Thursday, December 30, 2010

Good bye 2010

Good bye, good bye, good bye! 2010, forever in my brain, like a lost lover better forgotten. Lucky I didn't marry THAT one! It has been quite a year. I have been to places I never thought I would go, seen machinery right out of "star treck", had alien invaders deep inside of me, and spent $130,000 of someone else's money just to stay alive! I have been as close to the edge as one is allowed. I have been pumped full of mustard gas derivatives and fed rat poison. I have had the equivalent of 1200 x-rays. I have missed days, sleeping 20 hours at a time, lost 50 pounds and all my hair. And I am Alive!

I have lived my life backwards, reel by reel, like a movie, from the 1st grade on. I am happy with the roads that I have taken, "those crooked roads that have lead me straight to here". I have a great life that was only momentarily interrupted.

I will swear off jell-o, no more tapioca please, I am so full and tired of that.

And, I am Alive. Not yet a grain of sand, more dust of this Earth.

Some time next year, you might remind me, I will tell you of the one and only bar fight that I have been in. He stood between me and humor and the door; I didn't have a choice. That was a piece of cake, for me anyway, compared to this battle with cancer. Laughing and sleeping and thinking is all you really can do and I laughed at every opportunity. I have been in bar fights, two really but I had forgotten the other one. This cancer didn't know what it was up against.

I am healthy now, kicked his ass, and getting stronger by the day. I am ending this bad year with a job! I get to build a gate and another one, an artsy railing. I am beginning 2011 from a position of strength. A hard fought battle won, I am on my way to flying I know not where.

Just flying and fluttering and dancing in the sun and oh so looking forward to my garden.

The trick to any fight is to laugh a lot. It is confusing to your opponent, disarming. When that doesn't work, kick the crap out of 'em and get out fast. I think 2011 will be the best year yet and I look forward to it. Happy New Year! My Other Blog is Here!

Exclusive Membership

I feel as if I have been kicked out of this club, somehow lost my membership. I no longer have cancer. It is a dream, a lost lover, an ending to an abusive relationship. I survived and am somehow watching it all from the sidelines. I can't even believe what I have been through. How did I allow her to be such a bitch to me? Was there any good to it or was it a year of being beaten every single day? I feel as though I got out of it in the middle of the night with my suitcase in hand, taking the first bus to I don't care where. Anywhere but there. This blog is my diary and my right to an honorary membership at least. I have been there, done that. I will never forget it. It becomes scar tissue from an old wound and is now a part of me. I am branded.

I am in the new club now: cancer survivors. I am having trouble walking away from the old club. We knew things that you will never know. It is a secret exclusive society. I have paid my dues.

I can fly higher now than ever before. Closer to the sun, I know I won't melt. I will get dirtier now than ever before and enjoy the mud of the Earth between my toes. I know what is important and necessary. My Other Blog is HERE.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Life is not Endless

Death and Taxes, that is what they say. I met a lady yesterday who has four months to live.

Cancers are different and some cannot be fought. She is my age almost exactly and had a nice

smile. Secretive, laughing, a bit chagrined. She still drives her car, went skiing yesterday in the mountains near Bend. She wanted to see the sun on the white snow and feel exhilaration, feel alive.

Chemotherapy might extend her death, delay it for two more months. She is weighing the price. Die living verses live dying. Cancer is a card game. You can laugh with a bad hand.

My odds were so much better. If I could win with what I was dealt I could survive and walk away. Mine was more like flipping a coin, or playing "sudden death", just picking one card and hopping for the Ace. Mine was 50-50 and I won.

If you get cancer, (that sounds like a gift), you can't help but think through these scenarios.

I wondered how I got to this game in the first place and went through every step of my life hunting for the cards I threw away. We are in a card game when we would rather be fishing.

What would you do if dealt this bad hand? Knowing that you have only four months to live?

There is the obvious: "get your affairs in order" but after awhile you think, f**k 'em, that will be a job for the living. They have more time. Not to say you would make it inconvenient but with four months this won't be high on your list. Or, maybe it will.

She will die in April or May and she knows this. Spring when the flowers bloom and the Earth

turns forth new life. Eventually we are all at this card table. That is the truth. Even the winners will get dealt bad hands. Some will play blind folded and never know their cards.

When I left her I couldn't say "good Luck", what we often say to each other. I simply said that I was glad she went skiing, felt the warmth of the sun. She offered that slight smile that intrigued me in the first place and began our conversation.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Impetuous and Quick

I am impetuous, a bit obsessive, appreciate the absurdity of life, in love with the accidental and I am quick. We might not get along. I don't dwell over decisions nor imagine consequences that are not there. I seldom wonder if things will go wrong. I don't digest life but take it in huge swaths acres at one setting. I devour it. I am a goal setter, a list maker, a creator of dreams. I don't see hurdles and obstacles that I can't knock over or go around. Life is a challenge and I like it that way.

