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Weekly Column

9/11/11: A Lady in the Night 

On August fifth, Joe, our younger daughter Lisa and I flew to Santa Barbara, California for our nephew’s wedding. We’d booked a relatively inexpensive room at the Super 8 Motel just outside the airport grounds. A recent renovation gave the place a creamy white Spanish look. Though frill-free our room was spacious, possessing two double beds and a clean, roomy bath.

The next morning I woke at three a.m. - much later than usual. (Actually it was six a.m. Michigan time, for me.) Oh boy, a mug of fresh black coffee would taste wonderful! Dressing quickly to snores and deep breathing I grabbed my backpack and slid out the door to explore the possibility. Stumping downstairs I passed the outdoor elevator and attractive fenced-in pool to peer up and down the main avenue, hoping to spot an open McDonald’s. (Our motel was located on a corner near lots of shops, so the thought wasn’t unreasonable.)

No golden arches. Ah, well.
I’d just decided to return to my room when a tall, tidy, twenty-something guy with tousled blond hair strode into the light near the office. “Hi,” he said, cheerfully. “What’s up?”
“Just me,” I grinned, “coping with a three-hour time difference.” (Was this the night manager?) “Is there anyplace open nearby that serves coffee?”

He shook his head. “The office won’t brew a pot till six, but I can take you to an all-night restaurant, not far away.”

My alerto-meter dinged, signaling that I’d better think past fresh, hot, and black.

“Nah. Thanks anyway.”

He chuckled. “I’m batting zero here. Can’t provide coffee, can’t take you where there is some — But.” He paused, and smiled - “I am pretty good at makin’ love.”

What?! The boy had poor eyesight fer sure. Granted, the lights and fog were such that a rumpled old turnip might pass for fresh, but this was ridiculous. (Maybe he’d been smitten by my blond-over-gray hair poking out from my new, fringed pork pie hat…)

Sensing no threat there I grinned, and politely declined his offer. He shrugged, philosophical. “If you’re sure…” There was a hopeful pause.
“I’m sure. I want coffee, young man. Just coffee.”

Summoning the elevator, he stepped into it and held the door open, just in case I changed my mind. Then, after a fractional pause he sighed. “Too bad. You wouldn’t regret it.” The elevator closed, caging his grin. He was gone.

That guy’s smooth as butter, I mused, incredulous, and definitely not the night manager.
You’ve been propositioned, old girl. Fancy that.

I stood for a time in the darkness, trying to think about how to think about this. The air was still. I could smell the ocean… I popped back upstairs and woke Joe, who dressed quickly while Lisa slept on. We found a McDonald’s around the corner and down a bit (liar, liar; that lothario must have known!), then motored five minutes to Goleta Beach bearing two large, steaming black coffees.

The long wharf was a gray spear above the water: fog blurred its end. Warmly dressed fishermen - including one fellow who’d pitched his tent here - lined the gray railings, reeling in and efficiently cleaning small fish. Noisy gulls fought over remains tossed into the sea. After a while the sun began to creep over the smudged horizon, struggling to penetrate the still-thick fog. Seals floated belly-up, lulled to sleep by the ocean’s gentle swells.
I relayed the motel incident with amusement.

“You were a lady in the night, not of the night…” Joe reflected. “Funny how one tiny word defines such a huge difference…”


9/4/11: California Stars, Fleas and Laughter 

Sunday, August 7th, 2011, Santa Barbara, California.
Our younger daughter Lisa, and Joe and I had flown here for our nephew’s wedding, held the day before.

Oh, the memories! We’d lived here from 1975-77, and it didn’t rain once. If you needed a bathroom anywhere in most of California, you had to buy something. Water and cloth napkins disappeared from restaurant tables. Lawn police heavily fined desperate homeowners who watered their expensive landscapes in deep night.
Finally, anything green died: lawns became stone. Literally.
That drought lasted three long years. There were rarely clouds: just perfect blue sky, day after month after year.

