Category Archives: moving

Minneapolis in Mid-September

What a wonderful week to come home.  Minneapolis in mid-September has always been one of my favorite times.  The lush trees and cool air, the young families (many with requisite lab or golden retriever), and most everyone’s pace is of hurried optimism.  Winter is coming, but not yet.

I have always loved to show off Minneapolis, whether to stray relatives, old friends from college, or friends of friends.  Even driving somewhere alone I would frequently play tour guide in my mind.  When Rachael returned for a wedding along with her husband Daniel, a New Zealander who had never been to Minnesota, it was the ultimate challenge.  I wanted him to see everything.  Working against my rapidly evolving plan was Rachael’s mortification at me dragging him off, and Daniel’s desperate need for sleep, something he had had almost none of for three days.  The kids also had a commitment with friends and a dash to the airport.  I had one hour.

We began at the old house.  It pays to sell to friends.  Barb and Alan welcomed us to 24th and Humboldt.  Poking around, showing off the still preserved height marks of growing children, and seeing the changes and improvements through Daniel’s eyes was fulfilling, but Tom the Taskmaster had more to point out, and the clock was running.

Flying out the door, we passed Walter and Joan Mondale’s house.  I wanted the Kiwi to see that at least one former U.S. vice president doesn’t need guards, a gated estate, and opulent surroundings.  The lakes impressed him immediately.  By the fourth lake and despite my running narrative and erratic driving he was ready to call a realtor.

JoAnne would have wanted to stop at the elf tree at Lake Harriet, or just walk peacefully around Isles, but she was visiting friends, and I am a quantity over quality guide.  We passed the beautiful mosaic at Lakewood cemetery, but it received short shrift compared to the Lake of the Isles dog park.  We raced and chased on a beautiful late summer afternoon.  Daniel was impressed by the number of people smiling (unlike in LA).  Dropping them off in Uptown as I pointed out Magers and Quinn and the Apple store, the kids forgave my exuberance.  I called out that Minneapolis has free WiFi as they sprinted away.  It is hard to do twenty-five years in an hour.

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The rest of the week was spent more leisurely.  Reminiscing, seeing old friends, going to garage sales, biking the lakes, it was great to be back.  JoAnne returned to The Minnesota Textile Center which has become the finest in the nation in our nine years away.  As a fiber artist it brings her as much joy as I feel watching a baseball game at Target Field.  On the flight back to LA, JoAnne smiled wistfully and said,”I miss Minnesotans.”

 

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer now stationed in southern California.  He realizes that he occasionally needs to abandon the bloody pulpit for more local observations.  He was particularly impressed that the (Cursetown) Crosstown/35W no longer does. 

Ben and Tom Hiking

The Road Not Taken

There can be no real freedom without the freedom to fail.
–Erich Fromm

I am from Iowa.  I lived there until I was 24…  I didn’t know you were allowed to leave.
–Jake Johannsen (San Francisco comic)

I guess one person can make a difference, but most of the time, they probably shouldn’t
–Marge Simpson

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
and sorry I could not travel both                                  —Robert Frost   (The Road Not Taken) 

Free will is a terrifying notion especially when you exercise it.  I hesitate to broach the subject because the odds are astronomically high that I will come off sounding clueless and self serving, a departure from my petty and ingracious nature.  Coming back to Minnesota brings out deeply conflicted feelings I harbor about leaving my adopted home.  When I talk with friends whose families made huge life changing moves, there were usually Cossacks involved in the decision.  For JoAnne and me, it was a heart wrenching choice that was not influenced by the Ninth District Court of Appeals.  My new life (eight years already) is filled with friends, activities, and as much meaning as I am likely to find in southern California.

I make it harder by visiting in early October (note to self, come back in February).  There is nothing more enjoyable than wandering the streets of Minneapolis on a beautiful fall day. I walked Lake of the Isles, the Greenway, and the newest incarnation of Calhoun Square.  For those who take HLP land for granted as I once did, the bustle of young people, the abundance of dogs, and the leaves beginning to turn can’t help but imbued one with a sense of optimism.

