Friday, March 29, 2019

A MOUTHFUL OF FAILURE

MY HOME AWAY FROM HOME

“Would it not be impossible for us to avoid evangelizing if the Gospel is in our skin, our hands, our hearts, and our heads? We are indeed obliged to say why we are trying to be what we want to be, and trying not to be what we don’t want to be…Clearly we have to make our presence in the world a casual, fragile presence, a presence that is constantly ready for new departures, or which plunges down roots without knowing from day to day how long they will remain there. This happens because we know that God alone calls, gives faith, and saves, that none of us have any real authority….It is possible that no one will respond to this call…ever. We could get a mouthful of failure.”

-- Madeleine Delbrêl


Lent is interesting this year, mainly because, three weeks in, I'm realizing I'm kind of in Lent all the time.

I'm almost always hungry, for starters, mostly because I am in some teeny sense homeless! I eat two meals a day in my car. Breakfast is barley, almonds and raisins out of a Tupperware container, and lunch comes out of the plastic bag I lug everywhere I go that contains rice cakes, almonds, prunes or dried figs and a jagged hunk of hard cheese.

It's been like that since late November when my landlord and property manager came to my door one afternoon, announced "The guys are coming tomorrow to do a little work on the apartment upstairs. One week, maybe two."

March 28 and "the guys" (three to four pickup trucks each day, four to five guys tramping past my door from 7:20 am on, making inner quiet or work of any kind impossible) are still there, six days a week, 8 to 4, with absolutely no end in sight. Soon going into the fifth month. Bandsaws, hammering, drilling, stomping, dragging, pounding.

Believe me, I have let it be known, in several ways, at various times, that the construction interferes with the "quiet enjoyment" (legal term) I'm supposedly allowed to expect as a tenant. In return for the rent I pay each month. Which last time I checked is supposed to cover 24 hours a day, not just 16.

The last such time was when I foolishly neglected to run around like a chicken with my head cut off in the morning--which is, or used to be, the best, my favorite time of day, my time for prayer, my time to gather myself--in order to pray anyway, however badly, do household chores, take a shower, make my bed, warm up my barley, pack up a tea, lunch, a cold drink, my laptop, mouse and cord, phone and whatever I'm working on in order to be out of the house at 8 a.m., prepared to be gone until 4.

Oh wait, actually I had done all that but on the day in question I had to come home on some errand and outside the door to the hallway sounded like an airplane runway. Deafening, grinding noise. The hallway! For God's SAKE! So I called the property manager and said, "WTF!!!" except I didn't use the initials. I said, "This is insane!"  I said, "I have to leave my f-ing apartment every f-ing day from 8 to 4. 1 I can't sleep, I can't work, I can't rest, I can't have anyone over, I can't take a nap. WHEN IS THIS GOING TO END!!!???"

He told me to call the landlord. So I did, and I was like Lazarus at the gate, covered in sores, begging for a drop of water. I said in so many words, This is wrong legally, morally and humanly. You're entitled to do reasonable improvements on your property but five months is not reasonable. I said please for the love of God take pity on me. I said I'm a 66-year old woman and you're putting me out of my own home for 8 hours a day. He couldn't have cared less of course (though he was also courteous and patient and let me not forget to mention the very nice movie theater and bookstore gift certificates he gave me several months ago).

And when I went to look up my "rights" (again), I found that in Pasadena anyway (which has no rent control laws) I really don't have any. The landlord (who is also a lawyer) actually does not need to give you notice that he's planning to do construction on the place, does not need to give an end date, does not have to (though he or she could certainly opt to) reduce your rent. In fact, though I've put probably 4 grand and countless hours of labor and love into creating a beautiful back garden (which both improves his property and allows him to charge higher rents), he has raised my rent (as he's allowed to by law) both years I've lived here and I expect will do so again at any minute.

Such is the life of a renter, or this renter. And though I know landlords and homeowners have many nightmare tales from their p.o.v., I mention this at all because really I have never once since I started writing had a quiet, consistently "safe" place to work. And I am coming to see either that's because 1) due to my blocks, limitations, and neuroses, I am truly incompetent to secure the same for myself 2) it's "supposed" to be that way, or 3) both.

Which in turn I mention because--it is really the conceit of my life that given the many freedoms I enjoy, that I'm unencumbered if that's the word by spouse and/or children, and that I have worked since the age of 13, I at the very least "deserve," and if I don't deserve should be able to wrangle, a small space to live that is not a source of incessant conflict and dread.

