Saturday, December 9, 2017

How Many Senior Moments Does it take to Hang a Picture?

"While I'm shopping (and you're not), why don't you hang that nice picture in the spare bedroom?"
"Yes, I can do that."
She's gone and you vaguely remember the photo she's particularly fond of and her instructions where to hang it.
No Problem.

You find a hammer and the picture and cause them to rendezvous in the bedroom.
All good so far.

But you need picture hanging hardware. So begins an exhaustive search for hardware. Twenty minutes later you happily return to the bedroom, ready to install.
But where's the hammer?
Retrace your steps, search every drawer and cranny.
The hammer is gone!

So you sit down to think about it for a least twenty minutes--until you see a hammer out of the corner of your eye. It's on the counter by the refrigerator where you obtained the cold beer that is now in your hand, unopened.
Rummaging around a while, you find an opener, sit down and relax.

Another 20 minutes and you return to the designated room, hammer in hand, but where's the picture hanging hardware?
Wandering around aimlessly, you experience a chaffing on your right thigh.
Down in your pocket is the very same nail and hook thing you've been looking for.

So now you're ready. But what is the exact center of that wall and how high up?
Measuring tape is needed. Eventually you find it, read it carefully, but realize you can't mark a wall with your thumbnail.
You leave the room searching for a pencil.

Then you return--only to find picture, hammer, and hardware have all disappeared!

Okay, wrong bedroom.

Once oriented to proper room and wall, you hold the picture steady and make a bold mark on the wall, certain to make your wife proud.

Hardware in one hand, hammer in the other, you start the back swing.
But wait, where's the mark?
Put everything down, clean your glasses, and search for the mark.
Project time, two hours and counting.

Wifey could return any moment.
Panic ensues, focus on any random drywall nipple.
After the first painful miss, it's done.
No problem.

It takes another 10 minutes to dock the picture's mysterious back wire with the equally elusive wall hook.

But done at last.

Time to relax.

You sit down in chair... but wonder where that beer is.

And so you emerge from the bathroom just as your wife opens the front door. Deer in headlights, wishing you were holding a hammer, not a beer.

"Hi, Honey!"

Your wife passes down the hallway, sees your diligent wall mounting and begins to mutter something about Jesus and not being able to tell a sewing place from a spare bedroom.

Or did she say something about a "spare husband"?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Well this is embarrassing. Several years ago I wrote a memorial for a girl named Gillian.

Her death was senseless and incomprehensible. I am perhaps still dealing with it. 

This is a photo of some poor soul crossing the Little Pico bridge.  Or is it?   

Maybe I captured some mad force that ranges up and down our northern coast, unanswerable, inexplicable, and unopposable.

And it's coming for us all eventually.

But it came too early for Gillian. And her memory haunts me, wont leave me alone.
What do you want girl?
 God rest your soul.


Gillian Goldman (1/4/2000--1/10/2008)

A Story Not Published, a Life Not Lived

Winter sunlight glows inside a red Mitsubishi Montero parked north of San Simeon’s Pico Bridge. Windows are up, doors locked, the air still.  Listen and you will hear a whispering… hushed tones like a young girl confiding secrets.

But there’s nobody inside the car.  Heat stirs a mylar balloon, rubbing it against the roof.  The image on the balloon is from a recent movie, Disney’s High School
Musical 2.  The cast smiles, holding hands as they plunge into a background of pool water.  Other than the rustle of the balloon, the car is silent.

Outside the car, chaos--an incomprehensible tragedy, nothing happy like the pool pranks of the Disney movie.

Marcia Harrigan, 43, and her 8-year-old daughter Gillian Goldman were dead, their bodies found awash in pounding surf. 

Five men in wetsuits and yellow crash helmets struggle with wire gurneys as they converge on a rocky alcove 40 feet below the red SUV.  “The conditions were extremely hazardous,” according to Captain Steve Brito of the Cambria Fire and Rescue Unit, “It was pummeling the rescuers into the rocky beach.”

