Epiphany.

The other morning on the ferry, I sat with my friend and we were looking out the window at the scenery. He swore that he saw something in the water, and we started talking about what it could have been — a hopeful whale sighting, a bird, seals, or even a shark.

The conversation turned to sharks, and he told me how on his ocean dives he has come face to face with them, and one even curled up and slept in his friend’s outstretched hand. Apparently they leave you alone and don’t attack if you don’t provoke, much like bears and mountain lions and, well, any wild animal. But then he then told me a story about how when he was 15, he went to Florida with his family and was in the water and felt something bump up against his leg. A wave came, and it was filled with sharks — it was sharks bumping up against his legs! He said that his parents told him that he ran on the water, racing to get back to the shore. I shivered, deliciously frightened.

Of course I’m scared of sharks. How could anyone, of my generation particularly, not be? After all, if you were like me, you stared at this book cover on your dad’s nightstand:

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I wasn’t allowed to see the movie, of course — I still don’t know if I’ve ever seen the whole thing, just pieces here and there. (No pun intended.) I did see Jaws 3-D in the theater and all I remember that it was super boring until the end when the shark comes crashing through the window. But the first one I was too young and wasn’t allowed to see it, so instead I just stared at the cover of my dad’s book, deliciously frightened, and thought the lady was stupid to be swimming naked and alone in the ocean.

I stared at books a lot when I was little — I mean I read them, but I was always fascinated by the pictures, especially my dad’s books. He traveled a lot and always had junky “airport books” and I was obsessed: The Amityville Horror, Raise the Titanic, and the the one that freaked me out the most: Scapegoat, the story of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the apparent Lindbergh baby kidnapper and killer. I stared at the picture of the corpse of the Lindbergh baby until I couldn’t handle it anymore and would slam the book shut, only to open it back up and peek again, starting the cycle again, over and over. I was also obsessed with Time-Life’s The Birds, especially the photo of the owl fighting with the snake, and the fancy bird’s “headdress.”

Now lest you think I was a morbid child (not really, just dramatic), I liked not-so-gory things like Nancy Drew, and read them all and stared at all those photos, too. In fact, a lot of life lessons I learned from Nancy Drew: always carry an emergency $5 in your pocketbook, stop and eat in charming tearooms while wearing a smart frocks, you can write SOS backwards on a window with lipstick after you come to from getting knocked out with chloroform, and, oh yes, swim away from sharks, and quickly.

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See, again, sharks! And who couldn’t be scared of them? You see on the news about surfers who get big chomps taken out of them, their limbs eaten, etc. It’s never a heartwarming story about sharks — it’s always an “attack.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FU2Wn5r2_g)

But as I was talking to my friend on the ferry, I had an epiphany. I will never in my life come face to face with a shark. I will never surf, I will never be in the ocean where they are, I will never be attacked by one. I don’t need to be afraid of sharks. I’m afraid of a lot of things, so taking that fear off my list felt like a metaphorical weight lifted.

It felt like a mid-life epiphany, that I only have so many years left, and all these things that I have carried with me all these years like a fear of sharks and kidnapping (pfft) can now be shed like old skin. I mean, I’m not actively scared of sharks or kidnapping or anything like that, but it was just a long held belief that has been in my head. And it was gone. I felt delighted and lighter, and wondered what other “psychic clutter” I could get rid of.

I was so pleased with my new idea that I got to work and told my “work sister” about it. “No,” she said. “Sorry, but you take a ferry on the Bay every day. There is still a good chance you could come face to face with a shark.”

WHOMP WHOMP.

But honestly, I think that if there was a ferry accident I would be more likely to be freaked out about everything else happening more than a shark, so there’s that. So now where the “fear of sharks” had fallen off my list, it just opened some mental space for another fear about something that could potentially happen. But at least there’s now room for that in my head, right? Sure.

Anyway, I’m no longer afraid of sharks because I don’t have to be. Maybe this will translate to something deeper and more spiritual, or maybe it will be just what it is: kind of dumb and that’s just the way it is. And I’m fine with that.