Even my friends with little interest in sports have been to the new Twins stadium.  Their joy and civic pride is so evident that I couldn’t help but smile.   Minnesotans look for ways to build community, and Target Field is a good example.  After I went to a game (a 13-2 drubbing by Toronto) I was so in awe of the experience, I happily leaped on the bandwagon.  Still challenges abound.  Which highway entrances and exits are not under construction?  How do you get across town without Crosstown?  There are many, many houses for sale, yet coming from bankrupt California, the local economy looks fairly healthy.

I sense I am avoiding the existential question.  Should a decision of the magnitude of where to live be left to someone so quixotic, and ill informed?  I was a (very) young Republican.  I attended a Mamas and Papas concert.  I bought Circuit City stock at 42.   I wore bell bottoms for goodness sake.  I didn’t install it, but I lived with orange shag carpeting.  What would suggest that I am an informed decision maker?

The more I consider it, the question is not happiness or fulfillment.  JoAnne and I love our life in California while we miss our old house, friends, and the spirit of the neighborhood.  I am occasionally (all right daily) dwarfed by the decision.  I am not suggesting a Politburo, or even a 5.2 computer software update to guide our major life choices, comrade.  It is just difficult having no one to blame.  Moving states doesn’t compare to religious conversion, changing genders, launching a new career, or enlisting in the military. Where do people with options find the strength to roll the dice and commit to a new life?  After eight years I am still whining about missing the fall colors.

 

  Tom H. Cook was disappointed to see the Twins season end so ignobly.  After eight years he is still whining about missing the fall colors.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Friends

…what do we talk about? give me some direction. serious or light? politics or religion verboten? sports? hobbies, dogs, gardening? d.e.     (David E. PHS ’66)

There are innumerable tales of people long out of high school using Facebook and tragically or joyously reconnecting with old friends and classmates.  My experience has been less dramatic, but more satisfying.  With the safety of cyberspace and 2,800 miles I was able to confess my attraction to Karin, the attractive, bubbly girl I was in awe of forty-plus years ago at Pennsauken High School.  Still radiant in photographs, she is happily married, a grandmother, and a teacher, living in North Carolina.  I can also add modest and gracious.  In her reply, she even pretended to remember me although we never spoke.

Dave and I were friends from seventh grade homeroom until driving age, when we could actually have visited each other.  Dave was a wickedly smart “good student” with a subtle sense of humor weened on comic books and Mad magazine.   I knew him as a very good bowler, but I did not know he was a bowling alley mechanic who bowled for free and racked up over a hundred games a week.  Nor did I know he and a mutual friend had a math study group that could have saved my life in Algebra.

We got back in touch this past June and it is fascinating to share remembrances with him.  In my adolescent haze, I did not even know about the South Jersey jazz club Dave patronized.  He wrote recently, “…i drove there in my ‘58 ford. a beautiful girl kissed me during a concert, precipitating a lifelong interest in music. we saw jazz legends like buddy rich, gene krupa, woody herman, cal tjader, lionel hampton, erroll garner, chick corea, cannonball adderly, dizzy gillespie, dave brubeck, pete fountain, stan getz, and others with their attendant bands and entourages. we sat two or three rows back from these giants and legends for the price of a few dollars.”

He studied medicine while in the Air Force and was somehow able to keep his subversive wit under control for an entire career in the military.  “when we went into Iraq the second time i spoke out against it. i saw the photos Powell showed the U.N. and i was not convinced they were what they said they were. i was told to shut up.  i’m not sure running around Afghanistan constantly killing the number 3 Taliban leader is doing us any good.  Sad when soldiers would rather go back to the war because they find it more meaningful than life in america. america seems so angry and empty. hard times used to engender a pulling together and a positive approach to solving problems. now everything proposed is enveloped in roiling invective.”

