Wednesday, July 31, 2013

VSE V (not very) PORYADKE

Google Translator tells me that the above transliteration from the cyrillic script to the Western alphabet means "everything's fine."  The "not so" was something I added.

With all the really important news of the day this week, such as Anthony Weiner's weiner, it may have escaped your attention that things are not fine in Russia.  In fact they are very much not fine.

I have been thinking back to the possibly terrible thing I did to one of the guides on our Russian trip, innocent that I was at the time
It was toward the end of the trip and I was sitting alone in the front part of the ship, with nobody around except this one tour guide.  She had not been our regular tour guide, though we had her for a special tour and we had listened to her giving some of the educational lectures throughout the voyage.

My "gay dar" kicked in whenever I saw her and I had the feeling she might be a lesbian, though of course I would never have asked her.

But there we were, just the two of us and I had the opportunity to ask what I'd been curious about throughout our travels around the country -- what was life like for the gay community in Russia.

She was flustered, muttered something how "those people" had their own clubs, and she fled as quickly as she could.  I never found out, of course, if she was part of "those people" but watching what has been going on in Russia recently, I understand the look of panic on her face as she fled.  That may have answered my unasked question after all.

Russia has recently passed laws allowing the police to arrest tourists and foreign nationals suspected of being gay and outlawing "homosexual propaganda" as pornography.  The legislation is vague but its intent is clear: It is now "illegal to spread information about non-traditional sexual behavior" to minors (under 18), and there are hefty fines for those who disobey. Foreigners are also subject to fines and can be deported.  Recently four Dutch tourists were jailed under this law. 

Just when the Pope has come out saying it's OK to be gay (just don't do anything gay!), the Russian government has stepped up the attacks on gay people in that country.  A call for a boycott of the Olympics, to be held in Russia was deemed unfair to athletes who would be hurt by being unable to participate, and now there is instead a call for a boycott of Russian vodka as a protest.

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But the scene in Russia is really serious for gay people. Gay rights marches are routinely broken up and scenes of police detaining activists, sometimes before demonstrations even begin, are commonplace. Activists of the Moscow Gay Pride movement were detained in Moscow for holding an unsanctioned rally and for "promoting untraditional sexual relations." (They were later released.) Gay pride participants were badly beaten during clashes with anti-gay demonstrators in St. Petersburg last month, with Russian police arresting dozens of people.

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In May, a 23-year old man was allegedly murdered in the city of Volgograd on the Victory Day holiday. A suspect reportedly told police the victim was killed because he was gay. In June, Russian investigators said another man in Kamchatka was also murdered because he was gay. It's all part of Putin's agenda of promoting "conservative values" (sound familiar?) and some 88% of the population agree with him.

Russian Neo-Nazis, calling themselves "crime fighers" are luring gay male teens, kidnap and torture them, photographing the torture.  Some of these attacks take place in bright daylight in front of the public and the police, who ignore what is going on.

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"We do not like homosexuals," the leader of one local gathering explained, according to a HuffPost translation. "If it was up to me, I'd kill them but the government doesn't allow that." 

"I think practically all gay men -- pedophiles," he later explained. "Once you've crossed over once, you can cross over again. Today he likes boys, and then it'll be children. They're not suitable for life in society."

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In some parts of our own country, things are looking up for gays and lesbians...not everywhere, but in a growing number of places.  More and more straight people are looking at their gay neighbors and seeing them as just everyday people and accepting them for who they are.

But there are still places in the world where to be gay is to be a target for beatings, arrest, torture, and even death.  Uganda hasn't quite passed the "kill the gays" bill, but it is still very much under consideration. The bill would still contain a penalty of lifetime imprisonment for homosexuality. Anyone who doesn't report a homosexual within 24 hours faces three years imprisonment. And the clauses which cover supposed 'advocacy of homosexuality' could conceivably lead to both lawyers defending gay people or parliamentarians proposing changes to the law facing charges. Any landlord renting to gay people could be accused of running a brothel.

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There is little you or I can do from the comfort of our living rooms about the violence in Uganda or in Russia, but perhaps participating in the vodka ban will at least send a message to somebody in Russia.  Although Stolichnaya is one of the most popular vodka brands in the U.S., owners and managers at gay bars across the nation are pouring out their last drops of Stoli and vowing to stop buying bottles indefinitely.

I'm glad my mother doesn't drink Stoli.  I don't want to tell her she's going to have to give up her nightly vodka and tonic.  But before I refill her vodka stash, I will make sure that whatever brand I buy was not made in Russia.

Fortunately, though there is still antipathy among the population in general toward the gay community in Ukraine, rules are loosening up and clubs are allowed to exist and pride marches have taken place peacefully. There is even an openly gay man serving as Minister of Internal Affairs in the country, though members of parliament still consider gays as "sexual perverts."

But I won't worry (too much) about our upcoming trip.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

When an Internet Friend Dies

JimLawrence2.jpg (49046 bytes)I have, not surprisingly, been thinking about the death of Jim Lawrence yesterday and expanding it to thinking about the pros and cons of internet friendships in general.

My mother will never understand, nor will anyone who is not an active part of the internet community, that it is possible to make close friends on the internet, people you may or may not ever meet face to face.

Internet communication has erased distance and it is possible for someone like me, in California, to make a close friendship with someone like Peggy, living more than 9,000 miles away and to have that friendship be as real to me as my friendship with Char, for example. (Even before we met face to face)

I don't usually do internet live chat, but I can see where friendship between those who do can be even deeper.  There was a time when I chatted with people and made another one of my best friends that way.  Over a long week when Ron was sitting in Los Angeles with nothing to do but house sit for a mutual friend, he and I started to get acquainted and ended up pouring our hearts out to each other.  Twenty years later, that relationship, which has had some pretty wild ups and downs, is still strong, though he lives in New Jersey and we haven't seen each other for years. (He's another internet friend that morphed into a face-to-face friend.)

It is difficult to explain to my mother the concept of different internet groups.  There is the CompuServe group of women who became friends there and ultimately began to meet in various spots around the world, and who remain close friends, even though we are scattered across this country and in England and Scotland as well. In the past year and a half, that group has seen the death of three of us, and another sudden death two years ago.

I began to get involved with a group of Over-50 women on SwapBot and am starting to know some of the people there.  That group experienced a loss last week and though I did not know the woman, who had become increasingly inactive because of her cancer before I became involved, I read messages from others expressing their grief at her death and know that this, for them, was a real personal loss as well.

There are wonderful things about internet relationships because they are not defined geographically.  You can't borrow a cup of sugar or go out for coffee with your internet friend, but you can get to know each other very well, and, by extension, you also get to know their families, their pets, their friends.
And that is one of the things which make the death of an internet friend so difficult for those of us left behind. There is always the sadness of not being able to grieve together with other friends, though I have "attended" some internet memorials which have been quite meaningful and helpful.  

The Facebook community is inadvertently redefining "wake" and "funeral" for internet friends. I've seen it happen before, but hadn't really put a name to it. When someone who was our internet friend dies, we all head to his or her facebook page to leave a message for or about the deceased...and then we check back later to see who else has said something, and maybe respond to that person. It's like a real wake, but without the ham.