Merle Bassett, photographer on assignment for The Cambrian, captured that terrible moment: one man motions upwards for someone to deploy a rope, another kneels before the basket, its diminutive contents precariously covered by a windblown yellow tarp, Gillian.

Other rescuers are pushing through the surf carrying a heavier basket, Marcia Harrigan—her mother.

I was new to this area and followed the story as it unfolded in The Cambrian and Los Angeles Times, bewildered that such a tragedy could occur on a familiar beach less than a mile from my home. Their deaths were initially determined to be “suspicious in nature” though other scenarios, rogue wave, fall due to high winds, or failed rescue attempt were considered as well.

January 9 2008--Los Angeles Family Court, 4 p.m.  Marcia Harrigan and her daughter, Gillian failed to appear in response to a court order remanding custody to Gillian’s father Glen F. Goldman. Both parents had filed restraining orders, Glen fearing violence, Marcia claiming that her daughter had been sexually abused by her father Glen. After extensive interviews and examinations, shared custody was reinstated.

Marcia picked up Gillian at her Hermosa Valley School earlier that day and was not answering calls from the court.

At 5:15 p.m. Marcia entered a local church, while Gillian waited in the car, requesting that the priest baptize her daughter. He told her it wasn’t possible that night and assumed her many disconnected  references to “the ocean” indicated a desire to perform the baptism herself.

At 7:45 p.m. Marcia met with Craig Donato, the father of her two older daughters, Doniele and Ariana.  She explained she would be too busy “running all around” trying to prevent Glen from taking Gillian and asked Craig to sign a letter giving him complete custody of the younger of his two daughters, Ariana.  Craig asked her what she was planning to do and Marcia replied, “It’s best you don’t know.”

Despite the advice of lawyer Jeff Doeringer and her family, Marcia and Gillian left Hermosa Beach at 8:45 p.m.

Around 11:30 p.m. Marcia purchased alcohol, a balloon and other items at Von’s in Goleta, 150 miles north.

Soon after midnight on January 10, Marcia called Gillian’s half-sister Doniele, a student at San Diego State, stating that she was “too tired to go any further.”  Then she put Gillian on the phone. Gillian said she was watching TV and eating a banana. They talked several minutes and Gillian said goodbye. Marcia came back on afterward, crying, and said, “I can’t let her go with him again. What happens if he kills her? I don’t know what to do.”  Doniele attempted to calm her down and said she would call in the morning.

A call back to her mother at 7:06 a.m. resulted in no answer.

A state park ranger, responded to a 911 call at 10:10 a.m. from a vista point north of San Simeon, mile post 56.  He met a German couple with binoculars who had observed two females beyond the breakers in distress, “not putting hands in air… not a bathing moment.”  He called dispatch requesting an ambulance and a SAR unit, specialists in rappelling and belaying, for a vertical rescue.

After a team of deputies, rangers and rescue specialists performed every intervention possible at the scene, paramedic Takaoka pronounced Marcia Harrigan and Gillian Goldman’s time of death, 10:31 a.m. 
Their bodies were sent by ambulance to Los Osos Valley Mortuary at 12:30 p.m. after a preliminary examination and collection of evidence.

The following day at 8 a.m. counselors waited in the library of Hermosa Valley School while principal Sylvia Gluck entered a third grade classroom to tell students their classmate and mother had passed away.  Some children spoke with the counselors or went outdoors with their parents (who had been advised by phone the night before).  Others decided to draw pictures for the family. “She had friends all over the school,” said School Superintendent Sharon McClain, “Everybody here is a little broken up.”

On January 26, 2008 autopsy results for Marcia Harrigan, an adult Caucasian female, approximately 5 feet 8 inches with blond hair revealed a blood alcohol content of .03, less than half of the legal limit. No evidence of drugs found.

Gillian’s body showed no obvious signs of drugs or sexual abuse. Physical injuries were consistent with striking blunt force objects common to the rocky area where her body was found.

A blond hair was found entangled in her left hand.
The pattern of injuries, consistent with Marcia’s fingernails, indicated her mother’s hand had been held over her mouth. Other injury patterns on the arms indicated that she had been held under water.

