Overnight

I paint with acrylics on canvas, they are fast drying. Many people paint on paper. Others on wood panels. I don’t know what got me started. I look at something creative and say, “I can do that.” I buy the supplies and go at it. No training, just instinct. My paintings aren’t very good compared to so many artists I know, but I have fun messing around. Except lately the fun has walked out the door and I’m left with only the work, and that’s not cutting it for me.

“That’s normal,” an artist friend says.

“It happens to all of us,” another says.

“Hang in there, it comes back,” a third says.

“It isn’t happening for me,” I say.

“You lack patience,” Alf says.

“You want instant gratification,” my son, the artist says.

“You darn right,” I say.

“What if you were an architect, you want the whole building to go up overnight?” Alf says.

“That would be nice,” I say.

Calvin says, “I understand. You live with people who take years to grow up, you deserve an instant turnaround somewhere.” 

 

 

Cutting Up a Little

“You don’t suppose I put the knife someplace I typically don’t?” Alf said.

“What knife?” I said.

“You know, the knife,” Alf said.

“You have so many.”

“No I don’t.”

“You have the one for scaling fish, the one for carving wood, the one for cutting down outgrowth on the bushes, and the one you use for cutting grilled steak,” I said.

“That’s not the knife I mean.”

“Then I can’t help you,” I said.

“Clearly,” Alf said.

“Have you tried looking where you keep the dog’s things?” I said.

“Why would it be there?”

“You take it with you on your walks with him.”

“Why would I do that?”

“You said you never know when you have to defend yourself from rattlesnakes, runaway horses, and lost turtles,” I said.

“I said that?”

“No, I made it up. But it sounded good, didn’t it?”

Calvin says, “And slobbering dogs looking for attention.”

 

 

A Chameleon Life

I grew up in three cultures – British, Mexican and Lebanese. Some days I don’t know who I am, which I’m told is normal for someone whose roots go all over the map. The customs and foods and quirks unique to each one requires a passport. Later in life I discovered I was also Jewish, so I added that to my identity profile. Being Jewish explained a lot. It informed my searching for home. My nomad existence. Never feeling I’ve settled down with any one particular place or group of people. It explained my love of Jewish music, especially the minor key.

Over the years, I’ve learned to live with the tension of identity. I’m able to live in a Latin culture as well as a British one. I put them on like a coat. I equally relish a plate of tacos as lamb kebab with hummus. There are days I need a steaming cup of yerba mate tea for comfort, but there are other times when only a mug of cinnamon coffee will do.

I’ve spent more time in the United States than anywhere else now. I understand the language, the people, and the traditions, but there are days when my heart longs to hear Spanish, my native tongue, to feel the slower pace of life, and enjoy the connections to family that go back centuries to when they too came from other parts of the world.

Calvin says, “I’m glad my roots only go back to Napa, the beagle-wine producing region of the world.”

Survival Plans

I dug it up. It had been struggling to survive for years. I re-planted it in a pot that was hanging from the apricot tree, except there is no apricot tree, just the trunk, which now holds several potted plants. Alf and I killed the apricot tree by pruning it too much. What did we know? We’re not farmers. The transplanted plant should be worried. We don’t know what we’re doing.

Our garden plants grit their teeth behind our backs. They hold whispered meetings at midnight, while we sleep, planning how to survive in spite of what we do to them.

The oleanders are the senior members, well established after many battles, and are now too big to die. They’ve gone through the worst of it, from neglect to over-watering. They now give advice to the youngest inhabitants. “Keep your water reserves if you want to live,” they say.

The roses are faring a bit better because they’re pretty. Beauty wins out every time. It’s what saves them from death. Nobody likes to see a withered bush, it speaks ill of the owners.

The lavender and rosemary have the best chance of survival. They’ve been bred to withstand heat and drought.

The jade, the newcomers, beat their chests. “We’ll outlive you all,” they say with a laugh.

