Monthly Archives: June 2016


Two guys clock me as I walk south of Hermosa pier. The spiel begins immediately.

Guy 1: Hey there, don’tcha know who this is? (gestures to portly Guy 2, who’s holding a surfboard)

Me: (shakes head, keeps walking)

Guy 1: Don’t you want his autograph? (looks incredulous)

Me: (looking back at them, eyeing the portly surf dude) No. Do you want mine?

Guys 1 & 2: Yes!

I laugh and keep walking, a spring in my step.

This morning I biked over to my favorite plumeria bushes. “Look at you!” I cried. They’re in full bloom, blossoms tumbling to the ground with abundance. Inhaling the heady fragrance fills me with something like God. Peace. Goodwill. I begin collecting the fallen blossoms, and handing them out.

“Thank you,” says the first guy, “have a wonderful day. God bless you!”

“Is that your garden?” says the second guy. Australian accent. Gah-den. Accusatory tone.

I shake my head.

“Why you pickin’ the flowers if it ain’t ya gah-den?”

“I’m not picking them,” I say, and turn away, face suffusing with heat.

I pedal away with a basket full of plumeria blossoms.

I feel terrible.

I am a bad girl.

After awhile it occurs to me: was that his garden? No. He did not say that it was. Why the shame and blame?

I compare the first response with the second — Thank you versus Fuck you — and notice which generated the bigger reaction in me. Thank you made me happy. Fuck you made me miserable. Made me want to stop engaging with any other human ever. Made me want to stop giving out flowers, which is something I enjoy. Made me want to hide.

Same action: giving a stranger a flower.
Two different responses, and two different reactions to those responses.

I don’t want to leave my emotions in the hands of strangers. Gives them way too much power. Neither man’s response had anything to do with me. Not a thing. I’d never met them before.

I remember the disparate reactions to Emmett, my big black Malamute mix: some folks adored him, others were terrified. But he was the same dog.

I continue pedaling north along the waterfront. When I see a sanitation crew, I hop off and give them flowers.

“Thank you!” smiles a young guy with a shaved head.

“Thank you, sweetheart,” says an older guy missing a front tooth, and immediately pins the flower to his uniform.

I leave plumeria blossoms in a Dockweiler Beach bathroom: one blossom in the soap dish of each of three sinks. They look stunning against the silver.

Shame eventually fades as I pedal along and watch the ocean. After locking the bike, I walk down the Marina del Rey jetty, and see a snowy egret and two harbor seals. Everyone’s fishing.

Maybe collecting fallen blossoms IS the same as picking them, in the eyes of whoever owns that plot of earth. (If anyone can actually own the Earth, but that’s another essay.)

It was the man’s tone that cut me: you’re a bad girl. Something I have believed for most of my life. But maybe John was always going to die. Maybe Mom and Dad were always going to leave, either physically or emotionally. Maybe their behavior has nothing to do with my inherent goodness or badness. Maybe it’s just the way things are. Maybe I don’t have to apologize for my existence.

I won’t collect any more plumeria blossoms from the bushes in Manhattan Beach.
I will buy my own and plant them in the sun near my home. And when they bloom, I will give the blossoms away to whomever wants them.

“No shame, no blame, everything’s beautiful,” said a dancer friend once during rehearsal. Exactly.




Most of the Groucho Terns are gone. (Also known as Royal Terns, but take a look at them — don’t they remind you of Groucho Marx with his eyebrows and cigar?) I only saw nine this morning, instead of the regular flock of fifty or a hundred. The Snowy Plovers have disappeared, too.

It’s time for me to move on. I was raised in Los Angeles County, then moved to the Pacific Northwest for 20 years. It was good to come back for a bit, if only to remember that this is not where I belong. It is familiar, which is not the same as healthy.

I am moving north again, though not so far this time, just 200 miles. I enjoy the slower pace, the fresh air, the clean snorkler-friendly coves. My neighbors will be horses, and my studio (part of a larger house) abuts a state park with copious hiking trails. I can see the sea from the window. SLO (San Luis Obispo) County. Love the acronym.

Despite all this, I am beset by doubts: Moving AGAIN? Are you out of your mind? Why can’t you be satisfied where you are? It’s probably the same everywhere. You’re making a huge mistake.

But tolerance is over-rated. Sometimes you have to say, “No. This is NOT good enough.”

