Saturday, May 27, 2017

My Homegrown Punk

Newly 15-year-old Youngest was invited to go to an amusement park on the "teacher work day" that always seems to ring in an established three-day weekend, turning it into a four-day mini-vacation. Confirming the invite, the lad's mom, a friend of mine, texted this:

"The boys were messing with me today, saying Youngest was going to wear his VOTUS hat to Six Flags. I said, no, free speech is great, but not in my car."

I shared with him what she had said, and the two of us confirmed that it was just a joke and, no, he wasn't wearing that hat to the park.

But then the motherfucker did.

I only discovered that upon his return that evening. I have to give props to my friend, because, had I been her, at the first sight of that hat, I'd have been calling her and telling her to come fetch her son. And I would have fully expected her to read him the riot act, once she had come all the way to the park to retrieve his sorry ass.

It wasn't her son, though. It was demon spawn himself. At 15, you don't listen to what reasonable voices (or even your unreasonable mother's voice) tell you. At 15, you want to just have a good time and show off to the world how cool you are. At 15, your perception of what is cool is completely and utterly fucked up, which any of us who has ever survived her 15th year could confirm.

His defiant act of going against what I said obviously didn't sit well with me. You could say that my actions in response to the defiance aren't sitting nicely with him either. Good.

What the little fucker doesn't know is that it isn't a question of free speech. Not when you're 15 and a Trump-hat-wearing twat could be as easily knifed to death as the two defenders of hijab-wearing women facing off against an American terrorist were. In an instant, someone with a beef against Trump could spot you wearing that hat and... And we all wring our hands at the funeral of my son while we bemoan what this country has come to.

You know what this country is coming to? A remarkably uncivil war fought in the streets by completely unhinged masked lunatics on both sides. When I was his age, the Vietnam War had just ended and the only fighting going on around me was that of my parents amidst the (long-already crumbled) family at their feet. It was Northern Virginia, so we had more than our fair share of the country's fringes around us. But even wearing a Nixon hat or being in full-blown Commie Viet Cong gear would garner nothing more than stares. (Granted, as long as you were White.)

Those bucolic times -- and, yeah, they were bucolic in comparison today -- are long gone. Sadly, from my perspective, Youngest's absolutely horrible first years are looking pretty bucolic to me today. I guess if I go all weak with desire when I see photos of George W. nowadays, I'll have to accept the same when I think about that son of mine downstairs.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

From Small Things, Mama!

It's no secret that I no longer listen to any radio whilst driving. With my good-friend, Google, I don't even need to check for traffic problems. It's just all Bruce, all the time. Thankfully, I've got that 10-CD changer in the back of my Jeep, so no distracted driving on my watch. Well, unless you consider dancing in the car and singing at the top of your lungs to be distracting. To other drivers, perhaps, but not to me.

I've rediscovered gems, and I've given another listening to a bunch of songs that never became hits. Oh, and the live stuff. Shit, Richie! Talk about pulling me back to past outings, each and every one of them the top events of my life. [Don't pity me, man, I am who I am because of him.]

Two of my three kids are away at college. One will be home for summer. The other is moving into an apartment near campus, and she'll be working at the Happiest Place on Earth. I am jealous, even more so as her roommate's parents and I discuss matching beds, dressers and night stands. And sad, of course, because when I dropped her off in August, I really didn't think she'd never come home to live again.

I made it home after my freshman year of college. I never lived at home again. In fairly rapid succession, I graduated and moved out to California, visiting my parents in places that were never my home. My mom stressed about my failing to stay in one place long: San Diego, Cambridge, Escondido, Berkeley, all racked up over the course of two years.

I've been stressing about my kids leaving me since Eldest's senior year of high school. (Okay, maybe since he was born. Bugger off.)  I had the most knock-down, dragged-out pity party going for quite awhile. I started off 2017 promising myself I'd do what Eldest had asked me to do a year prior. I made a few resolutions, but everything I set out to do came down to one thing: enjoy my life.

It's a damn fucking good thing I made that promise, because this year has held the worst for me that I ever anticipated. Just start with Voldemort Of The United States. Fuck! I #resist until my hands cramp from sending postcards, and creating databases, and emailing legislators, and rallying people, and making name tags for Swing Left, and attending rallies, and attending town halls, and on and on and on.

And, then, of course, my Mom.

