On Saturday, October 23, my eleven-year-old daughter finished her soccer game as clouds skidded across the sky. I said to our coach, Janos, who is Hungarian but came to the United States on a soccer scholarship years ago, “Happy Revolution Day.” My husband, whose father escaped Hungary in 1956, likes to make pörkölt, a kind of gulash, in commemoration. I think of Pierre, our friend in Paris, whose father survived communist prison camps, privation, and escape attempts.
Janos turned to our star soccer player’s mom, who was talking about her husband being from Cleveland. “I hated Cleveland!” Janos said, “It was awful! I was ready to go back to Communism after living there!”
I think all Hungarians have a penchant for hyperbole, but the soccer mom went one further, and said, “You don’t need to, Obama is bringing communism here, the direction this country is heading!”
Communism isn’t an abstraction to survivors of the Soviet takeover and their descendants. Russian tanks rattled into Budapest and the entire community rose up in protest, staving off bewildered soldiers for three wildly glorious days until the Red army rallied and crushed the opposition. My father-in-law is full of harrowing stories, including when he and his sister were nearly executed one evening, after getting caught bringing dinner to the resistance.
But at the mention of communism this fine Fall Saturday, the soccer mom went off. “Yeah, look at what Obama’s doing, all his scary socialist policies, he’s leading this country into hell….”
Janos had the temerity to say, “I am socialist to his bone”–look at Sweden, look at France, Germany, he said, all the other developed counties that provide decent healthcare, education, and so on. The soccer mom is probably so scandalized, who knows–maybe she’ll pull her daughter from the team to prevent further infection.
What Obama wants is not communism, let alone true socialism. It’s common sense and human decency for a society to provide its citizens basic needs.
What Obama wants is not communism: It’s common sense and human decency for a society to provide its citizens basic needs.
As I puzzle over the Tea Party madness boiling the brains of excitable people, I think of Irma, our weekly luxury and savior who helps clean our house each week (it used to take us the entire weekend to do it ourselves, and she can whip through in five or six hours). Irma told me this morning she cancelled her health insurance because it cost almost $500 a month. She could no longer afford it. That’s about what we pay her for her help. In the five years I’ve known her, I don’t think she’s taken a vacation. When she’s sick I tell her not to come, although we pay her every week regardless. A lot of times, she still comes to work even if she doesn’t feel well, perhaps for her own sense of job protection.
“What about the new health care bill that finally passed?” I asked. “Can’t you get something there?” She shook her head. She didn’t know where or how to get that. She doesn’t qualify for medicare.
The woman works hard. She’s a good person. Her father immigrated from the Mexican state of Nayarit, and the whole family works long hours to help support each other and their humble life here. They pay taxes, all of them.
She and other Americans should have better protection; folks like her anchor and contribute to this society. If the Tea Bagger soccer mom has her way, Irma will lose her only hope for insurance, whenever and wherever and however that kicks in. And the soccer mom can drive off into the sunset in her giant SUV, thankful that she has successfully fought off what she thinks is communism.
I dog myself for not getting enough accomplished in a day. Yet each day comes with gifts, and just one of those “life freebies” alone is enough to call the day a success, life well lived.
Today I hit a perfect forearm balance in yoga, something I’m not always confident about attempting, but this morning I knew, mentally, I’d do it. I’m thankful for balance, strength, good health, and opportunity.
This pic is from a couple years ago, when I celebrated my birthday with my yoga gang in the backyard.
Times like these I want to move to another planet: Polls that show what many Americans really think (“think” being an exaggeration, more like reptilian cogitation). Glenn Beck, Sarah-beyond-the-Pale-in and her ghastly illogic, Tea Baggers, the entire ilk of reptilian cogitators who invade our headlines with their unnewsworthiness. I am still reeling from the Kansas church protestors who came to San Diego, and a child in their congregation–a child— hoisted a sign that said God Hates Gays and Jews.
These people are comprehensive in their incomprehensible ignorance.
It’s the tyranny of the Stupid Classes. Makes me feel so lonely and afraid and shoved into my well-read corner: I can only hope the other quiet people have got the other three. By quiet I mean not making useless noise.
“Liberals” are not just an “educated elite”–we’re just busy reading, thinking, doing, creating, hoping that these mouthy people will crawl back under their planks, go back to their fecund festering dark places; knowing they always erupt in Bruegelian periodicity when the economy sours, when we need scapegoats, when we need labels for chaos and uncertainty.
The whining mewling and frighteningly powerful stupid classes. I tell myself they have their points, they have a few reasonable concerns (the fear of any government wielding too much power). They don’t articulate well (“Obama is the Antichrist”? Global Warming is a hoax? Obamacare is Socialism, complete with Hitler mustache? Gutted and pathetic as the Healthcare bill is, it pales in comparison to what other advanced countries offer its tax-paying citizens). I tell myself that the Noisy People’s ghastly opinions and commentary come from a lamentable lack of awareness, global understanding, basic education (leaving aside scary hidden agendas and a dark desire to manipulate): Lamentations of “Obamacare” feed right into the for-profit insurance companies who are all too ready to exploit the underinformed.