When I had cancer I wanted to know who this enemy was and then I left it by the wayside.

Life is what you focus on. It is what you see. I do believe we create our own reality. Life is exactly as I see it, as I choose it to be. If I think of the pain that is what I will get. If I think of the cancer I will only make it stronger until it becomes me.

That is not who I am. I chose to laugh a lot and it became a battle of wits. A mouse against a man. I was curious, even intrigued and wondered about the alien invasion that was within me that I would never allow to become me. The ultimate absurdity, eaten by myself gone wrong!

I learned to appreciate just awakening in the morning and sometime suspected that I might not. I lived my life backwards, reel by reel. Too sick to move I watched movies of my past in my mind. I have lived twice. I have missed opportunities and jumped on others that were barely there. Life does not have to be safe and secure. I know it can't be and don't try to make it so.

I have my shop/studio in my backyard and when it is too quiet I can make a lot of noise. I bang and bash things, make things out of steel. I paint now too. It is a softer, quieter side but everything is still quick. Me on canvas, me on steel.

On Canvas

Reinventing your life is a bit like flying with Peter Pan. It is the luxury of dreamers. It is definition in context.

It is always a translation of what you want me to be.

If you build a hundred good boats you will be known as the good boat builder. If you build one bad one you will gain a reputation as a bad boat builder.

Ultimately I am as you see me. I am nothing more than what you describe. I am a memory, a thought, an irritation, a cause to laugh, a source of strength and a moment of love.

I am both a cook and a bottle washer. I can be two things and maybe more. Definition is a question of emphasis. I can be a noun and a verb. I can wake up as Peter Pan or whoever I want to be. I am an Artist and if I were to build a bad boat I would simply rename it, call it something else. I have failed at things in life only to discover that they were not windows. They were doors. This blog is an offer for you to walk with me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bucket List

Other than growing the perfect tomato I discovered I didn't really have a bucket list. My garden has always been a central focus in my life and when I built my studio twenty years ago I located it on the far edge of my lot so I could have full view of its seasonal offerings. Two walls

are mostly glass and I can see the pool, the greenhouse and the garden from where I work.

At any point in life one can contemplate the past, speculate the future or worry about the present. I have done very little worrying about the present in my life. I accept it as a gift. It is sometimes a challenge and I accept that too. I am a list maker, a left over from my school teaching days. I set goals and the ways I intend to achieve them. I have discovered that we are often the destroyer of our own goals. Something interrupts. An allowed intrusion. Our own conflicts within us. We are not one person.

Cancer was never on my list. Pain was never on my list. Getting old was never on my list.

When I was just too tired to exist I did not think about the future. My life became a series of re-runs, the movie running backwards. Disorganized and episodic, a story out of sequence. I remembered details and smells and colors, old school teachers and lost loves. I have mentioned

many of these on this blog, you will just have to hunt for them.

For over eight months my only thought of tomorrow was I knew it would be worse. That is not a concept that I was used to. I am a maker of things and the director of my own play. This

theater is mine and I found myself in the audience, watching. I am screaming. It can't end this way! This is not a one act play. Far too much drama for what surely was meant to be a comedy.

The cancer is gone now and so is that old man that I did not recognize nor wanted to be.

No curtains yet, hold any applause. No tears nor laughter, there is one final act. The preparations are complete, no more rehersals. Encore. I get to do it one more time!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Right Tools for the Job

I had my construction experience yesterday, tearing down and rebuilding a set of stairs.
They are up now, accurate and perfect, awaiting the wrought iron banister I am to build.
I went into construction 35 years ago. I lost my school teaching job due to a recession and a lay off of over 30 teachers. A friend had a large construction company building motels and huge apartment complexes and hired me as a foreman. I was in charge of a 20 man crew on my first day of work. I knew nothing about building anything. "You know about people," he said, "keep them working and happy." So I did that, for him for a year and then for myself for over 30 years.
There is a hierarchy among construction crews. The guys who could do lay out, the ones who could cut in the rafters were near the top. The guy who made the stairs was at the very top.
Always even, above the boss. There is a lot of math in a set of stairs and you have to know the total picture. What will the final job be? What are the final treads? What will be the top and bottom landing? Carpet? Tile? Hardwood floors? This all affects the outcome and alters the math.
You need a really good saw blade and America doesn't make these any more. We still make construction saw blades that are okay for everyday framing, but for precision work you need a blade "made in Japan." They use better steel and have a pride in their work left over from the Samurai sword making days. If you can imagine a perfect artist's paintbrush versus a house brush that is the difference.
I needed to learn these trades, layout, rafters and stair building if I wanted to stay in this business and make a living at it. I practiced them every night. I went through reams of paper with hypothetical problems, moving the stairs, moving the landings, changing the windows, adding this or that.
So I discovered yesterday that this is all a bit like riding a bicycle and I can still do it. The neuropathy in my hands made it all a slow motion procedure but the brain remembers and I had a great day! After Christmas I will build the railings and that will be a wonderful present to me!