The problem with an Internet death is when a friend like that disappears, so does their family. Jim Lawrence's family was very close and his blog posts were filled with family gatherings, the food his son, a professional chef, made, their pizza parties, the races that Jim ran with his daughter Jill, visits to New York to see his grandchildren, the historical places or just good restaurants he went to with wife Nancy.  It made me happy to think that Jim died doing what he loved (racing).   But now all of the Lawrence family has disappeared.  We'll never hear from Jim or about his family again. That leaves a big hole because we became so invested in his life.

Our friend Bill died earlier this year.  He was from the CompuServe group and was its only male participant, and kind of the big brother to all of us.  An accountant, he happily answered tax questions for everyone and he told us about his day to day interactions with his aged mother, for whom he was the primary caregiver following his father's death.  I wonder often how his mother is doing, but we will never know again.  We all met her and cared about her, but there is nobody with whom we can check to find out how she is doing.  

Lengthy deaths are difficult. We "watched" our friend Pat slowly drift away, a victim of lung cancer.  She went pretty quickly from the time she finally told us that she was terminal, and we communicated with her daughter when she was no longer able to write herself, but now we will never know how her daughter is doing. Pat was one of my closest friends in that group because whenever Walt and I traveled to So. California, we usually stayed with her and enjoyed some lovely times together.  She was with us the very first time I saw The Last Session, for example. I still can't quite wrap my head around the fact that she is gone, though it's almost a year now.

These are people with whom we have shared the pain of divorce, the birth of a grandchild, the thrill of the accomplishment of a child, the excitement of a great new job, the death of a parent. They are people to whom we have bared our souls and received incredible support when we are down and cheers when we do something wonderful.

It's something my cousin "D" will never understand.   She was so furious with me for writing publicly about my concerns about my mother when the whole dementia thing began to become apparent.  How dare I expose her to public ridicule, she felt.  Not an internet person, D will never understand the importance of the support and comfort (and helpful advice) I get from readers of Funny the World when I bare my soul to all of you.  She doesn't understand the sense of community that builds over the years.

It is worth noting that, with a journal begun in 1996, before anyone coined the term "blog," Jim is one of the grand old writers of On-Line Diaries.   I believe he and Steve are among the first 10 or 20 diaries ever published on the Internet, which now has millions, if not billions of journaler and bloggers contributing.

I know that there are people all over the world who are grieving Jim's death.  (Even Walt was grieving yesterday, and he knew Jim only from the comments he made on this journal.)  Jim may never even have known they were readers, but they became invested in his life and the life of his family. We are mourning not only the death of "one of the good guys," but also the loss of his family as well.

The internet is a double edged sword, and sometimes it sucks.

My friend Toni Berhnard, author of "How to Be Sick" (a must read for people with chronic illness and their caregivers) is about to release a new book called "How to Wake up."  Ironically, or perhaps serendipitously, I was reading that book for the purpose of reviewing it when it is released when I got word of Jim's death.  Thus, this passage was very meaningful, and comforting to me:
“Everything that arises has the nature to pass away. The material world around us arises and passes away. Our thoughts and emotions arise and pass away. The Buddha’s words also remind us that, having been born, we are subject to illness, old age, death, and separation from our loved ones. This can be a sobering fact—one we may not want to hear—but insisting that life is otherwise only increases our unhappiness and suffering when these events come to pass, as they inevitably will."

Monday, July 29, 2013

I Hated Myself

I yelled at my mother...and hated myself for it.  It was one of those days where I was grateful for her dementia, because I think she soon forgot that I'd yelled at her.
It was over something so simple, and so stupid.  The weather is cooling down.  It's only mid-80s today and so she had the back door open to get fresh air.  For some reason, her apartment has been warmer than I like, though a temperature that I know, from experience, is fine for her. But not only is it warmer than I like, but it also makes me sleepy, so I can't stop yawning.

Since I found the fan that Walt bought me in China, the warmer temps have not been a problem.  At Logos, and at my mother's, I just get out the fan and fan myself a few times.

This was the third day that I've taken out the fan and each time she asks "are you having a hot flash?"
NO, I'M NOT HAVING A HOT FLASH, I yelled at her.  I haven't had a hot flash in 20 years.  I went through menopause around the time of David's death. 

But her question hurtled me back to a very brief moment in time during my adolescence.  I must have been 13 or 14, and just beginning to develop, physically. The event is so very clear all these years later.  We are riding to my grandmother's house. For some reason my mother and I are sitting in the back seat, me next to the window, she in the middle.  For some reason I scratched my chest and my mother asked "Why are you itchy?" and then leaned over and tickled my barely formed breast buds and laughed "think it's because you finally have something there?"  I was mortified. She frequently laughed at things like that.  I never found them funny. Sexual things at that age embarrassed me.

Isn't that silly?  More than 50 years later and I still remember that very brief moment, still cringe remembering it, and yell at my mother for laughing at the notion of my possibly having a hot flash.

In truth, I had gone to Atria in a bad mood already.  I was taking her the book of wedding photos from her 2nd wedding.  I had retrieved it from her house the last time I was there because I thought she might like to have it. But it is a book that is very painful for me.  I made the cake for her wedding, and she asked me to be the photographer.  And that's what I was.  The cake decorator and the photographer.  While she made sure I took pictures of her with every person and groups of Rynders family and Fred's kids and their spouses and his mother and father and all the grandchildren (that one included our kids), and her siblings who attended, nobody ever asked me to be in a picture.  I left the wedding so hurt.  Years later when I mentioned something about it she denied it.  Of course there were pictures of me at the wedding, but no, there were not.

It was just the start of the 18 or so years when it was "Fred's family" and "Mildred's family" and Fred's family came first in everything.   Whenever I tried to tell her how I felt, she brushed away whatever I was saying.   I was wrong, of course. I was always wrong.

The problem is that she has zero concept of the times when I was hurt and even if I try to tell her it's pointless because she can't understand.

And the last thing I want to be is my father.

My father's mother went into a facility in San Rafael but hated it.   She begged for my mother and father to take her to their house to live out the last days of her life.  And so they did.  She and my father never got along and one night they were sitting at dinner and he decided he was going to tell her all the bad things she ever did to him.  My mother begged him to stop, but he got it all out of his system and told her everything about her that made him angry. It was a long list.

My mother said she watched Nannie sink lower and lower in her chair and when he finally finished she just asked my mother to help her to bed.

She went into the hospital the next day and died there within the week.  My mother always said that my father's tirade killed her.  I was not fond of my grandmother, but nobody deserved the treatment she got at the hands of my father.

I have buried so many hurts over the years and hold them all inside and have vowed never to bring them up because I know that she loves me, and that she always thought she was doing the best for me because of that. I also know that it is long past the time when letting her know how I felt would do anything.  She won't understand and it's too late to do anything about it anyway.

But today was just a bad day and I finally left early because I was in such a rotten mood because of the album and the "hot flash" comment.  I also decided I need a day off and plan not to go to Atria tomorrow.
It's so difficult to visit with her because so much of the things important to me right now involve the Internet or my cell phone or something "technical" and she is so violently opposed to discussion of anything like that.   She always wants to know "what exciting are you doing this week?" but if I try to tell her what I'm doing, using the simplest terms possible and avoiding as many "technical sounding" words (like "post" or "upload") she gets angry and says she guesses she should have learned all that stuff, but she had real friends and she guesses she was just stupid. Then we do the "you're not stupid; we just have different interests" conversation, after which she asks what I'm doing with myself this week.