It was a town where I’d shop for groceries alongside Cary Grant, or Fess Parker, of Davy Crocket fame; where fish, barely out of the ocean, were delivered to the shop around the corner from my sister’s home; where I could pick avocados right off the tree in her garden; and…where I’d perambulated my six-week-old daughter, Jenny, to Cliff Drive Park near the wharf to watch the occasional shark idly watching people.
I’ve never cared to swim in that ocean. Nosir.
(Recently a surfer was eaten north of town.)

I’ve mixed feelings about Santa Barbara. The karma was never quite right. Two examples:
- Our dog Fred was ticketed fifteen minutes after we hit town: though licensed and at heel in my sister’s front yard, he wasn’t leashed.

-We’d finally found a tiny cinderblock rental on Cliff Drive (100 feet away from the famous1000 Steps, which descend to one of the world’s most spectacular beaches). But it was infested with fleas. My white jeans offered mute testimony. We’d faced some filthy houses over the years, but this one took first prize. For three awful weeks we released potent flea bombs, vacuumed and scrubbed everything till our hands ached, and applied gallons of paint to grubby walls.
Then came the test. I slid on my white jeans, lay on the carpet, and waited. Five anxious minutes later, not. one. flea. We moved in.

Now, 36 years later, we stood before the same boxy residence, which has no yard, garage or view (because one other teeny house stands between it and the cliffs). It’s for sale for well over one million dollars.

Anyway, we trekked down the 1000 Steps to that glorious, empty beach, and walked for a long time beneath towering cliffs. I collected shells for my garden fountain, and we recalled nine-month old Jenny holding Joe’s forefinger as she navigated the damp sand, taking multiple steps to her daddy’s one…
It was a marvelous, reminiscent hour.

Climbing up to the street again, we were greeted by - chuckles.

There were no people about, and few cars. So, who…? They were oddly infectious: we found ourselves chuckling, too.

There! A light chocolate lab hung out a barely moving truck’s window, his eyes glued to the 1000 Steps’ entrance.
Nah…It couldn’t be!
Yup. That dog was chuckling!
But then, when the driver picked up speed and left, they morphed to a mega-disappointed “Oh-h-h-h-h…” Our hair rose as we stood there, open-mouthed.
That was unreal,” Lisa exclaimed.

Wait! They were back! The tone of those human-like sounds rose in anticipation: the dog had apparently convinced his master to reconsider. The guy parked, and a soft “heel” command was issued. They made a disciplined approach to the Steps, with the delighted animal practically walking on his toenails. He shot us one triumphant glance before they began the long descent. Distance and the gently lapping ocean gradually swallowed those uncanny chuckles.

Never have we heard anything remotely like them, or seen a happier dog.


8/28/11: Footwear and Tear 

August 6, 2011. Santa Barbara, California, the day of my nephew’s wedding. Our younger daughter, Lisa, and Joe and I had flown here the day before, and were now lodged in a tidy Super 8 Motel just outside the airport, north of town.

Something bizarre happened in that room.

It was time to don our fine clothes. I’d brought a favorite cream-colored blouse with lots of buttons and lace, and a wine-and-navy silk skirt. Lisa and Joe always look elegant, but we stared at me, amazed. I remind Joe of the Peanuts character, Pigpen, as I move around the garden with a smudged face, frowsy hair, earth-crusted hands and muddy gardening knees. Now the bathroom mirror showed a cleaned up version I barely recognized. “Whew,” Joe remarked. “I haven’t seen you look this good since, ah, the last time.” We couldn’t remember when that was.

“Now I’ll rise to the occasion,” I grinned and slid into my comfortable, well-made navy blue heels, which exactly matched the skirt’s blue. They did look spiffy, but—wait a minute!

As I padded around, they seemed reluctant to leave the ground! I’d take a step- they’d stick to the carpet. I’d try to pull away: a bit would stay behind. It kept happening. Sole bits cleaved to the carpet, showing where I’d just been. Absurd!! This couldn’t be happening. Bewildered, I walked outside (with great difficulty) onto the wide cement balcony, then re-entered our room. Shoe bottom-bits remained, glued to the concrete. “Joe,” I wailed, “this is really peculiar!”

