February 6, 2016

Two Minutes Passed Midnight

It’s two minutes passed midnight and I am in the Bangkok airport, feeling obligated to keep this writing thing going at all costs. I’m sitting here waiting to board our Kenyan Airways flight to Nairobi with a group of kids who range from third to twelfth grade and are from seven different countries. It is passed their bed times and they are passed out in different degrees around me, as the fluorescent light keeps me wired and a bit crazy. 

I will wake in the morning after a long flight on the ground in Kenya. Back for my fourth trip. The sounds, the smells, the sights of Africa are only a plane ride away. But most importantly the pace will crawl up to me and force me to slow down to the speed of a well-spent day. 

My brain is tired from a long day, week, month, year, life. But it is moments like this that help me realise how all the choices I have made up to this point allow me to take trips like this. 

Years ago, Jason and I talked of hopes and dreams and schools in Africa. Not everything turned out the way we planned, but life rarely follows our intentions. Yet, somehow, here we are at forty-two years old- tomorrow night I look forward to sitting up on his porch after all the kids have fallen asleep, and we will hatch future plans and dream up new schemes. 

I can’t wait to see what it all looks like at sixty-two. 



That’s all I have tonight. Hopefully, tomorrow’s post will have more to say. 

February 4, 2016

Wolfie Of The Sea

We named him Wolfie after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. My dad had become a bit obsessed with the man and his music. A few years earlier, at the age of ten, I was forced kicking-and-screaming to watch the film with him at the Corte Madera theatre. Afterwards, he played the I-told-you, you-would-love-it card, to which I refused to give in. But oh man, was he right! From that opening scene in the snow when Salieri is rushed to the sanitarium while Symphony No. 25 in G minor is playing, to the end when the requiem buries him in his own madness, even at ten, I knew that the world was built on the dreams of madmen.

But how did I get to talking about the film? I was talking about the cat we had when we lived on North San Pedro Road. Our tiny house was across the street from San Rafael High School and right on the water. We had a beautiful bay window that looked on a small pier which housed a few boats. I used to spend weekend days, fishing for mudsuckers, that Gonzalo and I would sell to the bait shop for a quarter a piece until we had a ten dollar roll, which we would blow on a few hours of Gauntlet at Pinky's Pizza down the road.

But how did I get to talking about pizza joints? I was talking about the cat we named Wolfie. We had argued and debated the name for a few days, but my dad finally won out because he had let me name our previous cat a few years earlier- Rocky. Yes, I named my first pet after Rocky Balboa. Don’t ask. I guess I got caught up in the emotional come from behind victory, although even as an eight year old I was secretly hoping that Mr. T would win. It would have been strange for me to name the cat Clubbler Lang. Rocky just made more sense.

But how did I get to talking about Mr. T? I was talking about Wolfie. Wolfie was a strange cat, more like a dog really. He would fetch. He would run up to me when I came home. He slept in my bed, on my pillow every night and followed me around the house from the second I got home. They say a dog is a boy’s best friend, well I had Wolfie. On a few occasions, yes more than once, when he had crawled through the window at night, and was playing down at the pier when he had fallen into the water He must have somehow managed to get himself on dry land and back into my bed soaking wet. I remember a few nights, wrapping him in a towel and blow drying him as my parents slept soundly in their room.

Wolfe was a bit batty. He really was like his namesake. I am sure that if he could laugh, it would have sounded like Mozart’s hysterical cackle. He was curious, brave and playful. He didn’t walk, he pranced.

Until the one night when I came home and he didn’t run up to me at the door. We called his name, but he didn’t come. We searched the house, but couldn’t find him.

North San Pedro Road is a two-lane street where people tend to pick up speed right after the school zone, which was right where our house was placed.

After searching the entire house, I went down to the water and searched the pier. Wolfie was gone. After searching every possible place he could be, I headed up stairs and on a whim thought I would look at the front of the house and the sidewalk that ran passed our house. That’s when I saw him.

Across the street near the curb.

I screamed for my mom and dad to come out. The cars were moving so fast, I didn’t know how we could stop their flow to retrieve him. My dad waited for a lull in the traffic and ran out and grabbed him. I remember being so proud of him at that moment. There was an emergency and he was brave enough to bring Wolfie back to us.

Wolfe was not dead, but he was far from alive. He had been hit, but not run over. His eyes were rolled back into his head, and I could only see the whites of his eyes. A small trickle of blood dripped from his mouth and his body was tight and rigid. I grabbed him from my dad, once we were safely at our doorstep. I could tell he was breathing, but just barely.

I started to cry. Nothing hysterical, but a gentle low moaning. I could feel the muscles from my toes to my neck tighten and release with every breath. Tears were welling up and a soft sob was building in me like a flickering flame.

My parents stood by and tried to comfort me, but I am pretty sure that they were crying too. A few minutes later, as we all stood on the front door step holding our dying cat, he let out his last breath, and I swear I could feel his body tightened. The white’s of his eyes shone like an eerie mirror, but I couldn’t see anymore as the flood gates were final opened, and I was weeping uncontrollably.

I don’t remember how old I was exactly, but I know I was passed the age where young boys cry openly. I couldn’t remember the last time I had cried like the night Wolfie died.

It was late and I had no idea what to do next. I’m pretty sure my dad didn’t either, and now years later his solution feels bizarre, but necessary. He went into the house and grabbed a garbage bag and one of the cinder blocks that held up our homemade shelf- the one that stored his records.

“Come on. Get in the car.” He seemed determined in his single-minded pursuit, but he gently pried Wolfie from my arms and placed him on the garbage bag in the trunk of the car. I am not sure why my mom was not invited to come, and at the time I had no idea where we were headed.