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On This Day

I just figured out how to update from my phone, which is nice — my hours on Facebook on the ferry can be used more constructively. I like that. While I love seeing my friends’ photos (and get annoyed by ads for bras, plus sized clothing, and earrings shaped like ice cream cones — really, Facebook?), I tend to get mired down reading articles — even just headlines — and start feeling panicky and anxious.

Plus the “On This Day” memories feature can be pretty loaded sometimes, especially this time of year. But I looked today and saw that two years ago I wrote one of my favorite posts, so the inaugural “post from my phone in order to get off Facebook” is actually something that I posted on Facebook two years ago. Oh, the irony.

But it still resonates, especially in the wake of Holocaust Memorial Day, which I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about. So here it is.

January 30, 2017

When I was a kid, I would always have a book with me, and read at the table, mindlessly chomping on food while lost in whatever story I was “in.” It drove my parents insane — they would tell me to put my book down and eat, and I would “as soon as I finish this one part!” Sometimes I could get away with reading all through dinner if they were talking, but if it were just one of them and me… Not so much.

One night I was at dinner with my dad, eating at the old restaurant in Capwell’s. I was reading “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl,” and was completely engrossed. I loved her. Here was a girl my age, but she was living in a SECRET ANNEX and hiding from the horrible Nazis. It sounded so “exotic” and unreal, and to my over-zealous yet completely ignorant and immature mind, tragically romantic. My father, who normally didn’t have much patience with my reading at the table, instead asked me to read what passage I was on to him. I winced — I knew I was in trouble for this rude habit, but this was a different admonishment than telling me to put my book away.

It happened to be the part where Anne describes using the chamber pot she kept under her bed, going quietly so as not to disturb the others or worse, call attention to their hiding place and being captured and sent to a camp. It was so abstract to me — I didn’t know what a chamber pot really even looked like, having the luxury of being able to get up and “go” whenever I wanted, in my bathroom with green and white wallpaper. I wasn’t mature or savvy enough to realize what a true horror it was — to me, it was still a story. I mean, I knew it was true,that she had been a real girl and this was a real diary, but it seemed so far away in time that it didn’t seem like it was truly possible. My main worry was that not only was I in trouble for reading at the table, but of ALL the passages I could have been reading about was about bodily functions, a giant taboo for dinner table discussion, and I could feel myself getting hot with embarrassment and shame. I finished reading and looked up at him.

He was angry, but I realized he was not angry at me. “That right there,” he said, “is why I fought in the war. So little girls like Anne Frank didn’t have to do that. But we couldn’t save them all.” He never talked about the war — to this day one of my big regrets in life is that I never asked him to tell me those stories — so I was surprised. I was old enough to piece it all together, but still young and stupid enough not to “get it.” It seemed so long ago (at the time it was only a little over 30 years) and that there was no way it could happen again. The world had learned its lesson, hadn’t it? My dad — my hero — and all the other soldiers in WWII had saved future little girls, so we could eat French Dip sandwiches in Capwell’s with our fathers, safe and sound in the suburbs, right? I was so complacent and spoiled, and even though I’m much more savvy now, I still didn’t ever truly think it could happen again. Until this past week.

I’ve been thinking about Anne Frank pretty much every day since the election. Mostly about her tree. She was trapped inside, and would look out at the branches of the tree she could see through that skylight, and it would give her comfort and beauty and inspiration. And when I’d be feeling like things were just terrible and woe is me, I’d think of that tree and feel like an asshole, that if she could believe, under her circumstances, that people were still truly good at heart, so could I. And I really did always believe that, until this past week. I think “in general” it’s still true — and seeing so many people come to the aid of strangers, especially yesterday — I know that there are many good people out there. But I now know that there really are some people that aren’t good, and they’re in charge. My dad and those soldiers didn’t really save us, after all. Maybe for a time they did, but I guess it was brewing and bigger than anyone had thought.

