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Vermont: Heart, Soul, Past, Present, Future: The Collapsing Barn.

8 Jun

Vermont: Heart, Soul, Past, Present, Future: The Collapsing Barn..

Orange County Musings Or, The Road My Son Travels

4 Nov

About a week ago I drove to Orange County–a place I didn’t know anything about (and still don’t): a part of California that isn’t LA or “The Valley”(I still haven’t figured out what “The Valley” is.)  Or San Francisco. My parochialism runs deep. BUT, I could tell you where in Redondo Beach to get the best dried kelp, where in Long Beach to find Chinese Herbs for depression, and where in Westwood to get a great Dead Sea facial mask. (Strangely indistinguishable, these various sundries.)

So, there I was, heading to the outback of Orange County for the “Tour de Cure,” a 25-mile bike ride to benefit diabetes research. My son Noah has Type 1; He was diagnosed at 10.

Noah at 10 with Howie's MaxThat’s Noah with cousin Max, a few months  before diagnosis.

I took my son to the doctor because Noah had some hives on his shin and abdomen.  When the doctor asked if Noah  had been eating or drinking anything unusual, we both said that he’d been drinking lots and lots of water, juice, soda, and peeing a lot.  The doctor’s expression changed, and then he took a little blood from Noah. When we asked why, Doctor Lambert–who’d known Noah since he was 6 months old–said,

“Just a check. He might have diabetes. Thirst and heavy urination are typical signs.”

Dr. Lambert left the room and Noah and I looked at each other; I wanted nothing more in the world than to run out of the office with my boy and go far far away. Because what the doctor had said seemed true. And how could I not have known?! Of course those were signs of diabetes.

It’s not quite true that all I wanted to do was run away; sobbing and  curling up in the corner was super-appealing. But that is not what moms do; moms are fearless and nurturing and always have a solution. At least they provide cookies. No cookies this time.

So, last month I headed to Orange County to bike  the “tour de cure.” Friends and acquaintances had given very, very generously toward my ride (THANK YOU!)  At  22, my son has  had diabetes  for  12 years. I believe there will be a cure in his lifetime.

I arrived in this little Orange County desert town–built ten years ago at the most?–and checked into my hotel. When I opened my suitcase, I found a test strip–which Noah uses about twelve times a day to determine his blood sugar level. Whenever he borrows my suitcase or car, the test strips turn up, signs  of Noah’s life, diabetes bread crumbs. Finding these little markers of his condition, I am unable to throw them away.

Tour de Cure test strip

In my hotel, I watched stupid TV until it rocked me to sleep. In the morning, for good luck I put on the Hamsa  earrings that a few years ago Noah brought me from Israel.

Tour de Cure earring

Then I drove to the Tour de Cure starting point. The sky was beautiful.

Tour de Cure Morning sky

The first five miles went by like a breeze, and then there was, almost too early, a rest stop: water, energy bar consumed, and I was on my way.  In the line of cyclists I was pretty far back, and that was fine. But I was disappointed that almost everyone was in groups or couples. The only people I saw who were also cycling solo were those rail-thin bike guys in their 50’s who do this sort of thing every weekend with a facial expression that suggests: Tour de France!

About mid-way through the ride, one of them said to me, “Only fifteen more miles!” I laughed; we were at mile 16 at least. I was feeling pretty lonely, and the biking was harder than I’d expected: a lot of hills.

On the day that Dr. Lambert tested Noah’s blood sugar for diabetes, my son went straight to the clinic restroom after the doctor told us his guess about Noah’s symptoms. He had just started Hebrew lessons for his Bar Mitzvah–several  years down the road–and his newly learned prayers breathed through the door that I was leaning on.  Noah’s  voice was thin but determined, speaking Hebrew, a foreign tongue to me–the non-Jewish parent.

The blood test was positive. I felt that this was impossible and yet it wasn’t. We got into the cold car, and Noah asked, “Will I still be able to have a baby someday?”

“Of course you will. As many babies as you want,” I replied, having no idea if diabetes affected fertility. Then we both cried, pulling out of the parking lot with the car wheels crunching over dry, heavily salted snow.

During the diabetes bike ride, I got lost. As a lone rider,  I had to navigate the way myself and  I guess I wasn’t  very good at reading the map or the signs.   Twice, I  waited for quite a while for other cyclists to come by so I could ask, “which way?” And then I found out that that Tour de France guy wasn’t joking. When I thought we had about three or four  miles left, I found out we had ten more to go.

