Tuesday, June 28, 2011

republic of berkeley, hold please

Okay. So. First of all, there's no parking. Okay. And then I finally find parking. But you can only park for an hour. And I'm two blocks away.  I pull a number. There's no actual line. People are sprawled all over the place looking despondent.  My number is '025.'  I look up at the digital number clicker thingy behind the underpaid bureaucrats' windows. The number reads '058.' It just clicked to '059.' There must be some mistake.

I find a seat along the wall.  There's a black woman next to me holding her baby with cornrows and her little pink number.  Her number reads '098.'

"Go on up there," she cries.  "They passed you!"

But they didn't pass me.  I know it.  I'm gonna have to wait till they come round again.  I just got here, and she's been waiting forty-five minutes already.

What I want are Caregiver Parking Passes.  All the passes expire June 30th and then I'll be paying parking tickets for 5 alternating caregivers, unless they keep moving their cars all day every day. And that's not what we're paying them for, right? My pass expires on the 30th as well.

They've just clicked number '062.' I've now been here 8 minutes (not counting the two block walk).

Okay, let's see.  There are 62 people in front of me and 50 minutes left of the meter.  There are three bureaucrats in the windows.  Oops. No. There're only two.  One just closed up shop and is sitting there taking a break.

I'm trying to figure out if this is worth a parking ticket.  I think it is.

I give up my seat so the black woman can settle her other kid on the seat and keep track of him.  There's an empty chair across the room.

Yoga woman is on the floor stretching.  Her posture is immaculate.  She's got her number on the floor in front of her.  She's number '044.'  She's the picture of equanimity.

A guy 8 seats down from me shouts, "This is bureaucracy at it's very best. Guess I'm just gonna pick my nose!"

Nobody reacts.  Not even a nervous giggle.

Yoga woman chooses another pose. And holds it for a while, breathing. Stretching.

There's a woman with a great T-shirt.  It's of a woman with long dark braids, red lipstick, and  a shitload of Southwest jewelry, all turquoise and silver.  I look up at her.  She's got long dark braids, red lipstick, and a shitload of Southwest jewelry on.  And a blue baseball cap.  And a bicycle helmet above that.

Don't you just love the Republic of Berkeley?

This 9-month+ pregnant Hispanic woman is listening to her little boy.  "What flavor is this?" he asks, as she's cleaning his hands with a Wipe.

"You mean, what smell is this?" she replied.  I'm vaguely pleased at her correction.

"Yes, momma, what smell is this?"

"Just regular," she answers.

A silver -haired academic type just sat down next to me.  He's brought a book of chess strategems — with diagrams of chess boards and moves.  He's number '099.'  He's holding a Wells Fargo checkbook register in his hand, ready to write a check when his number's finally called.  There's a sticker with big red block letters on his checkbook.  It reads:


The natives are getting restless.  Except for yoga woman —

Another woman has joined yoga woman on the floor.  They're not yoga women after all.  They're ballet. More poses and stretches.  Happy as clams. But thinner.

Chess man gets up when his number's been called.  I've been here 25 minutes.

Bike helmet woman with the braids comes and takes chess man's seat.

I see not one but three old geezers wearing Bob Dylan caps on their heads.  One of them has a big bushy black beard, the other two are graying.  My generation,  think.  There's two old leftie women (don't ask me how I know), and a squeekie clean young Asian couple  — grad students, I surmise.  God I love Berkeley. Eye candy for eccentrics.

Bike helmet braid woman smiles at me.  I take that as permission to ask if she painted her T-shirt as a self-portrait.

"No," she answers, pleased as punch.  "I was at the Stanford Pow Wow and this guy had a booth. He painted it.  Of course I had to have it..."

She's struggling with something.  Oh.  She's got a question for me, it seems.

"Your tattoos," she begins — "are they —"

Right. Of course. No wonder I love Berkeley so much. I'm right at home here.  Just as odd as anybody else.  I give her some of my tattoo spiel.

"'024,'" they call. And I'm up at the window asking my question.

"We're running late," the bureaucrat says.  "We haven't sent the new stickers out yet.  And yes, I know, we've cashed your checks already.  We won't be giving out parking citations until the end of August, so just don't worry.  Just about everybody's asking the same question," she says observantly.

A sign.

How about a sign.  Large. Where everyone who walks in can see it.  A simple sign that says:


This isn't brain surgery.

Or maybe it is.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

cruise missile day

Yesterday was Cruise Missile Day. I'd been waiting for it, shivering in my fallout shelter for three months. Three months! Scared out of my mind, and intrigued, too, just waiting.

Three months ago would be my birthday. And as I do some years, I give myself a present of an astrological forecast covering the year to come. My astrologer is just tops, in this and all her other incarnations as well. In the past, I've been impressed with her not shying away from naming names and specifying dates. Blows me away just how specific she can be.

