A Fish and Bear Story


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:

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“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.”

“I did?” 

I nodded.

“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,

Lynn
xoxo”








Peace and Love

Lynn
xoxox

Paris


Paris

First there was youth and young people, fresh faces, and smiles. There was festivity and the night, wine and laughter, the scent of exotic perfumes, the smell of jasmine, vanilla, sandalwood, tuberose and citrus, the flirtations and sensuality of life, the swing of partiers having fun. Music and entertainment and the dark, gathered inside a red Chinese concert hall built in the 1860s, some place historic, cultural, significant, simultaneously frivolous and majestic.

And there was the stadium, and players and the cheering crowds, the fast game, the movement up and down the field, the lines and the rules laid down, with everyone playing fair, and the adjudication of sport overseen by referees, players, spectators and cameras.

November in Paris, a Friday night, and the restaurants were full, and diners were devouring mushrooms in wine sauce, risotto, saffron flavored rices, rare beef, sautéed spinach and roasted garlic; red wine, sparkling wines and many glasses of beer and whiskey.

There were lights, and people holding hands, and lovers kissing, and boats sailing down the Seine, and the monuments lit up and illuminated and beloved.

And anger was nowhere to be seen because it was extinguished in warm fragrant showers, in grassy burning candles, or under blankets where people made love in bedrooms where the windows were swung open and the drapes swayed in the breeze.

Chocolate cake and buttered bread, hot coffee and cream, soft cheeses; and women with red lips and tousled hair and cashmere scarfs tied around their necks, and young bearded men with long hair and a long life ahead of them.

Children only yesterday, born after 1990, so young and so unaware of the temporal and the fatal; and perhaps they died as they lived, in a spasm of ecstasy, with no foreshadowing or fear of the barbarism that would end their brief lives within seconds.

Why, why, why, why, why, why?

Why, why, why, why, why, why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Retraction From Life


Weaker, yet still alive, still able to speak, Louise M. Hurvitz was in her wheelchair, in the sunshine near the glistening Marina boats, when she told me she wanted to eat a steak.

That was on Monday, August 18th. She ate a hamburger that night, and a slice of pizza on Tuesday night. She was 8 months into her Stage 4 lung and bone cancer.

Nurse Linda said she was looking great.

Then on Wednesday she began to call for her sister “Millie”. She was up all night, and then asleep all day by morphine and Lorazepam. In periods of wakefulness, her glazed eyes no longer looked at me, but out into nothing.

She was no longer able to speak. I went every other day to see her, knowing she was entering death.

A blue booklet left by hospice, Gone From My Sight, explained how the bedridden dying walked out of life. We noted her symptoms mirrored in the book.

The late afternoon sun was bright in her bedroom on Friday, August 22nd. She screamed that her head hurt, her back hurt, everything hurt. She wanted me to shut all the drapes. I abided and put the room in darkness. Foreshadowing.

She was in her last days. Nurse Bertha said if she ate she would stay alive. And then on Friday, August 29th, Labor Day weekend, hospice came and said, “no more food or water”. She was given 72 hours.

All weekend were the pleasures of Los Angeles, the beach and the beer, the walks along Abbot Kinney, the barbecues, I partook of some haunted by an upcoming phone call.

And then on Sunday, August 31st at 11:30 PM we were called and told she was breathing irregularly. We got in the car and rushed down to the apartment. My brother and sister-in-law were at her bedside. A nurse helplessly held the nasal end of the oxygen tube against her open mouth.

She was gray faced.

She was gasping for breath.

I replaced the nasal oxygen with a whole nose/mouth mask. Nurse Linda arrived. The hospice nurse came. It was about 2am and we did not know how long she would live. Exhausted we left. And an hour later I was in bed when my brother called.

“I hate to tell you this but Mom has passed.”

All the fighting for her life, all the medications, the food, the physical therapy, the chemotherapy, the consultations with UCLA medical doctors, the cat scans and the other radiology, the organic smoothies packed with nutrients; all the equipment, the oxygen, the ointments; everything done to keep her alive and going. Done.

Her body was pronounced dead by a doctor. The cremation company came to the apartment to wrap up and remove her.


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We held a home service for her, almost a week later, on Saturday, September 5th.

Andreas Samson, my friend who writes Up in the Valley, attended and wrote a touching description of the bittersweet “party”.

There was food and drink, old photos on the flat screen television, a Spotify soundtrack of her beloved music (Frank Sinatra, the Fifth Dimension, Herb Alpert). Relatives who had never seen her sick, showed up to pay their respects.