But apparently that is not to be. Yes, I could move--with all the trauma, upheaval, expense and more loss of rest, rest and quiet that entails. And I am 1000% sure that wherever I moved they would the next day decide to tear down the apartment complex beside me and erect a new one (this happened to me, twice, during my tenure in Koreatown), or trim every tree within a half mile radius with chainsaws (this has happened a number of times where I live now), or re-do the sewer up and down the street (that happened at my last apartment, a city job that took the better part of a year).

This morning the whole of Mass was overshadowed by the sound of a leaf blower.

We think we can engineer our happiness and peace but we can't. No matter how many political "freedoms" we're granted, no matter how many man-made "rights," no matter how technologically advanced. There is no peace but in Christ. There is no "progress" but toward love in Christ. The breakdowns we see around us on every level--politically, ecologically, financially, personally; the breakdown of the family, the rage, the public vitriol, the private loneliness and angst are the  predictable and inevitable manifestations of the spiritual bankruptcy that comes from trying to go the human condition alone.

I mean it's bad enough when you're NOT trying to go it alone!

So back to Lent. Hungry, tired, lonely, arid, angry, frustrated. Don't want to burden my friends, for they've heard it all before. I'm trying to fast from candy--how's that for pathetic? I mean from a bunch of other things, too: swearing, bad-mouthing, complaining, criticizing, offering unsolicited advice, jumping to conclusions, talking too much. Doing a bad job at all. Why is that any time I decide to watch my swearing I begin cursing like a stevedore? But what really hurts is the candy! I swear I'm a much nicer person, or find it easier to be a nice person, on 3 or 4 daily Swizzlers and maybe a couple of Andes mints.

Bright spots: 5-year-old neighbor Lev. Who knows right where the candy drawer is and toddled up the stairs to my apartment the other day clutching two grimy quarters and a baggie of Cheese Puffs to offer in exchange for his own handful of loot. Would NOT take the quarters back.

Mass of course and the good news is that since it behooves me to be out of the apt by 8 anyway, I have made it to the 8:15 at St. Andrew's just about every day. Homeless man there (how hard is it for HIM?) in whose pew I can anonymously drop some cash when he's in line for Communion.

The Pasadena public library from where (Central Branch) I write this.

Huntington Gardens, an oasis, a sanctuary. Thank you.

My own garden, which I'm kind of mad at because I don't want to leave it and it is a labor of love that I do in some sense for the world and that therefore keeps me there, tethered to a place that hurts me and causes me to suffer.

My legs, my lungs, my eyes. my ears.

My car, often the only place where I can hope for any silence or peace. I can't describe the number of moments these past months I have found myself pulled over by the side of the road or in some parking lot, eating out of my bag of "snacks" like a feral animal, fitfully praying a Rosary, nearly weeping with gratitude at a moment of warmth from the sun or a snatch of birdsong or just a moment where I'm not racing to get from one place to another or meet a deadline or reply to an email or answer a phone call from someone in need. Waiting for 4 o'clock so I can go home.

I had such a moment this morning as I sat eating my barley and waiting for the St. Andrew's Pastoral Center to open because I wanted to request a Mass intention for the repose of the soul of my cousin Dickie. The young woman at the counter had such a beautiful smile and was so kind. Also I picked up a prayer card for St. Joseph Labre who apparently voluntarily became a kind of semi-crazy street person and gave up money, friends and home for the love of his brothers and sisters.

"Yeah but I don't WANT to give up my home," I told God, back in my car.

"We are all rather blessed in our deprivations, if we allow ourselves to be," said Flannery O'Connor.

PART OF MY GARDEN

Monday, March 25, 2019

GAME, SET, MATCH: TENNIS AT INDIAN WELLS

GO, GARBI! 

Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:


“Welcome to Tennis Paradise” reads the flower-encrusted archway over the entrance to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

And for once in this culture of fake news, that’s not total hyperbole.

A bit of backstory: One day at a time, for more than 30 years, I have surrendered my addiction to alcohol. But nature abhors a vacuum, and one of the things that has sprung up in its stead is a fervent — an unkind person might call it obsessive — interest in women’s professional tennis.

I started by acquainting myself with the four annual “grand slams” — the Australian Open in January (hard court), Roland Garros aka the French Open in June (clay), Wimbledon (grass) in July, and the U.S. Open (hard court) right around Labor Day.

