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The Same Woman (Sara)

Every few years Andrew meets the same woman and always recognizes her, though she never recognizes him as anyone she knew before.

They met for the first time in elementary school in 1955 when her name was Alice. The second time their paths crossed was in the summer before they started high school. 1962. He was thirteen and so was she. In fact, she is always his age.

Thirteen-year-old Andrew is a handsome lad with hard-to-tame brown hair and olive skin. Five-foot-seven and growing fast, the beginnings of a beard and mustache have recently emerged on his chin and upper lip, prompting him to shave every few days. He is an avid basketball player and has a weekend and summer job involving hard work with pick and shovel and wheelbarrow. Thus he is agile and muscular and very strong for his age.

A few weeks before high school begins, Andrew is given the marvelous gift of being allowed to go with his best friend Jeremy and Jeremy’s parents and younger sister to a little house on the north shore of Lake Tahoe that Jeremy’s family rents for two weeks every summer.

The little house is just a block from a white sand beach. Renters of the little house may avail themselves of two rowboats tethered to the pier at the south end of the beach. Hiking, fishing, swimming, rowing, and goofing around are on the holiday agenda, though ogling girls is at the top of Jeremy and Andrew’s vacation to-do list.

Goofing around on the beach is what Jeremy and Andrew are doing on their second day at the lake, the afternoon warm and windless, perfect for throwing the Frisbee and diving into the lake in pursuit of the enticing disk.

As Andrew emerges from the lake after a spectacular dive and catch, he sees two comely young women, a blonde and a brunette, arriving on the beach, and he is struck by the uncanny resemblance of the brunette to the Alice he knew and loved from age six until he was almost ten. That’s when Alice and her family moved from California to Canada and he never heard from her again.

The young women spread big beach towels on the sand twenty feet away from Jeremy and Andrew’s towels and remove their sarongs to reveal their lovely young bodies clad in bikinis. Now they lather on sun block, don sunglasses, and lie down for a bout of tanning, though both of them are already deeply tanned.

Jeremy and Andrew plant themselves on their towels, gaze longingly at the sunbathing maidens, and Jeremy quietly opines, “Are we in heaven or what?”

“I think I know one of them,” says Andrew, touching his heart in homage to the first girl he ever loved.

“The blonde or the brunette?” asks Jeremy, frowning at Andrew. “And how come I don’t know her?”

“Alice Rivera,” says Andrew, on the verge of tears. “She left at the end of Fourth Grade and you came in Fifth. I told you about her. Didn’t I?”

“I don’t think so,” says Jeremy, shaking his head. “Are you sure it’s her? Wasn’t she only like nine the last time you saw her?”

“We were almost ten,” says Andrew, feeling again how much he loved Alice. “And she was way ahead of the curve, if you know what I mean.”

“Judging by the curves she’s got now,” says Jeremy, grinning, “I do know what you mean. So you’re telling me this gorgeous babe is only thirteen?”

“If she’s Alice, yeah,” says Andrew, nodding.

“Well…” says Jeremy, his eyes widening expectantly, “introduce yourself.”

“No,” says Andrew, looking away from the young women. “I’m too shy.”

However, twenty minutes later in the midst of a splendid game of Frisbee, Jeremy flings the disk a bit higher than Andrew can leap and the swirling disk alights in the sand mere inches from the two young women who have been sitting up for some time now watching Andrew and Jeremy play.

The young woman who Andrew thinks is Alice picks up the Frisbee and smiles enticingly as Andrew comes near.

“Sorry about that,” he says, blushing.

“The old errant Frisbee gambit,” she says, her cheeks dimpling exactly as Alice’s always did.

Seeing those dimples, Andrew blurts, “Alice? Alice Rivera? I’m Andrew. Remember me? Andrew Ross.”

The young woman arches her eyebrow. “Followed by the old name-guessing ruse. But for future reference, Andrew, never add a last name to the first name guess. Because then when she replies, ‘I’m not Alice, I’m Sara,’ you can slap your forehead and say, ‘Oh of course. Sara. I meant Sara.’”

“But I didn’t mean Sara,” says Andrew, gazing in wonder at her. “I mean Alice. Everything about you is Alice. Your face, your eyes, the way you speak.” He takes a deep breath. “Little Hills Elementary. Redwood City. You moved to Canada four years ago and I wrote to you a bunch of times but you never wrote back.”

“He’s very cute,” says the blonde, “but I think he’s a little crazy.”

“I don’t mind a little crazy,” says the brunette, locking eyes with Andrew. “I’m Sara. This is Dominique. I’ve never been to Redwood City or Canada, but we can still be friends if you want. How long are you here for?”

“Twelve more days,” he says breathlessly. “You?”

“About the same,” she says, dimpling again. “And then we go back to Reno and start our first year of high school.”

“So…” He clears his throat.

“Maybe we can hang out,” she says, beating him to the punch as Alice always did. “What’s your friend’s name?”

“Jeremy,” says Andrew, beckoning to Jeremy who is standing in the shallows a hundred feet away. “He’s great. You’ll love him.”

“We’ll be the judge of that,” says Dominique, taking the Frisbee from Sara, rising gracefully, and flinging the disc straight as an arrow to Jeremy who catches it with both hands and tumbles backwards into the lake.

