Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Welcome 2014!

You gotta love retail during an American holiday such as Christmas.
The Trader Joe's parking lot, seemingly a suicide alley, an intersection with a 4-way stop light whose non-existent colors of yellow and red ensure horns blaring, folks dropping "F-Bombs" left, right and in between...
All in the name of love, caring and 3 wise men who gave frankincense and myrrh.  In turn, we give IPhones and Home Depot gift cards.  I know there's a connection somewhere and I know I'm supposed to get it, but I don't. I don't get the folks that say, "Keep Christ in Christmas" either. I did see a sign that read, "Keep Christ in Christian" and I get that. Seems the there is a great deal of amplification going on during the holiday season; dichotomies of caring yet irritability, giving yet expecting something in return. Emotions are flared. I read where folks used pepper spray at a Walmart, fought for the bargain on bath towels. I personally think there's an unspoken pressure to be kinder, gentler during the season and yet, that's asking the impossible and people become these human pressure-cookers. 

So, at times, the road is long, friends.
And often, it feels endless. Every damn step brings a minute mental battle and yet, we keep walking. Why? Well, the alternative sucks, that's why. And you know what? There are so many cool humans that I encounter day to day! They are the silent ones. The ones that are plain and ordinary to the common eye unless one takes the time to recognize their "Extra-ordinary."
And my friends, humbly I tell you this, I have done just that and these humans; these homo-sapians, are so beautiful. They are  exquisite and unique stories, waiting to be told.

2013 was a helluva year! It was jam-packed with trials, tribulations, pains, and extremely winding roads.  Yosemite-size boulders along the way.  Larger than life stumbling blocks, that made it hard, no impossible, to get out of bed some mornings for many of us. I have spoken to many a folk who bid "good-riddens" to 2013!

My solution to the whole damn fiasco, is to move on. With that said, I welcome 2014 with arms open wide and a bucket full of personal intentions!  They read, loosely, as follows:

One) Get my ass moving again! Climb a mountain, walk the beach trail, pop in one of my Richard Simmons dvd' s.
Two)  Continue to work, with diligence and commitment, on my writing and art forms.
Three) Let go of the past. (i.e. the yucky parts)
Four) Focus on listening and noticing.
Five)  Travel with my sweetheart.
Six) Breathe deeply and deliberately, especially when I find myself on those long, winding roads.
Seven) Love! Love! LOVE with all my heart.

And yours?  The curiosity is killing me, friends.
I learned, from a dear compadre, Shem, that making intentions for oneself, not just at the start of a new year, but regularly, is a very healing and positive thing to do. Not resolutions. They seem to be more firm and concrete, with an expected outcome. Not goals. Not set-ups to fail... But intentions.

intention |inˈten ch ən|noun1. a thing intended; an aim or plan she was full of good intentions [withinfinitive the Ukraine and Kazakhstan have both declared their intention to benuclear-free.• the action or fact of intending intention is just one of the factors that willbe considered.
2. Medicine the healing process of a woundSee first intention , second intention 

I personally like #2.Medicine. The healing part of a wound. I feel as if I should ponder that second "Webster" because isn't that why one would offer up an intention in the first place? To heal. No doubt, the world is in desperate need of it. No one can deny that. But, I propose to you that we each need individual healing as well, and perhaps that's a very good place to start.  The "wounds" of our childhoods, our recent spats with friends, family members, the sickening news story you heard on the radio that you can't let go of, the child being yelled at in a parking lot, the words that regrettably came gushing out of your own mouth, the lies that have been told...All these and more have left our hearts wounded.  
If you think of a literal wound to the skin or bone, the healing begins with surgery or medicine or herbs and fresh air.  But what about the wounds of the heart? They need medicine too.  Of course, setting an intention might not bring quick recovery.  But not setting an intention has zero chance for healing.

   Intentions toward others can bloom from a very pure and noble place, yet bring unexpected results.  Here's a Christmas story...     A close friend of mine shared a very personal account with me over breakfast a few weeks ago. The story has yet to leave my thoughts. With Christmas approaching, while serving in Viet Nam, he decided to bring gifts, a Christmas tree, the festivities of his own childhood, to the people there. His intentions were pure and good.  As he gathered everyone together to distribute the gifts, two things happened that cut so deeply into his selfless heart, that I do believe, to this very day, he ponders his good intentions.  The gift-giving brought jealousy and competitiveness, for the first time, amongst the parents; all fighting one another for the best gift for their child.  And outside the church, where the gathering took place? Poor children stared in, through the open windows, with sad, hollow eyes at a sight they had never seen before. For the first time in their young lives, they realized what they did not have.(heavy sigh)Intention # Six: Breathe deeply and deliberately, especially when I find myself on those painful, winding roads.
This is a painful, difficult thing to swallow; like a large uncoated vitamin that gets lodged in your throat. I had to breathe deeply when I heard my friend share this intimate experience and I have to breathe deeply now, as I share it with y'all.  The lessons of that day, of that time and moment are huge for the people, but more so, for my friend.  As I reflect on his story, my eyes are opened to the heart-felt intentions of his soul. I have a clearer vision of the man he is today and the man he was on that day so long ago. 
The intentions I set forth for myself will be for myself. But, like my friend who saw a wounded world that deserved some medicine, I may, at some time in 2014, make conscious intentions that, though from a moral and loving place, have an unexpected and unintended outcome. 
“When your intentions are honest and pure, when you speak or act from a place of selflessness and love, the feedback and returns are unimaginable and immeasurable.” ~Nike Campbell-Fatoki
Welcome 2014 and all it will bring!!!! Blessings to each of you as we travel this journey together. ~tpg

