Category Archives: Friendship

Home.

Home is where you hang your hat. Home is where they have to take you in, if you have to go there. It’s in your heart. It’s with your family….

As I type, I am in the kitchen of the Backpackers Hostel in Ensenada, Mexico. I’m drinking tea, munching on a dark chocolate Milky Way.  It occurs to me that I am capable of making myself ‘at home’ just about anywhere in the world. But, I’ve  been seven years on the road. Seven years!

A year or so ago I began to long for my own home, to make a place for me again. I want my art on the walls, mementos of my trips, photos of my family and friends, a pot of tomatoes, some herbs, a bunch of red geraniums trailing over a wall, or porch railing, the smell of laven

 Lake Isabella

Lake Isabella

Entrance to Kern Preserve

Entrance to Kern Preserve

Kern Preserve

Kern Preserve

Cabin interior

Cabin interior

Moving crew

Moving crew

Mis Amigas

Mis Amigas

The Cabin

The Cabin

Wildflowers in the front yard

Wildflowers in the front yard

der, a hammock, a clothes line, the freedom to be naked if the mood strikes, if it’s sufficiently warm out.

It never occurred to me when I sold my house that I would miss it. Then again, maybe it’s not the house I miss. I began to travel a couple of years after my son died. Maybe its him I miss. Perhaps it’s my friends: belonging, the comfort of being accepted-warts and all. It’s being around like-minded,  folks who care about each other-who care about me.

A couple of months ago I packed Margaret, my Mini, and headed across the US back to California. At present I am at Brandon’s in Venice where I lived over a decade-longer than anywhere I’ve ever lived. But, Venice is congested, and expensive, and the mountains are calling me. The music my talented friends play, beckons. The warmth of affection, solitude to write, hiking trails, laughter.

A couple of weeks ago, I was back in Tehachapi and Kernville.  Being there was easy. Being with friends is that: easy. Uncomplicated.  I’m ready for easy; knowing the language, where the post office is, biking to the bank. I’m ready to resume my soirées, St. Patrick’s day parties; ready to write more, maybe finally get the one woman show underway, the books published, to hang out with old friends, make a few new ones, to make a home for me again.

 

Muskogee, OK, North America

Creek Nation Casino

Creek Nation Casino

Kate & Ruby

Kate & Ruby

image image1,134 miles across North America and I’ve reached Muskogee, OK. Muskogee was not on my bucket list. However, it’s just a four hour drive from Lawrence, KS, where my friend Kate lives, so it seemed a good place to rendezvous on my drive across North America. 

Muskogee is a quiet town. Kate, Mary Jane,  and I are crusing Main Street. No one is burning their draft cards, probably because we haven’t had a draft since Merle Haggard put Muskogee on the map, but Old Glory does still wave from the court house. I didn’t see any white lightening at the new Creek Nation Casino, but the hot chicken salad smothered with yellow cheddar cheese was a first, and the wine too sour for me to drink. Not a first, but close.

I took several photos of  inside the casino and the  cleaning lady held down the button on my iphone taking several priceless photos of Kate and me before the guard stopped our illegal actions. Casinos- such a surreal place to to throw  your money away.

Was Merle’s guitar blue?

Unfortunately, The Museum of the Three Civilized Tribes was closed, but the park was bustiling with children and folks walking around the lake. We slid down the yellow tube slide at a  smaller park, shrieking like old ladies,  and watched the Canadian Geese forage for acorns until a woman in a near-by house brought out the bread. Salt and sugar over raw nuts anytime!  

Canadian Geese Muskogee

Canadian Geese
Muskogee

Kate and I met in the early 80s. We lost touch, but she tracked me down through the  internet. Now, We are righteous, old liberal women, agast that our country has been taken over by corporations, and worst of all, that folks don’t seem to notice. Still, we find many things to laugh about, and Kate, bless her, can even remember some of my long retired, comedy routines.

Last night in Amrillo, TX,  I had supper at a restaurant that sported a large sign MEXICAN FOOD. Enuff said. The home made mole was delicious.

Today, I’ll drive 4 or 5 hours to Albuquerque where I’ll spend a couple of days visiting my new friend, Sanda, whom I met, along with her mother. Rosa,  in Puerto Narino, Colombia,  during the summer.

The road, new friends, old friends. Hose me down.

 

 

 

It’s all about the people.