The next day, after a morning hike with Jeremy’s parents and sister, Andrew and Jeremy return to the beach where Sara and Dominique await them with a picnic of sandwiches and potato chips and soda pop and chocolate chip cookies.

They are all wonderfully comfortable with each other, and Andrew continues to marvel at how much Sara reminds him of Alice, her facial expressions, her gestures, the timbre of her voice, the way she listens so intently to what others are saying, and how she moves and runs and laughs.

In the late afternoon, they take the rowboats out on the lake, Dominique and Jeremy in one boat, Sara and Andrew in the other, and after a time their boats go in different directions.

“So tell me about this Alice you were in love with,” says Sara, sitting in the prow and facing Andrew as he rows.

“She was…” He smiles as he remembers Alice. “She was beautiful and super smart and very funny and the fastest runner in our class until Fourth Grade when a couple guys could finally beat her. And she was very sure of herself. Self-confident. Just like you.”

“Except she was an idiot not to write you back,” says Sara, pouting in the same adorable way Alice pouted. “I would have. I think you’re great.”

“Thanks.” He blushes. “I think you are, too.”

“You want to make out?” she says softly.

“You mean…”

“Kiss,” she says, nodding.

“Okay,” he says, ceasing to row. “I never have, but… I’d like to.”

“Never have?” she says, moving to sit beside him. “You seem so sophisticated.”

“Well, um, I read a lot,” he says, clearing his throat. “But I’ve never had a girlfriend, so…”

“You’ll have lots,” she says, kissing him tenderly.

“Wow,” he whispers. “That was amazing.”

“Again please,” she says, kissing him again.

After a few more minutes of incredibly pleasurable communion with each other, they jump in the lake and swim in a big circle around the boat before finding each other to kiss some more.

Sitting side-by-side in the rowboat, each manning an oar as they row back to shore, Sara says, “I wish you lived in Reno. Then we could go together and who knows what might happen.”

“I wish I lived there, too,” he says, nodding in agreement. “I’d give anything to live near you.”

“You seem older than thirteen,” she says, finding him ideal in every way.

“So do you,” he says, madly in love with her. “If I hadn’t thought you were Alice, I would have thought you were sixteen.”

Two nights later, Sara and Dominique come for supper with Jeremy and Andrew and Jeremy’s parents and sister. Sara and Dominique tell Jeremy’s inquiring mother what they already told Jeremy and Andrew, that their mothers are blackjack dealers in a big casino in Reno and every summer take a quasi-vacation by coming to Lake Tahoe with their daughters for a month of dealing blackjack four nights a week at a casino on the north shore. Sara’s father is a fitness trainer in Florida and she rarely sees him. Dominique’s father is a pit boss in a Reno casino. Dominique has an older brother; Sara is an only child.

“And what do you girls aspire to be?” asks Jeremy’s mother, who expects both her children to get at least PhDs.

“I might be a psychologist,” says Dominique, smiling warmly at Jeremy’s mother. “But I’m really into music, too, so maybe I’ll get a job with a record company or manage a band or something like that.”

“I want to be an actress,” says Sara, nodding assuredly. “I’ll try for Yale, but I’ll probably go to Nevada State. I sing, too.”

“How wonderful,” says Jeremy’s father, an electrical engineer. “When I was thirteen all I wanted to be was fourteen. Beyond that, I knew nothing. I think it’s great you know the direction you want to go.”

“Subject to change,” says Sara, winking at Andrew. “My mother wanted to be an actress, too. It’s a long shot, but why not dream?”

Three days after Dominique and Sara come for supper, Dominique and her mother have to go home to Reno to take care of Dominique’s grandmother who fell and broke her hip. Jeremy is devastated because he and Dominique were planning to lose their virginity together and now that won’t happen.

Andrew and Sara have no such plans, though their bouts of kissing and caressing sometimes verge on sex. But they both feel too young and too unsure and too afraid. In almost every way they seem to be of the same mind, and this is something Andrew has never experienced with anyone before.

On a beautiful evening, five days before their idyll must end, Sara and Andrew sit side-by-side at the end of the pier. They are dressed warmly for the cold that descends upon the lake every night as summer gives way to fall. Jeremy is with his parents and sister in the little house, making fudge and playing Monopoly.

“The problem, dear Andrew,” says Sara, with a credible British accent, “is that you’ve set the bar so dreadfully high, I despair of ever meeting someone as fine as you again in this one brief life I am given.

“Well I’m going to be an actor, too,” says Andrew, his British accent atrocious. “You never know. We just might meet again at Yale or Nevada State.”

“But truly, Andrew,” says Sara, dropping the British accent. “I can’t imagine ever meeting anyone I like as much as you. We just… we just go together so well in so many ways.”

“Want to count them?” he asks, putting his arm around her.

“No, I’ll get too sad,” she says, sighing. “If only we were twenty-five. That’s when I want to get married. But that’s twelve years from now. Who knows where we’ll be twelve years from now?”

“We’ll both know because we’ll write to each other and call each other and visit each other during the summers and…”

“No, we won’t,” she says shaking her head.

“Why not?”

“Because we’re thirteen. We’ll try to stay in touch, but after a few letters saying how much we miss each other, we’ll get all tangled up in high school and… meet other people.”

“No,” says Andrew, defiantly. “I’m gonna write to you every week for the rest of my life whether you write me back or not. Every Sunday. I won’t let myself eat until I’ve written you a letter and put a stamp on it and mailed it.”