I love her, but it's definitely time to take a day off.

One of the things I tried to explain to her was the weirdness when on-line friends die  As I was writing this entry, I received word that Jim Lawrence of Jim's Journal died today during the swimming portion of a triathlon.  I can't beieve it.  He was one of my oldest blogging friends, except for Steve Schalchlin, who got me into blogging in the beginning. I always hoped to meet Jim on one of our trips to Boston.

Jim and his daughter Jill
were avid runners

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Stealing

This week's questions come from a defunct blog called Tense Teacher.

Massive Alphabet Meme, part one
The Letter A
Are you agnostic?  I guess that's the closest to describing me
What is your age? 70
What annoys you? Inconsiderate people

The Letter B
Do you like bacon?  Is the Pope Catholic?
When is your birthday? February 17
Who is your best friend?  Char, who has been a friend since 1961.

The Letter C
What is your favorite candy?  U-No bar
Who is your crush? Nobody, at present
When was the last time you cried?  Lately I fight tears whenever I go to memory class with my mother

The Letter D
Do you daydream?  Not really
What is your favorite kind of dog?  puppies!  But if you mean breed, collie or King Charles spaniel
What day of the week is it? Saturday

The Letter E
How do you like your eggs?  Scrambled, with cream cheese
Have you ever been in the emergency room?  Several times with the kids, once for me
What’s the easiest thing to ever do? Sit in a chair and watch TV

The Letter F
Have you ever flown in a plane?  Oh lots and lots of times
Do you use fly swatters?  Yes.  Mine is in the shape of Australia.
Have you ever used a foghorn? You mean those big things out in San Francisco bay?   I think not!

The Letter G
Do you chew gum? Not really, but my dentist recommended some gum that is pretty good.
Ever tried gazpacho?  Yes.  I like's not my favorite, but I like it.
Are you a giver or taker?  A little of both

The Letter H
How are you?  Fine, thank you.  How are you?
What’s your height? It used to be 5'7-1/2", but now it's more like 5'6"
What color is your hair? Salt and pepper

The Letter I
What is your favorite ice-cream? Vanilla with something in it (pecans, fudge, peanut butter, etc.)
Have you ever ice-skated? Yes.  I took lessons when I was a Girl Scout
Do you play an instrument?  I'm fairly decent on the kazoo.

The Letter J
What is your favorite jelly bean?  Jelly Belly lime
Do you wear jewelry? A necklace from the grandkids and jade earrings I bought in China.
Have you heard a really hilarious joke? None that I can think of.

The Letter K
Whom do you want to kill?  Personally, nobody.  But there are several Washington politicians whose funeral I would enjoy attending.
Do you want kids?  Good lord, not again!  Wasn't 5 enough?
Where did you go to kindergarten?  Catholic school in San Francisco

The Letter L
Are you laid-back?  Very
Do you lie? Only when necessary
Do you love anyone?  Lots of people

The Letter M
What is your favorite movieA Star Is Born, if course
Do you still watch Disney movies? Yes.  I'm still a big kid
Do you like mangoes?  I don't hate them, but I don't buy them for myself.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ruling the Roost

Polly is barking at me.  Not loudly.  Not the bark-bark-bark-feed-me-now bark that I get before her breakfast and before her dinner, but just an annoying yip....yip....yip.

It's her way of telling me that it's 10 p.m. and she wants me to go to the living room to go to sleep now.
Polly and I have different internal clocks, and even though we have been having these conversations for more than a year now we still have not come to an agreement about a lot of things.

The dogs are very good about letting me sleep in the morning.   It's no great inconvenience for them, since I usually wake up around 6:30 or 7.   If it's earlier rather than later, I move to the recliner.  This used to be a difficult time because I wasn't really ready to start the day, but I would like to go to the computer, but if I go to the computer, that signals the dogs that it's MORNING!

Now that I have an iPad, I climb into the recliner, open the back door so they can go out.  I quietly check e-mail and Facebook on my iPad.  I am aware that while I am otherwise motionless, both Polly and Lizzie check on me from time to time.  If I stay very still, they both find somewhere to sleep.

The second I touch the handle of the recliner to lower the footrest Polly lets out a trumpeting bark.  This bark brings the other dogs racing from wherever they are, living room or back yard.  I haven't figured out if the bark is "dog" for "She's UP" or "It's time for breakfast!" or both.  When I bend over to pick up Sheila's bowl, Polly sets up a continuous bark, a circle dance all the while backing in front of me into the kitchen.  As I turn to put Sheila's  bowl on the counter and pick up the other two both Polly and Lizzie are leaping at my legs, stopping only when I start to put food into the bowls, and add cottage cheese and stir them up.  

Things quiet down while the dogs eat and are generally pretty quiet most of the day.  Occasionally Polly and Lizzie will start barking at the dog in the yard behind us.  Then I go to the back door, call them and they both whirl around and come racing in at top speed (one of these days I'm going to be successful at catching that on video because it's so cute).  I give them each a small treat for being such good dogs and coming when called (ignoring what bad dogs they are for barking!)

All three dogs get their required 13 hour nap, broken up a bit by trips to the back yard, but always back inside.  For Lizzie and Polly sleep is the order of the day, for Sheila it is "protecting the house," from either the front couch or her bed in the back yard.

Polly's orders start again around 5 p.m.  I've been fairly rigid about feeding everyone when Jeopardy is over--and they know it because as soon as the "think" music begins, Polly is standing in front of my chair with that quiet "yip ... yip" reminding me that it's time.  But any time I get up out of any chair between 5 and 7, both Lizzie and Polly start dancing around me, and Polly yapping, but I ignore them.  I have to be the boss sometime, you know.

At 7, they get fed, again with yipping and jumping, and then things calm down until around 10.  The dogs really want me to sleep at 10 and I am not ready to go to sleep until midnight (or later).  Polly will stand here whining and whining and whining.  I decide to let her outside, but she runs in the direction of the living room instead, but when she realizes  I'm not going to follow her, she runs outside, and for a long time just wanders around, but eventually stands on the patio and yips quietly...hoping I'll get up and go to sleep.

The longer I'm with these guys the more I begin to understand "dog" and the better we hone our interactions and get the routine around here down to a firmer schedule.

I had another good visit with my mother today, who managed to get herself to the hairdressers without me.  I suggested to the hairdresser that she call her to remind her which, apparently she did (my mother remembers that she received a call).

She talked at length about how satisfied she is at Atria.  She said she was afraid she might be bored, but if she feels bored she either walks down and works the puzzle in the meeting area or she goes out and sits in the lobby and sooner or later there will be someone she can talk to.

We talked about how Ed had brought papers for her to sign so he can go ahead with the sale of her house and she says, again, that she can't remember what the place looked like.

Dear God keep her healthy for awhile.  If she doesn't fall or develop some sort of infection, she could have several happy years at Atria, now that she feels like it is "home" And it only took two months.

I'm reading another book on Alzheimers and other dementias and it is loaded with valuable information, which I hope to be following up on, specifically first getting her to a doctor to get her level of impairment measured as a baseline.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Hey, Dude

It was a slow day at Logos, but there was a young woman who came in toward the end of the day who positively made my day.  To that point the most exciting thing that had happened was reading things like this description of "drawing and quartering"...and how it's done.

drawquarter.jpg (76998 bytes)

(the next line continues "drawing and quartering.")   So when you hear someone was drawn and quartered, now you know what they really mean! This was in a book about Scottish Highlanders and I had read something about this in the current Diana Gabaldon book I'm reading.

