Archive for the 'Change of life' Category

Feeling mortal

According to Merriam-Webster, the word mortal means causing or having caused death. After the events of the last seven days, I more fully understand what it means.

When I was younger, I played a silly game with myself. I’d think of my age and calculate the percentage of my life still ahead of me. For example, when I was twenty-five, I figured I’d live to the conservative age of seventy-five. So, I still had two-thirds of my life to live. It was comforting.

When I was fifty, I figured I had used up two-thirds of my probable seventy-five-year sojourn on this planet.  Since I was not a believer in the afterlife or of a micro-managing deity, it gave me little comfort to feel closer to the end than the beginning.

I’ll be eighty in a couple of months. And I no longer play that game.

When I was much younger and working for a living, I’d, more often than not, be the youngest person in the weekly staff meeting. Now younger people offer to carry groceries to my car in the Von’s parking lot, others hold open the door for me at the athletic club, and I’m always respectfully addressed as “sir.”

Last week I was driving up Sulphur Mountain Road to my house in the Upper Ojai. It had rained earlier in the day and the bone-chilling combination of high humidity and low temperature made me shiver. Even the car heater wasn’t good enough. The thick, dark cloud cover added to the dank conditions that were usually only found in Dracula movies starring either Bela Lugosi or Gary Oldman.

About a quarter-mile from my driveway, the road was partially blocked by three police cars and a troop of officers. They seemed on break, just standing idly by with their hands in their pockets, as though waiting for something to happen. I slowed the car and stopped alongside the patrol cars. And one other car that looked strangely familiar.

My neighbor Ron’s sons, Eric and Max, walked toward me. I rolled down my window and asked what was going on. Eric said “That’s my father, lying on the shoulder, covered by the yellow plastic tarp. He died here about thirty minutes ago.”

You’ve probably felt like this before. Someone says something that is so incongruous that, at first, you don’t fathom its meaning. Then it sinks in and, depending how close you’ve been to those involved, you experience some level of shock.

Ron had been our good neighbor for nearly twenty years. We had eaten together, shared stories at neighborhood parties and helped each other overcome life’s roadblocks. An inveterate and former pipe smoker, Ron had been ill for some years and his death was ordained. Nevertheless, its abrupt end on the muddy shoulder of the road he had traversed hundreds of times was unexpected. I thought he might go on indefinitely, despite the lung disease that eventually brought him to ground. I’ll miss him.

Earlier that same day, I had attended the weekly creative writing class at Help of Ojai. For many months, I’ve spent Thursday mornings listening to the stories, poems and life experiences crafted by a dozen or more gifted writers. I also offer my own brand of writing to those who are kind enough to listen. The two-hour weekly session ends with a sometimes agonizing quest to identify a restaurant that eight or more of us can abide. It’s a challenge that, at times, is more difficult than getting past the constructive criticism leveled at us by the incisive, grammatically correct class participants.

Creatures of habit, most of us regularly occupy the same seats at the large, square table, unless one is tardy and confronted by a full house. I sit next to Johan who generally is one of the first people to arrive.  Reared in South Africa, Johan offers insights into a country that only a native can tell. In truth, his writing is occasionally difficult to warm to and he is often bestowed with criticisms that are well-meant but which can also be disheartening. His ability to absorb these barbs is often tested, and I find myself caring for his fragile ego.

Last Thursday I found myself confronted by an empty chair on my right that is normally staked out by Johan. About ninety, his absence due to a cold or minor ache or pain would normally be unremarkable. Nevertheless, I did feel an eerie vacuum created by the empty chair. I missed his repartee, his signature hat and his cellphone that seemed to have a mind of its own, demonstrating it every so often by interrupting various readers with its strident, irreverent sound. At times, I thought Johan would strangle the offensive device. We ended our class and trooped to Ca’Marco for lunch…without Johan.

The next day, Friday, I arrived at Help of Ojai for my morning bus driving shift. Tina, a delightful woman who schedules the bus trips, said “I’m sorry about Johan.” My first thought was that he had been struck down by the flu or some other malady that laid him low, maybe even hospitalized. After telling Tina that I didn’t know anything about Johan, she told me that he had passed away the day before. I immediately visualized the empty chair and said, “I just sat next to him last Thursday.” And I thought, how could something like this happen so quickly, without so much as a by-your-leave. Without warning, a last good-bye, or another reading of the 123rd paragraph of his novel.

