camping

“Is that rain?”

“Yea. But it’s pretty light..”

I learned many things going camping yesterday with my son.

1. If you are doing “hike-in” camping, be sure you are ready for anything. Your car is very far away now.

2. Rain can come through the tarp under your sleeping bag if you have no air matress.

3. Your lovely lady was right, last summer, to make a stink about air matresses and blower-upper gizmos. I hrumphed and grimmaced, as usual. If we’d had an air matress, we might not have hiked 2 miles, in the rain down the muddy trail to get back to the truck and get the hell back to Berkeley. With a dying flashlight under a sky with no stars, only water. My nightmare: The light will die, we lose way, son dies of Hypothermia. Become alcoholic. Die at bar.

We awoke to the light rain, which became heavier. Should we put the rain cover on? Yes. We do. Now we have rain cover and soaking socks. Neither of us brought extra. Wait, are those our boots outside of dry tent? Yes. Now soaked. Mazeltov!

Well, we think, it’s probably a few hours from dawn, after all, we went to sleep hours ago right? Look at watch- fricking MIDNIGHT? Yes, we went to bed at 7:30 because there was nothing to do. We’d finished the supper of the greatest tasting beans and franks ever, and the warmest fire ever (the Dame would also never have let us come without marshmallows and chocoloate. We lament. )

We decide to pack up just the basics and risk it- go back to the truck and drive home- return tomorrow for the extra weight we don’t want to deal with now.

It’s strange when you are actually living through one of those experiences that you know will be a story told a million times, maybe over a few generations- to kids not yet born. It doesn’t make you any less terrified of death by mountain lion or Hypothermia. I sang every song I knew and tried to be casual. All we could see was two feet in front of us. Slipping and sliding. Finally the truck comes into view- never were we so happy or dehydrated.

30 minutes later like an Oasis- a 7-11 in Fairfax- the door open, lights glowing. We pull up. An Indian man whose nametag reads Deep, is guarding the door- with a mop handle across the entryway. Are you open?

Yes, we are 24 hrs.

Can we come in?

No, we are closed.

…?

Uh, can we come in, we are really thirsty?

No alcohol! Deep is Emphatic. Like St peter at the gates and we are DENIED.

Look man, we just hiked for an hour in the rain, we’re dying here- we just want a damn gatorade.

I just mop, third time, he says.

A woman coming from the bars that just closed comes also to the door, can I get some cigarettes. Deep insists he is open but closed. We beg- we clarify we do not want alcohol and finally get in. Stepping over his mop handle. Whatever those 6 tiny donuts were encrusted with (coconut? cookie crumbs and msg?) the boy hits it on the head as we pull into the warm warm night bodies cooled down with Orange flavor Gatorade, “these are the best donuts in the world.”

Everything is the best-in-the-world when you are camping. Even terrifying darkness and cold. But family most of all. -jw

Like my good friend Joel Ben-Izzy says, no one cannot be happy when they camp
Like my good friend Joel Ben-Izzy says, no one cannot be happy when they camp.. Zamboni is in Vegas at a Spa but tells me he will come home soon and that he will never camp.
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NBD (mother’s day)

No Bad Days.

the sun was making the leaves so green and for an hour the only sound was the skateboard wheels humping over the concrete, and it was late in the day so long shadows thrown over the schoolyard, trying to defy gravity little by little and skate up the griffito’d walls, but settling for cruising in circles and flying in little ollies here and there

and earlier in church the woman who leads the choir said, “pastor asked me to speak and I just laughed but you know how she is so here i am speakin'” and telling about the grandmother who she called momma, “and we called grandpa ‘daddy’ because they raised us…” She told stories about how daddy was a preacher but momma was a buffer between them and his strictness, “now you know these are good girls you can let ’em go out” and “we did and we were mostly good, but, you know..” and then her daughter spoke and we all thought about not just moms but the feminine side of god, and how everyone maybe at some point has mothered somebody a little bit… you know, “if I can help somebody, as i pass along through this world..” the daughter sang- than my living won’t have been in vain.

