9.26.2023Mama has, over the past two years, become obsessed with compost.
She monitors her compost pile religiously. Right now it is swarming with soldier fly larvae. On Rosh Hashanah, when I accidentally left some honey cake out overnight, she told me not to fret: “it will make a lovely new year’s treat for the boys.”
A little more green material. A little more shredded paper. A little more moisture. Too much moisture! More shredded paper needed to combat the excess moisture! Not enough heat. Some more apple peels… Just right.
She is magnificent. She is directing the progression from trash to dirt. She is orchestrating some great symphonic decomposition.
9.24.2023 [LIVE STREAMING KOL NIDRE]Today we went to the cemetery. I haven’t been to the cemetery in a very very long time.
It was pretty busy at the cemetery. There were a lot of flowers and a lot of people – for these are the days of awe!
A funeral service had just ended at the chapel, assumedly for a big Dodgers fan, or for a Giants fan loathed by his nearest and dearest – other than a few men in suits, everyone was wearing Dodgers jerseys. I didn’t mistake them for actual Dodgers players, though. They didn’t look like actual Dodgers players. A lot of them were middle-aged women. None of the real Dodgers are middle-aged women.
We parked at the wrong cemetery lot. We drove up the hill and stopped at the lot that we thought was the right lot, but it wasn’t – it was one lot too soon. The lot where we parked (which was one too soon) was active. There were flowers. There were people. Two young people stood quietly next to a 1992-2007. There was this big group further back – a family – all ages – talking – gathered – laughing – multigenerational – communal.
I felt sad about the two young people. I felt sad about their 1992-2007. I felt jealous of the big family, even though I couldn’t see their dates: they looked so family.
When we realized our mistake, we walked up the hill, past the low wall (granite?) to the correct funereal subdivision. Everything looks different now. The cemetery has grown. The Christian cemetery on the other side of the fence used to be way over there but is now right here. Things have sprawled and connected. Bodies have been planted and planted.
We found the stone (it’s not really stone, it’s metal set in concrete) with “G-- S--” and his years. Mama said she wishes the words on it were less formal. She didn’t use “beloved” because she never liked the word “beloved” but did leaving off “beloved” make it sound like he wasn’t beloved? She wishes she had thought of a word that adequately and accurately communicated the immensity of our love.
I told her I’m sure it’s alright, I don’t think he would have minded about the wording.
Can he possibly be here? Is he here? Is he – here? Is he down there? Is he more here than he is elsewhere?
I set the slightly grubby foliage I’d brought from the garden – salvia, white roses, rosemary, pomegranate – on his grave. Someone else had left a rock nuzzled up against his headstone, painted with a sunset and a cactus. Who had left it? And why?
Two dragonflies were mating. They hovered - locked in each other, buzzing as one cohesive sexual unit - over a beloved Russian father brother grandfather and great-grandfather.
Are you here? Were you ever here? Are you down there? Is what’s left of you down there? And what is left of you? And is it here? And is any of it here? And was any of it ever here?
The dragonflies kept mating.
And what did I feel? How did this all make me feel?
I needed to pee – that is what I felt. I felt the need to pee. Pee is like that. It fills you so full. There isn’t room for anything else. Needing to pee is like that – it hones feelingness and points it towards one goal.
We walked back to the car and drove down the hill. I peed in the chapel restroom. The Dodgers had all left. The Dodgers are departed.
We stopped at the faux waterfall by the cemetery exit. I dutifully rinsed left hand right hand with the bike-locked tin cup. Micah tried using the hand dryer embedded in a faux-boulder, but said it was broken.
We went to the zoo.
By the time we got home, our new neighbors had cut down most of their jacaranda tree and accidentally a bit of our pear tree with it. Everything looks so different now.
Grant us pardon as the gates begin to close! Grant me pardon, specifically! I would very much like it! I have made mistakes! I have made so [beat] so [beat] so [beat] so [beat] many mistakes! I have been slimy [beat] I have been wriggly [beat] I have been stupid [beat] I have been stagnant [beat] I have been empty of thoughts [beat] I have been full of pee [beat].
.וְעַל כֻּלָּם אֱלֽוֹהַּ סְלִיחוֹת. סְלַח לָֽנוּ. מְחַל לָֽנוּ. כַּפֶּר לָֽנוּ
9.13.2023I am not sure if it was because it was September 11th, or because of the recent smash-and-grabs at the Americana at Brand, or because some other threat had been freshly intercepted or identified or imagined, but the Grove was dotted with armed guards. Not paramilitary or anything. Just black-clad man/woman duos probably younger than me – pink-cheeked – chest out – hand-on-gun. You had to practically squeeze between two at the east entrance.