This administration is NOT what they fought for, lost their lives, limbs, and sanity for. This is not the America they knew. America wasn’t even all that “great” then — Roosevelt turned away refugees at first, too — but everyone came together and *that’s* what made it great. I’m hoping that will happen again — not some bullshit jingo-istic baseball cap slogan, but truly great, with good people out there fighting. I saw it yesterday, and we’re going to see it again. And I’m going to keep thinking of Anne, and her tree, and her hope. And keep thinking of my dad and that night in Capwell’s. And do what I can. How can we not?

Sigh.

And I Love Her.

When we moved into our house in Oakland, after a while we noticed there were a bunch of feral cats around. The woman two doors down was feeding a colony, and somehow a few of them found their way to our doorstep.

One was a friendly, stripey butterscotch colored boy who we found out was named Rumpole, and his sister, Teaser, who was gray and white striped with a brick colored nose. Rumpole loved pets and snacks — Teaser wouldn’t let us near her, but deigned to let us feed her. Then there was a little solid gray cat who flitted in and out, and seemed to “live” in our backyard, where there was a duplex. A few months after moving in, our neighbors in the duplex bought a house and were moving out. “Will you take care of the little gray cat who hangs around?” they asked. We promised them we would.

In no time, the little gray cat parked herself on our doorstep. She had the notched feral ear, and her other one had a bite taken out of it one day, the blood still fresh, but she didn’t seem bothered at all. She left us gifts of birds and rats on our lawn, and was such a little character we started calling her “Scrappy.” She had an elegant leap — when she would jump up on the little wall on our porch, it was so graceful it looked like she was flying. Her favorite thing, next to Meow Mix, was having her head rubbed. She would lean up and into our hands, purring and chirping.

At the time we had a cat named Norman, adopted from our friends who were moving a week after our beloved cat BeBe died. BeBe had been my baby, and I was convinced no other cat could ever compare to her magnificence. Norman was sweet (though he peed everywhere), and though he was no BeBe, we loved him. But we grew fond of the ferals on the porch, and fell more and more in love with Scrappy every day. We were head over heels, actually. She was so funny, so sweet, and so so smart.

Scrappy knew the sound of my car, an old Volvo, and would run and meet me wherever I parked, sometimes two or three blocks away. I’d get out and there she would be, and we would walk home, her darting in and out of neighbors’ yards, and go up the steps together. In the mornings, she would meow at our door until we came out to say hello and feed her. One stormy night we made her come inside, and she had carte blanche from then on. She’d curl up in different spots in the house — on the bed, the couch, on a newspaper on the dining room table, in drawers, on boxes, on the cake stand in the built ins… She would pick a spot for a few days, and then move on to a new one. Every morning she would meow to go out, and run around all day and come “home” at night. Norman was our indoor cat, and Scrappy was our outdoor one. All we had to do was go outside and call, “Scraaaaapppy!” and she would come from wherever she was — we would see her running up the street — and she would do her elegant leap onto the wall and get scratches and kisses.

Then poor Norman died, and Scrappy moved in permanently. She still went outside, but she was indoors every night. When my mom passed away, she curled up in bed beside me, leaning in for kisses and putting her paw on my cheek. She was a good little friend, a little angel when I needed it most.

When we bought a house and were moving out of Oakland, there was no question we were taking Scrappy with us. It was something that we always talked about, that we would bring her along wherever we went. In preparation I took her to the vet — her first visit — and she was a trooper. And once the moving van came and we were settled in our new house, I went back and got Scrappy.

I cried driving her the hour to her new home, worried that she would miss her neighborhood and not acclimate to being an indoor only cat — our new street was too busy to let her out.  Her whole life had been on the streets until we came along — would she be okay? We read articles, and got a little kitty tent and put her in so she could get used to her new surroundings. All the advice said to keep her in there for 2 weeks, but within a day she was roaming around the house, using the litter box (!!!), and happy as can be. We realized that it wasn’t the neighborhood that was home — it was wherever we were. She loved us as much as we loved her.