“You’re so sweet,” she says, kissing him. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he says, crying. “I’ve never known anyone as wonderful as you.”

Sara comes for supper on Andrew and Jeremy’s last night at the lake, and during supper Jeremy’s mother asks Sara if she’ll be coming to the lake again next summer.

“Probably not,” she says, shaking her head. “I have to get a job and there’s a summer Drama program I want to get into if I can. But if I don’t get in, maybe I’ll be back. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

“Well just so you know,” says Jeremy’s father, “we’ll be coming back here for the same two weeks next year and hope to drag Andrew along with us.”

Andrew escorts Sara home after supper, both of them crying as they hold hands and walk along under the starry sky.

“I never got to meet your mother,” says Andrew, sniffling back his tears.

“She would love you,” says Sara, giving his hand a squeeze. “I will try to write to you, Andrew. I will. But I might be too sad.”

“I know we’re gonna see each other again,” he says, his heart about to burst. “I know we will.”

“I hope so,” she says as they arrive at her house. “But no matter what happens, I’ll never forget you.”

Andrew writes to Sara every Sunday for seventeen Sundays, and Sara writes to him a few times, too. But when ten of his letters to her go unanswered, he skips a Sunday and then another, and when he tries to write to her again, he cannot coax a single word from his pen.

But he does see her again. Four years later. Her name is Laura when they meet at seventeen, and he knows her the minute he sees her, though she will claim she’s never seen him before.

fin

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Banana Blueberry Apple Jacks

Here is my recipe for 9 big delicious gluten-free banana apple blueberry pancakes.

One: Put a cup of sorghum flour or millet flour or a half-cup of each in a medium-sized mixing bowl

Two: Add a quarter teaspoon of baking soda

Three: Add a cup and a quarter of rice milk or almond milk

Four: Mix using a fork or soft spatula until smooth

Five: Add two eggs

Six: Mash a banana with a fork (on a plate) until the banana is the consistency of baby food and add this to the mix

Seven: Peel an apple and grate the peeled apple into the mix

Eight: Stir all this up really well

Nine: Mix in three or four teaspoons of olive oil

Ten: Chop a bunch of blueberries in half and add those

Eleven: Oil your frying pan and get it hot

Twelve: Scoop a brimming quarter cup of the batter for each cake into the frying pan. My pan makes three at a time.

Thirteen: Cook for two minutes, flip, cook for two more minutes. (I use a timer for this step.)

Fourteen: Serve with yogurt and syrup and top with more blueberries.

Note: You can use strawberries or huckleberries or peaches or any kind of fruit instead of (or with) blueberries

Bon Appetite!

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The Same Woman (Alice)

You know those movies like Groundhog Day wherein a character keeps waking up and reliving the same day over and over until he learns whatever the universe wants him to learn? Well that doesn’t happen to Andrew. What happens to Andrew is that every few years he meets the same woman, and though he always recognizes her and is glad to see her again, she never recognizes him as someone she’s met before because though she is the same woman, she always has a different identity than the one she had when Andrew last knew her.

This has been going on since Andrew was a little boy. And now Andrew is seventy-seven. The last time he met the woman was four years ago and he’s beginning to think he may not meet her again before he dies.

If this seems impossible to you, imagine how it seems to Andrew who never would have believed such a thing was possible if it hadn’t happened to him over and over again.

Does the woman age? Yes. She is the same age as Andrew. Does her place of origin change? So it seems. Does her appearance change each time they meet? Not really. The way she wears her hair changes, though she is always a brunette, and her clothing changes, her style choices change, but her face and body and personality do not change except in the ways faces and bodies and personalities change as we age.

Andrew first met her when he was six and starting First Grade halfway through the school year at Little Hills Elementary School in Redwood City. He was an old hand at starting school without knowing any of the other kids, having gone to two kindergartens in Texas and another First Grade in San Mateo.

One of the things he learned from his time in those three other schools was that there was no need for him to try to make friends because he and his future friends would effortlessly find each other in the course of going to school together.

At Morning Recess on Andrew’s first day at Little Hills, three girls approached him as he waited in line for a turn on the swings. One of those girls was the person he would meet again and again throughout his life. Her name was Alice, and Andrew had already decided she was one of the four cutest girls in his class.

Alice was flanked by Lynn, the tallest girl in their class, and Gina, another of the girls Andrew felt was among the four cutest. Lynn had glossy blonde hair that reached her shoulders. Alice and Gina both had brown hair cut an inch or so below their ears. They were all wearing skirts and blouses and tennis shoes and Andrew thought they were marvelous.

“Hi Andrew,” said Gina, smiling at Andrew. “We’re in Mrs. Bushnell’s class with you.”

“I know,” he said, blushing. “I saw you.”

“We want to know if you’re like the other boys,” said Gina, her smile changing to a frown.

“What do you mean?” asked Andrew, hoping they didn’t want to see his penis. At his three previous schools there were girls and boys who wanted to see his penis, and Andrew had not been cooperative in this regard. He much preferred girls and boys who left his genitals out of the social equation.

“Would you let girls run in races with boys?” asked Lynn, who had by far the deepest voice of any of the kids in their class.

“Why not?” said Andrew, sensing a possible tricky situation developing.

