Posts Tagged ‘1989’

The carpet tack story

August 26, 2013

I’m terrified of carpet tack, which I once lost a fight with, and which is now exposed around the perimeter of my living room.

Our new house, which we’ve lived in a little more than a year, is tacky and gross. The elderly women who sold it to us probably considered it chic, but its day has passed.

The window dressings and wallpaper make the biggest early-’60s statement, but the carpet may be the oldest thing in the house.

For the first month we lived here my son said, “It smells like old people.”

Like teenage boys smell good.

In fall I brought a kitten home from the grocery store for my son. It peed in the living room. Fine, cut that corner of the carpet out.

In June my daughter chose a kitten from the pound for her birthday. By the beginning of August our living room carpet was half missing. Not half all together, mind — half cumulatively.

Before my birthday party I made the kids pull it up from the whole room. There’s a nice wood floor under there. And tack strip.

Here’s why I’m terrified of it.

I was running late for work at the ’50s restaurant shortly after I had flooded my parents’ house. Tack strip lined the threshold between the living room and the enclosed porch I had stashed my uniform in.

As I ran by, I sliced open the bottom of my right foot, long and clean.

My grandmother took me to the emergency room. There was a lot of waiting. We played Scrabble together, but then I was alone with my thoughts after they led me into the exam room.

This is when I began to consider what would happen when I finally saw a doctor. He was going to want to stitch me with a needle.

Oh nuh-uh.

I tried to leave.

First my grama, then the doctor caught me before I made it past the desk.

I argued. “I changed my mind. I’m fine. It’s so silly. I don’t know why I came. I’m sure I overreacted.”

They probably thought I was in shock. “As long as you’re here, let’s have a look.”

More arguing. I lost that fight too.

“I need to stitch this.” Knew it.

“No, thank you.”

“No, really. You’ve sliced it clean open. Everytime you step, even if you tiptoe, you’ll re-open it as it tries to heal.”

“That’s OK.” I grabbed my purse. “I have to go to work now. I won’t step on it.”

“What do you do?” I was a hula-hooping dancing waitress. I had to wear saddle shoes. He didn’t think much of my good sense.

In the end, I was 19, and he could not make me get stitches. I stayed off my foot as much as possible, and it healed fine and quickly.

It didn’t even scar me, unless you count my fear of tack strip.

How I ended up in journalism

June 14, 2013

I promised to tell you about how I threw over The Hot Guy for The Smart Guy. I have to get to it, because on July 26 I have a story about us, and you should have been introduced to him by then.

Let’s recap what we have so far of my post-high school adventures: I worked as a hula-hooping singer at a ’50s place until a former customer saw me in public and offered me a job at a college where a Hot Guy came in asking for paperwork for a semester in Mexico, which I had never heard of but said I was doing, too.

So there I was, living in Mexico based on the lie that I could speak Spanish. I lived with a family there. I was a student at the Universidad de Guanajuato.

Every morning we rode an open-air bus over the cobbled streets to the university. All of us Californians got picked up along the same route.

There was a panaderia next to the school, where several of us would buy bolillos fresh out of the oven. I remember standing in that bakery in the overcast of the mornings, breaking my bolillo in half so I could shove my face into the steam and aroma.

In Mexico, papaya juice is their orange juice. They use what’s labeled here as sweet butter — there’s no salt in it. And when you order cheese on something, you get a white, crumbly goat cheese. I didn’t like any of these things, but I liked bolillos.

From the panaderia we tackled the stairs to our classrooms. I counted them once, and wish I had written down the number. There were more than 100. First there were the wide steps to get into the building, which you can see a picture of in Photos O’ Mine. Then there was a series of short switchback stairs we took to the top tower, about six stories up.

It was on those switchbacks I lost my heart.

There was a guy with unruly hair and tragically matched clothing who went up ahead of me. I always made sure I was behind him, so I could smell his cologne. I go weak in the knees for Polo. The Hot Guy smelled like cigarettes.

By the time we were loaded on a bus for a weekend in Guadalajara, I had completely lost interest in The Hot Guy. I made a point of sitting by the guy from the stairs for the six-hour ride.

He was wearing green denim pants and a turquoise sweater vest.