Anyway, earlier in the day, a woman walked in and immediately turned left and disappeared behind the first bookcase.  On her heels was a young man who was looking for something "dark."  Someone had recommended something for him last week and he read it but it wasn't exactly what he was looking for.  He asked if I read anything "dark" that I could recommend.

At that moment I was reading a chick-lit book by Jennifer Weiner (which I decided I didn't like) and tried to hide the title so he wouldn't see it. I didn't want him to think I read books like that.

He said he was looking for something dark with a kind of a moral to it.  He told me had read all of Steinbeck and Vonnegut and some Bradbury.  I had nothing to offer him, but directed him to the sci fi section to see if he could find a Bradbury he had not read.  Fortunately, he did and left happy.

I wondered, briefly, what had happened to the lady who came in ahead of him, but figured she had slipped out while we were chatting.  I swear it was two hours later, when she turned up in the book shelves next to my desk.  She had a stack of about 8 books in her hand and was browsing through the foreign language books.   She had been there the whole time.  She looked through some cookbooks, put her stack of chosen books on the floor, and walked to the table we have in front of the door, where she settled in, adjusted her shoes, called somone on the phone and then proceeded to read one of the books she had chosen, as if she were in her own living room.

She finally came to pay for the books.  She had an accent which, at first, sounded like it might be Portuguese, based on the cadence, but then there was a bit of a gutteral sound to it that didn't sound like a Romance language, so I didn't ask her where she was from.  

I asked her if she had been in the store before and it turns out she was visiting from Texas and she and her husband were staying with friends in Sacramento, but her husband was working at the university today so she was wandering around downtown "until I found this library."  Library, hmm?  I guess that explains why she made herself so much at home!

But then the young lady came in.  She actually hadn't come in to browse, but to bring something for the store.  She glanced at a shelf and saw a copy of "Gone with the Wind" on display.  She pulled it off and asked if I'd read it.  I said I had.  "OK, like, do they get back together or what?   I mean, she's already figured out she's a bitch and she wants the dude back, but she says she's going to go somewhere--like her old house maybe--and I just want to know if they get back together again."  I told her that the ending was ambiguous and I guessed that Margaret Mitchell wanted you to decide for yourself.  She told me she didn't like books that ended like that.

She sounded like the young woman who came in last week, looking for her first book.  She had never owned a book before but she thought it would be nice to have "East of Eden" all for herself.

But the young woman today then went on to give me examples of other books she's read where she liked the book, but not the ending.  She told me she had read "The Trial" by Kafka and she kinda of liked that, but not really and then she tried "the one about the giant bug."  "Metamorphosis?" I asked (proud of myself for knowing that!  I haven't read Kafka!).   "Yeah.  Man, I couldn't read that book.  It was too creepy!"

She then talked about "Anna Karenina" and how she started reading that and decided 900 pages was too long so she decided to see the movie instead, but she had read part of the book and the movie made the dude seem less cruel than he was in the book and she liked the story in the movie (except why did it have to end sadly), but like the way it was shot was very distracting.

Somewhere along the line she told me she had ADD and the rapid delivery of her speech kind of went along with it, but I found her amazing.  From her first few sentences I pegged her as a not very well read type and it turns out she has read extensively, she just uses words like "like" and "dude" when discussing the classics.
Definitely the most fun part of my day!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Baby

Believe it or not this is NOT about George Alexander Louis Windsor, Prince of Cambridge.  Believe it or not, I have had little interest in the royal offspring, other than that he was a baby about to be born and I like babies.  I was disappointed that there was no blue smoke rising from Buckingham Palace, but other than that, I'm just glad Katherine had a safe delivery, even if she wasn't quick enough to satisfy the waiting papparazi.

No.  The "baby" in this entry is myself.

I was born in February, so I missed the cut-off date for entrance into St. Brigid's kindergarten.  But my best friend, Stephen, who lived around the corner and was my daily playmate made the cut-off and entered kindergarten.  I was apparently so disconsolate at losing Stephen that my mother convinced the nuns to let me enter Kindergarten with Stephen, on the condition that I would have to repeat Kindergarten when I got to be the right age.

Well, I apparently was so good at coloring and playing with blocks that they let me go into the first grade with the rest of my classmates and there was set the pattern for my whole life.

No matter what group I was, when I was with my peers, I was the youngest in the group.  When you are in grammar school, you don't want to be the youngest in the group.  When my girlfriends were starting to develop physically, I was put in a circle and everybody had to reach down my blouse to feel my flat chest and make fun of me because I had no breast buds.

I don't remember that being the youngest in class was a problem for me when I was in high school, but when I got to UC Berkeley, and especially the Newman Club, where I made all of my college friendships, my friends started turning 21 and I couldn't go drink with them.  My friend Jeri (daughter Jeri's godmother) and I found someone with a temporary driver's license and when that person turned 21, Jeri and I shared that driver's license (liquor purveyors gave much less scrutiny to those things in those days).  So one night Jeri could drink and the next night I could.  When Jeri turned 21 three months before I did, she ceremoniously turned the temporary license over to me.

Being "the baby" had less importance once I turned 21 and could legally drink on my own.  But because of entering kindergarten early, I still found myself the youngest in almost every group I joined...and the older you get, the more fun it is to be "the baby," as those around you bemoan reaching traumatic ages while you are still a year from those days.

I think that's one of the reasons why I never had a traumatic birthday.  By the time I reached 30 or 40 or 50, all of my friends had reached that age so long ago and had survived, it had no real impact on me.

But a funny thing started to happen somewhere around my mid 50s and to now.  I began to realize that I was no longer the baby in any group that I joined.   Now it seemed that whether it was a job or an organization, suddenly I was not the youngest, but the oldest in whatever group I was a member.

Suddenly all doctors were Doogie Howser, all talking heads were young kids, the age of my own children.  Suddenly I was settling into being a member of the "older generation."  I still remember when Walt and I went to review that famous theatrical event, "The Puppetry of the Penis." Walt stood up before the show, looked around the 1,000+ filled theater and said "Well, I guess somebody has to be the oldest here, and it looks like it's us."

I had settled comfortably into being the old guy in the room until this morning, at the Brain Gymnasium, when Michael, the facilitator, asked me how old I was.  I told him I was 70 and then added --- "the baby."  He laughed and said that yes I was the baby in the group, younger even than he is, since he is 73. 

So it may be "the home" (as I jokingly call it),  but I have finally come back to where I was at age 4 in kindergarten.  I am once again "the baby" in a group I belong to!

I met Michael in the lobby on the way to my mother's this morning and talked to him about our upcoming vacatin and what could be done about my mother and the Brain Gymnasium.  He says she needs me to bring her, so to just let her have a vacation herself and we'd start over again when I get home. He told me he recommends that I contact the Alzheimer's Association and get some reading material for caregivers, which I intend to do.

