What Did He Use to Do?

Every morning while I’m in Tucson, I get up early and walk the circuit of the 9-hole golf course, before the golfers get going.

I miss going to the gym first thing, but the walk takes 45 minutes and makes up in length what it lacks in intensity. Plus there are bunnies and quail everywhere. Birds sing. This morning I saw an owl. I also saw a spot where it looked like an owl had gotten a dove. Feathers scattered everywhere told the tale of a midnight scuffle.

Every morning, too, I see the same two guys, prepping the golf course for the day. This fellow does the raking of the sand traps and grooms the grass with his Zamboni-ish machine that creates those long stripes. He looks African to me, both in his face and the way he doesn’t look at me when I walk by. The other guy always says hello. He’s tall with silver hair and a golf course jacket. His job involves testing the putting greens and tees. Or tamping. Perhaps he both tests and tamps.

I wonder if working at a golf course is a good living. Probably it’s a better deal to be the tester/tamper than the raker/rider. Like most jobs, though, you likely have to start out as raker/rider guy.

It’s funny because so many people in this neighborhood are retired. Sometimes, when they talk about their friends, my folks will mention what people used to do. “Oh, she was a lawyer, you know. And he held political office.” At this time, though, they have no uniform that tips you off. They carry no briefcases, have no tell-tale packets of real-estate sell sheets. At the Starbucks, the retirees and vacationers stand out easily from the people heading to jobs.

I had a friend from Madrid many years ago and she commented on how odd she found it that Americans always ask each other what they do. She’s right – it’s among the first things people ask each other when first meeting. She thought it indicated that Americans define themselves by what they do for a living, where for the Spanish it means so little that they often have no idea what a person does for money.

So many of us writers have a dual answer to that question of what do we do. We say oh, my day job is ex, but I’m also an aspiring/freelance/well-published author. Sometimes we specify the day job, other times we leave it vague. It takes a while to fess up the writer part, too.

I like to think my raker/rider guy who never looks up is deep in thoughts about his painting or his poetry. The Zen of the golf course gives him time to think. He works early hours, then composes in the afternoons.

Or perhaps he hangs with his kids. Or has two other jobs. Maybe he breeds horses.

I’ll just make up my own story for him.


I’m in Tucson this morning. This photo is from my early morning walk around the golf course.

Me being suddenly in Tucson is why I didn’t post yesterday. I left early and flew here to surprise my mom for her birthday. My fabulous stepsister, Hope, who’s forever lurking on this blog and never saying anything, picked me up at the airport. She’d invited my mom to lunch, so when we met up at the restaurant, I just happened to be along, too.

Big surprise. Very fun. All went flawlessly.

I did try to post to the blog yesterday, anyway, but all I could think about was the impending surprise. I imagined it would come out something like this:

That’s right [birthday!]: write every [Tucson!] day. Write at [no, no – I’m not flying anywhere today. Ha! Ha! Yes, I am!] the same time every day [Surprise!] if you can. Set your rituals and follow them, ahem, religiously. [Oh, boy! I can’t wait!]

And then my mom would have read it and, well, all that subtext would have given it away.

So, today we’re off to play. Hope you all have a lovely weekend!

Believe You Me

I’m off this weekend to attend a wedding and have a bit of belated Christmas with my stepdaughter, son-in-law and grandbabies. So this is a post with a bit of fun. Something to lift the end of this sad week.

I haven’t mentioned, because everywhere you look there’s something about it, but the shooting in Tucson was just a few blocks from my mom’s house. A florist in that Safeway shopping center is where I bought her wedding flowers. My mom and stepdad voted for Gabby Giffords. My stepsister worked on her campaign. My mom first heard the news of the shooting because my older nephew called her in tears. My younger nephew will turn 9 in a few months – the same age as Christina Greene.

So close to home. And yet, as President Obama pointed out, this was close to home for all of us.

I hung onto this email my mom sent me back in November because I thought it would be interesting to share here. The first in this collection of old advertisements is great just for the stomach-turning sexism. Let me show you a workout with that feather-duster, buddy.

I remember seeing this series of Camel ads.

But then, you already knew how old I am.

What was great about this campaign was all the rationalizing about how Camels were the healthiest cigarette. This is like saying crack cocaine is less addictive than heroine.

Um, okay.

Actually, the yeast in beer is supposed to be good for milk production. But look how far the mindset on drinking during pregnancy has migrated.

