#ThursdayDoors: Bezerkley

Looking out toward the Golden Gate Bridge which was unfortunately shrouded in fog and smoke.

Not only does the Lawrence Hall of Science have one of the most spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay Area but every exhibit is meant to be manhandled by children, casually monitored and guided in their experiments by high school students earning extra credit in biology, mathematics or chemistry.

The hall is actually a part of the University of California Berkeley.  It was named in honor of the “Atom Smasher,” Ernest Lawrence, also the inventor of the cyclotron and the founder of the Lawrence Berkeley Labs.  Over the years I’ve met and worked with many physicists who got their start at the “Lab.”  I couldn’t understand them 99% of the time but they were never boring.

The back door leads to a chance to get wet and dirty as you learn about water management.  Downstairs are classrooms where kids learn about lizards and volcanos and all that cool stuff in a more formal setting.

For bigger kids, Berkeley offers a different sort of entertainment:

 

The Ashkenaz, which has been around since 1973, is run by a non-profit organization whose goal is to showcase music and dance from around the world. The idea is not to listen or watch but to participate and they’re very serious.  If you come, you dance.Berkeley is known for its eccentric population and if you wander around up near the campus you’ll see just about anything.  When I worked there, the most famous eccentric was the Naked Guy, a 6’5” former athlete who insisted on attending class in nothing but shoes.  Clothes, he claimed were oppressive and for a time, no one said a word.  It was, after all, Berkeley.

Then there was the Hate Man, a former journalist and Peace Corps worker who espoused the doctrine of hate and “oppositionality.” To start a conversation with him, you had to say “Fuck you.”

When he died, it made the national news and the denizens of People’s Park, a homeless encampment smack dab in the middle of Berkeley, made a memorial for him, which he would have hated.

Check out other doors from around the world at Norm’s place.  

The Awful Fate of Words

“I listen to my words but they fall far below.”
Cat Stevens, The Wind

I’m looking for a word that may not exist.  “Beautiful” came easily but that word is generally used to describe something pulchritudinous and not necessarily splendid, marvelous or “pleasing to the senses or mind aesthetically.”  A beautiful face, in all ways symmetrical; a beautiful day with mild winds and temps and just the right ratio of clouds to sky.  There is something so transient about that word.  A thing of beauty is only a joy forever only in your mind.  Faces sag with wear and tear and droughts eventually turn lush gardens into barren wastelands. No, beautiful was not the word I was looking for.

In case you’re wondering, it was this moving piece of writing that has me on a quest for the perfect word.  How often we respond to each other in comments with words such as beautiful when we mean to say either delightful, glorious, or splendid.  Or when a piece rips in a chasm in our hearts – fearless, unflinching, heart-rendering or audacious.  Yes, I like that word audacious.  How dare the writer take us to a place we may not have wanted to visit but once there, how we marvel at the truth he or she has revealed.  What is the word for that?

“Beauty is truth and truth beauty,
That’s all ye know on earth.”
 John Keats, On a Grecian Urn

I found one word that I liked for its meaning:  of great value, not to be wasted.  Your work is precious to me.  I shall not waste it.   But precious is a word that has come to mean dainty and frail through, as one linguist put it, “absorbing the negative elements” of sarcastic usage.  Many words in the English language have met similar fates.  For example, naughty used to mean “people having naught,” in other words, poor people.  Nice originally meant silly, ignorant or foolish and pretty meant crafty or skillful. 

Tolkien’s character, Gollum, ruined the word precious forever.

This brought me back to where I began: wordless.  So I emailed friends of mine who are wordsmiths.  One of them wrote back:

There’s a fine tradition of pairing words incongruously to subvert ideas and emotions. From Aeschylus (“wisdom through the awful grace of God”) to Anne Sexton (“the awful rowing toward God”). And Emily Dickinson did this sort of thing so often it’s all but impossible to pick simply one or two good examples.”

What struck me in his response was how the word “awful” is used in concert with words such as “grace” or “beauty” until I googled the original meaning of “awful.”  Derived from the word “awe,” at one time it was synonymous with awesome and meant reverential and respectful.

An awful sky

What do you do when you can’t seem to find the right word?

Casting Doubt at Happy Endings

I’m going to bet that many of y’all have stopped tuning in to the nonstop coverage of the thing in the White House and are trying to keep your sanity by watching lighthearted movies.  I know I have.   And I cry, boy do I cry over the silliest of comedies. But sometimes I have a revelation and today’s is from the musical Gigi.  In case you’ve never heard of Gigi (where have you been?), it’s a story set in the early 1900s which was written by Colette.  Supposedly it’s her least grim work.