my Steel Website is HERE

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I am ending the year with a JOB!

This is crazy and wonderful, I am ending the year with a job! I began my chemo last January and continued working until half-way through this voodoo process, about April Fools' Day. Then work became getting dressed and I got all the horrible symptoms of the "cure". I have done nothing monetarily, there is no renumeration in being sick. I turned down an interesting job because I couldn't lift a 20 pound piece of marble! All that is in the past. Except I have neuropathy in my hands. They hurt if I use them and they hurt if I don't.
So, somebody came to me and said, "Jerry, can you..." That is all it takes to wake me up.
During this cancer bout, fight, thing, is the only time in my life I have ever said "no". That was probably the hardest part of the whole experience for me. I had to learn the "can't"word, the worst word in the English language. I had to learn to do nothing.
I was on the job yesterday in my rabbit fur-lined gloves, tearing down a brand new set of stairs. This is a new and very expensive house and the stairs were not built correctly. The last stair and the first stair were different from the rest and I couldn't build a railing on that. The brain assumes. We go up and down steps without thought. To throw in a step that is ff an inch is a tripper and it wouldn't pass the building inspection. I told the homeowner that we can tear it out now or after I have made the railing and then replace both! He is an older guy, like me, and we are two old guys together, fixing this problem that young guys built. A little slower than I used to be but it will be dead right perfect when I am done. I will finish this construction phase today and then I get to build the railings!!
This will be a fun job. It is about 15 feet of stair railings and ten feet of balcony railings with NO rules except the minimum 4" open gap rule required from the building codes. I can do what I like! It is what I dream about. Visions of steel and iron and patterns and obscure bits and pieces from my shop. Things that I find and stuff that goes well together.
For me this is a wonderful Christmas present. There is the money, sure, a necessary evil.
But I am doing something! I am building something. I am creating! I am not my cancer, that is history!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Turkey Stuffing Recipe

I have no photos of this but will post them after Christmas. I have made the turkey dinner every year since I was 17 years old without missing a year. For the last several years I have done this with my daughters, a tradition we very much look forward to. Until about ten years ago I always varied the stuffing a little bit, tweaking it here and there. Then I hit the best ever
and have not altered it in any way. So, here is what you need. The proportions can be anything you like.

Real butter to fry stuff in.
Onion, chopped up and sauteed in the butter
Celery, chopped up and sauteed in butter
Mushroom, chopped up and sauteed
Almond slivers, chopped up and slightly browned
Water chestnuts, dump the whole can in, including juices
Mandarin Oranges, dump the whole can in, including juice
Stuffing Mix, (bread crumbs)
Sausage, chop it up and fry it first. and, then, like the song:

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. I use lots of sage.

Put all this in a bowl and mix and you have it.
My stuffing is always more popular than the turkey!

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Cancer Blog is Almost Over

Two more weeks and my year will be over. It has been an interesting year to say the least.

Yesterday, while shopping with my daughter, we saw an old man using a shopping cart as a walker. Without it he would have fallen down. "You were much worse than that Dad," my daughter said. I know she was right but I can hardly remember it now. For over eight months

when I went to bed at night I knew the next morning would be worse. Two hundred and forty days that became a lifetime, always deeper into that tunnel where only darkness became my friend.

I lost all my hair of course, we all do. It is a members only club. There are a lot of jokes about it and all kinds of hats and even wigs for those who care. The fun part is no pubic hair but by then we are holding tenaciously to our humor. Not much laughter in cancer. I lost fifty pounds

but would not recommend this diet to anyone. I could hardly eat at all. My brain would literally say "spit it out or die," but you wouldn't understand that. I don't.

The hardest thing to describe is the fatigue and I realize why people die. We just get too damned tired. We have taken it to the end and there is nothing left. No reservoir, we are at the bottom. It becomes an incredible experience to just wake up in the morning. You know that you are alive but you are just waiting for night and the comfort found in dreams.

