REPORT A PROBLEM
A white cinder block building sits off the main road. It has the look of low-cost housing from the late 1950s that was converted in the 1970s to a storefront. The front is empty and abandoned, its picture window dark, the sign's broken fluorescent tubes exposed.
A lone car sits towards the back under a faded sign advertising CUSTOM SIGNS and COMPUTER HELP. Perhaps he also silkscreens t-shirts.
The house is forlorn in its decay. A fallen branch hangs off the rain gutter. The paved yard is empty and leaf-strewn, dead weeds nodding wetly under the dew.
They flanked the driveway like pillars, soft and gray. Three old men. One on the left, one on the right, and one in the center divide. They faced the passing traffic, holding signs.
One said, "Do you fear your abortion? We can help," with a phone number. The other two held gruesome pictures of slaughtered babies.
I understand the impulse to protect our society's most vulnerable. It is what drives us to be civilized.
But these gentle-looking grandfathers had never been scared girls, isolated by events spiraling out of control. When does protecting the vulnerable include traumatizing the vulnerable?
A train rolled and rumbled in the distance. Not the one through town, but the one out on the levee, at the river where the homeless camps are. A cold winter wind sharpened thought of those camps, and of my amateur historian's knowledge of the shallow lake that existed there in Gold Rush times, filled in piecemeal by squatters and broken men -- the homeless of old.
Here in town, a tense young man with a backpack asked me for directions. He looked hungry, and worried, yet unwilling to request any real help.
A train rolled and rumbled in the distance.
There is an alternate clothing store slash costume shop ghetto burgeoning along K through L Streets, more or less between 17th and 25th. Added to the sidewalk restaurants fronting converted Victorian homes and the ubiquitous bicyclists, they make for an interesting neighborhood.
Especially today. Sure, depths of winter. But winter never really came this year, and though we are not all that far south -- roughly the 38th parallel, which far to the west divides North from South Korea -- it was t-shirt weather, and the leafless trees allowed plenty of sunshine onto the afternoon's consumers of tapas and hot dogs.
The televised spectacle flashed on mindlessly. Attention was divided between it and the surrounding conversations. Much conversation was about arts festivals, as they underpin the lifestyle that draws us together.
I found myself sharply aware of three single women who seem to have me on their radar. I sat next to and had nice conversations with each. One I've known a couple years, one I've met once before, and one who was new but is already a Facebook friend thanks to a common acquaintance.
I must say, her spectacular good looks and strong personality notwithstanding, she took notice of me.
Where four flights of stairs bottom out is the breezeway between the security station and the inner halls. A hallway runs at right angles to stair traffic, and at that juncture there is a pair of restrooms, with a drinking fountain and trash receptacle between them.
Without thought a banana peel is tossed into the trash from the bottom of the stairs, flying with perfect precision across the hall and the men's room entrance, straight towards the basket.
Only to be interrupted -- is this goal tending? -- by a well-dressed man who exited the lavatory at just the wrong moment.
No one else has the talent, no one else ever could have the talent, to use just a few words and, unintentionally, enrage me. It is unintentional, but it reflects what to me is a broad psychopathy and gets under my skin like a shredding fork.
She's probably no more insane than I am. I'm just sensitive to poor word choices combined with horribly negative assumptions. She's a reject? Not a part of my family? Has to ask if she can help?
Maybe what drives me crazy is the extent and depth of her negativity. I cannot be around that.
"We can seat you right away."
I was led to the very back of the restaurant, where a raised area has floor-to-ceiling booths and subdued lighting. My date was late, so I ordered a beer. As is usual these days, I then focused on my fancy new phone.
"I'm at a table in the back," I texted. "You want a drink?"
After awhile, the reply: "water."
After arrival, my son explained he didn't want to drink right after working out. But there's no harm in it, really. We had a great conversation, and he had a mai-tai.
They're an attractive couple, smiling off-camera, he in tweed and bow-tie, she in a house dress. They're in the back yard of the house they just built. They look happy and relaxed.
Their shoulders are barely touching. Their smiles hide things.
Death of a child.
She took to religion for solace. He fought with her over her irrational beliefs.
He took to a lonely neighbor for solace. She fought with him over his selfishness.
But they tried. For the two little boys in the companion photo, they tried. For a little while. Took a nice picture.
They just kept going round and round. The two of them: Round and round, same as ever. Stuck in a pattern. Not open to learning a new way, but always churning over the same wrinkles. They were so predictable, I couldn't even formulate a wish that they try something different. What would be the point? It worked for them, somehow.
Always the same: Started out quiet; then something came along and started a tumble. Things heated up; they heated up more. Pretty soon I had to leave the room. But then: The machines timed out, and my clothes were dry.
