The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

I woke up this morning at 5:30 with the expectation that we would know the election results. I let Lexi out, looked down at the tuner and asked myself, “Do you really wanna know?”
A quick glance revealed no real change from last night.
“What the hell,” I whispered at John Berman. (The family was still asleep.)
The banner at the bottom of the screen described the race as “razor thin.”
No shit!

Looking at the totals, the gaps and the votes was discouraging. I’ve seen this movie. I had a recollection of the days when I was coaching high school cross country. I remembered those times watching one of my team steadily closing the gap on the leader; closer, closer and closer still, gobbling up distance with each yard. Hopes suddenly dashed by the realization that there’s not enough real estate left in the race. If the race had been 3.5 miles or even 3.2 miles instead of the official 3.1, she would’ve taken the race. I feel like there isn’t enough real estate of votes left for Biden to overtake Trump where he needs to.

An hour later Lexi and I were walking past the nearby wetlands. The rising sun lent a golden glow to the ground fog that hugged the reeds in a chilly wet embrace. Normally I would be running but the anxiety of the last few days has sapped my energy.

It occurred to me that I’ve had this feeling before. Back in 2010 when the Bush depression was hemorrhaging jobs around the country and at the company I was working for, I drove to work every morning wondering if my day would begin with an escort to the H.R. office. When I was finally let go the feeling was one of relief that the crushing tension had been finally relieved.

I had the same feeling when we were waiting for Cora’s biopsies after a scan had revealed a mass. Mass. I never did like that term. The doctor described the “mass” in terms of centimeters but the word describes something the size of a continent. Continue reading

Even with 15mg of Melatonin in my system sleep didn’t come easy this morning (bedtime was 12:30 A.M.) and didn’t last long. At 3:30 I was awake and peeking at my phone to see if there was any news but whatever I saw didn’t register.

The rest of the early morning was spent looking up into the darkened ceiling, trying to sort out what had transpired just hours earlier. And what it all means.

When I went to bed, the President of the United States had just made a brief, fuming appearance in the White House in front of family, supporters and assorted cult members. He blithered for a while about his leads in battleground states being insurmountable before cutting to the chase, that in his estimation the vote in these states was fraudulent because an abundance of votes were yet to be counted. And then to the cheers of his forelock tuggers he announced that he was going to ask the Supreme Court to halt the vote counting. Welcome to coup American style. As of this writing at 9:30 A.M. I’ve heard nothing more about the Supreme Court. Maybe one of his handlers bitch slapped him or force fed him his meds. Continue reading

I voted early today, an hour or so after the polls opened. The initial plan, months ago, was to vote early by mail but after some consideration and, more to the point, reports of chicanery on the part of Trump’s man in the Postal Service and threats by the Republican Party to challenge the integrity of the election I decided to vote the old fashioned way.

In our little corner of Hercules the polling site for our small precinct is the local recreation center. Just as in any previous election there were no lines. I guess that was just about the only holdover from past elections. COVID dictated separate entry and exit doors, plastic shields, gloves, sanitizers, single use pens and socially distanced booths.

As in any presidential election there’s tension about it. And rightly so when you consider that we’re hiring the driver of the national bus for the next four years. Think back to every presidential election and the quadrennial warning about any given election being the most important one in decades.
“They’ll take away your guns,” cry the right.
“They’ll take away civil rights,” warn the left.
The guy on the right is labelled a nationalist, the one on the left a socialist even if in reality they’re each just barely to the left or right of dead center.
We hear every four years that the presidential election is the election of the century and the fate of the nation hangs in the balance and anybody who has the temerity of voting his or her conscience is scolded for “wasting a vote,” or “helping the other guy win.” By all means never let your conscience be your guide.