He had a gentle voice and kind manners. He told me interesting things and laughed at my stories. When we ran out of conversation I read aloud to him from my Katherine Stone novel. We got so engrossed in the story, that when all the kids went out dancing that night, we stayed back to finish the book.

This smart guy had become much hotter than The Hot Guy.

I loved being around him. By the time we were back in Guanajuato we were together all the time. We knew each other’s favorite things.

He had been a writer for his school’s newspaper. “Me too!” I said, which was true insofar as two of my St. Patrick’s Day entries won the limerick contest and were published.

As the summer grew short, I got worried. He had been accepted to Stanford, and would be moving there from Laguna Niguel a month after we returned. That was far from me. I began to send him telepathic messages to ask me to go with him. Ultimately he learned my hope when we wrote entries in each other’s diaries. He asked.

Back in the States he showed me the newspapers he had been a part of. I was inspired. When I enrolled for the fall semester, I joined the staff.

This story picks back up with The Earthquake story. After that quake, The Smart Guy, along with many others, suffered from depression. He cut me loose out of guilt for bringing me down, which broke my heart.

Then in spring I was sent to Hawaii….

The Smart Guy is now running Yahoo!

Click here for photo

How I came to learn Spanish

February 9, 2013

I once was a long-term substitute in a Spanish class. I can speak the language pretty well, but most of the words surprise me by sight. I often say, “Is that what that word looks like? I would have spelled it completely differently.”

This is because I have never studied the language.

When I was 19 I worked in the office of a college. How I came to work in that office is a whole story in itself. I will tell it soon.

One afternoon the Hot Guy I had been trying to figure out how to meet walked in to ask for an application packet for a semester in Mexico.

“I’m going on that,” I said. I had never heard of this program.

I went to my mom and gave her one of the packets to sign. She didn’t even lift a brow, which makes me wonder how she stood me.

She said, “It says you have to be able to speak Spanish. You checked ‘Yes.’ ”

“I’ll figure it out by June. I took French in junior high.”

She signed the form and wrote a check. It was mid-March.

How cool is this? I called my grama to tell her about my upcoming trip, and by bedtime my grandparents, two of their friends and I had plane tickets for spring break in Mexico — a 10-day crash course on location.

My grandparents both spoke Spanish fluently. This is how they communicated when they didn’t want their kids to know what they were saying.

We went to Mexico City, San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque.

We saw ancient pyramids recently discovered underneath forests, with hidden sarcophagi. We hitched a ride to a village on a sideless VW bus, and when we got there we met a woman making tortillas on the ground and children who had never seen sunglasses. At night we ate fresh blueberry pancakes from a vendor with a griddle on wheels outside a cathedral.

I learned Spanish by hanging out with children trying to sell me little things they made. I taught them some songs, and they taught some to me.

Before I left, I gave a little girl my sunglasses.

By June I spoke broken Spanish, but I could make myself understood. I was able to survive living with a family and attending the university there.

I dumped the Hot Guy after a week for the Smart Guy. That’s another story too.

link to photos

The homeless guy story

January 21, 2013

Starbucks is running a new campaign, inspired by President Obama’s call for service. If you pledge five hours of community service of any kind, you get a free coffee.

Here’s my first experience with community service. It was unplanned.

When I lived in the Bay Area, I drove into San Francisco to meet a friend after work. My friend worked in a fancy hotel. Though I lived a few minutes from The City, I avoided it because of the homeless. It tormented me. I couldn’t sleep at night when it was cold for thinking of them.

So I grimaced when my friend said he wasn’t off yet. There was a man with a guitar and a turned-up hat sitting on the sidewalk by the hotel entrance, where I was to wait.

He sounded pretty good.

I stood there a minute trying not to be noticed, but he shouted at me. He wanted to know my name.

He wrote an impromptu song about my beauty. This was his shtick, but it wasn’t very effective, based on the coins in his hat.

I didn’t have any money to give him. So on top of the pity, I had guilt.

Out of panic, I asked if he knew ‘Proud Mary.’ I thought I was brilliant. I was distracting him from noticing I wasn’t giving him money.

“Do you?” he asked. Shoot. Don’t insult me. “Sing with me,” he said.

