The Obligatory Election Post

1968 – now that was a year. The first-wave baby boomers were coming of age and, along with the old-line lefties, and, sparked by the Tet Offensive, joined in protests against the war or, more often, the draft. Black was beautiful. Politics was in the music, in the streets, in the air. We had the VOTE, man, and we were going to use it.

Spring came along and Dr. King was murdered. While we still reeled from the shock, summer came and Bobby Kennedy was murdered. Eugene McCarthy challenged LBJ and, around the country, hippies cut their hair and went clean for Gene. From the demonstrations and police riots of the Chicago convention, Hubert Humphrey emerged the nominee.

The left collectively groaned. Humphrey (as far as I remember) was a good man and probably would have made a decent President. But, you know, he wasn’t exciting. He had no spark, just a proven record as a moderate liberal. Not good enough.

So, you know the rest. We marched into polling places brandishing our right to vote – to vote for the person we wanted, the person who spoke to us, who stirred our hearts. The Democratic vote split in many directions and Richard Nixon and his jack-booted thugs marched to victory. And things went downhill from there. Kent State happened and a host of less publicized murders – and of course all those little brown people who didn’t count. And America’s young men who didn’t count much either.

I, by the way, voted for Bobby Kennedy, who had been dead for several months. A blow for – Right? Freedom? Truth? No, just for a narcissistic young radical. As young radicals tend to be.

And on we marched, through the miserable Nixon years, as openly corrupt and contemptible as any in my lifetime. Jimmy Carter was a ray of light, and finally the Clintons brought us some sanity. And then it was 2000. I had learned my lesson and voted for the solid but unexciting Al Gore. Then Ralph Nader stuck his face in (my respect for him has dwindled steadily) and a lot of folks who “just couldn’t” vote for Gore voted for him instead. Voted their conscience, by god.

There’s a lot to be said for having a conscience: we see what happens when people with none rise to positions of power. But a Presidential election is not the place to indulge it with meaningless self-indulgent gestures. I don’t condemn the Nader fans or the Bernie fans. I really can’t. At least their candidates were breathing.

Tomatoes in the desert

I lived much of my life in central Illinois, on a glacial plain. The seasons were accommodating, the soil was rich and the rain plentiful. If you wanted a garden, you could stand in the back door and toss out a handful of seeds, then stand back.

My mother was a great gardener. The daughter of farmers, she had a huge messy overgrown garden from which she harvested really good stuff. She also grew a cherry tree from a pit, but that’s another story.

When I moved to high desert country in New Mexico, I found my gardening gene was still alive and well. My first domicile here was on the third floor of a building that had very nice grounds, but the small balcony of my apartment was one of the few places in Albuquerque that got virtually no sun. In the afternoon, a small patch of sun shone on a corner of the balcony. My cats, then three of them, competed for that spot. I was always afraid one would fall off, but it never happened. However, a plant I’d put there did bite the dust. Thank goodness, there was no one underneath.

When my six-month lease was up, I found a unit in a triplex that featured a small private courtyard. It gets plenty of sun, believe me. The soil … well, it’s not soil. It’s sand, caliche sand. That means heavy alkaline sand. So I got a growing box, a really nice one. It has a hinged top with pvc hoops and it came with two covers, a sort of filmy one designed to filter the intense sun and a plasticy one to create a little greenhouse in winters. The covers have long since bit the dust, the filter one disintegrating into shreds and the plasticy one now a big wad of torn plastic that floats around the courtyard. I’ll replace them soon. I also collected big pots that have no covers at all.

I grew some good stuff for several years. Greens in winter (boy were they good), tomatoes and peppers in summer. Oh, those tomatoes. Flowers.

Then I had a couple of bad years and didn’t plant anything at all. But this year, I was newly-retired and had plenty of time. I braved the crowds at the garden club’s sale and bought 4 heirloom tomato plants and several assorted herbs.

I risked my life for those plants. Hordes of crazed gardeners descended. I had hoped for a chance to talk to the gardeners. Ha. Those gardeners weren’t talking to anybody. They were selling. Selling to out of control … gardeners. I had never really thought of gardeners as being violent.