Cause of death was determined to be salt-water drowning--manner of death, homicide.

Also included in the autopsy I requested, was a list of property recovered at the scene. At the base of the cliff were child-sized Ugg boots and car keys buried in the sand. Inside the car a brown sweater covered a purse.  Also found was a pink book bag with homework, school supplies, and the balloon from High School Musical 2.

As I considered the list and other evidence, Gillian’s interest in this movie seemed quite understandable. Doniele her older sister, with whom she seems to have been especially close, was active in musicals throughout high school and college. She is a professional singer in a southern California band. 

Not so understandable is the way Marcia arranged several items at the scene, how she secured her purse and keys as if she fully intended to return.

Equally difficult to understand is my own involvement in a case that occurred years ago, and how I was connected to an eight-year-old victim I had never met or even seen in a photograph.

And I may never understand why I later felt compelled to spend the night on the beach below that vista point. Perhaps I was hoping that by sleeping at the crime scene I would gain some insight as to how a mother could love a child yet take away that life with her own hands. I left the beach around 2 a.m. after several inexplicable events.  I’m  not ready to discuss these events any more than the countless sensitive details I encountered during the course of my research--perhaps in a book if I ever decide to write one.

I did recently decide to watch the movie High School Musical 2, every minute of it.  It starred Arroyo Grande actor Zac Efron. Though typical of preteen entertainment, overly choreographed and under plotted, it did have some meaningful music.

Gillian would have been 16-years-old this month, old enough to star in her own high school’s musical.

Should you be driving north across the Pico Bridge passing a vista point on the way to the pier, Hearst’s Castle, or an afternoon of music at Ragged Point, you might want to think of Gillian and these lyrics from her favorite movie:

Let’s take it to the beach
Take it there together
Let's celebrate today
'Cause there'll never be another

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sung to the Tune of Beatles, A Day in the Life

I did a painting today, Oh Boy
Nothing since a pastel junior high
A crowd of women gave me praise
But I just had to turn away

My father, uncle, aunt and all
Sculpted, painted, did it all
Everyone encouraged me
But I just had to turn away.

Friday, August 18, 2017


Tonight I heard them, the cannonades. Not sure that's a word, maybe just made it.

But it's a fitting description of late night San Simeon sound when, with windows open, I  hear violent surf crashing against the inlet.

The ocean once presided over much of the world. It seems intent tonight on taking it back.

Breaker after breaker.
Often sounding only 30 yards from my back deck, sometimes it echoing back from the hills behind us.

Nelson's victory at Trafalgar, Odysseus conquers the Aegean.
Nice reading.

ultimately, the ocean wins.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Desert Solitaire

Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire was very much on my mind tonight and my aimless mind composed yet another ignorable blog entry…

Leaving San Simeon in a few weeks and my beach friends will soon be asking me what I see in the deserts of Arizona.

Well, try to consider...

Life, Death, and Coexistence on a grand and immediate scale.

I’ve recently spent three days with a friend in the California high country and managed to drag my sorry butt to the higher 9000 foot lakes. 

We saw two deer, one or two squirrels. And a lot of dead trees.

In a month or so I will return to the city of Tucson and a backyard filled with roadrunners, doves, quail, multiple squirrel species, and the occasional snake, tarantula, coyote and a possible gila monster.

And so from Edward Abbey’s, Desert Solitaire:

The desert is a vast world, an oceanic world, as deep in its way and complex and various as the sea.

But a better passage was provided by my brother Mark, a near- native Tucsonan:

The Desert:  Its brilliant colors, its diverse wildlife, its vast empty places and all its veiled beauty--grows on you.  No one comes here expecting to stay; the landscape is just too harsh, too barren and too unforgiving, not at all what we are used to or even what we imagine we would like.

 But the air, the silence, and the seductive encore of a thousand crimson sunsets, slowly and imperceptibly pulls us in, wins us over and holds us captive, to this steadfast celebration of life, in the most austere and inhospitable of surroundings.  If even the dry and dusty desert can bloom, then so can we.

You nailed it Mark.