So I sat on the ground next to him, backs against the wall, and said, “Left a good job in the city….”

We made more than a hundred bucks.

The earthquake

January 9, 2013

I live in Southern California. Last night we had a lengthy earthquake, and both of my children were somewhere else. It was a small quake — initially reported as a 5, then downgraded to  4.5 — but still the phone lines were clogged for a few minutes. Because of this realization, I was more afraid after the quake than during.

Naturally, I have an earthquake story.

It was October 17, 1989, and I had just been named the news editor of my college newspaper in Los Altos Hills, which is just south of San Francisco.

I was in a happy bubble as I drove home through the old-fashioned downtown at 5 o’clock. There were mom-and-pop shops with picture windows on both sides of the little streets. Knick knacks, ice cream, records — Los Altos is great for shopping.

Stop signs keep the cars moving slowly through the area, but the tailgating guy behind me was impatient. He would move to the side, as if to see if he could go around me. I remember I thought, ‘I’m a real journalist now. You can’t spoil my mood.’ But I knew he was angry.

At the third stop sign, I felt the car start to idle hard. This wasn’t unusual. Then it bucked a little, and I thought, ‘That guy got out of his car and started jumping on my bumper!’

As I turned around to scowl at him, I heard, ‘Get away from the windows!’ A woman ran out of a store into the street and stopped in front of me, holding her pre-teen daughter protectively under hunched shoulders. That’s the image I hold the strongest. That woman trying to shelter her daughter in panic.

I panicked too, trying to think if I had ever heard something like, turn off the engine or your car will explode; or roll down the windows or they’ll shatter. I thought it was The Big One I’d been advised to handle my whole life, and I couldn’t remember any of the advice. I shut off the engine and rolled down the windows.

I was one block from the intersection at the expressway, and I saw the asphalt there roll like an ocean wave, toppling the red-light signal as it changed to green and flickered out.

I had to drive around the downed signal to head into the mountains going home. That made me cry, but I didn’t understand why. I cried all the way home.

When I got there, I went directly to my phone — stepping over a bookcase, tapes, my little face-down TV — and called my parents. I was surprsied to get an open line. I kept my message brief because I knew the line would clog: I’m OK; I’ll call you tomorrow.

Then I called my paper’s managing editor. I was a journalist after all. ‘Mike, you’ll never guess what happened to me on the way home from your house! I’m heading to the campus.’

Mike argued with me, but I was a real journalist.

Finally he said, ‘Hey.’

‘What?’

‘Take your camera.’

It was a darn good thing he said that.

I interviewed and photographed students sitting on knolls, riding out the aftershocks removed from the danger of buildings. I captured the aisles of the library, piled feet high with books. I got some rubble that had been a chimney.

And then the sun went down.

I had never been in darkness so total. If I hadn’t had that camera, I don’t know how I would have found my car. I made the flash go off and took a step. I went flash-step all the way to my car. I must have been the last one on campus.

As I had expected, the phone was out by the time I got home. The couple whose basement I lived in lent me a lantern. They had a transister radio going upstairs, where they listened in silence as they swept up the remains of all their colored-sand art jars.

We learned it was a 7.1.

School resumed a few days later when the power came back, but on Oct. 18 the dedicated staff met unsummoned in the newsroom. We pulled out manual typewriters to put together a special edition.

Everybody wanted to tell his earthquake story. They probably still do. Me too, apparently.

I punched a guy

October 24, 2012

When my grandparents took me to Mexico, I got groped a couple times.

I learned something about myself. I’m slightly violent.

The first time, the guy brushed my chi chis too close and too long to be an accident.

Without thinking first I slapped his face, con fuerza.

He just kept smiling.

Two days later we were boarding a crowded bus for an open air art market. A Donny Osmond-looking passenger motioned me go first and said, “Pasa-le.”

I gave him a nod-smile with a ‘gracias’ and squeezed by. My eyes were ahead, but I felt a grope, in front, down low.

In a split second I had Donny sucking wind from my fist in his gut.

I saw my grandparents go through three rapid reactions — surprised, concerned, amused.

It wasn’t until we were at the market that we could recap. They shook their heads at me.