Another thing he’d learned at those three other schools was to avoid tricky situations whenever possible because they often ended badly for someone who might be him.

“Because,” said Alice, jutting out her chin and pouting at the same time, a combination Andrew found adorable, “the other boys won’t let us race them because I’m fastest and Gina is faster than all of them except Biff.”

“I don’t know anyone here,” said Andrew, who was by then next in line for a turn on the swings. “Except my sisters. They’re older than me. One is in Third Grade and one is in Fifth.”

“So you think girls should be able to race with boys,” said Gina, stating this as a fact rather than a question.

“Okay,” said Andrew, hurrying to claim the just-vacated swing.

And he thought no more about girls racing with boys until Lunch Recess when he was in line to play Four Square and two boys who were in the Second Grade confronted him.

The bigger of the two boys was a few inches taller than Andrew and twenty pounds heavier.

“Hey turd face,” said this bigger boy, “why did you say the girls could race with us?”

“I never did,” said Andrew, shaking his head.

“Yes, you did,” said the boy, giving Andrew a shove.

Andrew took a deep breath and replied, “I said girls should be able to race with boys, not could. This is my first day here and I don’t know all the rules. Please leave me alone.”

“Maybe I don’t want to, turd face,” said the boy, shoving Andrew again.

Now another thing Andrew learned at his previous three schools was that when someone bullied you and you didn’t fight back, the bullying continued until you did fight back. And to be effective, the fighting back had to be more than merely exchanging a shove for a shove. To stop the bullying, fighting back had to transcend the initial assault.

So before the boy knew what was happening, Andrew curled his right hand into a fist and slugged the boy really hard in the center of the forehead. And before the bully’s pal could react to Andrew slugging the bully, Andrew punched him equally hard in the forehead, too.

Both boys were staggered by the blows and yowling in pain when two teachers intervened. Mrs. Dalrymple, a large Second Grade teacher with curly red hair, took charge of Chad, the boy who had initiated the conflict, and Chad’s cohort Biff, while Miss Nakamoto, a petite First Grade Teacher with long black hair, escorted Andrew away from the scene.

And following close behind Andrew and Miss Nakamoto were Alice and Gina and Lynn, Alice declaring loudly, “We saw the whole thing, Miss Nakamoto. Chad and Biff started it because Andrew said girls could race with boys and they know I’m the fastest and they hate losing to me.”

Which is how Andrew became friends with Alice and was not so secretly in love with her for the next three years until she and her family moved to Canada and he never saw her again, except he did, only the next time she was thirteen and named Sara.

But before we get to Sara, we will end the Alice chapter of Andrew’s life by saying that at Lunch Recess on the last day of Fourth Grade, Alice approached Andrew and said she wanted to speak to him in private.

They walked across the playground to the big oak tree and Alice stood very close to him and said, “I’m really gonna miss you, Andrew. Every time I think about not living here anymore, I think about you and how much I like you.” Then she frowned and pouted at the same time, a combination Andrew found adorable. “I think I want to marry you. Would you like to marry me?”

“Yes,” said Andrew, without the slightest hesitation. “We’ll send each other letters and talk on the phone and visit each other during summer vacation and get married when we’re eighteen.”

“Okay, good,” said Alice, sighing with relief. “I’ll give you my new address in Canada.”

“And I’ll give you mine,” said Andrew, brimming with happiness.

Andrew wrote to Alice three times that summer after Fourth Grade. But she never wrote back. He was heartbroken until the beginning of Fifth Grade when he fell madly in love with Sharon Goldfarb who toyed with his affections for half the school year before going steady with, you guessed it, Chad.

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Little Movies Goes eee

Several weeks ago I announced the publication of Little Movies, my new book of fourteen short stories, refined versions of stories I posted on my blog a couple years ago. I said I would let you know when the e-books were online, and now they are. So…

I am happy to announce again the publication of my new book Little Movies: tales of love and transformation. I began the publishing process before the current crisis overtook us and now the book has come into being. Dramatic and often funny, these stories illuminate the transformative power of kindness, generosity, honesty, and love.

If you prefer your books in three-dimensions, handsome paperback copies of Little Movies may be ordered from your favorite bookstore or purchased from Amazon or Barnes & Noble for $16.95. 

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/164718357X/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i7

Barnes & Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/little-movies-todd-walton/1136701682

If you prefer e-books, the debut e-book versions are just $4.99. 

Apple http://books.apple.com/us/book/id1512512099

Kindle https://www.amazon.com/dp/B088C4T77G

Nook https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/little-movies-todd-walton/1136701682?ean=2940162720911

Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/little-movies

For those of you in England, the book is available in paperback or kindle from Amazon UK or from Waterstones.

And for those of you in Australia and New Zealand, the book is available in paperback and kindle from Amazon Australia.

Word-of-mouth is my sole means of promoting the book, so I hope you’ll consider sharing this announcement with your friends who love fiction and short stories. And if you do purchase Little Movies and enjoy the collection, I would be grateful for a review on the site where you purchased the book. 

Big thanks to those of you who have already ordered the book! Looking forward to hearing what you think of the stories.

Todd

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Those People

Maybe we were just moving too fast before the pandemic and before the shelter-in-place orders went into effect to notice what was going on. Maybe we weren’t here as much before we began sheltering in place and were less attentive to the state of the kitchen counters. Maybe we were entertaining guests before the pandemic, so the size of the mess didn’t strike us as unusual. Or maybe the perpetrators became more cavalier about their behavior as more and more time passed and we didn’t catch them at their dirty work.