Monday, December 16, 2013

“How did it get so late so soon?” ― Dr. Seuss

So, I got barreled into the other day, by an older woman in a Ginormous Volvo SUV (government plates) while I was finding a parking space. My little (new) Yaris took a major hit, while her "tank" escaped unscathed. My day had already had a handful of icky challenges, so when I leaped out of the car, even though I'm a sucker for dogs, cats and seniors, my first instinct was to pump up the volume in my voice," Didn't you hear me laying on my horn?!!"
I megaphoned.
She was a bit frazzled. My guilt set in. "Well, it was my fault dear, but I do have the flu."

You know, the final month of the year is a crazy-hectic month, isn't it? I mean one attempts to find the serenity, to walk in the light, to offer up kindness to all... However, it doesn't always work out like one plans.  After the "I had the flu and that's why I hit your brand new, small car" incident, I managed to drop a package of 4 Dole pineapple cups in aisle 4 at Save-Mart, causing a large, liquidy mess. And prior to the tropical fruit mess, I dared to go into Beverly's Fabrics (lesson to self: Stay the fuck away from Beverly's Fabrics during the month of December) where my debit card was declined. Never mind that the store was packed and there was a crowd around me. The worst part of it (our account was "locked" due to suspicious activity, I was told by the bank) was that my homophobic next door neighbor was behind me in line and witnessed the event.

December is many things to many people: Christians honor the birth of Jesus. (Who was recently discussed, along with Santa, by Megyn Kelly of Fox News and declared absolutely, without a doubt, white), Jewish celebrate Hanukkah, Goddess-worshiping Pagans light incense and dance around naked under the full moon and the rest of us, just tread water to keep up and drink in heavy volume.

I have a love/hate relationship with December.
I hate the excessiveness of it; the spending, the over-eating, the extreme indulgence, except for the booze part. I like the booze part. I have a sharp dislike for the busyness and hurriedness as well. There's no time to be with friends because we are too busy running around and buying gifts for our friends. If you work in retail, you know how ugly December can be. "Why don't you have what I'm looking for??? I drove all this way in horrific traffic!!!" Sometimes, I feel as if December brings an explosion of giving to the sick, the homeless, the less fortunate, the abused animals, as if all of these unfortunates do not exist the other 11 months of the year.
There's some pretending going on too. You know my homophobic neighbor I spoke of earlier?
Well, she sent us a holiday card, which she signed by all her family members, even the ones that don't look at us when we wave.  This brings a conflicting response in my pea-brain head: How lovely they remembered us with this Hallmark gesture & how shitty it is that they hate lesbians.

Children are a huge part of this month, and that's sweet as fudge, yet I can't help but recall my observations when I was a teacher; specifically, the kids that "had a lot" vs. the kids that "had very little".  It really is amplified by this thing called Christmas.  When holiday vacation ends, and students return to school in January, there's such a competitive vibe in the air.  There's the kids wearing their $150.00 Michael Jordan basketball shoes and those that still have on their shoes from The Goodwill. 
There's the Banana Republic faux fur coats vs. the Walmart fleece zip-ups. There's the students that went to Europe to visit grandma and the ones that got to see Santa at the mall. It's a glaring, blaring oddity that cannot be denied. And then, of course, there's the poor families who open Visa charge accounts, with 24% interest rates, in order to buy their kids what they want, so that they don't get made fun of or feel less than. December becomes this month of incredible debt and living beyond one's means.  

There are two things I especially love about December.

THING # 1:
I love this face. It's a package of joy and innocence and a clear reminder of all that is truly important. Look at her light up at the opportunity to make her parents and her baby sister a present.
"Who knew Q-tips were better than paint brushes!"

"A flower-shaped lollipop is all I need."

"Why is my shadow so tall, Valerie?"
I love this face too:
"Baa Bee, I can shoot hoops!"
"I don't wanna eat my lunch. I wanna play!"

Aren't children the extraordinary magic of any month? 
True, unless of course, you're an over-worked elementary school teacher, in a classroom of 33 and no aide. (Shout out to my heroines in the public school system!)

THING # 2:
The second thing I love about December are the holiday letters.  So, I receive anywhere from 
2-7 each year. Most are lovely, though a few go on and on, in great detail. For example, the 100 awards their kid  received, or how many maps they had to use on their vacation, or what each child received for his or her birthday. Some are a bit "wordy" you might say, but all are sent with well-intentions, I suppose, as is the one I send every other year or so.
There are 2 that I receive yearly that stand out.  One is from an acquaintance of long ago and the other one doesn't actually come to me, but to my mom-in-law, who kindly shares it with me each year.
The following two are unedited.  (I swear to God!)
Here's to the joy and festiveness of the season!