Then, slowly, God help me, I came to understand that the tournament schedule lasts, with the exception of December, the whole year. I learned the difference between a Premier Mandatory, Premier 5, Premier, and International Tournament. I pored over the WTA ranking system.

I downloaded an app — ATP/WTA Live — that delivers live scores, daily schedules and for every match the bios — height, weight, place of birth, current residence (why so many in Monte Carlo and Geneva? Ah — tax purposes!), WTA ranking, total career money earned (fascinating!) and previous record between any given two players.

I downloaded another app called Time Snap so I could sync, as need be, with the clocks in Dubai, Qatar, Singapore, St. Petersburg, Stuttgart, Prague, Tokyo, Wuhan. I started sleeping fitfully when an exciting middle-of-the-night PST match was taking place halfway across the world.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

CAMILA GIORGI, I'M YOUR FAN!
THE ONLY REASON I DON'T FELLOW MEN'S TENNIS AS WELL
IS THAT I HAVE TO WORK DURING AT LEAST SOME DAYLIGHT HOURS, AND PAY RENT...

Friday, March 22, 2019

RICHARD, WE HARDLY KNEW YE


POSSIBLY TAKEN AT PETEY'S 

One of our favorite relatives, known to me as Cousin Dickie, died last Friday.

Here's the obit I worked up:

Richard G. King, 80, of 1459 Ocean Boulevard died on March 15 after a long illness.

Born on July 11, 1938, in Danvers, MA, Richard came as a child to live in Rye Beach [NH] with his paternal grandparents, Jeanne and Richard G. King, Sr. He never left.

A long-time member of the Bricklayers’ Union, Richard also worked variously as a house cleaner, landscaper, handyman, and dishwasher at Portsmouth’s Metro Restaurant.

As well, he faithfully cared for both his grandmothers through their respective last long years.

Richard had an encyclopedic knowledge of the sale price of every home up and down Ocean Boulevard from approximately 1955 on, a special affinity for the Early Bird Special at Betty’s Kitchen, and a virulent aversion to Rye Beach motorcycle traffic and the current inhabitant of the White House.

He played the organ and sang a killer version of “O Holy Night” on Christmas Eve.

But his real heart was for gardening. Each fall he unearthed his treasured dahlia bulbs, wrapped them in old pages of "The Portsmouth Herald," and put them up in the cellar till spring. He had a patch of unusual pink lilies-of-the-valley, several prize irises, and a champion peony bed. “They don’t talk back to you,” he once observed of his blooms. “And if you care for them—they sing!”

He is survived by sister Nancy King-Morelli of Laconia, NH, and by cousins Allen K. King, Sr. of Los Angeles, CA, Heather D. King of Pasadena, CA, Joseph P. King of Marietta, GA, Ross J. King of Alhambra, CA, Geordie H. King of Eliot, ME, Timothy F. King of Rye Beach—Richard’s caretaker during his last years—Richard Tessier of Portsmouth, and Meredith A. King of Northampton, MA.

Funeral services will be held at Buckminster Chapel in Portsmouth.


RIP DICKIE.
WE LOVED YOU AND WE LOVED THE HOUSE AND YOUR GARDEN.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A FIELD TRIP TO BEVERLY HILLS: THE PALEY CENTER FOR MEDIA




Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

From a recent email sent by my little brother Joe: “Hey aged relative — do you have [our brother] Ross’s address? I bought Allen [our nephew] a signed 8-by-10 glossy of Martin Milner from ‘Adam-12.’ I know he likes the show.”

Me: “Who’s Martin Milner?”

Joe: “Martin Milner? Are you tripping? Pete Malloy from Adam-12? The greatest cop show in the history of TV? Late ’60s, early ’70s? It was produced by Jack Webb, so there’s all sorts of killer episodes of stoned hippy parents who beat their children to death or let them drown while they’re smoking marijuana cigarettes. Funny as hell.”

My own TV watching came to a screeching halt right around the time “Mr. Ed” completed its run. Still, I dearly wish my brother (who heads up a punk band called The Queers) lived in LA.

For here’s a fun thing to do on the Westside: The Paley Center for Media, smack in the middle of Beverly Hills.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

CHESTERTON AND VON BALTHASAR



"The Church is the one thing that saves a man from the degrading servitude of being a child of his time."
-- G.K. Chesterton

“Love alone is credible.”
― Hans Urs von Balthasar


I DON'T KNOW WHY--THE PHOTOS AREN'T EVEN THAT GOOD--
AND I DON'T KNOW THE NAME OF THE TREE--SOMETHING AUSTRALIAN,
I'D WAGER--BUT THESE SPEAK TO ME!

