Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sixty years ago I was a 6-foot, 2-inch tall skinny California senior in high school.  It was the spring of 1953.  Most of what was happening in my life that year is a blur, but one thirty-minute episode is as clear in my memory as my morning bicycle ride today. Looking back on 1953, I remind myself that World War II had ended eight years earlier. When Victory in Europe was declared, I was still living in my native Arkansas.   I remember the day the war was finally over because when my Mother who had three brothers in the service heard the news on the radio, she sent my cousin Donald and me over to the Baptist Church in Rosboro, Arkansas, to ring the church bell. Even though she was crying, I had never seen my mother happier. I remember asking her how long we should ring the bell. She said to ring it as long as we could.

We moved from Arkansas to California in 1949. Thinking back to 1953, I remind myself that Republican Dwight Eisenhower, a five-star general who had had enough of war to prefer peace, helped set the American economy on a definite road to recovery.  I also remember that in 1953 Joseph McCarthy (Republican Senator from Wisconsin) became the most powerful man in Washington by accusing all kinds of people of being Communists. He scared the daylights out of just about everybody by insisting that Communists had infiltrated virtually all American institutions and that they were everywhere just waiting to spring on good citizens the worst horrors of Soviet Communism. With demagogic strategies McCarthy and a group of conservative Republicans turned The House Committee on Un-American Activities into something so fearful that even high school history teachers in a little town like Live Oak, California, knew better than to suggest that McCarthy was a demagog. 

In 1954, my first year in college,  McCarthy was censured by the Senate after hearings over the supposed Communist infiltration of the Army were televised over many days.  He was shown to the public to be the shameless demagogue that he was.  The Red Scare, as a political strategy,  remained a political and religious issue only among the most conservative groups in the country. Sadly, some of those strategies, but with different issues, are occasionally trotted out and tried again briefly by politicians and pundits almost as unscrupulous as MarCarthy was... but that’s not the point of my story.

As background for my true story, it is also important to remember that people in communities like the one where I lived could find work in 1953. The growing season was long in the Central Valley of California and agriculture business was booming. Our parents had gone through the Great Depression and had seen desperate homeless people moving westward hoping to find work, but most high school seniors in Live Oak had only heard stories about hobos and drifters. We had never seen them.

Live Oak had no big super markets, but there were four small grocery stores, and I had a good job after school and on weekends working at the one on the north edge of town. That job made it possible for me to buy my own car, a 1946 Chevy coupe. I knew I was doing O.K.  My weekday routine was to go to my job directly from my last class.

I stocked shelves and did whatever clean-up was needed. That was a time when sawdust with a little oil in it was scattered and pushed with a wide broom from one end of aisles to the other in stores that had concrete floors.  The sawdust was picked up and reused. I don’t remember how many times I used it before it was thrown in the trash bin. This store had the area’s most respected meat market and the best, most honest butcher in town.  I remember his name and what he looked like mainly I guess because he was married to a stunningly beautiful woman. The butcher and I were the only employees of the man who owned the store. The owner and the butcher were always there. I don’t remember that man’s name even though it was he who paid me in cash every Saturday just before I took my lunch break and went to a drive-in cafe not far down the road where I always ordered two cheeseburgers and a coke.  

But those things aren't the point of the story.  On weekdays, as soon as I got to the store after school, Leroy the butcher and the manager left to go to the drive-in for coffee. It was the middle of the afternoon and there were seldom many customers. I felt especially important when customers came when I was alone in the store because I got to operate the cash register.  I had been taught about the importance of good customer service by Mr. Cantrell in a department store job I had before I worked at the grocery store, so I always made a point of saying, “Good afternoon” and “Can I help you” and “Thank you very much.”

Most of the time while the butcher and store owner were gone, I stocked shelves so I could keep an eye on the front of the store and the check-out register. One day while I was filling in the gaps and straightening canned corn and beans on shelves, a man who didn’t look like anyone I knew or had ever seen except in movies quietly turned into the aisle where I was working and walked toward me. He wasn't big...and he wasn't really little. He had a beard and was clean. This was well before the hippie sixties and seventies when beards and big hair became a fashion.  He wore a khaki shirt and the sort of work pants that my father always wore. His shirt and pants were clean but not pressed. His shoes were clean but not polished. He came right up to me and asked, “Can you give me some bread?”

Well, it wasn’t what I expected. Even now I can clearly hear myself saying,  “I’m sorry.  It isn’t my bread.  I just work here.”  Without a word or without any sign that he was upset, he turned and walked back down the aisle and disappeared out of sight.  