and i think of my buddy whose mom is aging, and facing difficulty- my ex-mother in law in a home forgetting everything she did and was.. i think of my stepmother now living alone at the top of a hill, I think of my own mom with one son like a constant fire that flares up and is put out and flares up again, and me trying to do my best- and I think- MAN! this mothering is hard business..

and like the Angel said to god, about this thing, a “mother” that god was creating in her 6th day of overtime, “it has a leak” the angel said.. That’s not a leak, god says, “it’s a tear”

The historic day, i, Zamboni consulted an expert..
Hi Mom!

Tears of pain, joy and so much more..chim chim ..cheree

Dessert

Years ago, I was at an odd dinner. It was me, my best buddy, my mom and my mom’s then boyfriend, the owner of a hotel that bore his name. We’ll call him “Larry Thompson” so it was the Thompson Hotel. Downtown San Francisco, a modest 7 floor deal.  I guess I was 28, 29. For some reason my dad was there too- wait, I just remembered, it was a birthday dinner for me, thus the collusion of the family members, divorced parents and all.

We were in the first floor restaurant of said hotel. Posh. Had  a nice dinner, service being great, afterall- we sat with the guy who owned the place. We all ordered freely. Wine, salads, entrees. We’re all thinking how nice, he owns the whole joint so none of us will be reaching for wallets later. The waiter comes after the dinner plates have been cleared, delivers the small menus. Larry gets a big toothy grin on, “dessert is on me.”  he says, like it’s a grand old gesture. Dessert.

We all freeze up. Glance around at each other. Joke? Serious. He owns the whole building. Pause. Obviously no joke. My dad breaks the silence.

“I’ll have the chicken.”

I laughed then and still do.

Happy Birthday dad.

-jw

Good balling good balling!

I don’t really understand the rules, especially  the balletic numerology of the scoring, but I played Cricket today with about 20 or so very excited guys from Pakistan and India and maybe Tibet too, as they had taken over several quadrants of my football field so the cricket pitch was a sort of Rhombus or maybe like  75% of a pie chart and they told me where to stand and when to move and when I had moved far enough they didn’t say “okay!” or “stop!” they said “sufficient sufficient!” and I didn’t understand him at first but then I got that it was “sufficient sufficient” and stopped moving and waited for the ball to  come to me right at the spot they wanted me to wait, and the sun was bright with no clouds and they were laughing and excited and the sound of several foreign languages, any foreign language spoken in recreation is nice and sounds so pleasant maybe more so because you don’t know they are really saying “you suck!” or “hit the ball fatty” it just sounds like good sport, like wind or rain, natural, or rather as they say whenever you make a good throw, like  “good balling good balling”,  when I backed up a fielder, saved a run (run?) by laser-throwing it and knocking down a wicket from center field (center field?) and they shouted “good balling! good balling!” out to me, man I felt right at home..(home- plate?) and I don’t know any of ’em by name, but it is sufficient. -jw

Jammies

“Where are your Jammies?”

“In the top drawer.”

“Can I see em? Can I open your drawer and see em?” I asked through the door.

“Okay.”

This was tonight. They were bundled in a grey mothy ball in the corner, under some new skinny jeans and a  bra. I unfurled them and held them up to the light. They were barely the white onesie with pink and blue bears they’d once been. They are now an almost green raggedy rag that smelled of mildew dust and worse.

I needed to see them and remember. Maybe briefly she’d actually worn them with legs, perhaps at age five, but when she outgrew them, she merely wore the arms and let the legs trail behind like tails. She grew – six, seven, nine years old…. even as the “jammie” arms crept past her elbows and up to hug her shoulders and she worried away the sleeves with a habitual little lip nuzzling, she continued to wear them. She wore them into pre-teen- hood so far we contemplated stealing them, burning them, just so as not to embarass her on sleepovers. May as well have tried to burn Anne Franks diary. The Jammies were her. Grandma tried to convince her to sew them into a quilt. No. If she couldn’t find her jammies, there were screams and cries… her jammies were her blanket, teddy bear, they were everything.