In any case, we could no longer avoid the truth that far more dishes and cups and silverware were being used every day in our house than Marcia and I could possibly generate on our own.

We first became aware of the scope of the problem a couple weeks into sheltering-in-place when it dawned on us that washing the dishes after supper had gone from being a pleasant fifteen-minute affair to a grueling forty-five-minute marathon.

“Where did all these dishes come from?” I asked Marcia. “We had toast and tea for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and veggies and rice with one of your stellar salads for supper. Yet the kitchen looks like Julia Child and Guy Fieri just had a five-course cook-off in here.”

“Does seem like lots more dishes than usual,” Marcia opined. “Maybe we should start doing the dishes after breakfast, too.”

So we tried that, and at first it seemed to help a little, but then there came a night when virtually all our plates and bowls and mugs and glasses and pots and pans were stacked on the counters and stove top, all in desperate need of washing.

“This is hard to fathom,” I suggested, as I took a break after scrubbing the third frying pan of the session. “Almost as hard to fathom as life returning to what we used to call normal one day.”

“I know for a fact,” said Marcia, perusing the mountain of dishes yet to be washed and rinsed and dried and put away, “that I used almost none of these dishes today.”

“And I know a similar fact about my usage,” I replied. “Which can only mean one thing.”

“Other people,” said Marcia, her eyes narrowing, “must be coming in here and using dishes when we’re not looking.”

“When we’re in our studies or on walks or working outside,” I said, nodding in agreement.

“Let’s start doing the dishes after lunch, too,” Marcia suggested. “That should give us more data from which to determine the who and how and what and when of the situation.”

And so we instituted after-lunch dishwashing to go with after-breakfast dishwashing and after-supper dishwashing, yet the plague of dirty dishes continued.

We came to think of our nemeses as Those People. We even wrote a song about them that begins, Those people they get a thrill, using dishes willy-nil. We assumed they were people. Dogs and cats and skunks and deer can’t open refrigerators, take out pumpkin pie, cut pieces and place those pieces on dishes, fetch forks, pour cups of coffee, and so forth. Those are the kinds of things people do. Right? Right.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Don’t be silly, Todd. Obviously you and Marcia were generating all those dirty dishes and you just hadn’t been aware you were doing so much generating because the getting and eating of food is a largely unconscious act.

We thought that, too, and decided to do an experiment to prove conclusively whether or not we were Those People. We vowed to each use one bowl and one plate and one fork and one spoon for an entire day, and to rigorously not allow ourselves to use anything else, except, of course, the things we cooked with. If we were the only people generating dirty dishes, then by day’s end there should be, at most, two bowls, two plates, two forks, and two spoons to wash, and a pan or two.

And for a couple days that proved to be the case, but then the extra dishes began to proliferate again: and we knew it had to be Those People.

It was shortly after our experiment in Spartan dish usage came to an end that we began hearing the clanking and clinking sounds in the kitchen, and one afternoon, responding to a particularly loud outburst of clinking and clanking, I dashed into the kitchen and found a woman and a man sitting at our kitchen counter eating scrambled eggs and drinking coffee, another man making an elaborate sandwich, a boy eating a bowl of granola, and a girl eating chips and salsa and guacamole.

They were all startled by my sudden and unexpected arrival in the kitchen.

But before I could ask, “Who are you and what are you doing in our house?” the man making a sandwich said, “You may not be aware of this, but you’re almost out of mustard.”

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Vito’s Birthday Surprise

an adventure starring Vito, Jeremy, and Doofus

There are three best friends named Jeremy, Doofus, and Vito. They live in the same neighborhood. Doofus likes building interesting wooden structures and eating pizza. Jeremy likes playing Frisbee and singing. Vito has a big workshop and likes building machines and engines. They all love hunting for treasure.

One day Jeremy comes over to Doofus’s house and says, “Hey Doofus. Guess what happens five days from now?”

Doofus thinks for a moment. “The sun comes up. We ride bikes. I take a bath. We have pizza?”

“I mean something special,” says Jeremy. “Something about Vito.”

“We go on a treasure hunt?” asks Doofus. “And then go get pizza?”

“Maybe,” says Jeremy, “but that’s not the special thing.”

“Tell me,” says Doofus, frowning. “My head hurts from guessing.”

“It will be Vito’s birthday,” says Jeremy. “Let’s make him something really special.”

“Like a giant pizza?” says Doofus.

“Better than that,” says Jeremy. “A super duper treasure-hunting machine.”

“Oh but Vito is the best machine builder in the world,” says Doofus. “He’s the smartest, strongest, fastest, and cutest. How could we ever make a machine as good as the machines he already has?”

“Well, I don’t know,” says Jeremy, “but I think it would be fun to try.”

So they get lots of wood and bolts and nuts and build a structure as big as a giant house and they put forty-seven wheels on it. Now they make twenty-four engines with levers and gears and wires and batteries and attach them all over the inside of the structure.

“Wow,” says Doofus, admiring their work. “Let’s have a pizza break.”

After a lunch of delicious mushroom and cheese pizza, they get back to work.

They add five digging arms, a big saw arm, a telescope, wings, propellers, and a control panel with seventy-nine buttons and forty-three dials and nine screens.

