The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

You know the Lady’s a lot like Reno
She ain’t got a heart
And she don’t care when your down             ~ From, Reno: Songwriters: Dale Wayne Harrison / Hugh Rush Dillon / Timothy Michael White / Trent Carr

Let’s establish something right from the start – it was one forgettable road trip. The saving grace was that it was just two nights and relatively close to home. After six months of retirement and having taken only one trip I suggested to Cora that it was time to take one of our not necessarily semi-annual, semi-annual trips to Reno. It’s usually once in the fall and once in the spring/summer but what with illnesses, injuries and putting a dog to sleep Reno had been off the agenda for a couple of years.

Before we get too far along in this, let me introduce you to Reno, if you aren’t already acquainted. It’s a dump. Wait, let’s clarify that because I don’t want to insult the good settlers of the self-proclaimed Biggest Little City in the World. The part that used to be a major attraction, the Strip, is a dump.

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The second post in a series about the treasures and trash found in an oak rolltop desk that had worn out its welcome. The first chapter, THE OAK DESK PART I. BORN AND BURIED describes the desk’s birth, brief life and death. 

My oak desk was gone, it’s splintered remains scattered about the landfill on the seedier east side of Richmond near San Pablo Bay. It was now left to the scavengers who root through the debris looking for a reclamation project or, even more ignominiously, a target for pooping gulls.

The desk that I’d hankered for, for years had become a catch all for trash and treasure until finally the time came for us to all be put out of its misery.

After euthanizing it with a drilling hammer all that was left were stacks of letters, documents, mementos and just plain stuff strewn around the bedroom floor. I found photos that dated from the 1930’s to the 2000’s, some faded and close to tatters and others in amazingly good shape for being around 75 years old.

Included in the cache were photos in envelopes and tattered albums that depicted two families, my mother’s in Rome, Italy and my father’s in Salt Lake City, Utah; families that would be forever tied by war. I found photos taken in Italy, as hostilities in Europe were breaking out, a few taken late in the war and a number of photos taken between 1945 and 1947. Continue reading

“Everything happens for a reason.” Corazon – My wife.

“Everything happens for a reason.” That’s been Cora’s mantra for the nearly 40 years that we’ve been married and I imagine goes back to the years that she spent in a convent. I’ve always taken it to be an insufficient bromide that marginalizes everything from my broken ankle that kept me from running for over a year to floods and famine.

“Everything happens for a reason,” she would offer and I would ask her to give me the reason. She often couldn’t and so I would call BS and declare a hollow victory.  Now I’m not so sure. I’m not calling BS on Cora this time. A recent string of events that seemed so random at the time seem to be uncannily tied together. Maybe things do happen for reasons that either manifest themselves or that we are simply left to ponder over in their mystery. 

The singular, jarring event was when I unexpectedly learned of the death six years ago of a young Korean woman who, many years ago and before meeting Cora, I had been deeply in love with (the story is told in a post bearing her name Nana). I was crushed and all the emotions that I felt when our relationship had suddenly ended 41 years ago came surging back.

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“Through an eye with teary edges,

My brain swears this can’t be real.

But my heart’s another story.  Yes my heart’s another story.”     – Another Story.  Song and lyrics Gabe Marshall and Bryon White

If there is an upside to writing it’s in the therapeutic value. 

I was originally intending to write a post about my maternal Italian grandmother, Nonna Maria. Sometimes circumstances lead you to a fork in the road and you find yourself compelled to veer from your intended route.

Maybe it was fate, or as Cora puts it the good Lord had a plan; or maybe it was just dumb luck. I guess I’ve told this story a hundred times if I’ve told it once. I was working in a retail hardware store at Fourth and Mission in Downtown San Francisco. Across Jessie Street, which was less street and more alley the company kept an office building/warehouse. The retail workers often went to the basement warehouse in that building but rarely to the third floor office. It was late 1979 and I’d had some sort of business in that third floor because I remember bounding down the stairs, throwing open the door and then slamming on the brakes to avoid knocking over the new hire. There was the awkward pause followed by that awkward little get past each other dance. You know the one where you try to get past each other and then end up sliding right back in front of each other? I remember exactly what she was wearing. Tight designer jeans, a purple sweater and impeccable makeup that complimented her clothes. I turned and watched briefly as she started up the stairs and promised myself that I would take her out. Cora was a head turner. Even after we were married and she was working as a bookkeeper for a dental office in the Mission District she would tell me about the men who turned to look at her, sometimes calling out to her. She was a head turner.