“….we are in iran/afghanistan to prevent terrorist attacks on the u.s. we’ve been there for 9 years and there is no end to the threat. with the military maxed out in their efforts, one can extrapolate a forever war. sort of one like the british fought while maintaining their colonies in india and elsewhere. to leave the mideast , we are told, would lead to numerous and more severe attacks on the u.s. earlier in our lives we were told that losing in vietnam would lead to a victory for communism and, in keeping with eisenhower’s domino principle, a toppling of one country after another to the red menace. we got out and now we can buy clothing from vietnam, and from our greatest trading partner, china. we knew who the terrorists were before the tower attacks but we fell victim to our own bureaucracy. we know who the likely suspects are now, which makes the job of subverting their activity easier. i just hope the huge increase of government security and intelligence layers doesn’t create a wall against information transfer. we seem to be horizontally challenged at crucial times. in regards to the economy and the solutions offered. we are hamstrung by  political party rhetoric and posturing. look at the oil spill as an example. the company and its engineers fashioned a solution that has apparently worked and nature is seemingly working its magic in erasing this mistake by man as it will ultimately do with mankind itself. did the  political visits to the site or  the various beaches, or speeches screaming this or that provide anything of substance? except now the conspiracy theorists now think obama and the government set fire to the oil rig. i’m going down to louisiana to apply for compensation to offset the damage done to my brain by listening to all the crap spewed into the airways. i guess we should be thankful there can only be a 24/7/365 news cycle. thank god we don’t live on pluto. one hell of a long year and a horrible climate. ( i do not agree with the current lack of planetary status for pluto. any heavenly body named after a lovable dog is a planet in my book ). will stop for now. i’m getting winded. cya. d….

     Dave and Sylvia, his wife of 38 years, recently retired and live in San Antonio, Texas.  My admiration grows for him with each correspondence.  I do my best to keep up, but his rants and pearls reveal his wisdom and irreverence.  It is a delight to turn on my computer and receive an Andy Rooney/Will Rogers dictum.  What follows are a few more of Dave’s reminiscences occasionally combined and edited for space.

my dad used to take me to the park across the street from camden high and hit many a baseball to me when i was 7-8 yrs. old. eventually i caught some. my first dog, topper, a border collie, got the rest and would run them back to my father. afterwards we would walk to the top of a rise where he showed me the tomb of walt whitman. he said he was a great poet and that i should read his poetry. i did, in college. i always was taken back to the times on that hill. i’m there now.          

i never complain. i have no right to do so. my childhood and adulthood have been more than satisfying. i wish i had done more for others. part of the catholic ethic i guess. thinking of my parents and friends i will see no more stops me in my tracks. i am inadequate to the task of describing their greatness. when he was dying, my dad asked me whether he had been a decent father. i was stunned and burst into tears. how can you put into words the importance people have on your life? 

i loved comic books. i had spiderman #1 that my brother bought me when i had the flu. i gave it to my brother to pay for college tuition.

“…the social security system is solvent. leave it alone. medicare has been tweaked. do people want to return to the times of dickens. okay, i guess, as long as you’re not the kid in the bootblack shop researching plots for novels. if the tax credits expire, we all sacrifice very little. the very wealthy would theoretically pay 3K more b.t.c., before tax consultants. i had a next door neighbor who owned a summer house, a boat, and put all his kids through large universities, took European vacations AND always paid less income tax than me. why do people who have the most complain the most. year. a sign of divine intervention?. maybe our situation in life is a sign of the existence of a mediocre being. peace bro’. cya. d…….

i always think back to english class when we were told to write 500 words about an ash tray. i could never do it. and now i can’t help but do it.

8.5% unemployment is ok. 9.5% is politically catastrophic. 90% of the population is employed. not happy, but employed. a short time ago the stock market was 8500. now it is 10,500. nobody is happy. growth is 2.5-3.0%. a disaster. 2.5-3.0% during the previous administration not even mentioned. tax cuts had a seven year run followed by an economic collapse. answer to the economic crisis; more tax cuts. trillions spent to outweaponize russia during the cold war. trillions spent to prevent terrorists from crashing a plane into a building. in the future build more spread out, smaller buildings to house command and control of the government, finance and military. we have computer systems now people. we borrow a billion dollars a day from china to use for defense against china. we buy everything from china. we are supporting china to be our adversary. things are blown up out of all proportion. everything will end our society as we know it. it must be true because everybody is saying it. other than leading to changes of faces in congress, i don’t really see any realistic actions being taken. since i see no sense of urgency being taken by our leaders, i can only assume things aren’t that bad. so when somebody gets into your face about our country becoming socialist; our economy collapsing; attending the wrong place of worship, just smile and go to the park with a good book. take a deep breath; it’ll all be over soon.cya d..