Tour de Cure dry mountain scene

Noah must sometimes feel lost,  as if  “the signs”–carbohydrate counting, insulin to exercise ratio figuring–are of no use. And of course, the road of diabetes is lonely. No matter how expert the endocrinologist,  how supportive the family and friends, the diabetic is mostly alone with the disease: trying to figure out why, although he/she counted the carbs exactly and took precisely the right amount of insulin, she/he is still nauseous and angry and with a pounding head: hyperglycemia. Or he/she feels dizzy, faint, and is unable to form words: hypoglycemia. This can happen a couple of times a week.

A few years after he was diagnosed, Noah  went on a hundred-mile bike ride to raise money for AIDS. At thirteen, he was one the  youngest riders. I was terrified, and followed him in my car for part of the ride. He didn’t love that. Here’s Noah in the last two miles:

Noah on Aids Ride

I thought a lot about Noah during my unexpectedly long last lap of  the Ture de Cure, and I texted him “OMG, 6 more miles!” He texted back “Go MOM!” I kept pedaling. Along the way there was some lovely scenery:

Tour de Cure nurseryA nursery with huge patches of flowers. And these crazy cacti!  (Thank God for that fence):

Tour de Cure Crazy cacti

And then,  when I was pedaling hard on the outside and crying on the inside, this:

Tour de Cure Still NightDo not go gently into that (I know,  in Dylan Thomas’ poem, it’s that  “good night,” but I thought  of  the line anyway. Who names a street “Still Night”? Where was I?)

Just as I became delirious with despair I was hurdling through the finish line!  (And then consuming vast amounts of bland chicken cutlets and lemonade.)

The ride had been harder than I’d expected. I texted Noah, “Done!” He texted back, “Proud of you!” “Backatcha,” I wrote.

Noah’s road is harder than I wish,  and he travels it alone. Every day.

Noah Head shot November 2014Congratulations Noah, on the road you ride with  vigilance, perseverance, even humor.  I’ve learned a lot from you about loving  life–about demanding everything  that it has to offer, and about offering to life all that you have to give. So much.

Remembering My Mother: “Poems And Photographs Not Needed.”

11 May

Some people will remember my mother as a young beautiful woman with a jaw line suggesting determination and more than a little resistance to rules. They might remember her Sexy Eyes Downcast–a refusal to look at the camera. Introspection.
mom so young

Many will remember her as a passionate reader and teacher. (All the while looking like Lena Horne.)
mom reading to me

I am afraid that not many will remember Audrey Dohmeyer Wasson Curley as a poet. That’s because she almost never talked about writing, publishing, her craft. I thought of her craft as the cigarette smoke after dinner, and the tap tap tap I heard on the typewriter late at night. If I couldn’t sleep (often) I’d come down and she’d make me a tuna sandwich and ask what was worrying me. Her being at the dining room table typing, crumpled paper at her feet, the scratchings on pages she’d placed on the kitchen counter–these things were just part of our life together. Mom and Kir on Pennsylvania Ave.

mom poem

Fifteen years ago she died unexpectedly. I was on a plane coming to see her because she’d not been feeling well, but Mom was hardly seriously ill–as far as we knew. She’d collapsed in her kitchen and then, barely conscious, called an ambulance. Emergency room for one night and then they let her out; she called a cab to get home. Something wrong with her heart. By then I was on my way. She died at home-hours before I got there.

When I decided to change my life a year and a half ago, one of the few things I threw into the Prius was a folder of Audrey’s poems that I’d found while packing up. I didn’t really know what the folder was. I mean, I’d read some of her poems, and knew she’d published a little bit… But last week I looked more closely. I never knew she had a poem published in Art Journal.

Mom's published poem
And the folder was jam-packed full of poems, one onion skin sheet after another. One about the marriage to my dad, and the cat “Fatty” that survived that relationship:
“Lean, tough and nasty. How we respected her violence,/learned ornithology and swooped in/to save her victims/And by the time we killed/the marriage she was slow, striking/out from a secret place under the table/ to rake any thighs available…”

Poems about her romantic life after my dad–one about being on a picnic with a new lover (Dan,who would become my stepfather):
“As I scuttle for shelter/from irony in the scrubby grove,/history that wets the world/and fear of love/he shows me a place/stripped dry enough for hunger,/ wonder sharp as a new small stone.”
Mom and Dan
Poems about art, teaching, birdwatching. One of her later poems is about the grandson with whom she fell in love, entitled, “Noah Daniel, First Birthday”:
“Our dearest men/are ageless. Look at you, Noah….Your pose prefigures,/(time runs both its ways)/Dan’s restive stance/face reflective in the mirror…”
Noah was six when she died. The last line of this poem is:
“I see you, Noah,/not so many birthdays hence/hand on jutted teenaged hip/checking out the water/looking to step in.”