The citrus trees roll their eyes. “We’ve been here 80 years, and we’ve seen it all. If it wasn’t for the rainy season we’d be gone, and so will you, so don’t be cocky because that will be your demise,” they say.

Calvin says, “You’ve murdered a nursery-full since I’ve been here. I’d have a warrant for your arrest.”

 

A Pitiful Reality

Coming back from my two-mile walk in my backyard, not that my backyard is two miles long, it’s not, but I walk back and forth for two miles, I realized what a pitiful sight I am. If anyone were to see me in my sweatpants, T-shirt, no make-up – what for the birds? – they’d say I needed a respite in the local psyche ward. I have forgotten to dress normally, bathe daily, and wear something colorful. Is this what retirement looks like? No, this is what being cooped up at home without the possibility of parole looks like during the pandemic. When restrictions get lifted I will need training in how to be a human being again and a functioning member of society. I will have to wear a bra again! That thought revolts me. I will need to be pleasing, kind and thoughtful to others. I’ve had a vacation from that. And eight hours in an office again when I’ve enjoyed squirrels, birds and flowers as my office, I can’t bear the thought.

Not everything about the lockdown has been nasty as the media wants you to believe. It’s been peaceful. The air has never been fresher. The quiet of the streets allows me to hear the honking of overhead geese, the barking of dogs on a walk, the clamoring of the garbage truck on its pickup runs. We’re making more garbage than ever before. We’re buying and cooking and eating and throwing away. Just today I saw my neighbor throw out his prized flamingo.

Calvin says, “You’re nuts alright. Flamingo? That was a pink elephant.”

 

 

How to Connect. Let Me Count the Ways.

I’ve heard everything now. A friend’s daughter is hosting movie nights with her buddies via computer. Don’t ask how they’re doing it, I haven’t a clue, but they have dinner together and then sit back and relax and watch the movie. I’m sure a lot of people are doing this. What an ingenious way to stay together. It’s like having family when you want it without the drama. Clever.

I have to think of something like this with my siblings, but it won’t work. We can’t agree on anything, especially what movie to watch. It’s the same with music. This forced lockdown is making me guilty that I’m not putting aside my differences in order to re-engage with them. But I know better. I spoke with a neighbor today and she’s going through old photographs of herself with her family. That might work, but I’m afraid it would bring up all sorts of things we’d rather leave buried, like the dog that disappeared, and that scar we’d rather not talk about.

One thing that might bring us together is to talk about funny memories we all lived through and see how each remembers them. It might make us realize we lived a totally different life from each other even while in the same house sharing the same DNA. Like the time we almost set the kitchen on fire. Or when we painted the bathroom blue instead of red and who was to blame for the color mix-up.

One thing is for sure. We’d all remember the pets we had. Especially the flamingos.

Calvin says, “Flamingos? Now I know you’re making this up.”

 

A Jungle Out There

I’ve been in lockdown since the end of March. Like most of us, it’s taken a bit of adjusting. My daughter came over to do laundry. She wore a mask and gloves the entire time and stayed in the garage. We talked in muffled sounds.

I’m getting to know my backyard quite well. That’s where I walk two miles a day. I look like a robot, back and forth, until whatever phone call I’m on is over. I’ve watched the maple tree sprout its tender leaves. Flowers are poking their heads up from the ground. Squirrels are snickering up and down the fence. My rose bushes are bursting out all over and the bees are deliriously happy.

Speaking of which, while I was doing my walk I suddenly heard a loud hum overhead. At first I thought it was my neighbor’s lawnmower. But when the sound came swirling around my face and almost into my ears I ran inside.

“Do I have any bees stuck to me?” I asked Alf.

He put down the paper and looked at me. “Do you mean the buzzing kind or something else?” Then he saw what was happening out the window. Hundreds of bees were swarming in circles in front of our eyes, taking up every inch of airspace, like a convention in the sky. We stood transfixed. Not one bee was bumping into another. They had their flight path well mapped out. The buzzing was almost deafening.