As you probably know, I've had a pretty shitty past two years — surrounded by death and dying (not mine), hospice workers, hospital visits and staff, meds, taxes, estates, and most of all the turmoil of losing people I love, those I am close to, or some version thereof. It's also been a pretty wonderful year. I started a project with a complete stranger — a kaddish in two-part harmony — and some strange things have happened along the way.

But I wasn't expecting my astrological forecast.

The next 14 months are supposed to really really suck. As in — make the past two years look like a piece of cake.

And this all was to start on what I've come to call Cruise Missile Day.

According to my astrologer, something was going to hit me on June 25th.

"It's gonna hit you like a Cruise Missile," is what she said.

"And the only good thing about a Cruise Missile is that it's fast and then it's done."

So. In three months, I couldn't think of anything that could hit me that way. Two years of death and dying will do that to a person. What could hit harder than what's already come down without warning?

Maybe this was last year's chart? Maybe the year before's? Maybe it was a typo? A slip of the finger on the old keyboard? For three months I went about my life anticipating doom. And taking care of business to prevent chaos I might simply have been about to cause myself. If there was going to be a Cruise Missile attack, I wanted it to be not of my own doing. I was waiting for the hand of God, wasn't I? Lucifer's Hammer. Something like that.

Very millenarian of me, to be sure. And now I know what it feels like to be waiting for the imminent divine hammer to fall. Surely, if nothing else, I'll be able to teach apocalyptic psychology with panache now. Like I know what I'm talking about.

I woke up on Cruise Missile Day and called my mom. All's well. Decided not to drive a car all day, just in case. Got driven around like a princess. Aha. The Cruise Missile defense. Honey, will you drive me — I've got a Cruise Missile to worry about. Works every time.

There was no Cruise Missile as far as I could tell. And gee, I felt so prepared.

And then the doorbell rang.

"Who's there?" I asked.

It was the Cruise Missile.

They rushed in like a tempest. I made them a cuppa tea — my new French tea from Paris. Kusmi Tea — this one's strawberry green. They loved it. The apocalypse comes with a real sweet tooth.

I hadn't seen them in about two years.

They breeze in and tell me that the end is near. come with them, and they'll protect me. come with them and I'll be safe. If only they could find a place for that final hour...

This time, they'd finally found it. They opened up their laptop and showed me pictures. Just them and some Buddhist monks enjoying paradise before the fall. Some of the strangest pictures I'd ever seen. Compelling as hell. The desire to pack my bags and critters and run up to the mountains with them was pretty strong.

Just (as usual) not strong enough. In my 20s I just might have done it. Run off and live the dream. Actually, in my 20s, that's exactly what I did.

But not now. Now, I'm happy to just go down with the mothership. Be the holdout in the City. Be the link between the righteous and the damned. Or something like that.

They use words like 'perimeter.' They talk about women on the inside, and men holding-the-perimeter. But I kinda like the perimeter myself. I guess I'll take my chances. I like the aisle seat at the movies. The outside side of the bed, when one side's against the wall. Backless shoes so I can escape them. A car with gas. A passport ready for action. Gorp for the trail. Sleeping bag and hiking boots in the car. Flashlight. Bug spray. Big dog. Extra eye-makeup already in my bag. Yes. Essentials. The eye stuff keeps away the evil eye ... We're talking religion here, after all.

He asks to borrow my Dundes book on The Evil Eye. He wants my Wallace article on Revitalization Movements. He wants to be sure he's got the stages right. The fire this time, right?

"I hope you're documenting everything," I say. "I hope you're writing."

I say this every time. But it's not happening. Bummer to not have their story all written up and ready for history, no matter what comes. They nod, but I know. It's just not getting done.

They're all worked up.

"They think we've got a Training Camp going on. They look at us like Al Qaeda... They think we're wearing turbans..." the younger one says.

"Well, yah," I say, "it's the military khaki shirt. And you know — just let your hair down and then they'll know." I think I'm so smart. So rational.

They look at me in horror. Their hair is sacred. They don't want it polluted. But the younger one rallies —

"Bob Marley T-shirt —"

That's the spirit. No one will give you another glimpse with a Bob Marley T-shirt on. But they're not going to do it.

Being paranoid is just part of the thrill of the end times, don't you think? That, and solar panels.

So. Of course, I just have to ask. Can't let them go without asking.

"So," I say, tentatively. "So. Do you think it'll hit like a Cruise Missile?"

They stare at me in complete silence. They don't move a muscle. Complete silence still —

— and then the older one responds in a whisper.

"It's the Book of Revelations," he says. "It will take only one hour. You should come with us." He's pretty emphatic about it.

But it's Pride Weekend, and we've got a party to go to. And then I've got this peer review to write, and an article to edit, and another to start from scratch. There's laundry to be done. There's puppies that need walking. Fall course syllabi to prepare. And pants that need some mending. The last Harry Potter movie's coming out. There's a BBQ in Sonoma. A friend who's moving out. And I've got a new girlfriend! A Film Festival we've got tickets for. It's summer, for god's sake. Then opera season and conferences. And I've just ordered takeout. Allergy season in the mountains. And I've been counting all my blessings. Show me what's gotten worse in the world. And then I'll consider all the warnings.

