Monday, April 30, 2007

Death in the Garden

The landlord's "landscapers" are here today. They have buzzed every blade of grass down to the dirt and zapped every last tendril of wisteria from the yard next door that I trained to hang over the fence so we could enjoy the blooms, too. The lilacs have been hacked into oblivion, the roses trimmed back to stumps, and the hydrangeas eliminated just as they had begun to bud. Even the lilies are gone. The lilies. What did they ever do to anyone?

It looks like the end of the world out there.This is the owner's idea of tending our "garden." Some people have no soul. The scene is one of utter devastation. They have gone to war against the roses and emerged victorious. My English country garden is now an uninhabitable planet.

I am the only person in our building who uses the backyard. I prune the roses in the fall, and deadhead the hydrangeas when they have finished blooming so they can make new flowers the next year. I've been encouraging several lilac shoots that had sprung up on our side of the fence, and now they are gone, too. Even the colorful nasturtiums that are so delightful in small kitchen bouquets and salads have been raped by the marauding armies. My mint patch is defunct. I had five or six varieties planted there, all gone. It is an ex-mint patch now. They did the same thing last year at about this time. I hoped it was an aberration, but apparently, it's a habit.

Trees defoliated more than once go into Irreversible Decline Syndrome. Over several years, they die, one branch at a time.

I wonder if there is a human corollary. Do those who have been hurt more than once in relationships close down their hearts so that love refuses to bloom there again? It wouldn't surprise me. There are three men stomping among the plants, loud machines strapped to their backs like suicide bombers. If they touch anything in my flower pots, there will be a murder. I am watching.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Saturday Night

But no pink Cadillac.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Black Hole

Helping Flip find lost objects is a full-time job, and brings out certain undesirable elements of my vocabulary. He is always looking for something, and I feel pressed into service to find it for him so we can all get some peace. Since he rarely puts things back in the same place twice, it can be frustrating. It is never easy .

Just now it was the tiny black cap from a double-ended Sharpie. I spent considerable time out of my life on hands and knees, combing through rugs, before he gleefully announced that it was on his desk. Where it should be. I feel as if I witnessed a special moment in history, as it will never happen again. Luckily, I am not violent.

Earlier, I was obliged to ransack our entire apartment for a Guitar Center receipt which could not be found. I try to contain his vast collection of equipment receipts in a single large file, but sometimes, they get away from me. In this instance, I never did find it, but since they have all his purchases from the beginning of time in their computer, it requires only that we luck out and get a salesman who knows how to locate it. No small undertaking in itself. Except for the guy who looks like Keith Richard, Guitar Center employs mostly very young men who fantasize about being the next Jimi Hendrix while earning minimum wage. No one else could possibly stand the cacophony in that place all day long.

Flip is now rummaging in our largest closet, repository for five toolboxes, a dozen cartons and other items too numerous to mention (if I even remembered what was in there.) This time he was trying to find sandpaper. He knew better than to enlist my services for the third time in less than an hour. Besides, I don't know where it is, either. I have merely mastered the art of looking behind things to find other things. This is an advanced concept that I am not sure male DNA is capable of grasping. At least, not around here. He is always amazed when I move an object a tiiiiiny millimeter and what do you know? The missing item appears. Flip believes that I am magical, but really, I am just a more creative searcher. It has never occurred to him that what he seeks would be anywhere other than right in front of him. If it is not, then it must have fallen off the planet entirely. Otherwise, he understands depth perception as well as anyone.

Sometimes I work this to my advantage. I can hide a box of cookies endlessly by placing them behind another box right in the shelves designated for food storage. He will never be the wiser. Occasionally, this fails. I am always surprised when that happens. The other day, when he bought a case of beer, I bought a selection of Odwalla drinks for myself. I set them in the refrigerator door among other bottles containing maple syrup, ketchup, and walnut salad oil. Imagine my surprise when he drank them all. I had no idea he would even notice them. Next time, I'll hide them behind the beer.