We drove in silence toward China Camp, which is a small state park about fifteen minutes down the road from our house.

We arrived in the darkness and parked near a jetty. From out of nowhere, my dad pulled out a rope and tied the cat to the cinder block. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but my dad had earned my trust and I watched him in silence. There were no comforting words or explanation, just a man tying a dead cat to a cinder block in front of his crying son, placing it in the garage bag and walking down the pier toward the blackness and the sea.

We stood there waiting for a few minutes, a lazy crescent moon the only witness. I thought about how Amadeus had died poor and alone. Then we tossed him in.

Cat. Bag. Rope. Block.

It took a while for the bag to fill with water and sink. Once it did, we stared at the gentle ripples transform into waves and disappear into the darkness.

We drove home in silence and never spoke of that night again. I remember staying awake for most of the night, wondering how I would fall asleep without Wolfie next to me on the pillow. 

February 3, 2016

A Blur Of Green

When I was younger, probably in about grade five, I used to go horseback riding on a regular basis, about once a week, with the Canal Community Alliance, a group that helped those of us living in the Canal- the poorer part of the very wealthy Marin county, have fun and explore the world around us. The CCA gave us opportunities that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Horseback riding once a week at Miwok Stables out passed Tennessee Valley road was one such opportunity.

We would arrive at the stables after school and begin the process of our weekly lesson- lead the horse out of the stables and prepare them for the ride; we would saddle them up and put on the bit and bridle. Then we would usually have a riding lesson in the round pen on the grounds of the stables, followed by the break down of the gear and the cleaning of the horse. I can still smell the blanket and remember the froth of sweat and soap as we lathered and rinsed off the horses.

We usually were assigned the same horse and mine was named Chica. She was a slight golden Palomino, who as far I was concerned was made of gold. I loved her smaller frame, slightly neurotic nature and her not so subtle sense of flash, all of which reminded me of myself.

Some days, if Chica was out with another ride, I would get stuck riding Sade; she was a giant mare with zero personality. She was a horse that you would need to kick to death to get her to even raise her head and stop for a second from grazing on some shrub just outside her paddock.

But not Chica. She knew me and I knew her. Sometimes all it would take to get her going was a quick clicking on the inside of my cheek, and to be honest, sometimes even less than that, and we would be off.

I rode at Miwok for at least a year, maybe more. Perhaps Trista can help me fill in the details as she was there too. In our time riding, we learned how to move the horses from a walk, to a trot, to a cantor, to nearly a gallop.

I’ll never forgot one long ride, must have been a special weekend ride, when we rode our horses down to the Pelican Inn near Muir Beach. On the way down, we were allowed to break up our typical single file line of walking and trotting and let the horses run.

I remember getting Chica up to a full paced fluid cantor. It felt like we were alone in the wilderness- jumping over small creeks, the trees a blur of green, and ducking from the low hanging vines. It felt like hours as the two of us broke into a sweat as we traversed down the mountain to the beach.

Later that year, Chica and I entered a show and did quite well. I had the second, or was it first place, ribbon in a box of my stuff for years, but it has since disappeared.  We were not meant for shows or ribbons. Chica and I were made to gallop through the west Marin forest. Tired and exhausted. Moving way too fast.

I loved that horse.



Dear XXXXX,

I am sorry I got a bit snappy with you today after you told me that you couldn’t come to our Daraja meeting o Thursday. I reacted to your excuse with anger and frustration, and as your teacher and mentor, this was childish of me. I understand that you are dealing with some stuff, and I can appreciate and understand how hard that can be at your age. I am sure you do not need someone like me barking at you in the hallway.

Sometimes, we adults, lose sight of how hard it can be to be twelve. I remember when I was your age, feeling like no one was ever listening and no one really cared about me. Teachers were always yelling out of anger and frustration and dealing with me like I was a problem and not a person. I swore I would never do that when I became a teacher, but there I was doing it today.

So again I am sorry.

It's just that I want you to learn the very important lessons of honouring your commitments, staying with things when they are hard, respecting the people who care for you...the listen goes on and on.

The only interaction we have had is through service, but I do see you in the halls. Who knows, maybe next year you might be in my class, or our paths might cross in a different way. I hope that when we do meet under different circumstance that we can find a way to get to know each other a bit better, and I might be able to help you sort out whatever it is that you are trotting to sort, and teach you some of those lessons in a different setting.

Best of luck, we will miss you on Thursdays. I am sorry that the GC was not what you were looking for. Who knows maybe one day you might change your mind, and I can take you to Kenya and show you why the work we are doing is important.

In the mean time, find something that gives you joy and feeds your passion. If you are not sure what makes you happy or keeps you going- relax. That is okay too. It has taken me nearly forty years to figure it out.

Be a kid. Be kind. Ask for help and you will find your way.

Apologetically yours,

Mr. R


Ted Cruz is gross and creepy and he makes me feel dirty every time I see his face. I don’t think I could physically handle his presidency. I am quite certain he is a criminal and a monster. I just wish he would go away from public life, and return to what ever backwoods Texan church parking lot he lurks in.



Observations:

  • Our memories sit half-baked in our minds waiting to be thrown back into the kiln, but they will not look the same now as they did back then. 
  • Apologizing to a child is one of a teacher’s most important skills. We should do it way more often than we do. 
  • I've never seen a Republican I like. 


...

  1. Share a childhood memory that brings you joy. 
  2. Tell us about an apology that you should have made but for some reason didn’t. 
  3. Which current candidate gets under your skin the most and why?