Tuesday, February 26, 2008

'80s Week

It seems like it's been '80s Week around here recently - "here" being the immediate area around myself. Last Sunday I ran across The Breakfast Club on TVLand and even though I've seen it a couple dozen times and even though it was the TV edit version (with the most ridiculous substitutions for the cusswords and the pot smoking scene edited out) I wound up watching it to the end. I followed a link to a blog post regarding Principal Vernon and the first two songs on Friday's 10@10 were from Risky Business and Back to the Future. I've been in contact with someone from the Class of '85 at my high school and she sent me some photos from 11th grade. Almost every time I turn on the radio it seems like I hear Jack and Diane (incidentally, John Mellencamp turned 16 in 1967. I turned 16 in 1984).

In 1980 my brother was elected Sergeant-at-Arms for his sixth grade class. Mom put up red, white, and blue bunting and had a little party for him. No's election coincided with Ronald Reagan's, and when a friend of Mom's dropped by that evening, she asked incredulously, "You're not celebrating, are you?"

I read 1984 during Christmas week of 1983. I did that sort of stuff, like reading A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve three years in a row. I had an elevated sense of my own literacy.

In 1984 while at summer camp, which was held on the Sonoma State University campus, I became friends with a guy who was a student there during the year and who was working that summer for campus security. Because I never did anything I wasn't supposed to do, I was never caught playing hacky-sack in the courtyard after lights out, night after night. I don't remember realizing that this guy probably had a crush on me until he came to the end-of-camp dance and held me close while we danced and he sang along with Lionel Richie.

In 1986 my homeroom teacher came in from the school office and announced that the Challenger had just blown up. We had a 17-minute homeroom period, during most of which we would hang out and talk and finish homework, like a very very short study hall. I was sitting on my desk, and said, "You're pulling our legs, Nordie!" I think of this as my generation's "where were you when..." moment.

In 1988 I finally started coursework in the School of Education, with Mrs. P. We started by observing at Jason Lee Middle School, where we were placed in a sixth grade class. On my teaching day I led the class in improvisational storytelling, when each person took turns making up a few sentences of the story. Being sixth graders, they had the hero throw up a lot. After four weeks Mrs. P and I were sent to Henry Foss High School. On our first day, while we waited outside our master teacher's classroom for the bell to ring so we could introduce ourselves, a passing staff member asked us for our hall passes. We wound up having to show her our college ID cards to prove that we weren't cutting class.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Get Down On It

Raj, Saj, and Dimpi had a bunch of cousins, and there were many afternoons when the four of them, the three Singhs, and No and I would all hang out together even though Raj and the oldest cousin were so much older than we were. I remember very challenging games of "Mother May I?" and "Simon Says" with Raj or the cousin being "mother."

One afternoon, we were all in the living room listening to Earth, Wind, and Fire, The Jacksons, and Kool and The Gang. The Singhs had the coolest stereo cabinet with the hifi in the center. The speaker cabinets had covers on them that lit up in green, yellow, and red with the rhythm of the music. Jindi and Biji never seemed to care how loud the music was.

There was a young woman who had one of those rhyming names who was also often at the Singhs' house. We called her by both names all the time. Raj recently told me that she was a teenager who'd been traveling around the US and wound up working for his parents at the store. While we were dancing spastically the way young kids do, Teri Blackcherry appeared and announced she was going to teach us the Hustle line dance (I think the hustle partner dance would have been beyond us in elementary school). We moved some chairs out of the way and she got us in two lines, smaller kids in the front.

Celebrate good times, come on!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Houses I Grew Up In

I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone was welcome in everyone else's house. Everyone's parents were everybody's parents; when we were young, our folks must have agreed that one adult's permission was enough for all of the adults' permission. While Tam lived across the street from us, our house, DeeKay's house, and J Jump Joyful's, Eri's, Ria's, and P's back yards all had gates into each other's yards. To get to Coop's and DeeCoo's house we had to climb a the fences of the backyard of the apartment building between DeeKay's and the Coos', but we just considered that a more adventurous way to get there.

Where we went was determined by what we wanted to do. As a group, our parents had purchased a huge wooden swing set (with a ten-foot high metal slide), which sat in the W's backyard next to a tree three stories tall in which there were two treehouses. The big one was about twenty feet high and we climbed a leaning ladder to get to it since there were no branches within ten feet of the ground. It had walls and a roof, and a couple of windows. The higher one, which was reached by stepping from branch to branch, was merely a platform almost at the crown of the tree. There was also a rope swing tied at the bottom of the third-story deck, and a fort built into the stair supports.

The W's house had a big closet of games, coloring materials, and books, and we played Chinese checkers and Parcheesi sitting in there. There was a costume closet full of old formal dresses, ties, hats, and animal costumes (my favorite was that of a cheetah. I was sad when I grew out of it). All of the W kids had to take piano lessons, and a basket of maracas, plastic bongo drums, tambourines, finger bells, and a rainbow-colored xylophone sat next to the piano. Their house was the first (and for years, only) place I saw MTV.