Noah looks a lot like Audrey.
Noah older headshot better version

I knew Audrey was an amazing mother, teacher, single woman (in 1969? Not Easy), and someone who wrote poetry. I just didn’t realize that she was a serious artist. I’m pretty sure that she didn’t either. That wasn’t her style.

So, as they say: IN CONCLUSION. My mom ended a poem called “Aesthetics” with this:

“The Earth itself remembers./Poems and photographs/will not be needed as monuments/to moments we have been.”
Poems and photos not needed? I am so grateful for both her photos and poems.

I haven’t quoted lines from the poems that my mom wrote about me. I can hear her: “Oh God no, Kir! For a mother’s day piece? Hideously tacky.” Audrey still guides me. Away from self-indulgence.

But please allow me to quote a few lines from one of the many poems I’ve written about her:

(I had a dream while selling my Ithaca house; Audrey appeared, wanted to take a walk. She was annoyed that I was aging.)

“My tall mother, dead and impatient in turtleneck
and short skirt, hiking the marsh while I try to sell
an old house. She’s speaking of melting, the ground soft:
‘Almost everything takes forever, you know.’ Then
she spots a green shoot, a white bud: ‘A snowdrop. Look.'”

As I know her, Audrey is on the look out. She’s got her eye on art, birds, the word, and love.
She’s “checking out the water/looking to step in.”

mom in seattle
Here: a month before she died.
Happy Mother’s Day, Dear Reader. In some way or other-Honor your mom!

Easter Blues, Easter Dues

21 Apr

Me, Sad Bunny Close Up
Can’t explain it, just not feelin’ it (Easter). Or feeling it, but in all the wrong places…remembering dying eggs with my mom. Will never do that again–haven’t for 15 years. Hiding baskets with little plastic toys from CVS for Noah. That one year–he was four–when he confessed to looking out the window to see where I was hiding things in the yard. That’ll never happen again. Easter Past Writ Large. Which is stupid because all around me there are so many beautiful signs of life blooming.

palm fruit outside my apartment

Holidays do this to me…they highlight the past, the lost, ghosts.

skeleton on egg

So which came first–chicken or egg? Depression because I’m thinking about the past? Or already kind of depressed, and that chicken leads to the egg of the past? Wait. Should depression be represented by a chicken? The past by an egg? No! Egg=renewal. Chicken=”spring chicken,” something to grill, something that is a bird but doesn’t really fly. Now *that* works; depression is definitely the opposite of flying.

Well, here’s how my Easter went: I pulled myself out of the Slough of Spring Despond and went to pick up Noah. He was wearing a bunny shirt.

Noah in Playboy shirt

That tweaked my Easter Angst. Then he assembled the chair that Elizabeth so generously bought me some weeks ago, that I hadn’t been able to put together. (Ok, I didn’t even try.)
Me, New Chair

Then he filled my Scottster (bike) tires with air.

Noah fixes tire

Then we walked around Beverly Hills and looked at people in their “Sunday Best.” Everyone seemed ready for Ascension. Or Fire and Brimstone? Something. Noah practiced his new monologue. I felt the cobwebs in my brain become less gluey, the anvil in my heart lighten.
violin lady

Drove Noah back to his apartment and then went to Natasha’s. Her good cheer is infectious, and it’s not even annoying. Which can be annoying.
NIc on Easter
We made some LA eggs–pretty, happy, almost wearable, distinctly inedible.
EASTER EGGS

Then it was ok to come back to my little place; Easter was over. Gabby, the lovely 85-year old woman who lives down the hall, called out, “Happy Easter, Kirsten!” I waved to her. She wears lipstick every day.

I should have gone to church this weekend. Or, last week I could have held a Passover Seder. (Noah knows the prayers!) Neither ceremony was a tradition with which I was raised (vehemently secular family). But ritual frames the time of year, the history, the astronomical/spiritual moment with meaning. Just choose, Kirsten, one of the above! (Double entendre intended.)