The passing of Ron and Johan on the same day caused me to focus on my own mortality. I suppose that’s normal. To measure your years alongside theirs. To think about the fickleness of death. To realize that life is fragile. To cause us to seize the opportunity, that we might otherwise delay if we were immortal. But, blessedly, our mortality brings with it the urge, even if momentarily, to do before we cannot. To love with all our heart. To be loved.

Maybe I’ll start that counting game again.

Pot Parade

You’ve come a long way, baby.

When I was much younger, the thought of smoking pot was very exciting. That I might be arrested and jailed for possession of the forbidden substance made it an adventure. Keeping it secret from friends and relatives only added to the enjoyment of what was, at most, a once a year habit…I swear.

My buddy Ralph and I would enjoy a joint and, when we had more time for the body to recognize the drug, ingest it baked in a brownie. I remember the first time we ate one of the forbidden desserts. We were sprawled on the floor of his den waiting for our stomachs to absorb the drug and deliver it our brain.  After ten minutes, I said “I feel nothing.”

“Me neither” he agreed. Twenty minutes later, as we were about to call it a day, I said “I feel a itty-bitty tingle in my left elbow.” And then the world turned itself on for us.

Once legally unavailable at all, clearer heads eventually prevailed, and the drug was provided to those who could conjure up a medical prescription. Thankfully, California voters in 2018, having seen the light, legalized the sale and consumption of pot, weed, grass, dope, herb, reefer and joints. As expected, a raft of regulations accompanied the burgeoning pot parade.

The California Bureau of Cannabis Control is largely responsible for promulgating and enforcing the regulations. The first paragraph of the regulations gives you some idea of what’s in store for anyone wishing to make a legal buck supplying the masses with the mind-altering substance…

  • A temporary license is a conditional license that authorizes the licensee to engage in commercial cannabis activity as would be permitted under the privileges of a non-temporary license of the same type. A temporary licensee shall follow all applicable rules and regulations as would be required if the licensee held a non-temporary license of the same type. (b) A temporary license does not obligate the Bureau to issue a non-temporary license nor does the temporary license create a vested right in the holder to either an extension of the temporary license or to the granting of a subsequent non-temporary license.

The first dozen pages of the regulations are devoted entirely to guiding one through the arduous process of filling out an application to sell weed. Notwithstanding the not insignificant regulatory obstacles thrown in the path of anxious sellers-to-be, the demand for licenses has surged ahead with as much determination as one seeking cheap tickets to Hamilton, the musical.

There are now three pot dispensaries in Ojai. All are located on Bryant Street along with the humane society, a self-storage facility, a veterinary hospital, a fitness center and a clandestine mobile home park. If we could coax Trader Joe’s to take up residence, one might never need to leave the cozy confines of Bryant Street.

On Saturday, Jackie and I were finishing up a $43 lunch of two salads and an order of fries at Ojai’s newest touchy-feelie restaurant when she said, “It’s such a nice day. Why don’t we walk over to Bryant Street and visit one of the pot palaces.” Excitedly throwing caution to the wind, I quickly ate my last fry that I had dipped in something that pretended to be mayonnaise and leapt to my feet, ready to take on a brave new world.

No one walks down Bryant Street on Saturdays. It has no views, no trees, no sidewalk and a host of buildings that look like temporary facades put in place by a Hollywood movie crew. A perfect place to hide a pot dispensary from public view.

We arrived at 408 Bryant Circle, Unit C, the home of the Sespe Creek Collective. Unassuming from the outside, I entered expecting to find a host of shoeless young people adorned with pierced noses, eyelids and other desecrated body parts. Tattoos were sure to be front and center. Harleys were certain to be their conveyance of choice.

We found ourselves in a waiting room overseen by a very large security guard, and two normal appearing people seated behind a desk. The large guard asked me to remove my hat so that the overhead cameras could have a clear view of my smiling face. I fully expected to find myself emblazoned on a wanted poster in the next episode of HBO’s True Detective.

The acceptance process included electronic registration into Sespe’s database. No more hiding from the Feds for me. Anonymity was no longer an option. I was sure that a call for my apprehension would soon deliver the FBI to my Upper Ojai doorstep.

We waited for a few minutes. A door opened and a smiling young woman greeted us with “Hi. I’m Cathy and welcome to Sespe Creek. Come with me and I’ll give you a tour of the dispensary.” We entered a showroom that was modern, clean and tidy. A dozen customers milled about. Of various ages, none sported visible tattoos or extraordinary skin punctures. In short, they looked a lot like us.