“There goes the neighborhood,” Alf said.

We continued with our projects and soon there was silence. It was as sudden as the humming. We looked out the window and the bees were gone. Not a one lingered on a flower or a tree.

“Where did they disappear to?” I asked.

“To the local pub for a drink,” Alf said.

The following day the same episode happened at the same time of the day. By then we had become pros. We left out some cut oranges on the picnic table in case they needed a snack. Instead, the squirrels pounced on the slices and flicked their tails in excitement.

Calvin says, “Thank God my doghouse is inside. They would have moved right in with all my smells.”

 

 

It’s Show Time

What would the media do without the corona-virus, Harvey Weinstein and the Democrats jostling for votes to become the candidate to oppose President Trump this fall? They’d have to fold up and crawl under their desks. Is there any news that isn’t bad news, or better put, scary news? The media thrives on crises.

Have you also noticed how shallow the reporting is? Lots of scare language but little substance. There are barely enough facts to understand anything, let alone feel you have the full story.

What’s happened to journalism? What’s being taught in these schools? I think they’re really in the entertainment business. There is no such thing as a well-balance piece about anything anymore except maybe how to dance the tango or make a plum tart.

And have you noticed how many journalists take their cues from Twitter quotes? Or video clips? Pretty soon I’m expecting some company to roll out a platoon of robots holding yellow legal pads and pencils stuck behind their ears to produce the news. They’ll be cheaper and more efficient in the long run. That is, if you don’t care about the facts.

Calvin says, “Take your cue from me. My nose is the daily paper. I learn everything I need to know there. You should do the same.”

 

The Big Goodbye

The hoopla is over. The 49ers lost. Kansas City Chiefs won. Let’s move on.

The Iowa caucus is in chaos and nobody emerged as a winner. Yet. They’ll figure it out.

Today is the State of the Union address. Tomorrow is the end of the impeachment proceedings. Let’s move on.

I wonder what the media will do now that all the drama is gone. They live and breathe crises and fear and a heightened anxiety. They’re the reason people are on drugs for depression and high blood pressure. Big pharma is thrilled.

I say we unplug our electronic devises, the television, and anything else that has us tethered to the media. We aren’t getting the news anyway. It’s all entertainment.

Instead, let’s read a book for pleasure. Do we remember how?

Let’s learn how to make chocolate filled croissants.

How about a hike in the woods? Do we even remember what a tree looks like?

It’s time to return to the simple, sane things that give us peace. Now there’s a word that’s out of tune with today.

Calvin says, “When do we go on this hike of yours? My nose is ready. Also for the croissant.”

What’s in a Name?

There was construction going on in a building on my walk to work this morning. The scaffolding was full of workers on several levels, wearing tool belts, yellow fluorescent vests and white hard hats. Two guys were leaning against a parked car, smoking, and watching the work being done. Obviously the crew foremen.

“Hey, Jesus, what country are you from?” one of them said.

Jesus turned around to face them. “What country? From the United States,” he said in perfect English.

I laughed out loud. 

The guy who asked the question clearly expected Jesus to say, “Mexico.” But he didn’t.  That showed him.

Stereotypes don’t work anymore.

For example, when I see a doctor. They’re from all over the world. Their last names are Carlson or Rodriguez or Ngo, but they’re Americans now. In fact, Carlson might be the real foreigner in the group.

The truth is most of us are immigrants. Scratch the family history and you’ll uncover Aunt Sophie came from Bavaria, Germany by way of her mother’s womb, and Uncle Basil skied into Austria from Budapest when the communists took over, and then boarded a ship to Ellis Island where they changed his name to Bertie.

If we want genuine, 100 percent American heritage, we’ll have to look at England first, or the American Indians.

Calvin says, “It’s true in the dog world, too. You can’t trust a beagle with the name of Waffles.”