Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Banner Year

Nineteen-hundred and sixty- two was a banner year for me. I made it to the double-digit age, the magic 10, I was almost attacked by an aggressive German Shepherd, I helped catch a bad guy, I found my way home from four miles away in the San Francisco maze of streets, I learned a little about human anatomy, almost lost an eye and my dad helped solve a famous murder.
About three weeks into my fifth grade school year, my brother and I were playing or fighting and running down the hall in our new home in stocking feet on hardwood floors. I lost my footing and slid face first into the door jam between the rooms where I was trying to make my turn. By the time my mother picked me up off the floor, my eye had swollen shut and was protruding out and inch. She took me to Alemany Emergency where her mother had died from a car accident when my mom was eight years old. A drunk driver had run a stop sign on New Years Day. She didn’t want to be there, I remember her telling my step dad how she hated that place but she was scared I would lose my eye if she didn’t get me to the closest emergency room. I didn’t lose my eye, but I saw everything with a yellow haze for about a year (after I was finally able to open my eye at all) and my teacher at Longfellow paraded me around to all her teacher buddies like a circus act. It was quite grotesque. I had a lump on my eyebrow into my late twenties.
My brother Johnny, his friend Chuck, and I got lost in San Francisco when my dad dropped us off at Larsen Park one day. When he wasn’t there on time to pick us up I led the three of us on the four mile trek back to my moms house. I remember not really knowing where I was going, but pretending I did. We walked down streets I recognized but probably didn’t know their names. Past pastel stucco homes with carriage garage doors, and those great wide stair banisters I used to like to slide down. My brother Johnny, would have been about seven years old then. He never once complained about walking four miles on his crooked little legs. That kid was tough. I think that was the beginning of my bent towards leadership. Those two boys followed my lead, never once doubting I would get us home. Afterwards, I was damn proud of myself. A confidence building moment in time, which would both, help and hurt me throughout my life.
My dad was mad when he finally caught up with us. I guess he thought a ten year old would stand there and wait. I guess he didn’t know me very well.
My mom’s house was at the very top of a long street in San Francisco. From Geneva St. it was all up hill. Technically we were in Daly City, but a block away was San Francisco. My brother and I walked to school everyday, down Pope St. to Hanover then Lowell to Morse where Longfellow Elementary stood. Hanover St was always a little scary. There was a house on a corner lot that had three or four big German Shepherds tied up outside who would go crazy when we walked by. Growling and pulling at their ropes; as much as I loved dogs, I always sensed danger at that house.
One day one of them got loose and I wanted to run but Johnny stood perfectly still so I stayed with him. The dog charged us, growled and then wrapped his mouth around Johnny’s thigh, and still the only thing that kid moved was his big eyes when he looked at me for help. The dog never bit down. He scared the crap out of us though. We walked away very slowly, barely breathing. As soon as we were out of dog sight we ran like crazy all the way to school. We got in trouble for being late and when I told them what happened they didn’t believe me. My dad did though. I never saw the dogs outside again. I’m pretty sure some uniformed officer knocked on their door. I often wonder now, how Johnny knew not to move. Sometimes he just knew things.
One of my favorite things of all time was when my dad picked me up in the paddy wagon. The paddy wagon was originally a detention van used to pick up and transport criminals, drunks mostly, converted to a Crime Scene Mobile Unit. But they didn’t use terms like that back then. It was just “the wagon”. He came to school in the wagon because he was working on a case about a half a block away. My dad was a San Francisco Homicide Investigator and the case he caught was a big one. I say he caught it, but I think every investigator in the department was on that case. The Iva and Ralph Kroeger case was front-page news. The house where they murdered Mr. and Mrs. Arneson was less than a block from my school. On this particular day when my dad came by school to pick me up, he had a big gash across his rather large nose. When I asked what happened he told me he was investigating a case and when he had gone to the basement a piece of wire was strung across the stairs and caught him in the nose. He wore the scar the rest of his life. That same basement was where they found the murdered couple.
While my dad worked his case- I worked a case of my own. Behind my moms house, high up on the hill butting up against San Bruno Mountain and the Geneva Drive in Theater, was a street called Bellevue. Because there were only homes on one side of the street and the theater on the other, we often played ball on that street. All of us kids, my brother, his buddy Chuck, and the Kellogg kids (there were tons of them) would play kick ball for hours. Sometimes we would hang out or build forts on the empty lots. One day one of the Kellogg kids noticed a man in the window and said he was naked. We all looked. I think I may have been the only one that didn’t really see anything. I saw him standing there, but I didn’t see what everyone else was seeing. Never-the-less, we all ran home to tell our parents.
The uniformed police came to our house to take a report.One of them told me he knew my dad. I remember them asking me if I could help them. Of course I could! They asked us to play out in front of the man’s house again. We didn’t have to look up they said. They would be there watching. The first few evenings nothing happened, but then- finally he appeared in all his glory. I remember running home, my face flushed from the foggy San Francisco evening and the excitement of helping the police. I hoped my dad would be proud, I wanted to be just like him.
Some weeks later, my cousins, actually they were my cousins, cousins, Trudy, Toot, Bubby and I were walking down Geneva St. to go to the Excelsior Theater. My stepdad was working at the Italian American Social Club on Russia St. at the time, about a block away from the theater. I can’t remember now, who was the first to notice the man walking behind us but it didn’t take us long to figure out he was exposing himself to us. We screamed and ran the block to Russia St. My step dad was busy working so he called my Nan to come get us. I don’t remember if he had any consoling words for us or if he even believed us. I do remember he gave us cokes and let us sit at the bar. I always liked doing that.
Nan was like our grandmother but in truth, she was my mother’s aunt. Nan had bleached blond hair, a whiskey voice, and an old San Francisco accent that many people mistook for New York. She smoked Viceroy cigarettes and talked “carny talk” with my mom. That was their secret language when they wanted to talk about things kids shouldn’t hear. They spoke so fast I thought it was Italian. She came by the house every night to tuck us in and tell us a bedtime story when my older sister and I were little. Now, since we were older she would just stop by and visit whenever she could.
When Nan picked us up, we told her what happened. She was not a bit surprised. “That was just a dickie shaker” she said. “It happens once in a while.” There was no horror, no lectures, no Catholic guilt. We weren’t scared for life by the little penis he held in his gnarled little hand. In fact, she had us joking about it by the time we got home. Nan was not afraid of much.
My Dad’s case went on for quite a while. His investigation took him to the two places he knew best in life- San Francisco and Santa Rosa. The murdered couple was from Santa Rosa the murderers from San Francisco. The search for Iva lasted a quite a while, then she was spotted in San Diego and brought back to San Francisco to be tried along with her husband, for murder.
That year, my dad taught me how to dust for fingerprints and transfer them to the special paper they had. He taught me about phrenology, no longer used today but I still keep that information in the back of my mind; and how to pay attention to people and my surroundings. He also taught me how to walk. Long strides he would tell me. If you are going to take long walks, use long strides and save your energy. I guess he knew me after all.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Unmade Bed