As I replay "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)," as the days pass and turn into weeks, the song's meaning changes for me, too. I became jubilant, this morning, as I recognized that, yeah, we grow up, we leave, and our moms fret, but we go out, and we live glorious lives, and maybe someday, we will have kids of our own, and we will see that, yeah, from small things, mama, big things one day come.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

I Could Use Less Excitement, Too

"So glad you were all able to be here. A little less excitement next time. Love all of you."

I received that text from my Mom as I sat in an airport Monday, making a long trek back to California after a whirlwind few days visiting her in Florida with husband and Youngest. During the course of four whole days with her, our motley crew managed to:

1. Knock over a glass of water at a restaurant with the ultimate result of our waiter rounding a corner and taking a dive, wrecking his knee in the process.

2. Make a conscious decision to not leave a bag in the car because it had chocolate in it and then take a stupid path of putting said bag on floor. Gorgeous hound dog nosed open the drawstring closure and proceeded to eat said item. Chocolate. Brownie. With cannabis.

3. Heading home from the dog-poisoning gathering the next day, shred a tire and have to change it on the red clay sand on the partial shoulder of a busy Florida highway.

Let's just argue that it was a good thing #3 happened when we were with Mom as two of her tires were ready to blow so at least it didn't happen when she was on her own.

And let's argue that you can't really blame #1 on me as I was the mere recipient of the water spilled by my sister. I was not even present for the great disaster befalling our poor waiter.

#2? No one to blame but myself. And while I do believe the possession of said cannabis can be explained to the degree that you, dear reader, would find it reasonable, I'll just let you think what you will. And acknowledge that, yes, I did poison a dog. With chocolate. And cannabis. Overall, I think she enjoyed the high.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Monolingual Soccer Players Have it Tough

Yes, Youngest is still all about the football. And, yes, I'm talking about real football, not the American battering sport of 300-pound men sucking oxygen after running 10 yards.

I could probably search through the archives of this ancient blog and find many references to the battles he has fought on the field and the battles we have all fought off the field. The world of youth sports is exactly like the real world: fucked up by idiots.

Our latest saga involves a competitive club he's been playing with for two years. The first year was mostly fantastic. The second year left a lot to be desired, but I understand that was the case for many youth soccer players as the national organization changed the age groupings, throwing all teams into chaos. So, last year was good only for getting the three 1.5-hour practices in each week. At least he didn't go backwards in skill.

But if you're 14 and you have a goal of playing soccer for the rest of your life, you need to find a coach who is going to up your game, improve your strategic thinking about the game, and, damn it, get you to have at least some fun in the process. The third year with this club is now underway, and he's on a good team with, as always, a couple of exceptions.

The Director of Coaching (AKA the head of the club) is listed as his coach, but in name only. The real coach is a fine fellow by the name of Jesus. There's just one little problem with Jesus (that I can discern at this early stage). He only speaks Spanish.

Now, if Youngest were playing with the Bricenos or another Latino area club, that wouldn't be an issue. Of course, Youngest doesn't play for one of those clubs because he only speaks English (and first-year high school French). In fact, half of the kids on his team only speak English.


Not surprisingly, the monolingual kids and their parents have been pushing the DOC to get us an English-speaking coach. The DOC has dug in his heels and essentially said, "Take it or leave it."


We head out to our second game of spring league in a few minutes. Our first game was yesterday. We got to witness the coach yelling out instructions to players who, upon hearing their name called, turn to listen and then...stare...and wait...until one of the bilingual kids on the bench translated the instructions. Thank GOD soccer is such a slow-paced game.

My email to them this morning was as direct as I'm going to be, before we take our soccer ball and team bench and go elsewhere:

"I want to reiterate the opinion expressed by Pete earlier: Jesus does not speak English well enough to communicate with my monolingual English son. That was evidenced 100% repeatedly in the first match of the season yesterday. We don't doubt he is a fine coach. But we don't know that because Youngest is unable to understand what he says to him. The need to have other players translate what is wanted is not feasible in the moment that communications is necessary as the players are on the field. I know David has made it clear that Jesus is the coach for that team. Pete and I need to make it clear that Youngest does not speak Spanish and needs a coach who speaks English. I will not speak for the many other monolingual boys on the team. I will only speak for Youngest. And I'm afraid I, too, can only speak it in English."