The history of ancient cultures  seen in the ruins or museums are worth comtemplating and give one  perspective, but it’s the people you meet, the things you learn about other cultures, and the sharing, however small, of food, drink, dance, ideas, a laugh,  maybe even tears that one remembers. Some will keep in touch on FB, some you will see again, and some you talk to just a few minutes. In many cultures, the people are very private about having their picture taken, when they do, it is a gift. I am grateful that many people granted me the priviledge. All encounters are responsible for shaping the traveler’s memory,   how we remember the experience as a whole. Thank you all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Day in Mancora, Peru

I wish I had been

Took the plunge

Took the plunge

Heading to hang on to put on mask

Heading to hang on to put on mask

Sebastian hanging on to tortuga.  yikes!

Sebastian hanging on to tortuga. yikes!

Ruby putting on snorkle mask

Ruby putting on snorkle mask

big  tortuga

big tortuga

dead manta ray said to taste like chicken!

dead manta ray
said to taste like chicken!

Blue footed booby

Blue footed booby

Pelligan feeding frenzy

Pelligan feeding frenzy

north beach Mancora, Peru

north beach Mancora, Peru

more beach Mancora

more beach Mancora

wearing a video camera yesterday, because it was one of those days I  want to remember.

First there was the swimming with the tortugas. The goodness was two-fold. The first was that I was not alone, which is frequently the case when I’m traveling. I was invited by Sebastian, a delightful young Colombian man who is working and living here at Psygon. When the  entire staff closed up shop and piled into the well-used car: four in the back and two in the front, I wondered, “Would they speak rapid Spanish and exclude me or was I really part of the party?”

As it turned out, language had no bearing on the experience. They were sharing with me. Paloma and I, girls to the core, thought the tortugas were scary and yelled every time one of them came close. After all, there were all those warning signs. When we yelled, the guys laughed. It was so typical and, I might add, had nothing to do with the weaker sex, for certainly we aren’t.

The other thing is that I wasn’t patronized in any way-ever. If I had asked for help  it would have been freely given. But, I didn’t, so it wasn’t.

After we got home I decided to go for a bottle of vino. Surprise. I walked  the 100 feet to the  beach. the wind was blowing sand around. Standing there, shielding their eyes from the stinging sand, were two girls, maybe 9 or 10. They asked me where I was going. I told them to the store for wine. They said they would go with me, that I was fuerte,(strong), and they would be seguro (safe) with me. hahaha.

We walked, talking and laughing. I found out that they live in the barrio close to the hostel. that they are Essie and Mia. They learned  I have daughters and grandkids in the US, that my name is Ruby.  I had no camera with me. I was just going doing a quick  wine run. We saw a huge elephant seal dead on the beach. It was looking straight at us, its tongue hanging out. Really creepy we all agreed.

When the beach ended, I started up the sand into an empty lot to a street I assumed was there somewhere. Mia and Essie stopped me. They pointed to the rocky sea wall in front of the buildings blocking the way to the next small beach. Piled sand bags interspersed with the rocks. The tide was coming in, splashing over them pounding into the buildings. “Prisa! ” (hurry). I leapt like a gazelle over the sand before the next wave arrived, and jumped onto the first batch of  bags. The girls were behind me.  After the sand bags, came the rocas-big slippery ones. Essie took the lead, then Mia. As we laughed and jumped like mountain goats over the rocks, she sometimes reached back to give me a hand. “Come, Mama.” So sweet.

At the end was a small beach. Standing there was a woman in a big flowered hat and equally big sunglasses, who I thought for a minute was their mom, but who turned out to be an Asian tourist. She was surprised to see us emerge from the rocks.

“That was fun,” I laughed. “You’re American,” she assumed. “Yes. These girls are great! They are bonito and muy fuerte.” The girls smiled. “They are Peruvian?” “Yes. They are fabulous.” She was surprised to find a wet  American grandmother climbing over rocks with Peruvian children?

I thanked the girls and went to find the wine store. On the way back to the hostel I stopped and bought a bag of sweet buns. I decided to walk through the barrio, and got lost. After getting directions from some guys hanging out  on a porch, I rounded the corner that they said would lead me to the hostel. There were Essie and Mia! just coming back from their afternoon frolic. They were hungry, coming home to eat. I opened my bag and offered them buns. They each took one, thanked me and went on.

Often in other countries, I am asked for money by children. Not here in Peru. I have been over charged by taxis, but not often. Peruvians, like their ancestors, are a proud people, they don’t beg-at least where I have been so far. The folks I’ve met have been open, honest and giving.

The exchanges I’ve had have been genuine. I’ve had intimate conversations with a few folks now, and have made friends. Each place I go, I find it difficult to leave.

 

 

 

 

Everything’s gonna be alright.

