Asking for Money

Ed was never in such a tight spot before. For money, that is.

Before the personal bankruptcy he could always use the credit cards to tide him over. But, of course, that path led to his and his ex-wife’s final financial disaster.

Now he was divorced, supporting, as best he could, the children who were living with his ex. The kids were his top priority, after his own food and shelter, meager as both were.

He finally got a good job, one that would provide just enough for two the households. But there was no cushion.

The job depended on a car, and the car was a bit on the elderly side, prone to the occasional and expensive malaise. This was such a time. Ed had never borrowed from a friend before, but desperation pushed him to the edge. Perhaps Frank would understand. Ed gave him a call.

“Uh, Frank.”

“Yeah?”

“I got that job.”

“Super!”

“That’s the good news”

“Are you implying, therefore, that some bad news is about to follow, as if I couldn’t tell?”

“It’s the Honda.”

“The one I recommended to you.”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t fix Hondas, I’m a General Motors kinda guy, maybe the occasional Ford.”

“Well, the water pump, maybe the whole cooling system, is a wee bit too old. It’ll take up to $1,000.”

“And you, my reformed spendthrift ol’ buddy, are on the shorts and maybe ol’ Frank’ll stand up for you, huh?”

“Man, you are sharp!”

“How long you need it for?”

“With the new job, I can repay each month—12 months, say?”

“Look, I’ve got a $1000 T-bill up for renewal right now. I’ll cash it and you can pay me in a year at T-Bill interest, OK? I don’t want no stinkin’ monthly payments.”

“Man, this saves my job and, therefore, my life.”

“You don’t remember when you saved mine?”

“Uh, no, when was that?”

“You enticed that young lady away from me and then you married her, remember?”

“That saved your life?”

“Well, look where that gambit took you!

Open Fly

Jeez, his fly is open. Well, nothing’s sticking out, except a little of his blue shirt. I guess his thing isn’t blue.

And he’s such a nice- looking gentleman. He looks sort of like Sean Connery, only a little younger than right now.  He’s so well dressed—except for his fly, of course.

He seems to be waiting for something, someone maybe. I mean, he’s so easy to look at and a lot of other women are looking at him as they pass him, but then that swatch of blue takes their eyes right down to his crotch.

I just have to let him know, somehow, that he’s embarrassing himself—or maybe if he never knows, he won’t be embarrassed.

But he’s surely going to find out sometime today and the longer he doesn’t know the more he’s going to be embarrassed.

“Uh, sir—may I tell you something?”

“Of course, ma’am. What is it?’

“Uh, you haven’t zipped up completely.”

He looks down and chuckles. “Well, so I haven’t. Will you walk with me to a place where I can correct this, and you can shield me from view for a second?”

“Sure. How about behind that big pillar in front of the bank?’

“Will you take my arm as we stroll there?”

She feels suddenly hot and helpless and needs to hang on to something. His arm seems perfect. They go around the pillar, and he turns toward it as she stands with her back to him. He quickly makes the necessary adjustment.

“Now, may I know your name and whether you would like to be rewarded with a lunch that I was to have with someone who hasn’t shown for her appointment?”

Weeks later, as she lay in his bed, feeling it probably would be for the last time now that he was clearly bored with her, she realized he has used this ruse before.

I wonder if something like that would work for me?

Curmudgeon

“Dear, will you take care of the hotel reservation? I’m trying to deal with my hair right now.”

“Oh, all right Jane, but I hate talking with anonymous people I can’t see, especially nowadays. I can’t understand the dialect these younger people seem to have developed, from God knows what influence.”

“It’s MTV and Southern California, Fred. You’re just going to have to get used to it.”

“Umphh.”

(Pauses while dialing)

“How, mmyool, nry sping, myelhyoo?”

“Is this the St. Michael Hotel in San Francisco?”

“Yer, nry sping, myelhoo?”

“I’d like a reservation for tomorrow night, a double room, no smoking, please”

“Serny sir. Naympeez?

“Did you want my name?’

“Yerm”

“Fred Pape, Pee Ay Peee Eee.”

“Thyoo Mr. Pace …”

“No, that’s P as in Peter, A as in Apple, P as in Peter, E as in easy.”

“Willoopay wa credcurd?

“Yes, it’s a Visa: 123 -456-7890”

“Wenotooferfisennonoo?”

“Look, Nuri, or whatever your name is, I am old, I don’t hear well, you speak very fast and I don’t understand most of what you say. Please speak slower and more distinctly”

“Ok, sir, whad yoo want now?”

“I want to know that you have my credit card number correctly. Please repeat what you recorded.”

“OK, sir, Wan, doo, dree, fi, sits …”

“No, no, you left out the four, after the three.”

“Dree? Four?”

“Yes, Three, four.”

“OK sir.”

“Do you have the rest of the numbers?

‘Yeah.”

“What are they?”

“Fi, sits, sem, nine, oh.”

“No, No, No. You left out the eight after nine. It’s one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, zero.”

“OK, sir.”

“Would you please confirm this reservation by email?”

“Ok, sir.”

“My email address is fredpape@stuff.us. Please repeat that.”

“Fredpace at dufus”

“I give up!” (hangs up).

“Dear, you were so rude!”

“Jane, dammit, you take care of it. Maybe you can understand people with marbles in their mouths and iPods in their ears.”