Next year: an egg hunt? A face lift? A trip to Jerusalem?
At least some prayer. Oh. I can do that right now. Thank heavens.

Dove in tree

So here’s to honoring the egg of the now, and the next, Dear Reader!
Easter Egg of Life

Christmas, All Its Glory and Ghostliness

26 Dec

IMG_1497

Last year at Christmas I said to Noah, “Next Year in Beverly Hills!” A desperate prophecy, or unsuccessful joke? A few weeks later my bags were packed, my furniture in storage, and the Ithaca apartment rented. Noah was setting up a (precarious) life in Queens.

I drove out in a blizzard;  six days later I arrived at my old friend Natasha’s tiny apartment on Reeves Drive, right across from *my* new tiny apartment on Reeves Drive. Eleven months later, I am spending Christmas in the unholy Holy Land, City of Angels, Demons, and Highly Desirables. (This is my tiny tree in the tiny apartment on Reeves):

IMG_1606Spending it with Noah:

Noah, thoughtful, at Malibu And Natasha:Nic and me  arrival in LANatasha is single again.  She had moved into a place with Marcus a few months after I arrived. And then last week, she found her own place, a few blocks from here.  To quote T.S. Eliot:

Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future/And time future contained in time past.

(Burnt Norton, Four Quartets.)

I won’t quote the rest because it’s a little depressing, and basically I just want to say that “all time is eternally present.” As it happens,that’s what Eliot said too. I also want to say what you know well, Dear Reader: This Christmas makes you think about last Christmas, and every other Christmas.  It’s a holiday that frames one’s sense of family, community, God knows what else.

I already mentioned last year. Going back in time, (you do that too) here’s a memory  from three years ago–when Noah was off to Ithaca College. When I was trying to sell the big old farmhouse. When Felix the dog was alive (note ribbons around Felix’s neck; that’s how you know it’s a Christmas pic–he insisted on wearing our presents’ ribbons):IMG_1605

Further, much further. (What is your picture?)

IMG_1601This was taken by my mother. She was still alive. And Noah was three. I was. . .young.

Further back:

IMG_1595 That was the year that my mom got me the book Little Raccoon And the Thing in The Pool.  You can’t tell it’s Christmas, but the tree is in the background. As is my dad, who took the photo.

Way way back:IMG_1602I am holding some kind of ornament–all of my German-Irish tribespeople were crazy about tree decorations. I’m saying, in Holiday Red Tights: I got a thing here, right?

And here are Audrey and Dick, before me, before all the trouble:

IMG_1594So  that’ s as far back as I can go.  Ghosts of Christmas past. . .they always visit this time of year. Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present…

This year, Noah and I went to a performance of the Messiah at the Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA. My stepmother Cleo gave us the tickets as a Christmas gift. She is the woman who loved Dick after Audrey did.  And  divorced him after Audrey did.  And has mothered me, after my parents died fifteen years ago.

Noah, fascinated by all things religious and musical, loved the performance. I told him about how my dad and mom, separately, (atheists both) played The Messiah very loud every  Christmas and Easter. I told him how Grandpa Dick would bellow,  “WE LIKE SHEEP” making it sound as if it meant simply that we sinners were fond of  wooly creatures.

This is the 2013 Christmas picture I insisted on:

IMG_1585(1)

After the Messiah, I drove Noah to his apartment, and he told me what he knew about Jesus (from Cleo).  Then I turned around and drove back to the tiny apartment in Beverly Hills, thinking of my parents, Noah, Natasha, some layered history.  (I had to stop to get espresso at Starbucks.) And I kept thinking of this bit in Part The Third, after the Hallelujah chorus (how to follow that?!)

Behold, I tell you a mystery: we/shall not all sleep but we shall/all be changed in a  moment, in/the twinkling of an eye, at/the last trumpet.

Yes, we shall/could/should all be changed in a moment…

Looking at my years of Christmases, I am thankful for an unconventional cycle of  family and friendship. (Someone has a sense of humor.) And the ghosts of Christmas Past are around to remind us: Time Present. Merry, Merry, Dear Reader!

