April 2019

Countdown to Lindsay

The reason we never heard of the 1932 Emu War in Western Australia is that the emus won.

I’m driving down to Lindsay on 25 Apr 19 to try doing a photo essay on the Olson’s citrus grove in the same spirit that several years ago I drove to Oakdale and photographed John Bulk making a batch of cheese. There are some parallels here that go back into the late eighties with Ken Olsen and to the early nineties with Walter Bulk. They’re two of my very oldest vendors, but the difference is that Walter’s son John has taken over the business from his father while neither of Ken Olson’s sons was interested in doing so.  Fortunately, Ken’s grandson Erik did, right out of high school.

Since photographing a citrus grove is quite different from taking shots inside a cheese factory, I realized that I had to redouble my efforts to learn how to take photos with my drone so as to supplement the ground-level ones.

Ummm, actually, what I had to learn first was how to fly the damn thing since my first couple of efforts at doing so resulted in crashing it into walls and incurring expensive repairs. On both occasions, I saw it was headed toward a wall and stood there trying to remember just what pushing each joystick which way did. By the time I remembered, the drone was down.

So my first objective was to drive into muscle memory the functions of the joysticks so that i could make course corrections with reasonable rapidity. To do that, I waited until the rains were over and found a public park/playground that is utterly deserted during weekdays where I could stand out in the middle and fly the drone around me making many course corrections until I’d run the battery down. I did so a couple of days ago and discovered that my patience for this drill was exhausted at the same time as the battery. Before either happened, I took the photo below. And yes, what I should have done is frame the shot, position my finger above the button, look at the camera, and take the shot. Then again, I don’t expect to ever take another selfie. This one was just a test…and to prove that i really can fly a drone. And yeah, yeah, I know that in a proper selfie, your leering face must be taking up at least half the field of view.

Droner selfie
Droner selfie

I’ll fly the drone around again to practice with the joysticks and to better learn how to operate the camera to take stills. I don’t yet know how to insert a video into this website, so I don’t need to know how to take them now.

The fringe benefit from this preparation with the drone is that after I’ve returned from this expedition, I’ll be going up the Russian River with the drone to get photos of some of the bridges for which I was unable to get a good shot. Then I’ll do the same for the Sacramento. But first, stay tuned for an account of my visit to the citrus grove.

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Nina Youkelson

I met Nina shortly after i moved into Coleridge Park in August, 2017 and we spoke a few times, but the friendship didn’t really get going until the following October, when she ratcheted it up.

See, my Epiphyllum Anguliger had three big flower buds that were about to open, and i decided that rather than just letting it put on its great show and perfume the room for me alone, i’d put it out on the patio table in the late afternoon so that everybody could watch the bud open as darkness fell and then see it go limp and close the next morning. A one-night show.Several people thanked me for giving them the chance to see this exotic performance, but Nina sent me a lovely note, so kind that it resided on my refrigerator door for months. So i started visiting her and we hit it off in spite of a vast cultural gulf. Let’s face it, a redneck west Texas oil camp kid descended from folks who immigrated to Texas in the early nineteenth century to seek their fortune or, in some cases, to outrun a posse, should have precious little in common with a New York Jew whose parents had immigrated to this country from Russia to escape the pogrom.

Well, except that i did graduate from high school in Odessa. No no, the Odessa in west Texas rather than Одеса, the Ukrainian port on the Black Sea.

Anyhow, we discovered mutual friends like Liz Crane, the manager of the Noe Valley Farmers’ market whose kids had gone to the legendary nursery school that Nina ran for many years. And communalities like our both having undergraduate degrees in English and being avid readers.

Consequently, we could discuss books for hours and recommend favorites to each other, a great mutual pleasure since neither of us had had enough opportunity for that in recent times. I grew to treasure her friendship, and it must have been obvious to everyone in the building that i doted on her.

For a woman five years older than i, she was doing quite well until last summer when she turned up with a blood clot on the brain that required emergency surgery. But she bounced back from that quite well and seemed to have no lasting damage except that even though she could see and speak just fine, she could no longer read. Somehow the letters just didn’t form themselves into words.

I was sitting in her living room bewailing this awful situation for a woman who loved reading, and then i said, “Why don’t i read something to you?” Her response was to grab a book off her table and hand it to me. My heart leaped because it was Keith Gessen’s A Terrible Country, and i’d recently read a review of it that made me want to read it. Nina and i were both big fans of Keith’s older sister, Masha’s articles in The New Yorker, to which we were of course both subscribers. Since i had the book in my hand, i started reading it to her immediately.

I can read with feeling rather than in a flat monotone, and Gessen thoughtfully broke the novel into short chapters, just the right size for serialization, so there was only one problem in the reading. I had to slow to a crawl when reading the Russian names of people and places, which were numerous since the novel is set in contemporary Moscow. I couldn’t fake it because while Nina’s parents didn’t teach her Russian, she was quite familiar with the sound of it from overhearing the adults speaking their secret language. Still, i got through it and we both loved it. Ahh, the companionship.

