Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Quick Look Back Before Fall

Attention must be paid to the small pleasures, the day-to-day events that cause a frisson of joy. Here are a dozen of my momentary pleasures from the past couple of weeks. Take time to make note of yours.

1. Knowing that less than two weeks ago I walked to the top of Angel Island, which is 788 feet high. Here’s a quick history lesson from the web site:

·      Three thousand years ago Angel Island served as a fishing and hunting site for Coastal Miwok Indians. It was later a haven for Spanish Explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala, a cattle ranch, and a U.S. Army post starting with the Civil War.

·      From 1910 to 1940, the island processed hundreds of thousands of immigrants, the majority from China. During World War II, Japanese, and German POWs were held on the island, which was also used as a jumping-off point for American soldiers returning from the Pacific. In the ’50s and ’60s, the island was home to a Nike missile site.

·      In 1954 a number of citizen’s groups managed to persuade the California State Park Commission to obtain 36.82 acres. In 1962 the Nike missile site on the south side of the island was deactivated, and the army left the island. In December of that year, the entire island was turned over to the State of California.

The view from the top was splendid, maybe especially so because I am a mermaid, at home in, on and near water – not a mountain goat.

I’m not at all skilled at hiking up (or down) steep, muddy, rutted trails littered with twigs and rocks, but I grabbed my walking stick and followed my family to the top. My son and daughter-in-law took turns walking with me, just in case I missed a step and plummeted down the hill. Along the way, we heard a woodpecker, saw hawks hovering on wind drafts and watched a snake crossing the road.

2. Making time to take inventory of “perfect gifts for someone” that I have stored in boxes and bags in the back of the closet.

3. Finding Sandy Wood’s great jewelry web site at

4. Discovering that Moscow Mules are not named for mules from Moscow, Missouri – though that would have been cool --and tasting for the first time another ginger beer-based beverage at Dosa, a favorite Indian restaurant.

5. Interviewing Julie Salamon, the charming author of the new biography on Wendy Wasserstein, playwright extraordinaire.

6. Sleeping with the window open – it’s summer at last here in San Francisco!

7. Seeing the compelling movie “Love Hate Love” at the Jewish Community Center.

8. Cleaning off my desk and clearing out enough files to fill a grocery bag for the recycling bin.

9. Watching little girls (and a 36-year-old man) enjoy an inflated  “jumpy house” at a 6-year-old’s birthday party.

10. Being drawn into the world (and heart) of Brian Copeland at his show “Not a Genuine Black Man.”

11. Hearing the physical therapist say my body is working better than ever, one full month after my last appointment.

12. Welcoming the Fall Equinox with new insights about my work life.   

Friday, September 9, 2011

Water, Water, Everywhere, and You Get Fries With That

Hypnotism. That seemed like a good way to put behind me a rowdy week of happy/sad/regretful/eager emotions and plenty of work. Who does hypnotism best?

The ocean.

I stuffed a sweatshirt, a windbreaker, a hat, sunscreen, water and a book in my splendid huge “Moby” tote bag (courtesy of Gail, re-gifted from the Encore Network, which just aired a new version of Melville’s masterpiece), grabbed my beach chair (courtesy of P&J) and climbed in the car. 

I did not go alone. Fortunately, Luciano Pavarotti is always on call in the car’s CD player. I ordered “Che Gelida Manina.” With Pavarotti’s magnificent voice lifting me ever higher, the two of us set off for the sea.

The journey was not long. After years of just dreaming about it, I now actually live less than four miles from the Pacific Ocean. From my living room window, I could see the fog hanging over Ocean Beach, but as grownups all know, we take whatever weather we get.

At the beach, I set up my chair, donned the pale green sweatshirt as well as the navy blue windbreaker and pulled the bright orange hat low over my ears. Few people were on the beach – though one person was “sunning” himself in shorts and a tank top in the brisk wind. A woman walked by, barefoot, taking a business call on her cell.

The water was slate gray. The water was deep blue. The water was pale green. The waves rolled in, over and over, stealing sand, returning it to the bottom of the sea.

For a few minutes, the wind made my eyes teary. When they dried, I noticed a cluster of gulls, a dozen or more birds, huddled a short distance away. All of a sudden, they rose into the sky, where they were joined by at least three dozen other gulls, all whirling and calling and carrying on. After a few minutes, some of them landed close to my chair while the rest flew off.

What do gulls talk about when they hang out at the beach?

Just after I imagined a humpback whale breaching out beyond the surfers (it could happen), I imagined the gulls debating who in town has the best French fries.

“I prefer the truffle-oil fries from the Cliff House,” said one gull. “Sometimes you find them in the sand behind the trash bin.”

“Truffle oil? That’s nuts,” said another. “Give me the garlic fries at the ballpark any day. Truffle oil is just too fussy for me.”

A voice piped up, “I really like the sweet potato fries at Mel’s, and Burger Meister does them well, too.”

That was me. Talking to sea gulls. About French fries. The birds did not reply. Soon, a huge crow came along to pick a fight with a gull, and they all left together.

The hypnotic rhythm of the sea calmed me. I forgot about deadlines. I forgot about politics. I forgot about chaos and confusion and hate, all present in the world but no more permanent than a wave breaking on shore. It’s all real but it’s not real, too. All of it is like passing clouds. (I learned that in a Tai Chi class.) I looked up to admire some passing clouds. All I saw was thick fog.

The waves rolled in, over and over, the roar of the water filling my ears. Fully relaxed, I fell asleep. On the beach. In a blue jacket and an orange hat, sitting upright in a chair.

No one cared. Certainly not the Pacific Ocean, which had yet to notice that I was there. Or even to notice that I exist at all. I love that about the sea.

The wind was up again, and my eyes were damp. I said goodbye to the whales, the sharks, the molas, the translucent jellies – everything you don’t see when you stare at the sea. I said goodbye to the waves, which kept rolling in.

When I returned to the car, I requested that Pavarotti sing “Nessun Dorma.” He did. Three times. 

It was hypnotic.