I have written this blog because I don't want to forget. It has been an interesting experience all this remembering and I realize that I have forgotten nothing. At least nothing that I remember.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

There were no symptoms

Except for the lump on my neck I felt fine. I think I first saw it in September last year. I noted it every day while I was shaving. I tried to will it away. In October I went to Washington D.C. and spent three weeks with my daughter. We walked everywhere. Two or three miles a day was our normal routine. Two or three days a week she was in Court. Ah, daughter's can be so much trouble these days! No, she was on the defense side, mostly keeping young women off the streets and out of jail. These days I would walk on my own, just exploring the big city.
Then there was November and Thanksgiving, my birthday and the Holidays. I went to the doctor on January 10th finally running out of excuses. I've told that story the one I am remembering today is how cold I got. I began the voodoo ABVD chemical cocktails a the end of January. I received twelve total, every two weeks for six months. Half way through this process is when I got all the symptoms all at once.
I was always cold. In July on a hot day I remember sitting in the front room of my house with the heater turned on and blankets wrapped around me up to my neck, shivering! In the middle of the summer I would sleep with sweat pants and three wool blankets and awake in the middle of the night, shivering. It was a freight train all right, with ice tracks and a cold north wind and I couldn't stop it at all.
Today is December and all of this nightmare has passed, no more trains, no cold or icy winds
and it all seems like a far away dream. Something that happened to someone else.

My Other Blog is HERE

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cancer Survivor!

.....I don't want to be remembered as a cancer survivor! A guy who "almost got run over by a freight train"! That is such a little story, just a tiny bit of who I am. You may call me "Lucky",

that would be far more defining. I could not have picked a better time to get this cancer and probably not a better cancer to get. It was the worst season in my memory for the garden, the

tomatoes sat in the cold and rain. The economy is mush and I wouldn't have worked much anyway. I picked last year for early Social Security and the checks just keep coming my way!

Last year I "discovered" painting and now have a whole new way to do the art I like to do!

Lucky cancer isn't a cement truck and I have plenty of time to reminisce, think back through my life at leisure, picking and choosing which pebbles to keep and which to throw.

I am especially lucky because I realize that a lot of this wasn't luck at all. It is interesting how two people can have the exact same experience and come to different conclusions. Much like two people, given a hundred dollars will buy different things. One lives, one dies. One loves the other is lost.

Sometimes I think I am like "Popeye", I just am what I am. The truth is most of my life was on purpose. I was the director of this play and this is where I have wanted to be. None of it came fast but with each step I knew where I was going. My house is big and sturdy and paid for and that has always been the central player in this theater. I have my own little island, house, garden, my shop, the greenhouse and the little garden pool. I am surrounded by flowers and tomatoes. I have never borrowed money against my house; it has never been in jeopardy, always there, this place I call home.

I can do anything I like, and spend much of my time without a plan of any sort. Some days I think I will write again and if no story appears I might weld in my shop, create from steel and stone that which I have always been. Other days I might play at painting. That too is fun because I know no rules and do what I want. Spring will be here soon enough and the Earth will call for my assistance. I will spend a lot of time in my garden and the greenhouse. I am picking up old habits and learning to read again, slowly, devouring pages, ingesting paragraphs, looking at the words.

I think back over my life and realize that roads not travelled I could not have gone on. They were not my roads; I would not have been me. The roads I did take and where I had to make my own have lead me to where I needed to be. Free, because I choose to define it that way.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Improbable Things in Life

There are things that have happened to each of us that probably shouldn't have. I have told you the story of meeting my wife on a train that I almost didn't board. Welding and art came to me in a gift when I was fifty years old. I received a printing press when I was fifteen years old, introducing me to the world of poetry. I once bought a lottery ticket, the quick pic kind, and on the same day in a different store bought another one with the very same numbers! The odds on that are about the same as winning the lottery except I didn't win the money!