Monday, March 20, 2017

Chasing Something in the Night

I couldn't find my "Darkness on the Edge of Town" CD, so it never got loaded onto my mp3 player years ago and it never got added into my repertoire of all-Bruce, only-Bruce whenever I am in the car alone, and so I never listened to some of the songs for a very long time. Given that I feel like I'm in an all-or-nothing fight on too many levels to count, I needed the damn music. So down to the local music store I went, like any old lady would, and bought another copy.

If you've never heard it, or if you haven't heard "Something in the Night" in a very long time, I recommend listening to it. I'll make it easier for you by putting a YouTube version here.

I wish I had lived in Germany when "Darkness" was first released. Why? Because the B-side for the massively overplayed "Badlands" was "Something in the Night" in Germany. (Those of us stateside got "Streets of Fire" as the B side.) I worked in a donut shop at the time, and my friend Viv had gotten a job there as well. She loved "Badlands" and played it all the bloody time, spending her hard-earned dime tips to play it on our jukebox again. And again. And again.


I turn the radio up loud so I don't have to think.

I look for a moment when the world seems right.

I was born with nothing and I'm better off that way.

Nothing is forgotten or forgiven.

But it's the last one that verse that truly speaks to me:

When we found the things we loved
They were crushed and dying in the dirt
We tried to pick up the pieces
And get away without getting hurt
But they caught us at the state line
And burned our cars in one last fight
And left us running burned and blind,
Chasing something in the night

I am feeling quite on the run, burned and blind. I just wish I knew if the price I will pay to keep on chasing it to ease this fear and dread, to hold true to this fervent belief I have that we've got to make our stand now or never, with all or nothing.

Now it is up to you to decide what I am chasing.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Let Them Bake Cakes

Last week, I baked a cake for no reason other than I had made brownies for an anti-VOTUS meeting I was attending. I had made the house smell like that delightful Ghirardelli chocolate and then taken most of the treats with me. I saw that recipe for a chocolate fudge cake on the back of the cocoa powder bag, and I said, "Oh, the boys won't be so annoyed about the lack of brownies if I bake a cake."

It was a good cake. Actually, it was a great cake. As Pete helps to get the cake out of the pans, I bemoan once more the lack of cake pans like my mom has had for as long as I've known her. These are ordinary cake pans, mind you, but they have a built-in "spatula" type mechanism that cleanly cuts the cake out of the cake pan, leaving no trace of cake bottom in the pan. My cake pans are just ordinary cake pans without the all-important mechanism.

About three weeks ago, my mom was diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumors that has metastasized to her liver and other lesser critical places. On Wednesday, I managed to attend her first appointment with the superhero oncologist she now can call her own. Along with her sister, my sister and my mom, we all managed to crowd into the patient room with the aforementioned superhero doctor and listen, enraptured, as he talked of hard-to-pronounce diagnoses and even harder-to-pronounce diagnostic tests and procedures coming down the pike.

Feeling remarkably good post-visit, and happy to have her daughters hanging with her for a few days, my mom spent the past few days pretty much pain-free and hopeful. Attitudes are very important, particularly when your goal is to get as much as possible in order before you have to board the plane back to California and try to once again compartmentalize. In the midst of activity, I pull open the storage under the stove to grab a pan to make my ice cream dessert. I lift the cake pans out to reach the broiler pan.

"Dibs!" I shout. I exaggerate my movements to grab the newly purchased pack of multi-colored Post-it Notes so I can put one with my name on the cake pans. It is not unlike the "I call shotgun" and "I call window" and other childhood claims of rights shouted above the roar of the always loud crowd of five kids in six years. My two siblings in the house at the time join me in reverting back to childhood.

"No," my sister says, jokingly, "Why should you get them?"

"I'll just take them when you leave," my middle brother says.

My mother says, "Just take them with you now, Patty." [Incidentally, she also tries to get me to disassemble a vacuum and take that back home with me, too.]

The cake pans are, of course, in the storage drawer underneath the stove. They will remain there for a very long time, I hope. Every cake I make between now and when I have those cake pans, is a cake I will cherish, with every crumb of cake bottom sticking to the pan. I expect many cakes in the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Purpose of a Squirrel's Appendix

It is as I try to fall asleep each night that my mind most often takes me to the shadow writing of a blog post. Thoughts swirl around me as I process the day's or week's or election cycle's events and emotions. As my husband will readily attest to, I make leaps from one subject to another, leaving him puzzling over how to answer my last point while also addressing something completely unrelated.