I stood with the can of corn in my hand and watched him go.  Suddenly I knew I had failed a test. I had done exactly what family and school and church had taught me that I must never do. Still clutching the beans, I ran to where we kept the bread and grabbed a loaf and ran out the front door.  Now here’s the part of the story that I can’t explain even though I remember it clearly.  The parking spaces were empty, and the road was free of cars and people. No one was in sight.  I ran around the store. It was what we called a quonset hut... not really a hut, but a quite large metal building. I thought he might be around back at the garbage bins, so I ran to check; but he wasn’t there.  I ran back inside the store and looked in all the aisles and in the meat market and in the stock room.  I hurried back outside and looked everywhere there again. Empty.  It was the emptiest I had ever experienced the world to be. 

That day has made all the difference.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Artists Tom Fagan and David Solomon look over a mural Tom worked on almost thirty years ago north of Malibu after we left an exhibition of work by American illustrators nearby at Pepperdine University.

I found some primary colors in the rigging of a fishing boat at the harbor in Long Beach on our way back to San Diego.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I’m often asked where I go on my bicycle, and why. Why I go is simple and complicated all at the same time. I go because I can... It’s a deeply felt imperative.  Today was typical.  I live on Camino Degrazia which leads out to but doesn’t cross Ulric Street.  Today as usual, approaching Ulric I hadn’t made up my mind if I would go left or right.  Mostly it’s an easy decision to take the downhill angle of the street to the left... Put off an uphill climb until later... Another decision at the bottom of the hill.  Unless I’m headed to a specific destination which takes me east on Friars, when I get to the bottom of the hill I usually go west if the traffic light is red as I approach it and if the light turns to green I do a mental coin flip to decide which way to turn... or sometimes I go west because I want to see and smell the ocean. That’s what I did this morning.  That route takes me alongside the San Diego River.  Usually I haven’t checked tide tables before hand... I like the anticipation of seeing in which direction the river is flowing. 

The San Diego River is really nothing more than a small stream most of the time.  In Virginia they would call it a run.  In Arkansas it would be a branch or a creek.  In San Diego it’s a river, and it actually looks like a river, a wide river, half a mile from the sea when the tide is rushing in and filling the basin.  That’s the way it was this morning at around eight-thirty.  The water birds were having a great time.  By the time I got to the bridge crossing the river just before the channel opens into the sea, the tidal flow had begun to turn. It’s a long bridge with a generous bike lane walled off from automobile traffic, a good place to stop and watch birds or just to gaze at the Pacific Ocean and think about what lies beyond the horizon.  I was alone in the bike lane riding east, so I set up my little camera in the middle of path, set the timer for ten seconds, and sat for the picture.  On the south side of the river I turned east and headed back toward home.  I got some other pictures along the way.  

I never stop being amazed that I can ride for hours in a city not bothered by traffic, except for the noise of it coming from nearby freeways.  Life it good.  

The only rant I feel like making today is being made by good people all over the country.  What in the world do these Tea Party ignoramuses in Washington think they will accomplish for American citizens and for the world by dismantling the government of the United States? They won’t succeed ultimately. They won’t be able to destroy our government, but they are going to heap an awful lot of misery onto people who are already suffering.  When the dust settles they will saunter back to their districts and states like bullies coming in from a playground fight.  Brighter, wiser people will eventually pick up the pieces and put us back together again. The American dream will survive. The Republican Party may not.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Cup of Gold Vine
Solandra Maxima
If you live in San Diego and know Balboa Park, you’ve probably come across this odd, oversized flower covering all of the porch and most of the roof of a small house to the east of Spanish Village.  Indigenous to Mexico and Central American, the Cup of Gold Vine, also known as Golden Chalice Vine, or Hawaiian Lily, is bursting into bloom in San Diego.  I don’t know how it became known as Hawaiian Lily.  It’s a photographic challenge.  In full sun the glossy leaves reflect too much light.  I’ll remind myself to go back on a cloudy day or early in the morning or late in the day to see if I get a better picture in lower light. Photographed in living color, the image is almost cloying, so I shot it today in black and white.  In black and white it’s more regal, almost ethereal.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


I’m not sure about this, but I think the expression “shooting the moon” comes from the game of hearts which I haven’t actually played for at least sixty years.  As I remember it, we used the expression in those days not just for playing cards but for all kinds of situations in which we wanted to win big, to take it all. 