If I made a list of the top ten improbable things I would have to include something of no significance that happened to me when I was eleven years old. I was away at summer camp, a beautiful place along the Oregon coast with its own lake, surrounded, guarded by Douglas Fir.
I am eleven and the councilors were all in their very young twenties. One day my councilor, I have forgotten her name, was in tears. She had gone swimming the evening before, what camp guides do to get away from their wards and lost her engagement ring "somewhere in the lake"!
This was a huge lake, maybe six acres, but the swimming area was around the dock, a floating wooden platform a hundred feet of walkway, a finger into the lake. It is a shallow coastal lake and the bottom is covered with algae, dark with vegetation for the first five feet. There are no odds to this. It is totally unbelievable, one of many twists and turns of life that could have gone either way.
I was a fat little boy until I turned seventeen and grew taller instead of rounder. I had red
swimming trunks, I remember that, and it was cold with coastal fog that morning. Too early to swim but I walked along the dock, pacing back and forth. The lake is huge, dark blue and flat.
Visibility in the water is zero, any lost items become a gift to the lake gods. I wanted that ring so bad. I remember walking back and forth and always pausing at the same spot.
I have always been a good swimmer, not so much laps back and forth in a pool, but under the water, deep and to the bottom. Just like this is what happened. I paused for the last time at the very same pausing place, took a breath, deep as I could and dove in. Straight, perfect dive without much splash, I went to the bottom and opened my eyes. Everything was black and I could feel the plants on my legs and in my face as I opened my hands, praying for the lake gods to give up their gift. First dive and I put my hand right over the ring!
There is no reason to this. No cause and effect. Totally improbable. It was all a good kind of accident. I was the happiest, proudest eleven year old in the world! I stole the ring from the Lake Gods!

Love Me, Love My Dog!

I can say this in French but I can't spell it in French and it needs to be in French. Five Little words, preferably in a thick French accent, that mean I can't be divided up into segments. I am the whole person, not so much the sum of my experiences, but the total of how I reacted to these.
We have all seen bright summer days and on any given one I may have reacted differently, from thought of going fishing to planting my tomatoes, to just lazy around under an old oak tree.
We are far more complex than a set of chemical reactions,
we are not Pavlov's dogs, the very same experience can solicit totally different reactions. Maybe a part of this is in preparedness. I often kick myself that I didn't discover the art world until I was fifty years old. Perhaps I just wasn't ready for it?
I don't like to get dirty but to see me you might think that I do. I always begin my day with a great bath in my six foot
cast iron bathtub and always start with clean clothes. By 10 am they are dirty, that just seems to be the way it is. When I get a mind to doing something I never stop and think if I do this I will get dirty. I would be the first one to change your flat tire,
never thinking I should change my clothes first or wear gloves or I'll be there in an hour. I would do it right now. I remember we once raised chickens on this little third acre I call home.
At 2 am a raccoon had chased a chicken into the little pool and it was near death from drowning.
It is winter and the pool is full of algae, dirty and black. I didn't give it a thought. I jumped in this mess and saved my chicken. No changing clothes. No, can I find a net? Just jumped in.
Cancer is a great way to prioritize your life, to separate the important from the trivial and a lot more gets put into the trivial pile. They are both my piles, I am the sum of all of the parts and then greater yet. It is all complex math and doesn't work by subtraction.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Each Step is How I Got Here

With all these memories of my youth I have been accused of living in the past. Cancer gives us the concept of living at the moment and the ability to appreciate every single thing, the necessity of viewing life from a brighter side. We have plenty of dark moments, wondering what these aliens inside of us are doing. I always thought my preferred death would be a mishap with a cement truck. Suddenly lights out, here and then gone. I have changed my mind. Cancer is a relatively slow process and give you plenty of time to think. You are presented with the opportunity to examine your life, not just the "what did I do to get cancer" part but all of it.

What did I do to get to where I am at? Do you recall the saying, "no matter where you go, there you are!" Things happen in life, sometimes in just a moment, and they become the fabric of who you are. We are not made from one cloth.

Experiences become significant when you react to them and each one alters you in some in some tiny imperceptible manner. Or they don't. Or, like the frieght train they become an event in its singularity, by its very isolation, one single kiss that can change you forever.
Cancer is such a kiss but I think there are others. I am not living in the past. Time and ocean waves do not destroy every footprint in the sand. We are not lost. There are ways to discover how we got here, broken branches, breadcrumbs, songs, something. We have left behind a trail of evidence and that is all I am doing, trying to discover how I got to where I am, what turns I made, the roads I travelled, and why I am not just a grain of sand.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No More Testing!