So I secured my plants and mixed fresh soil and compost into my grow-box and big pots. I watered faithfully and sprinkled organic fertilizer. Then we had a heat wave. And a heat wave in the desert is something to contend with. My herbs did well, but the tomatoes. The tomatoes grew into lush green plants covered with blossoms.

But no tomatoes. I emailed the Albuquerque Master Gardeners and got a nice reply. Just wait, the MG suggested. The heat wave was keeping the plants from fruiting. It cooled off a bit and sure enough, a handful of tomato-nubs appeared. And that’s all they did.

Eventually, three of the tiny things turned red. I harvested them, took them inside and arranged them carefully on a plate, with basil leaves for garnish.

Finally, I bit into one. It was all thick mushy, tasteless pulp.

Okay. That won’t stop me from doing it next year. I’ll study up on growing heirlooms and find a less dangerous source of plants. Or maybe I’ll just buy some Burpee’s.

I guess if you’ve got the gardening gene, you’ve gotta garden. And if you’ve ever tasted homegrown, vine-ripened tomatoes, you’ve got to have them. Even if they’re Burpees.

Bob Marley calls down the rain

Well. You can believe this or not, as you choose.

It’s Sunday. I’m peevish and frustrated and overwhelmed and mostly, worried. Apprehensive about a dozen things, few likely to happen. Rather than thinking about personal issues, I prefer to fret over global issues that I don’t stand a chance in hell of affecting. Lately, it’s drought. New Mexico has been in a drought for some time, and almost never has an abundance of water. Not much I can do except keep my water use as low as possible.

I couldn’t shake my malaise, even after a yoga nidra class, usually guaranteed serenity.

While net-surfing, I came across the Bob Marley line, “Don’t worry about a thing. Cause every little thing is going to be all right.” The song started playing in my head so I went to YouTube and played it three times. By the end of the first playing, my mood had lifted considerably.

Then, halfway through the second playing, it started to rain. A good rain (unpredicted by weather.com), of the kind we rarely see here, a big rain that is marching right along, lasting an unusually long time and still going strong. It has staying power, not the blink-and-you’ll miss showers we more often see. It is strong and plentiful, but not so hard as to bounce off the grounds. It’s soaking in.

A soaking rain. A blessing in this high desert. Every little thing is going to be all right. I played the song a third time, as a sort of celebration.

I’m not what you’d call a ‘music person’. I sometimes love to listen to it, but my range is limited and I tend to listen to the same things over and over. That I have as much range as I do is due entirely to my music scholar friends. I was lucky in Illinois to become part of a group \ of music-istas. Most of them were, in fact. They introduced me to many artists I love and here’s a big mmmwaaa to all of them. (I won’t try to list them, but a shout-out must go to songbird Jules and Ross)

These folks had music going all the time, no matter what else we were doing. I’ve never done that. I love silence and am lucky enough to live so as to get a lot of it.

But when I do listen to music, even sing-song ditties, I am struck anew with the magic it can work.

I really must remember to listen to music more often.

Have a listen. Especially if you’re in a bad mood. Try to not feel better. I dare you.

Let me know if it rains.

Basil Fawlty as metaphor

The other night, I was noodling around Netflix and found an old favorite – Fawlty Towers. I used to enjoy this insane comedy, with the brilliant John Cleese and an equally talented supporting cast of loonies. I was hoping for a good idiot laugh.

Innkeeper Basil Fawlty predictably worked himself into a foaming-at-the-mouth frenzy, based on a series of misinformation (accurate information was never a priority for Basil). It involved an illicit woman in a man’s room, with Basil systematically spying on and assaulting every woman at the Inn. At the end, the guests voted, unanimously expressing their displeasure with Fawlty Towers.

Perpetual victim Basil stalked out, muttering insults at the guests and his long-suffering wife.

I don’t know if he came back, I had to quit watching. It was too much like Washington, and I’ve had to quit watching that, too.

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

Since I’ve been retired I’m finding time for all sorts of things I’ve wanted to tackle. Such as writing this blog, but also things like getting my food life in order. I’ve always worked at this off and on, but in a very distracted way. Work and social events involving eating, being too tired to fix real food, fit in on-the-run trips to the grocery store that left me with an assortment of unrelated ingredients and junk food.