The Brain Gymnasium today was fascinating.  I love how my mother is finally fitting in.  She always drags her feet when we go, but when she gets there she seems to feel comfortable.  And today, amazingly she was the first of the group to get the answer to the date question that always stumps her.  Also, when looking at our "home play" (not home work, Michael stresses), there were a series of numbers and you had to find the next number in the series. It was like an SAT test and I had struggled with a couple of the patterns, especially the last one.   But as Michael went through the answers and how he had come up with those answers, my mother instantly saw the solution to the problem that had nearly stumped me.  Her ability to work with numbers kicked in, even if briefly.

However, when we got to the medicare/social security game that we play each week, she was keeping up and not making any more mistakes than anybody else and suddenly she got to a number and could not come up with it.  It was as if the slate of her brain had suddenly been wiped clean and she couldn't get anything, nor could she remember the simple rules.  She struggled and was so upset that I think Michael could see that and chose to end the game at that point.

Michael took time to ask us to write down the name of everyone in the group, starting with him.  There are six of us.  Some have been coming for five years and nobody got all the names except for me.  Loretta, with whom my mother eats meals frequently could not remember my mother's name, nor could my mother remember hers.   But I think it was good for her to see that everybody is having problems remembering names.  At least one person couldn't even remember Michael's name.

The next game was the one with cards and this is always her strong suit, so she was following that just fine, so it was a good place to end the session for the day.

I am constantly both disheartened and fascinated by watching her brain at work.  But the good thing is that in only six weeks, I see an improvement -- not that she is remembering things better (good Lord, no!), but when she gets into the Brain Gymnasium, she does work, even when she is embarrassed by not knowing the answer, because she see the other folks in the group forgetting just as much as she does.

Except for me, of course.  'Cause I'm the baby.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It's Not Sunday, But...

l'empress, who comments frequently on these entries, posted this meme on her site the other day and I kinda liked it, so I thought I would copy it.

Who has done something today to show they care about you?
Walt does that every day, cleaning up dog poop, carrying water in for me, and many other things.

Do you have a lot to learn?
Yeah, but I don't retain as much as I used to.

.If you could learn how to do three things, just by wishing and not by working, what would they be?
Become a PhotoShop guru, mastering a digital SLR camera, speak fluent Portuguese so I could go re-visit all of those Brasilian students who stayed with us during the 1980s.

Which do you remember the longest: what other people say, what other people do or how other people make you feel?
I usually remember all three, but probably how they make me feel lasts the longest.

What are the key ingredients to having a good relationship?
Common interests, and a sense of humor.

What 3 things do you want to do before you die?
I have pretty much done everything I wanted to do in my life, but I would like to help my mother ease out of this life on her own timetable, and as comfortable as she can be.  I'd still like to go up the inland passage to Alaska, but when Jeri said she and Phil would come with me, Walt said he would too, so we plan that trip for our 50th anniversary in 2 years.  Be still my heart.

What three things would you want to die to avoid doing?
I wouldn't go as far as to DIE to avoid doing things, but perhaps eating anything featured on a program about someone going around the world to eat weird things, or riding a scary roller coaster ("scary" for me is about any roller coaster).

Is there a cause you believe in more than any other cause?
The plight of children worldwide, equal rights for everyone, and proper care for elephants.

What does each decade make you think of:

40s and 50s: grammar & high school, Girl Scouts, first theater, SVHS friends,  
60s: Berkeley, flunking out, getting my (still) favorite job, marriage, babies, first house
70s: Barefoot & Pregnant, Tiny Tots, Pinata People, moving to Davis, Lamplighters history
80s: Going back to work, Lamplighters, Gilbert, Experiment in Int'l Living, theater, Lawsuit
90s: Lawsuit, Death of David and Paul
00s: Becoming a critic, Peggy, SPCA, Cousins Day, Compassion, Brianna, travel
10s: Losing Kathy, Logos Books, Lacie, my mother

Which decade do you feel the most special connection to and why?
Each decade has its own special component.  The 70s because of all the kids being young and at home and all the activities I was able to do with them, the 80s for all the Lampligher stuff and the birth of Lawsuit, the 90s was not a happy decade after 1996.   I don't expect to find the joy of the 70s and 80s and early 90s again, but I am nonetheless content.

What is your favorite oldie/classic rock song?
That's an impossible question...there are too many

What country do you live in and who is the leader of that country?
I live in the United States.  Barrack Obama is the elected leader, but the country is being lead by an obstructionist Republican congress.

What's your favorite TV channel to watch in the middle of the night?
Hallmark: Frasier, Golden Girls, Cheers

What Disney heroine are you the most like and why?
I am unlike any Disney Heroine, unless maybe Dumbo's Mom.

Have you ever been a girl scout/boy scout?
Yes.  I loved being a Girl Scout.

If you were traveling to another continent would you rather fly or take a boat?
Definitely fly.

Why is the sky blue during the day and black at night?
Because God turns off the light at night, of course.

What does your name mean?
Beaver Lake

Would you rather explore the deeps of the ocean or outer space?
Neither, thank you.

Word association: What is the first word that comes to mind when you see the word:

Air: pressure
Meat: loaf
Different: Strokes
Pink: McDonald's "goo" for chicken mc nuggets
Deserve: Earn
White: Black
Elvis: Presley
Magic: Johnson
Clash: Accident
Heart: Attack
Pulp: Fiction

If you could meet any person in the world who is dead who would you want it to be?
(Technically speaking, I think someone "dead" is not in the world...but let it pass.) You'd think I'd answer with someone that I have loved and lost, but since I'd just have to say goodbye again, that's not whom I would choose.  But it would be nice to get one of those special hugs from my mother's mother again.

What if you could meet anyone who is alive?
Fred or Shallon, two of my sponsored children.

Is there a movie that you love so much you could watch it everyday?
There are a lot of movies I don't mind watching over and over again.  I have seen A Star Is Born more than 100 times in my life, I think

You are going to be stuck alone in an elevator for a week. What do you bring to do?
My Kindle with a power source, and a port-o-potty.

Have you ever saved someone's life or had your life saved?
A lifeguard pulled me out of a lake one time when I was very young.  I don't think I've saved anybody's life.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Notes from the Little Red Hen