Okay, you all know about the tapeworms in the diet pills, right? Tapeworms, an intestinal parasite that is still the scourge of many 3rd World countries, were distributed as diet pills. Little tapeworms eggs you could swallow so they’d take root in your digestive system and absorb all the nutrients while you waste away.

Note that these were Sanitized, however.

Makes all the difference.

This one has got to be my favorite. I just love how this growing teen needs SUGAR for energy.

Sugar swings!

Sugar’s got what it takes.

Serve some.

Serve it now.

And they say things don’t change.

What strikes me about all this most, however, is that all this made perfect sense at the time. Yes, it was a Mad Men kind of world, but people believed this stuff, argued for it, defended it.

They weren’t stupid. There was evidence for all of it. Strong beliefs that made it all seem true.

Just seems to me like this should be a reminder that everything we know to be so true right now? In fifty years, it might look seriously ridiculous.

Always keep in mind what they’re selling.

Tao of Kitty

Bougainvillea from Thanksgiving in Tucson. No need for autumnal tradition there.

Every day my cat Isabel waits for her chance to go outside. It’s her very favorite part of the day. She loves to stalk the birds, roll in the dirt sit in the sun. With these short days, she has to wait longer and longer to go out, because I won’t let her until the sun is high enough that there are unlikely to be coyotes hiding in the shadows.

Fifteen minutes ago, just after 7, three coyotes trotted by. Well after sunrise, but the shadows are still long. Isabel wanders into my office, mewing with charm, coaxing me to let her out.

Not yet.

Because it’s colder now, and sometimes blustery, she doesn’t stay out long. She’s spoilt with me working at home. Ten minutes after I let her out, she’s outside my office window, asking to come in. I don’t mind – it gets me out of my chair, after all. I’ve threatened to tweet every time I let her in and out, with cheerful encouragement to bring it on.

And they say Twitter has no real substance.

Every morning, though, Isabel seems to head out with supreme confidence and joy. Sometimes a cold gust will hit her and she’ll crouch down, flattening her ears. Other mornings are still and she’ll venture out with tail high, but come in sooner to warm up.

I wonder what she understands of the seasons. Does she have a sense that we’re just heading into winter and that there will be a long cycle of cold before her hot summer days return? Perhaps every day is new and immediate for her. She could be expecting to walk into flowers and heat any day now.

It’s likely more that she has no expectations. If animals live in the moment, then things are what they are. Yet, I know she misses us when we’re gone and she remembers good hunting spots. I watch her making the rounds of places she’s caught mice and gophers in the past. From the moment the alarm goes off, she’s prancing around, excited to start her day. I believe she understands past and future.

Some people say you should never let cats outside at all. That if you never do, they can’t miss what they’ve never experienced. I’m not sure I believe this. The world is the natural habitat for all of us. We retreat to shelter, for warmth, for safety, but that’s not where any of us belongs, cloistered for our entire lives.

So, I wait for the sun to get bright enough – not yet, and it’s almost eight now – and I watch her go embrace the world for what it is.

I try to do the same.

Spring Snow

We left the palm trees and hot sunshine of Tucson and came home to a wet Spring snowstorm.

We didn’t hit snow until north of Albuquerque, but then it hit us with a vengeance, making us crawl home. Someone in Santa Fe tweeted that it had been tea on the patio sunny, then a rainstorm, then all the snow. The forecasters had said snow after midnight, but this hit well before sunset.

Springtime in the Rockies!

The Spring storms are hard on the wildlife, too. A little bird, who had clearly gotten far too wet, pressed up on our threshold, savoring the warmth from our glass door. David captured it and we put it in a box last night to warm up. Now that the sun is warming and the snow shriveling before it, I set it loose to join its brethren at the seed-fest out front.

It looks rumpled enough that I can tell it from the others, but it should be okay.

Yesterday, before we hit the road, we stopped at Starbucks for breakfast. In Tucson there are these roving packs of bikers. The bicycle kind, not the motorcycle kind. They wear matching outfits, with the tight shorts, windbreakers and helmets. They zoom about the city in fleet groups and stop at Starbucks to sit in the sun and treat themselves.

There were several ladies of this ilk waiting for their lattes as we were, of that indistinguishable badly preserved 50s/well preserved 60s age. A very young girl also waited. She was maybe 18. I would have guessed younger, but she wore a short black satin skirt, a black satin top with big rhinestones and very high heels. Heading to a job at a nearby casino perhaps. Not your usual Sunday-morning garb. She looked gorgeous, with the long slim legs only teenage girls seem to have. Her pretty face smiled sweet and open.