When I gave up the whole God bit, I was left wondering what the purpose of living is. It is something that I struggle with quite often. If this life is all that there is, why do we even exist at all? Youngest and I slow for a stupid squirrel to choose whether to end his life by continuing on his path in front of my Jeep or opt to turn around and go back to the relative safety of a tree whose roots have mangled the suburban sidewalk. Youngest does his best "Up" bit -- POINT! -- and we carry on, tires unscathed by squirrel guts.

Why does that squirrel exist? What's its purpose? Raised Catholic, I have long, by necessity, bought into the theory that other creatures are merely props on the human stage. Humans are superior, of course, because they have souls and the chance for eternal life.

Oh. If you take that little bit away, that we have souls and there is a God, then humans fall the way of squirrels. If humans are squirrels, I'm not sure exactly what the Jeep is in my analogy. I guess it's death, in whatever form it arrives. Death, the Jeep of Life.

Since the upheaval in the world, the country and, now, my own family, Youngest and I have spent a lot of time pondering the unanswerable. We have had hour-long discussions about anything and everything. Like, what the hell are we still doing with an appendix? Or wisdom teeth? What the hell is their purpose?

They don't have one, you know, not really. Not any purpose that humans need now. They are no longer necessary.

Which leaves me in a long, windy, roundabout way to the conclusion that maybe we are no longer necessary, too.

*Cartoon courtesy The New Yorker.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Blue Shield's Arrogance

The summary of the issue is contained in my email to California's Dept. of Managed Health Care:

This is to the attention of Maggie. (Thank you, Maggie, for your very helpful conversation just now.)

As I stated on the phone, my husband has a plan through Blue Shield through Covered California. I think it's a Silver PPO. He has had this plan since Day 1 of ACA, and we are grateful for the money saved and the stress we didn't have to experience for this period of time. Of course, rates went up dramatically, with my husband's plan going from about $550 to $941.31 per month beginning January 1, 2017. We received email notifications of that at the time I renewed his plan and have since received additional letters stating the amount (dated January 7 and January 26).

On Tuesday, we received the attached letter from Blue Shield (backdated to February 10) advising that they would be withdrawing $1,882.62 (precisely double the premium amount) on Feb. 28, presumably as March payment. We called yesterday and the representative told us it was a mistake, that Blue Shield's "back room" was aware of the mistake, and, no, there was nothing more I could do beyond just getting the mistake fixed for my husband. She suggested cancelling the auto withdrawal so it wouldn't happen and instead make a one-time payment of the correct amount of $941.31 right then. I declined to pay, saying I would wait until it was due on February 28. But the auto withdrawal authorization was removed.

It is stunning to my husband and me that Blue Shield can be so blase about an error that could have a tremendous effect on many, many people. I have no idea how many errors they've made. I can't find out. But you can. And the time to correct the error is BEFORE they start pillaging the accounts of people already stuck for health insurance because organizations like them.

So, please, get going on this! While my husband and I would have weathered a storm of $941.31 suddenly disappearing -- illegally, I might add -- from our account, imagine those who can ill afford to do so.

How about that, folks? See what Blue Shield is doing there? They have made a mistake that will have them withdrawing double the amount they are authorized by me to withdraw. And it ain't just me, folks. Heads up, you poor Blue Shield "customers," get ready for a doozy come Tuesday.

And, yes, I did notify the Los Angeles Times as well. Seems I know someone there.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Atheist's Mother

I have a very good friend who is making a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. She is a fervent believer that the Virgin Mary appeared to six kids in 1981. She is going on a spiritual journey for her own reasons.

I am an atheist. I do not feign otherwise, to my very good friend nor to my family members, including my mom, Louise. [Hey, Mom!] Mom is a devout Catholic, just like my very good friend.

About a week ago, Mom was diagnosed with what turns out to be liver cancer. Tests are still being run, but that's where she sits now, in a hospital room in Florida, with no treatment plan in place yet as it is quite early in the process. By the time you read this, she'll probably be back home, possibly still waiting answers to questions we're not even sure we know we should be asking.

When I told my very good friend the news last week, pretty much as it unfolded, she asked me for a picture of Mom and something she can bring with her that was Mom's. I cried when she said this to me because, regardless of my own beliefs, what she is doing, to her, is tantamount to carrying my 80-year-old mother to Bosnia and Herzegovina. She's bringing my mom with her.