But then we kind of ruined it for her, and brought home 2 little chihuahuas. We were sure that she would be okay — after all, this was a cat who faced giant raccoons and was fearless, but she wasn’t happy about it. Instead of having the whole house, she stayed upstairs. Not that upstairs was bad at all — she had free reign and still played with her toys and purred and slept happily on a cozy bed — but I know she was lonely sometimes. I would go upstairs and sing to her, changing the words in love songs to her name, but I should have done it more often. Sometimes she would meow at the top of the stairs, but I wouldn’t go up right away, staying on the couch until bedtime. Then she would still curl up next to me, purring, my good little friend. And thanks to my insomnia, we spent a lot of quality time together. I figured that “one of these days” she would come around to the dogs, that soon enough she would be on the couch, too.

Right before Thanksgiving, she started “fuzzling” (our word for kneading) me, especially my head and hair. This was a change in behavior, but she didn’t seem sick, just her eye was infected. She was prone to eye infections — we’d treated her before. We got her eye “goop” and antibiotics, but they didn’t seem to be working.

We took her back to the vet, and she had lost some weight, which was alarming in a little cat. But we got more meds and were sure that she would be okay — she was scrappy, after all. But her eye wasn’t healing as it had in the past, and she was still fuzzling frantically and seemed out of it, hiding under the bed. A couple days later we took Dino in to have his ear checked, and I showed the vet a photo I had taken of Scrappy the day before. “Her face looks swollen,” she said. “Can you bring her back in?”

So we did, and her swollen face was a tumor that had grown quickly. Because of the size, and where it was, and that she was older (we will never know how old — somewhere between 12 and 16), we opted to forego treatment and took her home with painkillers to live out her last days.

She lasted two more weeks. We showered her with love, and some days she was still elegantly leaping, but the past few days she was getting skinnier and weaker. Still, she curled up with me, and last night she slept with her cheek on mine, purring and loving. We struggled with the decision — what if there’s a miracle? — but knew that it was time, and it was the kindest thing we could do. She ate her last lunch of baby food today, and then we both held her and I sang to her and told her how much I loved her, and got her head wet with tears. We took her in this afternoon and she’s gone.  We fulfilled our promise to our neighbors, and took care of her to the very end.

The house feels empty, and I’m absolutely shattered. It’s so hard to say goodbye to unconditional love, especially when it goes both ways. But above all else, we are so grateful. How lucky we were that of all the doorsteps in Oakland, she chose ours. We didn’t rescue her as much as she rescued us, and gave us so much. She has been our sweet constant for almost 12 years, and I still can’t get over that she’s gone. Every night when I pull in the driveway I have looked at our bedroom window and thought, “Scrappy’s waiting for me!” And now… She’s not. The bedroom is unbearable right now, and her little toys are still scattered about. But I know we did the right thing, and love is never past tense. We will love her forever. She was a gift. We miss her so much already.

And this is the song I always sang to her, and especially fitting since on her last night there was a lunar eclipse:

I give her all my love
That’s all I do
And if you saw my Scraps
You’d love her too
And I love her
She gives me everything
And tenderly
The kiss my Scrappy brings
She brings to me
And I love her
A love like ours
Could never die
As long as I
Have her near me
Bright are the stars that shine
Dark is the sky
I know this love of mine
Will never die
And I love her
Bright are the stars that shine
Dark is the sky
I know this love of mine
Will never die
And I love her
Thank you, my sweetheart, Scroopa. May there be chicken an head scratches galore for you, and we will see you again someday.  I love you, I love you, I love you.
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Be Brave (?)

My glasses are constantly dirty, so I buy lens cleaner wipes a lot. The latest box, instead of regular old plain or branded packaging, has inspirational quotes printed on brightly colored wrappers like cheesy Instagram posts or artwork found at TJ Maxx in the clearance aisle.