Now they take the machine for a test run and fly down to the beach where they dig a giant pile of sand and using the special sculpting arm they create the biggest and strongest sand castle ever made that no waves can ever knock over.

In the sand castle they make bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, and a gigantic playroom with swings and a slide. They like the sand castle so much they decide to live there. They build a second sand castle where they keep the machine.

Now everything is ready. On Vito’s birthday they go to his house and tell him they have a surprise for him if he will agree to be blindfolded so he won’t know where he’s going.

“Sure. No problem,” says Vito, letting them blindfold him. He’s so smart he guesses they are taking him to the beach. When they get to the beach, they remove his blindfold and shout, “Happy Birthday!”

And even though Vito could easily build a bigger and better sand castle and a much bigger and better machine, he really likes the ones Jeremy and Doofus made for him. Now they go into the sand castle and there are lots of people waiting to shout SURPRISE!

Now everybody sings Happy Birthday to Vito and they have a huge birthday pizza followed by ice cream and chocolate cake. On the cake are five lit candles. Vito makes a wish and blows out all the candles with one breath.

“What was your wish?” asks Doofus.

“I wished everybody in the world could be happy,” says Vito.

“Yay!” says Jeremy. “That’s the best wish of all.”

The End

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Diego Kelly Gets A Glimpse

Think of this as a fable or a fairy tale, but whatever you do, don’t think this could possibly be true.

Diego Kelly is sixty-four. He has an older sister Luisa and a younger brother Juan. Their mother Maria was a hairdresser, their father Jerome a forklift operator. Diego and his siblings were born in Gilroy, California and called Gilroy home until their parents divorced when Luisa was twenty-five, Diego twenty-three, and Juan twenty. After the divorce, their mother moved to Fort Bragg, California while their father stayed in Gilroy.

Diego learned to play the guitar when he was six. From then on, until four months ago, writing songs was the central focus of his life. He dropped out of college after two years and moved to Los Angeles where he pursued a music career until he was thirty-three and discovered that several of his songs had been recorded by other recording artists claiming to have written his songs. Four of those stolen songs became huge hits, and when Diego’s many attempts to prove he’d been ripped off came to naught, he had a nervous breakdown.

Thereafter he lived with his mother in Fort Bragg until she died when Diego was forty-seven. She left him her little house and that’s where he lives today with his brown mutt Zero, his orange tabby Twyla, and his black tabby Magdalena. He makes his minimal living as a counterperson in a coffee house and until four months ago he had never in his life stopped playing his guitar and writing songs.

Important things to know about Diego are that he is kind and generous and friendly and fully recovered from his nervous breakdown, though he still sometimes feels mighty sad about having his songs and a successful career as a musician stolen from him.

So…

On a cold October evening after a long day behind the coffee house counter, Diego is in the kitchen of his commodious little house making quesadillas and guacamole and drinking a beer when someone knocks on his front door. Thinking the knocker must be Stella, a lovely woman he’s been courting for six months now without much success, Diego calls, “Come in” and the door opens admitting a most unusual person who is not Stella.

We will use the pronoun she when referring to the unusual person, though she is not obviously male or female. She is tall and strikingly beautiful, entirely bald, the dome of her skull perfectly round, her sparkling blue eyes enormous. She is wearing a gray tunic giving no hint of breasts, and black jeans giving little hint of hips, yet her facial features and the graceful way she moves makes Diego think she is a woman.

“Hello,” says Diego, hoping his visitor isn’t crazy. “May I help you?”

“Diego Kelly?” says the unusual person, her voice deep and giving no hint of gender.

“Yes?” says Diego, using the gentle tone of voice he uses when dealing with unhinged customers he occasionally encounters in the coffee house. “Who are you?”

The unusual person blinks three times and says, “Zah.”

At which moment Diego’s dog Zero enters from the backyard through his dog door, looks at Zah, and quite uncharacteristically does not bark or growl.

Zah smiles at Zero and says, “Dog.”

“You got that right,” says Diego, smiling curiously at his unusual visitor. “Here’s the situation, Zah. I’m in the middle of making supper and expecting a friend to arrive any minute, so…”

“No one will arrive,” says Zah, gazing intently at Diego. “Your time is suspended.”

“Okay,” says Diego, now convinced his visitor is a bit off kilter. “What can I do for you, Zah?”

She gestures to Diego’s sofa. “Join me on your cushion and I will explain.”

Diego takes a moment to assess Zah, and feeling no threat from her says, “Would you care for a beer?”

Zah blinks three times. “No thank you. Join me on your cushion and I will explain.”

Diego carries his beer to the sofa and sits down.

Zah crosses the room and sits next to Diego.

Diego waits for Zah to speak.

“You have not played your guitar in four of your moon cycles,” says Zah, gazing at the fire crackling in Diego’s fireplace. “You were writing a new song and stopped playing.”

Diego freezes. No one in the world knows he stopped playing the guitar four months ago, and no one in the world knows he stopped writing a new song.

“How do you know that?” he asks with a tremble in his voice.

“All is known,” says Zah, nodding. “Every sound is heard. Why did you stop writing your song?”

“Well…” says Diego, remembering the precise moment he put down his guitar and gave up on that oh so beautiful song. “I didn’t see the point in writing yet another song no one will hear. Or another song only a few people will hear because I force them to listen to me. I’m done with that. I’ve written hundreds of good songs. All for nothing. Why write another?”

