A Musical Interlude

After the crowded halls of the Con and the crowded streets of Chicago, the walk down the platform from the train to the stairs is eerily empty.   Every 20 seconds or so an empty eyed urbanite wanders past me, unsure whether to wobble left or right as though they have never seen someone come into town.  As if all-knowing, the Genie in my iphone cued up one of my favorite songs.  It had been a while since I had heard it.

I pulled out the phone to look at the iconic cover.  I smiled even as the tune evoked sadness, but echoed hopeful strains.  I wandered to my favorite Peet’s, lost in the melodies, not the lyrics.  At various points in the song, hope is given over to despair.  Even with my caffeine fix in hand, the song resonated within.  And it struck home.

     You gotta keep one eye looking over your shoulder.
     You know it’s going to get harder, and harder, and harder as you get older.

There is something about getting older that hits you at strange times.  I don’t feel 50, but I am.  That age when society starts thinking less of you.  We all joke about AARP and their invitations that start arriving shortly after your 49th birthday.  Life seems more about what I’ve done than what I can and will do.  That’s hard.  It takes a concerted effort to change those thoughts and subsequent actions.

A week ago I had a great exchange with a fellow Cal grad.  His eyes sparkled when I talked about being in Memorial Stadium on November 20th 1982.  That was the day that Cal held John Elway in check for 59:56 only to see him single-handedly take the Cardinal (who names their team a color? I think of them as the Robber Barons, which did win the student vote) to a seemingly game winning field goal.  Stanford 20, Cal 19.  Dismay reigned.  Once again the Cal team of my tenure grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory.  What could happen in 4 seconds?

Quite a bit as turned out.  2 million people will probably tell you they were there.  I was one of the 60,000 or so in the stands, sitting in the middle of the Big C in the student section with my poker group, a junior among graduating seniors. It was about to be the saddest of the games I saw as student.  It was to be the last game I saw as a student.

4 seconds – a lifetime in slow motion. 5 laterals (one disputed, one blindly over a shoulder), a band on the field and crushed saxophone player later, Cal scored. I was in shock.  The stadium erupted.  My friends all ran down the bleachers to run on the field.  A bit shell-shocked, I sat there and guarded our belongings.  I know, even though you think of me as mischievous, I am generally the responsible one.

I’m talking to my fellow alum.  There is joy in my reminisces and his eyes light up a bit as I relate my memories.  It’s a important moment in our shared history. It’s a party and even I know I’m drunk and slurring just a bit.  That doesn’t mean my mind has seized up. Of course as I recreate this day to my new friend, I realize he was still in diapers as my 20 year old self sat in that stadium. The song is right, it’s getting harder; he’s not a kid.

     Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise.
     If I don’t stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze?

Again, the lyrics echo where I’m at.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a great life and much to be thankful for.  There is a transition that has been going on for some time.  We spend our younger years working, striving, motivated to achieve.  As we grow older, especially past 40 and then 45, workers have become disposable as jobs are off-shored and employment for life becomes a distant memory.  I believe I understand why it’s called the rat race.  Malaise sets in as what we focused much of our efforts on previously, is no longer within our reach. Life becomes a cycle of paychecks and sustenance. Our egos and self-image need to find new things to hold on to, simpler achievements to find joy and continued rebirth in.  Perhaps that is why I spend so much time in my garden.  Even if my plants suffer, I can try again; the sun will rise, the plants will grow and there is no pink slip at the end of the rainbow.

At this point, I often feel as out of place as beast of burden in the industrial age.

Dogs – Waters and Gilmour

Animals. Pink Floyd, 1977

Napa in 3 dots or less

By now you’ve figured out that I have way too many thoughts running through my head.  It has always been the case, but it can be harder to hide it as I write about diverse topics and try to weave topics together.  Most every day, I start a post only to realize it’s going nowhere fast.  Much like Hawaii, my blog has a minimum speed limit.  Those posts don’t see the light of day.  One day you’ll thank me for that.