A myriad of products met our gaze. I must have looked as wide-eyed as the kids who entered Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Paying close attention to Cathy, I learned that there are two basic types of compounds produced by the cannabis plant. One is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which is the substance ingested by Ralph and me that produced various flights of fancy as we sprawled on the floor of his den. The other, CBD (cannabidiol) has no hallucinogenic properties and therefore no fun; it does, however, have purported medical benefits.

Impressed by Cathy’s abundant fact base and hoping for some improvement to my left knee, I bought some CBD infused salve that promised to reduce pain and swelling. But just in case the salve didn’t work, I bought some THC infused mind-altering bite sized licorice packed in really cool individual wrappers.

Cathy took my credit card like any other establishment would and placed my goodies in a cute paper bag that was imprinted with various cautionary statements that I dismissed out of hand. Happily, we left the facility looking forward to using our new-found goodies.

Here’s hoping my knee aches.

I’m a fiance

Taken from the French, the word fiancé is the masculine term for a man who is engaged to be married. A fiancée (note the double e) is a woman who has chosen a similar fate.

I haven’t been a fiancé for almost sixty years since dear Ila and I linked our lives together. It feels a little strange and a bit lofty at my age to be calling myself a fiancé. So I thought there must be another term that means the same thing but would slide more easily off my tongue than “Hello, I’m Fred and this is my fiancée Jackie.”

According to Wikipedia, being engaged is not the same as dating. During this period, a couple is said to be betrothed, intendedaffiancedengaged to be married, or simply engaged. “Hello, I’m Fred and this is my betrothed, Jackie.” Or “Hello, I’m Fred and this is Jackie. We are intended.” Nope. Just doesn’t work.

I shared my new status with my bereavement group at Help of Ojai. When asked if anyone had anything to share with the group, I quickly said “I’m engaged.  And my fiancee’s name is Jackie.” The faces of those sitting around the table gave me cause for celebration. I asked if I sounded awkward saying fiancé. I was assured that I had done it well and could lay to rest my fear of using the term.

You may recall that I had the same difficulty finding a term that described our status before Jackie and I were engaged. Back then it was a toss-up between partner, sweetheart, significant other, beloved and lover. We have managed to live through that awkward period without significant damage. and I’m sure we’ll do the same while coping with uttering fiancé or fiancée.

The question most often asked after someone congratulates me for being engaged is “So when’s the wedding?” After some hesitation, I generally say something cute like one small step for mankind or you’ll be the second to know. According to my sources, the length of an engagement varies widely. The longest engagement on record was between Octavio Guillan and Adriana Mart¡nez. They finally took the plunge after 67 years in June, 1969 in Mexico City. Hopefully, they had time to consummate the marriage before one of them invoked the phrase until death us do part.

The ring also plays a significant role in engagements. The tradition dates back to the ancient Egyptians when a ring was thought to symbolize eternity. It was worn on the ring finger which was believed to have a vein running directly to the heart, later named vena amoris. Second century Romans believed that a ring signified the ownership of the woman.

The first recorded use of a diamond engagement ring occurred when Archduke Maximilian proposed to Mary of Burgundy. The diamond ring craze began in earnest when Cecil Rhodes founded DeBeer’s in the late 1800s. Pricey, but probably better than the early caveman who tied cords of braided grass around his chosen’s hands, wrists and waist to bring the hussy under his control.

We spent time looking for the perfect ring. And we found it in a small jewelry store in Santa Barbara. More a storeroom than a store, Tuon, the owner, made us feel confident that he could bring off the pairing of a diamond with a setting that did it justice.

Anxious to get the ring on Jackie’s finger before Thanksgiving, I called Tuon weekly. “Not to worry, it will be done”, Tuon assured me. His text on the Monday afternoon before Thanksgiving said “Come to the store Tuesday morning. I have what you seek.” Jackie had a full day at school Tuesday and gave me license to pick up the ring without her. I protested, ”But what if you don’t like it?”. Fearless as always, she sent me on my way.

It gleamed. It was perfect. It was her. I took a photo and sent it to Jackie’s iPhone. Her priceless shrieking told me we had done good. I unwound and took a deep breath. One small step…check.

Tuesday night seemed an appropriate time to formally propose and present the ring. I added a Where’s Waldo tie to my outfit that included tennies, a  tee-shirt and worn Levi’s. I knelt at her feet and said “Please do me the honor of marrying me. She giggled, put the ring on her finger and said with that twinkle in her eye “Yes I will.” Another small step…check.