Doesn’t look very cheerful, does she?

To be honest,  I haven’t read all the works of Colette but apparently she specialized in heroines whose chances for happiness were zero to nil.  So it’s beyond ironic that her name will be forever linked to a movie with such a charming happy ending. 

Although, was it really a happy ending?  Gaston could have easily turned into a serial philanderer like his impossibly cute uncle.

 

Or,  he could have evolved into a self-centered man growing angrier by the year and taking it out on her.  He was after, bored with everything.

Gigi might have been better off pursuing her aunt’s successful career as a courtesan.  Today courtesans are thought of as high class prostitutes however the word actually means “one who attends court with a powerful person.”  So having a courtesan was a sign of status.  It’s impossible to know how much free will those courtesans had.  Gigi (the movie) implies that they could pick and choose between “patrons” but realistically they were probably sold by their families to the highest bidder. 

Groomed and taught the social graces and then sold. Bejeweled and pranced out to make an impression. And then discarded when old.

It is a mistake, of course, to cast seeds of doubt at happy endings. These days of Muslim bans, children ripped from their mothers, and civil discontent, they’re all we have left.  As Gaston says, the world is round but everything is getting flatter by the minute.

*Apologies if I’ve ruined the ending of the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

Comes the Darkness

Yesterday I did not write or blog. Instead I put together Adirondack chairs. Four of them. And it felt good. Sometimes you just have to push away from the computer and spend a day making things with your hands. The world will not miss you.

To those in the US –  have you been shopping for outdoor furniture in the last couple of years?  Holy Cow! Gone are the days of redwood picnic tables and folding chaise lounges. It’s a whole new world, as Joel and I found out when we set out to replace our worn out, odd assortment of hand-me-down outdoor furniture.

The first place we went was called Patio World.  I was hoping they sold furniture in a world of price ranges and styles. Wrong!  This is a place for people willing to spend thousands of dollars for a piece of furniture that’s going to sit outside in the sun and be pooped and peed on by an assortment of critters.    The cushions were thick and the fabric was guaranteed to outlive me. Luckily the salespeople at that high end joint ignored us.  Isn’t it funny how salespeople can spot shoppers who prefer not to go into debt just to keep up with the Joneses? I’ve heard it said that your shoes give you away.  I was in flip flops.

“Let’s check out the wine store,” Joel announced as we left. 

“Wine store?” 

He pointed to the big box store across the street.When I first started making treks down to San Francisco (back in the Ice Age), a trip to Cost Plus World Market was always number one on my list. Housed in a large windowless warehouse on Fisherman’s Wharf, it was a place where you could buy really cool stuff from all over the world: batiks from India, Japanese tea kettles, jewelry made from Indonesian seashells, Witch Doctor masks from Africa, bittersweet chocolates from Zanzibar, rattan furniture from the Philippines, just about anything you could imagine and more. 

It was nirvana for a kid from Reno Nevada where the most exotic thing you could buy with your hard-earned babysitting money was a taco from the town’s one Mexican restaurant.

 

Since then Cost Plus has been franchised all over the United States. A flagship store still sits on the Wharf but it’s no longer in a warehouse with a sawdust floor and you no longer enter through a fog of incense. Fertility Gods sit on shelves in well marked areas and not on bales of hay in poorly lit corners.  Most notably, salespeople are no longer free to wander around barefoot or smoke pot on their breaks. Today’s world market is a antiseptic, well-lit, big box store.

However, we know the wine buyer for the stores in our area and he assured us they bought good stuff so we wandered over.  Perhaps going home with at least one bottle of good wine might save the day, only – we never got to the wine department. Just beyond the front door we encountered a brightly colored display of Adirondack chairs, and they were on sale.  “They’ll do,” I said, to which Joel agreed.  Mexico was playing somebody (I forget who) and he wanted to get home to the World Cup.  

Have you ever tried assembling an Adirondack chair?  It’s not hard, but it’s confusing. The seat and back legs are one piece and the front legs are assembled at a V angle to them which has to be contrary to logical chair assembly. However after putting them on backwards a couple of times, I finally got the idea. The trick is not to tighten the bolts until you’ve assembled the whole chair.  Otherwise, you start over from scratch.

After finishing, I lined the chairs up on the deck facing the canyon.  What do you think?  I’m reminded of the deck of the Titanic.  I can almost hearing the band playing Nearer My God to Thee. 

Ah well.  With a few colorful cushions made in Vietnam, they’ll do.