I am not sure if it was because of the guards, or because it was September 11th, or because it was a Monday, or because the weather was oppressively gloomy, but the Grove was dreary and quiet. I went into the Apple store because the whole point was that I had to go to the Apple store for Apple reasons. The new Apple store is so big, all mirror and glass. There are rows of ficuses growing right up through the floor.
I was worried that Kitty would pee on one of the indoor Apple store trees.
I am not sure how dogs work. I am not sure if dogs can tell whether an indoor/outdoor tree in an architecturally innovative indoor/outdoor retail space is an acceptable peeing tree. I am not sure how they approach these things. I am not sure how they feel about places like sound stages where indoor looks so outdoor. I am not sure how they make these decisions. I am not sure where they draw the line.
She didn't pee.
We walked quickly through the rest of the Grove and then even more quickly back out. It was dreary. It was gloomy. Half of the stores were new, and boring. This distressed me. Change that is boring should be outlawed. Stores in malls dedicated to a car brand where the front is all glass and the whole store is filled with just one car and god knows what the point even is should be outlawed. Change should only change for the better. Change that makes things feel even more same than before is perverse, and MUST be outlawed.
We left the Grove. We walked along the park. There was a man walking in front of us, and, because he was walking in front of us, we were walking behind him.
At first I thought he was a businessman. He was wearing a suit – black, maybe, or dark gray. I could see a patch of pale neck above an off-white collar. He had a crossbody messenger bag, the kind with an inner laptop pocket, the kind that is very Y2K young professional. He carried a cup of gas station coffee in his right hand. There was a bald patch just beginning to assert itself at the crown of his head – I love how men’s bodies self-tonsure as they age. It is wonderfully devout.
I was walking behind the man, and, because I walk quickly, I was soon walking less behind him than I was before.
I think it was his gait I noticed first. I have seen men like him – men who walk the way he walked – but just in movies and TV. He walked the way they walk in those movies that I haven't seen. Halting. Stiff. Lurching in a straight line.
Then I noticed the decaying fabric of the suit, the stained sleeves, the dirt on the office-appropriate crossbody messenger bag, the gray pallor on the thin slice of visible neck. The ankles of his suit pants were torn, and splattered with something. The loafers were crusted with brown. The man made his mechanical way down the street. I watched him from behind, too nervous to interrupt his progress by squeezing past him the way I squeezed past the young guards and their proud guns.
The street was so quiet and the park was so quiet – because the weather was bleak, or because it was a Monday, or because it was September 11th, or because I had entered some quilted layer of universe. It was just me and Kitty and the dead man and the thick air and the gray sky. “The world has already ended,” I thought, “but there has been some sort of lag and I am only just beginning to notice.”
The man walked on. I have never seen someone who looked so afterwards, so past-tense. Maybe he had left for work one day all suit-crisp and coffee-bright, and then had fallen off the edge of the world. Maybe there was a Susan in HR still waiting for him to respond to an email. He had fallen out of a life. If I followed him, if I kept walking behind him, he would lead me somewhere else. I would fall out of my life as well. He would lead me to the other side, where people didn’t remember their name, or their mother's maiden name, or the name of their first pet, or the full spectrum of visible colors.
Finally he reached the 7-Eleven. About a month ago, they started blasting classical music in the 7-Eleven parking lot. It is aggressive classical music. You will walk past the 7-Eleven and glance in at the Baked Lays and off-brand bagged nut mixes and Rachmaninoff will absolutely swell around you. Rachmaninoff deters the swaying men. Rachmaninoff says “no Ralphs shopping carts here.” Rachmaninoff says “take your fentanyl back to the park.”
The man lowered his coffee cup slowly and intentionally into a trashcan surrounded by trash. He didn’t seem to acknowledge the music. Maybe he lives in a world where Rachmaninoff plays everywhere all the time and is not worth acknowledging. The sky was gray. The music pressed all around him and under him and on top of him. I waited across the street, by the statue of Haim Solomon – in 4th grade, on the school bus, we passed that statue every day. “Ham Solomon, Ham Solomon,” Danielle used to sing. “Beef Jerky, Beef Jerky.”
I pretended to have missed the walk signal to lengthen the gap between us. I let him slouch further towards Bethlehem.