During the past couple of years, I’ve been focusing more and more. I worked for a while with a holistic practitioner who gave me good advice about food and supplements. She said I needed to eat meat, especially beef. This is a dilemma for me, because I am not easy about eating meat.

And I began to read about food. OMG! I’m sure all these people writing healthy-eating blogs mean well, and I have picked up a couple of really good, go-to recipes. But… well, they have to have something to write about, preferably something that will get attention.

The more I read, the fuzzier I got about how to eat. Paleo, vegan (apparently just vegetarian has no cachet anymore), raw foods. And the prohibitions including a long list of chemicals plus big categories like dairy, gluten, all grains. I’ve struggled with weight all my life and have done many diets (hard-boiled eggs and grapefruit and Atkins stick in my mind. As they stuck in my throat.)

The past few days, I’ve been reading Michael Pollen’s Food Rules and feel that I am going sane. There is very little that I didn’t know, but it is refreshing to see it all laid out so simply. It is so doable. I’ve taken steps and am planning more. Some of the rules that I especially like:

* Pay more, eat less. After a long struggle, I admitted the naturopath was right: I do need to eat beef. Philosophically,I don’t like to, but I distinctly feel better if I eat it. So I buy a couple of small pieces of grain-fed, certified humanely raised and slaughtered. It costs a fortune, and I prepare and eat it with great respect and gratitude.

* Eat whatever you want – as long as you cook it yourself. Fried chicken, french fries, pineapple upside down cake – fine. But you have to make it. I like to make potato chips: slice potato thin, brush with olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, bake in hot oven until brown and crispy. But I don’t much like to cook in general, so if I keep to this rule, there will be lots of things I won’t eat.

* There is a section on what basically is eating mindfully. He puts it in a number of different ways. Eating mindfully makes eating a spiritual practice. If I eat mindfully and pay attention to each bite, I want that bite to taste good.

Last year, I lost 20 pounds doing yoga – three or four classes a week and a daily practice (only 20 minutes at first). Even more important was the meditation practice I developed at the same time. And I practiced Yoga Nidra. The words mean ‘yogic sleep’. it is a long, deep meditative state led by a teacher using several techniques and allows you to drop to a level of consciousness not usually reached. The sessions got me in touch with my body and I began to practice body awareness throughout the day: whenever I was going to eat, when I wanted a snack, I took a couple of minutes to ask my body what it really wanted. The answer wasn’t always ‘ice cream.’ Sometimes I realized an orange would taste just as good. Not always. I am an ice cream addict and despite the many reasons for giving it up, I don’t think it will leave my life completely. But once in a while, in summer, I just plain want ice cream. So I get a pint of Ben and Jerry’s (I don’t mess with health food ice cream) and eat it. At one time, I would have eaten it at a sitting, now I eat it over several days and sometimes even forget it’s in the freezer.

It was learning to pay attention that let me cut down on junk food, and food in general, and lose weight. Exercise was limited to a yoga session most days (sometimes a very short one); I didn’t count a single calorie, and I didn’t restrict any food or kind of of food. I just paid attention.

My diet is way better than the Standard American Diet, but I’m no paragon of eating. Every day I eat things I’d probably do better not to eat. But I don’t have to be a paragon. I just have to pay attention.

A thousand tiny souls

This isn’t about abortion. It’s about flies.Last summer, they came. A huge black swarm of them took up residence in my home. I had seen flies, of course. All my life. I took the last picture of my uncle before he died. He was sitting in a lawn chair, his face creased and exhausted, holding a fly-swatter across his lap, ready to do battle. So maybe it’s a genetic thing.

But I had never seen them in such numbers, certainly not inside a house. It looked like a scene from a crime show, when the detectives enter to find a long-dead body.

For the past year, I have kept a fly-swatter at hand along with home-made fly spray: water, vinegar, a dash of hot sauce, and a few drops of Dawn detergent. It does kill flies (spray to immobilize, then swat), doesn’t smell horrible and, after the fly is swatted, you can easily wipe off the black spots that are left.

I’m thinking of making a swatter-belt with a holster, so the weapon is always at hand. In general, I’m not crazy about stalking my home with weapons of death. It doesn’t feel very Zen. But this is war: Me vs. Flies. Who will win? I’m bigger, but am outnumbered by a large factor. When I smash one, a dozen more take its place.