Why did we fret so hard about getting her to give them up? What were we rushing her for?

Then one night she didn’t wear them. One night without explanation they went into the drawer. Eight years, every night- then mothballs. Sleeping in sweats and Hollister like everyone else.

I washed them in a sink tonite with clorox, trying to get something back, trying to get her back.

j

I’ll stop the world and melt with you

Today I showed “easy A” to my freshman English class. We just read The Scarlet Letter.They got the Say Anything reference in the end,  when the guy stood on top of the lawn mower, they knew it was a Cusack move. All the girls in the class did that involuntary “awwww” thing like a curling up sigh.

“You get that reference?” I asked, incredulous.

“OF COURSE!” shouted back.

“And you’ve seen, like Breakfast Club too?”

The same reply.

So maybe some of them fell asleep listening to the 93 year old woman talk about surviving Auschwitz. They tried to listen, her accent was tough and it was hard for her to hold the mic up.. They heard some. They saw her tattoo’d number. They hugged her afterward.

They feel something. Things don’t change so much and it makes me feel good. They know why Bender throws his fist up.

MCA, RIP

Fuck that, “rest in peace” bullshit, MCA aint gonna rest boyyyyy..he’s been rocking so damn long, so damn long that I was fightin’ for my right to party freshman year o’ college in 1986 and fast forward to 2012 and I ask my son what he’s gonna be for Holloween and he says he and his best two homies are goin as the beastie boys and I cut him a big VW medallion out of cardboard  and spray paint that shit gold and and that’s two generations he’s passed the mic to so he aint gonna rest in peace..

he rocked in peace with some stone cold lampin’ straight up boddisatva vibe, he rapped in peace, he rapped for peace and most importantly he rocked the fuckin mic till his hair turned gray. literally and literarilly…

Adam Yauch of the raspy voice (it was always easy to tell him apart; Adam H and Mike D blend a bit) he’s comin to where he was from the get go, now we gotta let go

peace, but not too much yo’

YOU WILL BE MISSED

I don’t know
Who does know
There is no 
Where to go

Thomas Sterling, New Orleans

“Would you believe I’ve been up since 5 this morning paddling this boat?” Sterling asked.

Shirtless and tattooed, with one cigarette in his mouth and a spare on his ear, Sterling said he has been running a freelance maritime rescue operation since Hurricane Katrina sent water crashing through doors and windows.

“I ain’t never seen so many dead people, and I ain’t never saved so many people,” Sterling said. “I must have rescued over 200 people.”

As with much storytelling in New Orleans, it’s hard to know where truth tires out and imagination takes up the slack. But as we floated slowly through the ruined neighborhood, there was no denying the floating corpse that bobbed against the front of a faded blue duplex at 1728 Desire St.

It looked like a man. He was face-down, wearing a blue shirt, black pants and rubber boots. Sterling suspected he’d know him if he could see his face.

The former dockworker, 53, on disability with a nerve condition, had never given a thought to evacuating.

“I knew I would survive, so I wanted to stay here and help other people who wouldn’t leave or couldn’t get out,” said Sterling, whose chest tattoo says, “All Eyes on Me, Me Against the World.”

-LA Times, 9/6/05

i met the subject of that article. he was sitting, falling asleep, chin resting on his cane, in a little homemade park at the corner of mystery and esplanade, in new orleans three days ago. i’m jetlagged and falling asleep at this keyboard now, can’t be bothered to capitalize- but i want to tell you, if you ever lose hope for the human spirit or think we’ve lost our soul in 2012, you aint been to new orleans.

he said “how you doing sir, could i talk to you fo a second.. this here article is about me from the l.a.times” and to verify he showed me is photo i.d..