And her life was presented selectively, with an emphasis on the young, beautiful, vivacious, pranking, intelligent, subversive sorority girl and network executive.

She, who died at 80, mothered a retarded boy, took care of an epileptic and ill husband, worried and fretted over children, finances, nightly meals, laundry and cleaning, her daily travails were wiped away or spoken of in one sentence salutes at our remembrance.

For 52 years, I had grown up and grown old with her. I knew her love and her craziness, her exasperating circular questions, her sparkling memory for names, faces, and events.

She, who drank vodka and grapefruit juice, and later switched to red wine, was probably an alcoholic. She was full of shame over events she had no power over, castigating and punishing herself.

But she fought hard to protect and to nurture, and daring to venture out of Lincolnwood, IL, moving to suburban NJ where she set up a new life with her family at 47, exploring Manhattan, New England and the East Coast with the curiosity and passion of a young woman starting out life.

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She sold airplanes with a male friend, a pilot and airplane broker who lead a life outside of norms, a man who was later convicted of stealing money from his customers. He flew Louise and our family, often, to Albany, Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, Manahawkin Airport, Miami, East Hampton, Nantucket, Block Island, all around the Eastern Seaboard. American life was seen from 8,000 feet, little houses and little lives across the vast expanse.

She went into the city to see plays with my father, to walk neighborhoods, to buy groceries at Fairway, see exhibitions at the Metropolitan, attend concerts and events at Lincoln Center.

She read the NY Times and Bergen Record voraciously, keeping herself informed on culture and politics. The papers piled up in wet and musty mountains stacked in the garage.

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She loved her new home in the woods, a place where the windows were always open and the rooms smelled of rain and leaves and florid humidity. In the spring, summer and early fall, the back deck, suspended on the second story of the house, was her outdoor space, a place of reading, eating, entertaining and midnight conversations by candlelight.


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She lost my father after his long and agonizing brain disease, an illness that took 4 years to progress, rendering him an invalid.

But after he died, in her apartment in the Marina, she became a devoted grandmother and somehow earned the respect and awe of children who had once only seen sadness and burden in her exhausted eyes.

She was valiant onto the end; never giving into death, never acknowledging that life was less than the entirety. An iron dome of denial was her shield.

She was more than she ever admitted to being. She was magnificent in her life force, in her refusal to die, in her love for life.

 

 

 

 

The Dark Wit.


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One of the ladies looking after my cancer sick mother Louise said she was a “sweet lady”.

There are other adjectives I might use but “sweet” never paired with her.

Mordant, witty, nervous, quick, intuitive, emotional, sad, empathetic, petty, vicarious, excitable, energetic, humorous, treacherous, dark, vindictive, resentful; these are also her traits.

She came up in the Depression, living in a two-bedroom apartment in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood that she shared with her older sister, her parents and a boarder.

Her father was a dentist, her mother made hats and they aspired, as Russian immigrants, to see their children educated and prosperous.

She had few things, but books, Sinatra records and Hollywood.

One day, reading, she was startled by Monarch butterfly and spent the rest of her life running away from them. In 1969, she was almost hit by a car, on a family vacation, when she ran into the street to avoid one in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Why did she fear butterflies? What would Freud think?

She was not a rebel, but a rebel with children.

Born in 1933, her college wardrobe at the University of Illinois was largely borrowed from friends. Her parents struggled to pay the $75 a semester tuition. In photos, back then, she wore dark lipstick, long skirts, cashmere sweaters and her hair was neatly curled and sprayed in place.

Cousin Elissa said Louise was always “the injured party”. My mom believed in the good fortune of others, their successes, their achievements, their blessings. And she fervently and sadly came to imagine living under a curse.

It’s unfair to eulogize and wrap up another person’s life in selected events presented by subjective opinions. But I am her son, duly positioned for such thoughts and imagined journeys into my mother’s conscience.

She hated doctors, rabbis, and God, but loved the strong men on screen, the noble and not so noble characters who made love, lived life in the public eye and went to the White House.

She loved Bruce Jay Friedman’s 1970 play “Steambath” which portrayed a Puerto Rican bath attendant as the Almighty and his bath as Afterlife.

God was a sick fucker. He made deformed children. He allowed war and suffering.

We used to crack up at Passover, my mother and me, when we read the Four Questions. “Why is this night different than all the other nights?” put us into hysteric laughter. My father was not amused.

But she lit the yartzeit candles for both her parents every year. One was put out on January 13, 2014, and stayed unlit when she fell to the floor of her apartment and was rescued 20 hours later.