“You’re turning into an old curmudgeon.”

“Get used to it.”

I Can Do This

Ralph was excited, in mildly-fearful anticipation as he heard the hike leader say: “from Valley floor to the top of Half Dome is a climb of 4800 feet, and we are already starting from 4000 feet elevation!”

The leader had reminded everyone to bring plenty of water (oh, the weight!) and some nourishment, plus extra socks and rain gear. “These mountains make their own weather,” he repeated for the nth time.

“The total lateral distance is 16 miles, by our route, so it will be steeper than the alternate route. It should take us no more than the full length of the daylight hours.”

More fearful anticipation.

Ralph was celebrating his 60th birthday with this steep and rapid climb. He had been practicing in the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking the Pacific Coast on the San Francisco Peninsula, but they are not as high as in the Sierra, and the elevation at their various peaks is no more than 5000 feet. The air at 8800 feet, Half Dome’s elevation, will be much thinner.

“I can do this,” he muttered, encouragingly, to himself.

He had learned recently that a good walking stick is essential for older muscles and bones as they traverse uncertain ground, rocks and steep up-hills and down-hills. “The legs are the first to go,” he has heard older folks say.

Before he could muse further, he saw that he was already behind the group as they rapidly moved toward the trailhead.

Over several hours Ralph climbed steep rocks through the mist created by two successive waterfalls and the steep and scary climb up the bare “arm” of Half Dome to its “shoulder,” with a sheer drop of thousands of feet slightly beyond one side of the trail.

Wearily and with great effort, Ralph slowly approached the level ground at the shoulder and saw the great, bald granite head of Half Dome rising impossibly, with a line of climbers like black ants crawling up the almost vertical rise. Hungry, thirsty, trembling with fatigue, worried about the walk back down in time before sunset, Ralph was quite discouraged, feeling he could go no further. He saw a ledge suitable for sitting, and sat, overlooking Yosemite Valley and lesser peaks.

After a few minutes of repose, he fumbled for his water and food, purposefully ignoring the path up Half Dome behind him, allowing his attention to dwell on the sight in front of him.

He slowly ate and drank, gradually becoming less self-conscious. He had let go of his desire to go further and felt free to rest and allow time to pass without worry. He knew he could get back in time from this point, even while resting as much as an hour or more.

Ralph’s sense of time ceased. He was gradually less conscious of today’s goal, of Half Dome’s peak and of the line of people ascending and descending it, now out of his view.

He entered a zone of consciousness with no name, as his body adjusted to the elevation and its recent exertions. He was at complete rest. He had no goals, no desires—he was just being on this ledge and seeming to merge with all that he saw before him.

An unknown and un-measurable period of time elapsed before Ralph became conscious, once again, of the muted noise of the people behind him and their exertions up and down the head of Half Dome.

As he turned and watched the people grapple with the heavy guidelines of rope secured to metal stanchions set deep in the granite of Half Dome’s head, he found himself rising, putting stuff back into and shouldering his pack, grabbing his stick and walking toward the line of climbers. He felt no desire, just a sureness that he would do this …

And he did!

A List for E. George Smith

“Hey mister, ya’ talkin’ to the squirrels?”

Having had children, and now with grandchildren, E. George Smith is no stranger to interruptions which crash against his thoughts, but this intrusion jolts him. He, ungracefully and with some neck pain, swivels his head leftward to discover the source of these words.

He sees a child, a boy in dirty clothes, his dark skin revealing the lighter-colored dust on him, body and limbs moving in loose concert, on the grass near where George sits on a bench. Did I speak aloud?

“What’s a list?”

Yes, I must have spoken aloud. George watches the boy shoving a stick in and around a hole in the grass.

“Yes. A list,” he says to the boy and, as he likes to give straight answers to straight questions, he adds, “a list is writing on a piece of paper of all the things one should do.”

There, a straight answer a boy can understand.

“Who says you have to do ‘em?” the boy responds, while shoving gravel from the nearby path into the hole, his hands and limbs raising a cloud of dust that seem like the boy’s natural aura.

“Well, when I make my list, it is I, me, who says I have to do ‘em.”

After a few moments the boy pauses in his work. “I have a list but it’s too big to write and anyway I don’t write real good yet.”

Without preparing his words in advance (which is his usual way) George says “I used to write my list but then I could remember everything on it well enough, and anyway I don’t have a list anymore. No.”

“No” is a word George has avoided using in his life and, that he has now used it jolts him.

Then it is as if a dam has burst inside of George. Several great drops of water form and slowly fall from his eyes as he inclines his head forward and downward toward the gravel path. His head is directed somewhat away from the boy who lies prone on the grass at the edge of the path near where George sits on the wooden bench.

George’s body doesn’t move. Both he and the boy consider this surprising event while more tears fall heavily from George’s eyes. He visualizes a sheet of yellow notepaper bearing the word “list,” slowly dissolving in his mental image.

This is an extraordinary event for E. George Smith, both in meeting the boy and in weeping, even for a precious lost list. He could not have anticipated such an occurrence as he begins this first day of his retirement.

George Smith prefers his middle name to that of his first given name, Ebenezer, the “stone of help” in the Old Testament book of Samuel.