Cathedral de Bolivar, Centro Bogota

Cathedral de Bolivar, Centro Bogota

It was an inauspicious beginning. I waited 12 hours to get a flight out of Charleston with the warning that the flight into Bogota was over booked too. So, I expected to sit in the Houston airport another 12 hours. Never give up hope. 11PM. I napped as seemingly hundreds of Colombians poured into the gate area. Finally, 11:40 I went up to the agent. “Any chance at all I’ll get on this flight?” “Si. No problem. That man will call your name in a few minutes” Woohoo!!

Soon, I was cozied into seat 3A. First class, room to sleep, a nice glass of red wine before take-off to help the process. When we were airborne I had another. The young, quite handsome, guy who spoke no English, next to me rolled over into the console between us  knocking the deep red zinfandel onto my beige jean jacket. “No problemo, I assured him. Esta solemento una jacketa.” Maybe I made sense. He got some paper towels  from the bano to help me clean up.

Protest photos on main ave in downtown. Mostly showing photos of the homeless

Protest photos on main ave in downtown. Mostly showing photos of the homeless

A few minutes later as I was filling out the tourist form, big drops of black ink dotted the form. I blotted them with my napkin and kept on. Later, the customs agent would peer at them  skeptically. “Ink, I said. Disculpe.” She waved me on.

In Bogota I went into the airport bathroom to freshen up, and found that my makeup Revlon (natural beige)  had spilled. Omg.  Such a sticky  substance.

At 9:30 am, Two hours later (24 hrs after I left Charleston) I was sleeping on a couch at La Pinta Hostel when Albero showed up. I had told him to wait until I called him, that I hadn’t had any sleep. He didn’t listen. He told the clerk at the hostel that he was taking me and would bring me back tomorrow. She smiled. I was whisked away.

Verduras & fruitas

Verduras & fruitas

 

Alberto's finca en San Francisco, Colombia

Alberto’s finca en San Francisco, Colombia

image

 

On the way to the Catherdral de Sal, he stopped at a house in Bogota. “It is my house, but I give it to my ex-wife because she give me children.” “Fair enough, I think.” He introduces us. Claire I think, but find out later it’s Clara. I like her. She gets into the car. 

Clara y Ruby

Clara y Ruby

 

 

The three of us sped off. For the the next 24 hours we tour the catherdral, have dinner, and spend the night at his lovely finca in the country.  In my honor Alberto plays John Phillip Souza marches and a compilation of classic country music.

image      

My Friend, Virginia

Virginia and Kirk

Virginia and Kirk

I don’t know why she died, or how. I heard her neighbor found her dead,  in her tiny house at the end of the street, overlooking the hills of El Sobrante. She loved those hills.  I heard she was alone,  except for her dogs. One of them “a nasty little Chihauha you should adopt,” she told me, laughing, during our last conversation on the phone. ” He doesn’t  mean to be bad, he just had a bad time of it before I got him.  But, he is a pain in the ass.” For Virginia, dogs were companions, so maybe we shoudn’t think of her dying alone.

I met Virginia in San Francisco in 1979, at the  Holy City Zoo, a small, hole-in-the-wall comedy club on Clement Street. On any given night, you could hang out on the sidewalk with the likes of  Robin Williams, Dana Carvy,  and countless other comics who went on to become celebrities.

During the day, as we all  know, Virginia was a tireless advocate for animal rights. As the Western Coordinator for The Fund For Animals, her work was never finished. She was frequently in her office in Ft. Mason until the early morning , organizing legislative points to confront politicians with the following day in Sacramento. The office  was filled to the brim with piles of legislative stuff,  books, dusty animal related  retail products such as tee shirts, note cards,  and handmade jewelry donated to The Fund. The only comfortable place to sit was a  hairy couch, which one shared with her current dogs, rescues from dog hells: the street, short backyard chains, beatings, the kill pound-harder dog times.  A few assorted chairs were there for volunteers, and other visitors. And files-thousands of them. Virginia could produce files on any animal subject, tell you which bill and politicians to to vote for, books to read, documentaries to watch…anything and everything animal related. For almost a decade we  spent frequent nights there, smoking pot, drinking wine, and laughing while we sorted paper into piles that only made sense to her. 

The Fund paid Virginia  a pittance,  and no benefits, but she forged on,  year after year, decade after decade, fueled by passion for the animals who could not speak for themselves.

But, my friend, Virginia was far more complex than her composed, understated image projected. She was an artist. She surpassed being a triple threat; she could sing, dance, act, and write. A few evenings a week, (up to seven if she was in a community play) Virginia unleashed her artistic talent. Her comedy consisted of animal themed irony that she wrote herself and organized by subject in spiral notebooks. Her jokes didn’t kill, but got a steady stream of smiles, and a few laughs, but they were heartfelt, and her delivery was right on. And, she read for the blind. And,  did  radio theatre. “It was difficult to get used to, but now I really enjoy it.” she told me.