This year is different. This year there’s more than just tension. Tension has been elevated to anxiety and anxiety to fear. I could never have imagined that businesses would board up their windows in anticipation of violence and a non-scalable fence erected around the White House, the people’s house. Those are things that happen in countries ruled by repressive regimes. In America the president isn’t supposed to fear the people. It’s not supposed to come to the point in America where the president has incurred such public wrath that the White House should be turned into a castle. Continue reading

Come the beginning of October we’d reached a disheartening anniversary. A year had passed since Cora and I had taken a trip to anywhere besides Home Depot, the grocery store and a couple of al fresco lunches. October 2019, we spent a few days in Reno, Nevada. Reno isn’t exactly the flower in the garden. There are some, many in fact, who might argue that it’s the thorn of the rose. Over the years it’s been our short getaway place. I go to lose money at the blackjack tables and Cora feeds slot machines. Cora relaxes in our room or by the pool and I find a losing team to bet on at the sports book and then, well, I watch my team lose on a gigantic screen. And then there’s eating, far too much eating. For the foreseeable future the casinos and casino buffets are off the itinerary.

Over the summer we’ve lamented what we’ve had to forego. In July we were supposed to have done a swing through the midwest, visiting major league baseball stadiums along the way. Because of COVID that trip struck out. Right about now we should be on our way back from three weeks in Italy.

Getting over corona consternation
It wasn’t that long ago that we were remaining within the fortress of our home and yard. We were washing groceries and sanitizing canned goods. I left the house only for essential errands and early morning runs. Over the summer, science has revealed that we can prudently loosen restrictions but normal as we once knew it such a short time ago is going to be taboo for some time to come.

Cora and I have remained behind the vanguard when it comes to relaxing our behavior. We eased into outdoor lunch, visiting parks and going shopping beyond foraging for the essentials. Each loosening of our behavioural bindings has come with some serious forethought and about 14 days of nervous afterthought.

In late August I floated the idea of taking a short trip to Sequoia National Park in the southern Sierra Nevada. That plan went up in smoke when the State of California caught fire and the park was closed indefinitely. I tried to opt for Big Sur on the Central California Coast but the Dolan Fire had most of that area closed. On the verge of admitting defeat I took a last look at my California guide book and found Morro Bay, a seaside community south of Big Sur.

Morro Bay Remembered
I remembered Morro Bay from my childhood though I’d never been there before in my life. My recollection of Morro Bay came from a Golden Stamp Book about natural wonders of the world. The stamp book; it’s a long extinct relic from pre-internet days. But for a few odd collectors they never gained the nostalgic appeal of old comic books, Necco Wafers or metal lunch pails. Golden Stamp Books were themed activity books that included educational pages and gummed stickers. Each educational page had a place to stick the appropriate sticker. This particular book had a page about Morro Rock (More on Morro Rock to come. Stay tuned.).

Funny isn’t it how I can remember a particular stamp in a stamp book from my childhood and not remember what I had for breakfast. Okay maybe it’s not so funny. Something for another post – if I don’t forget to write it.

As is the case with just about everything during the period of COVID, the virus played a part in writing the narrative. The original plan was to leave home on Sunday and return on Thursday, but in an attempt to minimize being in crowds we decided to leave on Monday and return on Friday (retirement can be boring at times but it does have its perks).  Normally I would open guide books and plan visits to museums and other indoor attractions.  COVID changed all that.  Instead of looking for places to visit I was looking for what would be open – and safe.

There are two ways to get to Morro Bay from home. The fastest and most direct is down the San Francisco Peninsula on Highway 101. Not so scenic unless gazing at glass and steel tech company buildings on either side of the freeway are your idea of a panorama. The other route is down Highway 1, with the dramatic Pacific Ocean as your companion to your right and the changing scenery of the immediate inland to your left. This was a road trip and a road trip should offer as much scenery per mile and surprises per turn as nature can possibly provide.

There’s something very special for me about road trips with Cora. We can be listening to music or talking about the trip in front of us or what we’re taking back with us or we can just sit in silent enjoyment of each other’s company. There’s a particular warm closeness that comes over me as the miles pass and the scenery changes.

On the road
We hit Highway 1 dropping down from the coastal hills of San Mateo into Pacifica. As you descend towards the coastline you can see a stretch of beaches interrupted only by the Pacifica Pier jutting into the cold (and it is cold) Pacific waters. The water off Pacifica, particularly at Rockaway Beach, is frequently dotted with surfers.  Even on days that most of us wouldn’t think of as a beach day can find the parking lots jammed with surfers gearing up in their wetsuits and carrying their boards to hit the waves.

