Saturday, July 20, 2013

Plotting My Own Extinction

One of the backyards which abuts mine is having a party today, an exceedingly loud and incredibly annoying one. It started around 11:00 am with a boom box at a volume loud enough to rattle my windows. I went outside and yelled through the fence for the owner to turn it down but unsurprisingly, he didn't hear me. There are at least forty people in a small backyard already packed with party equipment.

The owner moved in recently. He has the largest gas barbecue grill I've ever seen plus several smaller, Weber-type ones, a smoker, a large concrete charcoal pit, giant heat lamp, picnic tables and benches, and has apparently cornered the market on beer. Since I thought I couldn't make a nuisance call to the police until 10:00 pm, I decided to calm my frazzled and offended nerves with a walk on the beach.

When I got there, the beach was closed, cyclone fencing separating it from the parking lots. Apparently it will remain closed until the end of September because of the America's Cup. Are they serious? Who closes a public beach for July, August and September? I am sensing a trend. A few very wealthy people are sailing their luxury boats in San Francisco Bay, so the beaches are off-limits to the plebeians. The logic escapes me. I wouldn't mind if they had closed it to protect an endangered species, but the super-wealthy are not threatened. Everyone else is.

While next door, we have over-privileged people growing increasingly loud as they imbibe more and more beer, without regard for the misery they are causing their neighbors. They are making the construction workers seem almost quiet by comparison, or at least sober. I think the Dodo had the right idea when it became extinct.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Springtime in San Francisco

I live in a construction zone. Last year, the building next door to mine, which had two floor-through flats with fireplaces, balconies and a lovely garden, was sold. The gentleman who had rented one of the units for 25 years was given two weeks to move. He is a cellist with the San Francisco Symphony, so it was challenging for him to find another place while meeting his performing obligations. The new owners are a pair of sisters whose parents bought them the property with a family trust. They spent six months throwing loud parties in the garden, and then in January, I saw them overseeing the loading of their belongings into a moving van. I was momentarily elated.

The mother was standing on the sidewalk with one of her daughters. I asked if they were moving out, and was told that they would be doing some construction on the house and were moving out for the duration. I asked how long they anticipated the work to last and was told it would be 9 months to a year. Without thinking, I blurted out, "You mean 9 months to a year of hammering and machinery noises?" The mother smirked and said, "That's what construction means, doesn't it?" She turned on her well-manicured feet and minced up the stairs.

The work began in February and we have been living with non-stop jackhammers, sledgehammers and all manner of heavy equipment for 10 hours every day including Saturdays and Memorial Day. Work begins (with a bang) at 7:00 AM and ends around 5:00 PM. The entire building is being gutted and extended 12 feet into the backyard on all levels. My next door neighbor came home to find her large bathroom window, an Eastern exposure that brightened her hallway as well as her bathroom, sealed with knotty pine one inch from her window ledge. It has since been cemented over so she has no window at all. What is more, she works from home for a charity that supports a school for young girls in Kenya. This arrangement is not possible with the noise and vibrations all day long, so she takes her laptop to coffee shops or the library where she can't make business phone calls. She is about to quit her job, which she loves, because she needs a quiet place to work.

My nerves are shot as well, and I'm sure everyone in the immediate vicinity is suffering. I think we have a microcosm of what is going on in the country: An extremely privileged 1% of the population trouncing the rights of everyone else. I can get past my disgust that buying a $3 million house wasn't good enough for these people -- they had to improve it. After all, they have the right to do what they want with their own property. But subjecting everyone else in the neighborhood to excessive noise, vibrations, and large trucks and other machinery blocking driveways all day long seems terribly unfair. I think the owner's response to my question should have been an apology, even if it was insincere, rather than a snooty, cavalier, "let them eat cake" attitude.

Tenants are supposedly guaranteed "the quiet enjoyment of the premises," but it's impossible to fault our landlord because he is not to blame. He could have gone to a Planning Board meeting and paid $500 to object before the licenses were issued, but that is probably too much to ask. For many of us, a home we loved has become a place to avoid as much as possible. At a time in my life when I really crave a peaceful, healing environment, this is hard to bear. They had such a nice garden, too. Some people have no souls. All the birds have left our neighborhood. Can the rest of us be far behind?

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Holy Moly

Nearly a year ago, a new mole appeared in the small of my back and even with two mirrors, I couldn't get a good look at it so I finally went to see my dermatologist. To be precise, I went to the office of my dermatologist, whom I have not actually seen in years except in passing as he spends most of his time performing expensive cosmetic procedures while those with unexciting medical issues are relegated to his Physician's Assistant. I have never had a problem with that as she was a lovely young woman who did my yearly skin cancer check and always had time to answer questions.