He never tires of our little game of hide-and-seek but seems to regard it as a necessary condition of life, while I have begun to keep a mental dossier of all the time I spend looking for things that are usually hiding in plain sight. For those who are sighted. In some way that I cannot even begin to contrive, he owes me.

We stopped for gas on the way to Guitar Center. The gas cap took that opportunity to haul ass and look for a better home. Did it really think it would fit on a Porsche or a Jaguar? By the time Flip figured out what that sloshing noise was, at nearly $4 a gallon, our gas cap was occupying that special place in hell where so many of our things reside. Even my talent for divining could not locate it. I redeemed myself shortly afterward when I bird dogged his lost sunglasses in Safeway. They were right where I thought they would be, in the chips aisle.

"You could not survive one day without me," I reminded him. "You would never find anything."

"It's not lost on me," he said.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Soak Up The...Sun?

Singer Sheryl Crow is pushing for the introduction of a ban on using too much toilet paper to help the environment. "I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting." She has not suggested how this ban could be enforced. Will we have toilet paper police in our bathrooms, handing out tickets to those who are overly exuberant at the roller? Will we have to do hard time for using two squares instead of only one? How about three? Will the sentences be commensurate with how many squares we use? What is the ratio of number of squares to number of ply? Crow advocates using "only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required." Pesky? She's gotta be kidding.

She also thinks that paper napkins "represent the height of wastefulness," and has designed a clothing line with what she calls a "dining sleeve." The sleeve is detachable and can be replaced with another "dining sleeve" after the diner has used it to wipe his or her mouth. How very Middle Ages of her. She says, "Although my ideas are in the earliest stages of development, they are, in my mind, worth investigating." I'd like to give her a piece of my mind. She could definitely use some additional brain cells, preferably working ones.

When are we going to stop assuming that celebrities are experts on things which have nothing to do with their area of expertise? I suggest that she stick to singing and leave the thinking to those who are better at it.

Update - (tidbit)

At a White House dinner Saturday, Crow and her friend, environmental activist Laurie David, approached Karl Rove and urged him to take a "fresh look" at the science of global warming. According to David's account of the exchange, the senior White House adviser "immediately got combative," and launched into a defensive recitation of the administration's global warming policy. When Crow laid a hand on Rove's arm to try and diffuse the situation, he shook her off, snapping, "Don't touch me!" Politically significant? Perhaps. Or maybe he just knew that she uses only one square of toilet paper. I wouldn't want her touching me, either.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Clear and President Danger

I've been trying to convince Flip to run for President. I suggested that he toss his hat in the ring. He has several hats, actually, one for each baseball team whose city we have ever visited, and is able to switch loyalties according to his mood. And his outfit.

I pointed out that he also has a bicycle hat. "Helmet," he corrected me. "It goes on your head -- it's a hat," I replied. He walked away shaking his (hatless) head. I smiled. Gave myself a few high-fives.

Here are some benefits if he were President:

We would have enough room for all the animals that need a home. After all, the President probably gets a very large allowance for new carpeting. He could have an entire wing for his guitars. And hats. He plays well with others. Never holds grudges. Good handshake. He would be paid for doing nothing. I'm sure that Flip could do nothing at least as effectively as others have. The White House has a beautiful rose garden. I love roses. Even though a humongous thorn impaled my finger yesterday, which is now red and swollen, infected, too, and I'm probably going to die of it.

It's unfair that we always injure the hand we use most. I am not even slightly ambidextrous, but my left hand will have to be my right hand soon. We would get to travel all over the world and wave at crowds from motorcades. I've been studying great wavers, and practicing. Madonna is good, but Queen Elizabeth has the best wave ever. Minimalist. The lady never breaks a sweat. She probably had waving lessons. I wonder if people curtsy to the First Lady. I hope so. It would be fun to be curtsied to. Also, justice. I refused to curtsy as a child because it was girly, which made my mother cry. My mother was born with a silver cross in her back and cried easily. I think she had crying lessons. It was always over me. Flip could have a really good band and do his own command performances.

