Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Magnificent Folly

After posting this entry, I learned that women now have more access to the place than they had before, although they must still be accompanied by male members (with all other parts attached, I assume). I don't know how they feel about loose women, but there shall be no women on the loose running amok in the halls.

The Ingomar Club, nee the Carson Mansion, may be the most photographed building in the U.S. It was built in 1885 by lumber and railroad magnate William Carson from the eclectic and absurdly controversial design of a pair of San Francisco architects. Originally from the province of New Brunswick, Canada, Carson came to California to look for gold, and found redwood instead.

The last of his descendants to live in the Mansion moved out in 1940, leaving it vacant for 10 years. It was in danger of being demolished so that the property could be developed, but a group of local businessmen purchased the building for use as a private men’s club. They decided to call it The Ingomar Club after the theatre which Carson had constructed and named after his favourite play, “Ingomar the Barbarian”. Club members pay for maintenance and improvement of the building and its grounds. Fine dining can be had in the new boxy restaurant addition overlooking the Bay.

The purpose of the club is for the socializing and enjoyment of its male-only members. Initiation fees and dues are steep, entrance is allowed only to members and their guests, except on rare occasions women are forbidden, dress code is absolute. Within its walls, business fellows are hailed and well-met, wheels are dealed and deals wheeled, power is broked, movers and shakers of the community discuss their next move and how it will shake out.

The Penile Cupola

Periodically through the years women have tried to gain entrance…local businesswomen wanting membership and access to the inner circle…visiting notables wanting a tour of the building or a meal on the wrong day…Verboten! Not one angry, frustrated, little toe through the doorway.

We make up stories about the building and imaginary occupants. Its crazy, crenellated, Goth, bats-in-the-belfry exterior lends itself to tales of debauchery, bestiality, slavery and abuse, bondage and discipline days. The political secrecy of a Bohemian Club or Skull & Bones, the fantastic excess of a Disney castle, accessible as the Pope’s bedchamber, with overtones of Abu Ghraib. Reality, I am sure, is probably dry as toast, but what we’re not allowed to see, we can imagine any way we want. Although, actually, I have been inside – one Christmas party, one bank business reception, one luncheon. It’s very beautiful – full of wonderful wood – a magnificent playhouse.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Geezer Jihad

Low income seniors are growing in numbers even as their cost of living – the cost of existing, of affording a minimum of those things absolutely necessary for life – is overtaking their meager incomes.
The homeless elderly will be an increasingly important group as America ages in the next decade.


The Geezer Jihad is on the move to Washington, D.C.,
Marching onward, senior soldiers, in rows of two and three.
With their walkers and their wheelchairs, they should arrive at dawn,
Down Pennsylvania Avenue, and on to the White House lawn.

With their oxygen tanks and IV drips and orthopedic shoes,
They’re ready to wage a dirty war and they don’t intend to lose.
Their lap robes hide their arsenals of weapons of mass destruction -
A deadly store of missiles of their own design and construction.

No guns, no bombs, no tanks, no planes, no loss of life or limbs –
They’re armed with slings and ready to fling a barrage of used Depends.
Resistance will be useless. They’re prepared to stand their ground.
And if their demands will not be met…they’ll turn the White House brown.

As more and more of the old and poor are forced out onto the street,
Or share their cat’s food because it’s cheap and they’ve bills that they can’t meet,
Or do without meds that they need to live, but can’t afford to buy,
The powers that be pretend not to see, or ask, “Why don’t they just die?”

“Why should we have to pay for them? They’re not our responsibility.
They think because they’re old they’re entitled to financial priority!
It’s their own fault they’re in trouble – they didn’t make a plan.
Now their income doesn’t stretch, and they expect a helping hand!”

“Besides, it’s money we don’t have. It’s all going to Iraq.
Just what do they expect us to do? Bring the soldiers back?
They need to face the facts, tighten their belts, and live within their means.
It’s not like they need to go anywhere, and there’s a lot of protein in beans.”

“Goodwill clothes are good enough for bodies ugly and old;
If they layer on enough of them, they’ll hardly notice the cold.
And so what if their medications are more than they can afford?
Why should the rest of us pay for them? It’s time we cut the cord!”

