Some thoughts for the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. With added meaning after our (albeit foggy) visit to Capitola and the ocean on Thursday:
I hope you still feel small When you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
—Lee Ann Womack, “I Hope You Dance”
An Olive Street recollection.
I originally published this on my blog over at TypePad in December 2009, but wanted to share it with you again this year.
December 31, 1975. I had planned on a quiet evening in my Olive Street apartment. My roommate George and his significant other (and my good friend) Alison were at home with their families. I splurged by buying a halibut fillet, which I was just taking out from under the broiler when the lesbian pair Anne and Ann burst into my apartment and told me they were taking me to see the Rose Parade.
I’d always talked about seeing the Rose Parade in person. And it sounded like a lot more fun than spending the evening alone listening to soft rock on Stereo 93, KNX-FM. Besides, the two Ann(e)s can be very persuasive individually, and as a couple were often an irresistible force. I allowed myself to be kidnapped and taken to Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena.
When we got there and we finally found the group with whom Ann and Anne were rendezvousing, I discovered that I was the only male in the group and the only straight person as well. I was in fact in the midst of the undergraduate lesbian elite of the Claremont Colleges.
They did come well provisioned. Included in the supplies were vodka, pineapple juice, and a tray of brownies. There being no orange juice, I started fixing myself pineapple juice and vodka drinks (what would you call that?) and munching on the brownies. It didn’t take me too long to start feeling sleepy and light-headed. It was only months later that I understood the true source of my condition. I don’t remember how the topic came up, but I remember Ann saying to me in a tone of voice that betrayed her impatience with my naiveté, “Mike, it wasn’t the small amount of vodka you drank that caused you to feel that way!” Oh, yeah. Right. Got it now.
The evening wore on, and eventually 1976 arrived. There was a brief burst of energy at midnight when people driving by honked their horns and everyone shouted “Happy New Year!” back and forth to each other. Things calmed down before too long, and we eventually decided it was time to get some sleep. I got into the sleeping bag that had been provided for me, and found myself wedged in between two members of the Claremont lesbian community.
I quote from an essay I wrote in the summer of 1976, something I aspired to get published, but which in fact never made it out of draft form.
I slept about as well as one might expect when lying on a street with a jacket for a pillow, but it was better than no sleep.
About five a.m. I was awakened by the sound of a car idling nearby and the voices of four or five men and women. Apparently the people next to us, a group of three couples, had decided that they had no intention of sleeping on the pavement, and so set up six chairs and took turns guarding their claim. I was hearing the final changing of the guard. After a lot of details being worked out in voices a good deal louder than I would have liked, the car drove off and a new couple took command of the post. It was at about this time that my bladder had begun hinting to me that I wanted to do something other than merely sleep, while the new woman next door found it necessary to do a commentary on what she saw about her.
“Look at those people in their sleeping bags,” I heard her say, “They’re so cute!” Perhaps to someone who had just gotten out of a warm bed my companions and I looked cute.
I, of course, felt anything but cute. I was sore, sleep-deprived, and wanted nothing more than a shower and a shave. I extricated myself from my spot on the street and made my way to the nearest set of portable toilets. When I returned the spot I had occupied had of course been filled in, so there was nothing for me to do except sit and take in the sights and sounds.
The morning wore on and eventually my companions started to stir. Those organizing the event started making quesadillas on a Coleman stove. They were quite good, actually.
The street was full of vendors, including one very clean-cut young man who struck me as perhaps a law or accounting student walking up and down the street with a cart and megaphone saying repeatedly in a pleasant, mild tone, “Good morning. Kodak film.” I wasn’t sure whether we was really trying to sell film, or simply wishing it good morning. I still wonder whether he actually sold any.
Eventually the streets were cleared and the parade started. It was fun seeing the flower-covered floats in person, but we were also all tired and happy when the parade was finished.