George lives austerely compared to his friends and associates. This is not to say he isn’t comfortable. He is wealthy beyond need by virtue of his ancestral inheritance which he has prudently and profitably husbanded, and which he has augmented through his own labor.

George and his wife Marilyn have fewer objects of the type that others in their San Francisco enclave have in the public areas of their homes. Marilyn happily subordinates herself to George’s taste for decorating their large, two-story apartment in Seacliff, so she can think about and do other things. George does not like clutter.

George is a rather large fellow, standing at no less than six feet with excellent posture, with firm, stout, arms, legs, and middle. He likes to be able to move his body and extremities around the apartment without worrying about knocking things around. He likes space.

But there are certain things he treasures and makes room for in his private areas. These are from his family’s past. George is the great-great grandson of Luke Smith (1826-1900) who emigrated to California from upstate New York in 1851 to set up a business serving the Gold Rush— hardware and machinery and, later, clothing. Success in these businesses eventually led the family to real estate and banking. So, George has placed, where Marilyn will least likely have to encounter them, several pieces: a gold pan, a rusty section of plume from a placer mine, the handle of a windlass from a mine shaft, and several more. On George’s home office wall hangs a faded and valueless stock certificate for shares in “The Lucille Gold Mining Company Limited” of Amador County, California, named after George’s great-aunt.

These all remind George of his family’s humble, hard-working and sometimes precarious origins, reminders he welcomes to keep him in balance with the weight of his wealth and social position in San Francisco.

There is one thing, however, that George cannot resist placing obviously in a visitor’s field of vision upon entering the apartment: a very ugly painting of great-great-grandfather Luke Smith, in a French Empire style frame and illuminated by lamps at top and bottom. It’s the only cross that Marilyn has to bear for George, so she constantly reminds herself to count it as a blessing.

Now on this beautiful day in autumn, E. George Smith had begun his new life by preparing to take a walk in the park of his childhood.

George and Marilyn live north of the park, near the cliff overlooking the ocean side of the Golden Gate and its famous bridge. Seacliff is an area where mansions on small and carefully manicured grounds are sometimes squeezed between tall, immaculate apartment buildings. George, having been a very busy man in his employed life, has always preferred to live in an apartment to minimize his household responsibilities.

Marilyn is from the same solid group of San Franciscans whose ancestors came from the east during and shortly after the Gold Rush of the 1840s and ‘50s. Their children, and George’s children from a previous marriage, are adults, some with their own children. George and Marilyn have retained their large apartment so that all their descendants, and their friends, may comfortably visit them upon a whim.

So, here is George, his long years of schooling and employment having ended, starting the traditional golden years of his leisure, contemplation and enjoyment of the family he helped to create along his life’s way. Yes.

George has been, from his beginning, a positive sort of fellow. He developed the habit of saying “yes” often, to himself and sometimes out loud. It is one of his harmless, some say charming, peculiarities that have buoyed him through the difficulties a d challenges of life. He feels fortunate in that he has had to face fewer challenges than most people by virtue of his family’s social and economic position upon his birth. He often includes this when he counts his blessings, another of his harmless, even admirable, peculiarities.

Yet another of George’s peculiarities is his “list”. From his earliest student days George has maintained a list of things to do on a yellow eight by five notepad. The one remaining item on his list at the beginning of this day is to visit Golden Gate Park. He sees nothing beyond this, and purposefully so. He feels the park will somehow show him what to do next.

Throughout his life he has harked back to his boyhood and the wonderful family times, picnicking on the grass near the stands of lordly oaks, tall conifers, and the grand, gently drooping eucalyptus branches. He has memories, even has had dreams, of searching for tree cones and eucalyptus acorns, and other adventures in the thick underbrush at the borders of the rolling lawns and meadows.

Walking is George’s favorite exercise. He doesn’t like to carry things, especially not golf clubs and fishing equipment. He likes to be free to move in any direction. This allows him the feeling, seldom realized but nonetheless satisfying, of being on the verge of an adventure that has an unknown outcome, so unlike his workaday life.

Marilyn has heard stories from her friends about the problems they have had with their “retired” men, but she feels no concern for herself or George because he always has his list of things to do. She accepts George just as he appears to be— positive, solid man, methodical but not stuffy, loving and friendly to his family and others.

“Still plan to take that walk in the park, E.G.?” She pronounces it “eejee,” her pet name for him, one he has never cared much for but doesn’t complain about. After all, it is such a small thing and it pleases her.

“Yes, dear.”

“Well, dinner will be at around seven o’clock. It’s just us.”

“I’ll be here.”

Having this validated by George, Marilyn goes about planning events and corresponding with family and friends, her usual activities in their large apartment, while George prepares a light lunch for himself.

Upon cleaning up after his meal and dressing suitably, E. George Smith leaves his home in the early afternoon on the first Monday of his new life and walks briskly toward the tall, un-gated columns at Lake Street that signal the portal to his neighborhood.

He continues south on 25th avenue, crossing streets and avenues with names that George has always felt as childhood friends: California, Clement, Geary, then the alphabetical Anza, Balboa and Cabrillo, which on the south side of the park continue faithfully from Irving through Wawona.

George begins to feel quite light around the shoulders and bouncy in his step. My new life. I am prepared for the unexpected.