Before Cora there was Nana. She was my original and only other head turner. Any other women I dated, I did so after being acquainted for a while. Nana was originally from Pusan (now called Busan), South Korea. Busan is a port city in South Korea’s southeast corner.

I didn’t know any of this when she seated me in the little Japanese Restaurant located in San Francisco’s Richmond District where she worked as a server. What I did know was she was a head turner and she wasn’t sporting a ring, not even the strategic cheap one to keep creeps like me at bay. So that night I started conjuring up this grandiose plan to ask her out. I didn’t know how I was going to go about it but I was certain of one thing. Any plan that could leak out of my little mind was hopelessly doomed because my own logic dictated that there was no chance and no reason for a girl that beautiful to consider giving me anything beyond what her job required; friendly service, my food and the check.

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Many of us likely have a place where their life’s history is stored, oftentimes without knowing that the historical treasure even exists – until it’s uncovered. It might be an old trunk, boxes in the attic or a pile of shoeboxes. Mine was a roll top desk. This is part one of the story that was revealed over the course of sorting through the contents of that desk. 

It’s gone now, that oak roll top desk. It was left to molder in that potter’s field for unwanted furniture – the county landfill. After 20 years it met an inglorious end; no ceremony, no final words. Well, maybe there were some last words but they were only testimony to the indignity that fine old piece endured throughout its lifetime. Words along the lines of, “Finally got rid of that big old bastard.”

For years it sat under the bedroom window, stacked with papers, books, business cards, clothes both clean and dirty and a collection of miscellaneous stuff and junk that I never bothered to file away or throw away. It was a hoarder’s paradise. The judge and jury of the domicile, my wife, sentenced it to exile and in the end there were no witnesses for the defense. Even I, the once proud owner turned my back and dropped a dime on it. The desk had worn out its welcome.

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The Urban Dictionary defines “word” as well said; deemed to be something influential or of great intellectual power. It’s slang. My dad was all about “word” and words. For dad words were “word.” Words were truth, were influential, were of great intellectual power. 

To dad, a man who shot at people in war, words were the ultimate power. To him they were more potent than the 30 caliber machine gun he wielded as a B-17 waist gunner. Ironically he would never have been behind that gun had a former Bavarian corporal not understood the potential of the word and brandished it to lead the world into a second global conflict.  

Dad finished high school in Utah and then found himself in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho working for FDR’s, CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) followed by odd jobs and then the Army-Air Corps in World War II. At some point in his young life and I couldn’t say when or where, dad discovered words. He read the classics and he read history and he read about politics and he read philosophy. 

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Classic dad in an easy chair. A book, a pipe, a bottle of Cognac. Taken at my uncle’s flat in Rome, Italy

And then he wrote. Continue reading

Chinatown. It’s a relatively poor district as San Francisco neighborhoods go. It’s crowded, one of the most densely populated urban districts in America, made even more so by the influx of tourists year round. It’s popularity as an attraction exceeds that of the Golden Gate Bridge yet it’s often more maligned than the bridge. It is the largest and the oldest of the Chinatown’s in North America.

My earliest, real vivid memory of Chinatown springs from a harebrained trip to see the Chinese New Year Parade that nearly resulted in a case of pneumonia. The parade takes place every February and since it’s based on the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year which fluctuates from year to year the date of the parade varies as well. It’s my belief and one shared by many locals that the parade date is deviously timed to coincide with a monsoonal rainstorm. That or the weather deities are just being obnoxious.

I was a boy, six or seven I guess, when mom and dad floated the notion of attending the Chinese New Year Parade and I say floated because it befits that night’s deluge. I’m surprised that dad didn’t just scuttle the whole idea when the weatherman called for a Biblical dousing. It went against dad’s grain to suffer the sort of foolishness that would have us standing in a downpour. A man who prided himself on his unflinching good judgement didn’t have enough sense to get in out of the rain.

PInk Dragon

Above and below: The colors of the Chinese New Year Parade. 

Painted lady 1

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