Saturday, July 18, 2009

As If We Needed Further Proof...
That the Japanese are weirder than we. I'm not sure if I'm appalled, offended, or just amused by this ad for milk.
Photo of the day: Don't Fence Me In

Friday, July 17, 2009

Scenes from Silver Creek: The Parade

Every spring Silver Creek celebrated it’s terminal small-townness with “The Pansy Parade.” Of course now it’s turned into much eye-rolling and references to gay pride, but back in the 60s it meant just flowers. It was a kids-only parade, with the exception of the high school marching band and Mr. Grovner’s antique fire engine that he pulled out on any occasion even remotely appropriate for such a vehicle. And a few occasions where the vehicle was highly inappropriate.

The Pansy Parade featured a bunch of mortified kids riding bikes of pulling smaller siblings in wagons, all covered in flowers. Sort of a juvenile Rose Parade. Mothers all over town would spend hours raiding their gardens and the local hillsides for colorful blooms to turn banana-seated Schwinns and dented Red Fliers into mini monuments to horticultural exaggeration.

And for some reason, us kids were always put into costume. These costumes rarely, if ever, had anything to do with what we were riding or pulling. Usually it was last Halloween’s costume, resurrected with the addition of a flower on the lapel of a clown suit or painted insanely onto the sheet of a small ghost. You’d see a cowboy riding a tricycle covered in pink roses or a black-clad witch, complete with pointed hat, wearing a garland of sweet pea blooms.

Really, the whole thing was ridiculous. But the parents loved it as much as the kids hated it. The only ones who didn’t seem to mind where the really small ones, often pulled in a wagon by mom or dad. They’d happily clap their pudgy hands, pausing occasionally to nap or to try and eat the d├ęcor. The dogs didn’t seem to mind either. Somehow it became part of the tradition to braid a collar of dandelions or put a crown of yellow dandelions on Fido’s head.

But anyone over the age of seven had to be forced at gunpoint to take part. The whole town would turn out with their Instamatics to sip watery lemonade and line Union Street, waving tiny American flags and cheering like they were watching the Super Bowl. On the street, boys hung their heads in shame at being draped in daisies; the only consolation being that every other boy was being similarly debased.

Any girl who wasn’t a girly-girl hated this. And any girl who hated flowers, or had allergies, had it worst of all. Sign me up for all three. I loathed being forced to pretend to be a princess when I would have preferred to be dressed as G.I. Joe. And mom would take my bike and, with masking tape applied with such thoroughness that it looked like mummy wrapping, would cover it with these hideous little flowers that were not only creepy, but also made me sneeze incessantly. So there I’d be, in one of my older sister’s hand-me-down dresses and a Cinderella hat made from sheet of construction paper, trying to ride my overloaded bike down a street clogged with miserable kids; my nose as red as a carnation and my mind filled with images of revenge. One day, I told myself, I’d force my parents to cover themselves in leaves and pine needles, dress up like total freaks, and walk slowly down Union Street while all the kids in town snapped photographs and laughed.

Stephen King has nothing on the demon mind of a child forced to do something against her will.
Why Bother?
Why bother trying to sleep when I have to get up at 4:45 anyway and it's now 2 am. It'll take me at least two hours, if not longer, to fall asleep if I can. So there seems little point in trying just to get 45 minutes of sleep. So I shall pull an all-nighter, which is usual for me, but not nearly as easy to manage as when I was in my 20s.

All-nighters are also easier when there's a goal. Studying for finals. Finishing a paper. Talking for 8 hours, lost in time, with a good friend or a new crush. But staying up all night watching movies because you know you're not going to sleep makes the time creep on. Perhaps I should write a paper just to give myself a task. "Examine the role of the voiceless woman in the novels and Dickens and discuss how the actions of his female characters either advance or hinder his plots."

Or not.

I read an article last week that said Michael Jackson took up to 10 Xanax a night. During this recent phase of insomnia and my comment how I had run out of Ambien, I heard from no fewer than 3 of my friends who were concerned to learn that I take sleeping pills and were worried about my becoming addicted. I take one pill every 2 or 3 days so that I can count on a few good night's sleep a week and my wonderful friends are worried about me. I love that. Didn't MJ had friends who watched out for him? Personally, I'm touched that they care enough to poke into my life and say "are you OK?" It gives me a total warm, fuzzy feeling. It doesn't alter the fact that I'm exhausted and cranky, but it does make me all warm and fuzzy.

I have the best friends in the world. Oh, and the most wonderful husband as well.
Photo of the Day: Not Too Sure

Again, not a great photo but so cute. This little guy is new to the kitten nursery and a bit unsure of the whole thing. But after a few syringes of food, a good tummy rub, and a nice snuggle in a soft blanket he soon came over to the cozy side.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Photo of the day: The Bubble

Right before it burst...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Scenes from Silver Creek: A Tale of Two Churches

My family was a two-church household. Mom (four-time President of St. Edith’s Women’s Club) is a die-hard Episcopal. Dad (Monday night Bingo caller for six years) was an equally die-hard Catholic. When they had kids they made a rule, they would alternate children, each parent claiming children to raise in their faith. My eldest sister, Kathleen was raised in mom’s church. My eldest brother, Ronnie went with dad. Diane came next and was claimed by mom. Peter went with dad. Then came me.

