Friday, March 27, 2015

Haiku and Pandering

Another heatwave.
driving past the middle school
and kids in hoodies.

A theater of screens
Cinderella and cell phones.
Young girls on Facebook

March Madness. Big Hype.
Maybe worse than football and
preempts Judge Judy.

How many murders
did jinx Robert Durst commit?
JonBenet Ramsey?

Jon Hamm in rehab
Is there hope for Don Draper
to end up alive?

Who is Zayn Malik?
He quit from One Direction
Pre-teen girls mourning

“Tithe me a Lear Jet,”
Creflo Dollar to his flock.
Yes, the name is real.

Netanyahu wins.
Disheartening surprise.
Mom said Jews are smart

We were astonished
that Reagan was elected.
Watch out for Ted Cruz

Some chanting frat boys
learned on a leadership cruise
a charming ditty.

The kids are gone now
and I can travel the world
'cept I'd miss the dog.

Work all day on blog,
profound deep thoughts no one reads.
You prefer this crap.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Garden of Eating

I take a walk through the hills with Spuds and show him the mysterious abandoned farmhouse I discovered down in the hollow of Elyria Canyon. The weeds are tall and Spuds takes my arm to help me balance on a steep, rocky portion of trail. I make him taste a loquat, which he admits is different than a kumquat and much more palatable. I prepare for Spuds his favorite foods, still at the dining table we make him uncomfortable. So many writers and scholars who we admire teach at Bard. We pick his brain out of curiosity but perhaps he thinks he is being interrogated for assurance that we are getting our money's worth. Now that our brains are free of the angst of careers, ambition and coupling we fantasize about the Edenic Hudson Valley community of thinkers. Nineteen year olds, I suspect, are too distracted and hormonal to drink it all in.

I try to empathize with the kids, while accepting that my access to their inner lives is non-existent. When I try to channel back to what made me tick when I was their age I remember an amorphous yearning that eclipsed reason and pragma. Secure now in big ticket items--relationship, career and housing—I have room for the micro. The kids' brains are too busy to remember where they put things or to buy more toilet paper. I know where everything is and there is always a stockpile of products. There are few events in my life to anticipate or worry over and so little to strive for. I tromp through the hills with little to divert my focus from the green and light. Perhaps though I would trade this solitude for a nineteen year old's unlimited possibilities.

It is Passover soon. I don't even remember the exact date. Last year we did kind of a cursory Seder which was more like a family dinner with chocolate covered matzah for dessert. And maybe we ate bread a couple of times. This year it might just be a batch of the chocolate matzah. Mainly for myself. I remember years ago that a Seder would take months to plan. I'd scrupulously get all of the chametz out of the house including legumes and cornstarch which was pretty hardcore. The violence of the story we are commanded to recount not once, but twice each and every year disturbs me. Particularly in this bitter year of Netanyahu's reelection. It is blasphemous to memory that Israel evokes the Holocaust to rationalize the marginalization of non-Jewish peoples.

There isn't much left to make me feel good about being Jewish. The temple and the Jewish Community Center are central to our pre-teen era. There was upheaval at the JCC and families banded together to save the institution and, comrades in arms, we fought a good fight. Eventually the community was bailed out by local Episcopal Diocese under the aegis of Bishop Jon Bruno and the center became an independent entity. As times were lean, the Silver Lake JCC continued to offer only nursery school. No programs were provided for folks our age. Now a hipster offshoot holds restaurant shabbats and musical events. This might actually be a jewy type thing that would appeal to me but fearing I might not be young or hip or energetic enough I discard the invitations.

Our temple too nearly went bust and we hung in through the roughest patch of all. Now that the institution is thriving and the charismatic rabbi, who even the kids like, is gone I have no motivation to go. The subject of an e-mail from the temple is that they are assembling volunteers to kasher the kitchen for Pesach. I remember the conviviality of these volunteer projects and how we dissed High Holiday Jews who never pitched in with anything. Now I don't even go for the high holidays. Now I don't even open the e-mails.