What’s chilling is that some corporations are using the Stupid Classes to fuel their own commercial agendas and have the money to incite stupidity, leaving us all in their yacht wake of political devastation. Don’t get me wrong. I like to sail as much as anybody, but I will never fill my sails with Global Warming Gassy hot air.
A little integrity please. A little integrity.
I am not of the educated elite. I put myself through an inexpensive State university, which was all I thought I could afford at the naive age of 17 (otherwise, hell yes, I would have gone to Stanford or Yale and if not there, Berkeley), worked hard, studied hard, and continue to read and think past my advanced degree. It’s not so hard, really; in fact, thinking is painless. My grandfather, with his sixth-grade education, read widely and understood far more than the bobble-head rabble-rousers inciting unreason and recruiting membership in the Stupid Classes.
Results from a new Harris Poll: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-03-22/scary-new-gop-poll
• 67 percent of Republicans (and 40 percent of Americans overall) believe that Obama is a socialist.
• 57 percent of Republicans… (32 percent overall) believe that Obama is a Muslim
• 45 percent of Republicans (25 percent overall) agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was “not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president”
• 38 percent of Republicans (20 percent overall) say that Obama is “doing many of the things that Hitler did”
• 24 percent of Republicans (14 percent overall) say that Obama “may be the Antichrist.”
Someone with that much anger could go ballistic. I’ve experienced a person at the negative tipping point who’s tipped himself right into a psych ward. Society, formatively early bad experiences, the culture–too much can overwhelm one’s coping mechanisms. But not everybody snaps. I took solace in that.
Michael was nice, after our Good Walk Gone Bad no-on-8 klatch; but he could just be luring me in. Maybe he was one of those misogynists who, no matter what, hate women. Charlie pointed out, when we went to gay revues in the 90s, that the boys doing the beauty pageants and the talent shows were making fun of females, they really hated women, but I said, no, look, look at their meticulous costumes and makeup, and damn if I could look that good in a bikini, ever. They care, but they’ve internalized the deep antifeminine vein that runs through our macho-poisoned culture like many females do, and they’re objectifying themselves and the whole scene, unawares. Hey, I mock beauty pageants, too, without the deeply sarcastic, and yet hopeful, vein of trying to be in one. And I’m not even sure these men are gay–more like female-identified males, poor souls, trapped in male bodies and male sociology, a double-whammie for confusion.
Michael was a tire-biter. A full-blown all-testosterone gay male, out of my ken. He drove a man truck and he was going to kick ass on any plump mom republican suburban bitch yes-on-eighter who dared traverse the canyon on his property. Such haters trampled his universe.
The thing that gave me comfort was, while Michael and I were talking, sharing stories, another man came up, a neighbor, and gave me a hug. So his friends were warm. He was part of a larger community. That would keep him grounded. Yet I was still a woman belonging in the uber-hetero community, even if a progressive liberal-demo.
I don’t know what it’s like to grow up gay in a society that tears you down from the moment of birth. I’ve only observed this wrenching reality in people close to me. Besides those survivors who are strong and prevail, there are some who want to turn and fight, strike out, pay back. And who wouldn’t?
Refusing to be bullied, yet always nevertheless reaching out, I walked up the carport and rang Michael’s door bell. His door was ajar. It took a while for him to come to the door.
Odd allies, he and I. A bit late, he thought I wasn’t coming. His partner couldn’t join us, a parlayed Sorry.
They have a big, beautiful home, with a little yip-yip dog, and a wood deck overlooking my coveted mountain, tall, muscular Mt. San Miguel, that was dwarfed in flames this past wildfire. We hiked down the canyon together. It was a little awkward. We hardly knew each other. He handed me an embossed card, inviting us to the December gay-men’s chorus, with whom his partner sang. It’d been a few years since charlie and I’d been to the Chorus. We knew a few people there.
Megan, waiting with her teacher and hoards of classmates, saw us and blanched.
I waved her over and said, “Megan, this is my friend, Michael. We had a misunderstanding but everything’s ok. Really, it’s ok.”
Michael said to her, “Megan, I am really sorry about this morning. Sometimes grownups make mistakes. I want you to know that I am truly sorry for scaring you and being so mean.” He reached into his pocket and handed her an envelope. Inside was thick linen cardstock with an etched drawing, a handwritten note on the flipped side. A gift card for Coldstone Ice Cream slipped into her hands.
Safely off school grounds, the three of us headed up the canyon trail. Megan was speechless. I tried to explain.
“Megan, you know how we walked with Ace and how we hated all those giant Yes on 8 signs on the way to school? How I wanted Ace to pee on all those signs? How rude those were?”
“Well, Michael thought we might be one of the families who were like that, trying to hurt him.”
Megan immediately turned to Michael and said, “Oh my god. We have friends who had people in their neighborhood bothering them! My mom does yoga with this guy who had people write chalk things from the Bible on their sidewalk in front of their house and they wrote bad things on their signs and even put Yes-on-8 bumper stickers on their [his and his partner’s] car!”
For once I was glad I talk to my children about reality–not the worst, but things I was currently fighting.
At the top of the trail, we three parted ways, after chatting a little longer. As Megan and I headed up Grandview, Megan vented a huge sigh of relief.
“What?” I asked.