She hated God but loved her parents. One President of the United States became her God.

Working at WBBM-TV in 1960, she was eye-to-eye with Kennedy and Nixon at their first public debate. As Time Magazine later put it, she voted for Kennedy at face value.

Naïve in the ways of the Mad Men, she did not believe men cheated, but was always quick to believe in the duplicity of women.

She was not sweet.
She is not sweet.
She is angry and full of love.

She is made of that particular strain of Russian Jew who came up hearing violins, futile prayers, flickering candles and melancholy music, who cried often and drowned in tears running from death and fearing for life.

She is made of winter in Chicago, that sullen city of ice and snow, chapped lips and dry skin, loud radiators, frozen waters and people pushing into trains and streetcars, buses and sidewalks; small people numbering millions, passing by the heroic towers of the Wrigley and Tribune buildings, alive in life and moment; sparkling, electric, a place of marquees and nightclubs, Rush Street and Michigan Avenue, fur coats and the Drake Hotel.

And then silence.

Border Crossing.


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In North Hills, at Plummer, west of Sepulveda, the old and new San Fernando Valley sit side-by-side, stretched out on hot flat roads baking in sun.

North of Plummer, along asphalt and stone paved Orion Avenue, remnants of large properties sit in dry decay, pits of impoverished ranches behind dumps of rusted old cars, tarp covered boats, obese RVs, piles of wood, barking dogs, torn up sofas and iron gates. Un-watered and un-loved, once young and lush, now mangled and vandalized, blocks of withering draught, many acres of empty ruin, sit neglected and forgotten beside the roaring 405.

Rural delivery mailboxes, elderly Aloe Vera clumped and planted along the road, sawed stumps of logs, green Valley Oaks on yellow grasses, tall and proud wooden utility poles, cyclone fences; the San Fernando Valley of 1945 awaits its final pronouncement of death on this stretch of Orion.

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And then there is a border crossing at Plummer.

South of here, the streets are crowded, full of cars, pick-ups, street food, apartments, children, fat women in black spandex, tagged walls. The hum of traffic and the sound of Spanish, the ringing bells of ice cream on wheels, the smoke and smells of taco trucks, the improvised milk crates set up al fresco in a church parking lot for cheap and exhausted dining, the young fathers and mothers pushing strollers and herding children along, the food signs for pollo, jarritos, sodas, asada; in the churches, on the faces, behind the apartment doors: the presence of Jesus in every corner. Selling food, fixing cars, repairing tires: industrious, solicitous, hard-working people find a way to earn a dollar in myriad ways.

A poor barrio of exiles pushes its agonies and joys along, making new babies, holding onto life in the dust and noise, a small vital, gritty corner of the San Fernando Valley, feared and despised, loved and appreciated, rejected and courted, here for good.

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Azteca Tires

On Rayen St.

An Apologist for Rape.


I have never bought into the argument that opposing abortion comes down to protecting and respecting life.

Because too many who talk of their devotion to the unborn also believe in the protection of guns, the proliferation of bullets, the unhindered freedom of assault weapons, and never ending war.

The latest comment by anti-abortion Missouri politician and Senate candidate, Representative Todd Akin(R), calling some type of rape pregnancy “legitimate” or “unforced” and therefore worthy of fetal protection, shows that the GOP is on the move, aided by religion, in making not only abortion illegal, but women into second-class citizens. Their true aim, revealed in Mr. Akin’s comments, are the invasion, occupation and control of the vagina body politic.

Fury, anger, righteous indignation, violence, all the feelings about how a woman gets pregnant, they all go back to the men who run things, not the women who bear children.

In their devotion to destroying the civil rights and reproductive freedom of American women, Mr. Akin spoke not erroneously, but correctly, the exact position of the Republican Party.

And here is what Mr. Akin voted for, the redefinition of the Federal Statute, to make rape, where a drugged or mentally retarded woman is fucked involuntarily, to be unforced and therefore NOT A FEDERAL CRIME.

“Earlier this year, every House Republican and 16 Blue Dog Democrats voted for a bill that would have redefined rape in federal statutes to be “forcible rape.” If this bill had become law, then statutory rape, the rape of a drugged or mentally impaired woman, or any rape where the rapist did not use physical force would not be considered rape. The bill died in the Senate. When Akin said “legitimate rape” he undoubtedly meant “forcible rape” as defined by the House bill but forgot the exact terminology.”- Electorial Vote.com

No matter his sorrow, or contriteness, or appeals for forgiveness, Mr. Akin stands as a public APOLOGIST FOR RAPE.