That was their big mistake; they had an odd number of children. The supreme and eternal question of my soul was decided on a coin flip. Dad won. I lost. My other sisters seem far better adjusted than I, having been raised on a diet of God lite and good will. I, however, had “Christ died for YOUR sins” ingrained in me from such an early age that to this day I feel guilty for everything from telling a little white lie to the oppression of slavery.

Every Sunday the other females in the family would turn left at the drive and walk down a tree-shaded street towards St. Edith’s. I, in a symbolism too hilarious to be ignored, would turn left with the men in my family and walk past Spender’s Mortuary, the Dead End Bar and Grill, and the sign for the city dump on our way towards the frigid bulk of Our Lady of Angels.

Where St. Edith’s was light, bright, and cozy with padded benches and happy hymns; OLA was dark, uncomfortable, and had two temperatures: cold and freezing. And it was filled with rows of hard wooden benches guaranteed to numb any butt within 10 minutes. No matter how often the church ladies changed the roses and carnations the place always smelled of rotten flowers and the hideous realism of the Stations of the Cross I swear look like sketches I’ve seen done by prisoners at Auschwitz.

When I was growing up, the iron, Irish hand of Father Patrick Sheehy, ran OLA with all the benevolence of the IRS. He was a big, grouchy bear of a man. And if you’re waiting for me to add the expected “with a heart of gold” you won’t get it. He was cranky, judgmental, cold, and absolutely the worst person to instill the warmth of God’s love in heart of a shy child. He was also, quite inconveniently, deaf as a stump. This affliction made confession a veritable cavalcade of embarrassment as, by the end, you were basically screaming out all your petty sins for the entire congregation to hear. It’s how Mr. Hopgood found out about Mrs. Hopgood’s tryst with his brother, and how my brothers found out it was I who told our parents about their flirtation with cigarettes.

Father Sheehy’s one concession to seeming human was the fact that he kept birds. He conscripted the boys club and had them build a huge aviary out behind the rectory and there he could often be found surrounded by his beloved finches, parakeets, and doves. Later on he badgered some of the fathers to build separate area where he could care for wounded pigeons and other wild birds. He even had a parrot for a few years, a large taxidermied-looking creature that dropped feathers out of its tail on a regular basis and yet never seemed to run out of them. This horrid creature made a noise like the unholy dead whenever anyone but Father Sheehy got too close and it was widely rumored that noise was responsible for Mrs. Luckweather’s final heart attack.
Photo of the day: Bury Me With My Dog

I cannot explain the iconography of this memorial. A man who looks like a miner and his faithful sidekick. Is it St. Francis, patron saint of animals? Is it King the Wonder Dog? In any case, it's at Holy Cross, the Catholic Cemetery in Colma. Not too far from where my father is buried.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Scenes from Silver Creek: Summertime Jam

Every summer the ladies of Silver Creek went into a frenzy of jam making. I remember being roped into the berry picking as a child. Fat bushes of blackberry and delicate beds of strawberry. Apricots warm from the summer sun and baskets of wormy apples. For weeks every kitchen would be too hot to enter as the heat of the day competed with the steam rising from ancient, vast stoves as to which was more uncomfortable.

My mother, sadly, made the worst jam in town and it was always a disappointment to me to see such delicious fruit and know it would be ruined by mom’s hammer touch. The blackberry jam would have tiny bits of branches in it that you would find, all unexpected, smeared on your January toast. The strawberry jam would be so sweet that it was almost painful to eat. Tasteless apple butter. I used to love to go to the homes of my aunts and taste their wonderful jars of summer glory. Why? I would ask, did my mother and only my mother miss the cooking gene in the family?

But every year she would tie on her sunshine yellow apron and rope in the family to work. The boys would haul cardboard boxes of empty jars from the basement and then be free to be free. The girls, unfortunately, were tied by antique gender roles into washing and sterilizing jars, slicing fruit, and handing mom ingredients like surgical nurses during a fruit appendectomy. When my sisters got married and moved out it fell to me, the baby of the family, to do the work that three of us used to share. And we did it, knowing full well that all of this sweat would result in gleaming jars of crap.

Even my father, who worshipped my mother, wasn’t up to the task of pretending her jam was anything other than awful. He even developed a “berry allergy” that got him out of having to put the thin, purple substance that mom called grape jelly onto his morning toast. When all of us kids tried to claim we’d inherited the same allergy, she refused to believe us. She took me, as the smallest, and sat me on the chrome and red-leather step stool in the kitchen and force fed me spoonfuls of grape jelly then watched me like a hawk to see if I came out in a rash. I didn’t and, to her mind, that made all of her kids immune from dad’s affliction. To this day my brother Ronnie blames me for not being a better actress. I tried to tell him that Katharine Hepburn couldn’t produce hives on cue, but there is no reasoning with a man who was daily forced to eat the much-feared cranberry-orange relish.