Someone recently urged me to write about my last Napa trip so she could live vicariously though my blog.  That post never materialized.  Too many moving parts and too few coherent thoughts prevented that from happening.  But I do have a few things from that weekend.

  • Alpha Omega is fantastic winery. Thanks to my brother for getting us in and kudos to the staff for taking such good care of us.
  • Hartwell and Elyse remain my two favorite Wineries.    Both produce excellent wines and have fantastic staffs.  Hartwell is my luxury Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.  Elyse’s wines run a wide stretch of the varietals, each excellent.  I love their Cabernets and Petite Sirahs (on the Jacob Franklin label.) The Jacob Franklin Hayne Vineyard Petite is my favorite wine these days and the Quality/Price Ratio at Elyse is off the charts.  Rick at Elyse or David at Hartwell make both places warm, welcoming and must visits.  Drop my name, it might help.  But don’t be upset if it doesn’t.
  • If you must wear designer flip-flops this season, they should Gucci.  Prada is so 2010.
  • Sift in Napa makes great cupcakes judging by the half of the bacon cupcake I was allotted.
  • In Downtown Napa, I love the service, vibe and coffee at Caffe Molinari.
  • Sweetie Pie makes whoopee pies to die for.  Someone please send me a care package.
  • My BBQ is better than the 2 places I had BBQ at.  I’m not sure if I’m that good or they weren’t.
  • Dillon at Cindy’s Backstreet Café made every woman in my family swoon.
  • There was no Jello on the menu at any restaurant I visited
  • Bello Family Vineyards in St. Helena is an up and comer.  Nice wines, great staff and a spectacular tasting room.
  • I sat next to Abbie Hoffman, or someone like him, at the Oakland Raiders Training Camp.

Those are just some of the things I tried several times to weave into a narrative.  Continuing my homage to Herb Caen we have:

  • I have never had a better Greyhound than the ones at Van Kleef in Oakland.  There is magic in their grapefruit juice.  I do love a great dive bar.  Especially one with a Rhino, Boar and Bear holding court.
  • Keep your eyes open for Stag’s Luncheonette in Oakland.  You’ll hear about them soon.
  • Strange de Jim is not feeding me information. His silence frightens me.
  • The drama at work is never-ending.  I am thinking of asking Lemal to write a theme song.
  • I am very excited to being going to the Windy City for WorldCon.  The Brotherhood without Banners will be well represented.  An advance scout team from down under is in San Francisco and ready to drink.  Good times will be had.
  • If you learn nothing else from Robert Irvine, you need to use more salt and pepper.  And you shouldn’t get ice in restaurants.  Too many bad restaurants cause us to question all ice machines, even the clean ones.
  • A six-foot pallet makes a great planter.  But no fence is strong enough to support that weight.  Yes I might have bought 50 more succulents.  And some crazy grasses.
  • The donuts at Donut Savant in Oakland are great.  And small.  My mom would still try to limit me to half of the tininess.

And with that, I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. Crack a few bottles, have a  whole donut or kiss your loved ones.  It’s all good.  Sometimes, its even better.


I am a Friend of Chauncey Gardiner or a Modest Admission

My name is Lee and I am an addict.  It’s hard to put this out there.  I’m pretty sure most of you will judge me harshly. I know I should know better , but I can’t help myself.  I doubt  you’ve been there.  Its my own private torture.  I have a succulent addiction.  In a pinch I’ll settle for a cactus.  I find reasons to go to Home Depot, Lowes or OSH looking for cool little $3 plants.  Who could not love a $3 plant?  In pots or in the ground, they grow, sport colors and make the world a happier place.  Sadly, some die, but in Nature’s Kingdom that just makes room for more.  And my addiction grows like a ravenous vine.