In a photograph old and worn, its tints yellowing, thirteen young men are arrayed on the slapdash porch of a barracks, shirts off or open, smiling, mostly. A couple of them look off into the distance, as if they'd rather be doing something else.
It is somewhere on the island of Manicani in 1946, which rises on the seaward side of the Leyte Gulf, where two years before, many a Japanese, Australian, and American sailor lost his life in history's greatest naval battle.
The shirtless young man in the lower right is my father when he was twenty years old.
A little boy proudly holds a toy airplane. He's not twice its wingspan. His camera face shows the boyish happiness where play intersects parental attention. Eyebrows curved up against the bright sunlight, mouth corners upturned, he looks so much like one of mine.
It's clear from the pictures his parents doted on him. It's clear from the life he led they prepared him well to be productive and caring and, with the significant exception of interpersonal relationships, happy.
The picture was taken in 1933. I have pictures, memories, from 1997 or so of the same thing.
I miss my boys.
The image may never leave me.
We were going to lunch after a morning of meetings in a factory in the outskirts of Shanghai. Mr Lee drove us in the company's black stretch Mercedes. We passed a truck. Laborers sat in the back. An old man, surely pushing seventy, stared at me through my tinted window.
What did he think of this new China, rising skyward where villages once slumbered, crossed with paved roads, buzzing with fancy cars full of rich foreigners?
Had he been a farmer? A laborer all his life? A soldier in the war for North Korea?
I have lots of images in mind. Lots of snippets of small stories, such as build impressions of an individual. Pieces of history, events and their unexpected consequences. History in this way is not so much a tapestry, as a yard filled with pots and chairs and plants and other random things such that it becomes a garden that can be viewed and used and enjoyed without ever being entirely comprehended.
Through all that stuff, the clear line of a story is hard to draw. Easy enough to start: Just a first glance into the garden. Now, too much work.
Tomorrow will be an odd day. Two vans-full of engineers will trek three hours to the home office, meet for an hour with a big cheese, have lunch, come partway back for a "team-building exercise" at a bowling alley, and then drive home again.
If I'm lucky, my phone won't run out of battery. But it probably will. I don't know what apps to not run to preserve it. Nor do I want to bother with rooting just to extract another few percentages.
If I'm not lucky, my manager will want to talk shop all the way down.
The light was better than last time. It wasn't as dark, and there were more colors.
I didn't take pictures of the light source because I have enough pictures already of backlit gin and vodka bottles.
The music was much better too. All house.
She was a delight to watch, all in her new heels and a short red skirt, one shoulder bare, blonde hair bobbing.
I was all in black. She smiled at me a lot.
I enjoyed the scenery in its variety of short skirts and exposed cleavages but the age range was about that of my children.
It shone in the dark like a spaceport of childhood dream, all glass and light under the dark starry sky, suspended on slender steel threads.
The illusion was broken by the crawling stream of mundane automobiles, contemporary models. Nothing sleek and futuristic levitating above a gleaming metal roadway, but just plain old cars, windshields, steering wheels, rubber on asphalt.
And by the unfinished nature of the new airport, temporary wooden signs anchored by sandbags, weeds sprouting where the architects' plans have not yet borne fruit.
But it is beautifully functional, as proven when I stopped, and there emerged my son.
How profound the influence, I may never clearly judge. It is a park to me, a vast and beautiful assemblage of trees and pathways, and of light playing on buildings. As a park it is a place to decompress and reflect and recreate.
But there is a vast additional influence in the fundamental nature of its buildings. Whether Gothic Revival or Beaux Arts and redolent of learning, Bauhaus and ugly in their mid-century functionality, or just new, they all share a purpose. There is science here.
This park of my childhood is also one of the world's premier universities.
Plan A: Go to two party planning meetings, meet g'friend there, go play.
Plan B: Go to first party planning meeting only, take child to airport, text g'friend later, see what haps.
Plan C: Argue with ex, skip party planning meetings entirely, take child to airport, g'friend unknown, whatever.
Plan D: Argue with ex, leave for home, learn child's got another ride to airport, go back to house just to pay him for flight, spend evening wrestling with irrational feelings of abandonment, try to get something useful accomplished to make up for it.
I knew I'd get it right eventually.
It's an opportunity; prime real estate; an eyesore; a toxic waste site; a vast historical artifact; a boondoggle.
In the late 1800s the entire West rotated around this railyard. Its buildings rang with the hammers and fires of locomotive construction and repair. Trade bound for the entire world rolled along its steel ways.
Now it's gray dirt and broken brick and burnt wood and iron under rust. Broken arched windows; twisted rails; abandoned railcars.