I would be the first First Lady in history to wear blue jeans on Air Force One. Everything else in my closet would be cashmere, except for the ball gowns. And shoes. I would have one of those revolving dry cleaner's racks for my clothes, stretching for miles. Miles.

Flip asked me why I don't run for President myself since I'm always complaining about women being second class citizens. I couldn't believe he asked me that. I have better things to do with my time.

Oh, Baby

Friday, April 20, 2007


I should have checked my facts better. Two friends have referred me to which is the clearing house for debunking rumors.

My previous post about Great Britain removing Holocaust studies from its teaching curriculum is false. Apparently, only one history department out of the entire country stopped teaching this subject matter because it wished to avoid confronting anti-Semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among Muslim pupils.

What is more, I am informed that the Daily Mail is not a reputable newspaper, but is, in fact, more of a scandal rag. As an American, I was unaware of this. I feel as stupid as if I had assumed that an article in the Globe or Enquirer about a 3-headed baby with an Elvis tattoo born to a male Doberman Pinscher at the North Pole was proven fact.

I am so sorry for offending anyone with my righteous indignation about a topic that would deserve it if it were true, but isn't.

I'm glad and relieved to be wrong in this instance. In fact, I am thrilled that I was wrong. My heart is lighter knowing that a great nation like the United Kingdom has not given up the intelligent world leadership and dignity for which it has always been known. It would be devastating for the world if my facts had been accurate.

Please talk amongst yourselves. I'm verklempt.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hail, Britania

This week, the United Kingdom removed all references to the Holocaust from its school curriculum because it offended the Moslem population, which claims it never occurred.

It is now more than 60 years after the Second World War in Europe ended. Under Adolf Hitler, the Nazis murdered six million Jews, 20 million Russians, 10 million Christians and 1,900 Catholic priests while people around the world declined to notice.

Now, Iran joins other nations and individuals, including Mel Gibson, who claim that the Holocaust is a "myth."

There will always be those who prefer to put a prettier face on such atrocities so they can sleep better. It is particularly disturbing, though, when a world leader like England is willing to rewrite history to appease those who have a blatantly vested interest in the outcome.

Pandering to those with hate-filled hearts benefits no one.

When we remember the men, women and children who were butchered for no fault other than their religious beliefs, we not only honor them, we remind ourselves that while the human spirit is capable of conceiving and executing the most heinous acts, it is also capable of great love and heroism.

The number of survivors of the infamous death camps dwindles every year. There are also fewer left who remember seeing crude numbers tattooed on the arms of older relatives, and hearing their tragic personal histories.

Truths die when there is no one left to pass them on. Written records are the only reliable means by which this painful history lesson will reach future generations. Expunging them does not negate their truth. It makes liars of those who support such actions.

We must never let that happen. This particular truth about one of the darkest chapters in human history should not be allowed to sink into oblivion.

If we fail to remember these deeds, we are in grave danger of repeating them.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Bird Wars

I get taken in every time. A little sunshine, and I think it's a glorious day for a bike ride. Which it would be except for the gentle 80 mph breeze whipping off San Francisco Bay. Still, we had some three day-old bread to donate to sea gulls, so off we went.

As soon as you make a throwing gesture with one arm, they swarm in for the kill. Even the ones who are so fat (from previous bread crumbs) that they can barely fly. Thirty miles out to sea, they sense a free meal and waddle in on wings. I have great aim. After much practice, I know how to compensate for the stiffest wind to lob carbs to the bird of my choice. I have a thing for underdogs underbirds. I try to feed the ones who are less aggressive, usually females. While also dropping tiny crumbs for the pigeons and other birds of small pride that cluster wherever sea gulls feast, vying for leftovers.

Suddenly a woman appeared on the next bench, carrying a sack big enough to smuggle a body in, filled with rolls. She had a whole frickin' bakery right there. On the next bench. In a heartbeat, nearly all the sea gulls abandoned me and flew over there, screeching and quivering in anticipation. I couldn't believe she set up shop right next to me. With a bread warehouse.

