empty most of the year

SEABRIGHT BEACH (wikimedia commons)Yesterday morning, I drove across town to take a walk with a new friend. We walked for an hour and a half while she showed me around her part of town. Since I’m searching for housing and she’s lived here for many years, we talked some about housing. It’s been on my mind. Out of necessity, I’m broadening my search to other areas.

She’s lived in the same rental for eight years. She and her husband pay almost $3000 a month to rent a lovely and spacious-feeling townhouse overlooking a ravine and wetlands. Yesterday, the air was a chilled drink of citrus blossom, eucalyptus and ocean mist. The oaks trees had muscled arms like surfer dudes. The front-row units in the complex looked out over wide emerald lawns, past the masts of the harbor and across Monterey bay.

She said that many units in her fenced and gated community sit empty most of the year . They’re vacation homes.

We slipped out through a gate and turned down a walking path along the edge of the harbor. She told me about the day the Japanese tsunami hit.

“I stood and watched right here,” she said. “Boats broke loose and were sucked out. The masts hit the bridge and made an incredible noise. There were people standing on the bridge watching.”

We walked out to the lighthouse on a jetty which protects the harbor mouth. The jetty is protected by thick concrete jacks the size of SUVs. They’re slippery with seaweed and have gaps that slosh with surf.

“I knew a woman who fell on those,” she said. “Waves were breaking over her.”

“I don’t suppose you can keep people from climbing on them,” I said.

She shook her head.

Seabright beach runs north of the harbor mouth. There’s a surfer break during the winter where the San Lorenzo River lets out at the north end of the beach. Near the bay, the San Lorenzo River divides Seabright  from the Santa Cruz “Beach Flats” with its roller coaster and boardwalk, parties and drugs. The San Lorenzo river banks are locally infamous for housing the homeless and for needles in the undergrowth. There’s a walking bridge across the river that joins these two neighborhoods.

We circled through the Seabright neighborhood to look at a rental house I’d emailed about (but haven’t heard back). It’s near the beach and the river. It has no parking. With summer coming on, the unregulated street will soon be jammed with the cars of beach visitors. There are coffee shops and restaurants nearby. But the grocery stores and the library are inland and more distant than we’re used to walking.

Without trying, I counted six homeless people in the neighborhood. There was one old guy sleeping sitting straight up on a bench next to busy traffic. There was a pack of four young people loaded down with their multicolored housing gear. One had an infant strapped on his chest.

Even behind their lawns and gates, my friend has had a car break-in and a bike stolen. As I drove out of Seabright, I saw a young woman standing like a statue in the street. She stared at the back window that had been smashed out of her car. She seemed transfixed by the crumbled glass.

I broaden my housing search because I must. I lack faith that the universe will pull something safe and affordable out of nothing and hand it to us at the last moment simply because we’re kind, good and deserving people. I’ve met kind, good and deserving people among the homeless. The list of Craigslist ads posted by people seeking housing is as long as the list of ads with people offering it.

Robert interviewed for a job in Florida yesterday. It’s clear to him that they need his expertise. They’re in the process of re-certifying old navigation software written by people long gone. The engineers were thirty-somethings with military backgrounds. He said they’re inexperienced with commercial aircraft navigation certification.

FAA LOGO“It’s harder than it used to be,” he said. “The F.A.A. has stricter standards now.”

Robert is more experienced than management. His “manager” would be almost twenty years younger than he is. There was only one gray-haired man in the mix. “Gray-haired” was the only one who’d been working there longer than two years. They call this “low staff turn-over”.

There are twenty young engineers who are the brains, making and doing in a workforce of about 120. These engineers are not drivers of the train. They’re the engines that pull the train. Without engineers, there would be no reason for the others.

Robert was told that the engineers usually work forty hours a week. But, right now, they’re behind on their software verification schedule. They need to work their engines overtime for no extra pay.

Robert wasn’t able to meet any of the other employees because they were in a mandatory “all hands” meeting.

The job site is embedded in an industrial zone. He said it looked too rough to make our home near enough for him to walk to work. The six engineers he met told him they commute 45 minutes or more each way from fenced and gated neighborhoods. Traffic is thick and congested. No one lived in the small town a fifteen minute drive from the job. No one could tell him why not. According to the folks he met, two-bedroom apartments rent for $1800 to $2500 month. After taxes, this is about half an engineer’s salary.

This is the price of rent where I am. If I could find a place to rent here.

CLEARWATER BEACH FLORIDA (wikimedia commons)The Gulf of Mexico is shallow for a long way out. It has no surf to surf. People don’t live near the beaches. Sandy beaches are on car-dependent barrier islands accessed via long causeways. Beach islands are stacked with vacation condos and resort hotels with a sprinkling of beach houses but have no grocery stores or libraries.

They sit empty most of the year.

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six weeks and counting

800px-American_Alligator_in_waterYesterday, I drove Robert to the San Jose airport. He flew almost 3,000 miles to Florida for a job interview. He chases the trail of the wild goose and fishes for the elusive red herring. We don’t know why these people looked him up two years after they turned him down for this same job. We have doubts that the steamy climate, king-sized insect life, alligators and hurricanes of Florida could be a good fit for us.