Alas, shortly after we finished it, she fractured her 8th thoracic vertebra. I’d fractured my 11th last summer and reassured her that even though it would be a very unpleasant existence for a couple of months, the pain would gradually stop as the fracture graaaadually healed. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was in a good deal of pain at first, but mere hydrocodone was sufficient to cut it down to a tolerable level, and then after a week, i needed it only to get to sleep at night. And then after a month i didn’t need it at all.

Nina, alas, was in great pain from the beginning, and i was outraged that the doctors way too gradually gave her stronger and stronger pain meds and larger and larger doses. She didn’t get relief until finally she was on increased levels of morphine. Ohhh, did i ever have it easy.

Worse yet, she also had to deal with the loss of her primary caregiver, her son Adam who, just as she really needed him, had a relapse with a chronic medical condition and had to go back into a treatment facility.

All last winter she bounced between hospital and rehab. She’d get better and be sent to rehab, but then rehab would send her back to the hospital. Finally, she grew weaker and weaker until she cut off visitation and shortly after that went to the hospice where she died in just a few days on 7 April 2019.

I’m still crushed. And faced with the bizarre spectacle of feeling sorry for myself over losing her.

Here she is, perfectly captured last fall when her hair was growing back from the brain surgery. Alas, I didn’t take the photo. It was given me by Linda Rodriguey.

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At dawn, i was awakened from a fitful sleep when the jackbooted thugs kicked down my door and announced that it would go easier on me if i didn’t make ’em conduct a long search for the stash of opti they knew was somewhere on the premises. They were relatively gentle, but it didn’t take long before i pried up the floorboards in the corner of the kitchen for them. After that, they never hit me again because in the first place they were so excited over finding such a large quantity of the product and in the second that people who are full of high-quality opti lose interest in hitting others.

I warned them that if they took too much of the stuff, it would make them so nice that they wouldn’t be able to do their jobs, so they held back a bit but continued to sample, declaring the product the purest and least degraded by recent events than any they’d had in years. So they sat around toasting me with champagne (mine, of course, but they let me have a glass) as one of ’em calculated the street value once it was cut, packaged in single-use quantities, and distributed by street dealers saying under their breaths, “Opti? The best. Real government stuff.”

At least that’s the line my dealers use now that optimism is a controlled substance.

How did that happen? Well, remember that during the beneficent reign of Trump II, Our Leader realized that optimism was in increasingly short supply and that he should, contrary to the usual rule, remove it from the hands of free enterprise and make it a government monopoly. Some things are too good to be left to the highest bidder.

And then, under Trump III, distribution was limited to those with a clear need – party officials, members of congress, and selected state government officers.

Certainly not the likes of me. Or thee.

Meanwhile, some rather optimistic street art:

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The Slippery Slope

“You feel as if you’ve stepped back to when the cars driving by were Packards rather than Priuses. ” – John King

I’m trying desperately to hold my mind together.  We all are here in this senior housing since most of us have watched a dear one swirl down into Alzheimers and thus have as our greatest fear, that that will happen to us.

So we take active measures. We organize our lives so that we’re actively using our minds in our hobbies and entertainment. We gather on Tuesday afternoons to play word games at which, in spite of my background, i’m only average. Anything to stave off Alzheimers. But of course, we’re old and what comes with that, outside of Alzheimers, is forgetfulness and less attention to detail, which we try to counter by making shopping lists, to-do lists, and notes to ourselves all over the apartment.

But sometimes all that is not enough. Don’t tell Becky, but Thursday before last as i left the apartment building in a rush on the Segway, i realized that i would not be available the following morning when the street sweeper came, so in a moment of cleverness to avoid a $75 ticket, i simply moved the car to a long open space across the street with the intent of moving it back to my side of the street on Friday night, where it would be safe until two Fridays hence.

And then, on Saturday morning i went out to move the car and couldn’t find it anywhere along the other side of the street. Who would steal a fifteen-year-old Prius? i wondered. And then another thought popped up. Had i somehow parked wrong and got myself towed? The SFMTA has made checking on that easy, just plug your plate number in, and you can see a history of your infractions going back five years, and yep, there it was at the top, i’d been towed.

Somehow in my haste, i’d backed up into the wrong end of that long parking place and was so momentarily insane that i didn’t look to see that the end i’d chosen was in front of someone’s driveway.

When i added it all up – the ticket, the towing charge, the storage charge, the wear and tear on the tow truck, the hourly wage for the ticketer and the tower, dry cleaning for the officer’s uniforms, the lunch they deserved after all that work, more storage charges because i didn’t ransom out the car on the day it was towed, and a few more trifling items, the bill came to $900, which will impact my entertainment budget for quite some time. And there i was, thinking about finally treating myself to State Bird Provisions. Maybe next year.

But hey, lest you think i’m in the habit of such ridiculous errors, the last time i was towed was in 2009 when Rina was visiting, and it was all her fault because i was enjoying her so much that i didn’t notice that TOWAWAY ZONE sign. And the last time before that was in 1974 when i was visiting the city and was having a wonderful time in the Buena Vista Cafe with my friend Dick while my car was being towed for commute hours on Bay Street.

Meanwhile, there is some resentment among the lower orders here against the rich newcomers driving up rental rates.

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