Dog Days

I like animals so much more than people. I don’t remember people’s names, but I remember their dogs. I remember the dog’s names, what kind of treats they like, what toys they like to play with. If I don’t see you with your dog, I have a really hard time placing who you are.

This is not to say I haven’t had bad dog experiences. There are good dog days, and bad dog days. And you never know what kind of dog day its going to be until it happens.

So I grew up in the 60s and I identified with being a hippie, because all my friends said they were hippies and the people that knew me said I was a hippie, so I thought maybe I was a hippie. I found out later that what I really was was an eccentric, but when you’re young you like to stand out, but only in a crowd. So I said I was a hippie when I was a teenager, but I wasn’t a full-fledged hippie, because a real hippie did drugs, and I couldn’t take drugs.

You see, I am your average Chinese-American woman, which means I’m neurotic 24/7. It never stops. My Asian genes make me allergic to everything, lactose intolerant, super sensitive to alcoholic drinks -even NightQuill puts me into a drunken stupor and a horrid hangover the next day- and prone to every rare side effect on prescription drugs. If the label warns that a drug is 99.9% safe and free of side effects, it means I can’t take it because I will be the .1% that will get the rare side effect.

Knowing all this as a kid, I knew it wasn’t a good idea to go off during 4th period behind the rhododendrons and smoke hashish with my friends. But, I thought maybe something more harmless would be ok. Some of my friends were smoking banana peels. Electrical bananas! Its just bananas. Why not? So I baked some banana peels in the oven one weekend. I made the mistake of showing them, all shriveled up and black, on a baking sheet in the oven, to my cousins.

Now I should have known better, because my cousins are tattlers. I can just hear them tattling to their dad, “Bobo is smoking banana peels. She’s going to get high on them.” That was so dumb to show them. The next time my uncle came over, he was wearing his deputy sheriff uniform, with the leather gun holster and the badges all over his shirt. I hadn’t known this, but he was the chief officer for the DARE program in San Mateo county, and he regularly spoke to schools and youth groups about the dangers of drugs. He took me into my bedroom and sat me on the bed. He said,” If you ever, ever, take drugs, I will personally arrest you and throw you in jail.”

Ok, I don’t know about other families, but in my family, if my uncle said he was going to throw me in jail, that’s what he was going to do, no question. I bent my head and said, ‘Yes, uncle,” but inside I was going,”Yes! Thank god I have a reason not to take drugs!” I was rather worried about the effect chemicals might have on my body. I kind of knew I couldn’t handle anything stronger than a Tums.

So I didn’t take drugs when I was a kid, and I never have to this day. Which is pretty astonishing for my generation. I had to take a lie detector test to get hired for a record store once, and the interviewers crowded around the lie detecting machine to see if the needle would jump when I said I had never taken any drugs including marijuana. They couldn’t believe it. But that needle stayed steady. I’ve never had marijuana.

So that is why I don’t know much about it.

Unbeknownst to me, my boyfriend at the time, who was a carpenter, had done some work for a friend in Lake County, and part of his pay was in marijuana. I was doing the laundry, and when I went by his jacket… whew! I smelled skunk. I thought, that’s weird, he didn’t tell me about running into any skunks. I threw his jacket into the washing machine with all my clothes. It wasn’t until the wash had gone through the whole cycle, that I found a plastic bag had been in the pocket of the jacket, with over a thousand dollars of marijuana inside. A thousand dollars worth of very soggy marijuana. Nope, that relationship did not last.

It was the day after the marijuana in the laundry that I had a very bad dog day. I was teaching in a one room schoolhouse out in a very rural, isolated community. About the only thing that hadn’t changed in that community since pioneer days 100 years ago for school teachers was that we could no longer take our students out to beat them with a regulation switch. But the very strict way teachers were expected to conduct themselves was still present. We were expected to be models of upstanding behavior for the children.

I’m in the middle of teaching when the classroom door opens and the principal comes in with a police officer. And everything stops, because the principal has not only not told me she invited the police to visit my class, but she also did not tell me the reason for the visit is to show the kids the new police dog the officers are training for… drug detection. I’m standing there in clothes that just got washed with a thousand dollars worth of marijuana, and as the very large, excited German Shepherd comes into the room, I step to the very back of the room, as far away as I can possibly get.

I try as much as possible to not give off any vibes that I exist. I remember something about dogs having a million zillion smell receptors in a centimeter of their noses. They can smell viruses, for god’s sake. I just hoped this dog had been trained to sniff out cocaine or heroin or some other more serious drug than pot.