“When I saw you with that man at school, I was really scared. I was afraid you’d get in a fight in front of everybody. Then, when you said you were friends, I was afraid he had a crush on you. It wasn’t until we were on the trail, when you said he was gay, that I finally relaxed. He couldn’t crush on you! It was safe!”
Grownups always seemed so weird to me. Fluffy or thin hair, paunches, cigarette-and-coffee breath. They had all the power. They intrigued and perplexed me all too early. I questioned and observed them, when I was still supposed to respect them unquestioningly .
If they weren’t so flawed, I wouldn’t have noted their existence, at such an early age. I would have simply evolved into one, maybe even tried to be like one. But I couldn’t just do that. I’d gotten frozen into wondering what one was and remained the perpetual observer.
I just realized, the other day, that I am probably older, now, than half of the world’s population. The other half of the population is probably younger than I. What a scary concept! That now I have to entrust the young with my future, i must depend on them for my world. (Can they handle global warming?) What’s worse?
One thing I noticed, when I was little, is that some grownups were fakers. They really didn’t know. They really weren’t wise, I could tell.
We’re all born into this gig and many of us don’t know how to perform once it’s time for us to perform. It was so obvious, to me, the performances.
My mother fed, clothed (reasonably), and sheltered us. She didn’t help with life. I sensed she was just as confused. But she wasn’t a charlatan; she was a human caught in the crossfire of life (single mother of 8 whose husband left, long before the divorce) and doing her damnest by us.
So what makes a grownup?
I think I saw one. I’d met him in his early 20s. Still a Stanford undergraduate when I met him then, so I knew him 20 years ago. All the sudden, I saw him two decades later. We met with a group of friends for dinner.
So when you don’t see someone for two decades, you notice some things. things that have changed. What I remembered is that he had darting eyes. Questing eyes. Lights shooting out of his eyes. curious eyes. Nothing was sure. he had so much to prove, but only after exploration, and he’d get back to you on that, because he was confident, sure, but truly he didn’t know.
When I met him, two decades later, I couldn’t stop looking at his eyes.
The light was steady, calm. Calm. He wasn’t seeking anymore, and he didn’t need anyone to acknowledge or confirm his quest for existence, his quest, at least, for competence. He had arrived at some place in life.
But as the conversation grew, and facts–long, old dried-out facts, but with modern implications arose, i swear I saw a sparkle. An old interest. A raison d etre if only for the dinner conversation. Because that is the old useless spark that strikes, unawares, when you least need it but enlivens your soul. A dim light when all is given up, grown up. But when I peered into his eyes, engaged, I noted only a steady, proving calm: an insistence that ‘I am grown up.’
I read about a man who suffered a stroke in his visual cortex, rendering him “cortically blind.” His eyes functioned perfectly well–he wasn’t retinally blind. But the signals going from eyeballs to the visual processing center in the back of the brain hit the stroke wall, like so many misfired paintballs.
However, and this is the cool thing, the man couldn’t see a damned thing, but he was still able to navigate a maze full of obstacles. He couldn’t “see,” and yet he passed through it perfectly! This means his eyes saw the maze and sent the retinal information through more primitive, survival parts of the brain–motor cortex for avoiding danger, amygdala for emotional processing.
Shows that our conscious only gets a small part of what we know, what’s directing us. And this, I thought, is exactly what creative writing is like. Whenever I freak about some part of the writing process, it’s because I’m “cortically blind”–that’s all writers’ block is–the inability or refusal to let that other mysterious part of the mind, its creative surges, do the job of creating. The best stuff pops up, like a quark, and it’s not open to conscious forcing or control, or not much, anyway. I don’t really have writers’ block, I’m just lazy or too tired.
Who was it who said the hardest part of writing is appyling the seat of your pants to the chair? That’s all it is, just a matter of sitting down and letting the “retinal” muses take off. Information is coming in, it’s getting blended and frappéd in the mind, it’s coming out our fingers, whether we are conscious or can see it or not.
Control freaks do not make good creative writers. Unless they harness the control part of the controlling part of the brain. I wish we could point to the creative modules of the mind/brain as easily as the visual modules. But that wouldn’t be much fun, in the end. Better to ride the rollercoaster in the dark. Where going off the edge is a total surprise.
Mondays are hard enough. But it helps to start out a new day walking to school with Megan. We tried to walk last year, but Tropico is a narrow, curving, hilly, blind-spotted road, and to get to school we thought we had to suck in exhaust from the zillions of SUVs flying past, as parents race to drop off their kids. And the school driveway is a snarl of cars, as well. It sucked so much I made my daughters take the bus. Then! Voila, Charlie the hiking master discovered a secret trail down a back canyon behind the school. He discovered the perfect walk. We just have to cruise a mile or so down Grandview, which is wide enough that we don’t have to jump into bushes every time someone hauls past, scoot down a slightly private drive (it’s unmarked but clearly an access road for a handful of homes in this nook) cross someone’s carport, and there’s the trail. About 300 yards of fun scrambling down into the school. We’ve met the carport people, introduced our dogs, and they didn’t seem to mind our brief foray across the edge of their drive.
The walk. It’s our ritual. We hold hands, chat, look at birds, smell the morning, struggle with the dog, express disgust at the political signs that are now finally down. I’ve been training Ace not to scent-mark everything he sees, but I really wanted him to hit a few of those yellow signs (that say Yes on 8), some Hunter/McCains.
