Mark’s Notes

Sans Wine box

October has always been one of my favorite months–except for the last 42 years. I mean that sincerely, though I suppose it’s as mysterious and stupid thing to say as any. I love autumn because I used to live in it when I was young. There, in Illinois, in Pennsylvania, in Maryland and Massachusetts, it was a month of transition. An Indian summer might kick in for a week or two, but by Halloween, it was sweatshirts and jackets, leaf-fall and colors growing both dark and bright. Winter was coming–and the clove of seasons was a final delight–the last visit to the ice cream shop before it closed, the last short-sleeved shirt for the year. 

California in October has charms, but I learned them later. For me, as a serious aficionado and sommelier, it is harvest. The hot days and cooler nights mean the brix count is going up, and the grapes are begging to be picked clean. The light, toasty, fruit-fragrant smell of the vineyard is an allurement I’ve not resisted for some time. Fall is harvest and fruit. It is heat and light–and cool gray dusk. I miss the changing leaves and cool days of the Midwest and east, but I am ensconced here. I am in love here–and my people, my daughter–are of the west.

So when I bought a car 12-years ago this month, it was practicality in mind. What I got was unique, a box-shaped little go-kart of a vehicle, easy on gas, simple to drive and manage, yet because of its resemblance to a toaster more than anything, it held people and dogs and things.

My wife bought me the license plate. She attempted to have it printed, “Wine Box.” But the state of California in its odd and momentary Puritan sing-along, wouldn’t let her have that. So she ordered “Wine Bx.” They let that go through. Evidently, their understanding of the citizens of this state doesn’t go much beyond the literal.

For the past 12 years, my little Wine box was the able-bodied, reliable, if humble, transportation that was recognizable around town. Shannon was 4 when we got that car and her first trips in it included a car seat to comply with the state law. Before its last run in our family, it was the first car she drove as she earns her license.  I drove it to Phoenix, AZ to visit with my family there in 2010 and I drove it to the Central Coast countless times to write stories about wine for any number of magazines. I drove it to San Francisco once, not long after I bought it–and it took us north of Bakersfield to fetch another family car that failed us on a trip to see the Sequoias.

I was attached to the thing. Scoop, Simon’s predecessor, was a frequent passenger. He and I got to the point where he would travel with me to the grocery store, to Target, wherever. I think about that from time to time. He liked riding with me–and he didn’t mind waiting for me while I was in a store somewhere. Simon is a great companion and I love him as much as I loved Scoop, but he’s not a traveler. His rides in the Wine box were marked by chaotic shifts from front to back, tripping over himself and landing in awkward positions. Only once did he come to a store with me–he nearly tore the car to pieces in my brief absence and while I take him places still, he can’t be left alone in a vehicle. He’s simply too co-dependent.

The box’s monetary worth shrunk in recent years, to the point where the recent repairs it needed exceeded its value. I thought momentarily about going into more debt for the bill because of my attachment, but in the end–it’s metal and rubber, plastic and oil. I believe in making it a point not to get attached to things–people, yes. Dogs, certainly–but not things.

I sold it today for a mere $400. My mechanic, Todd, bought it from me and I was pleased. He’s a good guy and he’ll use it either for his own daughter or turn and sell it. Either way, it will get some new life with someone who needs it. It has life left in it, but it was beyond my practical ability to keep pumping the money into it . 

It was a good car.


A sadness compounded

I don’t go to Wal-Mart very often, but I do go. I am not immune to inexpensive staple-goods that work in our home. They have treats that Simon likes for an extremely unreasonable price, but it’s more reasonable than everyone else’s. So, I go.

In our neighborhood Wal-Mart is a gentleman named Chris. I don’t know him, I just greet him from time to time. He’s hard to miss–about 6’3″ or maybe 6’4″ with disheveled hair and the ubiquitous Wal-Mart vest, Chris doesn’t smile often. This can’t be that cliche, can it? What he does is offer help and kindness at every turn–to everyone–customers and colleagues alike. I noted about him that he is always on the spot at the self-checkout lanes to see if he can help you or, in the age of California idiocy, offer you bags, which have to be paid for now. His colleagues call him by name, smile at and with him and he smiles back. He’s an affable, friendly man.

I read today that he was a sports enthusiast, too. And I assumed also that he must have liked country music. I am guessing at that last one, but it’s a good bet. Chris was the 59th victim of the shooter in Las Vegas on Sunday night. He was hit in the head and on Monday morning, yesterday, he succumbed to his wounds. Another hole has been torn in the fabric of my community.

Berated rays of sunshine beat down like heat-angry devils and the cool breeze that has been kicking up has no promise in it. There are only crosses, there are only cares. Yesterday brought grief in heaps, large piles of it, like autumn leaves that stick even when the wind is blowing. There are no dancing, twirling clubs of them on the street under steely gray clouds. This is giant piles of death and dark-arrayed colors on everyone’s doorstep–on everyone’s stoop. We are in mourning–and we lash out, looking for someone to blame, finding that the ghosts we are grasping at are as ethereal as the fear that must have gripped those across from Mandalay Bay Sunday night.