George reaches Fulton, the long avenue defining the north border of the Park. He strides with a rising sense of purpose across the avenue. What new things will I put on my list?

He feels immediately at home upon entering the park, the menthol odor of the eucalyptus trees welcoming him. He espies the tree’s familiar round-capped seed pods on the ground and stoops to pick one up. He breaks it open to expose the still unripe seeds to smell the essence of the tree even more fully.

He wanders until he reached a curving, gravel path that brings him

to a familiar clearing with benches arrayed along the border of the grass and gravel. He sits on a bench with the sun behind him, facing a great live oak. He rests for a while, feeling his heart racing a bit from the walk and from his still unrealized sense of purpose. As his body’s rhythms slows, thoughts begin to form. What am I to do with the rest of my life? This he silently addresses to the newly cut grass, standing at attention on the other side of the gravel path. As usual when he is uncertain about a next move, he recites his blessings, a long list.

Then George moves on to the next item on his perennial agenda: his list of things to do. He reminds himself that having reached the park he has just completed his list of things to do. I am list-less, he thinks, with a sense of self-mockery at the unintended pun.

So here I sit, in this pleasant familiar park, wondering what to do next.

“I have no list”, he says toward the squirrels scrambling in the great oak tree above the attentive grass across the gravel path from the wooden bench on which he sits, comfortably clothed.

George’s tears form and drop for an unknown time until he sucks in a volume of air sufficient to cause his body to straighten, perpendicular to the grass and the gravel path. The boy’s body and limbs are still as he watches George closely. Eventually George turns his head again to his left.

“What’s your name, young man?” asks George, consciously using a diversionary tactic to distract the boy and to compose himself.

“Harry. What’s yours?”

“Harry. Yes. A good strong, manly name,” George says to the boy. “My name is George.”

They both consider each other’s names for several moments.

George’s eyes no longer leak, and he is still sitting straight, but now he feels unusually peaceful and relaxed. Yes.

“Uh, are you OK George?” the boy asks in a manner that seems to George to contain an unexpected degree of sensitivity.

“Yes, Harry. I feel quite good, actually.”

George looks again at Harry. Except that he is seemingly bright and appears in good health, the boy looks like a ragamuffin. What an old word. The boy would not know the word. The word no longer exists. He speaks with a musical lilt. Perhaps his family is from south Asia, India?

“What’s on your list, Harry?”

This opens what appears to George as the boy’s floodgates, words tumbling forth in verbal pictures, non-sequiturs, neologisms and street slang. His small and wiry body rises up from the grass and dances in accompaniment to the recitation of his list. What George can grasp is that on Harry’s list are mostly action items: achievement in sport; doing anything with cars; finding strange animals and doing things collaboratively with them; traveling in space; exploring secret caves; jungles, mountains, rivers, boats…

So much in such a small person.

Harry finally stops, then drops to his former position on the grass while looking intently at George.

Having scrutinized Harry further during his recitation, George sees that the boy is actually well dressed, including expensive-looking sport shoes. But everything he wears seems recently to have been through a shredder. It is Harry’s accompanying cloud of dust, continually precipitating on him that initially impressed George as shabbiness.

“That is a very big and wonderful list, Harry. You will do great things in the world.”

Harry smiles. He, too, seems more relaxed now.

George smiles back at Harry. “Do you often come to this park?”

“Yeah. After school sometimes.”

“Do you live nearby?”

“I don’t know. Not so far. Near the thin part of the park. On Page Street.”

“Oh, you mean the Panhandle. That’s pretty far away. Does your mother know you are here?”

“Sometimes. I don’t know. She wasn’t home when I left. She helps people.”

“Do you mean she works, that she has a job?”

“I don’t know. She helps the neighbors. Then I get bored with my sisters and come here after school. Baba has the job.”

Hearing Harry say “Baba,” apparently for “father,” George asks, “Does your family come from India?”

“Yeah, but I was born here. My sisters were born there.”

“What kind of work does your baba do?”

“I don’t know. Tech-nickel something. He takes a train every morning.”

George infers this to mean Harry’s father is a technician or engineer working for a dot-com on the San Francisco Peninsula.

George begins to feel uncomfortable about the boy’s safety, being so far from his home, and feels certain his mother will worry.

“Uh, Harry, I was about to walk toward the Panhandle and wonder if you were going to go home soon. Perhaps we could walk together.”

Harry starts poking more vigorously at the hole while he thinks about this.

“Well, I’m gettin’ kinda hungry but mama will be mad. Maybe you could tell her we were talkin’?”

“Ok, Harry, since it’s the truth.”

And so, they both stand up and arrange themselves to be side by side, as they aim eastward toward the center of the city.

“You will have to lead the way, Harry, since you know the way back home better than I do.”

“OK,” says the boy and begins swiftly to traipse along the path, George just a few inches behind him.

What a strange pair we are. We come from different worlds and now we are connected. The park connected us.

Page Street runs parallel to and one block south of the Panhandle starting at the eastern edge of the park proper, so they head east and south as the many curved and interconnecting paths will allow.

George and Harry don’t talk much during their long walk. Occasionally Harry points out a bird or a squirrel to George who responds, “uh huh,” and both emit other sounds that come naturally to men engaged in common effort.