A great way to start out. And every afternoon, at 2:30, I get to do it again, where Megan tells me all about her day in the 20 minutes or so it takes to walk home, always holding hands. I still have my baby.
This morning, we turned down the drive. A guy in a truck pulled up next to us, as if to exit out onto Grandview. But he just pulled up and stared at me, idling. I stopped, a questioning look on my face. I was wearing Megan’s heavy backpack all covered in pink and white hearts.
“Do you…need something?” I asked.
“Do you?” he said.
I went cold. He was sitting in pajama bottoms, driving some sort of man truck. I don’t remember what it was, a big green SUV or utility truck. I’d never seen him before, and we’ve been walking this twice a day all year.
It’s a blur to me now what he said next, but something along the lines that we were on private property and had no right to be there. I said the people who owned that driveway down there didn’t mind.
He said that as soon as I get past that chain-linked fence I was on his property.
I said I would call the County and confirm that. Megan and I continued toward the trail. I looked back. He messed with some trash cans on Grandview, got back in his truck, and drove back down toward us, still staring at me. I stood my ground, holding Megan’s hand.
He asked what rights I thought I had to be walking on his property.
I said it pretty much looked like a canyon to me with an easement trail just like ones all over Mt. Helix. “Why am I walking? I’m walking my daughter to school. We like the fresh air, we spend time together, we like the exercise. We’re saving the environment,” I looked at his truck. “Walking on the other road is dangerous and has no sidewalks. “What kind of a problem could you have with us walking on this trail to school?” I asked.
“How would you like it if I walked in your yard.”
“I think it would be pretty obvious that you would know you were in my yard.”
I said that we live on a private drive, too, and all kinds of people drive on it. So as not to think the neighborhod access road is anything special.
I wondered if he was some sort of East County scary militia type, but I refused to be bullied.
“I don’t know what has happened to your heart, sir, to make you harrass a mother and daughter walking to elementary school, but it’s pretty sad. I can’t imagine how we could possibly offend you.”
“You’ve offended me in more ways than you know,” he said.
We headed down the trail. I was glad we didn’t happen to have hyperactive barky Ace with us. I wondered if it was this man’s trash I’d tossed plastic-knotted dog dumps into. Maybe he’d watched me this whole year clean up after Ace, training his crosshairs on me as I walked the poo to the nearest dumpster. Is that how we offended him?
“I shouldn’t say this, Megan, but he’s probably a republican.” I shouldn’t say that because there’s probably a republican in East County who’s not a jerk, to be fair. I told her he was a complete jerk, extremely rude to us.
Megan was shattered. What used to be a fun boulder trail scramble was now a horrible nightmare walk into school.
“I don’t want to come here ever again, Mom. Let it go. Don’t talk to him. Let’s go home the back way. Please. He’s scary. I don’t ever want to see him again.”
I told Megan she had every reason to be scared of him. “But I refuse to be bullied. I WILL call the County and see if this trail is in fact private property. Megan, there are no signs that say Private Property, Keep Out. That’s the rule. If it’s private, they have to tell us. No one has the right to come yell at us like that. And you know what? He may be scary, but remember that I am a second-degree black belt and if he tried to do anything to hurt you or me I would tear him apart. I could kill him with my bare hands and believe me I would if I had to. Don’t you worry! He’s just a bully.”
“Mom, don’t call the County. Don’t talk to him. Please just pick me up at the back ramp. You promise you’ll remember? I don’t care about the trail anymore. Will you? Be there at 2:30? (She always has this paranoia that I’ll forget to pick her up on time.) Now she was really thrown. I pinkie swore with her that I would be at the back ramp at 2:30, and we’d walk back home on the tortuous Tropico in the afternoon.
I kissed Megan goodbye, apologized that she had to experience such a very rude grownup. Maybe he just didn’t have a happy childhood, I told her, with a mom who walked him to school, and this makes him weird. I didn’t know.
Fuck him, I thought.
I headed right back up the trail. I thought of knocking on the driveway people’s door and asking what the hell.
He was waiting for me toward the top, where the chain-link fence skirts the trail. “What’s your name?”
Oh, that old power trick. “My name is Gayle Early. And I want your name and address.”
“How do you spell that?”
I spat it out the letters. “And give me your information.”
“You can go research that with the County.”
“Fine, I will follow you home to see where you live. This trail doesn’t look like ANYBODY’S private domain. How could you be so hateful to ruin a perfectly good and safe place for us to walk to school!
“Where’s your sign that says Private Property–Do Not Trespass–Keep Out?” I asked.
“You go ahead and call the County,” he said. “Go get yourself a lawyer, spend yourself $10,000, and I’ll see you there court. Let you pay for a judge to tell you to get off my property.”
Ah. It is an easement, just like I thought. He’s on shaky ground. Easements do run through some properties, but it’s gray. I could see five different houses backing the canyon, none that clearly “owned” it.
“Oh you can count on seeing me in court,” I said, shaking but standing my (his) ground.
He muttered something about why he should tolerate these kind of families walking on his property–again, a blur–I was so bewildered, not accustomed to running into such bewildering hate. Usually people walk or drive past us and smile, probably wishing they were walking with their child to school, or rememebering some other happy time.