Remember the Lamplighters history?  I can't remember exactly how much I've written about it here, but let's pretend I have written very little (because even if I've written the whole story, nobody is going to remember it this far away from when it was written) and let's go back to the beginning and discuss where we are now.
  • First I get an e-mail from someone who wants to do an updated history for the 60th anniversary and would I be willing to give the group some advice.
  • So I write to my co-author Alison and tell her about my e-mail and admit that I am crazy enough to get involved again.  She tells me that she's been thinking that she is going to be having time on her hands when she retires and actually, she's crazy enough to come with me to the first group meeting and think about getting involved too.
  • We go to the "group" meeting, and find out the "group" is us and the woman who wants to make sure there is a book for the 60th anniversary, the the woman who is in charge of the company.  As we talk and realize how completely ill-prepared they are for this project, we begin to feel a responsibility to see that the book gets done well and when we leave we are, to our surprise, in charge.   We did have some conditions, this time, though...we laid out what we will do and what we won't do and are promised that they will find lots of people to take over the jobs we don't want to do, they are so grateful that we are willing to interview, transcribe, and write the book.
  • A long time passes because I am waiting for Alison to retire so we can start interviews, because we decide it would be better to do them together and we have, actually, three years before the book is scheduled to be released and it seems like forever...more than enough time.
  • We finally start the interviews, but we have time constraints and scheduling times when we are both available to come to an interview gets difficult.   More time passes with almost nothing getting done, though we do a few interviews.
  • Life intervenes for Alison and several totally unexpected family problems surface which make it impossible for her to work for a few months, but she expects things to iron out eventually.
  • They don't.
  • A guy who has been in the chorus forEVer has taken on the task of doing the huge roster in the back of the book...and he is actually doing what he said he would do.  This is a good thing.
  • At a show, after a long period of inactivity, Alison get together and talk honestly about what problems we are each having, and what promises have not been fulfilled on the Lamplighters part and we sadly admit that though we have done very little, the combination of frustration and life problems have made us reach the decision that we really don't want to do this project after all.  I write the "thanks, but no thanks" letter and we are out of the history business.
  • The woman who is the head of the company, and who has been kind of overseeing this project, but not really very well because of her own life complications, resigns from the Lamplighters.
  • In February of this year, someone new took on the task of coordinating the project.  She's a go-getter and is not going to take NO for an answer when it comes to getting this book done. She asked if we could meet so I could give her advice (I've learned that this is never a good idea!) and by the end of the lunch she treated me to, my guilt had resurfaced and I agreed to come back on board again, since she seemed so much more efficient than the previous coordinator.  I told her that one of the things bogging me down was that I had done no transcription, partly due to my numb fingers making it difficult to do the heavy duty typing that transcription would require, and it would help me tremendously if they could get people to help with transcription (something I had asked for and been promised two years before).  She agrees and is sure she can find people willing to help out.
  • At the same time, Alison says things are looking up and she thinks she might also be able to help in a month or two, so I put things on hold until we can get back to interviewing again.  I figure I'll work on transcription until helpers are found. 
  • I don't.
  • Finally Alison admits once and for all that looking ahead with all the new situations popping up, she just can't be involved at all.
  • This leaves me the only interviewer and writer...and I still haven't heard about who wants to help transcribe.
  • The guy doing the data base reaches a halting point because whoever designed the software didn't think we would reach the space limit.  We have and there is still lots to be done.  (This problem may have been solved by now, I hope.  The best part of all of this is that the roster IS getting done)
  • I get a call from the coordinator who, bless her, really wants this to work, but doesn't want to work on it herself because of her own personal situation.   But now she decides maybe she can hire someone to hep with transcription.   (I have to admit that since I am doing all this as a volunteer, including paying for gas every time I drive to the Bay Area to do an interview, that I find this somewhat insulting, but I thank her and tell her to go for it. I know she didn't think the "payment" part through.)
  • The latest chapter is that when I saw the coordinator recently, several weeks after she was going to hire someone to help, she asked me how she should go about finding someone to do transcription.  Oh for Pete's sake.  Do I have to do everything?  I feel like the little red hen who keeps asking people to help her bake bread, but everyone is too busy to help her, but is ready to enjoy the bread when it is baked.
  • I think about this transcription business for a long time and finally realize that the only way this is going to get done is for me to do it myself.   So now I am the sole interviewer, transcriptionist and writer.  I think we have someone who will design the book and choose photos but obviously if the book is to be done at all, it is up to me and if I quit, it will never get done.
The Lamplighters 60th anniversary has now come and gone and I'm now looking toward the 65th or 70th anniversary.  It is clear that this book (if it ever gets written) won't be anything like the original two because it will lack the co-authorship of Alison, who was really the brains of the previous two books.  I will admit to being the heart of at least the second book.  For one thing, when we wrote the last book, everyone involved was in their 30s and 40s.  Now we are in our 50s and 60s (and Alison and me 70).  I should take my mother's attitude and laugh it all off with "I'm too old.  I can't be expected to do that...")

But we I should be able to produce something that people won't hate, which will be quite a coup for someone who was terrified to write anything in the first book!

Anybody who wants to waste half an hour to hear me and my colleague Jeff interviewed about theater in the Davis area, the recording will stream here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Brunch...and Sunday Stealing

What do people in a group called "Picture A Day" talk about when they get together?  Cameras, and pictures, and camera phones, and software.  Susan and I wre remembering back to the days of GeoCities when, if you wanted a web site, you "traveled" along a graphic road and chose the "house" where you wanted to settle (yes there were graphics of houses in various styles, and neighborhoods which supposedly matched your interests).  That's how Funny the World Started.  Then GeoCities was bought out by Yahoo and then Yahoo hosted my domain.  Seems like forever since I traveled a GeoCities road!

The six of us who were able to make it to Monticello restaurant in Davis had a great time discussing those and other topics, which incuded Jennifer's progressing pregnancy, SPCA foster dogs, and politics!

Then it was time to leave. Jennifer and Susan both had flights back home today.  It was a short, but very fun weekend.

Today I had the "afternoon off."  My cousin, along with her sister and niece, was going to be going to see my mother, give her a pedicure and take her out to lunch, so I figured I'd just take the day off from Covell...two days in a row!

And, it being Sunday, and all, of course I had to do a Sunday Stealing.

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Have you ever clicked on an ad on the side of your screen by accident?:
Oh sure.  Lots of times.  Sometimes it's actually a good thing, but usually not

When was the last time you were disappointed?:
Were were all disappointed today when Bam had a pony with colic and was not able to join us at the brunch.

Do you like the smell of rain?:
Absolutely LOVE it.  Love the smell of the wet air, the wet ground, even the wet clothing. 

What was the last thing you took a picture of?:
I tried to take a picture of some poppies at the beach.  Very disappointing  Must read the instruction book about close up photograhy with my new camera. 

When you go to McDonald's, what drink do you usually get?:
I rarely get a drink at McDonald's (though get food often), unless I'm trying to stay awake, when I have discovered that their iced mocha is the best picker-upper ever.

What were you doing today at 2:15 in the afternoon?:
Well, it's not 2:15 yet, but yesterday at 2:15, we were eating fish and chips at a cafe overlooking the ocean. 

What's the nickname of your home state?:
The Golden State, of course.

What's the worst type of weather in your opinion?:
Hot is bad.  Hot and humid is worse. 

Do you have a Kindle, Nook, iPad or none?:
Kindle.  Love it.

Would you rather read or write?:
Tough call.  I love doing both.  Reading probably has the slight edge, since that's a passive activity, but writing can be a very fulfilling thing. 

When was the last time someone took a picture of you?:
The waitress at the restaurant where we were having brunch took a picture of the group of us.

Do you own a pair of slippers?:
Not any more.  I used to have some wonderful rabbit-lined slippers that I loved (so did the teething puppies).  Now I wear fluffy sox.

Name something negative that you hate about yourself:
My weight...and the fact that I really don't want to do anything about it.  I just want it to all go away on its own.

Is your house currently hot, cold or just right?:
Just right...and if it's a bit too warm, there are fans.

Is there a Dead End road near where you live?:

Do you roll your eyes often?:
No.  At least not that I am aware.

Growing up, did you see your cousins often?:
I have 32 cousins, but only saw a handful of them, some occasionally, some regularly.   Peach and I spent big chunks of summers together, and I loved that.

Where was your first job at?:
Medical Arts Laboratory near my grammar school.  I washed bloody test tubes, poop petri dishes, and held the arms of terrified patients who were having blood drawn
When's your birthday?:
February 17

Is life a party to you?:
Along with Mame Dennis Burnside, I think "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!"