"She stole my birds," I said. Flip shrugged.
"How far apart are these benches, about 30 feet?" I asked him.
He looked at me nervously. "WHY?"
"Don't you trust me?"
"No. What are you planning to do?"
"She stole my birds," I repeated. "MY BIRDS."

The wench wasn't even dressed nicely. Or pretty. Yet she had so many birds around her that it looked like a Hitchcock movie. She was just sitting on the bench, tantalizing them with her huge bag of loot. Then she stood up and tossed a small crumb onto the boardwalk. Two dozen gulls dove for it. I think she was slipping them diet pills, or cocaine. Those good time Charleys didn't even remember me. I am not a particularly contentious person by nature, but we were in it now.

Competitive Bird Feeding 101.

What I needed was a large meathook or mechanical crane to airlift her out of there. I didn't have either one.

I tried telepathy. On the birds. "Poop on her. Poop on her now."

I tore up a handful of large crumbs and tossed them. Only five gulls remained in my camp. Five loyal gulls out of 40 or 50. And a lot of pigeons.

You know who loves ya, baby.

Another flock of sea gulls flew in from Hawaii and settled themselves on the bulkhead, watching her intently.

She rattled her gunny sack, just to be mean.

They waited patiently. Like high school boys checking out a new girl. With my bread going to waste 30 feet away. Organic bread. With 3 kinds of seeds in it.

She tossed another smidgen to nobody in particular. They acted like she hung the moon. She doled out crumbs as if she didn't care whether they were there or not. They inhaled every morsel like white on rice.

Men and sea gulls are suckers for indifference.

Next time, I'm going to spread my bread crumbs with peanut butter.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Tea for Two Three

"Daisy, Maisie, give me your answer, do.
I'm half crazy, all for the love of you.
It won't be a stylish marriage,
I can't afford a carriage,
But you'll look sweet
Upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two THREE.

Today I saw the ultimate romantic vehicle - a bicycle built for three. It was the stretch limo of bicycles. Just perfect for a menage a trois. Or conjoined triplets. (Depending on where they were conjoined, of course,)

Or polygamists. Of course, the wives would probably fight over who sits where.

The man I saw was alone, walking his vacant three-seater along a crowded Saturday sidewalk. He looked dejected. Tired. Miserable. And very likely, clueless.

Sometimes, love just doesn't work out the way you intend.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Little More About Dogs

Outside the health food store, two very small, fat-free, organic hairless dogs were tied to a post. They had gotten tangled in each others' leashes, and were trembling with cold. Flip and I stooped to pet them. They responded with affection that seemed way beyond friendliness. More like gratitude. The kind of gratitude that makes you suspect they don't get much coddling at home.

Their owner came out of the store. She was a pretty young blond who was clearly angry that we were petting her dogs. I never understand this reaction in dog owners. Are they afraid that their dogs will like somebody else better? Or maybe their dognapper paranoia has kicked in. She acted as if she had caught us lounging against her Mercedes, perhaps pissing on the tires.

I asked if the dogs were Whippet puppies. She preened a little and told me they were Italian Greyhounds. She added that this is a Rare Breed. Her attitude conveyed that we were contaminating them with our plebeian, probably dirty, hands.

I got the feeling that she regarded them as accessories, very expensive accessories that would proclaim to the world how incredibly special she was. And if they froze to death, which seemed likely from all the shivering going on, she would just replace them like dead flowers.

Dogs deserve better.

I ended up my travels at the beach, playing with dogs and children. I used up all my film, and headed for the parking lot.

That was when it happened. Right before I got to the car, I saw the most adorable small dog I have ever seen, smiling at me from her leash. She looked like a fox. (I mean like the animal, fox, not .. well, you know.)

I'm in love again. I can't believe it. It wasn't supposed to happen like this. I wasn't looking, and I didn't intend to change my life. But it hit me right between the eyes anyway. Damn that Cupid.