Sometimes the hardware/home improvement stores aren’t enough.  Then, I travel to Cactus Jungle in Berkeley. A joyous nursery devoted to colorful and eye-catching succulents.  Its like my crack.  I dream of adding colors, textures and visual magnets to my yard and the house.   I can’t have too many.  Aeoniums, agaves, aleoes, crassulas, echeverias, sedums, sempervivums and more.   I go to Cactus Jungle too often.  I walk in and the staff see dollar signs.  when you spend $200 you get a $10 off.  I often give them a full card (20 punches) and they almost always give it back to me for the next trip.

some of my plants

For as bad as my addiction is, I  am lucky that Lambchop humors me.  Mostly.  I wake in the morning to see how the patch outside my window is growing.  I grab her to see things growing beyond my expectations.  I slyly avoid pointing out the deaths and prat falls in the garden.  Perhaps she notices the empty, growing stack of terra cotta pots. I haven’t gotten to hiding them yet.   Sometimes the squirrels dig out the ones  I’m propagating.  And I use the word propagate too often I’m told.  It is about to replace Spartacus as the drinking game du jour  (“apologies” and “gratitude”) in our home.

For several months I had talked of making a pilgrimage to Succulent Gardens in Castroville.  This might be the holy grail of  succulents.  I found them when I was looking for ways to make a vertical garden and they specialize in them.  They specialize in everything.   Before I get ahead of myself, we had to get there.  Lambchop had suggested a day trip a while back.  We had settled on May 26, because we were free.  It turns out so was most everyone else. It was the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and the road was packed.  Castroville, you see, is the artichoke capital of the world.  Perhaps everyone was going there.  Or could it be that Castroville is on the way to Monterey and Carmel.  Well, maybe that was it.  Our 110 mile,  two-hour drive took closer to  three hours.  That happens on holidays.  we got there around 2:30pm  and they closed at 4pm.  Would I have time to browse?   Seriously, this place has 4 acres of plants.

Driving in, there was small empty parking lot and a giant “grow house.”  I don’t think it was a hot-house.  The landscaping facing the road and around the grow house was fantastic . I should have taken photos but I didn’t.  I was awestruck.  We walked in and were blown away with what we saw.  Plants, Plants and More Plants.  This photo I took.  This is a very small sampling of what we saw.

I was overwhelmed.  2′ plants. 3″ plants 4″ plants 6″ plants 8″ plants and 10″ plants.  It took an hour just to walk the 2 houses and small open space that were open to us.  I had visions of spending thousands of dollars to feed my beast, but I limited myself to a modest number, taking home 3 larger plants and about 20-25 smaller ones.

One of the joys of succulent overload is matching up various smaller plants in bowls or unique containers.  They tend to live harmoniously and grow into a visual delight.  While some folks plant larger plants in this type of arrangement, I tend to go smaller so as they grow I can see what’s happening and then add or change the arrangement to suit the container.  I had bought a lot of very small plants to build arrangements and a few gifts.  As we walked – well, wheeled the wagon – to the car Lambchop commented on how restrained I was.  In retrospect, I did hold back — but then I  was already planning my next trek to Succulent Nirvana;  Disneyland in Pots. Probably August.  I could have spent a few thousand dollars and still wanted more.  No worries, It was no more than a very nice dinner.  No, not French Laundry nice.

One of the most striking about the excursion was the help.  The two gals working the nursery were helpful, knowledgeable and, above all, patient.  As one helped me with the two fluorescent Aloes I wanted (they looked like someone set them aside and angering other patrons was not on my to do list) I made my usual comment, “I’m hope plastic is OK.”    Believe it or not I think I was in the last place on earth that took checks.  Cash or Check was my only option.   For just this reason, I always keep an emergency check in my wallet.   I would have had to put several plants back, I didn’t have that much cash in my pocket. I’m still amazed at that checks are accepted at a retail establishment.  Well, it was Castroville.

I realize that I have a monkey on my back.  I’ve embraced him and garden frenzy I create and maintain daily.  Today I ordered several difficult to find books on succulents and their health, propagation (DRINK!) and sprawl.  My monkey needed a banana.  He’s satisfied.  For now.