Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category

Blogged dogs and pink threads

January 9, 2010

This week I was lucky to cross paths with a couple of folks who aren’t just happy to record and post how they see slivers of the worls, but also do a fine and insight-provoking job of it.  One was the fellow we met dog walking at Point Pleasant this morning; he keeps this blog of dog walking at Point Pleasant.

Another is the photo-a-day blog that YALSA Past President Sarah Debraski initiated on New Year’s Day.  My favourite image to date on her The Fairview is a spinning bobbin filling with pink thread.

And then there is the Oddly Specific, a website deciated to sharing signs that are….well, too specific to be completely useful, if your idea of useful signs are those that work without causing you to stop everything and fall down laughing.


Grossing out the grownups

October 9, 2009

A lot of my friends are librarians who work, and have worked, with teenagers across years.  This lot is almost impermeable when it comes to getting them grossed out.  They are also real librarians, which is to say they communicate through every medium available (and some that I don’t know about), enjoy their liquor and never saw a curiosity about which they couldn’t or wouldn’t perform research.

And then there is my resident 19-year-old (that is, he’s a legal resident of one country and citizen in two others, which, I think, makes him triply residential?), whose Twitter friends include not only Man United and Eddie Izzard, but also a handful of…librarians (go figure). This is the same person who, as a 4th grader, rescued a bunch of classmates who were being harassed by other classmates with images from (remember that gross out for the unsophisticated early web searcher?) and then proceeded to give the entire class a stentorian lecture on domain names and the sanctity of the Librarians Index to the Internet.

Yesterday he managed to work his way across virtually all the implicated interests (except, I think, football) by posting his–to him–happy discovery (picture included) of something called a Toblerone cocktail (Please keep in mind that he is legal drinking age where he was drinking). This sent several of my own tweeting-librarian friends, and me, rushing to our favourite bartending websites and then sent up a collective “eehhwww.”

Yes, chocolate’s good–and Toblerone rates relatively well on the basic chocolate scale. No one was opposed to having a cocktail at the end of a long hard day of uni classes.  But gross: combining these things in a glass and pouring the mess together with cream and milk (I think that’s what did it for me, personally)?!

So, teen mission accomplished: the grownups were grossed out (And that last sentence is less than half 140 characters).

North to Mendocino

June 14, 2009

IMG_1375Berkeley has its tribes and several of these tribes have very specific summer rituals.  For many tribes, camp of some sort–whether daycamp overseen by YMCA staff or sleep away camping at Gold Lake, or with the Chrysallis enviro science peeps–is part of the season. Parents and kids head together to Our Family’s camp option.The city even owns its own family camp. Today’s the day that the youngest of the adults (who would, in the minds of some of their folks, be the oldest of the kids) from Fred’s tribe head to its ritual summer meeting ground, Camp Winnarainbow, a land where dancing on stilts, big- and small-wheel unicycles, flying trapezes, fire juggling and singing the hit songs of 1968 are de rigeur (as is, of course, the emblematic tie dye).

After serving a perhaps unparalleled three years as teen staff (due to the lateness of his birthday), Fred’s finally graduated to adult staff.  He hasn’t missed a summer since he was seven and although he experimented with other tribal camp grounds as well during the first three years of his summer camp life, including one he disdainfully still calls “meat camp”, Wavy Gravy land seems to have been his preordained tribe. So much so that as of today, he and his contemporaries–slick modern college students who live on FB and Skype ten months out of the year–willingly, eagerly click close their laptops, unplug their cell phones and start humming the Fifth Dimension.

He cruises up the highway today with a girl/woman he knows only from camp, although I knew her parents for years during and because of the schoolyear.   Yesterday, in an ironic double rite of passage (tantamount to getting baptized and confirmed all within the same hour), he visited his first deathbed and then Syped for help filling out his first tax forms. And although he’s promised a postcard during the duration, I expect to hear nothing more this summer; he’s gone off with his tribe for the season.

He was wearing an old shirt of mine yesterday, I noticed as we were Skyping, an iconic olive drab one, emblazoned with a red star and “Berkeley,” given to me by a friend who gave me several other things across the years, including her story of how her own summers at camp were the best months of her life, the time she could most be herself until adulthood. She also gave me the t-shirt I’m wearing today (swatched at the header of this entry), so I’m giving it double duty today: memoriam, as she died last year, and send-off, as Fred heads off with his tribe.