No one has yet asked me “Why did you decide to get engaged.” I’ve thought about it. Jackie and I have spoken of it frequently. It’s not some crazy idea that just popped out. I am nearly eighty, some sixteen years older than sweet Jackie. Should I depart this world at ninety-five, Jackie will be my current age. I’ve tried to mentally list the reasons why I want to be engaged. After all, there are lots of people who live together happily without marriage. Maybe nearly sixty years with Ila left me with the belief that if you love someone, marriage is the logical conclusion.

I don’t think that logic is a vital component in the decision to marry. If we base it on logic, the odds seem to be arrayed against marriage. No, I think it’s simpler than that, perhaps genetic. Perhaps it’s like that caveman with the braided reeds who understood that a lasting relationship includes the warmth, the sharing and the relative certainty of marriage.

Time to work on a guest list.`

Home for sale

My home has been for sale for almost four months.

I had an offer two days after it was listed. But it fell through and left me disappointed. Then someone from Los Angeles made a sight-unseen offer that was contingent on getting a County permit to keep a rhinoceros on the property. I should have known right then that selling this house was going to be long,  tough and occasionally crazy.

I have mixed emotions about selling. Ila and I built the house almost twenty years ago. The grandkids grew up loving it.  Granddaughter Bella, now twenty and statuesque, was four when she swam in the decorative fountain. A mean feat considering it’s only eighteen inches deep and four feet in diameter. Grandson Isaac, now completing his senior year in college, became a champion bocce ball player on what was once an expanse of cool, green lawn. Grandson Morey, born prematurely around the time of the Northridge earthquake, became a capable photographer using the surrounding mountains as a majestic backdrop.

Holidays were celebrated at the house. Our friends and relatives made full use of the spare bedrooms. The kids, in turn, began inviting their friends to spend long weekends. We became de facto bed and breakfast providers, enjoying every minute of it. Smiles on the faces of our guests were payment in full. Navigating the winding, narrow road up the mountain to a place of natural beauty was never a problem for young hearts and bodies.

When we built the house, some eight miles from the center of Ojai, we thought that our trips to town would be limited to once a week. We thought that the seclusion and serenity of the house would more than compensate for the loss of daily exposure to people and city sounds. But we soon found that we missed the hustle bustle, and our visits to town turned from weekly to daily. We enjoyed the trips, filled with companionship and the beauty of what nature had set before us as we traveled through the Upper Ojai, down the winding Dennison Grade, through the East End and, finally, Ojai itself.

Aging was inevitable and limiting. The kids had busy lives to lead. The grandkids grew into young men and women. Our friends found it increasingly difficult to make the long trip from distant points. Painfully, Ila became ill and entertaining became a thing of the past.

Then Ila died and I was alone. What once had been a home with living sounds was now a place where my companions were the intermittent gardeners and housekeepers. The UPS man was a welcome visitor. Any human face was a welcome sight. Music streamed as my constant companion. I invented reasons to drive to town, sometimes two or three times a day. Even though I had exercise equipment in the house, I joined the athletic club where my 7am visits to the treadmill became a daily event; no exceptions for weekends. Familiar faces and bodies brightened my day. I was loath to drive home and confront the sounds of silence.

I met Jackie who lived in a pretty, oak shaded home in the Arbolada, not three minutes from Java and Joe, Rainbow Bridge and the other sights that make a town what it is. Her home, like her, was petite and well organized. Instead of three bathrooms, it had but one that we somehow managed to navigate without bumping into each other. My time there was in sharp, welcome contrast to what I had known during the last twenty years.

Jackie’s visits to my home increased. She loved the house with its spacious surroundings. Her face beamed from the pillow on the king size bed. Her smallness under the covers was beautiful and she was immersed in the pleasures of the big room and the views of the grand Topa Topas.

She often spoke of her comfort in the larger home. How she felt relaxed, unhurried, without a care in the world. How we might have yoga retreats in the great room and entertain in the oversized kitchen. We would open the home to those who might need a bit of help as they looked for more permanent space. Others would come just to see the place, stay overnight, and bond in the atmosphere created by the mountain views, hundreds of oak trees and the sounds unavailable in town.

During these musings I often considered cancelling the sale of the property. Make it a home again, with a lovely, vibrant woman as my partner. Creating a new purpose for the home and for us. And then, sadly, reality would end these fanciful dreams. The attraction of in-town living, her own home that she loved so much, and a distance too far were too strong. We repeated this stage play often, with the same results. And perhaps it was meant to be. An episode of my life coming to an end. A new beginning. And a treasure named Jackie.

My home is for sale. Come see it. It’s perfect for you…if you have a poodle instead of a rhino.


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