My Pagan Status

 

 

This past weekend, I was doing some light yard work when a neighbor stopped by with his toddler. I know these folks in the way I know most neighbors – not well at all. But I do know they’re hard-core Christians. And as I’m not, there’s an unspoken understanding between us that we will never be close. That’s just life and believe me – it’s okay.

 

Anyhoo – I was being my ordinary nice self and carrying on light conversation with the neighbor. He was reciprocating and all was well. I had work to finish, so I wrapped up as quickly as I could and got on with it. He went into his house and that was that.

 

Only after I’d gone inside myself and stood washing my hands in the bathroom did I notice the t-shirt I was wearing…

 

 

No wonder the neighbor seemed more quiet than usual while talking to me. I think my pagan status is secure. Thank god.

Neighbors

 

 

Yesterday I was out cutting the grass, as it’s been about a month and even though none of it gets regular watering, it does grow in patches and needs tending once in a while. So there I was, with the human-powered push mower, when one of our neighbors approached. I’d not met this person, even though he lives nearby. After brief introductions, he asked if he could borrow the mower for his tiny patch of backyard grass. I said sure and told him I’d bring it to his house once I was finished with our lawn.

 

I don’t know if it’s an L.A. thing, or if the whole world has gotten to this point, but neighbors don’t often borrow from one another. Maybe expensive tools aren’t the sort of thing you’d want to lend, or maybe there’s a safety factor. But borrowing from a neighbor isn’t limited to tools. Hell – if I’m in the middle of baking and run out of sugar, I don’t think twice about knocking on my neighbor’s door, though I believe that makes me an oddity in this day and age. (Baking makes me an oddity, in and of itself.) And when I have asked a neighbor for in-the-moment help, I’ve repaid them in kind. It’s what you do. But I have to admit – I’ve been on the other side of that equation and I’ve known neighbors who are users. More than once, a neighbor has asked to borrow something (like say, ketchup) and they’ve taken a full container, only to return a near-empty container. And no replacements were ever offered. Those are the types of neighbors who take advantage, and that’s not cool. (Those are also the types of neighbors who will break your shit and claim it was like that when they borrowed it. Fool me once, asshole…)

 

But back to yesterday. This neighbor said he’d probably need the mower for all of 5 minutes and he didn’t lie. He returned it promptly and all was well. I’m happy to have been able to help. And if anyone knocks on my door, needing a cup of sugar, I’ll oblige that request, too. Good grown-ups make good neighbors. Where we live, I endeavor to be just that – a good grown-up. A good neighbor. All the way around.

Cheers!

 

 

Last night Mister and I got together with a neighbor to toast new 4-way stop signs on our street corner. And it was lovely.

 

Our little neighborhood has banded together over the last year or so, as a lot has been going on. We’ve fought city hall together (and lost). We’ve confronted elected officials who’ve forgotten they represent us (and not developers). We’ve even supported one of our own neighbors in joining our local council (and he won). Getting stop signs counts as a success for us. And we know it. So of course it’s worth celebrating.

 

Mister and I know how good we’ve got it, being part of this neighborhood. All the folks around us lead busy, full lives, so we don’t see one another too often. Maybe that’s why we all like each other when we do get together, if you know what I mean. Good fences, and all that…

 

I’ll drink to that!

Neighbors

 

 

Yesterday I got an email from one of my neighbors. She was concerned about a car that had been parked by my house – all day long – with a dude just hanging out inside the car. I had noticed the car as well, but hadn’t looked closely enough to see inside. At some point I was cleaning the deck and started throwing leaves over the railing, in the direction of the car. I wasn’t trying to diss the driver or anything. I was just getting leaves off my deck. And that side yard is still mine, so I didn’t think much of it. Not long after that, I noticed the car was gone. Maybe the driver didn’t want all those leaves on his shiny, new car. I replied to my neighbor’s email and thanked her for the heads-up.

 

A few hours later, another neighbor called to check and see if I was around. I said I was and asked how I could help. She said she didn’t want anything other than to check on me. She had noticed some lights on, but hadn’t seen hide nor hair of me in ages. I let her know that I was well and doing great. I thanked her for checking on me and said goodbye.

 

I’m not sure what was going on with all that neighborly communication, but it was appreciated. If I wanted to go nut-job, I’d say something about how my neighbors must think I’m so old I need checking-in on, but as I’m smack dab in the middle of both their ages, I’m gonna keep a cool head and assume they were simply being, well, neighborly. And isn’t that lovely?