I lifted a foot and yelped as a heel tip fell off. With every step, more shoe sloughed away. No doubt about it. My heels were crumbling!! Desperately I removed the left one: it actually stuck to my hands. Stupidly I tried to fit things together, but my gluey fingers adhered to each other. I slip-slid off what was left of the other shoe, a tricky maneuver, because the now-slippery interior had begun to bond with my nyloned foot.

It was surreal.

I stared dully at a nylon scrap, now stuck to an insole, and tentatively poked the shoes again. Another bit dropped away.
I stared at the mess on the carpet and in my hands. The leather sides and other wooden heel were slick with damp glue. A little plop. There went the second heel!
In less than one minute, right before my eyes, my footwear experienced death-by-crumble-melt.

Finally, Lisa said, “ Mom, what’s happening here?”

I sighed. “ My heels are having a body and sole breakdown. Whoever heard of shoes behaving like this!”

My new hose was ruined: they followed the heels into the trash. We tried to gather up chunks, but they flatly refused to part with the carpet. (Fused. The perfect word.) Joe muttered, “I’d need a knife.” I fled to the bathroom to get glue-gunk off my hands. Three scrubs barely helped. I was still tacky.

“Nobody would believe this,” I moaned, as I tried to separate my fingers.

So. Here I was, beautifully dressed, with heels that had turned up their toes. And the wedding would begin in ninety minutes! My grubby brown jean sandals, though totally unsuitable, would have to do. Ever the optimist though, I realized it could have been much worse... What if I’d flown here in my Betty Boop flip-flops?

Hmmm. I tend to keep things a long time. Did this disintegration happen because the dead shoes were 20 years old? Nah. I’d worn them so seldom! And why today? Why all at once? Gremlins, maybe? Great age? Fate?


drawing by Elisabeth Blair

8/21/11: Airport Security - Another Perspective 

August 5th. Traverse City was hot. It was not a good time to leave the garden. The heat, which had kept me constantly watering for two weeks, still hovered in the high 80s, yet Joe and I were about to fly to Santa Barbara, California for our beloved nephew’s wedding. I fervently hoped the man I’d hired to care for my garden could manage it.

Wouldn’t you know - Cherry Capital Airport security personnel announced they’d perform body searches on everyone, as all their scanning machinery had broken down. Having vowed never to permit this, I’d dressed to show only the ‘essence of Dee’— sandals, slim, black no-pocket pants, and a form-fitting blouse.

A body search would be such a personal violation! The Israelis employ skilled ex-military people to observe passengers for the classic but subtle signs that betray evil intent: it’s worked just fine. But in the U.S., machine dependency usually dominates the security landscape.

So. I had a decision to make. I could opt out, or submit, as this situation was not their fault. Groaning, I wished for wings…

And submitted. She actually tested my crotch for explosives after handling me everywhere. Red-faced, I radiated unsubtle signs of outrage at the process. Israeli spotters would have hauled me away and hosed me down to avert an explosion.

We flew to Denver International Airport and quickly caught the next flight to Santa Barbara without incident.

Four days later we sailed through Santa Barbara’s intact security and flew back to Denver. But our direct connection to Traverse City was eight hours away, which left ample time to study the stunning architecture of the airport’s passenger terminals.

From the air the huge structures, which rise dramatically out of a flat prairie, look like a Bedouin encampment. Gleaming, pure white Teflon-coated tent canopies stand in front of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. Their integrated, tensile fabric structures compliment those massive, rugged peaks. Natural light and fresh air flood the terminals’ interiors. I think this highly green airport is one of the world’s most beautiful.

“Cheep!” Startled, I turned toward the sound. Two sparrows were sipping puddled water in the drinking fountain bowl right next to me, and conversing. Soon both flew to a high perch and looked around. Another discussion. Together they descended to the nearby Caribou Coffee booth and checked the floor for crumbs before returning to the fountain in our sheltered area for another drink. Though we were mere inches apart, not once had humans ever pounced on a sparrow in here, so they weren’t afraid. Instead, for the third time on this trip, I was thoroughly inspected from head to toe. Hmmm…my hands held nothing of interest, so the area around me was checked. Their scrutiny was quick, but thorough. I was amused, and amazed. They lived here! And why not? Humans always left yummy food scraps everywhere. They had ample water, and the vast space offered plenty of room to soar. Colorado’s often fearsome weather wouldn’t threaten these plucky birds.
Inches from my sandals one featherhead eyed me speculatively, and cheeped. Could I offer anything?