They surround me when I sit at the computer, buzzing around my head, landing on the screen. When you swat a fly on a touch-screen, interesting visual effects ensue, and increase when you wipe off the smear it left. Sometimes they land on the white wall above the screen. I wondered why they liked that spot, where they are such easy prey, then I learned why: they are feasting on the smears left by those that died previously on that spot. That doesn’t make me like them any better.

I’ve learned a couple of things along the way. Old wives tale: you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Not necessarily. Maybe my flies are different. I tried an experiment: I poured a little honey in a saucer and left it on the counter, expecting to find a multitude of flies if not dead, at least in one place where they could easily be dispatched. Not a fly. I left it out for a couple of days. Not a fly. Recently, I accidentally left a cup with a little cider vinegar in it on the counter. I found seven dead flies the next morning.

I guess that’s really the only thing I learned. No, wait, one other thing. Fly-swatters are one of the simplest and most effective low-tech tools ever devised. Long wire handles to allow for a good strong swat. A flat plastic head full of holes that, I suppose, somehow distracts the flies from knowing that they are about to be annihilated. More deaths occur if I swing the swatter in a big arc and come at the fly from a good distance above.

And I just thought of a third thing: If your foot is badly bruised , a fly lands on it and you swat it, it hurts like (*^*. Instant karma.

Sometimes, I’ll come upon a pair of them, joined together and buzzing frantically. They’re either fighting to the death or having at it. Easy to get both of them in one mighty swat. It feels sad. Do flies enjoy it? If so, it might not be a bad way to die. Sometimes I swat one and it leaves a smear of yellow yuck. I wonder if she was pregnant. If so, I’m glad to have prevented more flies. But it still feels sad.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m just culling the herd. Weeding out the weak and stupid ones, breeding a new, stronger fly.

What I wonder most is whether I’ll step into Bardo carrying the weight of a thousand tiny souls on my shoulders. Do no harm. Am I preventing still more harm? I guess I’ll find out. I have to say, my backhand is getting pretty good.

Coming home

I can still see it, still feel it, forty years later. Coming around a black mountain in a midnight snowstorm. It was my first glimpse of Albuquerque. We were passing through enroute to Arizona and we didn’t stop. But the voice said, “someday I’m going to live here.” That was 1973.

In 2003, I drove a thousand miles of highway with a carful of possessions including three cats in the back seat squalling in disharmony. My destination was the apartment I’d just rented in Albuquerque. The apartment was in a big complex. I’d never lived in such a place before but I thought it would be a way to meet people. I suppose I had pictured a sitcom with neighbors bonding into a big dysfunctional family. I was wrong. The people encountered walked in cocoons of privacy.

I had one friend in Burque, as I soon learned to call it. Jobs were nonexistent. I took temp jobs and haltingly made my way around the sprawling city to the handful of boring jobs that came my way. My money was running out fast.

I was exhausted, trying to fill my lungs with the thin air. Making my way up the flights to my third-floor apartment left me gasping. The cats, also oxygen-deprived and traumatized from the trip became quiet and docile, fighting over the corner of sunshine the tiny balcony enjoyed in the morning. That apartment was one of the few places in Burque that didn’t get sun. It was hard for all of us, coming from a flat, lushly green landscape to this harsh high desert.

But I was home. The place I knew from that first moment would be home.

A lot happened in between and since. I found a wonderful job: it didn’t pay much but it was a small office with wonderful people. I managed the New Mexico Chautauqua, booking speakers and historical characters all over the state. I have always had a weakness for talented people and our “stable” consisted of 70 of them. I held that job for ten years and recently retired, not voluntarily but due to funding cuts. I miss it, although I love being retired: I was born to be retired.

Burque is still home and it still holds its magic. The mountains to the east. To the west, the Mesa, with its petroglyphs and volcanoes. The Rio Grande marks the southern boundary and to the north, more mountains and Santa Fe and Taos. Albuquerque sits in a bowl in the Rio Grande valley, a center of spiritual power. The old gods still reign here and I learned to honor them.

Here, home, I made a life.

And that’s how I came to be jesinalbuquerque. Welcome to my world.