After the two-hour round trip to the airport, I drove to the local warehouse store. I bought organic strawberries, blueberries, bananas, lemons, watermelons and cream cheese. I picked up loaves of Italian bread, a huge pineapple, basil pesto and a sack of smooth round red, white and blue potatoes. I even found live fermented cabbage kraut. Perhaps we should be searching for housing closer to the warehouse store.

While I was loading up on jumbo-sized food, a property manager called me to look at a house on Riverview Drive in the village. I scheduled to meet her at two.

I had realtors coming at noon to show our apartment to “an investor” thinking of buying it. We left the apartment clean with windows open for fresh air and the shades open for the light.

I walked the boys up to Dharma’s to get us out of their way. We split a vegetarian burrito, fresh tofu spring rolls with peanut sauce and a plate of nachos. Normally four of us would share a meal like this. So we three ate too much and then waddled home with our leftovers in a sack. We sat in a row on a bench above the village to digest a while. Then we walked back down into the low-land river-pocket of surf, sand and palm trees.

00a0a_iNDRF5CxCUO_600x450In the afternoon, we looked at the rental house. It’s in the right general area for us. But at $2200 a month, the rough-edged one-bedroom home is priced high. It’s a vertical “French sized” house of maybe 700 square feet that includes many levels and steep stairs. The space is divided into rooms too small for modern furniture. The bedroom will hold nothing larger than a double bed. There’s also a loft overlooking the living room large enough for a twin bed. Bunks could work there. But the living area is barely big enough for a couple of comfy chairs and maybe a small eating table. A real piano would be out of the question.

The house is also on a low-lying side-street that floods regularly. And the street is crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with vacation rentals. Nobody lives there year round.

While we were looking at it, a friend walked by. I invited her inside to help look. She warned me. A friend of hers used to live in this house. It’s a tourist vacation party street where loud music plays late into the night. Unlike France, with its sound-stopping stone and concrete blocks, walls here are made from plywood and termite nests. Sound travels right through. And Americans are not so quiet as the French. Not at all.

A hand-dug-cave underneath has some storage space, the gas water heater, electric panel and hookups for a washer and dryer. But since this basement regularly fills with flood water, this is a bad gamble. My friend showed me with her hand how deep the water gets.

But finally we’re acceptable renters. This is the only rental I’ve found in six weeks of looking that’s willing to accept us. The property manager said we’re on the “top of her list” and will “hold our position” till my husband returns on Friday morning to look. I suspect that I’m the only one who’s “applied” for it so far.

And if it were priced right for what it is and for the current market conditions (about $1500 a month), I’d take it and make it work. Earplugs are cheap. I have a drop-leaf table. We’d buy an electric piano and small beds. We’d screen off the loft into a sleeping area. We’d walk to a coin-op laundry with our clothes. We’d only store ocean equipment in the cave. But if it were priced right, it would be gone by now and the manager wouldn’t be considering us.

I put out leftover potato soup, salad and toast for dinner. But I didn’t make it past the salad to the soup. There’s only so much any of us could eat after that lunch.

Today is another day. We have six more weeks to find a new home.

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Thanks for reading.


skin gets in the way


CLOSE (wikimedia commons)

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even when we’re close
you’re too far away from me
skin gets in the way

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too close for comfort
death and I played pinochle
it seems we both won

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last chapter
sigh and close the book
turn lights out

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green denial

OREGON IS GREEN (wikimedia commons)When I drove north last weekend, I knew I was close to the Oregon border before I saw the “welcome” sign. The buff-colored, bare boned and rock-strewn hills of northern California became infused with pale lime green.

It was lovely. But there was something about that color that made me shudder.

After I crossed the border and drove north into Oregon, the color intensified. By the time I got to the nitrogen-gorged grass-seed fields of the Willamette River valley, I was crowded and pursued by inescapable and hostile green. Corkscrews of green energy bored into my brain like demon worms.

I glared at the green mountains. I scowled at wide green pastures sprinkled with mossy flocks of sheep. Everything was too green.

And this is not as green as it gets in Western Oregon. This time of the year, deciduous trees only wear their diaphanous spring negligees. When Norway maples add their thick verdant cloaks to the rolling hills of Douglas Fir, the left side of Oregon smothers under an ocean of green.

Western Oregon is crowded with thirsty chlorophyll-based life forms. Every freeway interchange and hillside, yard and median strip is crammed with lush voluminous foliage. Invasive non-native English ivy and Asian Blackberries bury native species and fence rows, sheds and barns.

A slick of algae coats every surface that’s not covered by thick moss. And there are a thousand types of moss. There’s “sidewalk” moss, “deck” moss, “patio” moss and “roof” moss. A lush deep “yard” moss takes over lawns and flower beds. A slippery “yard tool” moss consumes lawnmowers and trowels when they’re left outside over night. An infinite variety of un-named mosses cover the bark and twigs of every tree and shrub. When I lived in Western Oregon, our bedroom window sills and screens clogged with so much spongy moss that I couldn’t slide the windows open. The rubber gaskets around my car windows supported thriving moss ecosystems. Once, when we were away for three months, my husband’s car grew a layer of moss that turned his white car into a yellow-green hummock.