After around twenty minutes of walking, they are suddenly back in the city with its traffic and noise and clumps of moving people. Harry, seeming more eager to get home, picks up his pace, allowing George to stride vigorously behind him.

“Ariya! Where have you been? Come here you dirty, sneaky boy.”

Aha, enter mama.

They are in front of a well maintained, typical San Francisco Victorian-era house, subdivided, showing four entrances side by side above the front steps. Here is mama in bright Asian dress, angry as a hornet.

She is a plump woman of medium height, appearing around 40 years old. She has a prominent streak of gray in her long, dark hair, all pulled back and secured by a colorful band. The brown color of her face is brightened by the red of her cheeks, apparently rouged to some degree, but certainly in higher color due to her current emotions.

Harry backs into George, stuttering to mama, “I wa-wa-was in the park and we sta-started talkin’,” indicating George with a backward wave of his hand.

Anger, relief, suspicion, and curiosity all seem to mingle on Mama’s face as she focuses her gaze on George.

“I thought it wise to accompany Harry home,” says George to mama. “Harry! Is this what he told you? This is what his stupid friends call him, ‘Dirty Harry.’ His name is Ariya, an honorable name.”

“We had a rather nice conversation, but we thought it was time for, uh, Ari? to be home. And so, here he is. My name is George.”

Mama lapses now entirely into relief that her precious boy is home. “Look at how dirty he is. Ariya, thank the man and go in the house and clean yourself before we eat. Tell your sisters to help you.”

Harry turns toward George, abashedly saying “thank you George,” and goes quickly up the stairs and into the first door at the right of the house’s porch.

“And, uh, thank you Mr., uh, George, for watching out for him. You seem to be a good man.”

“I had nothing else to do. I live on the other side of the park and was taking a walk.”

“Are you out of work?” Mama asks directly and seemingly without judgment. Her English shows an educated background, and her eastern lilt does not interfere with George’s understanding of what she says.

George chuckles softly and says, “Yes, I don’t work, I have retired from work. I have nothing else to do until I find out what to do next. I am open for suggestions.” George surprises himself by being so bold and in feeling drawn toward this friendly question from Mama. She seems to care, just as an ordinary matter of course.

“Perhaps my husband has some ideas. He’ll be home in around thirty minutes.”

“Well, this is a very kind suggestion, but I feel you must want to be with your family for dinner.”

“This is true,” mama says, “but here, take my card and give us a call when you like.” She quickly pulls a business card from somewhere in her clothing and hands it to George.

Not knowing exactly what custom to follow in receiving the card, he decides to treat it with the greatest respect, as do the Japanese, just to be safe. He carefully reads the card to learn that he has been speaking with Sonali Bose, a childbirth educator and a “doula” for expecting couples.

“You are very kind Mrs. Bose. My name is George Smith. I live over near Seacliff. I used to be a businessman, but have now retired, as I said, and so I have no card to give you. I started my retirement today by walking through Golden Gate Park, just as I did as a boy. I have grown children, and some grandchildren near Ari’s age.”

Mrs. Bose is quite attentive to his words but before she can respond, George asks her “may I know what a doula is?”

“Oh, it’s a bit complicated to explain just standing here, but mostly it’s to attend a woman in childbirth, but not help directly to deliver the baby. It’s an old practice that has been revived in the U.S., but it’s just a matter of course that women help each other during childbirth in other countries. Look, my husband is a very clever man and is well connected in his scientific field. Please give us a call and we can talk about anything you like. I am really so grateful to you for bringing Ariya home safely. I have to attend a birth tomorrow or the next day, so maybe you could come for dinner a few days from now, if you like. Anand, my husband, loves to talk with people from different backgrounds. He is insatiable. It would be a relief to me to have you talk with him so I could attend to my things, I am so busy lately,” she said quickly, almost breathlessly.

George could see in the rapid speech of his mama and in the description of his “baba” where Ari got his energy and his interest in the world as Harry currently imagined it. I am having the adventure I hoped I might have, and so soon. And so unpredictable! I could never have put this on a list.

George responds warmly, “Mrs. Bose, you are a gracious person and I will not deprive myself of the chance to meet your husband and talk with you both. I promise to call.”

Mrs. Bose smiles at George, as he offers his hand both in greeting and goodbye.

“Today has been a wonderful day for me, thanks to your son. I look forward to more conversations with him, too. It’s a bit of a walk back to my home, so I will leave now.”

Mrs. Bose nods, squeezes George’s hand and says, “Ariya is a good boy, I just worry so much about how to keep him interested in things near home where I can know he is safe. And how to keep him clean! Well, I am babbling, and you need to go, and I need to make sure the girls are getting dinner ready. I do hope you will call us. Goodbye.”

She squeezes his hand one last time, turns and quickly walks toward her front door, giving George a brief glance and a friendly wave before she enters her apartment.

George turns slowly to begin his walk back home, dazed by all the new impressions and all the energy he has encountered from the Bose family seen and unseen.

As he walks toward the sun, now descending toward the Pacific Ocean beyond the western boundary of the park, George walks pensively toward home, now over two miles away.

So much new has happened in such a short time, he needs the long walk to process it, and thinking how to recount this day to Marilyn. And how to tell her he would be soon be at dinner with an immigrant family from

India? This is a new world for both of them.