Over the 405 and Through Security To Ex-Stepmother’s House We Go

2 Dec

Noah at LAXIt’s been a long time since Noah and I have had a “normal” family holiday. Our family’s not normal. So suffice to say, it made sense to us to travel from Los Angeles to West Fairlee, Vermont for five days for Thanksgiving to visit my ex-stepmother, and Noah’s dad and stepmom. Family is as family does, and ours–does. Some things but not others. Like all families, normal or otherwise.

Fourteen hours after leaving LAX, we drove into Cleo’s driveway. Four decades ago, for four years, Cleo was married to my dad. She and I have been in close touch ever since–through her second marriage, her adopting her son (my brother!) Chris, my marriages and divorces, Noah’s arrival, and a lot of people dear to us dying. Noah and I climbed out of the rental car, and  crunched over the yard into her farmhouse kitchen. She had chicken and potatoes and pie in the oven. We stayed up talking until 2 am.

Cleo at T-GivingThis is Cleo remembering a kiss from Derrida. If you’re not familiar with the name, look up French Theorist Anyone Would Have Been Thrilled to Be Kissed By.

Next morning I woke up looking out the window at snow, ice, fur trees. Dorothy not in Beverly Hills anymore. Noah was downstairs, wide-eyed at the weather, and a Pendleton hat someone had at left at Cleo’s. She gave it to him.

Noah and Mom on Cleo's porch

We walked around outside.  Cleo lives right next to the West Fairlee Church. 19th- century. Stunning. A treasure of the community.

Fairlee church

Also, I got married there. Some time ago. Marriage didn’t work out but as you can see, God had nothing to do with that. The humans failed.  Noah strung up the lights for the coming Sunday service. Noah believes in God, one of the many cool things about my son. Not attached to a particular religion though. One of the many cool things. . .

Fairlee LakeDriving into town, we passed dark, delicious Fairlee lake. I’ve been swimming there since I was 12, Noah since he was 2. We played the “remember when” game: “Remember when we played tennis there, and got kicked off the courts because it was private?” (yup.) “Remember when. . .” We also talked about the future: “Do you have a plan, Mom?” (kinda.)

Then we got to Fairlee Center and went into Chapman’s–one of my favorite stores *anywhere*. Ike, the Counter Cat, was in his usual place:

Counter Cat

The counter. Next to the counter we found a singularly New England treat. (Like poi bowls at the Santa Monica Beach.)

turkey jerkyThey don’t have these cases of jerky at my Beverly Hills Whole Foods.  Newly vegetarian, I turned up my nose, while my mouth watered. Next stop the Fairlee Diner, a locale about as Vermont as you can get. Nothing without butter, ham,  syrup.

Fairlee Diner(Spot my cane?) We drove then to Hanover to shop at the Co Op. And then I looked all over town for a menorah because this year the first day of Chanukah fell on the same day as T-Giving. SO. . . I knew Hanover was WASPY, but the one and only menorah available was in a craft store and cost two hundred dollars!

It was time to return to Cleo’s and welcome our friends Mary and Jeff–who drove from New Paltz, NY, to spend the holiday with us. Mary is a kind of aunt to Noah, and he  a kind of nephew.

IMG_1447

Noah spent the evening with his dad and stepmom who had driven from Ithaca to see him.  Jeff and Cleo talked solidly for hours because–as it turned out–they wrote about very similar theological issues. (Derrida, Death, and  Tao was all I could glean. And that Jeff had not been kissed by Derrida, but he was cool with that.) Mary, meanwhile,Mary making menorah got busy making a menorah for Chanukah. Look what the shiksa from Texas made with slate, pine–and, of course, play dough:menorahA fine addition for Mary’s resume. (AND NOW AVAILABLE IN CRAFT STORES EVERYWHERE FOR TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS.)

That night I slept the way one does in the cold,  dark, and safe, and then it was Thanksgiving.

Noah making beetsWe had many many dishes of various kinds; this is the beet man with his yellow and red stir fry. I made up a fennel and parm and olive thing that I would marry if I could and will probably never be able to duplicate. Sweet holiday moments. Not meant for replication.

T-Giving, Noah, Mary, Mom

Only once did I get into my cups and say silly self-pitying things. I found everyone lovely, and everyone seemed to tolerate me.  Even though she was under the weather, Mary cooked amazing dishes, cleaned, and made the now legendary menorah.  Cleo made everyone feel special and loved. Jeff fit into this brand new scene with people he’d never met like a real mensch. Deecie, Cleo’s sister, brought pie and belated birthday presents for me. (BIG THANK YOU, DEECIE). Noah was the best Noah ever.