This is December, the last month of the year and I have decided not to get further Cat and Pet scans. I could get them now for free as I have paid the thousand dollar deductible on my insurance. I had them at the beginning, eleven months ago, and they were pretty clear then. I had cancer everywhere. Stage three and a half Hodgkin's Lymphoma that has spread into my spleen and spine and just about every lymph node. I didn't even know I had that many.
My father died of cancer and it took a year to kill him. He wanted to live and did everything:
Surgery, Radiation and Chemo. The surgeons cut his tongue off and half the inside of his mouth.
The radiologist destroyed the rest of his face and his chemo finished him off. It wasn't pleasant.
I told my doctors that they only had one chance "to cure" me, that's all I had in me. They opted and I agreed to a series of 12 chemos, that ABVD stuff made from Mustard Gas, the poison made for trench warfare. I knew instantly that this was going to be nuts.
Three months into this program I had the CAT and PET scans repeated. These tests are dangerous, the equivalent of 420 chest X-rays, and are known to cause cancer! The chemo is no piece of cake and you want to know that it is working to acquire that strength to continue it.
It was working well. Half way through this chemo and the cancer was 80% gone! That was overwhelmingly good news. Six more to go and I lost all my hair, eyebrows, everywhere, lost 50 pounds, became a 90 year old man almost overnight.
It is nice to be alive and there is a lot I want to do, but I don't think I have another recovery in me. The last check up and blood work I had was all optomistic, the lumps are all gone.
My doctor says an additional CAT and PET scans are for reassurance, basically to make me feel good. They are never conclusive and often miss what they are attempting to see. and they are dangerous. As James Brown says, "I feel fine!" and will go about my life with every intention of living it. This is all a luxury anyway. I can get the test any time I choose to do it. After this month it will cost me that $1,000 deductable. I have already spent $130,000 of the Insurance Company's money.

My Other Blog is HERE

Sunday, December 5, 2010


The Hat is not the critical part of this story although it hangs in the hall and my wife still wears it on occasion. It is old and dusty like we are and a reminder that silly times, fun and spontaneity can be had at "the drop of a hat"! LOL! I don't think you can find happiness alone. I can be as content as a cow in a spring meadow by myself but "happiness" is shared laughter, dancing always takes two.

I really wanted a good hat, well built and colorful as all of Spain, but practical, something to keep the sun out. I found the marketplace huge, crowded and full of vendors selling anything one could imagine. Isles and isles of food and clothes and radios, live chickens, dead chickens and cooked chickens, everything. I found the hats but they were very simple, very plain, designed to last the season and disappear. I asked everyone who could understand me where could I find a store that sold hats?

Jackelyn Kennedy, the President's wife bought her hats in Spain, in Barcelona in fact, at a

little hat boutique manufacturing shop called "Marti-Marti". I am sure it is still there. It is not

opulence at its worst to see it, maybe an eight foot tall entry door with huge brass handles. On either side of this door was a huge plate glass window maybe twelve feet in length and from the sidewalk to the top of the door in height. Each window displayed only three hats. Leather, fabric, straw, and maybe three other materials, certainly there were six distinct styles.

Remember how I was dressed? Logger's boots, short pants and a shirt, all dirty from hitch-hiking and I hadn't shaved in three days. In my heart I was a King and willing to pay a king's ransom for a hat! Free, illgotten money maybe (see earlier blog! are you following this story?)

and I would happily exchange it for a simple, well built and colorful hat.

This door lead me into a rather wide hallway with three doors on either side and a desk at the end. A receptionist was there eyeing me a bit as I came down the hall. I told her I was looking for a straw hat and she directed me to the marketplace. No, I had just come from there and was directed here. I was told you had the best hats.

She is on the phone in a flash and gibbering in Spanish far too fast for my ability to understand. Soon a man approaches, pauses midstride to gather himself I assume, walks right up to me and asks how he could be of help? This is the Spain I loved, friendly and helpful and smiling. He lead me down the hall into one of the rooms and offered my a brandy!

"We don't sell hats to men but maybe if you could describe the lady?" I am thinking I will see ten hats and choose one off the shelf and he is telling me that they are all custom made to order,

a particular style and color for a particular person, say Mrs Kennedy, for instance!

I am trying not to get his couch dirty. I am sitting on the biggest, softest, blackest leather couch I have even seen with brandy in hand, he offers me a cigar! A Havana, no less. I describe Jane as best as I can. We had only known each other three days. He wanted size, shape, complexion, height and hair color and he wrote all these things down. Next he is on the telephone, again so fast I am not catching a single word. Then six women appear, entering without knocking and each wearing the most beautiful straw hat that I had ever seen, striking colors and each a different style. Wow! I am just a 20 year old kid with a Cuban cigar and a glass of brandy trying my best not to screw this all up.

"Great, I'll take that one!" I said pointing at a girl looking much like Jane and wearing a straw hat slightly pulled down in front of her eyes. They all laughed including the man, at least I was entertaining them. These, it was explained to me, were not really hats. Not finished, not ready to sell, they were mock up models, approximations, an idea of a hat.

"Well, but of course, I knew that!" I said with little authority. How little I was about to find out because this process went on three more times. First they came back, all like runway models, all wearing what appears to be the same hat with subtle variations. Then there was color and I said orange would be beautiful. They returned, all wearing identical hats in six colors of orange. I didn't even know there were six colors of orange!