"Do you like frog glasses, Valerie?"  "Yep, I do."

Christmas 2013

Dear Valerie,

Not one of our better years.  Bill (name change)  is worse and now has gallstones.  Can't be operated on as his intestines are too inflamed.  
My typewriter had the nerve to die. It's hard to find a used one.

They have been working on the new sewer in front of my house for nearly 3 months. The city's equipment keeps breaking.

I managed a couple of day trips and had a good time.

I hope you are doing well.

Merry Christmas.
Betty (name change)

Dear Mary, (name change)

It's been a banner year!
We began by getting a new minivan complete with a navigation system. 
It’s been a lifesaver! We have the routes to all the nearest hospitals and pharmacies pre-programmed. 
With the time we’ve saved from printing out directions, I’m now able to spend some time knitting. I’m just starting out but I made little Roxy a new sock to chew on. (This has really helped her stop chewing the couch.)

John is doing well. He landed a third job hauling trash, which helps cover all our psychiatric co-pays.
We are so proud of Brian (name change). During his last incarceration, he received the prison’s coveted Inmate of the Month award for his good behavior. And John and I were so impressed by the license plate he made for us for Christmas.
Annie (name change) is just terrific, too. Her soccer coach has noticed that she’s kicking harder than ever (though it’s still at the other players). 
And the other night, she actually sat down and did her homework.
It’s been a bittersweet year, as Felix, our cat, is no longer with us. One of the kids left the door open, and he never came back. John says he’s never seen a cat run so fast.
Well, that’s all the news we have to report for now. 
Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and hospitalization-free holiday season.

The Smith Family (name change)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mina; From Marrakech to Marina

There's something very special about a conversation with a stranger. The initial anonymity that flows effortlessly between two people who know nothing of the other's past. 
Initially, there is no past. Only the here and now.
All of each other's dark secrets, poor choices, past trials and tribulations and yesterday's experiences can remain neatly wrapped; perfectly hidden and unopened. It's a clean slate.
Each person has control over what they divulge and how they divulge it.  
I like that part. For a while, it's safe. 
But, I also like the other part; the part that  grows, evolves, opens up like a tight bud anticipating the transformation to a sweet, fragrant blossom. Sometimes, you can control the pace, the process, the self-exposure, the unfolding.  But other times, it's as if that stranger unexpectedly taps into a piece of you that is so raw, so spontaneous, so heart-driven, that you don't even realize you're divulging personal information. Suddenly, before you know it, the stranger chips away at everything that you thought you could hide, and all that is left standing there are two friends laughing together...

Marrakech is undoubtedly not for everyone. This is a city with edge. It is contradictory and not easily fathomed, but for most people who visit, that is all part of its elusive charm. From the exotic market stalls of the medina to the westernised glamour of the Ville Nouvelle, Marrakech is a riot of contradictions and extremes – at once African and Arab, eastern and western, frontier town and modern city, religious and secular, elegant and rough-around-the-edges. At times daunting, occasionally maddening, always exhilarating, Marrakech is all about getting lost, letting go and opening up to whatever experience or encounter comes your way. 

Markets of Marrakech

After reading about Mina's homeland of Morocco, I can't help but think of the famous line spoken by Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."  And she's not. In fact, she a long way from Marrakech, Morocco, along way from familiarity, along way from her family and yet, her disposition is friendly, hopeful and positive. There's a trustful ease about her as she speaks with me. She's forthcoming, though   we've only known each other a short while.

I see Mina as a yummy, delightful stew; a hearty mixture of strength and innocence, with a hefty serving of joy, wisdom and fortitude mixed in.  I do not know everything about her, nor do I profess to walk in her shoes. However, if I can pay tribute to this hard-working dreamer, who was once a stranger and now a friend, so be it.


There are two things that stand out about Mina, and if you were to ever meet her, I'm sure you would agree.  One is her infectious laugh that flows out freely, and often, like a sweet-tempered melody that you want to play over and over again.  And the second are her eyes; set deep into her smooth, olive-toned face, they are the shape of perfect almonds and the color of darkly roasted coffee beans. They're intense. When she looks into your eyes, you instantly know you are looking into the eyes of a soul much older than her 32 years. 

I was drawn to Mina instantly and our friendship is a testament to the fact that differences in culture, lifestyle, backgrounds and language are never barriers.

tpg: Do you know that many Americans have no clue where Morocco is?

Mina: (laughing) Yes, I know. This is true. Yes, many say, "Is that in Latin America? Africa?" I say,  No. No. Not Africa and they are very surprised!

tpg: After you tell them of your homeland, Morocco, are there other reactions?

Mina: Many think we all live in tents in the desert with no vehicles, no electricity, no water. I tell them, "No! No! We have all these things!"

tpg:  So then, do you see Americans as ignorant?

Mina: No, the people who know Morocco, mostly know Casablanca.  It's very famous and very expensive. I have only visited Casablanca one time. It's a very, very old city. 



tpg: Were there other reactions or responses when you first arrived? 
What has it been, five years ago?

Mina:  Yes. Five years. People had strange faces when I told them I was from Morocco. They kind of stand back and seem a little uncomfortable. Like, maybe they think "terrorist" or something. (laughing).

tpg: Did that anger you? It would me.

