Thursday, September 8, 2016



Whoa. I have barely had time to come up for air in what seems like over a year.

First, I had a job writing a book for someone else. Then I wrote my own book (on prayer, out from Loyala Press if all goes well next year).

Meanwhile I had two or three other books come out, a weekly column and a monthly column to write, several speaking gigs, a trip back East, and a few large editing jobs.

But the real excitement has been what is now the eighth consecutive month of five-day-a-week, 8 am to 4 pm construction on the house in which I live.

When I moved in last December (to a grand old 3-story California Craftsman that's been divided into seven apartments), before taking the place and signing the lease, I specifically looked the property manager (who lives next door) in the eye and said, "I'm a writer. I work at home. My number one priority is quiet. What's the noise level like here?"

"Noise?!" he chuckled. "Why, just about everybody else who lives here works during the day! The most noise you'll have to worry about would be noise from the street, and since your apartment faces the back, that shouldn't be a problem at all."

Three months after I moved in, "they" proceeded to re-roof the entire gigantic house. No notice, no explanation.  Three solid months of daily drilling, hammering, guys going past my windows on ladders, electrical cords hanging down off the roof of my balcony. Et cetera.

The day the work was finally, finally finished, the property manager announced, "We're going to do a little rehab now of James and Laura's apartment"  (the one directly below mine). "Should be done in five to six months.

I froze. "Months?" I brayed.

I'm no contractor but should it take six to eight guys half a year to rehab a small kitchen and bathroom?

No seriously, this has got to be the slowest crew on record. A week will pass. I'll sneak down to survey the progress: They will have managed to nail up a single shingle. Another week of nonstop power drills, saws, hammering might yield the screwing in of a door latch.

Three pickup truck-fuls of guys spent the entire month of July putting in a 3 by 4 kitchen window. There it sat for a few weeks with tape all over it, then this week the whole thing was out again with plywood tacked over the opening.

It took two of them two whole days to replace 13 3-feet-long 2 by 4s on the landing outside my door. When they were done, they left a friendly rubble of paper coffee cups, stray tools, sunglasses and the entire area strewn with sawdust and wood chips.

Actually, the whole side yard looks like a dump. The picnic tables are perpetually littered with empty water bottles, dirty paper plates, and orange peels. There are trash buckets full of trash lumber, stray hunks of drywall and twisted lengths of cable.

Naturally the workmen take it as a terrible affront that I pay rent, live and work here. I often come home to find a peeling pickup truck parked in my spot. The owner will glare at me with disdain, then deign to amble over and move his vehicle to another place in the football-sized yard.

Of course in my people-pleasing way I'm constantly trying to curry favor, profusely thanking them for my "new stairs", hopefully asking "How's it going?"

How it's going is this: The place seems to have been in a state of repair dormancy for decades. Now that I've moved in, suddenly the time has come to do every imaginable kind of rehab. "Antonio was just saying the other day the place hasn't been painted in fifteen years," the property manager remarked dreamily the other day. I shudder to imagine how long painting the place would take. Ten years? Thirty?

For over twenty years I have pined for a quiet place to work. Now I see it simply isn't to be. I did everything "right" this time. I moved to a quieter part of town. I made my "needs" known. I found an apt. on a residential street with yards and gardens. My apt. faces the back. I try to be super conscientious about not making any noise and/or disturbing my neighbors myself.

But hey, people live in war zones, chronic pain, chronic fear, chronic hunger, chronic poverty. People live in modern-day dungeons in 24/7 isolation. People live in Guantanamo, exposed to the noise torture of unbearable loud rock music. People whose nerves are at the breaking point live with newborn babies who never stop crying.

The upside: I've discovered 8:15 am Mass at St. Andrew, and the Pasadena Public Library.

The other great thing is that at 4, when the crew leaves for the day, I'm in heaven. The guys may have a I-It relationship with me (to be fair, like me, each of them has his good days and his bad days), but in my heart at least I try to have an I-Thou relationship with them. I know most of their names. I make a point of smiling and saying hi and staying out of their way. They sometimes arrive while I'm in the midst of my morning prayer and I'll include them, praying for their safety (rather than that they'll hurry the hell up, which I no longer hope for or expect). I often pick up their trash after they leave for the day.

Also, in spite of the noise, I've never lived in an apartment I love more. My place is on the second floor, surrounded by old-growth trees, with a huge balcony and spectacular view of the setting sun. The pomegranates are out. The persimmons and lemons are ripening. The gardening opportunities are endless. No-one minds that I'm constantly out in the yard puttering, planting, re-arranging, watering, pruning, planning.

Last Friday, I hosted the welcome home dinner for my friend Dennis Apel, who that morning had been released from MDC, the downtown LA federal prison, after serving 120 days for a non-violent vigil against nuclear weapons and our profoundly anti-human war economy/mentality.

We gathered around the groaning dining room table. We prayed, laughed, wept, ate, told stories. Mostly we gave silent thanks. We rejoiced.

We pondered all these things in our hearts, like Mary.



I WELCOME your comments!!!