Giving the woods

April 14, 2009

Fred went to what he’s calling home Saturday night and was kind enough to post a sun-drenched view of Lade Braes walk Sunday afternoon (okay, it wasn’t kindness intentionally pointed my way but kind nonetheless):


It was the same weekend that I hadn’t heard from Nita in months of weekend emails and so I began to ponder on how woods–the views, the walks, the lore–figure into moments that have always felt like gifts among family and near-as-family for me. With Nita, the specific woods were those in Pine Hollow, which, of course is now history, bisected and decimated by US 8O.

suechrystal and I had all of Mill Creek’s woods, but especially around Bear’s Den and the lakes. Bob and I spent what seems like years in Tilden, and spent every Sunday morning of Fred’s infancy and toddlerhood going in different directions from Jewel Lake, into the woods, or into what’s as woodsy there as it gets.

And today being Jan Goldsmith’s birthday (hey there, happy birthday!), it’s good to remember, too, going to Mill Valley with everyone and walking along the creek there. (That was back when jan was 30, wink wink, and now she must be turning 31).

Mellifluous turns of phrase where not wholly expected

March 11, 2009

I am not anti-lawyer–lord knows that they run in my family like wooden legs. They have a way with words that can rock my socks.  My son has emailed me the form lease he’s been provided by his potential first landlord and so I get to enjoy a whole new slate of canned phrases previously unmet by my ear:

“to pay…tax, water, sewerage charges…(even if of a novel nature)”


repetitions of “the currency of the tenancy” [you have to say that one aloud to fully appreciate]

the property is to be kept  “reasonably aired and warm” (rather like a baby?)

“to keep…rockeries neat”

In an equal opportunity banning, neither “blu tac, white tac nor any form of adhesive tape” can be used.

Punctuation gives new  (and peculiar) legs to timeworn phrases:

“This paragraph does not apply to damage caused by fair, wear and tear and vandals…”

For his part, the landlord owes the tenant “quiet enjoyment” of the property.

And there are the practical bits of advice:

“The Tenant….must not act in an antisocial manner…against any person in the neighbourhood.”

One is prohibited from leaving rubbish “at inappropriate times.”

“If parties are held the numbers attending are limited to a reasonable number” is amplified by a statement suggesting that 20 seems to be the breaking point between reasonable and eyebrow raising.

“The first named tenant on this lease is deemed the Fire Officer for the property.”  Fire safety is BIG, as: “The tenants are to check one different smoke detector each week and enter the test in the log book provided.”

All in all, it beats heck out of the lease-free dump I took as my first joint effort in independent living.

Supported by libraries

March 8, 2009

My childhood homes were full of books, sometimes to the exclusion of any other furnishings.  Not just my mother’s house but other places where I spent significant periods of life.  My nursery school, for instance, had a fabulously overstuffed, face-out book shelf unit with a seemingly ever-revolving series of offerings, some of which aimed directly at the potential user’s likely age (Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal), some pitched high (Bobbsey Twins) and others angling for media tie-in attention (Tom Terrific).  We sometimes visited the local branch of the public library, or a lady from there came to visit us during morning circle.  The branch was called Brownlee Woods and I got “Brownlee” tangled with “brownie” and was fairly sure the branch was peopled by mischievous little people.

On Saturdays, my mother took me to the main library, downtown.  The furniture in the children’s room was ugly as all get out:  heavy blond wood and thick plastic upholstery that was a dangerous hue between yellow and green.  But the room was huge and laid out with developmental logic:  picture books right at the entrance, a service point (desk of minimal size behind which the librarian never hid) beyond that as the middle grade fiction unwound to the nonfiction and fireplace end of the room where the junior high books were shelved across from the magazines.  In spite of the hideous furniture, the art over the fireplace pleased me: Diego Rivera’s pigtailed girl with lilies (she had pigtails just like me!). In that room, I must have read a thousand picture books, discovered Elizabeth Enright, worked through my 10-year-old fascination with bricklaying patterns and methods, went on to read every issue of Boys Life and then–in a quirk that foretold my future vocation–moved on to Top of the News.

My school library during this period, however, was nothing at which to shake a stick.  The school building had been built in three stages: one in 1912, a third in the late 1950’s and a few rooms (including the gym/auditorium) at some time in between.  A classroom-sized area that opened onto the gym (or the teacher’s parking lot if one exited the other side) was called the “library”; absolutely nothing in it was more recently published than 1935 or so.  World War II, let alone the Korean Police Action and the Vietnam Conflict, had yet to happen when the collection seemed to have been closed. This wasn’t a problem for most of my fellow students because we never used the space–let alone the collection–in the course of our schooldays.  However, I was sent off to it on a regular basis, usually when my reading in the classroom or hallway was deemed distracting.  By the time I was in Grade 2, I knew to bring my own reading matter there, however, having tried to slog through Quo Vadis back when I’d arrived unprepared.