Mina: No. I just explain to them who I am and my family and they are nice after that.

tpg:  How about your family? You are married and have four boys? WoW! 
How do you do it?

Mina: I don't know! It's a lot of work.  My boys are all so different. One is very calm, quiet and does anything I ask of him like clean the table and help me. My middle son is very different. He wants to play basketball and doesn't want to study.  I want him to study. My baby takes a lot of our attention. My husband and I want our children to study and make the best in their education.  I worry about them if they don't do good in school.

tpg: Tell me about your husband. How did the two of you meet?

Mina: (smiling and coy) Hassan is a very good man and a good father. I met him at a friend's house. I liked him because he was the only man who doesn't look at my body when he first met me. He just looked at my eyes while we talked.

tpg: Is that unusual in Morocco?

Mina: Yes. It is always that way. A woman walks down the street and all the men look at her from her feet to her head and back down to her feet again. Some women like it. They feel ugly if men don't do that, but not me.  It is why I liked Hassan. He wasn't like that.

tpg: Has that happened to you here? Men checking you out?

Mina: No. I feel safe here. I can walk or take the bus by myself and no one bothers me. 
It's very different. 

tpg: Are you happy here?  Do you miss Morocco?

Mina: I am happy here because we want a better life for our children. But it is hard because my English isn't good, so it's hard to find jobs that pay well. I work cleaning houses in the day time and Hassan works at night at a place that cares for older persons. 
I miss my family, especially my mother. I have 4 brothers and 4 sisters still in Morocco.

tpg: NINE CHILDREN in your family? Your poor mom!

Mina: (laughing)  I know but it's not unusual there to have a big family.

tpg: Are you and Hassan planning on having more children?

Mina: No! We are not as traditional. This is why we leave. We have different ideas than our families.  We are, how do you say, the ones that are different in both of our families.

tpg: Some people say you are the "black sheep" of your families. I don't really like that term but if you and I were to have one thing in common, it would certainly be that!

...And so our conversation continued for more than 40 minutes in much of the same way:
Strangers morphing to acquaintances to ultimately friends.  Black sheep laughing at the world, pausing to appreciate the world, pausing to appreciate one another. 

She told me about the difficult economic times currently in her country. Europeans are coming in and buying up all the old mosques, historical buildings and opening high-class hotels, spas, restaurants. The result? Everything sky-rockets and the Moroccans can no longer afford to buy property in their own country. They work for the Europeans for close to nothing, struggling to feed their families. She speaks of her dreams: to see her sons go to college, to be able to buy a house, to visit her mother again...
We sip tea together. The quiet between us is comfortable as time slips away. 

In ways, this interview was simplistic; an immigrant, wife, mother. Simple dreams, the same as you and I. But in a way, the complexity of Mina's past, present and what lies ahead, can only be partially understood in one sitting. And she didn't share it. I knew she was withholding parts of past experiences and struggles; perfectly hidden, neatly wrapped. 

I'd like to attempt a closer understanding. I have such an interest in people and their lives. 

Mina: You know what is my favorite song? Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles.

tpg: I love that song too!

Mina: It makes me feel happy. It gives me so much hope.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Does the Fox Say?


Dog goes woof   Cat goes meow  Bird goes tweet and Mouse goes squeak...
Cow goes moo  Frog goes croak  And the elephant goes toot...
Ducks say quack and fish go blub And the seal goes ow ow ow
But there's one sound no one knows


She's baaaaack. 
Actually, she never left. At least she never left my heart or yours. Right?

Today, The Cousin and I went to the library. Just her and I and, what seemed like, a million snotty nosed 2 and 3 year olds that drove me nuts, reminding me that I'm much more qualified, these days, to be a pole dancer than a pre-school teacher.
GAWD! It was like a nut house and the only sane one?  The Cousin.
Calm, cool, collected and VERY well-behaved, she patiently waited her turn to participate in Miss Linda's interpretation of the children's story "There was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly." (Weird messages throughout, but all in the name of rhyme, which I abhor.)

I gotta hand it to Miss Linda. Day in and day out, dealing with a room full of out-of-control toe-heads that do far more than just wiggle on their carpet squares. These punks throw full-blown, screaming tantrums and the moms, every once in a while, look-up from their IPhones.
I pray to God that Linda isn't a volunteer.
The Cousin and I positioned ourselves on a multi-colored beanbag.  She insisted on sitting on the patch of blue fabric, because blue is now her favorite color. (Man, I was worried it was going to be pink.) We were both poised on-lookers, and every once in a while, she leaned into me and whispered, "Valerie, what does the fox say?" Her giggle is infectious.
This is her new joke and her new favorite video. And that's right. She calls me "Valerie" now.

The days of "Wallery and roses" are long gone. Caillou too. (Thank you, Jesus!) She's shedding Elmo and Caillou like an old coat and turning to Madeleine and YouTube fox videos.
She's growing up.
She doesn't need my hand to get out of her car seat, nor an extra offer of support to climb 3 flights of stairs. Today, along with her usual books and movies, she wanted to check out a book to read to her new baby sister. Now that's maturity, people!  It's as if Superwoman has emerged out of the ashes...
Yes, I am now, and forever more, "Valerie" to her and together we will conquer this library story time madness, one screaming toddler at a time. 