“Your new song will be a vital thread,” says Zah, her voice full of urgency. “Your one hundred and sixty-seven songs are each vital threads. You are heard throughout the universe. Please resume writing your songs.”

Diego laughs. “Oh I get it now. I’m dreaming. A lucid dream. I love these. Excuse me while I make love with Stella and she won’t care I’m a pauper.”

Zah blinks three times. “You are not dreaming. Your song is a vital thread. Please resume writing your song. I will give you…” She blinks three more times. “What do you want, Diego Kelly? Tell me what you want and I will give it to you and you will resume writing your song.”

Diego places a hand on his heart and says sincerely, “All I ever wanted was for people to hear my music and… love me.”

“Your music is heard throughout the universe,” says Zah, nodding. “Your music provides vital threads in the Zantar Dimension, the Gorzoi Complex, the Zintaphor Range, and the Rezmigal Vortex. Without your vital threads the Borzon Cascade cannot…” She blinks. “Function.”

“Oh gimme a break,” says Diego, hot with anger. “I’m heard throughout the universe but not here on earth?” He glares at Zah. “I don’t know who you are or how you knew I gave up on that song, but I’m done writing songs nobody hears. Now get out of my house.”

Zah rises. “I will go now. You cannot be replaced, but if you will not resume writing your songs we will find other ways to continue. Know this, Diego Kelly. Universe created you to write songs to be vital threads. That is why you are here now in your body. Goodbye.”

And Zah disappears.

“Wow,” says Diego, getting up from his sofa and returning to the kitchen. “Doesn’t get much weirder than that.”

Now Stella arrives and gives Diego an unexpectedly long and loving hug followed by a tender kiss.

“To what do I owe…” begins Diego.

“You’re just the greatest,” says Stella, kissing him again. “Why I didn’t kiss you four months ago, I’ll never know.”

fin

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Ongoing News

These three beautiful does are sisters. Seen from our north-facing living room window, their mother is partially visible far left center, obscured by the deck railing. The four of them come to visit us every day and are not terribly afraid of us if we keep our distance.

We don’t feed the deer, though I occasionally throw an apple core out there for them. The resident ravens know of these occasional apple cores and frequently get to them before the deer come around again. Our neighbor Defer does feed the neighborhood deer, which explains why many of them make his yard their base of operations.

Every year, save for one of the eight since we’ve lived here, the mother of these three does has given birth to twin fawns. One of these three young does gave birth last year for the first time. We have yet to see any fawns this year, but the time is fast approaching when fawns emerge from their nests to follow their mothers about.

 As reported in a previous news report, I am splitting rounds of bull pine and stacking them to dry. This is a view of the stack from the west.

And this is a picture of the second track of pine that will soon be as high or higher than the stack to the left. I stack firewood this way to create lots of air space around the pieces to hasten the seasoning process. We want that wood ready to burn when we move it into the woodshed six months hence in October.

This is the most recent jigsaw puzzle Marcia put together. I helped a little, and by a little I mean I placed three or four pieces where they needed to go. Marcia very much enjoyed assembling this jigsaw puzzle and I found it delightful to walk by and see our precious world coming together.

This is Vito the day before he turned five feeling happy about getting to preview his birthday cupcake, photo courtesy of Vito’s mom Clare. Vito is my story pal. We talk on the phone every day since I can’t visit with him in-person due to the dang virus. The phone visits started out with me telling him versions of stories we invented together before the pandemic and those stories have evolved in all sorts of surprising ways since the daily phone sessions began.

These stories all involve three boys who are best friends: Vito, Jeremy, and Doofus. Vito is quick to point out that the Vito in our stories is not him, but another boy who just happens to also have the name Vito. And purely by chance, I’m sure, the Vito in these stories is possessed of intelligence, strength, and magical powers second to none.

This is a picture of Vito’s dad Nick. For Vito’s birthday, Nick arranged a Zoom gathering. Vito’s aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfather and friends came together on a dozen computer screens in California and Philadelphia and England to wish Vito a happy fifth birthday. We watched Vito open presents and eat a birthday cupcake. We also watched each other watching Vito.

I took a picture or two of the screen during the Zoom party. I found the experience both sweet and strange. This new way of gathering holds little appeal for me, though I did enjoy seeing all those people focusing their loving attention on Vito.

Later on Vito’s birthday, Nick and Clare drove Vito over to get his birthday presents from us, those presents being two of the Vito-Doofus-Jeremy adventures printed out in large type for his folks to read to Vito and for Vito to read when he is a little older. They brought birthday cupcakes and a jigsaw puzzle of England for Marcia.

Vito was sequestered in the car and Marcia and I were wearing masks at the start of the visit, but eventually Vito negotiated his release and got out and ran around and climbed on things while we kept our masks on and maintained the required distances between us all. A fun visit, minus hugs at the end.

Vito and his mother and father are moving to Switzerland in a few months to live there for many years. They are eager to make the move, but enjoying their last few months here in Mendocino. We are hoping to have a few more in-person visits, however brief, before they depart.

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More Big News

This is our three-year-old White Winter Permain apple tree. A few years ago I wrote a blog article entitled Of Apples and Accordions in which I mentioned the White Winter Permain by quoting from the esteemed volume Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory.