Last night at dinner my daughter in law pointed out that my shirt was on inside out. It had been that way for a few hours and for my trip to the store where once again I was tripped up thinking people were looking at me because I was cute. No… just loopy.

I am like an unmade bed. I am rumpled and messed, lumpy and lopsided. My whole life is like this. When I get up in the morning my bed looks like three people sleep in it. Covers are on the floor, books and/or magazines are everywhere, sometimes there are cookie crumbs. Usually three of the six pillows are on the floor too, sometimes landing on my old dog who lies next to my bed. If not in his crate, my little dog is next to me somewhere, sometimes under whatever cover is still on the bed, sometimes on a pillow like the king. Middle dog got tired of pillows and books landing on him and legs kicking him long ago. He sleeps somewhere safe.

I get up and feed animals, grab my coffee and stagger back to my messy room. Sometimes I try to straighten the bed. Sometime I wait for my coffee to kick in. My clothes are scattered about. I do hang them up… but they always come back to the bench, the dresser, the floor. I don’t know how that happens.

I shower, brush teeth, apply makeup and fix my hair. I never look in the mirror again. My hair is long and thick, really, thick, still-I never run another brush through my hair all day. Sometimes at work, I tie it in a knot and hold it up with a pencil. When I remove the pencil it just falls where it will. When my son is around, he will remind me. Mom- Hair. Mom- lipstick. I just forget. It’s not that I’m not vain- I surely am. I just forget. Sometimes on weekends, I forget to brush my hair until bedtime.

My kitchen counters are cluttered. Coffee pot, toaster, mixer, Buddha, bills, coupons, Lysol, doggie meds, syringes, soaps, cleaning supplies, cleaning supplies, cleaning supplies. In spite of my clutters, I have a phobia about germs.

My office is the worst. It’s the toss it in there room. I recently straightened it out. I hauled two large garbage bags of papers out. Copies of stories, printed and reprinted while I comb for errors that I will inevitably miss anyway. Another dead tree with my name on it.

My brain is scattered. Throughout the day I will have conversations in my head. Or, I should say my characters will have conversations in my head. I use their voices. I say things just like they would. Male, female, animal… it matters not. In North Carolina I used to walk in the woods and have out loud conversations. The woods aren’t as convenient here.

Sometimes when people are talking to me, I’m not really listening. I am hearing my characters instead. It’s messy. I always have to say- I’m sorry, what was that you said? Sometimes my sister Angie catches me. Are you there? She asks.

Once in a while I think: what if I get hit by a car and someone has to go through my stuff? Then I clean. I clean drawers and fold everything nice. I toss old scraps of crap I can’t remember why I saved in the first place. I would hate for my sisters to be going through my stuff and saying to each other- wow she was more disturbed then I thought. My son would understand. He is the same- without the germ phobia. But he would be days on end trying to make sense of my scribbles and scrawls, my meaningless doodles.

I have friends who are neat and orderly. My friend Diane packs a suitcase that looks like she had an engineer draw up plans for. Honestly. I know her cabinets are organized. I’ve never seen them because she lives in Texas-I just know it. Her hair is always neat too. Her clothes are not wrinkled or inside out either. My sister Linda spends hours getting her hair perfect or cleaning and organizing. She even gets paid to organize people. My sister Angie has perfect closets. She straightens her shoes. I just toss mine in and close the door quick, well occasionally anyway, when I put them away at all. Most of my friends are normal to neat. Why they like messy me I couldn’t say.

My mind goes from one subject to another without my permission. Research always takes me on a road trip with no map. I like it this way though. I like my brain hopping all over the place and looking for answers to questions I haven’t asked yet. It is messy, I know. But I think it has to be this way. I imagine some would say that sloppiness and creativity do not have to go hand in hand. And I agree. But...maybe for me - not being all about the material helps open up space for some creativity and crazy stuff that would not find it's way to me if I were busy matching socks.

I am like an unmade bed. But I am comfortable.