“Why did you punch that guy?”

“He touched me.”

“I don’t think so.”

They said he was sincerely shocked, confused even.

Down went the Welcome-to-Mexico sign.

I punched the wrong guy.

My mother’s nerves

September 21, 2012

I’ve just come home from an International Day of Peace banquet, at which my mother received the annual Citizen’s Action for Peace award.

She was so nervous she made herself sick, starting Friday.

Her award was presented after a three-and-a-half-hour program of speakers, music and dining.

She sat trembling in her seat, trying not to look at her plate of food, until her introduction, presentation and acceptance speech were behind her.

Then she grabbed a fork, relaxed and dug in.

She has always been like this. I’ve tried various methods of calming her over the years.

Once she was to sing a duet in church. It was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Pie Jesu.

She like to died waiting for the scripture reading to end.

Just as she was about to approach the microphone I said, “Hey Mom, do you know how to tell if a man is ticklish?”

“What? No.” She stood up. It was time.

“You give him a test tickle.”

I’m helpful.

click here for photo

I tried to get married in Mexico

July 26, 2012

Twenty years ago today The Smart Guy and I celebrated his 20th birthday by getting a little nutty.

We were living in Guanajuato, doing a semester at the university there, and getting excited about finding each other.

As we did every night, we hung out at a bar called ¿Donde?, drinking some things I can’t remember the name of. There was an upside-down shot glass full of tequila submerged in a rocks glass of beer. When the shot glass is lifted, the drinks blend and you drink it really fast. These were awful. I had lots.

The Smart Guy and I went wandering — read ‘staggering’ — among the old buildings and found ourselves in an ancient basilica.

“Let’s do it,” we said — read ‘slurred.’

There was a priest in there. At least, there was a man in there we assumed to be a priest. We asked him to marry us.

He refused on two grounds: We weren’t Catholic, and we didn’t have a marriage certificate. Our state of lucidity apparently had no bearing.

We were in love, though, we said. We tried to bribe him. We were a classy, pair, The Smart Guy and I.

The Father seemed to gather we weren’t going to leave, so he said some words in Latin and waved his arms ceremoniously to pacify us. He was translating an Eagles song for all we knew, but we were pleased and the Father was rid of us.

The next day we went out with all our exchange-student friends and fed each other cake.

At the time, none of this struck me as nutty. I’m glad for that.

Mike tried to get me in a catfight

June 20, 2012

Michael is here, waiting for my husband to take him to a lavender festival. I asked him what story I should tell today, and this is what he chose.

As with all my Uncle Mike stories, this one starts with “Mike and I were in a bar.”

We were sitting at a table with a friend we called Meatball when Mike recognized a woman sitting on a barstool.

He hatched a plan, “Go over to that woman,” he told me, “and ask her if her name’s Teri. Then poke her in the chest and tell her you’re going to kick her ass. Tell her you heard she was sleeping with your boyfriend.”

OK.

Teri was Amazonian. She was an athlete.

I was 5 foot 2, under 100 pounds, and I wouldn’t know how to make a fist.

“Then turn and point to me. I’ll smile and wave, and she’ll think it’s funny,” Mike said.

OK.

I went up to her hulking self and narrowed my eyes.

“You Teri?” I had to tip my head up to see her nod.

“I heard you’ve been sleeping with my man, and I’m gonna kick your ass!”

I turned aside to gesture to the table. There was Meatball, sitting alone and waving. She didn’t know from Meatball.

Uh-oh.

Thank goodness Michael knew she wouldn’t take the bait.

She said dismissively, “I probably am.”

I could have killed Mike, because I could’ve been killed.

My grampa cracked me up

February 10, 2012

When I was in San Cristobal de las Casas with my grandparents (see yesterday’s story), a little boy in a mariachi get up asked if I would pay him for a song.

He must have been 8 years old. He wore bottle-bottom glasses and carried a ukulele that practically hid him.

He sat next to me on a bench and performed La Bamba.

I had to turn my head so no one could see what a sap I am, getting teary over the sweetness of that little boy in the ridiculous hat.

When he left, Nana tsked, “He played in one key and sang in another.”

Grampa waxed taken-aback, “You think that’s easy?”

link to photos