Beauty beyond description.
My dream is to get behind the chained link and take pictures. My dream is to see it revitalized and come back alive.
The wall is broad and tall and sort of a taupe color, whatever that is. I only know "taupe" exists because a chick friend mentioned it recently. Apparently it's not very specific. So taupe will do for this stucco'd wall that rises above the old alleyway and has century-and-a-half-old brick under the surface.
Here and there, windows stick to the wall like refrigerator magnets. Peeling paint, iron shutters. On the glass, faded gold lettering: "D.O. Mills & Co."
An old bank whose records collection dates back to 1847. Not, therefore, a local invention like Wells Fargo.
How this one warehouse managed to survive I don't know. The rest of the riverfront is lined with dogwoods shading concrete foundations and abutments whose business usage ended decades ago. Yet this one small building stands, doors plated over, external graffiti erased. The bike trail goes right by it. The freeway looms overhead. All surrounding lots are vacant while this one concrete structure watches through dark unglazed windows over the river, patiently awaiting its destiny.
In some far distant decade it might be a restaurant or small collection of shops with an historical plaque nailed to the wall. Now? Nuthin.
The sky is a gentle cobalt shading to cerulean and cool black as I exit my car. I have so much to do. I really no time to stop. But it is so pretty above, so pretty and pure and clean. The hectic hour to hour of my minuscule human life is the spoor of an ant against the glorious emptiness of this evening sky.
The moon is waning into a deep crescent, a white lunar thumbnail with the ocean's reflection painting her belly in deep charcoals, while the anima motrices of Venus and Jupiter drive them shimmering.
Bought some wine. The Petite Syrah and the Merlot from Bogle seem particularly good so went with those again.
We are trained to think of vineyards as spreading across gentle hills and small intimate valleys where soils and mists combine just so. And there are many parts of California redolent of the wine regions of Italy.
But this one is down in the broad Central Valley, just south of the Capital where Delta breezes blow. A farming family decided a decade or three ago to try wine grapes. So far so good.
Some day let's explore their slough and see.
A favored yardage store on an old business street in the funky part of an upscale town.
Women that would be called hippies or neo-hippies or some such nonsense in most other parts of the country but are just normal people out here.
Shelving resplendent with yarns of every color and texture. Shirts and dresses and aprons and babywear of every type in white cotton only. Bolts of raw white silk ready for any project, any project at all.
Like a neighborhood hardware store -- you know, one of the good ones that has everything -- only for the distaff side.
Lovely little town. Development seriously discouraged. Indeed, rendered nearly impossible. Unincorporated, the only political power is in the water company, and the board simply issues no new water meters. Can't build without a water meter.
Rumored unfriendly to outsiders. There are no roadsigns directing the way. But it was one of the friendliest of places. Poor, too, everyone living off arts and crafts, the minuscule tourism industry, and no doubt various forms of government largesse.
No motels. The one hotel was built in the early 1850s. Six rooms, all in a couple bungalows out back. No phone, no TV.
Floods of images. A few captured by cameras, but two hundred is less than a drop in that bucket. Some of those images would be quite inappropriate for display in any case.
Muted greens, rocky outcroppings, lichen, small ranches, fallow fields, eucalyptus trees, rotting wood, rusting cars, 19th Century buildings still in use.
Relentless waves, achingly cold water, beautifully painted sea walls, surfers in wet suits, old men with nothing, windows lined with paintbrushes, gulls arguing, hawks and hang-gliders cruising thermals overhead.
A continent's new edge, always reborn with fresh rockslides, unknown to navigators until the 1800s.
The merest glimpse in a far reach of the lab.
Short, tousled, dark red hair. Sharp features. Maybe Eastern European. Young, very young, RCG perhaps, even intern.
Immersed in her work.
A set to the mouth. A depth to the eye. A cut to the hair.
The specific manner in which she slouched.
One of these, or something else, caught my eye. And held it. I kept to my path and walked with a sideways gaze. Looked for glimpses between stacks of equipment. For clues. For answers.
What was it? Who is it?
No information forthcoming. Look again another day.
Photographs and frames. Pictures and pieces. Plaques and playthings. Awards. Diplomas.
Not to mention piles of boxes boxing boxes of piles.
Almost a form of tyranny. If I were ruthless I could throw it all away. But there are treasures hidden here and there.
I found the uniform the Navy issued him in 1944, service ribbons still pinned.
Little toys demonstrating simple scientific principles with which he entertained my sons in the 1990s.
Various random items whose intrinsic value is questionable but unquestionably above zero.
Just have to spend my precious time. It'll all be out of my way eventually.
The Tip Jar