Some months back, a very creative couple, Lynn and Mark, and their two boys, moved into a house on my street that had been empty for five years.
The new family set about renovting the circa 1950 ranch until it is now a creamy white with a writing studio carved out of a two-car garage.
Regularly, Lynn Ferguson, who was born in Scotland, and seems to have carried that nation’s affinity for poetic prose to America, pens very witty, alluring, real tales of life. She crafts stories that are funny, sad and pull you in.
Yesterday, she sent another one by email, which she has given permission for me to reprint here:
“Sometimes LA is mental. Truly utterly mental. And not in a crazy Hollywood, showbiz kind of way, but in a completely domestic random sort of way.
For a start, there’s the driving. My late father used to claim that the worst drivers in the world were in Falkirk – not Rome or Bangkok or Tijuana, but Falkirk. But if he were alive today, I’m sure that when it comes to ‘most mental drivers per square mile” even he would reckon LA would have to be a contender.
Then there’s the pajama thing. For some completely unknown reason, in LA – and only in LA as far as I know – people will walk about the street completely in their pajamas. And I’m not talking about poor people who don’t have clothes or whatever. Generally the pajama wearers are sporting pretty upmarket pajamas, like they’ve just stumbled out of bed and are way too important to have bothered getting dressed yet.
I’ve lived in LA for 10 years now, so normally I don’t notice it and more. but today is not a normal day.
This morning I woke up early to make a special breakfast for my eldest son, Fergus, who is 16 today. He likes cinnamon rolls, which are a buggar to bake before school time, but he loves them, and I love him.
Part man, part child, part obstreperous teenager, and the rest of him beautiful beating honest heart.
I grieve for the years of childhood we’ve left behind. I wish I had made more time for them. I wish I had known how quickly they would pass. I can see that time is speeding up, and before long he will have his own life and have someone else to make his birthday breakfast, and so I close my eyes because I do not want to grieve for something that is not actually here yet.
I so want him to have beautiful bright future, but whenever I hear the news, I’m scared. His heart is too big. Sometimes he’s too kind. This world right now, could eat him alive.
I know Mark feels it too. I know him well enough to see it.
After the kids went off to school, (and I had completely changed out of pajamas into clothes) Mark and I went to have some breakfast with some close friends.
We’d arranged to meet at a cafe one block away from our old house, and as we were a little early, we decided to have a look at our old house to see if the developers had started work on it yet.
We drove round the block – narrowly avoiding some middle aged entitled lady, resplendent in a red satin dressing gown and carpet slippers, who was strolling nonchalantly in the middle of the road – and turned into our street.
The side of the house looked a little strange as we approached, but I didn’t know why. It was only as we drove closer I saw that half of the house was already demolished.
Gone was the living room. Gone was the family room. Gone was Fergus’s bedroom with the bookcase door.
And although I live in a new house – a house that I love – and we have new bedrooms and a living room and a studio, I felt some sort of terrible loss for the old house. One day, nobody will ever know that that house once stood there. What if I forget all the good things that happened there? What about when even the memories are gone?
On so many levels, Mark and I were so glad to meet our friends for breakfast.
1. Because they’re just frankly adorable humans.
2. Because we hadn’t seen them in forever.
and 3. Because they let us (particularly me) talk and talk and talk and I could forget about feeling so strange.
We chatted for so long that the lady of indiscriminate age, sitting three tables down, sporting a pink satin dressing gown, over mauve striped pajamas and sheepskin slippers finished her croissant and later reappeared power-walking by in her yoga clothes.
After breakfast, we got in the car and drove around the block. The house was gone. Flattened. Just like that. In the space of an hour. What had once been our home was pile of rubble.
I made Mark take photographs. I have no idea why, but I wanted pictures of the rubble.
As we headed back home, I asked Mark to drop me off to the gym.
I used to go to the gym a lot in my 30s. I’d run for an hour. I loved how free it made me feel.
I stopped not longer after I had Fergus. Running for an hour doesn’t feel quite as freeing when you’ve been up on diaper duty a couple of times during the night.
Then recently, my oncologist told me that if I do 20 minutes of cardio three times a week, the chance of the big C revisiting decreases dramatically, so off to the gym I go.
Heading home after my workout, I thought about how fit I used to be. How I would have laughed off the workout I’d just done as not even exercise. .
I was thinking about how I wish I’d known then, what I know now, when I came to a crossing on the road.
It’s a big mean old crossing. Six lanes of traffic on an intersection. Bad in any city, but in LA where there drivers could be mental, entitled, pajama-wearers, possibly lethal.
Standing beside me there was a very smart looking Latino gentleman, with a walker. As the light signaled for us to cross, he struggled off the sidewalk onto the road. For him this crossing was an act of daring.
“Do you want me to walk with you?” I asked.
“Please,” he said. “The drivers here, they are crazy. They don’t care.”
“I know.” I said, “Some of them are even wearing pajamas.”
He smiled, out of politeness. I’m not sure he had any idea what I meant.
“Where do you need to get to?” I asked.
“Just over there to the bus stop.”
Struggling to get his legs to move faster, an not hold up the traffic, he was breathless, and his face was getting red.
“No rush.” I said, “Take your time. I’m here as well. They’ll get in real trouble if they run both of us over. We will take as long as it takes.”
And he laughed.
And there, right in the middle of the crosswalk, it was all suddenly clear. I am simply just in between. Not quite one place or the other.
I can’t go back. I can only go forward.
And the most vulnerable place of all is right in the middle.
We got to the other side and he smiled. He reached into his jacket and pulled out some dollars.
“Take money,” he said.
“No,” I said, “You keep it.”
“The world is hard and you are kind. Let me give you my money.”
“No,” I said. “Honestly. I was feeling a bit unsettled today, and you’ve helped me out.”
“People used to help each other all the time. But now, I don’t know. There’s cruelty. Mean. Things like I thought I’d never see again. I worry for the future.”
I saw his bus approaching.
“I think we’ll be OK. I think we’ve just been in the middle of something. My eldest son turned 16 today.” I said.
His face lit up.
“Oh my,” he said, “You are blessed.”
“I know,” I said, “I really am.”
“Tell your son, a man is truly strong when he is kind.”
And with that, he clambered very slowly onto the bus.
So, why do I work with story? Because people are fucking amazing. Because the answer to a question you don’t even know you have, is sometimes to be found on the lips of a complete stranger. Because an honest word of wisdom, can be more precious and more lasting that any jewel. That’s why.
So, if you want to partake in a bit of storytelling, please join us for Fish and Bear on November 8th or 18th.
Peace and love,
Peace and Love