You couldn’t not like Virginia.  She was genuine. She was good and kind, and like her mom, Grace, she had no ego. Self wasn’t important to her. Her entire life was spent helping others. I admired that, and loved her.
 

Once, when I had moved to LA, Virginia called to tell me she would be spending a couple of weeks at a house in the San  Fernando Valley, going through the belongings of Camille, a woman who had died and left everything to the Fund. “Would you  like to help me?”

From the outside, Camille’s house looked like a regular three bedroom California ranch. Inside, it was an untamed, jungle of artifacts and precious documents that told the story of Camille and her husband, who had been comedians during vaudeville. Virginia, with more patience than I, sat on Camille’s sofa for hours reading sixty years of correspondence from people who had loved Camille. She discovered that Camille, who in her prime, had been a six foot tall, natural red head, gorgeous in every way. Plus, we were astonished to learn, for years she  had been the elegant woman in the flowing gown,  perched on neck of the the lead elephant in Ringling  Bros. Barnam and Bailey Circus.

Camille’s house was a trip through architectural decades, and journeys to other countries. One room of her house was the sewing room where she designed and sewed her own colorful costumes. The ‘pink’ room, with its neon pink wall, and combo 50’s/deco furniture, had been her husband’s, who had become an alcoholic and admittedly, according to the neighbors, had been of little help to Camille when she became ill.

As Virginia and I read, dug through stacks of magazines, and unearthed artifacts from over-stuffed closets, we both fell under Camille’s spell, and became her biggest fans. By the time we left, she had become our sister.

Virginia  and John Cantu, the bartender, maybe manager,  at the The Zoo,  became an item. John was a presence in the comedy scene. Swarthy, a salesman, and  masher par excellence, he told me once, “If I hit on 10 women, odds are I’ll get laid at least once.”  Most of the female comics  avoided him, at least in any intimate way, but Virginia saw something else in John, a gentleness and intelligence most of us didn’t notice. After they were no longer lovers, they were steadfast friends until John died an early death maybe fifteen  or so years ago.

During the seven years I lived in San Francisco, and when I visited her, Virginia and I frequented Bay Area piano bars.  I knew two or three old standards, and a couple of obscure Cole Porter songs; Virginia would produce  a fat binder filled with songs,  and the key she sang them in. She was partial to Patsy Cline. I swear, when she  sang Crazy,  it could have been Patsy up there singing her heart out.

We also played senior centers. Virginia, my daughters, Alice and Anna, who were not even teenagers yet, and a piano player she’d talked into accompanying us, would spend an afternoon every few months singing and tapping for the toughest  audiences I ever performed for. Virginia would sing songs most of the audience could relate to, and even knew the words to. They loved her.  I would do a few minutes of comedy, (that was frequently ignored, if not scorned), and  sing a couple more  songs. My daughter, Alice, played the flute, and Anna, my youngest, sang songs from the musical Annie.  Occasionally Virginia, Anna, and I would do a tap routine.

Virginia, Anna, and I all  took tap lessons from Jean Anderson, another eccentric woman with old-time show business connections in San  Francisco. When Anna landed a part in the USF production of ‘Annie’, Virginia and Jean helped her practice, and Virginia helped drive  her to rehearsals.

Virginia danced with Jean for years, in productions throughout the city. Several years ago, I sent Virginia some photos I had taken of her and Jean tapping in the Bandshell in Golden Gate Park. How I wish I had kept a few of them.

I will never forget a Gay Pride Parade that she convinced me to tap  in. We were dressed, well made up actually, as animals,(cats, dogs, bunnies, bears…).  We tapped along Castro Street to disco music that blared from someone’s boom box, smiling and waving. We hadn’t expected the music which threw our rehearsed routine way off, but we adjusted and danced with gusto the duration of the parade. After tapping on the asphalt for an hour,  my feet were blistered, and my legs so tired I could barely drive home. “We’ll have to think up something else for next year, she said, something that blends better with disco music,”  she laughed.

I spent the millennium New Year’s Eve with Virginia at a boring party somewhere in the East Bay with friends of hers who she said “were dull at any time. I can’t imagine why I’d think the world possibly ending would make them any more entertaining.”

We left early, taking the ice cream we’d brought to share, and parked by the lagoon in Berkeley, smoked a joint, ate the ice cream with a shared spoon,  and chastised ourselves for not going downtown to be with the masses, which was where we really wanted to be if the world was coming to an end.