George suddenly realizes two new things have happened: he no longer needs to concern himself with a list—life will show him what to do.

And, he has met some of San Francisco’s new pioneers.

Yes.

Unexpected

“But I’m not expecting anything,” Clark protested. The FedEx man thrust a pen and clipboard toward him with one hand; in his other hand was a large, fat envelope.

“Please sign here.”

Clark hesitated, not sure what to do.

“Please, mister, I’ve got a lot of packages to deliver and just so much time to do it. If you just sign I can leave and you can do anything you want with the package.”

Feeling off-balance, Clark semi-consciously scribbled on the paper attached to the proffered clipboard, but he didn’t reach for the envelope. The FedEx man looked at Clark sharply, and then laid the envelope against the step beside Clark’s feet.

“Thanks. Goodbye.” And the FedEx man loped off to his waiting truck, its motor idling, seeming to Clark to be impatiently waiting to make the next delivery.

Clark stood inertly in his open doorway, watching the truck zoom around the corner where the street curved toward the freeway onramp.

He finally looked down at the bulging envelope near his feet. His head began to flood with images and questions. He reviewed all his few remaining relatives, but couldn’t think of any who would send him anything.

This left official agencies or businesses. Did the IRS return his tax papers for correction?  Maybe it was misdirected to him? Was it for a neighbor? Clark just couldn’t get a clear idea.

Finally, Clark decided to examine the envelope to see if the writing on it would answer any of these questions. He stooped and grasped the envelope at the corner nearest to him with his left thumb and forefinger and began to lift it, but then quickly put his right hand under the package. He thought it might weigh two or three pounds. “There’s a lot of paper in this,” he said to himself.

He looked at the delivery document inside its plastic cover, pasted to the front of the envelope. It was hard to find the name of a sender without his glasses, but the sunlight was bright enough for him to discern most of the printing and writing. There—a name and an address in the city. The name seemed familiar: “Spaeth.” Where had he seen that name before?

Clark sighed, deciding this was enough evidence to warrant opening the envelope. He turned away from the open door, gave it the usual nudge with his shoulder to close it and shuffled over to the end of the couch nearest the window, through which the afternoon sun’s light and warmth flowed invitingly.

Clark had all his necessary small tools on the table next to this end of the couch: TV remote control, two sets of glasses—one for reading and one for TV viewing—stacks of magazines and newspapers, pens and pencils, magnifying glass, and scissors. He put on his reading glasses and grasped the scissor handles.

The envelope’s plastic binding gave way to the point of the scissors so easily that Clark wondered how the package could stay intact through its travels. Soon he had in hand a one-page cover letter and three file folders bound together with rubber bands. The letterhead was from the law firm of Charles G. Spaeth. “Yes,” he remembered to himself, “Charlie Spaeth, my lawyer from so many years ago. What could he want with me after all this time?”

As Clark read the letter he realized this was from someone else, not Charlie. It was about Charlie. He had died and all his legal papers were being distributed to his former clients. There was no successor attorney.

Clark put the letter on the couch to his left and slowly removed the rubber bands from around the envelopes. There were three. One was labeled “Minsky, Clark: Trust.” He put it on top of the letter,
remembering that his trust was very simple and hardly worth the expense of creating it.

The next one read “Minsky, Clark: California Franchise Tax Board vs Minsky.” Clark issued a small grunt of satisfaction: “one of the few battles I’ve won.” This folder joined the other on the couch.

His grasp on the final folder slackened as he read, “Minsky, Clark: Final Divorce Decree and Agreement.” Papers fell and spread across the floor at his feet as he momentarily held the emptied folder, his fingers burning. He then dropped it on the pile of papers it once held and, with great effort, forced his right foot to slowly push the pile toward the TV, as far from himself as possible without the seat of his pants losing its purchase on the couch.

The sun moved slowly across Clark as he remained sitting on the couch. Motes of dust, illuminated by the glancing sunlight, slowly settled as Clark sat. The sun’s warmth and light finally left the window.

Clark remained in the darkness, slumped at the end of the couch, wondering if he had enough energy to get up and prepare his solitary dinner, a routine of the decades since Martha left him for Kerwin, his younger brother.

Weird

I wrote this in 1958, before we all became trapped in the Matrix.

I suppose I’m glad you were able to fit me into your tight schedule, doctor.

No, don’t be offended, please. It’s just that I know I should feel grateful, but I seem to be devoid of all emotions.

No, not sad, just blank. I am curious to know what motivated me in coming to see you, though. It was a tossup between you and the pills.

Sleeping pills. Least painful way I could think of. Hate pain. No, not hate—that’s too emotional. Have a tendency to avoid pain is more like it. Sort of a negative tropism.

No, nothing in particular prompted the decision.

No, I have no problems—nothing real, anyway.

Well, if you want something specific, I guess paper could be one of the main reasons.

Yes, paper. My wallet’s full of it. So’s yours. File cabinet over there, the notes you’re taking. We’re all accounted for on paper. There must be a few hundred thousand sheets of paper that represent me. Birth certificate, school records, medical records, military service records, dental records, marriage license, divorce records, driver’s license, insurance papers, credit rating, job record—there most be more somewhere I don’t know about.

I’m all accounted for. I’ve been drained dry. I’m all on paper. If you want to find the real me, just search through a few hundred sheets of paper. But you know all about this. After all, you’re about twice my age.