So they’re out in force – a million man march of the old and the infirm,
They’re on parade, they’ll be seen and heard, and make the politicos squirm.
They’re limbering up their pitching arms, they’re not going to back off and quit.
They’re not going to take it any more; they’re throwing back the shit.

They’ve been living at the bottom end of a great national disparity,
But all that they ask is freedom from pain, a little comfort, and dignity.
And if you ask them how long it will take before they achieve their ends:
“It depends on whether they listen to us. If not, ……it just ……Depends.”

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Cautionary Tale

A man I know conducts a one-hour religious service at each of two local care homes, one of them on Saturday afternoon, one on Sunday. He is a good man with no illusions about himself and what he’s done in his life, very devout but with no religious arrogance. He is in his late 70s and still rides a motorcycle and pilots an ultra-light plane. His services are non-denominational, and include a couple of short readings, a brief talk, and lots and lots of music - simple well-known hymns, usually with repetitious words that can be followed easily by the residents who are able to or who try to sing along. Soothing to those who can’t.

He plays guitar or keyboard and sings lustily, assisted by 3, 4, 5 or so other volunteers playing musical instruments, or reading, or just singing along. A few of the residents come into the room on foot, maybe with walkers; most are in chairs – moveable beds – and are pushed in by staff. They are young and old, and of varying degrees of mental and physical incapacity. Disastrous births, illnesses, accidents, and infirmities of age have brought them here. They are waiting – for the next mealtime, for a diaper change or a bath, for the temporary diversion of new faces in the house, for the time when they can leave and go to someplace better.
I wrote a song for them – about "going home" some day. (Those who know me will recognize the incongruity of that.) When I sang it in my on key but cracked voice, most of the people seemed to enjoy it, and some even applauded. One woman wheeled her chair out of the room until I was finished. She’s a sharp, critical woman with angry eyes who always takes people to task for any misbehavior in the room. She usually likes me, and loves my hair. This day, she asks me who I am, and what I’m doing there. “You don’t impress me a bit!” she says.
I’m sitting alone on the piano bench when suddenly a little man on the other side of the room marches over and sits next to me. He wears his T-shirt tucked into his pants in that way that makes little old men look as if their waistband is up under their armpits. He sits up very straight with his hands folded in his lap. He announces, “I usually try to be normal, and fit in, but sometimes the Devil gets the best of me.” I tell him that he needs to send the Devil on his way, and he agrees. But I could be wrong - maybe this is the bit of a devil that makes life here bearable.
A younger man rolls his chair up next to the bench and the little man gets up and walks off. I don’t think it’s that he dislikes the other man – I sense a shift of power. The man in the chair tells me that he is 38, that he was beaten as a child, and that he went to a military school until he was 10 where they fed him so well that he grew to be over 7 feet tall and more than 300 pounds. When he left there, he grew small again. He smiles, happy to have an audience, and pleased to be able to repeat his story several times.
A frail, elderly woman asks me to tell her what the man just read, and what it means. I tell her that he said God loves her, which is basically what he did say, just longer. She wants me to hold her hand, which I do very carefully. Her hand is stiff, not pliable, her fingers and knuckles knotted and gnarled, her skin papery and thin and dry.
There is a young woman, severely damaged in mind and body, who has been in care all of her life. She makes loud noises, hits her head with her hand, and tries to overcome the brakes on her chair and inch her way up to the front to touch the man speaking. Another woman cries out, “Help me. Help me.” Is she in pain? Or is it an automatic and constant plea? There is a man in the corner who looks like Stephen Hawking – his features are the same, his body as bent. Periodically, he needs to be adjusted and boosted up again in his chair.
I recognize a man that I know. He does not recognize me. He sits erect, does not seem to be in pain, and smiles and nods pleasantly, but he is more disturbing than the rest of them. The others are as I have always known them. They were born in my consciousness fully-bloomed as they are now, as if they have always been this way. I remember this man when he walked and talked and worked and played and laughed and danced and loved. When he rode his motorcycle all across the country. He was different, and now he is not. This thing happened to him. It could happen to me. It could happen to all of us.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

A Stroll on the Beach

"Sea Horse"

About 15 miles north of town is Clam Beach. I’ve never gone clamming there, but I’ve walked it for miles, and we did it again.