I am a big dog person. The bigger they are, the harder I fall. Big as horses, no problem. ( I also love horses, as it happens, but I never, ever get the two confused.) I just really love big dogs.

She hurled herself at me. She was both elegant and adorable. Her smile was enchanting. Her fur was plushy. If Audrey Hepburn had been a dog, she would have been this dog.

She was also immaculate. My wolf could play in the surf, roll in sand and shake herself clean in seconds. Dogs cannot do this. But there she was, clean as a shaft of sunlight playing on field stone.

And she loved me, too.

"I can't understand it," her owner said. "She's usually not that friendly."

I didn't rise to the bait. I was kneeling in the parking lot, getting doggie kisses all over my face. Grinning stupidly.

The lady tugged on her leash. Our little illicit tryst was about to end. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

I asked the nice lady what breed she was as she dragged Audrey away. Over her shoulder, she called back, "Shina inu. It's Japanese."

I came home and Googled it. Here she is.

I really, really have to have a dog like this.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Spring is in the Air

As I walked out on the sidewalk today, I saw two pairs of legs lying on the steps to the next-door building. The two top feet pointed down, the bottom two, up.

How very strange, I thought. I wonder if two kids are fighting. I walked over to have a closer look.

The person on top, the very young person on top, about 14, maybe, had his pants down below his butt and seemed to be kissing the person beneath him, whose arms were around his neck.

Well, good. They weren't fighting. Although it must have been quite painful for the person who was lying directly on concrete stairs. It was impossible to tell whether that person was male or female.

I clicked the garage door open and got into my car.

By the time I had warmed it up and backed out, the steps were empty.

"Did I hallucinate?" I asked Flip.

"No, they were there," he said.


"It's spring."

It was 2 o'clock in the afternoon. This is a quiet residential street, a few blocks from San Francisco Bay.

As we drove away, we passed the building on our other side. There was a teenaged couple, boy and girl, having stand-up sex in the entryway. They were about the same height. I saw that both had dropped their pants, which looked familiar.

This time, the girl was pressed against the mailboxes.

She probably has some interesting designs imprinted on her butt.

At least I didn't have to get out the hose.

Maybe I should have left the garage open.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I Am Pissed

One of the Rutgers University Women's Basketball players, Kia Vaughn, said it best:

"Unless they've given 'ho' a whole new definition, that's not what I am."

I will not replay Don Imus' incredibly offensive remark, or delve into what kind of mental illness would make a person think it was funny.

But he, and any other racists out there, should not be allowed to spew hatred over the air in any context. His brand of "humor" needs to be retired as surely as lynch mobs and Jim Crow "laws."

Americans should be righteously disgusted and just plain tired of seeing the same ground covered over and over with no real gain. As long as anyone still holds such egregious ideas, we should all be ashamed because doing nothing just contributes to the problem. It is not good enough to proclaim ourselves above such attitudes. Those of us who are not racists must make our voices heard if we really want things to change.

Or they never will. It's that simple.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Smoke and Mirrors

I am miserable. I do not smoke, but our new neighbor seems to be a chain smoker, and the entire building, including Our Apartment, stinks. My hair stinks. My clothing stinks. I am coughing from second-hand smoke, and I am mad as hell.

This fire-breathing dragon goes in and out, dangling a cigarette from her thin, puckered lips. She looks years older than she probably is, and the wake she throws makes me gag.

Does she think it's sexy to smell like a burning dumpster?

When I was young, everyone smoked. It was a second-hand smoke world. Movie actors looked really cool, dangling ciggies sexily from the corners of their mouths.

I sneaked into the bathroom with a stolen treasure and got up the courage to light a match to something so close to my face. I gazed into the medicine chest mirror, expecting to be transformed from an eleven-year old innocent to a mysterious woman of the world. Did I mention sexy? That, too.

The thin white cylinder in my little hands with chewed fingernails was going to instantly morph me into a screen siren, a breaker of hearts, a woman who could purr, "If you want me for anything, just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? Just put your lips together and blow."