Unfortunately (for me) she recently married and moved to the east coast so I saw her replacement, a young, good looking man who seemed to have more important things to do. He quickly appraised my new mole, pronounced it harmless and managed to call me "honey," "dear" and "sweetheart" several times in the five minutes he spent with me. I also asked him if an itchy, bleeding rash on both arms was eczema and he said it was, and that I must not be applying body lotion very often. Guilty as charged.  He didn't offer to do my yearly checkup which was a relief because I didn't want to bare my body to him anyway.

I had noticed that the waiting room was full of elderly people as well as a couple of women probably there for Botox in their facelifts, and wondered if Wednesday was Over-60 Day. Do older women like to be called endearments by brash young men they don't know? Does it make them feel young, attractive and flirtatious again? Well, I do not. To say it rings of insincerity does not do it justice -- it clangs. It feels demeaning and condescending. I am not stuffy enough to demand that he address me as Mrs. P_, but my first name will do fine. It should be noted that if I do not introduce myself as "Honey" or "Sweetheart," I do not want to be called such things. What's next, Honey Boo Boo Second Childhood? I think the crux of my displeasure is my suspicion that I'm being lumped together with those REALLY old patients, and that if I were still young he would not call me such things because it would be sexual harassment. Do they assume that a woman past sixty is also beyond having a sexual identity? Or do they merely believe that we are all so silly and starved for attention that we welcome it in any form?

I am looking for a new dermatologist. Dr. X is impressive, but if I am not going to see him personally because my needs are medical, not cosmetic (which pays more, cash on the barrelhead,) I may as well find someone whose staff practices respect. I considered whether I might be finding fault because I'm disappointed that the PA's predecessor is gone but decided I do, indeed, have a legitimate complaint. I thought of mentioning my concerns to the doctor, but that would be awkward if I saw his assistant again. Also, I think the doctor himself has addressed me by endearments in the past, but in his case it seemed to be a sign of genuine affection. Maybe he's a better actor. And he's older. But I've always had the feeling that we liked each other, and he made a point of seeing Flip personally long after I was passed on to his former PA, so I cut him slack. Perhaps the new assistant is modeling himself after his boss and mentor, but he has not earned the right to such familiarity. Maybe I'm making mountains out of molehills, but if I'm uncomfortable and do nothing about it, I am conspiring to be treated without respect. And that is never good for anyone. We teach others how to treat us by what we will or won't tolerate, and if we are paying attention they return the favor. It's kind of like having a manual. Or a personal Bill of Rights.

I am still brooding, however.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beauty School Dropout

I joined a grief support group given by the hospice organization which tended Flip in his last months. It consists of several women who have lost their elderly mothers and me. I know that grief is grief and cannot be compared but with all respect, it is different to lose your life's partner and best friend who was relatively young; a parent, no matter how beloved, presumably lived a full life which ended in her 90s. One of the women had a minor psychotic break because her church, the one in which we hold our meetings, forgot to mention her mother on All Saints' Day. She has mentioned her female partner many times and I wonder how she can pledge allegiance to a church which is at war with homosexuals. Of course, I can't ask.

This week a new woman joined the group and confided that she recently attempted suicide. She was laughing inappropriately, which I think is usually a sign of desperation, and I have spent many hours worrying about her and trying to think of ways to help her. i also believe that her issues are beyond the scope of a support group. Hospice asks that we commit to the entire series of six weekly meetings, but I am seriously considering dropping out because I believe this concern is impeding my own healing process. We signed a pledge agreeing not to discuss anything that occurs in the meetings with anyone, even privately with other members of the group. What happens in St. Agnes stays in St. Agnes. It isn't a lack of empathy but perhaps, that I have too much empathy which makes me uncomfortable. I left a voice mail for the facilitator explaining that I don't think I'm a good fit although everyone is very nice and she is doing a great job. She is a young family therapy intern, kind and caring, but I think she is over her head with a suicidal group member. I hope she is getting advice from her supervisor.

I wonder if I might be a sociopath who lacks normal emotions because when my mother died I cried a lot but stopped soon after her funeral. It never occurred to me to seek a support group or needless to say, kill myself. While I am not sure I could survive the loss of any of my children, we expect to outlive our parents. That is the natural order of things. I hope my children will miss me when I'm gone but not to the extent that it interferes with their lives.

The bottom line is that if the support group is making things worse, I should quit. If it were merely not helping, I would give it more time, but it feels detrimental to my emotional health. Maybe I am simply too much of a loner to benefit from this kind of therapy and might do better to spend a few hours walking on the ecology trail Flip loved, or riding my bicycle to places we visited. Listening to his music hurts but helps, too. For whatever reason, the group experience doesn't seem to be working for me.