Anne had dropped Ann and me off at our camp site the night before and then parked the car. We headed off to where she said she had left it, only to find no car. Again, I quote my essay:
Both Ann and I had shared an apartment with Anne [Ann at the time, me earlier the previous summer ], and we knew how scatterbrained she could be. Our immediate assumption was that she left the car in a no-parking zone and it had been towed away. Anne insisted that she had done no such thing, and that we call the police department at once. One would not have guessed just how difficult it is to find a phone booth in downtown Pasadena.
After walking twenty or thirty blocks, and asking innumerable people where we might find such a rarity, we found a pay phone on Colorado Boulevard, next to an abandoned automobile showroom. The phone shortage in Pasadena that day was acute, and Anne had to wait in line for ten minutes before even getting to use it. I don’t suppose that we could have expected otherwise, but once she got through to the switchboard, she was put on hold. After just enough delay to make us fidget a bit more, Anne discovered that she had, in fact, parked legally, until the police decided that they needed that particular street for through traffic, and summarily towed away all of the cars parked thereon. But she did not tell us this until she finally returned with the car. She merely mumbled something about a high school and 200 blocks, and went wandering off, leaving Ann and me to sit, dressed for a cold night, in a sun that was becoming increasingly warm.
Nor did we have a particularly panoramic view front of us. It was past noon by this time, but traffic officers were still at all of the intersections directing an interminable flow of departing spectators. The gutters were a mass of trash, and tired purveyors of pretzels were returning their carts to some spot near where we were waiting. I had some change in my pocket, so I wandered across the street to a tiny and somewhat seedy-looking liquor store and picked up a soft drink and candy bar for Ann and myself. Then we sat and waited. I tried to write a letter and got nowhere. It got warmer. We became more sore and more tired. At length Anne reappeared in front of us and asked, “Anybody want a ride home?”
We were too exhausted to even throw our empty soda cans at her.
We headed back to Claremont and piled into the local Howard Johnson’s. We were slightly surprised that they let us in given how we looked: three people who came straggling in off the street. But then, we did just come straggling in from off the street. We had a mid-afternoon breakfast, and the Ann(e)s dropped me off at home.
I don’t recall what I did when I got inside, but I must have either taken a very long soak in the bathtub or stood under the shower until the hot water ran out.
Since that adventure, seeing the Rose Parade at home on television has always been more than adequate for me.
It can be easy to let the troubles of the world get to you. At least it can be for me. When I look at the world situation, the theater of the absurd that is the current Congress, and the band of wackos vying for the Republican presidential nomination, it’s easy to feel depressed. What always amazes me is how much power music has to heal, and how it can make me feel that there actually is hope.
I posted this on Facebook last week, but there is not 100% overlap between my blog readers and my Facebook friends. And in any case, this is so appropriate as Chanukah ends and as we are in the middle of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Another great inspiration to me has been Holly Near. “The Great Peace March” is a song that brings tears to my eyes and gives me hope. Please listen and be uplifted!
I think sometimes it is OK to indulge for a moment in nostalgia — that which once was, which we miss, and which we’ll never see again. Whether that be my Claremont cockroach days, my time at the First Unitarian Church in Oklahoma City, or at All Saints’ Episcopal Palo Alto when Margaret was rector and Clayton was associate, it’s nice to look back. It’s certainly not healthy to live there, but reflecting on those bygone days is good from time to time. And what better song that represents that than the Finale to Camelot.
Joy to the World, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Terry had this fortune cookie recently: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting their battle too.”
It made me think about how I tend to be judgmental. If I see a young pregnant woman with an infant, I want to say to her, “There are things you can do. Planned Parenthood is just off 10th Street by the CHP office”
But what if her response was this? “We planned this. We wanted to have two close together. It’s really easier on us than having them spread out, and this way they can have a close relationship with each other. We’re stopping after two. That’s it.”
Really, I just don’t know and have no right to judge.
(But it’s soooo hard. And what about the woman who has six kids? All right, Mike, stop it!)