 

I sometimes forget that there are good, decent people in the world. It’s easy to forget them, actually, as they don’t make the news in any way, shape or form. And the truth is – I live on a swell street with loads of good, decent folks. And it’s not just a good street. It’s a good neighborhood. The kind we all want. The kind we used to call the “American Dream.”

 

I may have to start spending a bit of time outside the Fortress of Solitude that is our home, and putting in some face time with my neighbors. They’re good enough to check on me, so it seems like the least I can do. Besides – I want them to see I’m not quite as old and decrepit as I think they think I am. I think.

And Then…

 

 

So yesterday I and several neighbors attended a city planning hearing regarding a large construction project in our neighborhood. We were there as appellants, to speak about how the project will likely impact our peaceful streets. I don’t know why, but the whole thing had stressed me out.

 

But I was also managing my expectations. Having received a letter from the city managers last week, a letter supporting the project and rejecting our appeal, I fully accepted that the hearing would probably go the way of the developers and not the neighbors. But I did still have to speak at the hearing, so I knew I needed to get ready.

 

It’s not like in the movies. It doesn’t matter how impassioned you are, or how prepared. The commissioners have the unenviable job of listening to all comers. And some of us are ding-dongs. I had written out my comments and timed my presentation, so that I wouldn’t have to hear a danged buzzer go off during my speech. And just before I left the house, Mister checked in with me and reminded me there was no need to be nervous. That I was indeed prepared and that it would be over soon enough. Turned out he was right. I even smiled when I approached the podium. Before I knew it, my part was done and the panel voted on our appeal. They sided with the developer.

 

After speaking with neighbors and a few folks from our neighborhood council, I drove my elderly neighbor home and we talked about the olden days. I dropped him off and parked the car.

 

Once I was inside and getting ready for dinner, I decided to change out of my meetin’ clothes, into some loungin’ clothes. And that’s when I saw it. I had a booty-hole in my fancy pants. I guess that explains why some folks didn’t want to talk to me at the meeting. And why some most certainly did.

Put Up Your Dukes

 

 

I may have mentioned that we – along with our neighbors – are fighting City Hall. There are some shady developers working down the street, and some of their procedures (documented in photos and videos) are what we in the bidness would call less-than-legal. It ain’t right, and so the neighborhood is getting involved.

 

The other day I found myself filing some paperwork with the City of Los Angeles, and the scene really brought me down. First – if you’re filing an appeal of anything that requires a permit, you have to provide multiple copies of all documentation. In my case, this meant over 100 pages. Double-sided. Second – you have to pay a whopping fee to the city, in order to fight the city. Third – you have to deal with government employees. And while some of those folks may be absolute darlings, others are entitled jack-asses.

 

Here’s an overview of my experience… I got all my paperwork together. That meant making the aforementioned copies. Now friends – if you’re gonna put together over 100 double-sided pages of legalese, you’re gonna be out some dough. If you own a printer, you’re gonna pay for the paper, ink and operating costs of that printer. If you don’t own a printer, you’re gonna pay out the nose at a copy shop. Either way – you’re gonna pay.

 

I arrived at the designated city office and took a number. I was told to wait in a particular area, due to the nature of my appeal. I thought it might take quite a while, as several people were waiting ahead of me. But to my surprise, my number was called after only about 5 minutes. As I approached the counter, the dude who had called my number eyed my armload of paperwork and asked if I was filing an appeal. I told him I was. He told me to just wait, as he was putting my number back into the system. Having no idea what was going on, I stepped back and waited. Then I noticed he was calling a lot of numbers. And I do mean a lot. As each person approached his counter, he asked what their business was, and one-by-one, he sent them all back to wait, giving them the same spiel he’d given me. Only when he hit upon a number-holder whose business interested him did he actually process the customer. (“Oooo! Show me those landscape plans!”) I couldn’t believe it. In fact, if I hadn’t witnessed it, I wouldn’t. That guy was the ultimate stereotype of a major government tool.

 

When my number was called the second time, I made sure I was nice to the lady behind the counter. And to her credit, she was as nice as could be. She processed all 100+ double-sided pages of legalese of my application, took my fee of $108.00 (I kid you not), and that was that. Business concluded, I left the government offices, deflated and pissed.