And then we'll get the hell out of dodge. Have a little beverage. Chat about the old days. And read her new addiction, one square at a time!

She's a cool kid with a cool outlook.
We all should be blessed with this much curiosity and zest for life:

See a pile of fall leaves, jump in them just to hear the C R U N C H !  


Plop down in the middle of our shadow, simply because you want to "touch it!"

As adults, we've lost that "zest for life."  Seems we go about our daily routines, rituals and obligations required of us at such a pace, any zest that remains is just in the lemon peel of our cocktails.
Seems we've also lost, what I often refer to as, "the art of conversation."  Look in your mailbox. Any cards, notes, letters from friends or simply bills and consumer ads?
Now, look in your email box.
Less and less, right? How about on your voicemail of your phone? Any calls from friends lately? Maybe, but not as much as a few years ago. Lots of texting to converse and lots of Facebook to share stories, opinions and pictures. The idea of calling a friend, on a regular basis and meeting at a cafe to "catch-up" or sharing recent photos, offering a hug (real arms not virtual)...
Those times are less and less. 
I propose to you, that this lessening, is removing the zest from each of our lives. 

So, what does the fox say? 
Call a friend today! Meet on an unknown trail and take a walk with that friend or by yourself.
Sit smack down in your shadow! Put a box, from your remote control car, on your head and pretend it's your helmet!

Play the video at the beginning of my blog, and dance around your living room!
Locate "The Cousin" inside yourself! She's there waiting.
Let her soar today!

P.S. Next week... Interview #5 with Mina; a polished gem who's a very long way from home.
Stay tuned in, pals.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Good Shit Coming Soon!

                              I'm writing some good shit, coming your way soon buckeroos .... 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Julio, I See You

If you're anything like The Cousin, you're an observer of life. You walk through the world like a hushed shadow, but your eyes are in a constant state of panoramic.  It's a comfortable way of being for her. It feels like an old, soft, washed-out pair of denims; the ones you want to wear every day, even if they haven't been laundered in a while...
Stop. Take notice. Process. Ponder. And for god's sake, perform these tasks in silence because when you're out in the world, the world is much too noisy.

I never was that kind of kid. I couldn't adhere to such characteristics in adolescence nor adulthood either. Speak first. Shove entire size 8 shoe into mouth after.

But as I enter what society has termed "middle age," I'm morphing a bit... Stop. Take notice. Process. Ponder. Listen. Bite tongue. Learn something.

When I look around at humans, I readily see both kinds: the observers and the engagers.
I want to be more like The Cousin. I've encountered so many people, whose names will go unmentioned, that tend to feel they have a lesson to teach us all. It's a common occurance. Have you ever been sharing something of your life; perhaps a situation, an opinion, a dream, and I'll be damned if "the engager" fires back with an answer (THEIR answer) which usually has everything to do with THEIR experience, THEIR opinions and THEIR advice. They seem to know that you'll be better off listening to THEM. It's as if, while you are speaking, you can almost see their response-words excitedly dancing on the tip of their moist little tongue, which is poking out of their half-opened mouth.  THEY ARE NOT LISTENING TO YOU! They're preparing, editing, revising their script for THEIR next reading, which translates to a lecture.

If you're not born with the gift of listening and observing, you have work to do. One of the reasons I'm interested in interviewing people, is I want to improve my listening skills. I want to cross over to the observer side of life. I want to follow in The Cousin's footsteps.

There's a man who sits on the brick ledge in front of the downtown post office. It's difficult to determine his age and ethnicity. People who live on the streets appear older than they actually are. Weather, I suppose. Weather and worry.
He's sun-drenched from years on the street. His face is leather brown, his hands boney and curled.
He's quiet. He doesn't have a sign with words like ANYTHING WILL HELP or GOD BLESS YOU. He's always hunched over in his layers of jackets, the color of Army fatigues. When he does look up, his eyes cut through me like the point of a serrated knife. Sometimes, I observe him from across the street. I notice people walk right by him. Most do not give eye contact.
They look right through him.
He's faceless to them.
They look down or pretend to be on their IPhones or turn their heads the other way.  It must feel more comfortable for them to remain in their own world; a world where hungry, homeless, drunk people do not exist. When I have a $5, I give him a $5. When I have a single, I give him a $1.
He always says, "Thank you." That's it.
I like that.

I know that my small amounts of money won't get him off the streets. I also know the streets might be exactly where he wants to be; as comfortable for him as the soft, old jeans I spoke of earlier. I know he may spend his money on booze or something else that makes some people hesitate to give anything. He's quiet. That's my draw to him. Something inside of him is shy, distant, discreet.  What was he like as a child? Did he start out lively, talkative, sure of himself, only to be hushed, crushed by someone or a chain of events?  If I gave him $20 bucks, if I knew his name, if I offered him a hot meal and a shower...It would all be a band-aid and yet, he sits in my neighborhood, hunched over and silent.

That nudges me to inquire about his story because he has one.  They/we/you/me...we all have one.