DeeKay had a lot of stuffed animals and a record player in her room. She also had a bed on a box spring, which none of the rest of us did (No and I slept on beds with wood panels under the mattress; Tam had a bunkbed, P's was under a sloping ceiling, and JJJ, Ria, and Eri slept in beds that were cut out of the walls) so if we wanted to listen to "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and jump on the bed, her room was the place to go. When the K's remodeled their kitchen they had an instant-hot water faucet put in so we could kind of cook without using the stove.

At Coop's and DeeCoo's house we danced to Eagles Live, Don't Look Back by Boston, and Surrealistic Pillow by the Jefferson Airplane. We also used as many curse words as possible, since that was only allowed there. We climbed out the attic window and sat on the peaked roof to see the Pacific Ocean. Coop made chocolate mousse and taught me to crack an egg with one hand and how to separate the yolk and the white.

At Tam's there was a train in the rec room on which we could sit and push ourselves around the track, and her mom's loom, which fascinated me, and the many materials she used on it. Tam's older sister had a collection of trolls whose hair she allowed us to stroke, and Tam herself had a bunch of little dressed mice and a doll house in which they lived (which of course we called the Mouse House). She also had a radio in her room, and we would dance to Silly Love Songs, Fly Like An Eagle, An Old Fashioned Love Song, and The Year of the Cat. Tam taught me to play Blackjack using pennies from the three-gallon jar in her parents' bedroom.

At our house we had a variety of conveyances in the big room downstairs - a bike or two, tricycles, a green plastic car with pedals, a red plastic tractor with pedals, and a Big Wheel. There was a stop light and we would ride around the room in circles in time to the red, yellow, and green lights. We played kickball in the street in front of our house, and pretended we were a rock band while playing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" on the record player. We picked cherries from the tree in the back yard, and explored the stuff collected in the garage and the basement. DeeKay liked to eat the very sour ornamental oranges that grew in the driveway and one time made herself sick doing so.

Each of these houses was home.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Monday Doggerel

Last night I was thinking about breakfast and came up with this little ditty:

Grains, grains, good for the brains
Grains, grains, your brain they trains
The more you eat, the better you think
Eat more grains, be in the pink

This reminded me of this little rhyme Mom used to say, which I don't think originated with her (though I don't think she stole it from someone else), "I'm a poet and I don't know it!"

To which she would add, "But my feet show it!"

And she would wiggle her toes at us.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Signs At Columbus and Broadway

On the side of a Wells Fargo
(part of the stucco has already fallen off in places, showing the brick beneath)

Inside City Lights Books

On the Jack Kerouac Alley side of Vesuvio's

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Old, New, Borrowed, Blue

I do not think I'm a very traditional person, so I was surprised when I found myself really wanting "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" to wear for our wedding. I knew these were good luck charms and rooted in a time when weddings marked the transfer of property from one man to another. Though there seems to be some differing opinions on what these trinkets stand for, to my mind "something old" symbolized the old tradition of the marriage ritual; "something new," the newness of this particular marriage; "something borrowed," because it would be borrowed from someone who had been married for a long time, symbolized "the long haul"; and "something blue" for luck.

My aunt brought a four-strand pearl necklace that she inherited from her mother-in-law for me to wear for the wedding. My "bouquet," a ribbon-wrapped heart with purple and white flowers, was new, made that day, in fact. My mom's 49er-season-ticket-holder friend loaned me a pair of dangling pearl earrings. I had purchased some blue underwear for the wedding day, and when the photographer came to the house I realized that she couldn't set a pair of undies in a photograph!

Fortunately I had in my little jewelry carrying case a small pearl and blue bead bracelet that Bink had given me when I gave a reading in her wedding a few months before. I hadn't meant to bring it, but had never taken it out after returning from Washington. It made me even happier that I had this small thing from the recent wedding of a close friend, that fit perfectly into the little rhyme I didn't know I cared about until it was time to care about it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

High School Nightmare

I watched the pilot of Jericho with Zirpu last night even though I knew I shouldn't. The premise of this show is that big cities (Denver and Atlanta are named in the pilot) are nuclear-bombed by terrorists and this is the story of a small town and its residents in Kansas.

When I was in high school, back when the Soviets were the bad guys in films, I was really afraid that the Soviet Union would bomb the US. I was afraid that our cowboy president would play "Step Up" with the seemingly-always-changing Soviet premier until it spilled beyond the brink of nuclear war. I hoped that if the Soviets bombed the US, San Francisco would be a target so there would be no chance I would live through it, and I remember discussing that likelihood with my classmates. One of the student teachers showed a movie in class about people in Hollister after San Francisco getting bombed (I don't remember the name of this movie), and The Day After [read the comment] was on TV around that time too, and we all watched it.

I didn't tell anyone that nuclear war was a real fear for me. I think I assumed my friends were as afraid as I was, but I wouldn't admit it; I didn't want to talk about it, and make the fear more real. Even the big peace song of the period was gloomy as hell. Since then I have avoided books and movies that depict the days after, but somehow I got sucked in to Jericho, which I didn't even think was a good show.