He was spitting something insulting, asking me how I voted on Prop 8.
I was instantly alarmed.
I pretty much guessed that the driveway people were lesbians. Did he harrass those women, too? Did he somehow guess that I had a No on 8 sign in my yard, did he see my unshaved pits and figure out I wrote for the only progressive rag in East County? There were so many Yes on 8 signs around here, was I being sniffed out as a witch?
I exploded. “What the hell does this canyon trail have to do with politics?”
I can’t rememeber what he said.
“What does politics have to do with me walking my daughter to a fucking elementary school down a fucking canyon trail!”
I can’t remember what he said.
“Well if you want to fucking know how I voted on that fucking fucked up proposition, I voted NO and furthermore I just fucking marched with 20,000 fucking other people this weekend.” Then, like an idiot, I started crying. Not like a girl, but just tears of outrage. Was some freaky bigot questioning my beliefs and how dare he, and…what did the trail have to do with Prop 8? Why was he ruining my walk? Was he going to target me now?
He held out his hands. “You don’t need to get angry. No need to swear, here.”
“What’s next,” I asked, turning my back to continue to the top of the trail, gesturing to the wild brush choking the dry mountain wash. “Are you going to shoot coyotes, here, too? Squirrels?”
“I don’t shoot coyotes.”
“Glad to hear it.”
He said he was glad to hear that someone who lives out here voted no on 8. I turned and looked at him.
“You’re right, there’s a lot of narrow-minded, bigoted people who voted for that,” he said.
My gaydar was completely off. Here I am, fat, wearing boring clothes, dumpy mom, I must have looked like one of the righteous family-touting yellow Yes on 8 family sign stakers in the neighborhood. His straight-ar was completely off, too, not picking me out for someone who goes all out to champion human civil rights.
“Well, you’re kind of acting like one now,” I pointed out.
He said, “you have no idea what it’s like to live here, drive past these signs, in my own neighborhood everyday, and have them overturn rights we were already given by the California Supreme Court. All these people around us with their yellow family signs. I decided that if these “families” were going to take away my rights, I was not going to let you walk on my property.”
“I completely understand your anger. And I am so sorry about the idiots in this state and in our neighborhood who did this to you.”
He touched his chest. “You have no idea how this feels.”
“How do you know I’m not a lesbian?”
He raised his eyebrows. He didn’t. Touche.
But I told him he was right, I can’t fully imagine what his struggle was like, but that I was offended and frightened that a simple majority can tell others what to do, that I was afraid of what was next. I said I was married to a man, but “if Charlie were a woman I would have married her.” I told him how we both felt violated at prop 8, that we don’t feel we should have any particular right to be married if others can’t. I told him about my gay friends with kids who were harrassed and hurt deeply.
We had a long discussion about the nature of marriage, about civil marriages versus religious marriages, and how any marriage, to be recognized in this state, has to be a civil one first and foremost. I told him that members of my own family probably don’t recognize my 20-year-old marriage, in their heart of hearts, because it was conducted by a judge in a civil ceremony, not in some god’s house and according to their script. Are they going to annul me next? Take away my right to choose? What’s next?
Michael was at the march, too. His partner of 16 years, Norm, doesn’t want to go to work anymore. The only gay in the office, he’ had great rapport with all these women for years, and yet half of them voted yes on 8. Such a personal betrayal. He, Michael, said he wishes he could move somewhere else, but then he doesn’t want to be driven out of his home, too. He yanked Yes on 8 signs out of public areas, feeling that was within his right. Someone called the cops. Two–TWO–sherrif cars pulled up to question him. “I can’t even get one officer out here during a robbery, and you guys dispatch two cars for this?” He said he doesn’t know who is walking around this trail, maybe it could be someone wanting to harm them, with all the hatred and bigotry going around.
I told him I thought he was a scary militia type.
“I am,” he said.
“But I told Megan, who by the way, is terrified of you, never wants to walk here again–I said I wasn’t going to let you bully me.”
“And you shouldn’t let me or anyone bully you, just like “we” [gays] shouldn’t let people bully us. I’d like to apologize to her. She should hear an adult say, “I made a mistake.”
“She will probably understand your anger and frustration,” I said. “We counted the yellow signs, too. We hated them, too. And a guy that she had a crush on said his parents were voting yes on 8.” And now Megan doesn’t seem to be crushing on him as much now. I told him how I knocked on the door of what I thought was a lesbian couple at the bottom of our street to personally apologize that their neighbors had a Yes sign out, and I didn’t want them to feel like everyone felt that way. Turns out, the woman I talked to said, they weren’t lesbians, just have lived together for many many years. (And drive big man trucks and look the part but who’s stereotyping now).
He wants to protest at the next Grossmont High School Board meeting. He and his partner don’t have children, but they pay 43% of their taxes to public schools, something like that, and this school district took a public, political stance of Yes on 8, so he doesn’t want his taxes to go to a school that openly states bias against gays. And he certainly doesn’t want such people in this school district walking on his property.