Later, at boarding school, the library I found waiting for me came with the extraordinary feature of direct access to a duck pond.  Ducks, and a few sharper tempered geese, would wander through when warm weather encouraged us to leave the library door open. That collection was almost useful and included a few literary gems I might not have found in a larger mine: The King from Ashtabula, My Antonia, Karl Popper.  Neither of the other two secondary schools I attended had libraries worth mentioning, either pro or con.

As an undergraduate, I fell into enrolling in Supreme Court law classes as a respite from my “real” studies.  The teachers were good, the subject matter fantastic, and the requirement that term end papers rely on resources that required me to explore otherwise hidden realms of Los Angeles tantalizing.  My friend Nancy (who died back in 1991) and I would spend hot afternoons in the cool of LA County’s law library and then eat sandwiches at some nearby hole in the wall.

Would I have become a librarian without all these riches–and the occasional droughts? Maybe, but it would have been a different kind, I think.  I don’t mean a different avenue of the vocation, but with a different attitude.  I just got lucky.

The joy of numbers

March 5, 2009

A friend pointed out that this week and month has all manner of math fun commemorated in it, including, next week, Pi Day.  Since it’s being a long and complicated week for me already, adding mathematical musings to it might have once seemed outrageous.

But that was before Elizabeth O, some years ago, shared some extremely valuable insight with me:  life is really all about algebra.  Every day is spent solving for x.


The other Californians in Nova Scotia

March 2, 2009

The weekend edition of Toronto’s Globe and Mail had an article that warmed the cockles of my heart (as my mother would have declaimed). Seems that another pair of Californians moved to a much smaller burg in this here province and now have themselves a speakeasy built expressly as a venue for book discussions. And a malt whisky club is being formed there as well.

I don’t know from where in California the owners came; Tatamagouche  has fewer than 1,000 residents so there had to be a very specific attraction to the place (and it’s been a much shorter period of time since the village was featured on a reality tv program called “The Week the Women Went Away” than the Hunzikers’ residency, so they can’t have been attracted by the ability of the local men to clean house, or do whatever viewers find intriguing about a temporarily unisex community).

And apparently I’ll never get to visit the speakeasy because, like any good speakeasy, strangers aren’t invited and I know no one in Tatamagouche. But it is satisfying to know that there are books being discussed there, single malt being poured, and a couple whose very existence proves that Bob and I aren’t the only ex-Californians to be odd enough to immigrate to Nova Scotia.

from old classmate to new library

February 27, 2009

A few days ago, I wrote of coming into contact with an old high school classmate, rather out of the blue. Today, with equal lack of planning or warning, I discovered that a new library opened–just last week–on a corner I knew about the time I was 9 or 10. It looks like a pretty good project, too, with an early literacy area and plenty of glass walls. It’s about a block away from a movie house where I went to see “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World“, a movie I didn’t much like (then), and a place where the concession stand was automated so you could buy a (bad) milkshake from a vending machine.

The new library looks more engaging than the old Newport Theater stands in memory. It appears that Handel’s Frozen Custard has disappeared from across the street, but the library has a cafe so maybe there’s hope for a summer ice cream there.  My most abiding memory of the corner on which the new branch stands is how burningly hot it was in summer (when I’d cut across the asphalt en route to the air conditioned movie house).

On reading Charlise Lyles

February 26, 2009

Last week I read Charlise Lyles’  revised and expanded memoir, Do I Dare Disturb the Universe? Her expertise and sensibilities as a poet shine on the pages but impressive, too, is the straight arrow manner in which she reports both the personal and political lives she led as a preteen and in early adolescence. This is a rare find:  a writer who neither exploits nor belittles the furnishings of her life and times but includes them in order to provide the reader with a you-are-there authenticity.

Then yesterday, I stumbled–yes, most of my research is achieved at a stumble rather than a brisk and tidy dig–upon this new report that abets home ec credos of the 1950’s by aligning childhood literacy with households that are neat and orderly…and oh yes, it helps if the mother is, whether highly educated or not, a confirmed reader.

There’s a wonderful passage in Lyles’ book in which her mother harks back to her high school Latin and lectures her teenaged children on its relevance to a then unfolding school segregation case that directly affects them. Chaotic setting or no, reading is an escape from being lost amid other people’s knowledge.