The women glared at her and I saw her physically flinch and look away, some of her happiness dimmed. I wondered if she even understood what their problem was. She didn’t seem to notice the weathered columns of their thighs, pressed into wrinkles by the tight Lycra. I wanted to tell the ladies to stuff their nasty looks, to give the girl a break.

Let her enjoy her Spring, I wanted to say. There’s plenty of Winter to go around. We should celebrate the sunshine wherever we find it.

Sunshine, Beer and Palm Trees

So, when I was feeling sad, the last couple of days, my stalwart friends suggested that it was okay for me to take a little time. Not to worry about wordcount. Hot baths, candles, wine and reading were suggested.

The fact that so many people took time to offer me ideas to soothe myself meant more than any steps I might take.

I mentioned that I was off to Tucson to see my mom. And for sunshine, beer and palm trees. So, here you are.

It’s amazing what some good conversation, fun meals and hanging out can do to improve your frame of mind.

Not to mention sunshine, beer and palm trees. My new mantra.

Serendipity and the Whole Enchilada

“Is soup for lunch okay with you?” David asked me.

I said that sounded fine.

“But is that what you really want?”

“No, I want Harrys blue corn turkey enchiladas, but soup is fine.”

David jumped on the idea, though and soon we were in the car headed to Harry’s Roadhouse (thanks to roadfood.com for the pic!), just down the way. Never mind that I’m supposed to be on the post-holiday diet. Or that we ate at Harrys only a week ago. In fact, we’ve been eating there about once or twice a week. We were both feeling blue for no good reason. I’d dreamed the night before that one of the agents who has my manuscript told me all the reasons it wasn’t any good and would never sell. David is watching his last few days of vacation slip by before the semester cranks into gear again. We both felt like a bug was working on us.

So we went to Harrys and waited only a few minutes for a table.

The hostess seated us in front of a window and began scrolling down the shade to cut off the southern sunlight streaming in.

“Don’t do that for us — we like it,” I said. She looked startled and said “okay,” but left it down. So, I opened it again. The man at the table next to us was staring hard at me and started to get up. David and I both thought he was going to be mad at me for opening the shade again.

This has happened before. No, really. I’m a sunshine kind of gal. I love nothing better than to sit in the sun. It’s a mystery to me why people in restaurants ask to sit by the window and then ask for the shade to be drawn. An even greater mystery: the shade pulling request is always accomodated over the shads open request. Why? Why? Why? People act if I’m unreasonable when I say I’d like them open. Shade closing always trumps other desires. Rodent people rule the world.

But I digress.

I realized I knew the man staring at me — had known him all my life. I called them Uncle Tom and Aunt Susan when I was a little girl. Their third child, Andrew, is the “envy baby” — born nine months after I was, because next-door neighbor Susan on the base in Selma was so inspired by my birth.

My “what are you doing here?” was quickly replaced by the realization that, duh, they were on their way from Colorado Springs to Tucson, to the house they’re renting for three months, once again next door to my mom and her husband, Dave.

We talked over lunch — no need to move our little two-tops even. We were all amazed at the serendipity of meeting up. Though I told them I hadn’t missed that they planned to blaze on through Santa Fe without saying anything to us.

I called my mom to tell her on the drive home, but she was already on the other line with Susan.

Tom and Susan pronounced it a good omen for their sojourn to Tucson, that so many pieces fell into place for us to be at lunch next to each other. David and I returned home, much lightened for the good company.

It’s something for me to remember, that for all the times I’ve feared I’ve missed opportunities, for all the rejections that seem like the end of the trail, that the universe delivers gifts also.

When it’s meant to be, it will be.

Euphoria in the Front Yard

I bought pansies, yesterday. And violas.

This is more remarkable than you might think, because it’s a grave risk here to plant annuals before Memorial Day. It’s not a fashion-risk thing; it’s a spring blizzard thing. Our official average frost-free date is something like June 6. Though no one can bear to wait that long, really. One year our spring came warm and early. I got cocky and planted out my annuals. A week later a snowstorm killed them all.

My hard and fast rule now is: no planting out until Memorial Day Weekend.

A rule I’m now breaking. Bending, really, since the pansies and violas can bear more chill than others. We leave Saturday for Victoria to go house-hunting and our Laramie realtor plans to show the wazoo out of our house while we’re gone. The perennials may be coming up, the purple-red stalks of the peonies reaching for the sun. The rhubarb is unfolding like alien pod-babies. The narcissus are charming, which is their job. But otherwise, the beds need freshening. So, I’m planting before we go. Sticking those violas in the ground and abandoning them for ten days. Not like me at all.