He’s very angry and he wants to lash out. I was his first victim. He said his partner didn’t want him to go down and bother people, and that the women here didn’t mind people walking down their driveway. He realized he picked the wrong person, that he judged by appearance and misjudged. I told him we were the only people who had a no on 8 sign, but then two other families followed suit. That I feel frightened at the hostility and ignorance out there. That we should have a neighborhood alliance, and that I’m happy there’s a gay enclave in my neighborhood.
“We’re accepting, but not recruiting,” he said.
I have an appointment to meet him at his and his partner’s house at 2:30 to walk down the trail to get Megan.
You can’t have eggs without salt. I’m too far from my predatory roots to enjoy the quick snap and slurp of a stolen shell. I need to scramble my eggs on a propane-fueled cook stove, scramble them just like the heat- and pressure-scrambled rocks around us. Back in La Mesa, we moved the salt and pepper from the picnic basket to our emergency earthquake supplies, prioritizing, intuiting that the need for spices was imminent. We haven’t had a major earthquake in way too long: the earth is grinding, hitched, holding, so we packed the important stuff into The Big One boxes, and now found ourselves camping on the largest earthquake fault zone in North America without salt and pepper in our picnic basket. Charlie pointed out the irony after I complained about the tasteless eggs. Do we need a 7.5 earthquake to enjoy a decent scramble?
We joined the Stanford club on this weekend’s outing, led by Monte Marshall, geologist and geophysicist emeritus from SDSU. Monte grew up in San Diego, got his PhD at Stanford, a good decade or two before Charlie passed through. We crouched and chatted under an 8-million-year towering sandstone cliff, in Box Canyon, near Painted Canyon in the Mecca Hills where we began our hikes into the past. Last major earthquake at this spot was some 300 years ago. Not good. When’s St. Andy going to pop? Hopefully not tonight. I don’t like that car-sized boulder resting next to our tent. It crumbled off the upthrust mountain flanking our sleeping canyon, during who knows what event when.
I was in the Loma Prieta earthquake, during the World Series in 1989. Headed for my car and bang! had to hold onto a tree in our jiggling topsy-turvy business park. My friend, Karen, almost got slammed by a heavy filing cabinet as she narrowly escaped out her office door. My apartment in San Franscisco was a mere three miles from where people and their cars accordioned into a collapsed Bay Bridge, dying, thirsty, forced to spend the worst nights of their lives until rescue or death. Thinking about them made it hard for me to sleep in my comfortable bed. I wanted to call out to them across the City and its rippling Bay waters, Hold On! Please hold on.
The 6-million-old San Andreas fault snakes through these Mecca Hills, skirts the Salton Sea, and heads on down into Mexico and up past San Franscisco. This naughtly little mountain builder, this is the edge where two tectonic plates, the North American and Pacific, grind elbows and topple cities in their sibling rivalry for movement. And who knows? Maybe the tectonic plates are fueled by magnetic currents in the mantle and any destruction to civilizations inhabiting their relatively thin crusts above is really not their fault.
Bear with me through the puns. The really cool rocks, literally cooled now, are 1.8 billion years old, which we pondered and touched as we hiked up the canyon, blackish greenish gneiss and schist with white feldspar veins lapping through, sitting as the basement under fluffy tan sandstone cliffs, which we dismissed as modern and irrelevant, a mere 8 million years.
The basement rock, these darker, precambrian sedimentary layers, formed when our continent lived in another time zone and perhaps on a latitude that now hosts diving seals and Antarctic research stations–who knows what part of Pangaea these layers first settled upon–then were chucked up violently, thrust out of earth’s cemetery for us to gawk at, caress, even sit on (since they’re pretty cool), thanks to the San Andreas fault, strike-slip zones, or subduction zones where one part of the crust dives under another and causes massive mountain building.
Orogeny leads to Cataclysmic Mountain Slides.
We set up camp as far away from the crumbing sandstone cliffs as possible. We slept next to a huge boulder–when did that topple down? I didn’t want to be in the way of any future headaches.
Maeve and her friend Maddison scaled the scarps, traversed the fins of mudstone ridges that got squeezed up during the last earthquake here. I read the rocks like a history book with scrambled up pages. Pages of a once-sedimentary sea bed, or river bed compacted with its contemporary rocks and gravel, with thousands of seas and river layers atop and compressed into one-inch layers down toward the mantle, then torqued 90 degrees and thrust thousands of feet above, back into the sky, where they had once settled and sank, now rippled, bent, twisted. Powerful force, this restless earth.
Three hundred years is too long for grinding plates to not relieve pressure. The Pacific plate is trying to zipper North, secede from the North Atlantic plate. It would have been nice to straddle that fault line, on our hike, but earth has filled the crevice with soil, in these ensuing 300 years, the last time there was a rupture this part of the fault. We settled for signs of pressure, squeeze, and polish when Monte struck his geologic hammer into the mudstone hillside and retrieved rocks that revealed their sudden pressured exodus from deeper within the crust. I took one, to put on my desk.
I thought everybody knew about tectonic plate movement and that it existed forever. Not so, theoretically. When Monte was a student in the early 70s, the chair of his department scoffed at such novel theories. When Monte went to a conference in Russia in the mid 70s, scientists tethered to communist-closed information and policy still laughed at him. But when he went to a conference in Siberia in the early 90s, the old-guard, still alive and kicking, didn’t believe in the new- now old-fangled tectonic-plate theories. Well, at least we don’t have to do blood sacrifices when mother earth rears her ferocious head.