That kind of woman.

Instead, I coughed. And kept coughing. I sneaked glimpses of myself in the mirror through bloodshot, teary eyes, still hopeful that somehow, the incredible mutation had taken place.

It hadn't. The smoke kept curling back into my eyes. I blew it away, then quickly took a puff. I wasn't quick enough. It snaked around and burned my eyeballs even as it was choking me. My eyelashes got singed.

I did not look sexy. I looked sick. Bilious has never been the new sexy.

I gave up smoking at age eleven.

My mother had warned me that smoking would stunt my growth. Since my short father smoked, the argument had some merit. But all my friends who smoked got tall while I did not. It's amazing how little it took to do that.

I've left a voice mail for the apartment manager asking if it is, as I suspect, illegal in California to smoke in common areas of a multiple-residency dwelling.

I don't think they will be happy if I take to entering and exiting via fire escape. It could lead to a law suit if I fell. Of course, I'd still be dead. But my family might get something out of it.

I sprayed the hallway mightily with Ozium, including my neighbor's door and keyhole. I opened the hall window and the door to the backyard stairwell. I crammed a draft dodger under our door. The noxious fumes still pervade everything.

If people want to destroy their lungs, it is their right. But they do not have the right to destroy mine. I could do that myself if I wanted to.

My whole world is going up in a carcinogenic haze.

Oh, where is that smoke-free planet when I need it?

I do understand how difficult it is to give up an addiction. I once counseled a woman at the domestic violence shelter I managed who was a serial smoker.

She had already had cancer, while her five-year old daughter suffered from emphysema and needed to spend eight-hour stretches hooked up to oxygen.

The child was unable to attend school because of this, but her mother refused to give up smoking.

"I've got 20 years invested in my smokes," she said. "Nobody's gonna tell me what to do."

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Vy Not a Duck?

How did the rabbit become a symbol of Easter?

From ancient times, the hare was revered by many pagan cultures because of its notorious fertility. The Saxons also worshiped a fertility goddess named Eastre, who was honored with a festival every spring when plants returned to life and animals mated after the long winter. In the 2nd century, Christian missionaries converted Northern European tribes by combining pagan festivals with their own holidays to make Christianity more palatable. Since the Eastre festival occurred around the same time as the resurrection of Jesus, it was easy to blend them together. The rabbit was part of the package.

Eventually, Eastre became Easter, and the symbolism changed as well. The rabbit no longer represented fertility, but a vulnerable creature that could be sacrificed, like the lamb. Christians considered these innocents tokens of Christ and his sacrifices.

The Easter bunny derives from a German tradition in the 1500's. Children were told that a magical rabbit would leave them a nest of colored eggs at Easter if they were good. The first jelly beans were placed in children's shoes. Before long, there was so much candy that a larger container was needed, so they began to use baskets. The Pennsylvania Dutch settlers brought this custom to America in the 1700's, and we've been observing it ever since.

I do not believe in leaving anything to chance. It's time to make a run to the Godiva chocolate store to purchase a dark chocolate bunny for myself. I've been a good girl. I deserve it. First, I'll nibble off his ears....

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Only Good Vampire is a Dead Vampire

I have a powerful aversion to vampire lit. It repels me. Even thinking about it makes my blood tired. As soon as I realize that I am holding a book with a vampire theme, I shove it back on the shelf so fast it raises dust clots in the air. The name Ann Rice makes my stomach twist. How can entire novels be written about bizarre eating habits? This is not the same as my dislike of romance novels. I simply don't read them. End of story.

While flicking TV channels, the mere sight of bloody teeth sends me racing to the bathroom, fighting my body's strong urge to yakk up everything I have eaten for the past five years.