Tom H. Cook is returning for his fall pilgrimage and hopes to go to a Twins game, and bore the life out of as many old friends and neighbors as possible. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There Are Places I Remember

There are places I remember all my life,
Though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain                                 –Lennon/McCartney

The daily newspaper is a shell of its former self.  If you hold the Star Tribune up to your ear you can almost hear the ocean.  I have clearly not gotten smarter, but I can finish the morning paper before a cup of tea.  A friend suggests that she is paying 50 cents a day for a hand delivered sudoku.  The paper has become an advertisement for its website.  The few stories I am interested in are teased in print but only available on-line which means going into the other room and wresting the computer from JoAnne.  Invariably she is doing something important with megapixels that makes my curiosity about Alex Rodriguez and Kate Hudson’s relationship seem almost trivial.

Smart, literate, young people of my acquaintence look at me as if I still have a telephone landline (which I do) when I suggest subscribing to the paper.  My generation is the boorish guest, finally herded to the front door but still in search of their keys and fiddling with their galoshes.  There may only be 87 of us, but we want our newspaper (by cracky)!

I will miss the daily paper if it goes before I do.  I am nostalgic for the days of a morning and evening newspaper with actual news in it.  I even miss the printers ink that in my youth found its way up my elbows and face while I pored over the sports section.  As a kid, I was a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies.  The morning Philadelphia Inquirer went to press before the conclusion of night games played on the west coast.  There would be a hint, “After three innings the Phiilies trailed the Dodgers 5-1.”  It did not look good for the “Fightin‘ Phils”, but they did not lose until The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin arrived at 2:30 PM.

It was summer and no school and the wait was somehow enjoyable.  If I finished my chores and walked Smokey (the first in a long line of insane boxers) perhaps the Phils would rally.  In hindsight the Phillies were by far the worst team in the National league when I was growing up and they lost a lot, but I believe the wait helped me learn to delay gratification which came in handy when I got my first thirty year mortgage.

In those days, some news stories were slow to develop and filter down to us.  If a celebrity had a satanic navel ring collection or was involved in a steamy affair with a notary public we were blissfully unaware.  If there was a problem in Borneo or Tierra del Fuego eventually the local paper might pick it up it from the New York Times, or the AP, or UPI.  As it turns out the “Fightin‘ Phils” fought mostly with each other.  They were a racially polarized, hard drinking carousers.  Fortunately the stories of my heroes heartlessly taunting Jackie Robinson did not become common knowledge until my illusions had been shattered in other places.

There was a not so benign paternalism at work in my youth and it is good that there is no returning.  I do not want that country back.  We are exposed to much more information in a seemingly instantaneous manner and that ought to render us not only better informed, but somehow smarter.  Speaking only for myself, I find the drumbeat of a 24/7 newscycle more overwhelming than helpful.  I have more “news” than I have places to put it.  I am also troubled that a decent web design can almost mask quackery,  and those prone to illogic and xenophobia seem to be able to access “information” that allows them to get crazier, faster.  I am not sure this is progress.

 

Tom H. Cook would like to remind everone that the last day to wish someone a Happy New Year and men it is January 27th.

A Visit From Jane and Jean

On January 25th Jane Johnson and Jean Deatrick appeared at my door in Redondo Beach, California.  What follows is my recollection of the visit.

Me:  Jean, Jane, what a surprise!  Do come in.

Jane:  (With proper British accent) We are sorry to pop in on you this way.

Jean:  “We hate to intrude, it is just that we need to do some fact checking…”

Me:  Is this because of the Oprah thing with James Frey and  “A Million Little Pieces?

Jane:  Yes we realize it is a frightful bother, but we need to confirm some of your stories.