Standing on the beach and looking east, you see a backdrop of thickly shrubbed and treed bluffs rising up on the other side of the highway. The thick vegetation helps to stabilize these bluffs, and protect them from the rain and ocean winds – a boon to houses sitting on top, on the edge, and just barely visible through the trees. The highway was cut through the dunes that sit as foothills to the bluffs, and it can’t be seen from here through the grassy sand hummocks on the beach side of the road. Little River flows alongside the dunes on its way to its mouth on down the beach a ways. A very little river, more like a creek.

Little River, the Dunes and the Bluffs

The beach itself is broad and sandy. We’re here at low tide, and follow along Little River, crossing the beach to the ocean at the river mouth to avoid the hot, hot sand on our bare feet. Even after numbing them in the cold ocean water, when we’re on our way back to the parking lot, it’s only enough to take us half way, and we run back to the water and walk all the way around again.

Across the Burning Sands

The Mouth of Little River

Many years ago, a friend and I watched a huge flock of small shore birds swooping and diving, zigging and zagging in 45 degree angled turns, dancing up and down the beach as these birds do – the entire flock moving as if thinking with a single brain. They raced away down the beach and then started back straight toward us, and just as we were ready to tuck and duck, they all flipped up and back so that the sun caught their white bellies with a thousand points of light. One of those small breathtaking moments that imprints forever on the back of your mind.

Today there are the usual seagulls and a couple of raptors up cruising the thermals. Two people on horseback are just starting out from the parking lot, and pass by the sheriff’s beach patrol vehicle coming back in. There are two large rutted circles cut into the wet sand by someone’s 4-wheel drive vehicle, but there is usually very, very little vehicle traffic on the beaches. Occasionally someone stupid will get stuck out here. Dune buggies are limited to their own small section of beach elsewhere.

Beach Traffic

Sand Circles

Lots of good ions in the ocean air. Breathe deep, let the wind blow your hair, curl your toes around the sand. Life is good. You can almost imagine there is nothing wrong with the world.

Where the Water Meets the Sky

Friday, July 6, 2007

In the Beginning - A Bedtime Story

Scientists have discovered water on Mars, and there is some speculation that at one time it might have been very similar to the Earth, its blue-green twin, full of life.

After centuries of pollution, deforestation, environmental neglect and destruction, the planet Mars had become more and more inhospitable to life. The Martian people were forced to crowd closer and closer together in shrinking pockets of habitable land, and the competition for control of the dwindling resources was fierce and violent. The creation and use of increasingly more deadly weapons not only decimated the population, but also further devastated the environment. Martian scientists turned their eyes to their sister blue-green planet - a twin pendant in the universe to their own former gemlike orb - in the hopes that it might prove livable.

Alas, as they dreamed of a plan for a mass migration of the Martian peoples to a new Utopia, another group of scientists was working on, and finally succeeded in building the ultimate weapon of destruction – the biggest bang ever.

Late one night, two objects launched simultaneously from two different areas of the planet’s surface and arced up into the atmosphere. One was a space ship manned by two intrepid volunteers - a test probe on a one-way trip toward that hopeful hunk of rock that was now orbiting as close to Mars as it would ever get.

As the ship broke free of the planet’s atmosphere, and headed out into the vastness of space, the second launched object turned back toward Mars and landed with an explosion and fallout that finally and totally obliterated every trace of life remaining on the planet. People, animals, plants, buildings, all turned instantly to fine powder – dust devils swirling about in the shock waves from the blast before settling down as part of the now bleak, completely empty landscape.

The two astronauts had some concern over the sudden loss of communication with their base, but had no choice but to carry on with their assigned duties and ensure their own safe journey to what would be their new home.

Three months later, the ship reached its destination and settled gently to Earth. The door opened, a ladder dropped, and astronauts Adam Goldberg and Eve Bernstein stepped out and climbed down to the ground. They tested the air and declared it good. With helmets off, they looked around, marveling at the lushness of the plant life with all manner of grasses, and herbs, and flowers, and shrubs, and trees.

Eve looked at the trees laden with fruit – fresh fruit! – and her mouth began to water. “Oy, Adam,” she said, “If you pick me some of those apples, I’ll make some blintzes. But be careful and don’t fall out of the tree and break a rib or nothin’. Oh, and first you better kill that snake over there. You can skin him and tan him later – he’ll make a nice belt for my green jumpsuit. And while I’m cooking, I’m gonna need you to.…………..”