When I was driving home late today from running an errand, I glanced east and saw an astoundingly beautiful moon rising. I wanted to shoot it... with my camera, but I didn’t have my best camera, and I wasn’t in a very interesting place in Mission Valley... so I shot the moon with what I had; and with the magic of Photoshop I put it where I wanted it to be in the early evening sky. It almost worked... not quite, but I had fun doing it.  But that little pear blossom that dropped out of the mid-morning sky onto the table where I was helping promote tolerance and inclusion worked with no help from editing software.

I may try to shoot the moon again tomorrow.  Asi es la vida.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What Happened? 

Walk out the door, from seventh grade to forever...
Joy of pancakes with butter, lots of butter and maple syrup,
long gone from breakfast gone from breakfasts. 

Poe watched me walk from then to now
Unable to disconnect from Annabelle Lee
who many and many and many a year ago
showed me the rhythm method of listening
Or from Miss Bowman who introduced me to passion
Going nowhere but out and on to places in the heart
Explored by Oscar and Anais but never exhausted...

Mrs. Laney wore her glasses on top of her head
I thought maybe it was an educated thing.
I never saw her wear them on her nose
like Granny who'd never been farther away from home 
than Hot Springs and knew what all women know
who've been in love and lived to see it run away.

Friday, February 22, 2013

I spent the morning with my friend Tom Fagan, the artist. While photography is definitely the medium I know, I am trying to learn to sketch; and Tom let me sit in on a session with a live model. I tried my hand at figure drawing.  Tom is the guy whom you may see working at night around San Diego. He’s the real thing... an artist who makes his living painting. Last week I included a picture of him painting at night on a blustery, cold night in Balboa Park. I’ve included here another of the photographs I took of him last week, along with the picture he painted that night.  The finished painting is my photo du jour for Friday.

I was in the mood for more art after “the lesson” this morning, so I went to Seaport Village to see Donal Hord’s sculpture, Morning.  People who live in San Diego know at least a couple of other Hord works, Guardian of the Waters, on the Waterfront in front of the SanDiego County Administration Building, Legend of California, at Coronado High School, Westwind, at the San Diego Public Library, and La Tehuana.  Hord was born in Wisconsin in 1902 and moved to San Diego in 1914 with his mother, where he died in 1966.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

MY BIKE RIDE between light rain showers today kept me close to home.  The University of San Diego is always a visual feast, so I rode west on Friar's Road to Linda Vista Road where I turned up the hill to the campus.  It's especially stunning on a day when the sun plays hide-and-seek with the pear trees which are still in full bloom.  The Church of the Immaculata at the center of the USD campus is a parish church across the valley from Presidio Park and the museum that stands on the site of the original Mission Basilica San Diego Alcal√°, which was the first Franciscan mission in the Las Californias Province of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

Today I found the first iris blooming in San Diego this year...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Pear Tree Bark, bougainvillea, Liquid Amber, and lemons. 
There’s a poem in there somewhere, but I can’t find it. 
Some days are like that.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Photographs Today... Somebody spilled paint in the parking lot where I live.


...So now President Obama is coming in for criticism for not being inclusive, for intervals/intermissions in his schedule to which members of the press aren’t invited... no one from Fox News, or MSNBC, not Matt Lauer, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, or my favorite Kyra Phillips. Not one of them was asked to join the President and Tiger Wood at a posh Florida Country Club. Somebody was there with a camera, but I don’t know who let the interloper in... There were no interviews, no questions. I’m glad.

Here’s my beef... It’s not with President Obama or this time even with the dysfunctional Congress. It’s who we Americans have allowed ourselves to become, what we have allowed news/journalism to make of us. In the morning both liberal and conservative folks must search to find broadcast journalists whose primary interest is in gathering and delivering the news. Most owners and managers and directors of broadcast news networks obviously require their hired journalists to entertain us.  Once-upon-a-time I regularly watched NBC’s Morning Show; but when it’s primary raison d'√™tre shifted from news to show business entertainment, I shifted to other resources to find out daily what’s happening in my country and in the world. Matt Lauer doesn't do it for me any more.

I like Kyra Phillips’ new program, Raising America, in the morning on HLN (9 a.m., channel 28 in San Diego).  The program doesn’t pretend to be breaking news.  Kyra is a wife and mom and a journalist. Her purpose is clearly not to entertain us but to inform us, acknowledging that she and we are regular Americans with regular responsibilities who want to consider important issues from our ordinary perspectives.  She is not interspersing Lady Gaga or whoever is the latest hip hop sensation throughout her reports and interviews.