The best part of the weekend was when, Saturday night, after an appetizer-happy hour, we set out with flash lights into a darkened slot canyon, a freak feature of geology that is nonetheless beautiful. Monte thought it would be much more fun to climb through it in the dark, with a slit of stars overhead.
A woman hiked ahead, reassuring her claustrophobic, perhaps acrophobic—Stanford-grad daughter, that she would be ok. This older woman, but not so old, wearing a man’s wedding ring on her index finger, boldly climbed, squeezed and scrambled through places only magma should climb; and then came daughters, younger children, and other people with dogs.
I found it mildly hilarious that Monte never said that anything was too difficult for anyone or anyone’s animals, regardless of lawyers in the Stanford alum club. That he was fearless of lawsuit and litigation, just like old Europe. He did say that if he ever thought of such liabilities, he would never host such outings. But he did ask himself, lying awake the night before the weekend, ‘should I take these people into this potentially dangerous fault zone—who knows when it’s going to rupture again…and yet it never does when I take my classes up there.’
And he did say to us that children should stay with their parents at night in the slot canyon at all times. Which the index ring-fingered widow already knew.
I marveled, earlier in the day, how Monte himself scrambled up a scarp that I was tempted to scoot back down on my butt. When I watched him closely, his hands shook with the shaking that comes with an imminent older age that will rage, rage against the coming night, rage rage for a midnight hike. After a most pleasant happy hour with intelligent conversationalists. (Tho I must say to the ex-fusion research guy who was extolling the cheapness of nuclear power, dude, even with breeder facilities you’ll still have to dump waste in Yucca Mountain, and what’s the long-term price of that?)
In the slot canyon, everyone heaved and helped, with boosts, hand holds, miners’ lamps, flashlights. At one point, a rock arrow pointed off the sand trail to the left, but many had already stepped over the minor rock lintel next to it and kept moving forward. One man asked if anyone read ar(row)bic and I exulted about hiking among clever punsters, knowing all would be well. Someone spotted a tarantula and we were all curious, except my daughter Maeve, who tends to be incuriously arachnaphobic. The arrow-followers ended up on an endless hike, whereas we lintel-hoppers came out through the slot canyon into a star-studded mesa-topped sky. We climbed out onto a landing, of sorts, with a rock cairn pointing our way. Maeve and Megan, unfortunately, saw this as proof that the Blair Witch comes out even to mesas coughed up by the San Andreas.
Here’s one role I never expected to play in life: organic intellectual. It’s when someone stays and works from within a community, instead of bailing when things get uncomfortable and difficult or trying to effect change from some safe haven.
It’s a term I picked up in some college philosophy class. I’d thought, hell, if the Sandinistas, the Nazis, Taliban, nay even corporate pantyhose pillagers are headed my way, I’m out of there.
But we didn’t move to New Zealand after losing the second election.
In fact, we moved to a highly conservative, traditionalist, Republican enclave, East County. We waded through streets lined with “Bush-Cheney” campaign signs, looking for a house.
The farther east, the cheaper the land, and the denser the Bush-Cheney signs. We landed 10 miles out from our beloved North Park and spanky-swanky Hillcrest neighborhoods, where I would never need play the role of organic intellectual.
No cul-de-sac utopia for me, thanks, I just needed enough land where my neighbors wouldn’t have to see things to pray about. A place for fruit trees, vegetable and herb gardens, a hottub to get naked in, a place to throw the kinds of parties that attract fruit flies like me. So we’re rural, with one acre, but still sort of in a neighborhood.
A liberal democrat not getting chased out of East County after seven years gets careless, fearless of pitchforks. I volunteered at a “Vote for Change” bake sale in downtown La Mesa.
This is Big Truck country. Trucks with bumper stickers like “NØBama” and “Men for Palin.” Some of them drove down La Mesa Boulevard and hissed, booed, even flipped us off, but even more brave souls came and bought cookies.
Then an editor from a new online rag, East County Magazine, asked if I’d help write for them. A fledgling independent media outlet, with undeniable progressive leanings working in the heart of “McPain” territory.
I would become that organic intellectual. And I would do it for free.
So, for starters, I covered a protest at a new, some would say “covert,” Blackwater facility in southeast San Diego, Otay Mesa. Several police cars had arrived at the protest site and officers chatted with personnel at the facility. Gradually, many of the black & whites wandered off: It was a protest organized by people like the Peace Resource Center, for gods sakes.
To get “the other side” I called Brian Bonfiglio, the Vice President of Blackwater out here. He pulled into a parking lot just to talk to me and didn’t get where he was going for a good half hour.
If a voice could swagger, Bonfiglio’s did. This is a guy who heads the kind of corporation that, according to Representative Bob Filner (Blackwater’s in his district), “shoots first and asks questions later.” A corporation that George Bush couldn’t run his entire war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan without, according to author Jeremy Scahill. I kept my questions solely on the facility, and not about the Nisour Square shootings, which the Department of Justice is busy investigating.
Blackwater’s here to help train the Navy, but the protestors didn’t like that after “kicking them out of Potrero, where they wanted to open a mercenary training camp” they “snuck under the radar” and opened a new facility under front names in Otay.
