Night Crooner

Around midnight there’s a bird in the tree by my bedroom window that starts singing. His timing is intriguing. I thought birds went to bed with sundown and stayed quiet until sunrise. Not this one. He has a repertoire that is impressive. He must be an opera singer preparing for his role. He keeps me awake. I listen to his notes, and not one is the same as the other. He varies his tone and his melody. You’d think others were answering him, but it’s all coming from him.

I did an Internet search for night crooners and found him. He’s the Northern Mockingbird. He can mimic other birds as well as invent his own songs. His is a playlist that lasts well into the night.

Lately he’s taken the night off. I miss him.

“Thank heavens he’s stopped,” Alf said.

“Why? I quite liked him,” I said.

“You’ve always needed a lullaby,” Alf says.

“I know you can’t sleep with noise, but this is music, not noise.”

“I bury my head under the pillows,” Alf said.

“But it’s soothing. You’re missing out.”

“He sounds like a hand bell choir, wind chimes, and a tin drum all rolled into one,” Alf said.

“That isn’t noise,” I said.

“That’s because you’re tone deaf.”

Calvin says, “There needs to be a bay in there somewhere, then it would be complete.”

 

Real vs Fake

Alf came home this morning with a bagful of bagels.

“Were those bagels boiled and then baked, like the real thing?” I asked.

“I don’t know. They just looked good.”

“Now that you’ve eaten one, what do you think?” I said.

“It was light and crispy.”

“A dead giveaway. I fake bagel, it wasn’t boiled.”

“What’s the difference?”

“A real bagel is crunchy and shiny on the outside, chewy on the inside. There’s weight to it.”

“Since when have you become a connoisseur of bagels?” Alf said.

“Since my first trip to New York, years ago when I sunk my teeth into a pumpernickel bagel piled high with green olive cream cheese that oozed out with every bite. I’ve been spoiled ever since.”

“You’ve been spoiled by more than bagels my dear.”

Calvin says, “I’m soft on the outside and weighty on the inside. I wouldn’t pass for a real bagel, but you could make me one with lots of smoked salmon, thank you, please.”

 

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.”

Take a Little, Add a Little

I live in my garden these days with the squirrels, the ravens, the bees, and the occasional butterfly. The butterfly bush is exploding with flowers, ready for a butterfly invasion, but none have arrived. Maybe they’re staying away and quarantining on eucalyptus trees in Pacific Grove. Or maybe they got smart and flew to Mexico instead. So I turned my attention to the house.

I’m cleaning out clutter and distributing it to friends who want more. There are people who always want another book or music CD. I’m happy to oblige. The vision for the house is to give it a minimalist look, with only the essentials in their place. Of course I’ll have to do something about the dog’s seasonal food dishes, multi-colored leashes, and hypo-allergenic beds. He has as many possessions as we do. With all these, he still prefers to eat at our table and sleep in our bed.

Then there’s the garage. It’s filled with camping gear we no longer use, old shoes for when it rains and gets muddy, hiking jackets and hats, and a bowlful of golf balls Alf brings home from his hikes. What golf balls are doing scattered on the mountain defies the imagination. And why Alf picks them up and brings them home is a mystery. He’s not a golfer.

“I’ll give them to someone who plays the game,” he says.

“We don’t know any golfers,” I remind him.

“There’s always the future.”

And so it goes. I clear, Alf fills it up. The story of our lives.

Calvin says, “Hey, what about the ice skates you never use? Maybe there’s an Olympian in the neighborhood.”

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

Hair Day

On Saturday I went to see my hairdresser. It was a clandestine trip. We parked two blocks away, put on our masks, I looked like a pirate in my red bandana, hair blowing in the wind, and walked to the salon. It was in darkness. My hairdresser had shut the blinds so nobody could see in, he also had the lights turned off. He gave us the secret knock – three and a half raps on the door, like in the movies. He opened up, and we squeezed in. He was wearing a mask and looked thinner than before the quarantine.

“An operation like this requires a drink and a piano,” Alf said.

“And your wife is Ingrid Bergman,” my hairdresser said.

“Of all the salons around here, we walk into yours,” Alf said.