Me:  I never claimed to have been in prison, used drugs, had a root canal without an anesthetic, bled all over an airplane, had a girlfriend die on me, or been befriended by a mobster…

Jean:  (Wistfully) Yes that would sell papers… 

Jane:  Yes, that would be smashing, but a number of our readers wonder if anyone can be as…

Jean:  Boring…

Jane:  Yes, frightfully sorry Tom.  Frey was not as wild and troubled as he portrayed himself, but you must be understating your drive and intellect.

Jean:  You have set up this image of a middlebrow underachiever who goes to garage sales and reads The New Yorker for the cartoons.

Me:  That’s about it.  Care for a Poptart ?

Jane:  We know for example you were in the Noodleman book group in Minneapolis and they regularly discuss Noam Chomsky…

Me:  Cubs, third baseman, hits lefty…

Jean:  See it’s that feigned ignorance but then the political allusion.  Tom, if you are smarter and more worldly than you have told us, then there has been a breach of trust with our readership and action will be required.

Me:  Well, come on in and look around.

Jane:  (Scanning book shelves and my music collection).  One of the reasons we have kept you on staff all of these years is that many in the neighborhood enjoys having a hoot at your expense

Jean:  (Also rummaging around) People are not laughing with you…Let me start again.  You know how high status much of the west of Hennepin crowd is?  You make people feel better about themselves.  If it ever came out that you are a closet intellectual and were misleading us and that your column was some sort of parody…I know a number of advertisers would not take this well.

Jane:  What are we listening to?

Me: ”Vanilla Fudge’s Greatest Hits” and before that a vintage “Strawberry Alarm Clock” CD.

Jean:  (In amazement) And nobody told you we were coming…

Jane:  (Gazing at my library) It’s mostly sports and true crime books…

Jean:  (Noticing the furnishings) So there must be a lot of garage sales out here too.

Me:  (Modestly) Yes, we’ve been lucky.  The chair you’re sitting in, $10.00!

Jean:  (Rising quickly to go) Yikes, look at the time.  We must rush.

Me:  Don’t you want to stay and hang out with the dogs? Stella and Cowboy will be disappointed to miss you.

Jane:  Tom, let me say you are doing a smashing job!  We shan’t worry about any fraud or deception on your part.

Jean:  Our best to JoAnne. She is a remarkable woman.

 

In the spirit of full disclosure, JoAnne did join us for a wonderful outdoor lunch, a walk on the beach, and a lot of laughs.  Thank you, Jean and Jane.  It was great to see Minnesota friends again.

 

 

On Leaving Minneapolis

I warned the editors that I was not a good choice to write a sappy, bittersweet, folksy, sorry you’re leaving article.  I feared they would want a heartwarming piece about a plucky Kenwood couple who after 57 years of making molasses fudge brownies for block parties, hand sewing little league uniforms, and spaying hamsters, were being shuffled off to Happy Acres, or to live in their grand-nephew’s basement in Femur, Arizona.  I imagined having to include their homespun reminiscences about a cow getting loose on Colfax Avenue, or how the couple once ran breathless to the police station because they were sure they saw Kaiser Wilhelm at a gas station on Lake Street, or the hilarious tale of the time they pretended to be guests at Theodore Wirth’s wedding.

I had all of my excuses in line until I heard the name.  Kim and Harley (Toby) Toberman of 24th and Girard, neighbors and friends for sixteen years.  How could I not write about this vibrant and unique couple?  Kim’s lush garden has name tags for all of her flowers and  plants so the children can learn them.  She provides a bench in front of  the house so lovers can smooch, the footsore can rest, and kids can wait for the school bus.  Toby’s imaginative and terrifying Halloween haunted house has long been a magnet, drawing kids from all over the neighborhood and beyond.

What do you say about people who use a wood burning stove, have a gorgeous three story antique-filled Victorian home complete with a very modern two-person  Jacuzzi, and a movie theater?  These are very unusual folks.  Kim has brought high culture to the prairie with her annual ladies’ tea complete with harp music.  Toby (owner of Toby’s Tunes) once made and marketed a video for dogs.