 

The Embarrassment of Parenting by Geoff Le Pard

Today’s post comes from the delightful Geoff Le Pard who’s just published his first memoir, Apprenticed to My Mother.  I have read many chapters on his blog and they were both hilarious and poignant. In this bit, Geoff fondles a subject all of us can identify with…the gruesome thought of our parents having sex.

From Apprenticed to My Mother,

The Embarrassment of Parenting

Many things are going to embarrass you, if you are a child. Your parents being the most obvious. From kissing you by the school gates, to talking to you when you’re hanging out with your mates, to serving something wholesome when friends come round, to dancing at any stage, you will be mortified.

But perhaps the nadir of the urge to squirm comes when the subject of sex raises its ugly head (which is perhaps an unfortunate image with which to start this piece).

My parents were no different, though maybe they were slightly more aware of the impact it might have on the Archaeologist and me than some parents during the 1960s and 70s.

As is the case with all small children who sleep in a separate bedroom, the idea that my parents may be capable of any intimacy beyond a peck on the lips was anathema. Still is, in truth. I think I managed to make it to about 11 or 12 before the concept of parental congress became something that might, just have legs.

There was the incident with the baker’s delivery boy, who whilst walking around the side of our house was confronted by my father, red-faced, running away from my mother, broom in hand and calling, ‘Come back, Desmond, it’s Thursday and my turn…’ I heard about this third hand from the brother of a friend of the sister of the deliver boy. I think he might still be in counseling.

Or, the occasion of the engrossing TV drama when Mum, cup of coffee in hand, leant forward to absorb the tension and missed her mouth. The scalding liquid made its unerring way into her top and thence into her bra. She did the only sensible thing: she began ripping off her clothes, quickly revealing her bra to the gaze of three startled males. I assume my father had seen this before and my brother may have too, but, whilst I had seen the garment in the washing, I had never been present when it was disported.

‘Barbara, the boys.’ My father’s panic mirrored my own. By now my mother was pulling the material away from her skin and at risk of revealing more than was clearly thought appropriate.

‘Oh for goodness sake. Pathetic.’ Mum stood and, still trying to ensure the skin was not melting into the upholstery, headed for the kitchen.

This is but one example of the cruelty of TV when each family had one screen and only two or three channels. Nowadays, if a programme might be embarrassing, there is at least the option to watch on different screens or on a laptop or Mac. Not then. We all shared the experience, for good or bad.

In many ways the 1960s were a watershed, bringing smut directly into our living rooms in the guise of ‘modern’ dramas. Dennis Potter and Harold Pinter appeared as playwrights who were as liable to put swearing in the small screen as nudity. And it was the nudity that caused the most problems.

Picture the scene; a 25 inch TV sat in one corner of the living room. Facing it from the right was my father, positioned next to the fire so as to get first dibs on any warmth the sclerotic gas burner might deign to throw out. His chair was ancient with wings behind which he could hide if needs be. Next, my mother in her small chair, almost too small for her. It hugged her sides and had low arms which allowed her to reach all around and pick up whatever project she would be working  on while watching the TV: shelling broad beans, mending trousers or socks, quilting or embroidering in a ring, making a stuffed toy for some raffle. Then there came the Archaeologist and me, squeezed onto a two seater sofa next to the door to the hall through which an incessant and bleak draught blew; necessarily I was next to the door.

On the TV is a BBC drama. Therese Raquin by Emile Zola. This adaptation is in a number of parts and my mother has done well to persuade my father that they should watch it. For an educated man, he wasn’t keen on ‘improving’ TV. We have reached episode four when Therese and her lover have killed Therese’s husband. They are in bed together.

My father is, as was often the case, asleep in his chair, his head lolling to one side. My mother is squeezed into hers, her hands full of wool. I’m not sure if the Archaeologist is present – I think not, but perhaps my attention is distracted. You see, in the previous episode there have been some glimpses of interesting parts of the female anatomy with which I was less than familiar at that point. I have hopes, given the rumpty-tumpty that is continuing on screen.

Therese and her lover are finding congress difficult in the light of the murder they have recently undertaken. Tension is building and then then…  It all happens so quickly. The lover rips back the sheets, exposing both actors to the camera. The man – sadly – leaps from his bed, his voice rising well above the soft tones of moments before.

In his chair Dad stirs. Mum, seeing the full frontal nudity unfolding as it were in front of her, begins to stand but is inhibited by her chair, gripping her sides. She is doing what comes naturally in such moments: she is heading for the panel that will let her change channels – oh, for a remote, she might have thought, had such things existed.

