, futilely, for a way past the high fence so we could explore and identify some remains. We read the Land Use billboard and Daughter 1 scoffed at the School District's justification for its takeover--"non-significance" of its previous use as art studios. Her attitude had been hardened by an us-versus-them struggle during our long tenancy.

For Daughter 2, this was not only the place where she was raised from infancy into childhood; it was also the site of her mom's workshop for nearly 20 years.

For me, this was where I acted--half the time or more--as their single parent. Il Teatro Pescatore was born here, and I'm equally as happy with the shipping crate bamboo cottage I built for my daughters, the flat rooftop sculpture that lit up every night to represent a cluster of stars, and the annual Halloween Haunted Hallway where we each posed, for the neighborhood, as staff member of a scarily demented school. All gone.

Part of all that has already been told, here or here, or is a longer story for another time, if at all. The memories will conflate and fade as we grow older, but the old school was a special place for the three of us, and many others.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Slender Foot

A Packing Stress-induced hallucination:

I look past our bed to the luggage and mostly clothes--all in an organized heap next to the wall, under the window, just now.

The corner of a bedsheet falls in a soft fold over the carpet. For an instant I mistake this shape for my wife's slender foot.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Overheard today on the sidewalk just past Main in our little town. They were two women of a certain age, one walking an old beagle.

     Beagle Woman: ...past tense--

     Other: You mean he's dead?

     BW: Blew his brains out.

Now that's something you want to distance yourself from.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Tulip Magic Land

On the way down Dayton Street to the shore this afternoon, I stopped to take a picture of this tulip. A little further on, seeing it was low low tide, I went for a walk and run along the beach

A gray blustery day, the current strong with whitecaps out in the channel.

Playing Stick and Rock as usual.

According to my nature-loving spouse, looking into a tulip is like looking into a magic land.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Red Cod Island Village

Approaching the shore of this little
island, you could still see a pathway
created by removing rocks to allow the
large canoes to be more easily beached.
About forty years ago I was fortunate to be working for the U.S. Forest Service with an accomplished and adventurous kayaker. He invited me along on a trip in his two-man folding kayak to Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands, ancestral home of the Haida people.

The cutout at the top of the pole would
have held a grave box full of bones of a
deceased leader of this clan. The front
pole appears to be Raven, the back one--
They're the ones who lived in longhouses
fronted by these awesome totem poles, and who traveled across hundreds of miles of open water in thirty-foot long cedar canoes on slave raids.

Their abandoned villages are now a World Heritage Site, with no camping, visits limited to reservations, and then only if you have a native guide. Back in our day, however, all it took was the money to hire a float plane to drop us off fifty miles by sea from the nearest small town.

Possibly a wolf crest being aggressively colonized
by local salal. The area around the poles has been
cleared since we were there, but they are still
exposed to weather. Red Cedar is naturally rot
resistant, but its man-made aspects are slowly
 succumbing to nature.

Randy and I spent most of a week, just the two of us, camping on the beach at this site whose Haida name means "Red Cod Island Village". We knew it as Ninstints, the Anglicized name of its last powerful chief.

By 1880 the incidence of smallpox deaths had become so great that the village was abandoned.

I recently found these pictures in a box of memorabilia I was organizing. I took a digital photo of each picture and processed them in Adobe Lightroom using a preset I had created for its dramatic qualities.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Waiter With Distinctive Hair

Walking past Demetri's Taverna a few minutes ago, right next to the train tracks just before you get to the pier, I saw they'd closed its side porch to acknowledge the blustery weather. I remembered a few days ago it had been bustling with diners on a calm and sunny afternoon. That reminded me of their Waiter with Distinctive Hair.

From coloring and appearance he looks Mediterranean. His swarthy skull is shaved and waxed except for a coal black pyramid of hair that rises to crest--glistening--two inches above the skin, like the prow of a ship whose aft is sinking at a 45 degree angle into what had been his fontanelle.

Plus the thin and geometric Van Dyke.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Stick and Rock

I’ve been walking and running at the beach lately, in the late afternoon during low tide. Along the water line I always stop to throw a piece of driftwood thirty or forty feet into the surf. Then I pick up some larger-than-thumb-sized rocks off the sand to throw at the stick as it slowly recedes from shore.