And when it took us over twenty hours (two out of three flights were delayed) to get home, he just kept laughing. Especially when we got into the cab at LAX and the radio was playing “Jingle Bell Rock.” Tears were rolling down his cheeks. The absurdity of the traveling mishegas,  of the wintery song in the midst of a warm night with the windows rolled down,  palm trees bursting in air, had him pretty tickled. But perhaps it was also relief. We made it! We made a slightly crazy trip for a holiday with our not normal family. We. Made. It.

There’s been a lot of recovery this year, for which I am very thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, Dear Reader!

EPILOGUE:

 Sandalled feet in BHAs my mother used to say after every trip, “Home Again, Home Again, jiggity jig.”  The next morning, back in sandals and with the sun beaming on my face, I walked around the corner to get coffee. Noah was in my apartment, registering on-line for the coming semester. The tailor and the post-woman both shouted out, “How’s the hip?!” I was without my cane. “I went to Vermont,” I answered nonsensically.

There’s no place like home: This one, that one. The other.

IMG_1459 A bedroom window

IMG_1339holds you in its frame. A view of where you’ve been, are, or will be. Home again, home again.

Fresh Green Breast Of the New World, Real (Im) Plants Of Beverly Hills, A Force That Through The Green Fuse Drives

14 Jul

IMG_0336 I went away for a while, Dear Reader, but I’m back to Paradise (Mostly.) My  apartment. My front door! And postage stamp front yard–to which I tend not a wit. Here in Paradise, there are hired hands for that.The men are here twice a week, watering, clipping, making jokes in Spanish. As it is Beverly Hills, they are also probably providing tweezing, waxing, and laser, if not full-on surgery. As an outsider, I  haven’t yet deciphered who and what is having who and what done, exactly. (But I can tell you that the dogs who don’t get regular pedicures are nasty.)  The fauna and flora in SOCAL are so healthy and luxurious that it takes a team to keep things even half-way under control.

Having grown up in Central Illinois, I know the importance of a well-tended front yard: the sign of one’s moral worth and good citizenship, the mark of an ordered life. In Champaign Urbana, during the late 1960’s and 70’s one’s lawn demonstrated that one was happy and successful and, more importantly, that one was contributing to the connective tissue of the neighborhood patriotic godliness. Or not. (My family.)

In case you were wondering, lawns became lawns in our fair nation at the end of the nineteenth century, in imitation of European royalty.  “Land of the free and home of the brave”– yes, but American property aesthetics were (are) about land-holding aristocracy. Think of the lawns in East and West Egg in The Great Gatsby. Tom and Daisy have a yard for playing polo. And Gatsby’s entire property is an imitation of European style. When Daisy finally comes to visit, Gatsby has Nick’s neighboring lawn mowed to perfection,  an act of love (desperation.)

As the decades proceeded and suburbia reigned supreme the lawn became a key feature of American identity, not to mention economy. Would you believe that Americans spend three billion hours a year pushing or riding gas-powered lawn equipment? Nowhere in the world are lawns as prized as in America (Thank you, Michael Pollan–who stopped mowing).

Living in Beverly Hills, I am struck by a lawn paradigm different than the one with which I grew up. It’s…uh, wacko paradise. Anarchy of the transplanted and bursting in air.

IMG_0030(8)

But before I get to that, a quick tale of my own anarchic lawn heritage: after my parents divorced, my mom was on her own with the lawn. She mowed,  occasionally used weedkiller, but there were always mounds of dandelions growing like little communist manifestos, and brown patches bristling–not-quite-under-the-radar-atheist-gatherings that  proclaimed our subversive slovenliness.

It wasn’t that Mom didn’t like growing things: our back yard was a rambling garden with snap peas, mint, peonies, ferns, basil, tomatoes, snapdragons. . .pillow-talking plants mumbling together through hot humid afternoons and evenings lit with fireflies, the sound of the sprinkler whisking back and forth, filling the air with that sweet wet tang. (Yes, my new rap lyrics.  Help out Dear Reader, and send me phrases describing your childhood summer night smells ?)