No, I’m only twenty-five. I do look kind of withered, don’t I?

Sure I’m sure. Here’s my driver’s license. See? I have other proof too, if you want it.

You sure are taking a lot of notes, aren’t you? I have a feeling that you shouldn’t write so much, doctor. Gives me a kind of gnawing sensation. I don’t know how to describe it… Feeling thirsty… Say, doctor, please don’t write so fast… DOCTOR…

“Nurse, Anne, come in here. No, first call Doctor Brady, then come in.

“Look at this man—he’s all shriveled up. He just sat there and shriveled up and dropped dead. Weirdest thing I ever saw.

“Oh, hello Pete. Look at this guy. Weird, huh? Look at these notes I took. See what you think.

“Anne, call the coroner’s office will you?

“Pete, I’m going to write this up and present to the next regional meeting.”

 

Imaginary Hike…

…In the Coastal Range of Central California

The first few hundred yards are the easiest and quickest. Civilization soon gets behind and below me in my initial haste. I change to the regular and slower, upward marching that gets my heart, legs and lungs in a pleasing synchronicity.

I adjust my senses for possible sudden signs of wildlife as the unfamiliar trail narrows and the foliage thickens. I am not afraid of the coyotes, tarantulas, and bobcats, but a harmless lizard will make a sudden move that says: snake!

The only dangerous plants are the shiny red and green bushes of poison oak and the needle-tipped leaves of the yucca plant, both easily discerned.

I enter a cloud and its moisture brings welcome coolness to my face and arms.

The continuous, regular rhythm of my lungs’ halations helps me purge the feelings and thoughts associated with other humans and their works.

There is no trail to guide me further. I find a deer track.

Umunhum-03The foliage is watered by Pacific fogs and low clouds at this elevation.  Patterns of moisture flow through the undulating and twisting canyons, and through the convoluted layers of sedimentary rock below the surface.

Trees, bushes, grasses, mosses, lichen.

I don’t want to twist an ankle or break a bone by slipping into a hidden hole or crevasse.  No one knows where I am.

The delicious danger of this part of the hike makes my heart beat with more urgency than called for by the exertion of the climb.  My senses are at their peak alertness and I feel fully alive and vibrant.  I am not fearful, nor am I careless. I am positive in every movement; I neither hurry nor plod.  I observe everything around me directly, without being conscious of my observing.

This steeper climb taxes my legs and lungs, but the adrenaline generated by the adventure helps me easily overcome the burden.

Without time and almost without space, except for the flow of greens and browns past my eyes, I march upward.

I enter a different vegetation zone. Things are deeper green, and denser. Smells are damper, more pungent.  I step over trickles of water seeping from beneath the layers of fallen leaves and dead tree limbs.

I break through the top of the cloud.  The foliage is too high and thick to permit but small bursts of direct sunlight.  The dryer air has a lightness that stimulates me to quicken the pace.

I suddenly emerge into a clearing, the sun slanting from the right.  I stop, back up slightly to scan the open area from the shade, and allow my breathing and heart to resume slower rhythms.

I’ve worked up a sweat.

A large rock formation in the treeless area ahead offers time in the sunlight.

The sounds of the birds envelope me.  They have become untouched friends over the years.   I am gladdened and relaxed by their chattering, chirping, clicking and warbling.  Even the raucous jays are part of this pleasant symphony.

I see the ridges of the nearby mountains for tens of miles.

I doze, aware but unfocused.  No questions, no concerns.

Time no longer exists.  I am where I am.

I have joined with the forest and its mother, the mountain.

I am home.

Flight Check List

“Here I go again,” mutters Marvin to himself. The anticipated punishment of traveling through 9 time zones within 24 hours, with two plane changes makes him cringe in despair.

“I hope I don’t forget anything this time,” he thinks, remembering the mild panic he suffered last time when he found he had forgotten his inflatable neck rest.

He once again goes through his mental checklist to assure himself he will bring all he needs in the carry-on bag: eyeshades (check), earplugs (check), water bottle (remember to fill it after the security check—check), CD player & music CDs (check), earphones (check), NECK REST (check), slippers, melatonin and headache pills (check), extra handkerchief (check), bag of trail-mix (check), two apples (check) … “ooh, what have I forgotten?”

“Books!” (check).

Marvin has two hours before he needs to leave home via taxi to the airport. “If I just relax and visualize myself on the plane for the whole trip, I can remember what I may have forgotten,” he thinks to himself as he sits back in his easy chair.

He relaxes a bit, and the first vision that comes to him is being unable to get an aisle seat and sitting, once again, between two very large people who imprison him in his chair and squeeze him away from use of the arm rests. He knows, beyond all hope, he will not comfortably sleep for any significant time during the trip. He remembers with dread the dilemma of feeling thirsty but being afraid to re-hydrate because this means getting past the FAT PERSON impeding his access to the toilet. “Ohhhh,” he groans.

But then, he reminds himself that he always gets there, and the agony will be over—except it won’t! There will be one week of being a zombie after arrival. The mornings are usually all right, except they begin at two or three AM. It’s after lunch the horror begins. He anticipates the usual death of his higher brain functions, the strange twisted feeling between his eyes, around three-quarters of an inch into his skull. His eyes just close themselves, no matter where he is. It is as if a great hand descends from the sky and presses him down, down, down to the floor, or couch, or chair—wherever he may be. He promises himself not to be driving in the afternoon.