I am embarrassed to memorialize the plagues inflicted on the innocent and am unable to accept violence as the only means for accomplishing the Exodus from Egypt. In Atlanta a minister named Creflo Dollar is hitting up his congregations for 60 million bucks towards a Gulfstream plane he's taken a fancy to. Churches promising prosperity are growing faster than any other religious denomination. But it's total opiate of the masses. Congregants worship with the same spirit as they'd play the lottery. Teenage suicide bombers are promised virgins in heaven. Even the simple Amish seem to have been lead astray, appearing in umpteen reality shows. The bullshit message endemic in so much organized religion overshadows the earnest gentle communities that feel God's warmth.

It never occurred to me while I scrubbed ancient kitchens for Passover that my love for the temple and the JCC would dwindle away. Still, so many of our friends were fellow JCC nursery school parents and twenty years later even our kids are close friends. The Jewish stuff is now boiled down to stumbling through shabbat prayers, serious cooking and constant discussion about food and eating. Sunday Weight Watchers is about as close as I get to communal prayer. Losing myself in the hills of Mount Washington, watching my kids become young adults and people I like, eating and cooking, the ancient constant marriage and the single dog and cat left standing is about as close as I get to, what for lack of a better word, I call God.

Illustration: Pedro Nel Gomez painting of his wife Juliana eating oranges

Friday, March 13, 2015


Spuds returns for a week long spring break. He will be surprised to find that his warped bathroom floor has been replaced and a new mattress for his bed has been purchased. A clothing hamper has been placed in the bathroom although I'd be surprised if either kid will know what to do with it, particularly when there's a perfectly good floor. I am thrilled that the appearance of the bedroom is so improved, although for Spuds I imagine it will just be a tiny blip on the radar. He is sweating this week as sophomores at his school are expected to complete moderation, which like declaring a major but way more rigorous. Spuds' girlfriend will be staying with us. He warns me that the girl has tattoos and a pierced nostril. I'm OK with tattoos, if they are artful (unlike my eldest's crude tats which might as well spell out “I was drunk.”) but I can't look at a nose ring without thinking about the inner portion being inevitably crusty with dry snot. I tell Spuds to make her take hers out. He says she can't because it will close up to which I insensitively respond “Boo hoo hoo.” I tell him to send me a picture of this girl for my own psychic preparation. I receive from him a picture of Snoop, from The Wire.

Joe College graduates next month. He calls and I can tell he's down. He is under pressure to complete all of his school work. I don't know quite what his post-graduation plans are and I suspect that he doesn't either. He's lived in the same dorm for four years, the last dealing, as an RA, with lots of drama. It's not my place now to make it right, and as confident as I am that the glib smart lad will land on his feet (even if it's via his room in our basement for a while) I remember the sense of obligation to prove yourself and make something of your life that the diploma confers.

Mount Washington, after nearly two years of beigeness, is green, thanks to the bit of rain. I round the bend from the house every morning and there is a giant rock covered with emerald moss, brilliant in the early sun. The hills are flecked with lupine and larkspur. I try to take pictures, juggling Iphone and dog lead but inevitably they suck, failing to capture the perfection of light and color. I discover tiny streets and ridges that, even after over twenty years, are new to me. Sometimes I avoid the school. It reminds me that my days of active and constant mothering are over and that I've yet to fully conquer the struggle to find purposeness, post empty nest. Other days it is pleasant to zig zag through the arriving throngs.