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At first I didn’t think anything of it — inspirational quotes are everywhere, after all — but then today as I was unwrapping one to clean off my filthy glasses I thought, “Wait. What?”

WHY are there inspirational quotes on lens wipes? Are they marketed toward teenage girls who love this kind of stuff? Or people who have been crying so their glasses got dirty and they need a reminder to put on a smiling face? Or is the world so f****d up that they felt we need to be told to “Be Brave” by LENS WIPES?

Whatever the reason, it’s super weird. Even if it had funny glasses puns like, “Make a spectacle of yourself!” or “I can see clearly now!” or other crap like that — THAT I would get. But these are supposed to be motivational, a little BOOST. Like you’re going to clean your glasses and break free of dirt and sadness.

I don’t need a boost, I just need clean glasses.  But I guess I can’t blame them for trying.

 

You Don’t Have to Go Home, But You Can’t Stay Here

I don’t get nostalgic very often (believe it or not), but when I do, it hits hard. It feels like a hole the shape of a church window opens right in the middle of my chest, and memories and music and colors and emotions come pouring out, like little cartoon shapes of musical notes notes and birds and bells. Sometimes it’s nice, though mostly it’s sad, and it makes me feel empty and wistful. I try to avoid it, because it gets harder and harder to close that window and shake it off.

Nostalgia hit hard today and tonight. I was never friends with Tom Guido, and didn’t really know him, but I loved The Purple Onion. I wasn’t part of that scene, but I was the sometimes girlfriend of a musician who played there, so there were many nights spent in that basement club. But oh, they were magical nights, filled with antics and fun, and meeting new friends. It was a big part of my life, actually, and pretty golden. I can’t help but get nostalgic about those times. I think we all do.

The last time I ever talked to Tom Guido (and I only ever talked to him a handful of times) was at a bar — I can’t remember what it was called now — that was the hipster bar for a hot second. It was in an alley between the financial district and North Beach/Chinatown, and I was there early, waiting for friends, and Tom was the only other person in there. It had become his new hangout — The Purple Onion had closed, and he was kind of aimless and apparently living with the bartender in the guy’s kitchen or something. We were sitting next to one another, having drinks, and it was awkward yet surprisingly pleasant.  “I really miss The Purple Onion,” I said.

“Kaaaaren,” he said in that nasally voice of his. “You caaaan’t live in the paaaast.” Which I thought was kind of weird because this guy’s whole M.O. was reliving the 1960s, but it was still sage advice. I didn’t heed that advice too well tonight.

San Francisco lost one of its icons yesterday, the Emperor Norton of the 90s. A little bit of The City’s soul died with Tom, along with our young adulthood.

Rest in peace, Tom. Thanks for everything. May your heaven look like a beatnik basement, and filled with all things 60s, especially troll dolls and tinsel.

 

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Photo lifted from this incredible site, tunefilter.com. Check it out for its outstanding tribute and history of The Purple Onion and Tom Guido.

Tired.

I’m too tired to write much of anything, and I don’t have much to say — my mind is completely occupied with Scrappy. She slept on my head last night and we cuddled a lot, so I think we’re both comforted that we’re saying goodbye with love. She’s still here, still eating, but we will take her when she tells us it’s time to go.

Kind friends who know how much we love her have suggested all sorts of things including a second opinion, but if you could see her you would know, too. She has lost so much weight in the past six weeks — almost 4 pounds — and her eye is basically gone. We kept putting medicine on it and it didn’t help, and now it’s just shut. Her sweet little face is swollen on one side. She looks dazed, and I know she’s confused. When we pick her up she’s a light little rag doll, no resistance. I know we should take her in sooner rather than later, but it’s so hard to give her up, and give up the hope of a miracle. Still, she seems comfortable, just drugged out and tired, too.

Looking back at these blog posts, it’s all so SAD. I stopped writing when I was at the height of utter heartache, but I swear, life isn’t so sad, not all the time. But right now, I’m back with my old friend grief, the too familiar feeling of a stone in my chest and tears just behind my eyelids, ready to spill. The thoughts of last-times and what-ifs.

