29 April 2009

Tomorrow is Another Day

A stout woman with dark skin and hair, clothed in a housekeeping uniform, wipes down aglass paneled door, first outside, then inside, on the first of two floors of La Case del Camino, a historic hotel of plastered walls and classically Spanish tile sloping roofs that is just outside my office window. In the distance, a thick haze hugs the shore, inching to the lower rooftops and almost completely obliterating the ocean. On the expansive flat rootop, surrounded by a protective glass railing, tables and chairs sit idle, some folded against each other, while several broad white umbrellas, that will later shade guests from the sun that inevitably breaks through the haze, are so tightly closed and wrapped as to seem like a torpedo ready for launch into the sky. By sunset this rooftop will be bustling with locals and tourists who enjoy this perfect view of sunset, and enjoy being seen, but for now, the morning view is obscured and the stillness a respite from the nightlife of southern California.

I have never been much of a morning person and would have been more in tune with my body clock if I could have risen a bit later than most and worked from eleven to seven. However, life’s timepiece requires an early rise for school, work, children, and we tend to rush through our mornings as the conduit to the day’s obligations and activities. Few take the time or have the time to treasure the delights of morning, something I do more often on California time, as if an accommodation to my New York inner clock. I never need an alarm, I waken to the sunlight, ready for the day. Mornings, marked by the light, are measured by sound and scent more than action. The scent of freshly washed cobblestones on the Bronx street where I grew up, and the concomitant scent of eggs and bacon sizzling together in an iron fry pan on the stove. These delicious aromas co-mingled with the toxic odor of diesel fumes from delivery trucks and the ubiquitous thump of the loading ramp when opened from the back of the truck to start the slide of boxes of produce and bakery goods and hardware supplies to local merchants. It is a distinct and powerful sound – the opening bell of daily commerce, the energy of early morning, the powerful ring of daily momentum.

All these years later, so far from those early morning street sounds, I awaken now and then in the midst of the night to hear waves tossing their ocean froth to shore. This steady, rhythmic boom, muffled during the day by street noise, is a sweet reminder of my own journey. The power of personal momentum.

Objects or concepts moving forward are said to have momentum. Surely one’s life experience can be characterized as having momentum. Or, alternatively, stagnation. A third option: contentment. What a new friend calls harmony. Surely the goal, especially at this stage of life.

I move this week-end from the lovely ocean-view cottage I have happily called home for three years to a little house on an in-town street aptly named La Serena. One town south, just beyond the border of Laguna Beach, although I will retain my Laguna persona. After all, that’s why I’m here. No hillside or water views in my next environs. No sound of the surf. Rather the contented chatter of humming birds nesting on the hibiscus trellis atop a quiet patio garden. These will likely be my first morning sounds. Followed by the voices of NPR who accompany my every morning. They move with me wherever I go. Voices of reason. The echo of the city girl who never strays too far from her humble beginnings. A whole life reverberating through the air from a radio station.

It is these alternating sounds of morning that ground me to myself. Thus, one finds contentment within momentum. In defiance of metaphysical gravity. Or, as Scarlett reminded us, tomorrow is another day. Always another day. Therein lies the joy of morning.

14 April 2009

In Between

Home on the mind again. Only in part because I am preparing to move. More so because I encountered an old acquaintance residing indefinitely in the in-between. That place that can be so disorienting to most of us, leaving the comfort of the known home and moving on to the lesser known, albeit just down the road.

He stood at the buffet piling his small plate especially high, as if the one meal of the day. When he turned, he smiled broadly. “I remember you,” he said, extending his hand. “Michael. We met at the bookstore, the signing for Faye.” “I remember,” I said, shaking his hand. He had introduced himself to me that night as a celebrity photographer, a Hollywood party-crasher. “Are you crashing this party as well?” I asked. “Not really,” he replied and shoveled a fork-full of pasta into his mouth. “Good eats,” he said.

We were at an opening at [seven-degrees] for a Laguna Beach artist, a friend of mine. Carefully hung on three long walls were richly colored depictions of local scenes. Zinc at lunchtime. Class at Laguna Culinary Arts. The view from the library. “Are you still writing for the newspaper?” Michael asked. “No, not for some time. I’m with Friendship Shelter now.” “Really? Wonderful. I’m proud of you,” he said. An odd response from a casual acquaintance, but I saw in his eyes a true sense of pride. “And you?” I asked. “What are you working on?” “I’m in between things. In fact, I don’t have a home myself these days.” He told me he was sleeping on the beach. He was freshly shaven, his pants and jacket clean and unwrinkled. One might never have imagined his circumstance. He explained that he cleans up at hotels and public restrooms. “Just in between,” he repeated.

I introduced him to the artist, Sue Thompson. He admired her work and we chatted about the richness of the Laguna Beach palette. “Proud of you,” he said as Sue turned to greet another admirer. He excused himself for a moment to seek a second plate of food. Another well-known local artist stopped to ask him what kind of wine he would prefer. “I don’t need any,” Michael responded, but the friend said, “Just $3 a glass – merlot or cabernet?” Michael shrugged his shoulders. “Merlot I guess.” The three of us chatted about politics and recessions. Good conversation, but I was conscious of the fact that I would shortly return to my digs and Michael to the darkness.

When I bid good-bye, Michael pressed my hand warmly. “Take care of yourself, Michael,” I said. “You bet,” he answered and nodded with appreciation. “You too. Proud of you.”

I wondered that night as I opened the door to my sea view cottage, what it might be like to sleep on the beach night after night. Not as an adventure or for the delight of a starry night, but because there was no alternative. One cannot escape such imaginings when working with the homeless. It is always top of mind. Michael is yet another reminder that these are not throngs of unknowns, these are more often the talented, the thoughtful, the dignified remains of human beings trapped in a very difficult place. In between the before and the unknown.

Note: Check out more wonderful paintings like the above at www.suethompsonart.com