Then I went home to my nice house, and put on my slippers, and drank some green tea, and tried to “get some work done,” and brainstormed ideas about my Intended Academic + Career Intentions, and rejected the ideas, and watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and waited for the world to end in earnest.
9.8.2023Once a year for the past three years, a bird of prey has swooped at my head while nobody else was watching. Two years ago, it was an owl. Last year, it was a hawk. Last week, it was also a hawk, although probably (statistically) a different one.
The owl swooped me in my own backyard. It was dusk, and I was going out back to build a makeshift fence around the vegetable bed so those damned squirrels didn’t dig up my seedlings. This is called being responsible. This is called being a farmer. I put on a hat before going outside, not because I was worried about the sun’s harmful rays (it was dusk) but because I was worried that the garden spider in the rose arbor would rappel down onto my head, and a hat felt like an appropriate form of protection. I didn’t think about owls. I thought about spiders. Owls didn’t even cross my mind. Then one did. I was on the patio, my back to the house, when a massive taupe underbelly descended from the roof, passed directly over my head, crossed the backyard, and rose again over the neighbor’s ficus hedge and out of sight. It positively whooshed.
The hawk swooped me in my grandparents’ backyard. We were there for someone’s birthday. I don’t remember whose. My mom was there, and my aunt, and my cousin, and my grandpa, and maybe or maybe not someone else. We stood in a circle singing happy birthday to someone — I don’t remember who. Not me. They’re singing songs of birth, but not for me. I was wearing a hat, this time on account of the sun. Not a birthday hat, just a normal hat. Maybe if I had been wearing a birthday hat I would have looked more architectural and less edible and I wouldn’t have been swooped. But I wasn’t, and I was. As with the owl, the attack came from behind. The hawk had been perched on the telephone pole behind me and then descended. Because we were in a circle, and my back was to the pole and the hawk, theoretically other people should have been facing the hawk, and the pole, and seen the whole thing. They were, but they didn’t.
Afterwards, I said, all breathless and shaken, “did you SEE that?” It was meant as a rhetorical question.
Everyone answered “see what?” I do not have the sort of family where people notice things, especially the things that are noticeable, like a very-up-close hawk.
But my mom had seen. She held my clammy hand. “You were almost carried away! I almost lost you!” Never in my life had I felt more like a field mouse (except the time with the owl).
“If you hadn’t seen the hawk,” I told her, “If nobody at all had seen the hawk, I would have believed entirely that I have gone mad.”
The most recent hawk swooped me on the UCLA campus, in front of the law school. It didn’t fly away afterwards. It perched on a branch just above my head and stared. Perched and sat and nothing more. I wondered, flatly, "Is this how it ends for me?" The only person nearby was an apathetic and slightly greasy young man on a concrete bench. If he saw anything, he didn’t say anything.
Only that morning — BEFORE I got swooped for the third time (!!!!!!) — I had been speaking with my mom about The Birds of Los Angeles. I asked her why I had been (at that time) twice swooped. I live in the middle of the city. I do not live in a field. Nobody else I know gets swooped. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for anyone else.
My mom said it is might be because, when I wear a long braid and a baseball cap, my head probably looks, from an aerial perspective, like an opossum. The hat becomes a body and the braid becomes a tail. Then, when the bird gets close, it thinks “that is not an opossum” and aborts the mission.
I think this is a strong hypothesis. I sometimes feel like a distant opossum, so I don’t doubt that I look like one.
However, when I was at UCLA, my hair was loose and I was wearing a visor. That is not what opossums look like.
In the old times, everybody who was anybody said “birds are omens.” Everybody who was anybody said “birds are sent by the gods to hint at events to come.” They really did have a point. Aeschylus said something like this. He knew what was what. His head did not look like a possum. His head looked like a rock. He really did have a point.
Something tells me I’m into something good.
9.6.2023The woman was trying to sell curtains, but she was too eager in her trying, and it made the mother and daughter uncomfortable. She leaned too much into the sales pitch. Valance, she said, and no valance needed, and curtain rod, and plastic track for smooth operation, and pinch pleat, and ripple pleat, and lining fabric, and tassel, and no tassel necessary, and trim if you want it but not if you don’t want it, and cornice. She leaned too much, and too close. Her lipstick was too bright. She was too eager to give her card.
Is this for the daughter’s house? the curtain woman asked. And it wasn’t, and they misheard the question and said yes it was, and the conversation ended, and they drove away, and on the way home they bought chicken strips from a boy who looked like he might or might not be named Jonah.
I have wormed. I am worming. I will worm again.
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