As the old sing, so twitter the young…

                             1668 painting by Jan Steen

I’m working on a book: A Beginner’s Guide to Fear. It’s a portrait of a class of eight students confronting their fear of deep water, based on the classes I teach and the students I’ve had. Fear. We get great helpings of it sluiced through our devices, mine being a computer which opens to the New York Times website. We watch, or read about a Republican convention in which fear is the foremost, the only, motivator aside from power. It works, even for us bleeding heart liberals. We turn away awash in fear. Fear of Trump and those people, some of whom are my relatives, and yours too.

Fear. It’s a construction, a built-up thing. In the water there are ways to deconstruct it. Slow down. Feel your body. On land, I suppose, you could say the same. Sit still. Meditate. The thing that makes my teaching easier than what a shrink does is the water itself. It offers a balm of sensation, and, according to a recent Times column, submerging up to your heart increases blood flow to the brain by as much as fourteen percent. That’s why I’m so smart and so mellow.

Right. I often find myself stuck in the perennial codger mind-set: what’s the damn world coming to? Everyone walking around hands and noses glued to the stupid phones, cafes full of zombies, lanes jammed with black SUV’s. No doubt there’s a big component of fear in my dyspepsia. The good shrink might ask, are you afraid of being displaced by the young, in the same way the Trumpistas are afraid of being displaced by the Other?

Never mind. I’m going to the pool and jumping in.



My timing is bad again, arriving just when the neighbor’s cleaning lady has the blower out and is air-blasting the steps and front sidewalk. Last time I gave her the nastiest look in my gallery and when she had finally turned the damn thing off, I told her how I hated it. “You’re wearing a mask,” I said. “What about me and everybody who walks down the street?

I turn it off,” she said.

Yeah, and the dust magically disappears. And you are wearing ear plugs. And everyone else goes deaf.”

My whining fell on deaf ears. Nor did my dirty look do much good. Nonetheless, I reprise it today. Dirty Look. She waves, turns off the machine, takes off her mask.

Hi, you’re back. I’m cleaning up the leaves.”

I see that. Why don’t you use a broom? I hate that damn thing.”

He wants me to use it,” she says pointing upstairs.

I try a new tactic. Be nice. Introduce myself. Her name is Bianca. In true San Francisco fashion, our conversation soon turns to real estate. “Where do you live,” she asks. I tell her. “With your wife?”

No. I live alone.”

No wife?”

I’m gay.”

Really? You don’t have no partner or nothing?”

Nope. He died.”

Oh sorry. You don’t get another?”

Why do you ask? Do you want to marry me?”

Sure. We can get married.”

A few more minutes of blow-hell and she wraps up the cord. She looks over at me raking leaves from the beds onto the sidewalk which the wind blithely tumbles over to the pristine expanses of blown heaven. “You don’t look gay,” she says.

Well there you are.”

Finished with her job, she bids me have a good day. From the middle of the street on the way to her car she yells, “Don’t forget. We’re going to get married.”


At the last minute I remembered the tie. How could I almost have forgotten?

I remembered the official forms.

I remembered to remind the soon-to-be-newlyweds to bring the marriage license.

I remembered the papers containing the rubrics of the ceremony.

I remembered the poem I wrote.

I remembered the new blue coat and the white shirt.

I remembered to take the directions to the Panama Hotel.

I remembered to bring buckets to put the flowers in.

I got the flowers at the flower market, with Lisa and Eli’s help.

I remembered the phone charger.

I remembered shampoo, conditioner, and (just in case) my swim suit and goggles.

I remembered not to drink too much wine at the rehearsal dinner.

Dressing for the service it hit me,

I forgot my pants.


There is a mistaken notion current among my friends that I have no taste in clothes. The truth is, I have good taste but I wear anything and never throw anything away. And the other truth is when I do break down and go shopping, I buy the first thing I see that’s halfway acceptable just to get out of the store. It’s almost always wrong, wrong size, wrong color. Pleats? Please.

Having been invited to be the celebrant at Lily and John’s wedding, I decided to upgrade the wedding casual look of my wardrobe. Matthew, one of the aforementioned friends, volunteered to chaperone me on the condition that I really give it the necessary time and not bolt after a half hour. He likes to shop. I nodded in agreement.

We meet downtown and go to Nordstrom Rack and then the Saks near Fifth. I try on at least forty jackets and quite a few are okay, and at last settle on a blue one with subtle checked patterning.  Saks is having a sale and so I get a pair of pants at no extra cost. I buy a shirt, all white, no sweat. What about a tie? I have ties at home I never wear, good enough, but hey, why not go all the way? The saleswoman and Matthew pick out a couple, a purplish one, a blue one, then I see a coppery one with shimmery blue undertones. “How about this one?” I say, and both Matthew and the saleswoman concur: that’s it!

After arranging for some alterations, I take my haul to the register. The woman rings it up. Not bad at all. I scribble my signature on the receipt. Oh wait, she forgot to add the tie and asks for my card again. The tie: $124. Matthew sees me blanch, and wonders if I’m going to bail on it, but I put my signature on this piece of paper too.

(Later Matthew tells me it’s a Versace. I told you I have good taste.)

I’m fried, eager to get outside. There will be no new shoes. My black ones are perfectly pedestrian and perfectly acceptable, or will be with some new laces.

Walgreen’s has laces. But what length do I want? I estimate. I am aware that there’s a good chance I will guess wrong. What I don’t expect, and what I discover at home, is I bought brown laces.

Oh well. When I polish the shoes, I rub some polish on the laces and you can’t really tell. Well, barely. If anyone is looking at my shoes and not my Versace tie, I’m returning it and getting my money back.


My friend Ken is getting evicted. He calls me to ask if I want any of his plants. On the deck are a motley of potted plants: geraniums, gerberas, bird of paradise, cacti, bougainvillea, etc. I feel dismay on several levels. Primarily because he is losing his home of over thirty years. Secondarily, I don’t have homes for more than a few of the plants. (If anyone has a spot for well-loved potted plants, raise your hand.) He hates the idea of them being trampled in the construction crush to ensue. He has been given a choice: a buyout and evacuation by the end of June, or get Ellis- Acted, which means a pittance for moving expenses and a year to scram.

Where will he go? “I have no idea,” he says. He tells me he is not sleeping, he is so anxious.

Last weekend I got into a conversation about the transformation of the city, a conversation ever more frequent and futile. “Most cities would kill to have the kind of problems San Francisco has,” a woman from out of town said. The problems of too much money, I supposed she meant and I saw her point, in the abstract. In the specific, Ken is losing his home, his community his garden, his friends the bluejays who come for the peanuts he puts in the crooks of the myoporum tree. He asks if I can find a home for the lilac. A beloved friend gave it to him before he died.

The lilac is almost ten feet tall. I tell him I’ll take it, knowing it will be mauled in the process of digging it up and transporting it to the street and then into someone’s back garden, knowing also that lilacs are resilient and with some luck will survive the brutality.

I pray the same can be said for Ken.



The next to last thing you need to hear (next to The Donald) is how the city has changed. More dogs and black SUV’s than you can shake a stick at. People walking talking into their phones. Weirdos are the ones saying “good morning.” Congestion of the streets, congestion of the spirit. I got honked at yesterday for being in the crosswalk by a woman in a red car. I could forgive her since, having come from a muddy garden, I probably looked like one of the homeless, ergo, an affront to the sensibilities of the entrepreneurial stratum. I had more trouble forgiving the twit in the car who gave me the finger after he cut me off and I honked, a mild civilized honk at that.


where have you gone joe dimaggio

Hang ‘im by his thumbs, I say.