Then, we all go outside. The officers want to demonstrate how they are training the dog to attack intruders. An officer puts on a big padded sleeve, holds it out, and the dog runs and sinks his sharp, pointed teeth into it and won’t let go. Even when the officer is trying to pull the dog off, the young, over excited dog is really into tearing the officer’s arm off, and he just won’t let go. I am against the wall of the building, with all the kids in front of me, trying to melt into the woodwork, as I watch this growling, snarling beast with lockjaw trying to dislocate the officer’s shoulder.

It is finally over, the dog is inside the police car, we graciously wave our good byes to the police. I send the kids out to recess and exhale for the first time in an hour. I seriously consider quitting my job. One bad dog day is one day too many when you’re not in the right place.

But thankfully there are good dog days.

Like the day you bring the puppy home. He’s soft like only babies can be, like a catkin bud just emerged from a willow twig. And his eyes are half closed, and all they can really see is that you have your arms around him, and he snuggles into your circle of protection. You hand him over to your six year old, knowing that in two days time, this 10 pound puppy is going to be more than she can ever carry again, as he expands, and lengthens, and grows into his paws, which are like the oven mitts from the ABC store, dangling at the end of his legs that can barely wobble him from person to person. Your daughter holds the puppy in her lap, and everything that you have ever wished for has suddenly come true. You are happy, and your daughter is happy, and the puppy is happy. And you decide that that’s what life is really all about, being this happy.

That’s a good dog day.

The Tide

October 19, 2019

The windows are open to let in fresh air. We can hear the waves crash onto the shore. We have seen the big swells ride onto the beach, witnessed the explosion of white water descending on the sands. So we imagine what is happening as the distant roar of the ocean drifts through the house.

He is like the tide, with its ebb and flow. Just as the ocean draws me near and pulls at me with all the primal force of nature, Captain Paul is a planet that I orbit.

When he recedes, when the tide goes out, I have opportunity to explore and do what I love alone. Without that balance of solitude and social interaction, I’m not steady on my feet. Alone time is as important to me as being with others, maybe even more important. So when he needs his privacy, I can seek my solitude. Then I can reflect and define what is important to me. I am free to do what I will. I am free to go or stay, but I won’t go far, not so far that I can’t hear the waves or feel the magnetic tug of the ocean. When he is distant, he does it for my sake as well as his. What we are together should always be what we choose to be. When the tide goes out, it exposes what might have been covered over. It’s there for us to examine and discover, review and revise, reject or embrace, renew and revitalize. The waves wash in and out, creating change as it stabilizes, change and stability essential to the good health of ecosystems and relationships.

When the tide comes in, I cannot turn my back to it. I must be present and aware, not careless or uncaring. Again, it is all about choice. I can let myself be swept away, or go with the flow, or step back and watch from the shore. I can immerse myself and swim these waters, or sail or paddle or dive, so many levels to experience, depths and surfaces to navigate. So many ways to be with this man. So many ways to love him.

The tide is ever constant, just as it ever changes. And so no matter how our relationship may change, so must I be ever constant. He is always there for me. And so he draws me into his orbit. I will dance this planetary swing, eyes never losing connection, hearts always connected, lives blessed for being together, till the end of my days.

The cycle of the tides replenishes the planet. The sound of waves comes through the window as he walks in the door. I choose to live by the sea.70EA9362-4C1A-47F7-922F-7395D3A12BE3

The Jaws

September 12, 2019

 Paul shares the joy of early morning with this reluctant night owl. “There’s a spiderweb.” He pulls me to the sliding door with the brisk air beckoning in the garden. There is a rainbow in the tree, an orb spider has cast a web to catch the sun. It glitters in crystalline perfection to prove that mornings are ok.

So I’m surprised when I ask him on this night of a full orb moon suspended in the indigo sky, if he is afraid of anything, and he tells me, “Spiders.” Then he amends it. He’s not afraid of spiders, just doesn’t like them. I think on his ability to accommodate rather than reject. And I become afraid for him.

For I think about The Jaws. People have been out the mouth of the harbor at Moss Landing in kayaks, even on paddle boards. They want to see whales feeding while the krill is pooling at the entrance to the harbor, which the sailors call “The Jaws.” Boats pass through this channel formed by man made jetties to get to Monterey Bay, a passage made by steeling one’s nerves, for The Jaws dump you directly at the head of the mile deep canyon with its frigid water. The water flowing from Elkhorn Slough has been sun warmed from the shallow, narrow inlets of the estuary, mingled with the heated water from the power plant at Moss Landing. The merger of hot and cold water creates turbulence at the mouth of the harbor. Captains and crew must be courageous, or fools. It is not a passage for small craft, children, or the unwary.

Paul is taking a kayak tour out of Point Lobos this morning. The inlets and coves remind me of The Jaws, and I can’t imagine kayaks there. He hasn’t seen many. Although the water is different down the coast, it is the ocean. It is unpredictable. I am glad he is cautious. He is courage personified. But he works for fools.