“and i’m trying to collect 90 dollars so i can pay my electric bill..” ever weary of a scam, but i stopped anyway, i read the article, and because he seemed soul-weary not drunk or desperate I believed him. I sat down with him. he told me about the floating bodies.. he told me how it came to be that he stayed-

“that morning i was shaving , and after I shaved I rubbed my eyes  and face with a towel, you know, like you do,  and as I did that” he told me slowly,”i had a vision from god and he said that if I stayed behind he would not let anything happen to me, and so i stayed, my momma said ‘boy you better get ready, we leaving’ but I stayed behind”

we sat in silence for as while as i did some reading, he dozed and continued to ask passerby for help. he never complained once, never said the city or anyone else owed him anything, didn’t guilt anyone and was very p0lite. I noticed sores of circular scars covered both arms, “what happened there?”I asked.  he said he had chicken pox as a kid.

We spoke more, then he said he was going elsewhere “i’ll see you mr. jordan, i’ll see you later”

I said my goodbye but wished we’d spoken more. and this morning at 6am we said our goodbye to N.O. and it broke my heart, for so many reasons. yes we had beignets and po boys and saw the Mississippi, and canoed right past some gators and all- but a city’s worth  is its people, and the kind of person it makes you when you’re there- and New Orleans is what an american city is supposed to be-

old, weathered, building, soulful, and above all about the future…

thanks to ed and susan for showing it to me-

(Zamboni I lost at the Voodoo museum but i expect he’ll turn up soon)

Treyvon Martin

Treyvon Martin was killed by a white guy named Zimmerman, in one of those gated communities in Florida where people live in fear. He was killed because he was a black kid wearing a hoodie, at night, and for this he looked “suspicious” enough. Zimmerman was some kind of self-appointed “neighborhood watch”. Martin was not armed. Martin was returning from the store with skittles. Zimmerman is still free.

I have family in Florida. My folks were born there. My uncle used to pick us up from the airport and slyly inform us he had a gun in the glove compartment because it’s dangerous in Miami. When he talked about “those people will get you right at the intersections, stopped for a light” we understood what he meant. My uncle, thank god, never did anything crazy like Zimmerman, and his gun carrying days are over, at least I think. I also know he liked the badass-ness of carrying a weapon. We loved him and still do.

Going back even further, my mom went to the Univ. of Florida, 1957-58. There were no black students at that time. The school mascot, Albert the Alligator was often spotted walking across the lawn in front of her dorm. Alligators allowed on campus, no blacks.

All my visits to Miami I remember feeling peoples fear. Doors locked, we drove everywhere, we didin’t walk down certain streets, in certain neighborhoods- the white people I travelled among lived in a fantasy bubble of people   just like themselves. Most of them being Jews, this seemd extra sad. Black sheep scapegoating others. The feared and hated, hating and  fearing . To hear these rich Jewish teens, friends of my cousin, warn me not to go to Ni***ertown was nauseating.

I guess my circles haven’t changed  because no one I know is talking about Treyvon Martin. Maybe they are and I just don’t get out much.

Treyvon Martin, I wish you hadn’t lived in Florida, but then again I don’t know if you would have been any safer here in Berkeley. I’d like to think so.

You have a kind face, and I wish you’d never worn a hoodie over it. I wish the wearing of a hoodie wasn’t an excuse to shoot someone in 2012 that seems to work well enough with the Law. I wish the kids I teach in high school were talking about you, were demonstrating about you, were doing something.

If I could ask Zamboni a question, I’d ask,”why do things change and not change  all at the same time?”

Some things are too fucked up even for Zamboni to handle I guess.

-jw

Only in Vegas, seriously

Saturday night alone, in Vegas. I’m there for a football coaching clinic. I’m staying at the Super 8, in the wasteland of the never ending strip, halfway between new Vegas of Venetian canals- and old Vegas of neon cowboys and Fremont street. I’m nowhere. Cobwebs.