Finally I got the hat and it was put into a proper hat box, strong eneough to be used as a step stool and tied with a ribbon! He told me I had made an excellent choice and she would be beautiful while shopping along the Ramblas late at night. I told him we were hitching to Malagar tomorrow and she would appreciate the sun filtered from her eyes and keeping the dust out of her hair. He snatched the box right from my hands!

This is when I learned about Mrs Kennnedy and his other clients. You just don't do this to his hats, not "Marti-Marti" hats anyway. He untied the ribbon, removed the hat and gently with a letter opener on his desk, removed the lable from inside the hat! I could have the hat, he said, but I had to promise never to tell anyone where I had bought it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I am Rich!

Living in Europe on three dollars a day was pretty easy in those days. Youth Hostels were everywhere and cost about twenty-five cents for the night. In Spain you were rich with three dollars.

I had only about a dollar of Spanish money on me and maybe six dollars in Lira's, Italian money. I needed to find a "cambio", money exchanger. This was on a Sunday and the banks were closed so I would have to find the train station where there were dozens of money exchangers all making a living off the unsuspecting tourist.

Spanish money is beautiful, in lots of colors and even the paper money is in different sizes.

The bigger the denomination the bigger the bill. I found the money exchanger and presented my six dollars in lira, expecting maybe five dollars in pesetas, the coin of Spain, the rest would be lost in the transaction. He put my lira's in his drawer and began counting out Spanish bills beginning with very large ones! And he kept counting. I am thinking he is not talking to me. I knew a little Spanish, enough for directions and to order wine and I could count. This was not my money.

It is in a pile with the big notes on the bottom in descending order with small bills on the top.

It is a beautiful pile sitting there like that in greens and reds and golden ribbons. It was well over eighty dollars in Spanish money and there were coins on top of this pile. This man is in a hurry. He looks at me as if to say, do you want this or not? and he is after the next person in line.

I am a thief. I took it, wading the bills into my fist and stuffing them into my pocket, not counting anything my heart was racing. I can imagine Spanish prisons. I was eight blocks away, headed to the market place before I counted the money, carefully unfolding it and separating the bill according to size. I had over eighty-five dollars in Spanish money. I was a wealthy man.

I should have felt horrible but I was absolutely dancing with joy.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The House was Gone!

One day, on a Monday afternoon, I came home from teaching school and the house was gone! Jane had gone to England to visit with her mother and I remember telling her that I might do something with the house while she was away. No plans of any kind, maybe rebuild the steps or put a garden in. It was May, there was a month left of school and I had the summer off.

I must be thirty years old and have never worked a full year in my life. I had worked seasonally

along with my wife at the local cannery, a job I had while putting myself through college. Now I was a teacher of fourteen year olds and had the entire summer off with pay!

I remember drinking with my neighbor the night before. He was unemployed and we were drinking cheap wine together, getting drunk as guys tend to do. I vaguely recall talking about remodelling my house.

It was a small house, not particularly well built and had no foundation at all. A "fixer-upper"

they were called, but we had lived in it for almost five years without any major repairs.

When I came home from school that day the living room remained and the bathroom floor

with facilities in tact. No walls and no door, just a toilet, a sink and a wonderful six foot cast iron bath tub, all open to the air and the neighbors to the back and side of us. The rest of the house lay in a dead heap having been attacked with a chainsaw by my neighbor. Now I remembered!

This time in my life I didn't own a saw, not much of a hammer, not many tools at all and I had no idea what I was doing, neither the process nor the application. To top it all off I didn't have any money! You learn to act quickly as a school teacher or you will soon lose all control over the classroom. The next day in the teacher's lounge I was laughing I hope and telling this tale to fellow teachers. They were extremely helpful. One wrote me a check on the spot for $2,000,

something to get started with and others told me the process, about needing building permits and plans drawn, blueprints. As a kid I had built lots of tree houses and forts and never needed all this confusion, all this paper work, all these details. I just sort of built it as it came to me.

I made lots of phone calls and within a week I had all the proper documents and had the building permit in hand. Two more weeks until Jane got home and all I had was a living room and open air bathroom. I had a lot of work to do.