The one exception to this is the Count on Sesame Street. He is cute. His bats are cute. There is no blood. His fangs look more like a pointed overbite. I am as brave as the average three-year old, so he does not scare me. I just don't get the appeal of people slipping their fangs into other peoples' necks. I check mine all the time for suspicious marks. When my skin looks too pale, I worry. I adore sunlight. I cannot imagine that sleeping in a coffin is comfortable. And the capes... so heavy. Does this mean that I used to be a vampire and retain some degree of anxiety about relapsing? Is it even possible to be an ex-vampire, or is vampirehood a permanent condition? I believe the literature would have us think so. Not that I know because I don't read it.

I am not particularly squeamish otherwise. My doctor uncle once invited me to watch him remove an appendix, stipulating that if I had to faint, I should do it away from the table. I didn't. Plus, anyone who met some of the men I dated long ago would know without a doubt that I am not easily nauseated. Still, I worry. It's a good thing I like garlic.

A Totem of my Esteem

I have wondered for years what my totem animal is. Native American and Celtic shamanistic beliefs refer to both "totem animals" and "power animals." These terms are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. A totem animal is one that is with you for life. It is an animal with whom you share a connection, either through your interest or resemblance to it. A power animal is a spirit in animal form that comes through with a specific lesson for you, and will change throughout the course of your life.

All my life, wherever I have lived, even in big cities, I have heard an owl hooting. I find great comfort in the sound, and against all reason, I take it personally. It is for me that the owl hoots. Most owls are nocturnal. I hear this owl's voice every day, all day. It is the steady backdrop of my life. Owls are solitary birds. So am I. I do not hunt small animals, however.

These mournful-sounding creatures know when to be still. They do not feel the need to proclaim their presence to anyone until the timing is right. In Native American legend, Owl comes to us when we need to open our eyes and study the situation at hand. If we watch and listen with our inner selves, we can figure out what is happening behind the scenes and confront those who would deceive us at the appropriate time.

The owl symbolizes the feminine, the moon, and the night. I am female and nocturnal by nature, and the moon is my birth sign. Yet, unlike the owl, I do not know when to be still. I am endlessly vocal and also, I cannot fly.

An owl totem bestows wisdom, vision, insight, and clairvoyance, and specializes in seeing hidden motives in others.

I am sure that one of my totem animals is the wolf because of my years with a gray wolf I called Baby. She taught me courage as she lived her life fully in total blindness. She was loving and gentle, the exact opposite of the ferocious killers touted in fairy tales and the fabrications of cattle ranchers to justify slaughtering them.

The Wolf totem is a pathfinder for the human spirit, teaching skill and helping to find ones life-path.

The wolf is a free spirit which exemplifies loyalty, cooperation, perseverance, and taking advantage of change. Wolves mate for life and fight only when necessary.

My third totem animal could be the horse. I have always loved horses, and as a child, fantasized about riding one around my suburban neighborhood. Years later, I adopted three ponies in need of a home. My younger daughter became an excellent rider and jumper, and competed in shows.

I never learned to ride well, but loved to wander bareback on Star, our Exmoor pony. He tolerated me on his back because of apples and carrots, and because I was light. The Exmoor pony, which is native to the Moors of England, has an overly developed upper lip for eating lichen. Star used his for working the combination lock to our barn, which held a barrel of irresistible sweet feed. I am sure that he was magical (or possessed) because horses are not supposed to do this. After many years of love and mischief, Star was murdered in the field next to our house. Perhaps an illegal hunter mistook him for a deer. When I found his body and climbed into the ravine where he lay on his side, I told him, crying, how much I loved him. A single large tear rolled out of his eye and ran swiftly down his face onto the ground, so I knew that his spirit could hear me.

The horse totem symbolizes freedom, beauty through strength, mobility, sharing power with others and carrying messages.

Star and Baby will always be with me. And the owl reminds me to use my insight for good. If he is a spirit animal, then I'm sure that one owl has been with me all my life. I have not given him a name because he is invisible. If he ever reveals himself to me, that may change.

My fourth totem animal candidate is the dolphin. A pair of them led my family to safety in our small boat during a hurricane on Block Island Sound when I was a child, and they seem to show up whenever I visit the seashore. They have been known to keep me company right beyond the breakers as I strolled for miles along a beach, turning when I did to retrace my footsteps disappearing in the sand.