I wrote all about that. I enjoyed Bonfiglio telling me, “I’m sorry, ma’am, there’s nothing in this process that would require me or my company to call the East County Democratic Club! Come on! That’s crazy.” I probably laughed. Bonfiglio was forthright and forthcoming, a good interview.
—Tho the protestors’ concerns are certainly no laughing matter. They’re worried about a powerful military training organization setting up shop along a border bristling with tension and racism, a mile from Otay-Mesa border crossing, a mile from the nearest ICE facility (Immigration and Customs Enforcement—that’s INS to you and me, just a rebranding), with military equipment manufacturing in Mexico and allegations they want to work with Border Patrol and drug enforcement activities in South America.
Bonfiglio said if I walked in there, I’d see ship simulators and Navy simulation stuff everywhere. (Don’t forget the firing ranges, Bri’.)
He said, “If you had real press credentials and you represented somebody, I’d be happy to show you around.”
“I don’t have official AP press credentials, because I’m working for a very small East County magazine, so, not yet.”
“You give me that name and we do a little bit of due diligence to fact check, to be honest. I don’t even care if you’re for or against a company like ours. I don’t care if you’re democrat or republican. None of that plays into this. But if you’re legitimately doing a story for a legitimate newspaper I’d be happy to show you around.”
“I’m legitimately interested in all sides,” I said, “let’s put it that way.”
So Brian Bonfiglio offers me a flak jacket. How far does the role of organic intellectual go? Is firing a gun a form of fact-checking to see if the enemy is not within?
I hope to post some more pics from the protest that were too inflamatory for pitchfork-wary East County Mag.
Red ripe garden tomatoes. Yes, we know they’re fruit. In fact, they’re ovaries. Yes, fruit are the ovaries in the plant world, sorry to break it to you.
Plucking each tomato’s genetic lineage right off the vine, yesterday, hoping to end it in a lasagna, I filled my basket. (Sure, I could harvest the pesky little seeds and start over next year, but I hate tomatoes. I planted them for a friend coming to visit from Switzerland this summer and now I have hoards of them.)
When I was little, just the smell of a fresh tomato triggered my gag reflex. I could pick chunks out of salad, but if a slimy seed stowed away under a lettuce leaf and managed to breach my mouth, I had the sensation and flavor of a corpulent garbage truck trailing that stinky trashy piss-water down a dusty alley that joined with mouldering leaf run-off to trickle a confluence of inexplicable expletives into my mouth.
In other words, probably allergic, but only to the raw acid. How could nature be so mean, masking something so foul-tasting in such a festive color.
Tomatoes and deadly nightshade are cousins, and that says it all: Lurking among their shared genes from the family Solanaceae is the gene for foul and deadly taste.
Cooked is just peachy. I love pasta, pizza, bouillabaisse all the way down to the humble tomato soup, anything red! red! red! No chunks, tho, please.
How was I ever to process these little beasts? My first attempt, I threw them in boiling water, then mooshed them hotly through a sieve, grinding their shiny backs with a marble pestle, tossing the seedy detritus. Soup tasted like battery acid.
For the second attempt, I decided to drain all the acidic juice. In fact, I could save and make fresh tomato juice, if I wanted to pull a Hamlet on the last scene. (“No, no, the drink, the drink,–O my dear Hamlet,–The drink, the drink! I am poison’d.” -Queen Gertrude, taking the first quaff)
This time, I turned off the boiling water, let the monsters bob for a couple minutes, then plunged them into an ice bath (to preserve my flesh this time), and then coolly skinned them alive, noting the lurid magenta flesh beneath the otherwise tomato-red skin. Initially, I had lopped the tomatoes in half and scooped the seed from all the tiny labial cavities, reserving the flesh for the food processor blade. What a waste of time!
Inspecting where I never dared peered before, though, I could plainly see that the seeds nested in oblong mucous pods just inside the periphery of my particular tomato variety, especially if I peeled down the outside layer. All I had to do was grip the skinned red ovary in two hands and squish! The subcutaneous seedy mucous came squirting violently out the bottom and top, nearly putting out my eye (“out vile jelly, where is thy luster now” –Lear) but leaving only a few loiterers to scrape from within.
I rototilled the meaty flesh, simmered the puree, then thew in sauteed shallots, garlic, ground turkey and beef, jalapeno, shredded eggplant, carrot, zucchini, and basil; layered it up with spinach, real, expensive mozarella, aged cheddar, jack, and freshly grated parmesan, sea salt, peppercorns, and a bit of thyme and oregano hopefully not harboring minibugs from my organic garden. And the teeniest smidge of cinnamon, a trick I learned from my daughters’ Top Chef summer camp, ostensibly disgusting, but does indeed add just a bit of complexity.
My husband and I were on a lycopene high. Had to have a couple glasses of a big red to bring us back down.
I could dig the seeds out of the compost, plant them, and squeeze more ovaries next year. But tomatoes, I am sure, are vicious viners, whether I retrieve them from the compost bucket or no. As soon as we mulch our fruit trees with our cooked compost, we will probably go out and find some volunteer Jill in the Tomato stock climbing our peaches, strangling them to get back at me.