A little girl carries a large and unidentifiable school project. It is colorful and the base is a square of real grass. “Did you make that?” She nods shyly. “That's remarkable,” I blather on. She is mortified that this strange lady with dark glasses and giant headphones and a whinging dog (Opie is afraid of children and pretty much her own shadow) is actually speaking to her in front of her classmates. I can't leave well enough alone though and desperate to make the interaction more satisfactory for the child, “I'm sure it will be the best one in the class.” Though I know from our own experience that the airy fairy Mount Washington School doesn't put a lot of stock into competition. The little girl, I'm sure, prays for the concrete to swallow her, but Dad beams. I too, took a lot of pride in the school projects that I shepherded, particularly the ones I completed pretty much by myself without the clumsy kids mucking them up.

A father ushers his son through the arriving kids. The boy has being crying, his freckled little face a rictus of tragedy. Perhaps it's a lunch left at home or a canceled play date. I remember the young child's pendulum swing from grief to elation. And it used to be that a hug and kiss from Mom or Dad is enough to make most bad things better. My kids' angst now has so much more gravitas and they only let me kiss and hug them if I haven't seen them in a while, and even this is grudging.

As I traipse through Mount Washington, where I've lived longer than anywhere else in my life. I feel lucky every day to have landed in this place. My own parents have been gone now for a long time. I wonder if either ever experienced the same sweet solitude and satisfaction that grace my morning walks. I hope so but sadly, suspect not. Despite the contentiousness of my relationships with Mom and Dad, I still feel their love. My dad is my work voice. He taught me how to run a business. No one taught him. My mom is the domestic voice. She taught me to bring a hostess gift and write a thank- you note.

My kids, gun to heads, write thank-you notes, using the stamped, addressed stationary I've provided. They think it's silly and anachronistic. I doubt if it's a habit they'll maintain when they're further out of my orbit. I've accepted now, at least to some extent, that both are on their own path now and I will be less privy to their triumphs and struggles. The days of hugs and kisses are over. For my birthday, Spuds writes to me that when he is faced with a dilemma he tries to figure out what I would do. I'm not sure how prudent this is but somehow it makes up for the surcease of hugs and kisses.

Illustration by Josepf Herman-Sketch of family group with dog

Friday, March 6, 2015

East of La Brea Haiku Collection

Dads in day-glo vests
do morning safety patrol,
go home and get high.

Silverlake challenge
Prius in Trader Joe's lot
but which one is yours?

Whatever it is,
pressed juice costs more than cocaine
Couldn't be as fun.

In fancy sweater
Rags mingles at the dog park
and eats Cody's poop.

Big bucks for yoga,
always excruciating
plus it makes you fart.

Coffee snobbery,
highfalutin' baristas
don't even serve food.

Cal Arts graduates
drawing kitties in milk foam,
working in their field.

Plaid shirts.  Huge whiskers.
Abe Lincoln, Grizzly Adams.
No more soul patches.

Stokke Cruisi Stroller,
a must for Mommy and Me
costs more than a car

Sunday gathering.
at the weed clinic.

Nathan eats babka.
Sage has celiac disease
so she won't blow him.

Election run-off,
no Tom Labonge calendar
thanks to term limits .

Bud Cort at Gelson's.
Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda. But,
only Harold and Maude.

The walking man's gone.
Poster boy for skin cancer,
died in his hot tub.

because we need more gridlock,
let's rip up sewers.

Why the small plates thing?
Exotic Spanish tapas,
12 buck canned sardines.

Must build more condos!
I miss the Coffee Table,
even the bad food.

I meant to hate Squirl
heirloom eggs and eight buck toast.
Silly but tastes good.

Fixer upper rules:
Stainless steel appliances.
Horizontal fence.

I can't get worked up
about traffic and bike lanes.
My ass is too big.

Multiplex era.
Even the old Los Feliz.
Thanks God for Vista.
It's essential now
that vegetarian joints
serve quinoa and beer.

The Lyft and Uber
new sharing economy.
means we can get drunk.

Edgy screenwriter
dreams of hillside Neutra home
near Ivanhoe School.

A car full of dogs
left in Griffith Park lot while
walker eats at Trails.

The best happy place
is TJs sample table.
What more could you want?