My mother once made a bargello wall hanging of a flock of white sheep facing one way, a lone black sheep facing the other. "That's you," she said, "You're the black sheep." I was hurt and discarded her gift as soon as she left. Now I think she was just stating that our true nature cannot be changed. But with all the changes in my life, I don't have the energy or inclination to change myself. Even if it were possible. Flip's illness has been a solo voyage from the beginning. I guess there is something to be said for consistency.

Monday, October 15, 2012


As if I needed further lessons in impermanence, today I visited the picnic area I have reserved for Flip's celebration of life memorial and found several very old, huge trees had been cut down, as well as all the foliage that provided a natural barrier at the edge of the slope leading to San Francisco Bay. It looks like a deforestation project. The incomparable beauty of the site has been destroyed, and I can't imagine why anyone would do that as the tree stumps do not look diseased, and they helped to hold the hill in place. Surely erosion will soon follow. If I had known, I would have selected another spot for the gathering.

Since I resist believing in a random universe, it is necessary to examine events which seem significant in order to discover their meaning. Obviously the loss of Flip is far greater than the loss of some trees, however magnificent they were. But that was never lost on me. And yes, I do realize that everything that happens is not about me. But when they happen so close to home, both geographically and emotionally, I have to take notice.

The Rolling Stones' song, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" comes to mind here, as it has so often the last few years. But we already knew that. We needn't belabor it, certainly. I could get mystical and imagine that Flip is expressing his displeasure at being commemorated there, but I'm sure he is far more displeased to be dead. And he liked that spot as much as I did. Plus, he would never cut down a majestic tree or mess with a gorgeous view. So it's mystifying that this lovely spot has been desecrated the very week I need it for an event which means a lot to me.

Maybe that's the key. The event is not important compared to what it concerns. That is not lost on me either. Apparently I am to understand that I cannot control anything, really. Not life nor death, and must view the world and everything in it as if it might be gone tomorrow and I will never see it again. Now that is something that with practice, I might be able to manage.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


I am your witness,
Attending your demise.
I watch your chest move,
Momentarily relieved.
Not yet,
Not yet.

How many breaths do you have left, my love?

Do you stay
To shield me from your loss?
Can you feel my care,
Drifting toward eternity
Beyond us now?
Beyond us now.

How many breaths do you have left, my love?

Our lives so tangled
I cannot tell where you end
And I begin.
Who am I if there is no we?
You and me,
You and me.

How many breaths do you have left, my love?

We share everything.
Look! I have life force enough
For both of us.
I can sustain you if you just
Stay with me.
Stay with me.

How many breaths do you have left, my love?

(This was written yesterday.)

My Flip took his last breath this morning. Right now I cannot imagine my life without him, but I will have to find a way because I'm still here. I fear my own death less because he will protect me as he did when we swam in waters way too deep for my abilities. Flip was my safety net and my true north. Losing him feels like an amputation, but we were blessed to have found perfect love with each other and to live in beautiful harmony for 21 years. And that will have to be enough.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Why can't I have coffee and an almond croissant?

I lost my cat Pekoe today. He was really my daughter's cat as she raised him after finding him abandoned in a beer cooler at the beach in Santa Monica. He was too young to leave his mother so she became his mother, feeding him with an eye dropper and encouraging him to live and thrive. And thrive he did. He quickly took over her household, dominating her two older, larger cats, and captivating her heart and mine.

A little over a year ago he came to live with me, and my daughter could not have given me a sweeter gift. As I've been losing my husband an inch at a time, Pekoe has taken over my heart, filling me with love and joy. He was diabetic and had to eat and get insulin injections every twelve hours. It sounds like a chore but his schedule grounded me. I was happy to come home to him every day, and even waking up at 5:30 a.m. was not difficult although I am by nature a night person. Pekoe's chosen meal time was 5:30, morning and evening, with no adjustment for Daylight Saving Time, and he hated to dine alone so I was required to sit on the floor next to his bowls and supervise every mouthful. In return, he jumped onto the kitchen table and rested by my plate whenever I ate because fair is fair. No matter what he was doing, he would awaken at the sound of activity in the kitchen and dutifully join me at my repast, only rarely taking a swipe at something that looked yummy. There is a big empty hole in all his favorite places and in my heart tonight. I am keeping his toys where he left them so if he visits, he'll have his favorite mousies to play with. I thought I saw him out of the corner of my eye a few minutes ago. I'd like to think he is with me still.

The person who callously discarded him on that beach nine years ago will never know what a great spirit he had, or how much love he shared with us. Part of me wants to close my heart because losing a loved one is so very painful, but love is never wasted and always comes back to us in one way or another. I just wish we'd had him longer. Life is hard, with beautiful moments.