Waves at Rockaway Beach

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This week’s Lens Artists Challenge hosted by Biasini is Communication. My first inclination was to pass. How do you photograph communication? Turns out there are countless ways.

The faces of children speak to us in their innocent and genuine way.
Below my grandchildren Sophia and her cousin Jackson communicate the joy of a pool day. 

In a quiet moment, Sophia reads to her younger cousin.     

Below, grandson Zachary is overwhelmed by all the noise and attention of his first birthday party.

Below, what is Zach communicating here?  Caught with the evidence?

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October 2020, with weeks to go before an election made controversial by Donald Trump. Is racial injustice an issue in America? The question is not about the existence of racial injustice, but is it, at this moment in 2020, an issue?  That’s a good question and at the same time an unfortunate one given that we’re four hundred years into the problem. Depending on who you ask there’s a perception and a reality.

Pose the question to a random sampling of white America and you might get a range of responses from a firm “yes” to a firm “no,” to a noncommittal “we’re working on it,” to a lecture on the so-called left wing red herring of identity politics. If you ask the Vice-President of the United States he’ll deny that systemic racism exists at all as will his boss and the cult that follows this administration. Those are the perceptions.

If you ask a sampling of people of color if race is an issue in America your answer will be something along the lines of “Hell, yes it is. Every day of my life.” Being on the receiving end of racial injustice tends to make one expert in the reality.

My last post describes racial injustice as a peripheral, almost non-issue in suburban white America where I’ve spent most of my life. It is, for the most part, a look back on the days of my childhood and young adult years and it’s a story that speaks largely of indifference. Indifference to racial injustice has been the subplot of the main storyline of America’s tragedy. It’s a play that’s been repeated on the American stage for decades.

A person of color is killed under suspect circumstances or a church is torched or a klan/white supremacist rally get its 15 minutes of undeserved fame; maybe a traffic stop goes wrong or a group of good ol’ boys working off an excess of beer and boredom goes on a rampage and assaults some poor soul who had the nerve to simply be born with more melanin than his tormentors. Maybe an arrest is made, maybe not. Maybe justice is served, maybe not.

The storyline continues; protests, indignation, conflict, anger, rhetoric and calls for a divided nation to come together and to “do better.” And then the climax – detente. It all goes away. Protesters go home, Congressional hearings adjourn, politicians move on to other matters and the white community goes back to what it was doing before being so rudely interrupted. Days, weeks, maybe months pass and then the drama starts all over again.

Clear and present racism
Racial injustice has a long history in America. We know racism when we see it. Oftentimes it’s easy to spot; a bumper sticker, a comment on the internet or a demonstration in Charlottesville. That’s the low hanging fruit, the conspicuous things like the car I saw during a visit to Virginia during the Obama Presidency. The car was plastered from bumper to roof with stickers that slandered the president in the most vile and racist terms. It doesn’t have to be that car in Virginia. It could be the novelty shop in Virginia City, Nevada with anti-Obama trinkets or the comments section of Yahoo News or Confederate flag logoed doodads from the Dixie Outfitters shop in Lynchburg, Tennessee or an indignant white couple painting over the Black Lives Matter mural in Martinez, California. The examples are everywhere and they’re the things that trigger a reaction of disbelief followed by an instinctive revulsion and the question, “How could this happen in 21st century America?”

What a question. There’s racism all around us, injustice that we often pass by, sometimes daily without even recognizing it. Comfort is the foundation of complacency which allows us to ignore the day to day racism that’s hiding in plain sight. We either don’t recognize it for what it is or worse, it registers yet we choose to overlook it. Continue reading