Just because you grew up in Fear doesn’t mean you have to live there.

Just because discomfort is comfortable, and violence familiar, doesn’t mean it’s good for you, or the planet.

Fear can be a great motivator, though. I just received another complaining text from the current landlord, which motivated me to pack up the dishes.

Stoicism (learned from my mother) is also over-rated. “Pain can kill you,” said Dr. Saloom when Emmett was sick. Hermosa has been painful, with a volatile, toxin-using (Trump-voting!) landlord; near-constant construction; vacant vacation homes with homeless sleeping on benches nearby; huge, fume-spuming sand-grooming machines; and occasional oil and sewage spills. That’s not even the worst of it. I have biological family here who are completely uninterested in seeing me. Dreams of connection with them, and with childhood friends, have finally died.

But the water is warm. 63 degrees lately.

I’m learning a different way to swim, and it’s hard. I have to be conscious of every part of every stroke. I practice rolling over to breathe instead of lifting my head. Intellectually I know this new method is more efficient, which means I’ll be able to swim longer distances without tiring. But when I’m already tired, or scared, I revert to the way I learned as a kid: flat as a board, arms straight like a windmill.

“Swim like a fin,” says coach Dave Walters, “not like a brick.”

Ah, but I’m a brick house, dontcha know! Which maybe ain’t so good in the H20.

The old ways are still attractive, especially when I’m frightened or lonely, but the glamour is fading. Soon the thrill will be entirely gone. I turned off the latest Star Wars movie last night. Same old stories, same old characters, same old dialog. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon seems melodramatic and sad now, not romantic and gorgeous. Beauty is not enough. Hermosa isn’t enough. But I am interested in Harmony (a teeny hamlet in SLO County, not far from the new place).

Meanwhile, I keep practicing the new way of moving through the ocean.
Like a fin, not a brick. Maybe I can catch up to the Grouchos.



All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. –Yann Martel, Life of Pi

I ran out of toilet paper, so I went to Monterey — County. Some 342 miles north of where I now live.

The vacationers above finally drove me out. They seemed to sleep in shifts, and otherwise wander around above me through the night. Work was impossible.

So I packed up my car — wetsuits, towels, blankets, food, maps, guidebooks — and headed north to investigate the possibilities.

Ah, the adventures to be had at three in the morning!

Traffic in LA County was minimal, a pleasure to drive the freeways as they were designed — fast for long distances.

Dawn was breaking when I hit Ventura, so I got off the 101 and headed for the beach to watch. So quiet! Just me and the birds and fish.

After awhile some humans showed up, runners, a sanitation crew. Which reminded me that I had to pee. Found a clean-ish gas station, then had to wait for the only toilet. And wait.

When the door to the bathroom finally opened, a gorgeous blonde corrections officer emerged, hair immaculately coiffed, uniform spotless and pressed, shoes shined. A cloud of hairspray wafted out with her and engulfed me, permeating my red wool coat and hair. Slimed!

Back on the highway, I headed north again. Just past Santa Barbara, I take Highway 154. Mistake.

Winding through the mountains up into Chumash land, it is foggy and fine and lovely until my gas gauge dings. The suspense begins: will I be stranded on this godforsaken highway in who-knows-where? Should I turn back? Continue? I try to relax my grip on the wheel.

Up ahead is a state park, with a little gas station icon on the sign.

But no joy, ain’t open yet. “The Chumash station is only 8 miles up,” says the ranger. “You’ll be fine.”

“Thanks,” I say, and drive on into wine country. BMW’s, Porsches, Mercedes, etc. surround my weary Jetta at the pumps. Clean bathroom. I still stink of hairspray.

Back on the 101, ever northward.

Past Santa Maria, near Oceano, traffic is slowed by a CHP SUV, skating across the lanes, back and forth, keeping us behind. Grover Beach exit beckons. Why not?

I walk the wide sandy shore and wade in. The north wind is nippy so I don’t immerse. Instead I retrieve my lunch: turkey leg, carrots, rice ‘n’ beans. Delicious in the sea air.

Anxious about sleeping arrangements, I make a reservation at the San Luis Obispo hostel. There — a bed for the night. (This doesn’t turn out to be true, more about that later.)

I drive through Pismo and up to Shell Beach. Find a beautiful cove. Rest in the sun. Sleep, finally. Safe.

To be continued.