Each year at the Christmas boutique benefiting St. Edith’s, housewives all over Silver Creek would proudly produce the fruits of their summer labors for sale. Large wicker baskets would be decorated with red and green ribbon or sprigs of fake holly and filled with homemade goods. The tables of the church hall would groan under the weight of golden loaves of pound cake and plates full of sugar-dusted cookies. There was an unspoken competition to be first through the door and then make a beeline for Mrs. Hudson’s basket with glistening jars of strawberry jam, packets of sweet macaroons, eye-wateringly dill pickles, and a little pottery crock of clover honey.

Unfortunately for mom, her ineptitude in the kitchen was well known and nobody ever wanted her basket. After one year when it was the last basket left, dad took to making a great show of buying hers first “before anyone else beat him to it."
Photo of the day: Madeline

It's Bastille Day and I wanted to photograph something French. But aside from French's mustard and stacks of French music, there's not much around here that fits. So you get a refrigerator magnet. Sorry.

It's all part of my shameless plug, anyway. Tonight from 6-9 pm (Pacific time) I'll be playing an all-French special on my radio show. Vive la Revolution features such historic figures of French music as Charles Trenet, Yves Montand, Edith Piaf, and Maurice Chevalier. Plus current stars such as Sanseverino, Paris Combo, Arthur H, and Francis Cabrel. I'll also be playing music from French-speaking countries and French-speaking artists in Canada and elsewhere. Tune in to 90.1 FM in the bay area or over the internet at KZSU live. Or you can listen via iTunes radio; Radio -> College-> KZSU.

Vive la France!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Scenes from Silver Creek. The Funeral.

When Aunt Lenore finally wound down, at age 94, the whole town turned out for the funeral. The family bought five uniforms for the high school marching band and had them lead a New Orleans style parade down Union Street from St. Edith’s church to the cemetery out behind the softball field. It lacked some authenticity, as the band didn’t know how to play “Just A Closer Walk With Thee.” The best we could do was “Joy to the World” (the Creedence version, not the Christmas Carol). Since Aunt Camilla was already “appalled, disgusted, and sickened” by what she called “The Spectacle,” the bullfrog was just one more detail to offend her delicate sensibilities. She’d tried to put her dainty, size 5 foot down on the horseshoe wreath Aunt L had explicitly requested and her request to be buried in jeans and her beloved “I Love Dachshunds” sweatshirt. We outnumbered Aunt Camilla who washed her hands of the whole thing, and did as Aunt L wanted. (As a child I always thought Aunt Camilla must have the cleanest hands in Silver Creek as she was always washing them of something.)

The Reverend Polehouse delivered a lovely sermon about “loving thy neighbor” which, considering Aunt L’s many love affairs, seemed to be full of double entrendres that kept me just this side of giggles the entire time. Then we all stood and sang, “There is a Green Hill” and went outside to join the parade. All except Aunt Camilla, of course, who demanded to be driven the ¾ of a mile to the cemetery in a decent manner. We played rock/paper/scissors to see who had to drive her. My cousin, Daniel lost and helped Aunt Camilla into his pickup, which she regarded with horror, as if being asked to purposely step in manure.

After the graveside service (the solemnity of which was marred somewhat by the intrusion of a large and muddy sheepdog that came out of nowhere with a repulsive tennis ball in his mouth and a hopeful look on his face and who would not be dissuaded from bumping into us until someone, I think it was Mr. Jeevers from the hardware store, threw it for him.) we all headed to the Foreign Legion hall for casseroles and condolences and some much-needed, heavily-spiked Hawaiian Punch.

The day was hot and all the ladies were attired in light dresses. They were so heavily talcum powdered that when they went to hug you, small clouds of white rose like tiny dust storms from their bosoms and my sedate black dress soon had a grey tinge to it.

The men loosened their ties and took off their jackets, retreating into male groups to discuss sports and business. Across the street, the children were terrorizing the elementary school playground, their excited shrieks accompanied by the frenzied barks of the sheepdog that had followed the procession to the hall.

Inside the hall it seemed oddly dark after the brightness of the day. Amid the photos of old veterans shaking hands with Bob Hope there were displays of Aunt L. Pictures of her as a child, hugging a dumb looking sheep. As a bobbed-haired teenager with overalls and an arm slung around a girl that nobody could identify. On her first wedding day, and all the subsequent wedding days (four in all), in dresses of varying degrees of laughability and with husband of varying degrees of suitability. The only one any of us had ever liked was husband number three, Otto. A man of stunning plainness who obviously worshipped Aunt L and always went around looking slightly confused that such a force of nature had chosen him. When he died of a heart attack on an Over 40 Club bus trip to Branson, Aunt L went into the only period of depression I’d ever seen her experience.
Photo of the day: Orange Tree. Blue Sky.

The orange tree in our back yard has very dramatic branches against the blue of a summer sky.

Despite my best intentions of a photo safari, I had forgotten I'd be spending all day at the adopt-a-thon and, consequently, had to spend most of today recovering due to lots of sore muscles. In the good news department, however, my Ambien refill we be processed this week. On Wednesday. It'll take a few days to get here, but I can look forward to sleep sometime next week.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Photo of the day: Egypt or Colma?

Colma, of course. Where all the cool dead people hang out.