Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wing Chairs

I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea to buy used wing chairs from the funeral home. There they were, displayed on their perfect, compulsively watered front lawn with a sign and a number to call. I think they were asking $75 a piece for them and I ended up getting them both for $140. The seller, a quiet, dignified man explained that they had only been used in the waiting room. No one had spilled anything on them, and the only place they were really worn was on the top. The seller explained that this was where the director would rest his elbow as he stood by during services, etc. This seemed to be accurate, and after I convinced myself that they really hadn’t been in the near vicinity of the dead people, I thought they would fit right in at home and could some day be reupholstered.

But I was never quite, um, comfortable, with those chairs and didn’t have the decorating budget to rehabilitate them. Still, they were useful without doing any harm, and I got along with them until the point when a good friend died and I went to that same funeral home with her brother to make the arrangements for her cremation. The chairs in the waiting room that had replaced mine were soo much nicer. Although my friend who passed away had taken great delight in the back story of the provenance of my chairs, it was hard to feel good about them now. Three and a half years went by and my friend’s daughter decided to have a garage sale. We agreed it was time to offload the creepy wing chairs.

I told Eric about the chair plan at dinner one night and mentioned that I was excited to be getting rid of the bad energy they brought with them. This led to a wider discussion of the topic, including his father’s ashes, which resided in a box in a pretty antique cabinet that he’d brought with him, and was now in the kitchen. We talked about how having them in their place in the kitchen was starting to be bothersome. The door to the cabinet kept popping open. Spontaneously. I would close it firmly and it would happen again. It had started to get a bit spooky.

We talked about the fact that when his father was dying, thirty-five years before, he had asked that his ashes be scattered at the private high school where he had been a football star. When Eric tried to honor his wishes and scatter the ashes it turned out the football field had been paved over and was now the parking lot of the Pak N Save. Step two was thwarted as well. He took a trip across country to scatter the ashes on the football field where Dad had played in college. The field had been converted to astro-turf which just wouldn’t work. A series of adventures ensued including having the maid accidentally remove them from the safe in a cheap hotel room in New York City. The ashes were recovered and seemed to be on their best behavior for the next few decades while they moved from place to place, but now it appeared there’d been enough delay in finding a final resting place.

We agreed that they needed to be relocated, but we had to find a suitable resting place. It appeared that football fields were out and since this man had not liked the beach, despite having lived much of his life in South Florida, a scattering at sea was not a good option. I kept pressing. What else did he like? It turns out he liked golf. All of a sudden that seemed to present a perfect solution. We’d take him to a lovely, little local golf course. Eric, who can be wildly spontaneous, outdid himself that night. He suggested we go right then. We were still sitting at the dinner table and it was 9:30. He grabbed a little trowel and the box of ashes and we started for the front door. We were intercepted by Lana, who immediately sensed something was up. I told her we couldn’t explain but had to go right away because we were on a mission. She said that was creepy. Little did she know. We passed a cop car when we were nearing the course but he was going the other way. What relief. Timing is everything.

The golf course was beautiful even in the dark. We shined a little flashlight around until we found the perfect spot, a sand trap. Eric started a gorgeous, spontaneous eulogy to his father. I cried quietly while he dug a small hole in the sand and poured most of the ashes into the hole. We were almost done, when suddenly there was a car and there were lights. It was the cop. He’d circled back around and now he was walking out to the sand trap while shining his light on us. We both sat down. We had to. If we’d remained standing he would have seen that something was going on. He asked what we were doing and we said talking. Talking? He questioned again. I explained that we had teenagers at home and just needed to get away and talk a little. And sit in a sand trap? You could tell his gut just didn’t buy it, but he didn’t have any evidence to the contrary, and he slowly retreated and then drove away.

We cracked up. We laughed so hard we could hardly stop. It was the most intimate of moments between us and the sadness and the ridiculousness all blurred together. We quickly finished the job and got out of there. Dad must like the golf course because that was years ago and he’s been no trouble. The cabinet door has never opened by itself again.

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Town

I’m in love again. I can really feel it. Sometimes you know you’re supposed to feel a certain way, but you just can’t. Your head knows on some level but your heart can’t access it. And if you can’t actually feel it for long enough, is it really there? The feeling. Why must we live so often in a visceral haze? You probably think this is about my relationship. It’s not. I’ve had relationships that I couldn’t always feel. Not now. I can ALWAYS feel my relationship. Sometimes I don’t like how it makes me feel, but I feel something. No, it’s not even about another person. It’s about my town.

Finding my home was pure happenstance - as it often is. We lost our lease in San Francisco and were struggling to find a new place that would take two Dobermans. A friend told us of a vacant place he’d heard about in Mill Valley. I ventured across the bridge to check it out. Arriving in the rustic downtown, I looked around. Charming stores. Coffee house and bookstore. Yes, I was home. That was thirty-one years ago.

I’ve always loved living here, but lately, my connection has felt a bit abstract. Not today. This morning I took a walk downtown. This cold, November morning with frost on the lawns and vibrant, brilliant red and orange leaves fluttering around, I could feel how much I love my town. I could feel it so strongly I wanted to shout from the icy rooftops, “ I love you, Mill Valley.”