“Sorry, guys. But hang on.” I trotted to Caribou coffee, bought a croissant, and returned to my seat - to find they’d waited! Laughing, I scattered crusts on the empty seat next to me, and around my feet, and the three of us dined as they cheeped happily. I passed a marvelous few minutes allowing them to search for any crumbs I might be concealing.

Chuckling, I savored two thoughts: This careful inspection was welcomed — and, wouldn’t the architect be pleased that his wonderful creation embraced wildlife!

8/14/11: Aargh! Not again! 

I checked the temperature gauge before venturing outside yesterday. At 6 a.m. it read an eye-popping 89 degrees. The air was so moist I could grab a gob and wring it out. My heart sagged. “Move,” I muttered. I’d certainly broil soon, dressed in jeans and a long sleeved shirt to keep the imperious roses from drawing blood. A mosquito net veiled my perky straw hat, and a baggy, elasticized mesh jacket fell half way to my knees. (Vampire mosquitoes and no-see-ums find me irresistible. This outfit stops them cold.)

My feet dragged as I collected the garden gate keys and moved outside to deadhead, which is usually a pleasant, satisfying job. Now, even doing this gentle, slow motion task made me bake. Temps would rapidly rise to around 99: the heat index would make it feel like 104 well before noon. Wonderful.

Pinch, snap, dump. Pinch, snap, dump. Finally, two hours later, every bloomer looked bouncier minus the weight of its dead mate.

I stole a minute to admire the gorgeous multicolored daylilies, which were undismayed by this weather. Hmmm: two lovely flowers, weighed down by fat buds, wanted propping. I did that.

Finally, it was feeding time. Last week plants had dined on fish emulsion. They enjoy variety, so today I chose bottled Miracle Gro. It’s dispensed using a green and yellow bottle-attachment thingy that I hadn’t operated for a season. I should have reviewed how it worked.

First, I released the hose lever. Water pressure instantly rose. But nothing came out. Huh. What had I forgotten? I peered into the thingy’s business end, saw the problem, turned lever #2— and dammed up formula blasted my netted face, hair, hat, and shirt. Gasping, I fumbled for the hose lever and turned the wretched thing off.

Oh, jeez: not again!

Now, normally I can laugh at myself. (One-trial learning, for me, usually takes two trials.) But now, fuming, I hurled the hose and bottle thingy down and hopped around, dripping formula. I tossed netting and hat away, and punished the air with clenched fists, unnerving the neighbor cat, who crept away. Lordy, I was mad. At me.

I had just enough functioning brain to remember that I live in a beehive. Neighbors are close, and can see and hear everything. I certainly didn’t want to call attention to this humiliation, so my rant happened in pantomime.

Here’s the last straw part of this dumb-Dee-dumb dumb comedy.

I’d flung my hat onto a little patch of cranebill geraniums. When I snatched it back, plopped it on my head and began to stomp off, hat and hair buzzed. Somebody was freaking out under there. Awww…. This was the ultimate silliness. There was actually a bee in my bonnet! Which, like my hair, was formula-sozzled. Which made the insect mad. It wanted out. NOW. Or it would inject a pointed reminder.

Hastily I tossed the hat again: the disgruntled bee buzzed off. Lucky me! He’d been too shocked to stab his barbed hinder into my hot head.

“Whoa,” I muttered. “Enough with stomping fits, you silly twit.” I crept into the house, shed my soggy clothes and showered the mistake away. My face still flamed from residue embarrassment. Why are levers so compelling?

A. I see one.

C. I turn it.

I always skip B, which is: think, for just an instant, first.

But, searching for a pony in the poop, I clung to two facts: I hadn’t chosen fish emulsion this time, and—mouth firmly shut, I hadn’t swallowed the stuff. Did these truths demonstrate a rising learning curve? Maybe.

It was small comfort…