 

I don’t expect anything to come of my appeal. My neighbors and I are simply trying to do the right thing. But if the right thing mattered, the illegal crap down the street would have been stopped a long time ago. Maybe when the contractor dumped refuse into a neighbor’s yard. Or after the young boy living next door became ill with relentless nosebleeds during demo. No – doing the right thing doesn’t always move the needle. But it’s still the right thing.

 

God bless America.

Jujube Fruit

 

 

Over the weekend there was a get-to-know-your-neighbors block party in our ‘hood. This sort of gathering is rather old-school, and far too uncommon these days. I don’t think we all need to be best friends with our neighbors. But knowing the folks around us and being friendly is a great way to have each other’s backs. I guess I look at it like insurance: I hope I never need it, but I’m glad it’s there – just in case I do. And besides – some of us have great neighbors.

 

Anyhoo – as neighbors from a about a 3-block radius came together for food and conversation, we had the opportunity to learn a bit about one another and to share some laughs. I met folks of all ages and backgrounds and it was lovely. And then one new-to-us neighbor showed up with a gi-normous basket of fruit from a tree in her yard. She had brought Jujubes and they were awesome.

 

For years I’ve seen Jujube fruit in ethnic supermarkets, but I’ve never tried them, nor have I known a darned thing about them. Turns out, a common name for the cultivar here in Southern California is Chinese Date. (This is not the same variety as the Indian Jujube, whatever that is.) The tree common to our neck of the woods is drought-tolerant and loves heat. The tree needs a little cold in the winter time in order for the fruit to set, and as we have that, all is well. Our generous neighbor not only educated us on the local Jujube, but she also provided us with a tasty treat. Jujube fruit is delicious!

 

We had a grand time hanging out at our block party. Not only was it fun, it was also educational. Y’all have got to know I love learning about food. I also love eating it. And thanks to a kindly neighbor, I not only learned a thing or two but I’ve also got a bowl of beautiful Jujube fruit on my counter. Win-win.

Marcia

 

 

Late Wednesday night I got word that my former neighbor – Marcia – had passed away. Mister and I rented a little house next to hers when we first moved to California, many years ago. They say Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. I guess we must have had a pretty good fence, because we definitely found ourselves with good neighbors.

 

It’s funny. I was just thinking about Marcia a few days ago, after I spotted a bumper sticker referencing a particular California coastal town. Marcia and her husband used to have a get-away place there and I remembered how much they loved it. The timing of seeing that bumper sticker and then hearing of Marcia’s passing seemed odd to me. And it got me wondering about Marcia and whether or not I’d known her at all…

 

I remember she loved “Tweety Bird.” I don’t remember why, but I know that was perhaps her favorite animated character. She was also an avid bowler. On a team and everything. I loved that about her, because I flippin’ love bowling. And I was jealous that she bowled every week.

 

Just thinking of her throwing her head back in laughter makes me laugh. It was so raw and true. She once showed me one of her wedding photos. In it, her head was back and she was caught laughing. It was gorgeous. On the flip side of that, she could be downright gruff when she was upset or didn’t like something. Those moments, too, were raw and true. I liked that about her, also.

 

The lady loved Barbra Streisand. It was Marcia’s appreciation for Babs that led me to give Ms. Streisand a chance. And while I’m not a devotee or anything, I do respect the technique and talent of Streisand, whereas I wasn’t much of a fan before. Marcia changed that.

 

I remember one day she knocked on our door and asked if I wanted to go to “Stateline” (Primm, Nevada) for a day of gambling with her and her daughter. The best answer I could muster was “why not,” so the three of us climbed into Marcia’s little Honda and we took off. Only Marcia wasn’t taking the main highways. She took back roads. With a lead foot. It was one of the weirdest, funnest days I’ve known. And the whole thing was on a whim.

 

Marcia’s potato salad was about my favorite in the world. That’s a big statement, too, as I love, love, love potato salad. After having hers and realizing I needed it in my life, I went to her and asked for her recipe. She sat me down and talked her way through it as I frantically scribbled every word. To this day, when I make potato salad, it is Marcia’s recipe I use. Every time.