I, and the Archaeologist are trying a complex maneuvering that will enable our body language to scream ‘we aren’t looking, hardly interested really, you won’t get us watching smut’ while all the time making sure we have a clear an unimpeded view of the screen. The lover stands, face to camera. In a voice tremulous with emotion and self-disgust he intones:

‘We must master fate.’

Rarely have pauses been more pregnant. My mother stops, halfway out of her chair. Despite the compelling sight of a completely naked couple filling the screen, the Archaeologist and I are now staring at Dad. Dad, in turn is ogling the screen, his eyes flitting back to Mum and then the actor. He couldn’t look more distressed, a disappointment redolent of the sort of let down that follows unreasoning hopes. ‘Surely he’s not, Barbs. Surely not on the BBC.’

At that moment the actor cups his exposed genitals, a belated attempt at modesty but sadly, given my father’s mishearing, merely convincing him that he is, indeed, about to witness the first example of televisual onanism that has been broadcast.

I don’t think any of us really recovered from that moment. It took years to bring some sort of stability to the evening’s entertainment. Dad never really trusted mum’s judgement around dramas and Mum felt obliged to perfect her up, out and ‘let’s see what’s one the other side’ movements. such that even the most harmless of inappropriate phrases could lead to a change of channels.

As for actual sex, well, I remain to be convinced. I suppose I feel, like most children, it would be a kindness to believe I was adopted.


Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes poetry, short fiction and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls. He also cooks with passion if not precision.

My Father and Other Liars is a thriller set in the near future and takes its heroes, Maurice and Lori-Ann on a helter-skelter chase across continents.

Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle is a coming of age story. Set in 1976 the hero Harry Spittle is home from university for the holidays. He has three goals: to keep away from his family, earn money and hopefully have sex. Inevitably his summer turns out to be very different to that anticipated.

Life in a Grain of Sand is a 30 story anthology covering many genres: fantasy, romance, humour, thriller, espionage, conspiracy theories, MG and indeed something for everyone. All the stories were written during Nano 2015

Salisbury Square is a dark thriller set in present day London where a homeless woman and a Polish man, escaping the police at home, form an unlikely alliance to save themselves.

Available here

 

Buster & Moo is about about two couples and the dog whose ownership passes from one to the other. When the couples meet, via the dog, the previously hidden cracks in their relationships surface and events begin to spiral out of control. If the relationships are to survive there is room for only one hero but who will that be?

Life in a Flash is a set of super short fiction, flash and micro fiction that should keep you engaged and amused for ages

Apprenticed To My Mother describes the period after my father died when I thought I was to play the role of dutiful son, while Mum wanted a new, improved version of her husband – a sort of Desmond 2.0. We both had a lot to learn in those five years, with a lot of laughs and a few tears as we went.

Mr. Tinker Tries to Make a Deal

Heartbreaking but beautifully written.

tin hats

Waiting for life to load…

A message appears on his Skype.  Malcolm Staples wants to discuss some property.  Who is Malcolm Staples he thinks.  A veterinarian is supposed to be here in a few minutes, but the vet will probably be late, so maybe there is time for a quick call.  The man dials Malcolm’s number.  The phone rings and a young voice answers.

“I’d like to speak with Malcom Staples please.”

“Yes, this is he.  Is this Mr. Tinker?”

“The same,” he says.

“I’m glad you called back Mr. Tinker, I went by your houses, the ones for sale across from the football stadium, and I just wanted to ask a few questions.”

“Sure,” the man said, “but first who am I speaking with?”

Malcolm tells his story.  He is a developer/builder/real estate agent who used to work for one of the biggest home builders in Texas, but has…

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#ThursdayDoors: Siberia

My friend, who just returned from a trip to Russia, China and Tibet, said these doors and windows reminded her of me.  How sweet!  Thank you Mary Alice!  

She was in Irkutsk which is the capital of Siberia. According to Wikipedia, many journalists, writers and artists were exiled to this city in the 19th century because they irritated the factions currently in charge.

I won’t even attempt to fathom the history of Russia.  Whites, Reds, Bolsheviks, Communists – it’s like trying to sort out the history of British Royalty.  So many rebellions and power struggles.  Ugh.

The dissidents were sent to Siberia because it’s remote and the weather can be brutal but they certainly do have a lot of style.

According to Mary Alice, these are wooden windows. She did a great job on this shot, don’t you think?  Nice reflection.

I googled Irkutsk and was amazed by how many famous people were born in Siberia, Arguably the most famous was Rudolph Nureyev, born here in 1936.

This is an interesting little cabin.  From some reason, it made me think of Lincoln Logs.

 

Check out other doors from around the world at Norm’s Place.