Happy Cruise Missile Day. Yesterday, that is. So now, we're safe. Right?

my blog daddy

I heard the term 'blog mommy' today — or something like that. And realized that I've got a blog daddy. And although he hasn't said so, I think he's not amused. I can feel his disapproval wafting over the bay into my fair and foggy city.

One post in June. One post! Does he furrow his brow? Does he think I'm falling off the map? Is he concerned that I've fallen away and have been shtupping the summer away mindlessly? Does he know that I've been abroad (however briefly) (yes, a weak excuse).

Or, horror of horrors, does he think I've just plain finally and way too quickly run out of things to say that are worth a post? It's probably this one, right?

Bad blogger. No treats tonight...

But wait — There are three posts that I've been wanting to write during my sabbatical (procrastination). And they've been vying with each other. One is on the Donmeh. Not a hot topic, I realize, but still very worth the doing. One is on alcohol. And I've actually been asked not to post that one. And the third is on Cruise Missile Day — which was yesterday. And here too, I was warned not to write that one either while the day was still in effect. Wow. Two warnings. Two different readers. Think I should ignore them, don't you?

Think I'll write them in reverse order. Cruise Missile Day comes first...

So, blog daddy, don't despair. You know the reasons why I've all but disappeared... It's all my fault... she intones automatically.

Monday, June 6, 2011

missing you as I do

Suddenly you were gone, and you didn't answer my call — and I panicked. This was all my fault. I know I say that a lot. I know nobody really believes me. But this was my fault. How could you not feel displaced and uprooted with these others in our bed? How can I explain to you that it's okay to share? That there's room for all? When you're too upset to think. When all you can do is hiss and swipe?

They're not really invaders...

Okay, so that's a lie. You're right. I hear you. They are invaders, colonizing your territory. I know you feel usurped — but sweetie, there's room for all. I promise.

Instead, you stormed out, and didn't return when I called.

I called you gently, with all the love that I could muster. You stayed away. I tried to go back to sleep in our overfull bed, but still I panicked.

"He's on his rounds," she said. So don't despair. "He's always out this time of night," she said. But I couldn't hear her.

"I'm a bad mommy," I intoned, and she cooed in my ear. She gave me one rational reason after another why this was okay.

"He's doing better," she said. She told me you're adjusting. She listed instance after instance of how much better it has gotten. But I panicked anyway, and went downstairs and called you again.

"You're never in bed this early," she said reasonably. She's so reasonable! And I know she's right. I panicked anyway. Went down a third time, and called you yet again —

I'd left treats for you, and now they're gone. So I knew that you'd been by and I should feel less guilty. I added more treats to your bowl — and suddenly you appeared. My panic lessened.

Vladdie, I know it's crowded and our routine's disrupted. You're not there waiting patiently when I climb into bed. You're not there as I adjust the pillows, put on my glasses, and open up my nighttime book. You don't curl into my arms. You don't start purring. You're not licking me incessantly. I'm not nuzzling your sweet smelling fur. I just can't stand it.

On the other hand, well yah, we've not been reading.

"It's getting better," she said, and I know she right, and means it.

Last night I saw you sniff the big brown loopy lab and not hiss or scratch. She takes up so much room. She's hard to maneuver. She wants to be exactly in your spot —luxuriating— as we all four adjust. You've got to teach her what her place is, darling. No one else can do it. You've got to excuse her clumsy ways. Forgive her youth. She is a bouncy nuisance, but yes, she's getting better.

Vlad, you scared me with your absence. With your refusal to heed my call. I stood at our back threshold and called into the breeze, the ferns and the trees. You weren't along your usual fence. You weren't prowling or patrolling the perimeters of our yard. You have your secret life, I know, and I forgive you. It's what you felines do when you are free.

"This is why I couldn't ever let mine go outdoors," she said, and I know she's right and means it.

But how could I restrict your joyous romp? You fairly sprint up the pine, the yucca, and the backyard fences. You perch on posts and keep potential invaders all at bay. You wait at our neighbor's door expecting entry and good scratches. How can I explain that they've moved, and that your buddy their parrot's gone as well? I hear you cry — it breaks my heart. How can I change things? Or bring things back to normal? How can I tell you it will soon be all okay?

Time heals, they say, I know they're right —

Ah, suddenly here you are —at last— looking all smug and happy. It's 2:30 AM, and that's not bad. She was right to say we'd just gone to bed too early. You're sound, you're fine, you're back, and you're not mad.

Sweet kitty, how I love you, how I've missed you. It's been a whole two hours you've been gone. I guess it's just this guilt that I've been feeling. But here you are accepting treats, and curling up upon our pillows. And you look fine, and everything's okay. And I know I'll go through this hell again tomorrow. Until you reclaim your priority, and push that loopy labrador away.