“Play it again, Sam.” My hairdresser turned up the music on his computer.

“We’ll always have Carmel,” I said.

“Here’s looking at you, kid. What do you want done to your hair?” he said.

“Whatever you want, since this is what every hairdresser wants to hear,” I said.

“Ingrid, this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship,” he said.

“And when you’re done, work on my head, we must look good for our transit back home,” Alf said.

Calvin says, “I’ll round up the usual suspects and walk off into the sunset.” 

 

 

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.”

 

 

I’ve Had It

I’ve had enough of staying home. It’s been two months now and I’m feeling it.

The days are bleeding into each other. Last week I lost one whole day. I don’t know where it went. It didn’t tell me.

The nights are quiet – no overhead planes – not even a dog barking anymore or the roar of my neighbor’s motorcycle at midnight. Gone too is the noise from our neighbors who love to take their parties to the street.

I want to rush to my second-hand bookstore except they’re closed. I’m raiding my own bookshelf for titles to read. At the moment I’m reading how to do electrical wiring in the kitchen. I need a few more lights and wall sockets for my high-speed blender. I want to make smoothies with all the broccoli Alf keeps buying.

I’d like a walk by the beach, but I’m sure I’d be stopped, handcuffed and dragged away to the nearest police station.

I’m cutting my own hair and that’s not a pretty sight. The right side is shorter than the left so I’m walking lopsided to compensate.

“Do you think I’d look good in a pony tail?” Alf said.

“Better than me,” I said.

“Okay. Don’t be upset if I look furry.”

“You already look furry.”

“I do?”

“Your hair is migrating around your neck.”

“The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde look.”

“More like Herry Monster from Sesame Street,” I said.

“That was before my time,” Alf said.

Calvin says, “Aren’t you glad I don’t need grooming? I’m hunky gorgeous all year round.”

 

 

A Hornet With My Toast

The amount of people promoting their expertise online is staggering. From writing books, creating paintings, selling on social media, doing better business, to cooking shows now that everyone is home and needing to eat. I’m tempted to say yes to everything. But then I’d be up most nights watching their videos. I’d be making bagels at 2 am, pizza at 3, and marmalade at 4 am. So I decided to chuck it, and go to bed. I’ve lived with less than stellar meals for years. Beans and rice is a favorite dish of mine. Half the world lives on it, why not me? I’m a tea drinker and I discovered  several boxes of English tea in my pantry I forgot I had. I’m good for a few months. Fresh veggies and fruit are quarantined in my fridge. I’m well stocked.

I did try making lemon marmalade and it turned out better than my orange marmalade. It’s tart and sweet, a combination hard to beat. Of course I need lots of buttered toast for that, and my cup of English tea, and then I’ll eat and sip in my rose garden, dreaming of Scotland.

“Watch out for the hornets,” Alf said.

“They don’t like lemon marmalade,” I said.

“Yes, and much more. They’ll take a bite out of you if you’re sweet enough.”

“Should I put on my bee outfit?”

“Might be smart.”

“But then I can’t eat my toast or drink my tea,” I said.

“I can cut a window straight to your mouth,” Alf said.

“Don’t bother. I’ll just sit here admiring my roses and watch the ravens nose dive the squirrels.”

Calvin says, “No hornet will come near me, I smell, I haven’t had a bath in months.”

 

Resuscitation

I spent some quality time in my garden this weekend, soaking up the sun and appreciating my flowers. That’s when I noticed it.

“I haven’t been watering it,” Alf said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“It didn’t appeal to me.”

“But we paid money for it.”

“I know.” 

“You know? You’re the one who makes sure we use the things we buy.”

“It doesn’t make sense. I neglected it. It wasn’t speaking to me.”

Since then, I have been watering the plant and sure enough green leaves are popping up all over it.

“That’s looking pretty good,” Alf said.

“What some water will do,” I said.

I began to look for more neglected plants in the garden. I saw another one. A low creepy crawler that was barely breathing. I began watering it too. It has sprouted purple flowers.

“I’m going to call you PP,” Alf said.

“PP?”

“Plant Paramedic.”

Calvin says, “There’s a third plant that’s gone brown. I peed once too many times on it. It didn’t resonate with me either.”