I pretend his name is Julio. I imagine he was once a vibrant child who loved to play with trucks. I wonder if he had dreams of being a football player or a musician.
I ask myself, is he a father, and if so, where are his kids? Did he abandon them? Do they hate him? Or are they looking for him but he cannot bring himself to re-appear in their lives, not in the state he's in. Was Julio in Viet Nam? Desert Storm? Did the sound of exploding bombs and the sight of death snatch his sanity?
Why do I give a shit? Why this unexplainable fascination of mine?
I actually don't know. Not really. Maybe it's because no one tells his story. You tell yours. I tell mine. We tell our stories everyday. We share our daily lives through social media, by phone, at cocktail parties, on long walks with friends.  How easily we forget that we are constantly sharing our daily lives, our "memoirs" if you will, with others and from that sharing, we get recognition, validation and even pleasure from the interactions with others...
Engage. Observe. Share. Listen.

I have this fantasy about asking him to sit with me at a small outdoor cafe next to the post office. Have a lunch together. Tell him the truth; that I want to ask him questions about his life in order to better understand my own. I would ask him what he would charge for his time. I would ask him his name, so I wouldn't have to refer to him as Julio.
That's where I'm at. I almost did it Tuesday. Then I chickened out. Today I have free time, but there's laundry to do, and there's always tomorrow.  Right? You see, these are the hiccups that stand in my way. If you told me this exact fantasy, I would whole-heartedly encourage you with a zealous GO FOR IT! I would tell you there's nothing to fear but fear itself and all that bullshit and I would be behind you 110%!  Yet, here I sit in my own angst puddle of uneasiness and self-doubt, while thousands of folks' stories go untold...


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I'll Say It All Here

I didn't really want to meet him for lunch. If he had something in mind other than an acquaintance and this interview, I wanted no part of it. I told him, through a text, that it was my treat if he'd meet with me.
The thought of meeting him, left me with hours of "build-up." Anxiety.  Incompetencey. Amateur writer attempts another interview.  My third, I suppose, if you count the one with The Cousin. And then, of course there's the thought, 'Does he just want sex?' 
In the day, the cute young girls were attracted to me. In the last few years, it's the men over 65.  
What are ya gonna do? It a slap of reality that I will most likely go to my grave not accepting. But I wore my Lucky Brand jeans anyway!  No, not because HE was going to get lucky, But because I was hoping to get lucky with my questions, lucky with opportunity, lucky to say it all here with a look at life through his eyes.
We were to meet at 1:00 p.m. I arrived at 12:45 p.m. and purposely chose a table in the sun. 
I felt way more confident with my sunglasses on.

HY:  You're early.

tpg:  For a change. Thanks for meeting me.

HY: What shall we have? Pellegrino? Large? Waiter. Please. 2 large Pellegrinos and what are today's specials?

His wrinkled shirt, which was tucked into jeans, was a neon lime green. I thought of 
over photo-shopped mint leaves.  He wore a baseball cap which smelled of stale cigars when the breeze hit it.
The waiter rambled off the Specials of the Day; first the appetizer, then the salad, then the entrée and finally, the dessert.  It's so fast, I couldn't recall one thing.

HY: Very good. Very good. Now, may I ask you a question?
(waiter nods)
How long does that take you? Every day, do you have to wake up and memorize the daily specials every day because they change, don't they?
(waiter holds a perplexed yet polite expression)

HY: So what shall we eat? (looking at the menu) I like the apple and pecan salad. What was the special? Halibut? Filet Mignon?

tpg: (panicking because I had offered to pay in exchange for his time.) The appetizer of squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese (thinking it might the fucking cheapest special) sounds yummy.

HY: And salad? It's a nice day, eh?

tpg: Umm... Yes.
(waiter returns)

HY: We'll have the squash appetizer, pecan apple salad, Cobb salad and filet mignon, medium rare, salt and pepper only.

tpg: You're fast-moving. Do you ever slow down?

HY: Daytime. I sleep during the day and I paint all night. My neighbors think I'm crazy. They see my lights on all night and they think, "What's the crazy Japanese man doing now?" I don't care because I don't really talk to them. I don't really talk to people.

tpg: Yet, you're are here, talking to me.

HY: That's different.

tpg: Tell me about your art.

HY: My art. I studied art in Paris. Many, many years ago. My family, we are all characters and we all like to try new things. I only worked with oil on canvas in the beginning, then I changed to sculpture and pop art. I like color.

tpg: I looked at your work on-line and can honestly say I love the pieces of ink and paint on hand-made rice paper. I also love your laser project in Afghanistan.

HY: That was an experience.  I was approached to possibly re-build the statues but I didn't feel reproducing those ancient statues would be right. They're destroyed. Dynamited. There's only ghosts left. I wanted to bring awareness to this massive destruction of the 3 Buddhas of Bamiwam (Bamiyan) by the Taliban, while at the same time, use solar powered lasers to offer electricity, a few hours a day, to the people of the Bamiyan Valley who had none.

tpg: Wow! Was the project completed?

HY: (Laughing)  We completed it, but governments are corrupt. All of them. We couldn't come to an agreement on money, even after I had hosted fundraisers in Los Angeles. We are all sheep, you know.
(Food arrives)

tpg: Sheep? What do you mean?