I love the desert. I spent most of my life in Southern California and I’ve never loved it here–never been as happy with the climate as most are. But when I go to the desert, it is a place without pretense. It isn’t trying to be something it’s not–it is a vast expanse of beauty and emptiness writ large on a landscape that seeks its own level by saying, ‘you can’t live here. What does live here is tested, tried and tough. You aren’t. Move along.’ I like that about it. I am at peace with the place because it is hot and empty and large and it doesn’t want to be anything else. And Las Vegas was the giant middle finger to the desert, in some way; an oasis of all the hedonism a nation can manage in one city, corrupted by its own sin, lifted by the same and carried as a playground–where you can find trouble if you want it and ignore it if you don’t.  But the desert doesn’t ignore it. It will swallow it up one day—and there won’t be anything left.

Right before school started, Sue and I went to Las Vegas and stayed in a friend’s timeshare there. We enjoyed ourselves, ate some good meals, saw two wonderful shows with Penn and Teller and Cirque de Soleil. It was just the two of us, romantic, lovely and at peace. Each of the three days, we drove by the big gold Mandalay Bay structure, marveling at the glitz of all of it–marred and sodden now with the wreckage of insanity, the detritus of sadness, grief and rage. It will never be the same, of course. But it will get better. Someday.

For now, there is heartbroken America. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth and there is conspiracy and blame–as all seek to make sense of the impossible. I want it to stop, like we all do. But I know better.

And then Tom Petty died. I’m not as eloquent as he is–the great American songwriter and singer who knew that what counted in music was truth and morals, justice and love. He was torn apart by the business end of it, but landed on his feet. His lyrics are the soundtrack to American summer–to American life. His death is a melancholy sadness–a man who died just a bit before his time, who had so much more to offer, but offered more than enough. On a normal day, his death would have been worth a long post by itself, full of reflections and recitation of his lyrics in paragraphs too thin to hold them. Now, he’s hovering above with the other angels–nearly an afterthought on a day that will scar memory like 9/11 did.

So, I’m not much tonight. I am wind and wisp of breezes that carry memories through some very dark tunnels. But I persist—and I dream. I must strive in the midst of it for that is what grief has taught me–to never give up, never let go–never stop loving and never stop. Just never stop.


A new home

The blog of lo-these many years has a new home, now. I had to retreat from the previous blog because what I write here has never been a money-making enterprise. When I write for profit, it is for an editor at a publication of some kind, but the blog is mine-uninhibited, as it were, by the necessities of commerce and fortune. I write because I want to–and the freedom of that should be unfettered, as it now is.

In the near future, I’ll archive the old site onto this one so that I don’t lose all of those posts–some of which are very dear to me and I want to hold onto. What happened? Well, I simply got wrapped up in my day-to-day life this summer and neglected paying the bills on the old blog. This led to the revelation that paying bills on a blog that doesn’t pay me isn’t necessarily forward thinking when there is all of this free software around that I can use. So, I moved over here to weebly, where I keep my classroom website, and found a simple blog format that works.

Summer’s travels were elegant and ethereal and it’s hard to believe that Fall has risen and shorter days, lesson plans and school-work have taken over. I’ve found a great deal of solace in changing everything I do at school. After 26 years of largely doing things the same way, I made profound and fundamental changes in my classroom from the way I grade papers to how I communicate with my students electronically and even how I talk to them. Everything is new–and it’s rather exciting to me to be in the midst of it.

Shannon (Peanut) has grown into a remarkable young lady and as I teach her now how to drive, I am flooded with all of the feelings you dads out there have had. Where did that little princess go? Answer? She’s standing at the front door rolling her eyes at me, one hand on a hip-the other one outstretched awaiting delivery of the car keys. It’s a rich life.

I’m in my 27th year in the classroom now and I look forward to what I’m doing–but I am also thinking very seriously about retirement from the classroom within the next four to six years. Depending on a number of financial factors, of course, I’ll make a decision. Primarily, I want to explore other things, do some more freelance writing, perhaps pursue working as an adjunct education instructor and maybe work in a winery, while I find a place to call home, walk my dog, be in the outdoors and near the city. It’s the little big things that count.

A weaving of threaded days has led to challenges with real grief these past few years. The loss of Edd, Brett, Craig, Jarvis, John and many others before their time–has me reeling. The sweeping scythe continued apace this summer as two days before the start of school, Shannon lost one of her dear friends she’d known since kindergarten. Young John (a different John) was 16 when he passed. I’ll simply not go into details–but the tragedy has been visited upon this community and the sadness is deep, lasting and profound. Shannon struggles with processing the grief and as much as I can help her, I do–but she has become aware that while there is help, solace and love for her–the healing she must do, she must do on her own.

I’m grateful for all of you who read the pages. Thank you for that. More posts to come at this new home of my writer’s life.