I began this post long ago in the days just following the murder of George Floyd and since that beginning it’s been subject to a score of rewrites and questions. Part of the reason is that I’ve felt the need to really get this right. The other part, maybe the greater part, is that it’s not an easy thing to admit to six decades of apathy. This is a personal story, one of avoidance and indifference, a story that should resonate with much of white America even if much of white America chooses to deny it. I’ve always considered myself a liberal and yet for most of my life I’ve avoided an open discussion of race and racism.  Indifference, it’s a virus that’s not uncommon to the liberal white community.  Excuses are easy to come by.  If I’m not being discriminated against then how I could I possibly have a proper perspective? What could I possibly add to the discussion? What could I possibly know or say about racism if I’m not subject to it? And then of course there’s the old, “I don’t see color” or just plain, “I’m not racist.” The problem with the rationalizations is that being a part (even an unwilling part) of the group (white America) that’s doing the discriminating carries with it an obligation and moral charge to acknowledge racism and speak out.  Maybe it’s just that I’ve been too damned intimidated by the topic.  It’s part of that triumvirate that we avoid; race, religion and politics, right? And so this isn’t a story that I take pride in relating, but it’s a story that has to be told.  It’s a story that’s demanded of white America because the fight for racial justice won’t be won until white America speaks out.  It’s like the twelve steps.  You have to acknowledge the problem before you can begin to solve it.  As journalist Don Lemon asserts in the title of his podcast, Silence is Not an Option.  

When I started this I had some vague notion of where I wanted it to go but no true direction.  That’s until I heard a sports talk show in which one of the hosts said , “Race was never an issue.” 

Race was never an issue. Now, I don’t mean to say that race wasn’t an issue in a universal sense. In the context of American society as a whole in the 1950’s and 60’s, race was very much an issue. It just wasn’t an issue where I grew up. And yes I was living in America; comfortable, white, suburban America. My cozy childhood corner of the nation was in the hills west of the town of San Mateo, about 20 miles down Highway 101 from San Francisco. It bears repeating that in my own little slice of America race was not an issue.

Up the highway in San Francisco, race was an issue. Across the bay in Oakland, race was an issue. It was even something of an issue in eastside San Mateo where most of the community’s Black population called home – “the other side of the tracks,” is how the saying went.

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Featured image: San Francisco’s famous Painted Ladies as seen from Alamo Square. 

It’s not a difficult thing to find colorful buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area. A drive down Highway 80 from home brings me to Oakland’s Chinatown where the buildings are alive with murals.  Below the mural on a city owned building is emblazoned with a menagerie of pandas, dragons and birds.                 

A drive across the Bay Bridge takes me to San Francisco’s North Beach.  The Italian Tricolor is everywhere in SF’s Little Italy.

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Note: This article quotes from the book Bullwhip Days an oral history of former slaves.  The original work was recorded and then transcribed into book form retaining the spoken dialect of the subjects. I’ve retained the dialect as published in the book. 

“Putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, it’s the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” ~ William Barr, Attorney General, United States of America.

Was William Barr trying to be edgy? Flippant? Just trolling? Over the three and a half years of the current administration, just about anything, no matter how crude or inappropriate, seems possible. And given Mr. Barr’s proclivity for scurrilous ejaculations we cease to be shocked. He delivers provocations in a casual, offhand, conversational manner that expects the listener to believe that the most bizarre and noxious proposals are simply conventional wisdom. And so during a speech at Hillsdale College, Barr in a blasé, doesn’t everybody know this tone stated, “Putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, it’s the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,”

Mind blowing doesn’t even begin to describe Barr’s abomination.

I’ll say this for Mr. Barr, his boss, and others in the administration, everytime you think that they’ve absolutely plumbed the lowest, deepest, most despicable depths, they manage to drill down just a bit deeper. If Trump and Barr weren’t so loathsome you might even want to praise them as masters in the art of douchebaggery. That said being a master douchebag isn’t something one looks for in a president and attorney general.

Let’s be clear, the disconnection between slavery and being told to shelter in place to mitigate the spread of a virus is so great that it isn’t comparing apples to oranges but more like comparing apples to truck tires or garden hoses. There is simply no reasonable or diplomatic way to try to make the correlation.

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The San Francisco Bay Area is well known for its fog. Sometimes it’s a high overcast that shrouds the tops of San Francisco’s highrises. At other times it’s a low lying blanket that hugs the ground and the surface of the chill bay waters, a scene that makes for picturesque photos from the surrounding hills. That ground hugging cloak usually burns off by noon leaving a crystal clear day.

Lately we’ve been experiencing a new fog. It’s a stubborn fog that never burns off or gives way to clarity but will over time, burn your supply of patience. This fog doesn’t hug the bay or embrace the Golden Gate. Instead it seeps and creeps through the halls of government. Call it, COVID-19 bureaucracy.

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