Our neighbors the Bickers (I swear) offered to help Mom out with mowing techniques and pesticides. Their lawn was picture-perfect: consistent in color,  clipped to perfection, every blade standing tall and stiff as if singing the star-spangled banner at dawn. The Bickers had a flag, of course–waving more rigidly than gently–and a few geraniums in planters, which Mrs. Bickers watered every other evening at 5:32.  I knew this because I had a new wristwatch. It was 1969, and I bounced up and down our driveway, on one of those red rubber balls with the round handle–the “it” toy of the era for pre-adolescent girls.  Boing, boing, boing.  5:30 and counting. There she was,  Mrs. Bickers filling her watering can from the hose. Mom was on the porch, sipping her martini, watching me boing and Mrs. Bickers water the geraniums. To each his own. . .or so we thought. BUT WE were the neighborhood communist atheists.

If I had one of those balls now, I’d definitely be boing-ing it around my Beverly Hills hood where, strangely enough, people are friendlier and less judgmental  than anywhere I’ve ever lived. Way friendlier than the small upstate New York academic town. On my BH block the sidewalk hosts elderly people with walkers, boys throwing water balloons and screaming “Cheater!!!,” leggy androgynous models, awkward teenagers, frumpy middle-agers, hipsters, no age whipper-snappers, bald agents, hairy writers;  every day, walking to Star Bucks  I hear Spanish, Farsi, Hebrew, German, French, and some English.  White, black, brown, yellow, wealthy and not, gay and not, happy and not– that’s the demographic, and almost everybody smiles and says hello and comments on your dog. If you don’t have one, the neighbors allow you the imaginary pup wagging his tale at your imaginary life. That’s where I live.

And these are the lawns that accompany my home-away-from home, my Died-And-Drove Away City of Angels hamlet:

This is across the street:IMG_0473

A “lawn” that says Take Me, Before I Take YOU.  No mowing, no Brow-Beating-About-The-Bush.

Down the block:

artichokeGawky spiky artichoke, just growing away like that in the front yard. And this:

IMG_0494(1)is around the corner, humid and spooky in there. Yeah, I just opened the gate and walked in.

IMG_0487This thing lives in the yard next door:

IMG_0313(1)So, you get the picture. The natural world is on crack here:

IMG_0472Therefore: the ethos of the lawn, the front yard is governed by the surreal fauna of Beverly Hills. When you have this kind of thing growing right outside your window

banana palm

you realize this is Wonderland, and Fitzgerald’s notion of “the fresh green breast of the new world” that the old Dutch Sailors saw is about as quaint as a Real Beverly Hills Housewife cleaning  house.  The front yard is no longer about lawn.

IMG_0486

IMG_0492Dylan Thomas’ line about the blazing beautiful and destructive  “force that through the green fuse drives the flower” is on fire in the City of Angels and Lost Souls. One can tame it, I suppose.  IMG_0299

But the beast just keeps growing new limbs (and there’s a subtle roar to be heard in that alley.) Five months into my visit, I am thrilled by the many configurations that this beast of a city reveals to me. I am dizzy, Dear Reader, with the real and unreal gardens  growing here.

IMG_0359(1)A great ride, though I’ve not a clue what it means. I do know that a front yard here is not what a  front yard was in the Midwest, or in my Upstate New York town where for years I mowed and weeded. Badly. (Fortunately the growing season there was three and a half weeks.) Here, a Juice Store grows a  lawn on the wall facing the street–because it can. (Yes, I am the water-er of those wall-growing succulents.)

IMG_0743Here, things grow that I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams. Including myself. I am growing.

My son Noah might have something to say that growth–that I’m dressing as if I were a teenage girl. “Mom. Really? Those shorts?” Inappropriate, but that’s part of my growth, SEE?  And my bloodline, we recall, is that of  Lawn Care Boasting Atheistic Communism.

After a few summers of Mrs. Bickers’ dirty looks over the hedge, and Mr. Bickers’ pesticide aid and dirty looks at my mom’s legs, one day she made a decision. She got her hands on a book about Southwestern landscape architecture. She called a garden store. The next day, hundreds of pounds of small white rocks were dumped and spread over our yard. She stopped mowing– in the name of art. And rebellion. And moral rectitude. She didn’t need a perfect  lawn to know she was a good person. And she brought a little Wonderland to our street.

Now, that I live in a land of wonder, AND am about to turn an age I couldn’t imagine becoming, I will dress like Alice if I want to. At my party, I will cry if I want to.  Rap if I want to (send me lyrics!). I am in paradise. Lost. And laughing. Not mowing.