Monday, July 17, 2017


This is what happens when you forget to spray insecticide around your house:

The lizards get big and fat and growl when you walk by.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Haiku for Tribune

1:45 am

I don't want to live
In a big city place where
Coyotes don't sing.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

User Guide Warning: Aging Humans

If you are over sixty, consider the harmful effects of taking up artistic pursuits, i.e. painting, drawing, or water colors.
     1. It will rewire your brain in unpredictable ways.
     2. Your experience of reality might drastically change.
     3. Whereas you saw shapes and colors, you will now
          perceive the added dimension of depth, shadow,
          light--its absence and presence.
     4. Drawing a simple and boring pine cone, after forty
          years of not drawing nothing/anything,
          is now a herculean task.


     5. You might discover little talent. Much worse, a
         modicum of it. Either way, you're screwed and
        decades late.

But you can at least get closer to the destination.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sunday, Evil Sunday

I walked downhill for a Sunday paper from the corner store.
Passing our auxiliary parking lot of three much coveted units, I saw an elderly lady standing by an open-hooded car.
Her appearance and sweet demeanor reminded me of a Warner Brother's cartoon, the grandma owner of Tweedy-Pie, you know, the bird that always says, "I taught I saw a pussycat"?

Smiling my best Dexter smile I said "Hello" and walked on.

After purchasing a newspaper, a chance meeting with a neighbor, Eddie, found us both walking back up the hill. When we reached the sweet old lady, still standing beside her open-hooded grey car,  Eddie gallantly asked, "Do you need help?"
"Oh no," she said, "I'm waiting for Triple A to bring me a new battery."

Eddie and I parted company and I was two sections into my paper when a tow truck passed by my living room window.

A mere two minutes later, Satan HIMSELF appeared outside that same window!
He was disguised as my next-door neighbor Bill.
"Hey, John..."
I opened my window, but only part way (mindful never to grant evil forces a full run of your household)
"There's a parking space available down there," he said in a smooth and seductive voice. "Why don't you take it?"
"I don't know," I replied to Bill/Satan and after a long moment, "It seems kind of mean..."
Eventually the evil apparition drifted away from my window.

My wife, sitting beside me and a full spectator to my temptation, was appalled.
"What, you're not going to take it? That car has sat there unmoved for at least four months! I'd take our car down there myself if I wasn't in my robe."

I said nothing, sin of omission.

In a flash, my wife threw off her ritual flowered muu-muu and appeared instantly in street clothes. Car keys in hand, she flew out the front door. I glimpsed a head shaking in disgust as she charged our car down the street.

She returned.
Feeling a bit queasy, I sought fresh air on our back deck.

A grey car was circling the park, like a mother bird searching for a nest.

A raven stood in outrage.
I wanted a shower then--and absolution.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

It's Hot Here

How hot is it?

Yesterday 116, but today is a cooler 115--both record breakers for this region of Hell.
Possibly 118 tomorrow.

When I arrived at my wildlife observation platform (deck) at 7:30 am yesterday, it was 90 degrees. I sat and drank iced coffee until 8 am, just 30 minutes, but had to go inside then because it had already reached 100.

I got a bird feeder for my birthday, and it's a really popular site until the nuclear sun explodes over the mountains at 5 am. Then squirrels, rabbits, cardinals, dove and quail suddenly blend back into cactus shadows until sundown.

The animals are on edge when they return. I saw two curved billed thrashers trying to thrash each other. Two male quail had a dust-up. And squirrels bully the birds for control of the feeder.

City workers are wearing special shoes because the asphalt is 150 degrees and melting their soles.

Commercial flights have been cancelled at local airports because hot air doesn't have enough loft.

I no longer visit the oven my shed has become to polish rocks. Really need to pack them up and prepare for our Sunday departure.  The thing is, I just can't stay outside more than 5 minutes even with the aid of cold water--or beer!

Homeless people in this city are looking for shelter--even thinking about buying homes.

Nobody visits any of the three pools in our park. Fear of scalding.

We bought a fixer-upper house down the street and have to keep the AC on because we're afraid it might burst into flames before we get to live in it.