Who are you tired of seeing in the news a lot?:
The Zimmerman trial, though I think the discussions following the verdict have become more interesting than the trial itself.

When was the last time you flew a kite?:
I don't know that I ever have.

How long have you had a blog?:
I have made a blog entry on this blog almost daily since March of 2000. This is entry #4866.

Have you ever had to call and complain about a product you bought?:
Yes. I try to be polite but sometimes....

Name something positive you love about yourself:
I love that I have been faithful to this journal for 13+ years.  I also love that when I look back over it, I can see an improvement in my writing (sometimes).

Sunday, July 21, 2013

In Search of Fog

When the temps creep toward 100 in the valley, the wise people head for the coast and hope for fog.  Fortunately for us, Susan had come to town, hoping to escape the heat of Texas, and she was as eager as we were to head for fog
Susan is a member of our Photo a Day group on Facebook (a group with which I have been quite lax of late and promise to do better in the future!).  She came to town about this time last year and we had a great time riding a dinner train and taking pictures in Davis.   It was so much fun we decided to repeat the adventure.

She flew in to Sacramento, but is actually staying with Dawn, another member of the group, in Modesto, south of Sacramento.  The two of them, myself, and Anne, who lives in Davis, were the only members of the group who were free to go exploring today, so we set off for Pt. Reyes Station, about an hour and a half from Davis.   Anne and I drove in my car, while Susan and Dawn drove in Susan's rented car.   We had cell phones to find each other once all four of us had arrived.

Pt. Reyes Station is a familiar place to me.  My grandparents lived in nearby Inverness and many of my cousins spent a lot of their growing up years there, living in houses built on our grandparents' acre of land.  There is where Peach and I forged a friendship in a big tree, eating apples and baring our souls to one another.  It is where, in her later years, my cousin Shirley lived, so that when she died several years ago, they closed down the Pt. Reyes Farmers Market so that we could have a memorial service inside, complete with the services of a medicine woman, as Shirley felt very close to the Native American culture.

Anne and I arrived first, hoping to go through the small book store in town, but it was closed until 10 a.m., so we went to the little bakery next door.   It appeared to be popular.

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We each bought a sweet and I got coffee, while Anne had juice and we sat outside next to a very chatty guy, who looked like an aging hippie type, who said he was 77 and had lived in Inverness in the 70s and 80s, then had moved to Canada, a country he loves, but can't become a Canadian citizen because of his checkered past. 

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Eventually the book store opened and we enjoyed looking at all the books.  If it hadn't been a new boook store, I would have felt I was on a busman's holiday!

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Susan and Dawn arrived not very long after the book store opened and we started walking around the tiny town of Point Reyes Station.  We started at a foot court where they sold artisan cheeses and we checked out some special cream cheese that was aging in the cheese making area.

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There's not much to see in Pt. Reyes Station, so we decided to head out to the ocean.  It was a bit too soon after the sweets Anne and I had eaten, so we figured we would see about eating at the cafe on the beach.  But first we wanted to see the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse.

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The parking lot is half a mile to the ranger's station, which is another distance to the light house overlook, but fortunately Anne has a handicap placard, so we were able to drive quite a ways in and save ourselves the walk.

It was very, very foggy.  I loved it, though Susan, not dressed for cold, was silently cursing her lack of a jacket.

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When we stopped to investigate some orange lichen on the rock face, this guy happened along.

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Susan asked him if he would take our picture and he did (see Photo of the Day).  He then gave us his card and invited us to look at his pictures. Susan commented that everywhere she travels, she meets interesting people.

 We continued on toward the lighthouse, having very little hope of actually seeing it, given the weather conditions.  When we got to the overlook, this was our view.

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If you really wanted to see the lighthouse, you could walk down to it, but, having experienced stairs in Italy, I wasn't interested, nor was anybody else.

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Instead, we headed back to the car and decided to go to Drake's Beach, where there were crowds, but not too bad.

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We went to the Drakes Beach cafe, where we had lunch.  Anne and I had some of the best fish and chips I have tasted in a long time.

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Thom Buras, the photographer who had taken our photo was there finishing his lunch.  We chatted with him and Anne asked about the address on his card, which is near where one of her sons lives.  He said that actually the town got "too big" for him, so now he lives in a "town of one" -- he drives a small mobile home around and lives in that.  He had told us he was a "photo journalist" so I gave him my card, with the web address of this web site, though now that I've checked his out, I see that we do entirely different things and I'm sure he will have no interest in this journal.

Finally we drove back to Pt. Reyes Station, where we dropped Susan and Dawn at their car and we all returned to our respective homes.  Our new car has a thermometer on the dashboard so I was able to keep track of the temps.  It was in the high 60s when we were out at Drake's Bay and 70 when we left Pt. Reyes Station.  As we drove north, Anne and I watched the temperatures creep up one degree every 5-10 miles or so.  I finally stopped watching.  Too depressing.  But by the time I dropped Anne off at her house, it was 97.  

All the dogs (and Walt) were happy to see me home again, though I was ready to head out into the fog again right away.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Armchair Traveler

When we were preparing to go on our first Viking cruise, to Russia, I joined a Viking discussion group on Facebook and found Suellyn, who was also going on the same cruise.  We didn't actually "bond" with her on the trip--she was part of the popular crowd, the one with the big table, always laughing, always together.   But we did interact with her occasionally and since she and I and Char are all on Facebook, we have continued to interact now and then, sharing our experiences on other Viking cruises.

She's not with Viking this year.  She is taking my dream trip, a safari to Africa and Char and I are following her adventures through the reports that she posts each day on Facebook.  While I am eating these reports up, I am also realizing, sadly, that what Peggy told me when she came back from her trip to Africa a few years back was true--she didn't think my back would be able to deal with the rigors of the drives out to see the wildlife.

Suellyn writes...
Then the game drive. A worse road than yesterday, the worst yet. EVERYTHING is covered with dust, including me (I showered a little bit ago), my backpack, my nose and ears. It is everywhere! ...
...Let me tell you folks, this trip is rugged. Half the time I thought my teeth were coming out, and the rest of the time every bone in my body was being jostled. Unfortunately, I had the same driver as yesterday, Frank,and I think he learned to drive in Indianapolis!
But she is getting beautiful photos from the balcony of her hotel room.

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(Imagine seeing something like that while standing in your shower washing your hair!)  As I read Suellyn's reports, and the similar reports of others, I realize that the time for me to be able to actually enjoy my dream trip has passed.  Now what I really want to do is sit on the balcony of Suellyn's hotel and watch the wild life come to me.

Over the past year, reading reports of the adventures of our friends Rick and Judith, who, it seems, have traveled everywhere, and reading books at Logos like "A Year in Province" and similar first person accounts of far away places and exciting adventures that both intrigue and exhaust me just thinking about it, I realize that my taste for adventure has diminished over the years.   I look at them, or at pictures of Walt's mother atop Machu Picchu and realize I couldn't make it to the bottom much less the top, even if I wanted to.

Today I picked up a book at Logos called "Wild Writing Women Stories of World Travel."  In the book I read about the road to Mandalay, a bus accident in Laos, rafting in Switzerland, haunted places in Scotland, adventures in India, etc. and though I love the writing, in my heart of hearts, I no longer see myself doing these fun things.  I've become an old poop.

