The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

The long (for some) Independence Day weekend is approaching its waning hours. Independence Day and the long weekend (for some) that goes with it is our yearly observance of all that is perceived as good in America and is supposed to honor what has long been called the great governmental experiment. Characterized by picnics, parades, barbecues, concerts and fireworks (both legal and not so much) we’re encouraged every year to take a moment and put down the hot dog and beer and reflect on The Declaration of Independence, that groundbreaking document that started it all.
We hold these truths to be self-evidentbegins the second paragraph of the American Declaration of Independence. Two hundred and forty-three years ago this weekend that document defined those truths; men (and women since at some later point in the continuum we decided that women are people also) are created equal and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The whole notion of self-evident should assume that these truths are the low hanging fruit of rights. But it seems that we’re struggling, can’t seem to snatch the apples right in front of the national face. I could turn this into an elaborate treatise about how we’ve been buggering that part of the Declaration for two and a half centuries….but I won’t. I’m leaving that to the pundits and bloggers who like to get their hands (or any other parts) dirty.

Instead I’ve taken a more tongue in cheek route and challenged myself to come up with some other truths that should be self-evident to any reasonable person with manners and taste.

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“There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other.” ~ J. K. Rowling

This is a story about running.

For most of my life, beginning in high school you could define me in a number of ways; many of them somewhat tainted I would imagine. But above all, since the day that I joined my high school’s cross country team I could best be defined as a runner.

It was what I did; before work, during work, after work; in the city, through forests, on beaches and in foreign lands. I got lost in New York, took an early morning run through the Gettysburg Battlefield, watched the sunrise over the Washington Monument in D.C and ran between the columns of the Piazza San Pietro in the Vatican. Running was rooted in who I was. It both satisfied me and frustrated me to the point of throwing away a few pairs of perfectly good running shoes and swearing I would never run again. At times the ups and downs of running strained my marriage.

Unlike many runners I’ve never romanticized running. The whole notion of crediting running with opening some mystical window that reveals the meaning of life has always made as much sense to me as pouring a fine old single malt Scotch into the toilet. While I’ve loved the highs of running and hated down times with a blind rage I never bought into the mumbo jumbo, that absurd sports voodoo, of running as some sort of spiritual panacea. There’s never been any zen involved. It’s just exercise that occasionally provided the added bonus of sightseeing. It didn’t provide me with any philosophical insights or solve my problems or relieve stress. It certainly wasn’t going to get me closer to God unless I was unlucky enough for my heart to seize up in mid-stride and in that case there was never any guarantee that I wouldn’t end up looking for the ice water station in that other place.

This is also a story of my dearest friend Ivy (not her real name) who I met at a former workplace. She came from war torn Southeast Asia when she was a baby. When we met I was 45 and she was 25. I was a buyer and Ivy was the overqualified Microsoft certified IT person; both of us marooned on the dreary, godforsaken island of industrial distribution.

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The featured photo was taken at the San Francisco Botanical Garden and processed through my editing program just prior to the program croaking.
The original intent for this post was a photo essay on The San Francisco Botanical Garden, a 55 acre urban oasis of plants and flowers in Golden Gate Park. Try as you might though you’ll find no photos, save the cover, of the San Francisco Botanical Garden. That’s not to say that I was in any way lazy and put off taking the photos. It was two Saturdays of walking miles and taking well over a hundred exposures. So, yes, there are photos of the garden. They’re just, let’s say, still in fermentation. I will post no photo before it’s time. As a result I’ve changed the title from Friday Fotos – The SF Botanical Garden to Not Friday and Not The Post on the San Francisco Botanical Garden.
While preparing photos for my post on the S.F Botanical Garden that is now the Not Friday and Not The Post on the San Francisco Botanical Garden, my Photoshop Elements program went into convulsions before apparently expiring to that big hard drive in the sky. My own attempts to resuscitate the program all failed and so I combed the online forum, a resource which I’ve always found to be a running chronicle of good intentions, trial, disappointment and repetition. After pouring through the usual forum thread of frustration and with my PSE program in its final death throes I went to one final act of desperation and looked for a phone number to contact Adobe support. I was left speechless when I actually found a number. Speechless turned out to be the operative word because as the story unfolded there wouldn’t be much speech to speak of … so to speak.

As a result of that phone call this Not Friday and Not The Post on the San Francisco Botanical Garden is now just a venting of the spleen; billingsgate, to use one of my favorite words. And why not? A good venting is often a pleasurable thing. I’ve found that venting can be sort of like going without underwear for a few hours. It’s an airing out that has a refreshing quality about it. And what better place to take off my underwear than at Adobe.

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“It is the life-affirming genius of baseball that the short can pummel the tall, the rotund can make fools of the sleek, and no matter how far down you find yourself in the bottom of the ninth you can always pull out a miracle.”
Bill Vaughn, American author and essayist.

Coming out of the concourse at Candlestick Park I gazed on the greenest thing I’d ever seen. I was 8 years old when I caught that first wondrous glimpse of a sea of the most perfect grass you’ll ever lay your eyes upon. To an 8 year old that field seemed boundless. It’s a rite of passage, that first ever professional baseball game. Looking out at the field is only one of the colors of the sensory rainbow of that first game experience, a stamped forever memoir. The smells that you would forevermore associate with a ballgame; the spice of hot dogs and that secret brown mustard you could never find at the grocery store, the pungent odor of onions bursting from the bins at the condiment counter and the malty aroma of sloshing beer.

Oracle from McCovey cove

Oracle Stadium with a smattering of fans in the seats viewed from McCovey Cove. At game time the cove is filled with all manner of boats

AT&T Panorama

The sea of perfect grass. Oracle Stadium, San Francisco

And the sounds. The pregame buzz of the crowd filing in; batting practice wafting up from the field, the crack of the bat, pop of the glove and the players’ banter. And of course there are the vendors, hawking food, drink and souvenirs in loud voices, all calling out in that singular ballgame peddler’s accent as if they’re all from some mythical land with a baseball language all its own.
“Prograaaams. Getcher prograaams heah. Hey-programs.”
“Hot dogs heah. Get-cher red hots.”
“Ice cold beah, heah. Getcher ice cold beah heah.”

That first step out of the concourse slams the senses like a bat crushing a 95 mile an hour fastball.

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The overabundance of rain this winter and spring has created a deluge of color in the yard. When the flowers are in bloom as they are this spring Cora likes to say that they’re happy. The bougainvilla at the corner of the garage seems to be almost giddy with joy.

Instead of taking in the whole I decided to try some more intimate views.

Bouganvilla 6

Bouganvilla 5

Bouganvilla 9

Bouganvilla 2



My mother named me after the street that we lived on: Waverly Place Jong, my official name for important American documents.” ~ From The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan.

Waverly Place

I guess it was around 30 years ago when I read Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, her wonderful yarn, actually a series of yarns, about the lives of four immigrant Chinese mothers and their four daughters. The story goes that one of the moms, Lindo Jong, named her daughter after the street that they lived on – Waverly Place.

When I first read The Joy Luck Club I was aware that much of it is set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. What I didn’t realize is that there is an actual Waverly Place until I stumbled on to it many years later. That is so cool, I thought. When I walked that short, colorful little alley it was as if I was permitted for a few brief moments to enter the story. I enjoyed the book so much that I reread it years later and then was sorely disappointed by the movie version.

Waverly sign

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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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