It has a nice view of the mountains, but you can't see them now.

Multiple wildfires in the foothills.  I guess when it gets hot enough, even dirt can burn.

The sad thing is, most of this is lacks my usual exaggerations.
California here we come!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Too Many Bloody Birthdays

Blood is illuminating.

And it was running down my left hand and over my wedding ring.

The ring glowed a sparkling red. Pretty sight, really, as I considered Shakespeare's Macbeth and his blood-drenched crown...

Thankfully my mind (what is left of it) whiplashed me back to the real stuff. I stood behind a shopping cart in our local rip-off coastal market, a wife written grocery list in one hand and the other hand bleeding profusely.

I had scuffed my hands rappelling down a cliff. Yes, some worthy rocks were found during that foray, but the incurred arm and hand injuries led me to suspect that my skill set for that particular activity had atrophied (a very wordy way to admit "I am too old for this shit").

Now I was paying the price.
Let's be real here. I was bleeding like a mofo.

What to do?

Well, the smart thing would be to cruise down the medical aisle, open a package of way too expensive band aids, and clamp that bloody leak down.

But this was not one of my smarter moments.

So the blood dripped over the handle of my shopping cart, and I did what any manly man would do. I utilized resources at hand like my old hero, MacGyver. 

I outsourced the blank half of my wife's shopping list and ripped the paper in half, applying pressure to the wound.

Honestly, I'm not a hemophiliac and don't gobble blood thinners. But growing older (and not too much wiser), I've discovered my skin has taken on the qualities of tissue paper, easily ripped--and so eager to bleed.

So there I was, pressing a piece of lined notebook paper against my wound, pretending to contemplate the beer section. Corona or Sam Adams, equally expensive twelve packs. What to do?

And a geezer comes up behind me. By "geezer" I mean someone at least 5 years beyond my 64. He admires the bloody piece of paper plastered against my hand, and giving a smug smile, passes on. I think dark thoughts, "Hey, I may be old but I can still coagulate!"

So I finish off my wife's list (the part not drenched to obscurity by blood running down my hand).
Time to check out.

It went well.
I'm about to "slide de card" when the same old man, who has doggedly followed me to the cashier, announces to the whole damn store:

Time stands still.
"You bet your wrinkled ass, I do." But I just think it and try hard to ignore the old bird behind me.

Meanwhile, checker folks to the left and right stop checking. Everyone looks--not at me--but at my hand and the bloody handle of my shopping cart. I decide to reject my shame.

"It's nothing," I announce, "must have brushed against a sharp part of the cart."

The oldest cashier swivels her grey locks and a shriveled head toward me, "This happened while you were here, in our store?".

"Maybe, not sure, but it's okay. Hey, when can I press the debit button?"

And it WAS okay for a while. Then my apparently contemporary cashier says,
"There are sanitary wipes two aisles down by the exit," using a tone that emphatically said, "Get The Hell Out you AIDS-ridden, BLEEDING OLD MAN!"

"Yes, I know where the wipes are and I will certainly take care of this cart before I leave."
I depart now accompanied by the sweetest and cutest, most chirpy high school girl I could ever have imagined in my prurient past.

"Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it," she tells me. I'm so grateful that I want to squeeze her non-titties.

And as we approach the wipe down station I tell her, "No, I'll take care of it. I made this mess," and proceed to wipe down the bloody handle, smiling back at her teeth, brighter than those on my first birthday.

"Everybody is so worried about AIDS these days," I tell her, as if this is normal small talk with Bambi supermarket girls, "No reason you should have do this."

I continue mopping up the morbid mess and vow henceforth to eliminate the morning aspirin, a blood thinner supposedly preventing strokes and keep me from becoming more the feeb I already am.

I allow Miss USA teenager to roll my cart to the back of my car. But before she could escape, it got worse. 

The concerned geezer at the check stand had tailed me to the parking lot. As my teen helper was unloading the groceries, he came up to my face.
"What part of the cart caused your bleeding?"

Was this guy a retired accident lawyer?

I recoiled from his prehistoric breath and replied with utmost wit, "What?"