I don't believe. I will never believe. But I do believe in is the power of prayer: to lighten the load someone in need might be carrying. To that end, on Thursday, March 2, if you're not doing too much else in the 11 a.m. hour (EST), do me a favor, and send your very good wishes and thoughts and prayers to my mom, Louise. She might never know you, but she'll know of you.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Permit me an Indulgence

There is a house I pass on the twice-daily-walks with Corrie-the-wonder-mutt. About nine years ago, a family of four lived in it: an ex-SFPD cop out on disability, a high-powered working wife, a 17-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old daughter. As more than five, six, seven years passed, no matter when I walked by the house, the only person I ever saw, and that was a rare sighting, was the ex-cop. For the last couple of years, it's been rented out. The middle schooler son of a friend of mine, a nearby neighbor to that house, said they suspected the renters were drug dealers, what with all the activity going on.

It's been vacant for awhile now, perhaps the ex-cop finally heard from some neighbors. Who knows? A few months back, sporadic renovations seemed to be starting, and about two weeks ago, I started noticing more activity around the house. I've seen some work people, and I've seen the ex-cop again as well. I walk the dog and approach his house and turn right up the street at the intersection where his house is on the corner. I see him and he sees me. I stare. I do nothing but stare. I stare the whole time I walk my dog by his house. He mostly looks away.

About nine years ago, when that family of four lived there, that 17-year-old daughter had done a few babysitting gigs for us and, when our little family went to Tahoe for the three-day weekend, she stayed to take care of the dog and the house.

It didn't end well.

It occurs to me, a tad over nine years ago, that I expected something more as time went by. I expected that fucked up 17-year-old Saundra to grow up and mature and maybe make her way back to my house one day, mature-like, and acknowledge what she did. She hasn't.

Her mother? The one who thought money is all it takes? Never heard from her again.

Today, as I walked by that house with my dog and saw no one, it occurred to me that the amount of work that's being done means permits would have been pulled. Should have been pulled.

Should have been pulled.

Why are there permits, anyway? For the safety of others, as I'm sure any ex-cop knows. Should know.

Should know.

Trudging up the hill back home with the dog, I make a note to myself to head on down and take a gander at those permits when the government offices open Tuesday morning. I should do that.

Should do that.

I got home, fired up the old blog archives, and found the post I linked up there. Those archives are an amazing thing. I read that post, and I saw that ending where I express sorrow for the ex-cop. Travel back to my time, nine years on, and I realize something about that permit.

They really should have one.

Maybe not the ending you thought I'd come to. Maybe you thought I'd realize it's not really his fault. Maybe you thought nine years is a pretty long time.

Hear me out.

They're still married. They're still all one big happy family. [Or not, what the fuck do I care? I do know her very good friend Victoria is constantly in and out of jail, so for all I know, Saundra is doing hard time herself somewhere and that's why she can't come with sincere apologies. Good.]

Lie down with evil, evil you are.

Not sure if I hope he's a law-abiding citizen or not. Don't really care. Just know he should be.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Conceding Privilege

I admit it. I've been intentionally taking actions that, if considered in their entirety, might put me on a watch list, if, you know, VOTUS was on the lookout for radicalized aging white women. And during all that, it struck me last night that I can do those things because of my privilege. I am an aging white woman, so it's unlikely if, for instance, I only use my Passport for identification from now on, that anyone would take notice. Or if I take part in marches. Or if I buy a burner phone. Or I register to buy a gun.

You get the drift.

While group messaging with two friends about rallies we are holding at school sites in our little burb Friday, I message another local friend about the illnesses hitting our two families. The two chat windows appear on my little screen side-by-side. In one, I joke about the NSA reviewing our texts in the coming years. [I'm funny that way.] In the other, we exchange illness updates.

Side-by-side, I should think nothing of the two conversations, beyond the amazement that I'm this old and can manage it and not accidentally send one message to one that is meant for the others. But side-by-side, in the era of VOTUS, Putin, and other scary motherfuckers charged with eavesdropping on pretty near everyone, I think something of it. And I'm in no way worried about me. But my foreign-born friend, an American citizen married to an American citizen with American-born children? I got a twinge of worry, which grew into a blog post, the act of which writing makes me firmer in my belief in two things.

1.  VOTUS and his death eaters need to go. And so does Putin.
2.  My friend should probably not text me anymore.

My Homegrown Punk

Newly 15-year-old Youngest was invited to go to an amusement park on the "teacher work day" that always seems to ring in an establ...