Saturday, March 9, 2019

JANE BROX'S NEW BOOK: SILENCE



Here's how this week's arts and culture piece begins:

Jane Brox has written, elegiacally, of growing up on her family’s Massachusetts apple farm in “Here and Nowhere Else,” “Five Thousand Days Like This One,” and “Clearing the Land.” Her nonfiction book on the evolution of artificial light is the aptly named “Brilliant.”

Her newest work — fitting for Lent — is called “Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements of Our Lives.”

The first takeaway (perhaps unintended) is a new awareness of the hideous tortures imposed by humans upon other humans in the name of “correction.”

Brox opens with Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, established in 1829 as an experiment in prison rehabilitation. Each cell was essentially what we would today term a Special Housing Unit (SHU).

“[D]uring the period of their confinement, no one shall see or hear, or be seen or heard by any other human being,” ran a portion of the prison’s mission statement.

Brox goes on to compare this kind of punitive silence with the silence of the monastic cloister. And to her credit, she doesn't come entirely down on either side!

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

RUNNING FOR THE HILLS: AUTHOR HORATIO CLARE



I just finished an extraordinary memoir, Running for the Hills: Growing Up on my Mother's Sheep Farm in Wales by Horatio Clare.

Like many people I know, Clare grew up with a gloriously eccentric (sometimes bordering on scary) parent (the father left soon after the mother, Horatio, and his younger brother moved to a very isolated farm). They had no money nor TV but tons of books...and nature..."[T]hough I have learned of the dangers that attend and await romantic people, that bipolar breed, the certain failure, the heartbreak--theirs and others'--and the loneliness, I cannot quite wish that they, or I, had been otherwise. If life is hills and valleys, then let the hills be high"...

Here's his description of the place they found after the boys had grown up, the mother's heart had been shattered by a later-in-life lost love, and the farm became too much: "In the end we found a large old house, half derelict, half comfortable, which had not been much messed around. It had the thick walls and the old-ship feeling of the farm. It had an old apple orchard, and there were kind neighbors nearby. Jack's cottage was just across the garden."

I don't know Jack, of course, but no matter: that is my dream house.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

DO WE MAKE PEOPLE FEEL THINGS LOVEABLE THAT WE FEEL LOVEABLE OURSELVES?

LA QUINTA CA,
TWO DAYS BEFORE ASH WEDNESDAY

"I tell you, Edward," said my father with some severity, "we must judge men not so much by what they do, as by what they make us feel that they have it in them to do. If a man has done enough either in painting, music or the affairs of life, to make me feel that I might trust him in an emergency he has done enough. It is not by what a man has actually put upon his canvas, nor yet by the acts which he has set down, so to speak, upon the canvas of his life that I will judge him, but by what he makes me feel that he felt and aimed at. If he has made me feel that he felt those things to be loveable which I hold loveable myself I ask no more; his grammar may have been imperfect, but still I have understood him; he and I are en rapport; and I say again, Edward, that old Pontifex was not only an able man, but one of the very ablest men I ever knew."

--Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh

Friday, March 1, 2019

PONTORMO'S "THE VISITATION"



Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

If there is one museum exhibit to see this year, I cast my vote for “Pontormo: Miraculous Encounters,” at the Getty. Its centerpiece is an exquisite rendering of the “Visitation.”

The Saturday I went traffic was horrible, getting into the Getty lot and finding a space took almost half an hour, and rather than stand for God knows how long more in the TSA-style security line through which visitors now have to pass simply to get on the tram, I opted to walk up the hill.

En route, I thought about how the whole experience of getting to our beloved Getty is a microcosm of our lives as Angelenos: the car, the beauty crossed with hardship, frustration, hope, and if we’re lucky, gratitude.

I thought of the “Visitation’s” backstory: how the angel Gabriel “overshadowed” the Virgin Mary, her question — “But how can this be?” — her sublime yes. Pregnant with Christ, she’d set out on foot, traversing “the hill country” to visit her aged cousin Elizabeth who, way past childbearing age, at the time was also miraculously pregnant.

To know the backstory is to know that Elizabeth was bearing into the world John the Baptist, who would say of Christ, “He must increase, and I must decrease,” who would be a voice crying out in the wilderness, and who would be beheaded in prison at the behest of a harlot and her mother.

READ THE REST HERE.