I do this for awhile, stopping only when I get close enough to the stick to call it a hit. I call the game Stick and Rock.

Most people we see who determinedly toss rocks into water are trying to skip the rock with a sidearm throw, seeing how many “skips” they can get. It's a common thing to do, but that trick’s no longer for me, although I have fine memories of skipping rocks with my granddad--and even once with my uncle--on the rocky bend of a creek in rural Missouri.

For months now, when I go down to the shore at the end of the street, I’ve been playing Stick and Rock exclusively. In all that time I’ve seen lots of skippers, but never seen anyone else play my game. Until today.

It was a man in his thirties with his son about five, right behind me as we made our way down the beach, to just beyond a swath of perfectly-sized rocks laid parallel with the waterline by the last rising tide.

I was searching for a suitable stick--if you find one too close to the surf it'll be waterlogged and won't float--when I heard the man tell his young son to “pick up a piece of wood to be your battleship". I sensed what was going on, so grabbed one of my own and hurried down to the water, feeling--for some reason--that it was important to get established in my own game before they began theirs.

Unaccountably I had begun to feel competitive about how my aim would compare with the dad's. Not his son's.

Anyway, my hunch about what they were up to was confirmed a few minutes later when I heard the man urging his boy, as he demonstrated by throwing a rock, to “see if you can sink the battleship with your bomb.” By this time I'd drifted down the beach a bit, and my stick had been going out with the tide. My rock had come within a foot a few times, but no direct hits.

Glancing over, I saw that the boy's aim wasn't bad, and the man's was dead-on. I heaved a couple more rocks near the limit of my range that--generously judged--landed not "too far" from the stick, which, by this time, was bobbing maybe eighty feet from shore. Their "battleship"--barely eight, I noted.

Three generations of us were out there on the beach, amusing ourselves in a fine way by just throwing rocks into the water, trying to hit a piece of wood, whether you called it a stick, or more metaphorical battleship. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

What Would Groucho Do?

This 5'X6' frame used to be attached to the side of a tarted-up panel van;
Now it's on my office wall.
In preparation for this move to Mexico that's not many months away, I've been sorting my belongings—starting in the office—trying to figure out what to do with everything. 

A lot of the stuff is remembrances of my family—spouse and daughters, parents and grandparents.

I have the snappy old hat my dad used to wear, my mother’s favorite coffee mug, the original 1961 flyer advertising the going-out-of-business sale for granddad’s general store, medals from both World Wars, trinkets, the photo of my wife I call MBPITW (Most Beautiful Picture In The World), Father’s Day and ID cards, and such—many years’ worth. I'll keep most all of these odds and ends—maybe make a trunk's worth to remind me of my place and where I come from.

A picture of Mom, in a familiar pose, behind a kachina doll
I purchased on the Hopi reservation a long time ago.
Aside from these heritage displays, the office is also festooned with a variety of odd creations.

The biggest piece, occupying one whole wall, is the proscenium frame for a traveling theater. It weighs about 20 pounds, and is four by five feet in size. It’s sculpted to depict the mermaid, seaweed, and sea monster-guarded, golden portal to a succession of scenes from my imagination. 

What to do with the frame? I'll never get rid of it, but where should it go? I imagine it'd be pretty difficult to pack and get safely to Mexico.

And what to do with a wooden-faced Kwakiutl boy in the body of a silver salmon that hangs from the ceiling?
What would Groucho do?

Or the four foot-long flying fish with the face of Groucho Marx, leaping across the wall and puffing a cigar? A hand puppet of Homer Simpson in the black-caped garb of Alberich—evil dwarf—from an unproduced version of Wagner’s Ring?

On the filing cabinet sits a goldfish head swollen larger than the size of a human’s. Quo vadis?

There are a lot of other things, too—in drawers or on shelves, or in the closet in boxes and tubs. Most of them have to do with a dozen or so theater projects created during a two decade-long period that ended twelve years ago, when I began teaching.

For now, I think I'll just get rid of the few pieces to which I'm not attached, pack and store the rest. Maybe later I'll have an idea how some of the items can still be used; I hope so, because it's hard to say a final goodbye to that time in my life when creative visions seemed to come and be actualized like magic.

The best solution would probably be to pass them on to my daughters, or even the school at which I taught—somewhere they would be appreciated.

Any takers?