I’ve read a lot of articles about grief in the past 3 years, and one that resonated is that you don’t get over anything, you get through it and just have to acknowledge the pain and sit with it. So even though she’s not gone yet, I’m already sitting with it. It’s all I can and want to do.

And here is Scrappy from three years ago, comforting me while I was sitting with the pain right after my mom died. She has been such a good little friend, and I will miss her so much. Which is why I’m going to shut this down and go sit near her and tell her, again and again and again, how much I love her.

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Kiss your little furry friends tonight for Scrappy and me.

Major

I always jokingly refer to myself as “The World’s Worst English Major.” For one thing I’m terrible at grammar, and couldn’t diagram a sentence even if you put a gun to my head. And there are so many books I’ve never read that English majors are expected to read, and when I come across things like this and fall way short, I feel like I’m a traitor to my major, some sort of impostor that faked their way through matriculation. (If that’s not a pretentious English major word, I don’t know what is.)

I was thinking about this as I walked to the ferry tonight, and I had a revelation. A major one. (Har. Har.) I’m not the world’s worst English major. In fact, I was a great English major. Sure, I faked my way through some books (I couldn’t deal with Tess of the d’Urbervilles or The Mill on the Floss and I got about 4 pages into Hard Times and chucked it under the bed), but I read pretty much everything else we were assigned in those fat Norton anthologies with the tissue paper thin pages. I even slogged my way through Beowulf while sitting in a Denny’s on Sunset Blvd. I loved my American Lit and short story classes so much, and read An American Tragedy for extra credit. I didn’t even take electives — while my friends were taking “fun” classes to broaden their horizons, I was misspelling and mispronouncing Yoknapatawpha County in Faulkner survey classes, and learning about xenophobia thanks to Edith Wharton. I graduated from undergrad with nearly triple the required English credits. (I should have been more well rounded. What if I am actually a talented sculptor, my undiscovered skills lying dormant while I was writing terrible poetry? I will never know.) And then I went on to grad school, where I took just as many English classes as creative writing courses, even creating an independent lit study myself — designing the syllabus and everything — for an extra credit summer course. Yeah, no. I was actually a fantastic English major.

It felt like something dislodged in my brain when I realized this, like the ice splinter falling from Kay’s eye in The Snow Queen and I could see again(See? TOTAL nerdy English major.) I’ve been selling myself short for so long that to actually think about the reality of what I had accomplished in school — and there were a number of those academic accomplishments — rather than the usual shortfalls and perceived failures, was a little astonishing and liberating and even comforting. I’d had “a day” at work where I just felt like I was messing up and miserable (not to mention beyond sad about my sweet cat), so it felt really, really nice to put good thoughts — and generous thoughts about myself and my capabilities — back into my head.

Still, there are a lot of gaps in my education — I haven’t read a lot of the classics, and I’ve missed some of the major ones, which is the root of my embarrassment and self-deprecation. Though part of me thinks, “ugh, who cares?”  a lot of me obviously does care because I’ve been thinking about it for years, and it plagues me randomly as I’m just walking along to catch a ferry. But what is so dumb is that there’s an actual solution to this problem I’ve been letting fester in my head for so long, so I wound up making a New Year’s Resolution after all: in 2019 I’m going to fill the gap (a little) and read at least three classics I missed:

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (I know, can you believe it?)

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (Herman would be 200 this year, so why not celebrate him and Ishmael, right?)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (I have had this book on my shelf since like 5th grade when I found it in our garage, so it’s time I actually read it)

Just three is do-able. There are so many great books to read (and about 16 in a teetering stack on my nightstand), and who knows, maybe I’ll decide to take more on. But I’m never, ever reading The Mill on the Floss. Or Tess of the d’Ubervilles. Or The Scarlet Pimpernel or f****ing LORD OF THE RINGS. And you know what? I don’t have to.  And that, too, is a nice thought.

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