When I decided to go on the road as a full time comic, I needed an answering service. Virginia suggested that her Mom, Grace, might be interested. Grace was as gracious, and kind as  Virginia, and possessed the same understated  wit I loved so much in my friend. Because of childhood polio she didn’t get out much, and had become the Animal Switchboard, a general  call center (her kitchen), for animal related concerns and questions.  When I asked her if she’d be interested, she said, “I’ll have to answer the phone, Animal Switchboard.”  “No problem, I answered, I am one.”  

So, for several years, Grace fielded calls from agents, boyfriends,  my children, and my mother,  who lived in Pennsylvania. If she didn’t know exactly where I was at the time,  she handled the issues in a motherly, yet professional way, making sure everyone felt satisfied.

Throughout the decades, where ever we happened to be,  Virginia and I would spent hours on the phone late at night, talking politics, comedy, and general blarney. Our reminiscing caused chortles of laughter, and our equal distain for radical conservatives, most especially the NRA, set our teeth gnashing.

Once or twice a year, when one or the other of us were on a road trip,  we managed to spend a few days together. Last fall she edited a small book of stories, Irish Mongrel Child, for me. Her edits were brutal. I was unhappy, and called her to work through the manuscript. Virginia, soothed my ruffled feathers,  and listened with understanding   to my concerns. Some of her edits were brilliant, others scrapped, our friendship solid.

After Cleveland Amory died, the Fund for Animals was run from NY, apparently by some young folks who had no clue how important  Virginia’s work and lobbying efforts were in California, but they continued to support her with a diminished budget. Virginia used what little money she had to keep her  gargantuan, and if you were an animal in CA, this is not an exaggeration, efforts going.

Her long-time friend,  Norman, who was a Canadian, twenty years her senior,  truly brilliant, eccentric, physicist, who worked with lasers, helped her keep a series of used cars functioning. Eventually, they moved into a house in El Sobrante together, and got married when he suffered a stroke. “I need to have executive power over his care,” she told me. A year or so later, she said, “Nobody has ever asked if we are married. Really, the medical profession doesn’t give a shit.”

Virginia continued to live in the house- a building that would have been condemned  if anyone had seen the inside. The back deck had long fallen off, the plumbing leaked, the floors and walls  were rotting.  Both of them were hoarders; but she was an organized one.

Virginia agonized over what to do with the contents of Norman’s numerous metal file cabinets. “Rent  a dumpster,” I suggested. “Let’s throw everything out.” “Oh, I couldn’t so that,” she admonished me.  “Some of it is very valuable scientific information.” And, true to her nature, she eventually found a man who valued it, and carted some of Norman’s stuff off. She moved a block away into a small, 900 sq ft. or so  house, with a view of the mountains she love so much.

As far as I know, Virginia was the only person concerned about her  brother, Larry, who is learning  challenged living in Oregon. He had been in San  Francisco until Virginia’s sister uprooted him, and spent  his considerable savings account which he had  saved year after year, working as a grocery clerk.  She apparently spent it, and now he lives alone  in a mobile home. If anyone knows where he is , I would like to contact him.

Eventually, The Fund was taken over by the Humane  Society of the US. I don’t remember  the political  justification, but I definitely remember her telling me that she had been let go with a paltry $7,000.00 severance pay-after decades of service in animal rights, and a warning not to  to divulge  the amount. She bought another used car, and continued her trips to Sacramento to lobby for PAC, the committee she founded, and kept the AnimalSwitchboard going.

For the last few years,  never having had much, Virginia  now lived in poverty. Her social security was under a thousand dollars a year, and her rent, I think she told me,  was over $800.00. She  counted on her food stamps to eat. We had several discussions about the conservative rights disregard for the poor; their idea that everyone worthwhile should be able to earn money.

When I saw her last fall, she gave me several past date New Yorker magazines she had gotten from the library. ” I like to come up with captions for the blank cartoon on the back page, but of course, someone gets to it before I do. I think mine are funnier sometimes, though,” she laughed. No doubt.

I always gave her fifty or sixty dollars,  and if I’d had any more to spare, I would have given it to her freely, but, I also live on a scant budget. Driving across the country to my daughter’s in SC, I  thought about what I could do to raise some money for her. I wrote to the  Ellen Degeneres show because they give cars and money away to those in need,  and I wrote a story about Animal Switchboard for the  San Francisco Chronicle that I hoped would generate some money to keep her, and it, going.  Nothing became of either.

 I’m not a religious person, but Virginia was Catholic. If there is a heaven, my friend is there- sharing her goodness from above. She is dancing, singing, laughing- making life better. I hope she finds my son, Kirk. They were great friends; both candidates for sainthood.