I bought them yesterday at Walmart – also a departure for me. I figured Walter World would have them plentiful and cheap. They’d be nicely forced into overbloom. A perfect way to create a particular image. The garden shop was oddly barren. Even the big-box distribution mavens have apparently finally figured out not to send tender plants our way in May. I pulled a dusty cart from the queue, tugging hard to break its lock with its nested neighbor. Then I bent down and tugged free three tumbleweeds from around the wheels. The wind retrieved them and sent them sailing across the road, back to the barren prairie.

My mother told me yesterday that she has euphoria in her front yard. Well, front courtyard, really. The “Cactus Guy” came to examine the cactus garden that came with their Tucson house. She wanted to know if they were taking care of the cacti correctly. Cactus Guy not only approved of the superb health of the garden, but waxed enthusiastic over the wonderful euphoria specimen.

“At least,” my mom said, “that’s what it sounded like he said.”

Euphoria in the desert. I just love that. Never mind that it turns out to be Euphorbia. (The ammak species, if you want precision.)

I’ll bend my rules and plant flowers only for show, that may not last. And my mom can have euphoria in the front yard.

Compliments of the Season

“If he doesn’t cut my hair right this time,” my mother says, “then next season, I’ll find a new hairdresser.”

“Next season?” I repeat, bemused.

“In the fall,” she explains. “We can’t say ‘next year’ because that’s too confusing. It’ll still be this year when we come back.”

“I know,” I say, “but it sounds so…”



“Well, we are!” she happily replies.

She loves this, that she winters in Tucson and summers in Denver. I remember the winters of my childhood and how she hated the snow. How she’d stand at the window staring at the snow blizzarding down and give a cry of incoherent rage. She especially hated this time of year, when the wet spring snows crush the daffodils under their weight. This has been her new husband, Dave’s, greatest gift to her: the freedom to both live in the city of her birth and to escape the winter that comes with it.

Last year she and Dave came back to Denver too early, so they’re hedging their bets and staying in Tucson until June 1. Some Tucson neighbors do it by the thermometer: on the first day over 100 in Tucson, they pack up for Michigan. On the first day it hits 32 there, they pack up for Arizona. Our own neighbors, the elderly couple across the street, used to drive their RV down to Arizona just after Christmas and return like robins in the spring. But she has Alzheimer’s now, so they stopped going. David’s folks are the same: no longer making the annual RV trek to Yuma because their health isn’t good enough for the drive. And their pride is too great to let any of us take them down. Instead these snowbirds are grounded in their winter homes.

I think about these people, who spend the winter of their lives in the winter climes. I know it’s hard on them. Two winters ago I sprained one ankle severely and the other mildly (falling down a flight of stairs in front of 200 people — don’t ask). I felt so fragile on the snow ice, so afraid of slipping, of the pain, of the danger of further infirmity. For the first time I really felt in the skin of someone less than robust health and it was a scary place to be. The winter is colder, too, every year, and I’m only in mid-life.

Some of it is money, sure. But a lot of it is flexibility, too — the willingness to move away from family, away from the familiar and to make a new home somewhere else. Maybe it takes more than some people have. It may be easier to give in to the winter, to stand at the window and glare at the snow, than to fight and escape.

But then, there’s always next season.

Death and Saguaros

I have been remiss, it appears.

Following my last post, a couple of my faithful readers wrote to ask what the hell a “wickerman” is. I got too carried away with the poetics to provide the full context. A good lesson for me. On so many levels. That, and that El Patron margaritas don’t make you nearly so profound as you think. I was tempted to go back and revise, but in the interests of preserving the record, I’ll leave it be and try again.
With another shot of the saguaro wickerman. RoseMarie got it with her comment before — it’s about looking for God. Or maybe just for design, intelligent or otherwise. The pre-Christian Celts built giant figures made of straw and sticks. Essentially huge baskets. Sometimes in the shape of animals, sometimes in the shape of humans. Often these “wickermen” were filled with animals or people and then burned. Sacrifice to the unknown designers.
As the saguaro’s watery flesh dries up and blows away, the wickerman of the desert remains. Sacrifice in reverse. Perhaps that’s what we all end up doing in our lives, using up the flesh in living, leaving a network of bones behind.
Somehow the desert brings this into sharp contrast. Maybe the desert just shows the process at an accelerated pace, visible to the pedantic eye. All of the snowbirds flock to the desert sun, to warm their aging bones, as if to the elephants’ graveyard.
My desert wickerman seemed to stand sentinel to that.