Long before suburbanites discovered great rooms and plasma TVs, Kim and Toby had a full screen theater complete with projection booth and hundreds of movies.  Their bi-monthly wintertime special, dubbed “Movies in the Parlor”, treated as many as forty lucky souls to a lineup of obscure shorts and feature films “that no one else would have the nerve to show.”  Kim and Toby, in formal attire, hosted an annual awards night with a prize in the categories of  best homemade munchies and perfect attendance.  People planned their winter vacations to not miss a Friday night at Toby’s.

I had to find out how they could give up their breathtaking home and the garden they have nurtured for twenty five years.  What follows is my inaccurate recollection of our long and silly phone conversation.

Hill and Lake Press (really just me) Talk about the decision to leave.

Toby:  We have been looking for a home in a warm climate for a number of years.  We quickly decided Florida was too tame, and began to explore an island a year:  Jamaica, Barbados, and then in 1998 we went to Costa Rica and fell in love with it.  We bought property and have seen it greatly increase in value, although that was not our motivation.  The people there are wonderful and there is a huge ex-patriot community with many Russians, Europeans, and Canadians.

HLP:    Maintaining two residences so far apart must be a strain.

Kim:  We went back to Costa Rica last winter sure that we had to make one a permanent home.  A decision we thought might take a month was answered in two days.  Our Minnesota home is up for sale.  Toby has sold his film and record collection on E-bay, and we have had sales of our antiques.

Toby:  I find I don’t miss the stuff when I am down there.  We are shipping a car, which is an unbelievable labyrinth of certifications, notaries, consulates, and foreign relations ministers.

HLP:  Is your leaving at all political?

Toby:  We were going anyway, but the change in the gun laws…let’s just say it is a different Minnesota.

HLP:  Tell about some of your community work.

(I am editing out twenty minutes of credit to others, and minimization of her accomplishments)

Kim:  I was on the board at Neighborhood Involvement Program for a number of years.  N.I.P. is a wonderful resource, right on Hennepin Avenue.  They provide healthcare, counseling, and other services for people who do not have insurance.

Toby:  What about the garden club and your two terms as president, and the Spring Tea?

Kim:  The Kenwood Garden Club has about 35 members and still does tours.  It is designed to promote neighborhood pride.  Blooming Boulevards is a CUE (Committee for Urban Environments) volunteer organization that recognizes neighbors that go out of there way to make boulevard common space attractive…

Toby:  The city cut the funding for it even though it’s all volunteer and the only cost is postage.

Kim:  The Spring Tea was not just for women who lived in the neighborhood, but for those who work here…GJs, Walgreen’s, and all of the local businesses.  It was an opportunity for the women of the community to network…

Toby:  And have great desserts.

HLP:  Since you do not want me to mention the illegal stop sign you installed on 24th Street, I’ll ask what will happen to Toby’s Tunes, one of the premiere sound recording studios in the Twin Cities and located above your garage?

Toby:  It is a good time to close out.  Jerry Horvath, who has worked for me, has Buzz Cuts Audio downtown, but I chose not to continue the name.

HLP:  All I know about Costa Rica is that San Jose is the capital.  Are you near there?

Toby:  (laughs)  We are in the mountains, six hours by car, four hours by foot.  We have a swimming pool that is currently filled with frogs.   We have been hand carrying all the equipment necessary for a movie theater.  Since many of our neighbors have never seen a movie, they are most impressed.  We are mostly showing old comedies and films that don’t require a lot of translation.

HLP:  Does this enterprise have a name?

Kim:  Yes, it’s “Movies in the Jungle”  We have huge pot luck dinners and watch movies.  Toby is in his glory.

HLP:  It sounds as if your new life is already in progress.  What will you miss?

Kim:  I’ll miss mail order catalogues–I get tons of them–plus pizza delivered to the door.

Toby:  Best Buy, and my music partner Gregg Kubera.  Every Tuesday night for the last twenty two years we would write and play music together.  Hundreds of songs…(pause) we are called “The Client Brothers”, and we are as close as brothers.

HLP:  You both have brought creative community building activities to us and had fun doing it.  Kim and Toby, you have made the city a smaller and friendlier place.  Because of your own contentment you have always been ready to help new arrivals or those in need.  You will be profoundly missed.