If he was just doing this for himself, just to experience an adventure on the water in one of the most beautiful places in the world, I’d have no fears. He could take care of himself and be home to cook chicken stir fry in the evening. But it’s other people I worry about, and his desire to make them happy, or what they think will make them happy. It will be his self-appointed responsibility to make sure everyone comes through safe and satisfied with what they have done. There are too many things that could go wrong here.

But tell Paul not to do something, and he’ll not hear it. There’s always good reasons why he should go ahead regardless. So maybe this is why his ladies, those other women of his past, have resorted to manipulating him, or as he puts it, requiring him to be adaptable with the women in his life.

I claim to not be manipulative, but I have to pull up here, and think about myself, and just how I have caused him to do accept ourselves as a couple, and how we came to be together. And even if I am not a web spinner, more like a jumping spider, those tiny, fierce, fearless hunters who hurtle themselves into the air, I am still a spider. Even though I am not actively in pursuit of a man and plotting and planning how to trap one, it seems I have caught one.

And it is my self-appointed responsibility to cherish and care for him, which includes not letting the ocean take him away from me. But it is also my self-appointed responsibility, not to tangle him up in my fears and projections.

So I wake up this morning, trying to slip away and not wake him by my absence by his side, but he wakes up regardless, as I write this. And I still have a quandary about the beauty of spiderwebs and the cunning of spiders, and how I am crafting our relationship in ways that might be detrimental to him. And I do not know how to tell him I don’t think he should kayak at Point Lobos because I want him to come home safe to be with me.

So I just have to tell him.

Paul, I’m worried about you taking a kayak tour at Point Lobos today. 


April 3, 2018

Today, on the morning my grandmother died, I squeezed the juice out of citrus fruits and strained out the seeds with a fork so I wouldn’t drink them. My grandmother told me when I was three or four that if you swallowed seeds they would grow inside your stomach. That is not why I didn’t want to drink them. I know now that my chemically charged digestion will obliterate the seeds into their primal molecular components if ingested, that all the great potential contained in those seeds, those new trees waiting to grow, flourish, develop, would be incorporated into me, would nourish me, in other words, be a part of me. But when I was 4 years old, I swallowed dozens of watermelon seeds, although not one watermelon ever grew in my stomach, kind of to my disappointment. My grandmother knew seeds were better in the ground rather than taking the long journey through my digestive system, so she let me spit my watermelon seeds into her garden. She had a amazing garden, lush and verdant and full of smells, colors, and textures. Later, when she moved into a little one bedroom apartment on the second floor of busy Park Blvd. by Lake Merritt, she grew trees in pots from the seeds she saved from squeezing lemons. I have never been able to grow a lemon tree from a seed, but she knew how to coax them to grow, flourish, and bear fruit.

On the way to work I was thinking about my family’s legacy in California, and how it was more than names in a log book or dates in a document. People change the land they live in, but also the land changes them, and the thin, wiry peasant stock my family came from undoubtedly changed into the robust, well-built bodies of native Californians in a few generations. My grandmother came from that third generation of American Chinese. The land, the sea, the clean, abundant water and the bounty of food made that generation of my family strong, athletic, and tireless. They had the energy to build communities, families, opportunities.They were the establishing generation. In the succession of growth in an ecosystem, the land is first settled by pioneers, made stable by secondary growth, and becomes dominant in the third stage of succession. My grandparents were the ones who sunk deep roots into the land. They were the trees that gave the forest its name. They were Chinese -Americans.

And my grandmother sunk the deepest root of all. 106 years old this month, she outlived her four sisters and two brothers. She outlived everyone in her generation in my family and held her great-great granddaughter in her arms last month. I am imagining the root of her longevity sinking into the bedrock of this country, firmly anchoring her family to this place, when my mother calls on the speaker phone of my car that my grandmother passed away early this morning.

And I feel like a great tree has fallen, toppling like a bridge falling and cutting off our access to the past, to the rest of the family that came before us. We will not know who they were, or what they were like, or what happened to them, because the last one who knew them, is gone, too. Our memories shall never be as real and vivid as the one who actually lived with our pioneer family.

But though the tree has been cut down, my grandmother’s roots were profoundly deep. She anchored us with her presence, with her still being alive and healthy, emitting spunk like a spark plug igniting us. Keep going. Do your best. Don’t give up. All those old lady admonitions that I tired of when I was young and impatient, but which I desperately needed to hear when I grew older and times grew tougher. Her favorite song was “Always”. I was singing it when I was squeezing lemons and putting aside the seeds.

I’ll remember you, always, Nan.