A dolphin totem teaches how to enter the waters of life and to call forth what you most need with breath and sound. I am still learning these things, and have far to go.

My final possible totem animal is the deer. I have always been able to walk among them in the forest, and a few have even lapped at a salt lick in my hands while allowing me to pet them. Deer teach us to use the power of gentleness to touch the minds and hearts of wounded beings in our lives. They walk the path of love with full awareness, knowing that love requires caring and protection. I am just beginning to understand that this applies not only to others, but to how we love ourselves.

The deer totem symbolizes compassion, peace, gentleness, sensitivity, kindness, and unconditional love.

Here is a quiz to help you find your own inner spirit totem animal. According to this quiz, mine is the mustang.

"The spirit of the Mustang, the everlasting symbol of love and of generosity protects you from being used by others who would take advantage of you. You are the kind of person willing to lend your strengths to those who are true to you so that they may better themselves and get back on their own feet."

I may never determine which animal is my true totem, but my life is so much richer because of animals I have known and loved, and the many gifts they gave me. I celebrate and give thanks for all of them.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Swami Mendicananda

"You have a beautiful aura," the old man said. He was walking toward me on the sidewalk in Santa Monica, ten feet away, dressed like a swami. I was talking to Flip on my cell phone, but smiled acknowledgment at him. He quickly covered the remaining ground between us when he saw that he had my attention.

"You have had many misfortunes, but things are shifting." He thrust a crumpled spitball-sized shred of paper into my hand, directing me to keep it. I politely stuffed it into my jeans pocket. "No, in your hand," he said. I removed it from my pocket.

"He wants your money," said Flip in my ear.

The swami asked me how old I was, if I had children, and what kind of work I do. He told me to pick a flower. I said, "Lotus," thinking it might please him. Yes, I know. Swamis are Hindu, not Buddhist. But lotus is a very nice flower nonetheless. "Lotus is water flower," he corrected me. "Choose garden flower." "Lilac," I said, thinking of the fragrant purple display newly blooming in my San Francisco backyard. "Leleck," he scrawled on a tiny pad. He seemed to be assigning numerical values to every answer I gave him. I reflexively opened my mouth to correct his spelling, but thought better of it.

I was already feeling stupid because I couldn't understand his accent and kept asking him to repeat himself. With any luck, he assumed that I was hard of hearing. He gazed deeply into my eyes and assured me that he was a holy man, not a beggar.

"Your money," repeated Flip on my cell phone. "I'll call you back," I told Flip.

The swami worked with his numbers and then gave me a reading, most of which was unintelligible. Too bad, because I really would have liked to know my future. He did say that in one year, I would be famous and wealthy. He did not tell me how this amazing metamorphosis would occur. Or if he did, I missed it. He asked for the crumpled scrap of paper he had given me. I produced it, and he pointed triumphantly to the numbers on it, which were the same as the ones on his little pad. I can't guess how he did this. Houdini would have been envious.

He opened his book, which had become a rather large wallet, leather, brown, and showing considerable distress. "Give me twenty from good heart," he said. I understood every word. "I am holy man, not beggar," he added again.

I had a twenty and two ones in my wallet. How did he know this? But I needed the twenty. I put the two bills in his open, gaping billfold. He regarded me with contempt. "I AM HOLY MAN, NOT BEGGAR," he stated in case I hadn't understood him. "Two dollar will do nothing."

I apologized. I did not snatch my offensive small bills back, nor did I hand over my twenty. I am shallow. I needed it for Starbucks.

The holy man stalked away without a backward glance, leaving me to wonder if I had sealed my own doom with my lack of spiritual awareness, my miserliness, my inability to believe a stranger on the street, or even to understand much of his heavily accented pronouncements. I am probably screwed.

"I met a swami on Main Street," I told my daughter when I returned to her apartment. "Of course you did. You're in Santa Monica," she said.