I still had teaching to do but I got the foundation under the living room and the steps poured before Jane got home. "I need tarps around the bathroom," she said.
My wife has this unflinching belief that everything will turn out alright, and as long as she has a shower she seeks no room to complain.
We took three days to get from Genoa to Barcelona and it was hot and dry and dusty the whole time. She had mentioned that she would like a hat, something to keep the sun from her eyes.
We found a little pension in the center of town, a tiny room but one with its own shower! I remember the cost was $1.25 per night, a little over budget from the normal 25 cent youth hostel. She wanted a shower and offered to wash my clothes if I would go out and find us something to eat. This is way before laundromats and we always washed our clothes in the bathroom sink when we could find one. This is Spain on a hot day in May and I am wearing short pants, a shirt dirty with street dust and my size 13D loggers' boots! I hadn't shaved in three days, I am sure I looked a mess.
I went on a search for food, that bread and cheese and wine that we lived on, but as I left
her for her shower I knew I was hunting for a hat.

The Longest Story...

I did not suffer this cancer by myself nor get to where I am alone. I have been married for over forty years, to the same person even! That is almost a record in our throw-away society, isn't it? It is not a perfect relationship, perfection would be South Sea Island beaches, gentle breezes, moonlit nights and soft lapping of the waves, footprints dancing in the sand. That idea is always there but somehow down in the stack of things necessary to do. First there were utility bills and rent payments, this and that, the necessary things. I promised you the story about how we met and it might be a long story, there is a lot to remember but I will begin it at the very beginning and tell you everything.

The Hat Story

Most Americans who go to Europe usually return with one special story. It is usually a funny one, somewhat anecdotal, or an account of losing one's passport, a language barrier with the natives or some story about the food. My story sounds rather simple and is called, "The Hat Story".
To make a real story out of it I have to account for more than just acquiring a hat and handing over six hundred and sixty two Pesetas. That happened in Barcelona, Spain. The story really begins Genoa, Italy, but I will begin it just outside Pavia, Italy where I was hitch-hiking East.
I say East because I seldom hitch with a definite goal, a place to be each night on a tour-bussed itinerary. I was going East, meaning in the general direction of Genoa, East Italy, Southern France, Spain, Morocco, North or West Africa. That direction. I didn't have a very clear picture in my mind. If I found a nice stream, a pub or an interesting person I would stop.
Sometimes I would stop for an hour or two to play soccer along some side street in no particular town with a name I remember. Once I stopped at a little Danish cove, a tiny little blue stretch of sea with fishermen's nets stretched along the sand to be repaired. It was quiet and isolated and I spent three weeks there doing nothing. It was wonderful.
It was only ten o'clock in the morning some day in May and the early Spring had been quite hot. I had been hitching for about an hour which normally isn't unbearably long but the trucks were whizzing past me and I was getting dusty without getting any place. This shouldn't bother a hiker but I had just had a shower and I didn't know when I was going to get another one. I started walking towards the train station. I would take the train to Genoa where I would grab a boat to Spain.
The train was almost empty. I got on it and the first compartment had only one person in it, a girl by chance, but I didn't want to talk to anyone and found the second compartment empty.
I just sat there and smoked cigarettes waiting to get into Genoa. The train stopped with a lurch that would have stopped an airplane. I put my pack on and walked into the hallway. Ahead of me was the girl and she had a pack on too. She got to the door and I expected to open it for her when she kicked it open with her foot and jumped to the station floor. I climbed down and starred at her. She walked off and I couldn't find her in the crowd. I walked around the station aimlessly
hoping to see her and to my surprise she came walking directly towards me!
"Do you speak English?" she asked.
"Yes, a little" I responded thinking now where in the hell will I take this? What a stupid answer, but I had heard it a million times. Street sweepers in Europe speak "a little English".
"You are American. Where are you hitching to? Do you want to take the train to Marseilles with me and hitch to Spain?" This was the '60's, we were open and honest and a bit naive.
I am really thinking OMG how do I respond to this?
"No. I'm going to take the boat to Spain. Why don't you go on the boat?" What a brilliant answer, an opportunity, an invitation, an adventure and I just rejected it!
We had two hours for my boat and her train to leave. It was two o'clock and my boat and her train left at four. I told her I would buy her a glass of wine and we could talk a couple of hours, but I didn't want to go to France.
"Why don't you like the French?" she asked me over wine.
We sat and talked until ten minutes past four. We missed the train and the boat. The next boat wasn't until three days later and the next train was at four o'clock the next day. We decided to hitch.
We bought some wine in a two litter bottle, some cheese, cold meats and a loaf of bread.
I wanted to cash a traveller's check as I had only about a dollar on me but we couldn't find a place open. She said she had some money and would support us through France if I would support us through Spain. Spain is much cheaper than France and I thought I had a good deal.
That is how we met.

There is a lot more to this story. It takes place over forty years and two continents, two children, various careers, dreams lost and found, death and rebirth. I will see what I can remember of it.