“What have I forgotten?” He goes through the checklist again.

“My reading glasses!”

Swedish Affaires

“What luck!” I said when my father told me he would be sent to Stockholm, Sweden as chargé d’affaires by our home country, Brazil—and I would be going with him.

There was a chance he could become ambassador within a short time as there were no other suitable candidates. He had traveled throughout the Scandinavian countries for the commercial company he founded and, recently, sold.  Father said because it was the language of business and technology, almost everyone spoke English in Stockholm. He, of course, spoke it for business purposes and insisted we children learn it as well.

I am the oldest and had just finished high school. The good luck included the other children staying behind with Mother to complete their studies, since the length of Father’s assignment was still uncertain. And, I was eligible to study in any of Sweden’s universities, but not right away. We would arrive in late June, and the schools started in late August.

Swedish girls! Blonde, fair, ripe Swedish girls. The month of waiting was agony, my imagination building scenarios of meeting girls and having love affairs. I joked to myself that I was about to charge into some affaires, but not like what Father would be doing.

Within a few weeks of my arriving there was a special event for families of foreign diplomats at a Stockholm museum. It had many permanent exhibits of art and culture, and the special exhibit was of the Swedish painter Anders Zorn. But I was there to meet girls.

There were sixty of us, half parents and half children. I arrived alone and was quickly herded into the group by a Swedish guide. We were to make a tour of the entire place, take a coffee break in mid-afternoon, and finish the tour at the special exhibit.

I scanned the faces. There were around ten girls or young women who seemed, at first glance, worthy of my further attention. I started sweating, wondering how I could begin a conversation with any of them. My English isn’t perfect, and perhaps theirs wasn’t either. I worried there could be misunderstandings.

The guide was blonde and good looking, but seemed too old for me, or I would be too young for her—I didn’t care about age. I was looking for experience. The tour became boring, and I was never able to get in the right position at the right time to begin a conversation with any of the girls. I just couldn’t get into the right rhythm and state of mind. I thought the day was going to be a total disappointment so, just before the coffee break, I decided to skip the coffee and take a quick look at the special exhibit before I left.

I showed my pass to the man guarding the entrance to the Zorn exhibit before turning hard right into the viewing rooms.

My brain exploded.

I was looking at a beautiful, blonde, naked, unashamed girl of about sixteen. Of course it was a painting , but that was not my immediate impression. I felt like she was inviting me join her on the shore the water behind her. She looked perfect, just as I had imagined Swedish girls to be.

There was a bench in front of the picture. Knees trembling, I sat on it to gaze at her like a peeping tom. I looked around the area and saw more pictures of naked girls, sometimes two together, or an older and younger woman bathing together—all comfortable in their nakedness.

It was shocking, but the few people who passed by or who were looking at the other pictures seemed not to be at all disturbed or be making any remarks or, most importantly, not noticing my rapture.

“I see that you like Zorn, or at least his girls. He sure likes them, doesn’t he?”

She said all this as she sat, or rather bounced down to sit next to me. I stifled a scream into a hoarse squawk from the unexpected suddenness of her presence and her words. I couldn’t answer—my mouth had gone dry.

“I’m Ylva. That means wolf in Swedish. A female wolf. What’s your name?”

I unstuck my tongue from my teeth and mumbled “Carlos,” only I had to say it twice to pronounce it correctly.

“I thought you looked like some kind of Carlos. You know, Spanish or Italian or something like that. Is your pappa an ambassador? Mine is, but he’s an ambassador from Sweden to another country, so he and mamma are not here right now. So, I’ve got the whole house to myself.”

Then she looked straight at me, right in my eyes, with a sort of a question on her face. She wasn’t quite blond, but she was young and fair and pretty. Her clothes were frilly and colorful. I had noticed her briefly during the tour but didn’t think her to be Swedish.

“Uh, yeah, my father is chargé d’affaires here for my country—Brazil.

“Well, that’s great! How long have you been here? Have you been all around Stockholm?

“I’ve been here two weeks. I haven’t seen much yet.”

“That’s wonderful, bra. Bra means good in Swedish not brassiere. I can show you all around. It’s so boring being alone at home and my friends have nothing new to say.”

I went hot all over from her frank and open way of speaking, but I started to gain my strength as I saw that I might be able to fulfill one of my fantasies.

The affair lasted one month. She got bored quickly, and I was glad. I had my first experience, but she made me a crazy with her moods, quickly changing from one to another. I yearned for some peace and quiet.

After she stopped inviting me to her place, I began to explore Stockholm at my leisure, open to whatever adventure might come my way before I began studying at the university.

One day my feet took me to the museum where I’d met Ylva, and I found myself looking at Zorn’s girl again. She still looked beautiful to me, but somehow less desirable, now that I had been intimate with a flesh and blood girl. Besides, I had begun to realize that the perfection I could see in Zorn’s paintings would be difficult to find in a real girl. But then, Zorn had to have models, didn’t he?

Maybe I could get some girls like Zorn’s models to pose for me if I took art classes at the university. Like father has often said—nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Zorn-Jollen