 

Tom H. Cook is a sentimental L.A. resident with a deep love for the old neighborhood.  He has no current plans to run for governor of his adopted state.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom with the paper

Great Writing

Great writing allows us to suspend disbelief and be spirited away to a world of larger than life characters more compelling than our own friends and neighbors. These complex, driven souls (who frequently have fabulous figures, chiseled features, raven hair, piercing eyes or some combination thereof) face staggering challenges. Their dialogue is witty, sardonic, immediate, and intense.  Their decisions are high stakes and life altering.  We rejoice and suffer with them.  Simultaneously admiring their convictions and resourcefulness, yet fearing where their misplaced idealism and naiveté may lead.

A novelist’s artfully chosen words evoke the full range of the human condition.  Their prose is like the dance of the seven veils.  We are left to ponder what part of their tale is autobiographical. Staring at the dust jacket photo of a bespectacled 25year old upper West Side writer from Keokuk, Iowa it seems unfathomable that they are so able to capture the plight of an enfeebled Etruscan shepherd and the poignant longings of his comely daughter.  Yet for 418 pages of laughter and tears we are absorbed: smelling the camel dung, searching for Shekabah, and shivering under the pitch-black desert sky.   Clearly there are didactic truths about the human condition that transcend time, culture, and social standing.

It is just as evident that I have no clue into this world.  I am as unlikely to hold a reader spellbound as I am at gunpoint.  I have examined my work for hidden meaning, prophetic insight, and even Talmudic wisdom.  Sadly none of these elements are present.  I am only able to bump along sharing what it is like to be middle-aged, frugal, rumpled, and reside within walking distance of Lake of the Isles.   The only event that passes for drama in my very pedestrian life is a sudden (if you call three years sudden) move to Southern California.

Six months later numerous friends and e-mailers have asked what life is like in L.A. when JoAnne and I are not hanging out with Kevin Spacey and Bill Clinton (see HLP 10/02).  The best description is the baseball strategy of playing “small ball”.  In baseball terms, it is to be scrappy, execute fundamentals, win close games with defence and hustle, sacrifice for the good of the team, play base to base, take advantage of small opportunities, and play hard.  This is admittedly difficult to translate to a financial planner without them believing you are preparing to live in a bus shelter.  In non-sports terms, “small ball” is making due with less, enjoying the little things in life, devoting fewer hours to work and more time to activities that gratify the soul.

Not the final draft!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was never a big buck, free agent, homerun, and big inning, get by on raw talent over training, swing for the fences type.  This is more a function of a lack of opportunity and initiative rather than a philosophical aversion to money and power.    Nonetheless when someone with my meager assets decides to downscale it is an event that is barely perceptible to some.  Still this is what JoAnne and I are doing.

It is going well.  Stella the insane boxer is actually enjoying living out doors and having a small yard.  The cats, both given away and subsequently returned have adjusted nicely to the California adventure.  Our new place in Redondo Beach at 1,400 square feet is less than half the size of our East Isles home. Rather than drive on freeways, we are able to walk or bike to most anything we need including the ocean.

I miss running into people I know at the local supermarket.  Without young children or steady work we are somewhat isolated, but still well connected to our Minnesota friends.  There is less sense of community living here with the other rootless drifters.  Garage sales are pathetic, but year round.  We find more interesting stuff on our Sunday night trash eve dog walks around the neighborhood.  The local libraries are very good and we are card-carrying members at six of them.

Our modest living room is happily taken up with JoAnne’s very large (48 harness) loom and assorted weaving projects.  She has an amazing capacity for self amusement and her days fly by.  I am ensconced at the lowest rung of the education food chain.  With a bachelor’s degree, a passing grade on the California Basic Education Skills Test (CBEST), and a clear criminal record, I am qualified to substitute teach.

I have joined the less than elite pool of bored housewives, aspiring actors, downsized aerospace engineers, recent college graduates, and faded old duffers willing to trade a day in the sun for $100.00.  The work is challenging, ever changing, and fulfilling.  I live a teacher’s life for a day.  A  5:30 AM call may summon me to five classes of Calculus and Physics in Palos Verdes, or a Special Education setting in Manhattan Beach.  On mornings the phone does not ring I enjoy a day of California vacation.  Lurking below this calm façade there are crucial life decisions, but for now it is as JoAnne says, “A simple life for a simple man”.