Fuck it. I’m in Vegas. I dress up in my grey suit and pink/green striped tie and head out. Figure i’ll cab it to some big club at the Cosmopolitain. Right outside my not quite finished motel, I start looking down the boulevard for a cab. I spy the bar next door- which I thought was a condemned strip club. Peeling green paint, no sign. Tentatively I peer in, maybe I can have a quik beer there…

I step inside. Yep, this is  locals only, I can smell it. Not a gondola in sight. Red banquettes, low ceilings, one square of bar.

But then I look around and open my ears. Swing music, Sam Cooke, hipsters in straw fedoras and the girls with curled up-dos. Dancing that is actual dancing. Lindy-hop, charleston, east coast swing. Polka dot dresses, striped thin ties. Heels and hose with lines down the back. Jesus did I land in my fantasy?

I dance with her and her. There’s “no thanks I don’t dance” but just one and and it seems there are short brunettes every where I look each cuter than the last. Then there’s a tall blonde. We dance. She stands off a bit with her drink, looking at the dance floor. Sorta nice ironic smile. She’s not gabbing with anyone. She’s way younger than me, but has a few years on most of the collegiate hipsters swirling around. “Amber, come on over, sit at my VIP table.” She comes over,  we talk. Get another drink, dance. Then she asks what i’m doing in Vegas. What do I say? It doesn’t make much sense. What the hell am I doing in Vegas. I’m a Drama teacher for gods sake- football coaching , who am I kidding? Maybe I’ll just say i’m in finance. But like they say- always tell the truth, it’s the easiest thing to remember.

She looks at me  stone cold. “Are you serious?”

“Sure” I say.

“I studied acting in college and I love football. In a month i’m trying out for the LFL, womens football league.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes,” she goes on, “I’ve just really gotten into it in the last couple of years.”

“Me too.”

I’m stunned. Am I being punked? Candid camera? Every guy’s wet dream -someone who looks like a cross between Jennifer Anniston and a young Ellen Barkin confessing a love of football?

Needless to say, two more rounds of drinks, she’s from Denver, we kvell about Tim Tebow with no irony or restraint. She’s worried about her tryouts, doesn’t have much football experience. Neither do I , say, but i’m learning a ton of stuff in all these sessions at the convention. She’s fascinated with every geeky detail I spew about DB backpeddaling drills, Zone defense and O line blocking drills. There’s a pause, or two. She’s doesn’t know the stuff.

“Do you want me to teach you some things?” She just smiles, like a kid.

“Follow me.” I say.

In the blaring lights of the Viva Las Vegas wedding chappel, on the blacktop driveway, we spend half an hour around midnite running drills. Her short black skirt doesn’t make her pause for a second before getting in a three point stance. It hikes way up.  She’s fine with it, brushes aside any awkwardness and wants to get on with it. Guys ride by in limos and taxies swerving at this confusing site. I teach her to backpedal and cut, block with her elbows glued to her side- she eats it all up, and spoiler alert, no I didn’t get the girl but I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

It’s now 1am..”You wanna go get something to eat? ” I say.

She says no, has to head home. I invite her to the next morning’s conference, the last session before I head out. She says maybe.

The next morning, groggy at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino with all my clothes in a backpack, there she is. And in a sea of giant football guys, there’s a small wiry jew with a tall blond knockout, looking over that mornings workshops.  Giant guys very, very confused, strange looks. I say to her,”okay coach, lets go in.”

Lingerie Football League, yep, but don’t knock it. Those girls are beasts, and if crazy perfect nights like this one can happen, Amber I think you have a chance.

Yea I know, but man it’s good to dance to. Remember, the Aruba, Friday nights, South Las Vegas Blvd, right next to Viva Las Vegas. Indeed.

-not zamboni, jordan