HY: We are all sheep and all governments are the herders. It's intentional and it's always been that way since the beginning of time. You, me...We're not going to change it. Do you give money to bums?
I never do.

tpg: Yes, I do, but I prefer not to call them 'bums'. There's 2 in particular that I give some small amounts of cash to on a regular basis. One is a Vietnam vet. He stands in front of Home Depot in Seaside.

HY: There's always been poor. So much poverty. Never can we change that.

tpg: I agree, but it makes me feel good to give a little. Perhaps, it's self-serving.

HY: I did an 8-month project on Los Angeles Avenue years back. I lived on the street and hid a small camera in my clothes. I took black and white pictures of the bums, all the while, the mafia and drug lords would be in the fields and parking lots, watching. Waiting. I'd watch the bums spend every penny they got on drugs and alcohol.
I prefer people who work. I'd rather give to the men standing outside of Home Depot, the Latinos, who want to work. That's where I met my assistant 28 years ago. (He's eating and talking at the same time; half fork, half fingers.)

tpg: You met your assistant on the street?

HY: Yeah, twenty-eight years ago. (He pats his fist on his heart.) I trust him. When times are good, I pay him well. When times are not so good, he works for me for nothing.

tpg:  I dream of such a project like what you did; capturing life through photographs, gaining an understanding of the human condition. Where are these images?

HY: (laughing) We had an opening at a gallery in Los Angeles. Low turn-out. I think they're in one of my storage units in LA.

tpg: Do you have any children?

HY: Yes. Two daughters. You know we will all die with at least one regret and that will be mine.

tpg: What do you mean?

HY: I divorced their mother when they were very young because I wanted to travel the world, do my art, make money and I never saw my daughters or my wife. I was the father that never went to school plays or functions. The absent guy. My daughters never had the opportunity to know me. They hated me for a long time.
But now is Chapter 2.

tpg: Chapter 2?

HY: Yes. I have a second chance. I have apologized to them and have a pretty good relationship with them now. (laughing)  That is, when I can see them!  They are so busy, I have to make an appointment one year in advance!

tpg: Your art is very eclectic; oil on canvas, pop art, photography, ceramic cartoonish sculptures, posters, lasers. What are you working on now?

HY: I'm working on more canvases of ink on rice paper. You should see my living room! My living room is about 900 sq feet and it's a mess!! It's where I work.

tpg: What inspires you?

HY:  People. Yeah, I like to capture people and the actions of people.

tpg: I was blown away by your world-wide notoriety.  You must have the opportunity to meet many people because of your work.

HY: I hate people. Well, those people. The art world is like governments; crooked, greedy and pretentious.  They want me to sell at Christie's and to their private buyers and I won't. Most artists despise me. They think I'm stupid; a crazy recluse. I don't care. I value the apple tree that I've grown from a tiny seed more than any piece of art; theirs or mine.

tpg: Are you? A crazy recluse?

HY: (laughing) I'm here with you, aren't I?

HY: Check! (calling to our waiter) I'm going to meet a friend of mine in King City to look at a vineyard he purchased but hasn't seen yet.

tpg: Your friend bought a vineyard without seeing it?

HY: Yeah.  I've never been to King City. Have you?

tpg: (laughing) Ahh...yes. It's nothing to write home about!  Oh! And thanks so much for lunch! 

HY:  See you soon.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Billie~A Piece of Oral Herstory

I met Billie one foggy afternoon two years ago. It was a Sunday and I know that for a fact because Billie only comes into the teashop on Sundays; always at 2:00.  She gets out her four dollars and her frequent flyer card, as I wash my hands and begin to prepare her bowl of premium matcha. She requests the same bowl; the one that "sufficiently holds the heat."
Billie is a different sort.  A misfit. She's the single, tiny piece of washed sea glass in a beach of a million granules of sand. She did not want to be photographed.

tpg: Thanks for sitting with me, Billie. I hope I can honor you in a way most deserving of the person that you are. Let's begin by you telling me a bit about your childhood. Where did you grow up? What were your interests?

Billie:  (rubbing her eyes and looking everywhere except at me) I grew up in Massachusetts and then in Hawaii, which was interesting to say the least. I always preferred Boston, you know, it was the 1950's and 60's and so on and so forth. Segregation, good old-fashioned lynching's were a hot topic and of course, I wasn't going down south, no way no how.

tpg: What was interesting about Hawaii?

Billie: I mean it was horrific at times because I wasn't Hawaiian or Samoan!!! (She's shouting) I was a "toe-head" for god's sake!!

tpg: Did you have trouble making friends?

Billie: I didn't need friends. I preferred books. Mother always bought me books. I read the entire Bible, THE KING JAMES VERSION, (shouting) by the time I was 11 years old!

tpg: Wow! And you were an only child, right?

Billie:  Yes, I was. My parents were a bit eccentric. I was most likely a mistake. Well, I shouldn't say mistake, but certainly a surprise! (laughter)

tpg:  Were you closer to one than the other?

Billie:  I found them both excruciatingly high functioning. In later years, after mother had long passed, I ended up caring for my father and during that time, we became somewhat close, though his dementia grew horns every now and then.

tpg: Would you consider either of them role models for you?