“Permain, White Winter (Winter Permain)—Oldest known English Apple; dates back to 1200 A.D. Medium to nearly large, round to oval, light greenish fruit turning pale yellow with numerous dots. Fine-grained, crisp, tender, juicy flesh. Pleasantly rich aromatic flavor. Fine quality all-purpose apple. Excellent keeper.”

Our friend Susan Waterfall was intrigued by this description and bought two yearling specimens of the old apple tree and gave one to me. I planted the little beauty in the center of our orchard, and this year for the first time the tree has set some lovely blossoms. Whether her root system is developed enough to support the bearing of fruit remains to be seen, but we are hopeful of getting a little apple or two from her by summer’s end.

In other big news, my friend Max inquired about how I learned to play the piano. Rather than write a lengthy history involving the sadistic piano teacher who scared me away from the piano when I was seven, my reunion with the piano as a teenager, and my decades of teaching myself how to play without knowing how to read music, I wrote the following.

I taught myself to play by finding repeatable patterns of notes and chords I play with my left hand that I like the sound of. When I find a pattern I like, I keep playing the pattern of notes and chords until I get good at sustaining a steady rhythm with that pattern (often very simple), and then I try out notes and chords to play with the pattern using my right hand until I find combos of sounds (pattern and accompaniments) I like and then I play the combos until I can play them without thinking too much so I can then improvise with them or just repeat them and sing to them or tap my feet and imagine a drummer playing with me. As I continue to practice these “tunes” my mind seems to enjoy changing things up and variations emerge. Something like that.

 Love’s Body

Next up we have this amazing purple vine flower. The vine in question has been growing near the doorway of our woodshed for who knows how long, decades probably, but I never saw the vine’s flowers until today because every year since we’ve lived here, prior to this year, I would by now have weed whacked the tall grass in the yard and cut down the fledgling vine before I might have distinguished it from the surrounding grasses.

However, we had so little rain this past winter, the grass has not grown very high, and because I have tons of other yard work to occupy me, I have yet to do any weed whacking so far this year. Several morals to this tale occur to me.

From neglect may bloom astonishing beauty.

The late bird catches the gorgeous blossom.

Given time, hidden beauty sometimes stops hiding.

Nature knows what she’s doing if we allow her to do what she knows.

Finally in today’s big news, I have been repeating lately, “How can people be so stupid and shortsighted?” when I read about the truly insane and murderous things various states and countries are doing in response to the dang virus, specifically the loosening of restrictions and mitigation protocols when all known research tells us this is a very bad idea and will result in tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

For some days I suffered from the delusion that this kind of willful disregard for all that is good and decent and right is proof of new and greater levels of ignorance and stupidity. But then Marcia reminded me of why I quit the Santa Cruz commune I was a member of in the early 1970s, and I realized that high-level ignorance and stupidity is nothing new.

To be brief, I lived in a twelve-person commune for two years and created for that collective an enormous vegetable and herb garden that produced a large portion of the vegetables we consumed. In those simpler times, I made my minimal living as a gardener and musician and intended to live in that commune for many more years until…

Two of our members moved out, thus creating two openings for new members. We had a large number of applicants. Two of those aspiring to join us were a brilliant charming creative woman and an equally brilliant and creative and charming man. They were not a couple and did not know each other. They were, in my estimation, the most ideal members we could ever have. Yet when it came to the final vote, my fellow communards selected two dimwits with nothing to recommend them except they were no threat to the fragile egos of the majority of those in the commune.

Yes, all the men in the commune voted for the brilliant creative woman, and all the women voted against her. And all the women voted for the brilliant creative man, and all the men, save for me, voted against him. I was stupefied and depressed by what I felt was the emotional idiocy of my housemates, and so resigned my place in the commune and took my dreams of utopia elsewhere.

But maybe I was wrong. Maybe those dimwits blossomed into human marvels, and maybe it is a fine thing that thousands of people will die so a bunch of cranky impatient deeply ignorant people can get haircuts and go to pubs and tanning salons and spread the dang virus hither and yon. Who am I to say?

And that’s our big news for today.

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Big News

I might have called this News, but thought the addition of Big would attract more readers.

These are some of the foodstuffs we recently purchased from our wonderful food co-op Corners of the Mouth. We scrubbed all these goodies with soapy water and then rinsed them as a precaution against the dang virus. We recently learned that hot water does not kill the dang virus. The soapsuds do the killing.

We have heard that many people do not wash their groceries. Are we overdoing our precautionary measures? Having seen people fondling avocados and bananas and cans of beans and then not buying them, I feel better about washing the food and canned goods and milk cartons rather than not.

This is the biggest and most prolific of the apple trees in our little orchard. She also produces our biggest apples. I’m not certain what kind of apples they are. Reddish green, greenish red. Sweet and juicy. Possibly a McIntosh variant. The number of blossoms promise plentiful fruit, but we have had some big blooming years that were not big fruit years. Fingers crossed.

The red flowers around the tree expand their range in the orchard every year. Passersby often stop to take pictures of them. Something about that red.

I woke a couple days ago with the idea to create tracks of split wood on which I’ll stack the wood from the rounds of pine I’m splitting. In the past I would make consecutive stacks, but making tracks like this for the base seems like something neato to try. A variation on a theme.

That’s my big news for today.