I had nightmares last night. I rarely have nightmares and haven't had a nuclear nightmare since Reagan was president.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

One of my volunteers is from China, and he often acts as both our interpreter and our identifier of unknown Asian vegetables. On Saturday I asked him if he had gone to any New Year's parties and he responded, "No! I don't celebrate Chinese New Year! I am an American!"

At the elementary school I attended, a lion dancing troop came every year to perform in the school yard. All the students sat in a big circle around them while the musicians banged the drums and threw firecrackers, which always startled me. Chinese New Year was a big deal at my school, including making wontons and playing Chinese jump rope where you tried not to get your ankles caught between the bamboo poles when they clacked together. As a neighborhood group we usually went down to Chinatown to watch the parade, too.

As Jon Carroll says in today's column:

As far as I'm concerned, you can't have too many New Year's celebrations.
All the vernal earth-is-not-dead festivals have a similar message, that
everything is renewed and we can start over with untilled soil and unspoiled
memories and make new things grow. We have another chance to get it right, and
there can be no better news.
We used to say, "Today is the first day of the
rest of your life." We could just as well have said, "Tomorrow is New Year's
Day. Clean house! Dress up! Eat special food!" Such a good plan for any day, for
every day. Particularly if yesterday wasn't so good, tomorrow is a very good
time to start a new year. Hell, they have new fiscal years all the time; why not
new personal years?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

And again!

Eventually I will run out of hair. My plan to color, color, color and cut, color and cut, until it's back to healthy hair right out of my head. I think I have maybe two more haircuts before the part that was bleached is all gone.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Glamour of Home Ownership, Again

We have a new furnace!

Our furnace stopped working properly a few days before Christmas, so we have been unable to use it. Sears folks came out three times, sent us parts twice, and finally determined that it needed to be replaced.

Anyone in the area may have noticed that this not working of the furnace coincided with the coldest weather we've had since last year. This is what not having a furnace has meant to us:

Not just me, but Zirpu also, wearing sweats, hats, and socks to bed. Toward the end I started putting the heating pad in the bed.

Zirpu and I huddled in the office, the only room in our house that has doors, with the tiny space heater I bought for my office at CSUH blowing at full blast.

Seven and a half boxes of Duraflame logs.

Red wine too cold to drink.

Temps in the house consistently in the low 50s and more than once at 49*F.

Extreme crankiness on my part.

The furnace was installed on Thursday and we are luxuriating at 65*F. To get the furnace into the crawl space, the installers had to make the crawl space door bigger. That hole was repaired today.

I have a friend who lived without a furnace for eight years, and another one who didn't have one in her house until recently. I think that both these people had space heaters and didn't have to cram themselves into a 7'x10' room like Zirpu and I did. Now that I think of it, one of these friends is from Minnesota, where the men are strong, the women are beautiful, all the children are above average, and everyone is naturally hardy!

I guess we're not as strong as my friends because we're very happy about the new furnace.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Call me, pollsters!

I'm having one of those cranky elections where I'm voting no on almost everything.

But I wish a pollster would call me so I could say:

Yes, I'm voting Democratic.

Yes, I'm a woman.

Yes, I'm white.

Yes, I'm 39.

No, I'm undecided.

I am running out of time for deciding! Every argument I hear is a good one or a bad one for each candidate, and maybe I have to think about November too.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Getting Educated

I like to vote because I feel like a participating citizen when I do so. In Oregon, at the time when elections were moving to 100% mail-in ballots, I have a happy memory of sitting with Shobi-wan and two intelligent friends studying the 30+ ballot measures as if we were cramming for an exam. Since then, I have tried to always vote with my mind, not my gut.

I am studying up on the candidates this weekend. With Edwards out of the race, I only have to study two, so at least waiting this long has lessened the amount of homework I have to do. It's tough. I don't know what I think about a lot of issues (immigration? subprime mortgages?). A friend sent me this survey, and I either couldn't decide which answer I liked or I didn't like any of the answers on this multiple choice quiz. Clinton and Obama hold similar positions on a lot of issues, and so the quiz showed both of them closely matching my answers (some of which were guesses).

This is not a big election for state propositions, as three of them are basically the same and one is totally irrelevant, but I'm not sure how to vote. Raising revenue from "sins" like smoking, gambling, and alcohol leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but the state needs revenue. While I like some of the parts of the community college funding proposition, I don't like all of them - and yet as someone who was part of the college financial aid community for ten years, I am very clear on how important the CC system is for educating our youth. At least I know how I'll vote on the term limits proposition, but not for any of the obvious reasons.

When elections erupt in chaos and death, like they have in Kenya, or are made irrelevant, like they have in Pakistan, it seems to me that I have no reason not to go to the little church up the hill and cast my ballot. Maybe I'll have to take thirty minutes out of my day to exercise the right that my great-grandmothers didn't have and to participate in the political process that makes me an American.

In the meantime, I have to make some decisions.