Tom H. Cook lacks the power to enthrall.  His goal as a writer is to make the squiggly lines the computer uses to critique his writing disappears.  

 

 

 

Retirement in Redondo Beach

The summer Hill and Lake Press has historically been a children’s issue with clever, witty, and innocent poems, pictures, and stories.  Despite the fact that I write in crayon, my submissions in past years to the July-August issue have been tactfully returned.  Because of the children writers strike this year I am pressed into service.  Normally I would support the young artists’ demands (scented markers, unlimited gummy bears, and the freedom to use the word poopy in a non-salacious context).  The editors were able to break my iron will and steadfast solidarity by letting me write about my summer vacation.  Sorry kids, but who can pass up the opportunity to tell others about a trip.

My wife and I are staying just south of Los Angeles in Redondo Beach, where we are tracking down stray relatives and friends.  There is no sign of the Urban Coyote, who may be out here peddling scripts and doing meetings.  I am, instead, working on shaving every three or four days, body surfing, eating avocados, and going to Dodger Stadium.  The rest of my time is spent foolishly. 

Driving is a challenge in the L.A. area.  On 35W or the Crosstown you check to see if anyone is coming before you change lanes.   Here it is a given that many cars, vans, SUVs, motorcycles, and large trucks covet the exact spot you are currently inhabiting.  I am reminded of the old Red Skelton line about the freeways.  He said, “Southern Californians are real baseball fans…out here you are either a Dodger or an Angel.” 

Word from home is that it has finally stopped raining and all plans for an NRP-funded ark have been abandoned.  Everyone I meet  here (after the requisite discussion of the weather) wants to know about Jesse.  I am toying with the idea of being from Michigan.  The politics here in southern California is more conservative than I am used to.  There is still a Proposition 13 feel in the air, and it is a laisse faire world.  All is well for those who can manage on their own.  I have long believed that each of us has a cosmic banana peel with our name on it, and we will require support of some kind.  Here it seems people live happily, busily, hurriedly, but without a net.

If I am so critical, why am I here?  That’s simple:  I love the beach.  I have swum and paddled in the city lakes.  I have enjoyed moonlight dips at friends’ lake cabins, but there is something about the ocean that grips me.  I feel most whole and complete in the ocean.  It is truly a “Roots” experience.  Being in the ocean takes me way back to my distant ancestors who must have been ocean dwelling single celled protozoan. 

In more recent years I have resigned myself to compromises and diminished expectations, such as our federal income tax refund check.  Practicality and prudence aside, I do not want to pass from this life without ‘quality beach time’.  As a friend said recently, “Yeah, I’m middle aged if I live to be 110”.  This ocean fantasy will probably not win me the Albert Schweitzer award for humanitarian service, but I feel the sands of time moving.  

As a child, I mourned growing up in New Jersey and not being able to get to Atlantic City, Wildwood, or Asbury Park.  If I were a  Minnesota native I probably wouldn’t hear the siren song of the sea.  But to be sixty miles away and unable to will myself to the shore is something I still lament.  Granted, this is not Oprah material. (“ Our next segment is a real tearjerker:  Adult children of parents who could not swim and were too tired from working to take their kids to the beach.”)  Still, without getting too existential or pop psychology about this, I have been in charge of my own life since I was 46, and if I was going to make it to the west coast for the summer it was up to me.  Thanks to the generosity of a number of friends, most notably Michele, who has adopted Stella (the mad beast) for the summer, I am in Los Angles having made slightly better time than Balboa.

So here I am, and I love it.  In time I will miss garage sales, work (or at least the money), and the friends who have had the decency not to come and visit.  In the meantime, surf’s up, hang ten, and have a wonderful summer.

 

Tom H. Cook conveniently forgets that he was a shy, pale, thin, non-athletic, virgin with conspicuous ears who would not have experienced most of the things he feels he missed, had he only been ‘under the boardwalk’ in 1964.