(What I wanted to do right then was swivel him around and inflict two death-dealing blows to his ancient kidneys).

Instead I answered with my best version of de truth, whatever that is.

"Well you know how it is when you're old, right? Just a small touch on our non-elastic skin and we start bleeding like a fire hydrant, right?"

After a moment he says "Oh yeah!" and treats me to a view of his bruised, hemorrhaged arm.

Nice, I think, being old just doesn't get any better than this.
I try hard to remember how to open my car door and watch an obviously traumatized teen retreating back to the store.

I really do love my wife and at that moment wanted nothing so much as to return to her and rejoin our polite ability to ignore the effects of aging. 

And I resolve henceforth to always carry Band-Aids in my wallet--a place once hopefully reserved for condoms.

But it is what it is.

And, you know what?  I like it.

Tucson, Arizona, June 18th 2017.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Nesting Behavior

7 am.

My morning vigil reveals doves in their attempt to set up house in the palm tree outside my patio.
Good luck.

We are eye level, 10 feet from each other. The female paces back and forth, unsure, appraising the sharply serrated limbs.

Is this really a neighborhood where she wants to raise her chicks?

Meanwhile the male flits between various limbs and the roof top above her, cluelessly holding a thick twig.

"Is this what we need, Honey?"

Eventually she takes the twig and flutters to the pavers below. After much chewing and grinding she takes a suitable half piece back to her would-be nest.

Where to put the now correctly sized twig?

First time home buyers I think: apprehensive and wishing they had paid more attention when their parents went through the same process.

And then panic. My neighbor opens his back door to take his dog for a walk. Both birds leave in an explosion of feathers.
Doves are the only birds I know that actually squeak during flight...

Deciding on a house is scary.
I squeak, too.

Several days later, 9 am.

No doves, no nest.
Guess they decided to "go in another direction."
Good luck.

Unit available, maybe.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Desert Wind

Like a ghostly prop
On a WW2 bomber
My patio fan cranks to life

If  only it could blow
Life into
Lost in distant wars.

I enjoy the wind
Appreciate their sacrifice
And know it will never be enough.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Wrong Turn

The Loma Verde trail in the Saguaro National Park. Specific destination, a defunct copper mine, one mile from the trail head. But I misread a sign and ended up at Pink Hill Lookout.

Not a bad view, actually.

Just as far to push on as go back. I found the mine and some copper ore on my way back. The day was cool but dry.

A four mile loop. Glad I brought plenty of water.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Desert Blooms and Desperate Allergies

Winter storms have produced an exceptionally beautiful bloom.
Unfortunately they produce pounds of pollen. 
Yesterday, Deb and I were enjoying a snack on our patio. I sneezed so many times that my eyeballs popped out. I heard them splat against the glass table between us.
Deb shoved them back in. But I can't see very well and my eyes hurt.
We were enjoying deviled eggs at the time.
I wonder if she put two in... and I ate my eyeballs!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


One night, many years ago I was angry with a family member. So I drove into the mountains as far as I could until I had to stop.  Road blocked, snow ahead.

A U-turn and several downhill miles, brought me to a pull out adjacent to a trickling creek. I unrolled my sleeping bag in the bed of the truck and regarded the stars. A moment later I felt sunlight beyond my eyelids.

I was not ready to wake up.

I heard a sound. Not the usual one under the circumstances: A twenty some year old seasonal ranger asking "Sir, you realize you are camping out-of- bounds?"  I'd talked my way out that situation numerous times.

No, no.
This was a different sound, one that I've spent nearly 30 years trying to describe.
My eyes snapped open to the broad undulating wings of a hawk passing overhead. It receded over the road, out into the canyon below.

Still I hear that repeated sound...

Using mere words, the best I've come up with is "waft" or the indicative" wafting".
Employing a more mechanical approach: an umbrella slamming full in a strong breeze, the sound of a parachute blissfully opening after throwing oneself out of an airplane (something I've not yet done).

But everything falls short. There is no way to describe what I heard that morning, let alone my attendant emotions.

All the more reason to talk little, write less, and experience more.