Billie: I think not! Aunt Margaret was who I went to for advice, direction and books.  Additional books. She and Yosko.

tpg: Yosko?

Billie: Yosko hailed from Tokyo and knew how to cook like nobody's business. I had my first bowl of matcha in her studio and I loved her dumplings. I need to buy some cut flowers when I go to the farmer's market for my English peas...it's the only place I can find fresh ones, well, except Grove Market... and put them on her grave. Maybe I can get some ribbon at Beverly's.
I think they're having a sale.

tpg: Are you a coupon-cutter like my mom was?

Billie: Well, not really. I suppose I could be. But I sure can look a good deal in the face!

tpg: So, I'm gonna take a sudden turn and ask you about your dis-ease.

Billie: HA! It's a pain in the you know what because while most people can cry, I cannot. So instead, I have this enormous amount of rage that's like two burnt holes in a blanket. You're gonna read about me one day on the front page...Woman beats the crap out of domestic abuser because she can't feel sad about it.

tpg: So what's the medical term for what you have?  I've watched you put liquid in your eyes for almost 2 years now.

Billie:  I have kertoconjuctivitis sicca...Which basically means, I have no tears. DRY EYES! The doctors that I deal with don't seem to be worth a half a cent. I keep trying to find one that knows what the hell is going on!!

tpg: Gonna take another turn and ask you, do you ever feel lonely?

Billie: Do you?

tpg: Touché! Not often. But I guess I'm fortunate to have a partner and many friends in my life. I like how you turned my question on me!

Billie:  (laughing) I don't mind being alone. I'm used to it. I've lived in my apartment for 44 years. They do need to update the plumbing and fix the water pressure, but Pauline, the daughter of my slum lord, is easily agitated. Specifically, I walk on eggshells around her. 

tpg: Do you kill her with kindness?

Billie: I'd like to just kill her. Then I suppose you'd read about it in the headlines of the morning paper, but yes. (gathering her worn leather purse and reusable shopping bag)
tpg: You seem as if you're getting ready to go. Just a few more questions...

Billie: I have a lot to accomplish today. I need to steam my vegetables and press my shirts. I should sweep and air out the rugs and so on and so forth. 

tpg: I know you work at the library. Do you go in early tomorrow? 

Billie: It's a 6-day work week. They, the powers that be, want me to take some time off. I have too many weeks of vacation days to count. Hell, they probably wish I'd retire.

tpg: How old are you, Billie?

Billie: No comment. (laughing)

tpg: Fair enough. Thanks for this. See you next Sunday.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Interview with a Two-InaHave Year Old

Obtaining and documenting oral histories (or herstories as the case may be) takes time. Not only does it take time, but it takes opportunity, some thought and luck. As I wait for the above mentioned components, in order to share with each of you a little slice of the human experience or "life on the street", I offer up the following interview with The Cousin.  It is my first interview in hopefully an interesting series. The Cousin was born with her daddy's (abba) hairline on April 29, 2011.  Her momma was in labor for god knows how many hours, but throughout the night.  Thank Jesus the Royal Wedding was on to distract her. She was named after the matriarch of the family, their great aunt who was a retired nun. She was 97 years young when The Cousin was born.  Her parents  continue to give her, warmth, stability and love, crazy love...

tpg: "So you are two years old?"

The Cousin: "No, Wallery. I am two-inahave."

tpg: "Oh yes! You are two and a half!"

tpg: "So, tell me what a two and a half year old likes to do."

The Cousin: "Well, I like to go to the park and play puzzles and I like to watch Cinderella."

tpg: "Do you get to watch Cinderella every day?"

The Cousin: "No, just a little bit." (holding up her right thumb and index finger to indicate about an inch)

tpg: "Why?"

The Cousin: "I dunno. Because momma and abba say not too much tv."

tpg: "How do you feel about that?"

The Cousin: "I feel mad about that because I love Cinderella and Gus and the Prince." (picking her nose.)

tpg: "What's your favorite part of Cinderella? Do you like the part when the mice make her dress? or when she cleans the floor? or when the pumpkin turns into a carriage?"

The Cousin: "No. I like the ball. I want to go to the ball. (running to the couch) Come on, Sweet Pea, let's dance..."(she pulls at her cousin who is content eating a cracker on the couch and shows great refusal.)

tpg: "Don't you also like taking pictures?"

The Cousin: "Yes I do."

Her Still Lifes:

Her Portraits:

tpg: "What's your favorite food to eat?"

The Cousin: "I like cookies and grapes.  And raisins!"

tpg: "Do you like cinnamon?"

The Cousin: "Yes, I love cinnamon!" (big smile)

tpg: "Do you like chocolate?"

The Cousin: "Yes, I like chocolate. Can I have a cupcake from Uncle Matt's birthday?"

tpg: "How about a half of one?"

The Cousin: "No, Wallery. A whole one!"

The Cousin: "Can we go outside now?"

tpg: "Yes we can. Thanks for talking with me today."

The Cousin: "It's ok."

Stay tune, readership, for interview # 2 next week...with a grown-up of interesting proportion.