The physical beauty of our downtown is incomparable. Because it’s at the base of a mountain, it’s not a drive-through or drive-by. It’s a destination. There is a stand of Redwoods in the center of town. A creek runs through it. A babbling brook with a delightful flower shop over it. We have culture - a film festival, art exhibits and live entertainment. We have location, location and more location - thirty minutes from the beach and San Francisco. Less than four hours from the ski slopes.

There have been numerous changes downtown and I could sit in my rocker moaning about the good old days. We used to have a pharmacy, a place to buy a hammer or shoes for children. We could complain, but we shouldn’t. It’s still such a delightful cross between sophisticated and simple. We’re so fortunate to have the kind of downtown where you can bank, buy books and groceries. There are great restaurants. You can see a first run movie or attend Mass. We also have at least one spa per capita and a fair number of dog grooming establishments. One place even offers chiropractics for dogs. If you want to buy an eight hundred dollar sweater, Mill Valley is your town. Hand knitted, of course. I do miss the funeral home, though. It was so convenient. It’s been replaced by a Montessori pre-school.

It’s not just that I love my town - it’s also that I’ve made a commitment to it. It’s my community. It’s where I’d like to be living when I die. I did cheat on my town once. When I was separated I got an apartment in Tiburon and stayed there part time. It was attractive and had a water view, so you can imagine the temptation, but it wasn’t home. One time I stepped from the apartment to shake out a rug and the door slammed shut. I was locked out in only a man’s dress shirt - with wet hair. Pulling the shirt down over my butt, I scurried to the manager’s office where there was a sign posted saying they were closed for their annual employee picnic. Help. No phone, no friends, no neighbors with a spare key. Just me. Alone. I accosted a couple painters working on an apartment nearby. Despite our enormous language barrier (why didn’t I study harder in Spanish?), I convinced them to let me make a call. I don’t even want to know what they were thinking. The only person I could reach was Eric who was already in San Francisco. When he rescued me forty-five minutes later I was huddled in the fog and the wind on my doormat. It’s an image that gives him great amusement to this day.

I have so much history in Mill Valley - maybe too much. When I first moved here so long ago I didn’t know a single soul. Now Eric’s convinced there’s not a single soul I don’t know. At night I used to look in the windows of the grand old homes, imagining what sort of people might live there. Now I know. Some talented, successful people, some truly wonderful folks and some real jerks. They’ve all been part of my life here. Some of them I’m proud to call friends.

Mill Valley is where Banana Republic began, long before it was sold to the Gap. A small storefront with a jeep in it - they carried safari-type clothing. Smith & Hawken also started at a downtown location. Now we have the first Tyler Florence store. Tyler would like to offer cooking demonstrations there but the City of Mill Valley won’t allow it. Something about a parking problem. Seems shortsighted and provincial. I’ve NEVER been unable to find a parking spot downtown. You’ve got to love small town politics.

We have our famous folks in Mill Valley. Legends in their own minds. I mentioned Blue Pants Man and Babushka Lady in “ Invention is the Mother of Necessity” (April 20l0). We also have the Greeter who stands by the road all day waving to folks going out to the beach. Currently, our most famous street person is Red Sweatshirt Man. When Charlie Deal was alive he used to make guitars out of toilet seats. The man was an icon. Of something. In days gone by we had The Knitter. I miss him sitting cross-legged under the Redwoods. Knitting.

Of course we have plenty of “real” celebrities like Bob Weir and frequent sightings of Carlos Santana, Robin Williams and Sean Penn. Nobody really pays much attention to them, though I did think it was funny when I went to get my blonde highlights and Sammy Hagar was there getting HIS blonde highlights. Working at Sweetwater,I was surrounded by musicians for years. I ignored everyone equally, without regard to their level of fame.

I also think well known people should be left be left alone as they go about their business. Recently we went to a Chamber Mixer at the Tyler Florence store. Tyler was there giving out samples of his potato soup. It got me in the mood to make potato soup which I hadn’t done for a while. I was wondering about his recipe but couldn’t find it any of his cookbooks. I thought I’d just wing it and went down to the market to purchase supplies. Who do you suppose was in the produce department doing a little shopping? Tyler Florence. I could have asked about the recipe, but I didn’t want to bother him. He ended up practically stalking me around the store. I went to the butcher to order my turkey and he went there, too. Later I went back to the butcher counter because I’d forgotten bacon and who do you think came to the butcher asking for four strips of “good” bacon? It never occurred to me to ask for “good” bacon. Now I know how the real chefs of Mill Valley shop.

We have such an intriguing blend of characters in this town. A recent report in the Police Log shows as much. “Caller reported a male subject with a beard and green clown hat walking around the area. Caller said it seemed odd and she thought he’d been smoking weed. Officers located subject in front of the 2AM Club. Subject was sober and just waving at people. Officers field-identified subject and told him he could only be a clown in Mill Valley, not county areas.” Our clowns are legal and our town has it’s own song. Does your town have a song?