“Not talking about it” is the mainstay of any system of denial. Oregonians fall down on the job of having enough words for all this green out of psychological self-protection. They say green, verdant and chartreuse. But that’s it. There’s such an infinity of spreading, growing, towering and crawling green that it takes my breath away. But there’s only a skimpy fistful of ways to whisper about it.

Oregonians are pros at denial because of their water issues. In western Oregon, water falling, blowing, misting, fogging, rising up from the earth and filling the sky with clouds is a pervasive and unavoidable fact of life for ten months of the year. Then the rain stops. Creeks dry up. Wells run dry. There’s a two month respite from dripping, splattering, spattering, flowing and floods. During the months of July and August, precipitation ceases entirely. Without irrigation, soil bakes to brick.

OREGON COUNTRY FAIR IS GREEN (wikimedia commons)When the annual summer drought arrives, Oregonian’s click over into protective rain denial. They stop talking about rain. Oregonians dig out their one pair of shorts that have been crammed in the bottom drawer all year, put on tie-dye t-shirts and smear on a year’s worth of sunscreen. They dance naked at outdoor festivals and picnic at outdoor concerts in parks. No one mentions rain till the rain comes back. Then they act surprised. A summer visitor would never know rain existed.

“Rain? What rain?”

The living, growing green is so much, so everywhere and so always that locals have shut off their green receptors out of psychological protection similar to their rain denial. When I was a local, I had no idea there was so much green. I was oblivious. Green was invisible in me. When a visitor commented that I must like green a lot to live in Oregon, I startled and looked around. I didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Green?” I asked. “What green?”

But my time away stripped me of my psychological anti-green calluses. On this trip, I was bare of local cognitive protections against the all-powerful green. So I was surrounded, pursued and smothered by green. I wrapped my head in green-protective aluminum foil and painted green-blocker on the lenses of my glasses.

But it was too late. Green bared its mossy teeth and swallowed me alive.

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Thanks for reading.


till we drop

800px-Waste_-_Polystirenethree-D packaging
slim flat phone
crated styrofoamed
shipped to home

can crammed to the top
trash truck lifts
waste is bigger than
all these gifts

one and one is two
you knew that
hundred million more
where’s trash at?

one run two new and
three four five
six kicks seven eight
do hand jive

nine mine ten again
we will shop
nine mine ten again
till we drop

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Thanks for skipping rope to this protest against excess.


house envy again

THE LAND OF GIANTS (wikimedia commons)We’re at the end of a twelve and a half hour drive from Capitola to Portland Oregon. We’re in a good-enough cheap-enough motel next to the freeway. Our bellies are full of deli takeout salad and microwaved pasta. We had a long visit with a friend, picked up a box of files and toured her new home.

Even though my friend’s new place looks as tall as a two-story house from the outside, it’s a single level home on the inside. The ceilings so high that her extra-long ladder isn’t tall enough to change bulbs in the ceiling spotlights. Even in the laundry room, the vaulted ceilings give me that “in-church-talking-to-God” feeling. The top kitchen shelves are out of reach. She leaves them empty rather than keep a ladder in the kitchen. I couldn’t reach the top of doorways standing on tip toe. The house seems to have been built for a race of NBA basketball stars. French housing made me feel over-sized. I felt like a petite fairy princess in my friend’s new house.

“This is a small single-level house for retirees,” she said. “But you either need to climb a ladder or hire someone to change the ceiling light bulbs.”

She found an extension-handled gadget to change the bulbs in the house she down-sized to.

Small is relative. For the price of a low, dark, fixer-upper box with a financially-strapped condo association in our new town, she bought a high-end single-family house twice its size in an homogeneous upscale neighborhood. Each house has a perfect emerald inset of lawn, flower beds and a driveway wide enough to park two cars.

Her master bedroom suite sports two walk-in closets. Both of these closets and the master bath are each as large as the bedrooms in apartments we’ve been looking at. She has also an art studio. Her husband has a home office.

Every room of her house has oak floors accented with darker wood insets. The barn-sized gourmet kitchen sports a mile of thick granite slab counters. Wide white moldings gleam around every vast plantation-shuttered window and door. There’s even an attached two-car garage. The garage has a vaulted ceiling as well.

In our new California beach town, just this garage would be rented out as a family apartment for $1800 a month. The entire two-bedroom house we rented in France would fit in the kitchen and living area of her new home. A traditional stone two-story French family home could be sheltered inside the living room and not touch the ceiling.

Size is relative. Size counts.

I’ve been infected with house envy again.

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Thanks for reading.



BONES RATTLE (wikiedia commons)bones rattle. hoops hiss. worlds turn. stars wink.
hearts fill with light and exhale whispers.
always there’s a thrum and mist of sound.


hear silence beneath. under the noise.
chatter. clatter. rumble. roar. bump. pulse.
sound never stills till everything stops.

it stops.

seek and find holes between vibrations.
this is the way. through silent channels.
find stillness. move through. ready. listen.

go now.

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Thanks for reading.