 

Immediately after the Northridge earthquake, Marcia and her husband came to check on us and asked us to come over to their house to ride out some of the aftershocks. Mister and I were doing well to simply have shoes on our feet, so when we got inside their house and saw Marcia sweeping up the few remaining remnants of what had been broken, having already tidied the entire house, I was in awe. Not only that, she and her husband had a generator going so there were lights and coffee and television and all the comforts of their home. It was our first big earthquake, so we were pretty messed up. Marcia and her husband not only kept us sane, they also took care of us.

 

The woman knew how to grow roses, y’all. She just had a touch. I tried to learn from her, and Lord knows she tried to teach me. But that was her gift, not mine. So I just watched and marveled.

 

Marcia once told me her father’s last name (and therefore her maiden name) had been Lamb. She then told me her mother’s maiden name had been Garlic. I don’t know if she was just pulling my leg or not, but I’ve always believed that story.

 

Marcia could screw up a movie’s title better than anyone I’ve ever known. I remember her asking if I’d seen “that Kevin Spacey movie – ‘The Regular Line-up’” and me wondering what the heck she was talking about. When I realized she was referring to “The Usual Suspects” I had a good chuckle and chalked it up to a Marcia-ism of the highest order. I used to love it when she’d get a movie title wrong. Her abilities on that front were astounding.

 

The back door of that little house we rented was actually on the side, just off the kitchen. Marcia’s back door was situated similarly, facing ours. She and I would sit on our respective stoops and talk all the danged time. More than once I found myself out there, talking about life with Marcia, only to realize hours had passed. Each time I thought it had merely been minutes. But that was one of the great things about Marcia. We did talk. A lot. And I truly enjoyed our conversations. We were very different people with very different lives and yet we got along. We broke bread together. We laughed together. We even cried together. And I liked her. I guess I knew more about her than I thought I did.

 

They say Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. In the case of Marcia and her husband, I think our fence was good because of our neighbors, and not the other way around. And while most of us don’t know very much about those living right next door, I’m grateful I did get to know my neighbors. I’m grateful they were kind enough to get to know me. And I’m very sad that the world has lost a sparkly-eyed, funny gardener who could bowl. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

 

Godspeed, Marcia. Godspeed.

Body and Soul

 

 

Yesterday’s post told of my neighbor’s passing. I mentioned how, as a Southerner, my go-to response to a death in the family is to cook for the family. And my go-to food is a baked ham.

 

I want to share a little something I’ve learned to do in cases such as this. When I take food to the bereaved, I make sure to present the edibles on some sort of dish the family can keep. The way I figure it, the last thing they need to worry about is which plate belongs to whom and how to get it back to the owner. So I make a trip to a thrift store and find some sort of inexpensive yet keepable item, purchase it and give it away. I make sure the family knows they can keep the dish and that it’s theirs to use or pass on. One less detail for them to deal with.

 

Mister pointed out to me that my neighbors probably won’t be hungry at all. I know he’s right. But if they do need nourishment, at least they won’t have to cook. And if people stop by (and people surely will), our neighbors won’t have to bother preparing something for their friends. It’s little things like that, things that feed our bodies and souls, that make all the difference in life.

 

Heaven knows, the little things matter. Especially in the face of the big things. And losing a loved one is about the biggest thing I can think of.

Stop All The Clocks

 

 

The first time I heard W. H. Auden’s poem “Stop All The Clocks, Cut Off The Telephone” was in the film 4 Weddings and a Funeral. It was beautiful. It was perfect. It was heartbreaking.

 

I think of this now because Mister and I just learned of our next door neighbor’s passing. Her aged husband came over to tell us and I swear, I thought he and Mister were gonna lose it. I couldn’t have blamed either of them if they had.

 

I’m not clear on the numbers, but I think those folks had been married over 60 years. I know they moved into the house next door about that long ago. Pat – that was her name – told me those things and a few others when Mister and I first moved into the new pad. Pat and I had some lovely visits, during which I learned quite a bit about her. She was very religious, and quite political. Without saying much, I managed to make it clear to her that we weren’t on the same page on those fronts, but Pat didn’t seem to judge me for it. I liked that about her. I liked that she was intelligent. I liked that she kept busy, organizing community events and lectures. I liked that she always looked put-together.

 

Mister’s never been to a funeral. I’ve experienced more than a few, but I probably won’t attend this one. I will be making some food, however, to drop off at the house the day of the service. I’m a Southerner. It’s what we do. At times like this, it’s one of the only things we can do.

 

Personally, I just re-read Auden’s poem. It is still beautiful. It is still perfect. It is still heartbreaking.