I remember when our friend David went to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.  He said it was a magical experience, one I desperately wanted too, until I realized it involved hiking long distances to the mountains and then hiking long distances up the mountain and hoping to find a group.  Much as I would have loved that experience (if I could take the escalator up to the gorilla habitat), I enjoyed more watching the YouTube video of a band of gorillas who had a bonding experience with a man staying at a Rwanda hotel. (Do watch that video if you haven't seen it's amazing)

I have enjoyed our last three cruises because there was so much "sitting on the boat" time, watching thevarious countries go by, and I know that the Ukraine trip will be fun -- I am especially looking forward to seeing the Cossack Horsemanship Show (since I missed the horse show in Budapest last time). But I hunger for fewer and fewer trips to strange venues. 

I am always tempted when Compassion is hosting a trip to see our sponsored children, but having followed several of these trips, I don't think I have the stamina for it and, remembering my experience in China, so eager to see the school children and finding them so afraid of big fat me, that I don't even let myself dream about traveling to Kenya or Uganda or the Philippines or any of the other countries where I have children for fear it will ruin the fragile friendships we have developed.

I will probably never see Venice, or the inland passage to Alaska, or take the train across the Canadian rockies, which I told Walt I wanted to do sometime when we were there on our honeymoon, or stay on our own in Florience to see what I missed when I was there the last time. But somehow that's OK now.

I'm sure I have missed out on a lot in my time by being out of shape and reluctant to take risks (zip lining?  No thank you!), but I do enjoy these adventures vicariously, when someone else takes them.

The next best thing to being there...without the heat, the dust, the bumpy roads, and the strange food.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Absent Friends

"To absent friends," we ended the dinner with a toast with our left over glasses of water.  We always begin our Gilbert dinners with the toast "'s you," which is what Gilbert would say when friends arrived.   Though everyone thought of him as a friend, he didn't have many people whom he considered friends, and if he gave you "that took" and commented, dryly, "'s you," it was a high compliment indeed.
But "to absent friends" was a new one for us.

We have been having these "Gilbert dinners" for some 27 years now.  As long-time readers of this journal may remember, Gilbert Russak was my best friend, who died of a heart attack in 1986.  He was the music director of The Lamplighters, the now-61 year old musical theater company in San Francisco, considered one of the best Gilbert & Sullivan companies in the world.  Gilbert's unexpected death, at age 55, was devastating to so many people.

(The title of this blog is a tribute to Gilbert who, when he was performing, was the best KoKo in The Mikado.  One of KoKo's lines is "is this a time for airy persiflage?")
The year after his death, the five of us who had planned his funeral services, since his family lived in Oklahoma and didn't really have a clue about what would be appropriate, got together for a memorial dinner.  We had tapas, I remember.   We had such a good time celebrating Gilbert's life and our friendship and the tragedy that now bound us all together that we decided to do it again the next year.

By the third year, we had invited all the people whom Gilbert would have considered friends and we may have had as many as 20 or more people.  We chose a different restaurant each year, usually a restaurant that was one of Gilbert's regular haunts.  He ate out almost every night, so there were many from which to choose.

I had to laugh each year because Gilbert is my "parking angel."  Parking in San Francisco is notoriously horrible and when he and I ate out each week, on my day to work at the Lamplighters, I was the one who spied a parking place for us.  The day after his memorial service, when I was driving his family around on a tour of San Francisco, I got in the car (his car) and said a quiet prayer of sorts to Gilbert -- "OK, Gilbert.  I've been finding parking places for you for years; now it's time for you to find parking places for me."  That day I found parking in impossible places right in front of wherever we were going--Chinatown and Ghirardelli Square, for two high-traffic tourist places.  And I keep finding impossible parking places.  Each year at the Gilbert dinner, the others in the group would drive around and around trying to find parking and there would be a spot, if not directly in front of the restaurant door, within one or two parking spots from it.  It got to be a joke, and skeptical friends who poo-poo'd my "parking angel" theory began to believe it.

The dinners were always such fun, such celebrations of life.  We didn't really spend a lot of time talking about Gilbert, other than the "Oh it's you" toast to begin things, but we enjoyed the friendship that brought us all together.  And laugh.  Oh did we laugh!  We still recall the night we ate at the Russian Bear, a new Russian restaurant where Marie, the oldest of the group, who used to rent a room from Gilbert, kept us all in stitches.

Over the years we lost people who were busy and who for one reason or another had other plans on the night of the dinner.  The people who dropped out were the "fringe friends," people we had debated about including in the first place, who weren't in the close circle of Gilbert's friends.  The faithful remained.

WillFB.jpg (38541 bytes)Will Connelly was the heart of the dinner.  Whenever I questioned whether it was time to quit or not, Will would keep us all going, find a special restaurant (since, over time, most of Gilbert's favorite restaurants had gone out of businesss).  It was Will who christened this dinner "GRUB" (Gala Re-interment of Uncle Buddy" -- his family called him Buddy).  He would contact everyone, and whip up the enthusiasm and we would all come out once again to celebrate our friendship with Gilbert, and with each other.

For the others, it was one more time to get together; for Walt and me, it might be the only time in a year that we saw some of these people, since we were no longer involved in The Lamplighters and only went to the shows three times a year.   For all of us, it was the only time to reconnect with Marie, such a funny, funny lady who had been with The Lamplighters for years and who is now too old to perform.

And then tragedy struck.  Jeannie died unexpectedly.  It was a huge blow.  She had been the leading Lamplighters contralto for years and her husband John, the impossibly tall baritone, was a company favorite as well.  One moment she was there, the next she was dead, without a hint that her heart was about to give out.  When we toasted "'s you.." we included Jeannie in our toast.

Adrian died too.  He hadn't performed with the company in decades, but had been the head of the Board of Directors for a long time.  His wife continued to join us.

And then the unthinkable thing happened -- Will died two years ago. This was a huge blow and I questioned whether we should keep the dinner going, but Jill, that determined English woman, insisted that yes, we should keep it going.  So she found the restaurant last year and I took over the organizing of all of us and getting us to the dinner.

This year only 7 of us came.  Jeannie's husband was in too much pain from his many physical problems, Marie and Adrian's wife Connie had other plans, Diana, the Lamplighters orchestra contractrix, had a conflicting gig.  So we all fit around one round table at a restaurant in San Francisco's Presidio, where we ate last year.  The round table was great because usually at these events, I'm at one end of the table and enjoy chatting with the people around me, but never get to chat with the people at the other end of the table.  This time we could all participate in the same conversation, and Jill kept the topics coming.

We talked of Gilbert, we talked of Will and we remembered the other Lamplighters friends who have gone from our lives.  We had the annual "organ recital," who has been struggling with ill health or other problem. We discussed my mother and the fear of all of us about what will happen when we begin to fail. Roger announced that he is giving up his house out on the beach with the fabulous view of the Cliff House and moving out of San Francisco.  We talked about who would host the fabulous Christmas party he gives each year and Shelley stepped up and said that if Roger decorated, she'd have it at her house.

It was just an ordinary dinner among friends but it was a wonderful evening.  We have been having these dinners for far longer than anybody in the group had known Gilbert in life, but it is Gilbert who brings us together each year and at the end of the evening we were already planning next year's G.R.U.B. 

And when Walt and I arrived at the restaurant there were cars parked everywhere, except right in front of the door to the restaurant.  My Parking Angel had not deserted me.

Still missed, after all these years