conducted in less than an hour while tending a sidewalk garden on Precita Street

number of passersby –18

number of those under 40 with ears unplugged –1

number of those who said good morning –4

number who did so without a prompt– 1

approx. percentage of passersby with dogs –70 %

approx. percentage of those with big, strapping dogs –40 %

number of unpleasant surprises related to above found in planting –1

number of the ways I am relieved –countless

number of delivery trucks that arrived –5

number of which were UPS –3

percentage of which double-parked even if there was a space –100 %

number of available parking spaces –1 for three minutes

number of toddlers –3

percentage of toddlers suspicious of muddy gardener –100 %

percentage of toddlers justifiably suspicious –indeterminate


When Jennifer was eleven in boarding school, she and an older girl were very affectionate with each other. The made a booklet they called their kiss catalogue: there was the Butterfly (done with the eye lash) the Airplane (landing and takeoff) the Eskimo (nose to nose.) The school burned down, and the catalogue was alas, lost to history. Who knows what other varieties were listed. The Snail. The Sponge. The Spelunker.


San Francisco public libraries. I bow to the many who created our libraries with all their services and all their beauty. I venerate the tree that produces so much ripe fruit. Every little branch is great.

The Mission branch is as dear as a family member. I order books, they appear on the shelf by the door. Check-out is a breeze. I always remember my PIN.

Books. I palm their heft. Mine for three weeks. The library sends you an electronic notice just before they’re due. Isn’t that thoughtful? And when they are overdue, the fine is what, 10 cents a day?

I dive into books by people I never heard of. They are free to be masterpieces. They are free to be duds. I look at picture books of Elizabeth Taylor. I nibble on Kafka’s Collected Works and take a lick of Proust. I get a 6-CD set of Pema Chodron that I listen to in my truck as I’m driving so I don’t call other drivers dumb #*!#heads. At least not as often.

Beneficent library, acme of civilization, I hope you know how much you are appreciated.


A side trip…


Now I understand the dog that attacked my rake. I had no idea my rake was so noisy, its tines a tinny tintinnabulation. Geez even the leaves I am raking are noisy. This is going to change my whole relationship to pruning.

My second day with hearing aids. I got them so that you, dear reader, will not have to honk down my ear canal in order to be heard. What’s that you say? Right, that I’ll get used to them, that the clever old brain will adjust and I’ll stop hearing what sounds like a hailstorm of ball bearings. What about the jackhammer or that big truck tweeting ear-piercing back-up farts? Will I stop hearing them too? Really? From your lips to God’s good ear.


This morning I was raking ginkgo leaves when the heavens, a gray lid leaking a deceptively dry rain, opened and an angel sashayed forth in quite a bit of splendor. The angel, in a unisex leotard, alit on the branch of the rubber tree and bent down. I was, quite humanly, all astonishment but the angel beckoned so I approached. Like a magician’s trick, a gold medal appeared in the angel’s hand. Inscribed on the medal was the letter Q. “This is for you,” the angel said handing it over. Before I could admit my confusion, the angel said, “We in the celestial ranks acknowledge that you have just raked your quintillionth leaf.”

this was it

this was it

I don’t believe you, I hear you, good reader, protest. Show me the medal. Like Joseph Smith and his golden tablets, I’m afraid I can’t. Somehow it must have gotten swept up with the leaves into the recycling bin; same size, same color. I am naturally distraught, though I assure you I had no intention of starting a new religion or taking up polygamy. But not all is for naught. I have been gifted with the knowledge that in a world on fire, there are worse things to do than raking damp leaves on a drippy day, especially if you get occasional recognition for your persistence.


I told them I wanted either a brown sweater or a green sweater. I certainly did not want a brown and green sweater. It was hideous.”

I was so excited. By its weight I knew exactly what was in the box. Ice skates. But inside there were girly figuring skating skates, not the hockey skates the boys wore. I tried them on and I never put them on again, even though I pretended I was happy.”

“A cowboy shirt!  I was an Indian!”

I got a call last week from my sister who asked if our family gave presents at Christmas. It was surprising question: of course we did. How could she have forgotten the intense anticipation focused on the shiny packages under the aluminum tree? We opened presents on Christmas eve before going to midnight Mass. After we got home from church, in what every other night was an uninhabitable hour of darkness, we’d have a feast.  I can picture candlelight.  I am still enough on this side of the bend to know that there were no candles. Homemade bread,  ham and turkey sandwiches.  Miracle Whip.  And wine; the only night of the year we drank wine. Mogen David, always that. Out there in the desolate plains, that syrupy concoction. The wonders of commerce.  We thought it was great.  Finally, off to bed, to wake up midmorning to the most anticlimactic day of the year.  Maybe the century.  Merry Christmas.

I don’t remember a single present,” my sister said, and I tried to conjure a memory of one, and came up with nothing except a trace of disappointment. Shirts, belts, mostly things to wear. Certainly no books or records or anything conducive toward cementing our appraisal (mother’s) as the laziest kids in town.  I guess there were no really awful ones either because we remember those better.

I’m a bust at giving gifts. And getting them, though I’ve gotten better at the comedia of pretending. “Oh, lovely, a pair of figure skates. Just what I wanted.” My average at hitting the sweet spot is comparable to a journeyman infielder. Around .240. Of course there is the elephant in the room; the herd of elephants. We all have entirely too much shit.

Too much. Last week during the half hour I worked on a curbside garden four different delivery truck pulled up and double-parked. Presents presents presents. Now the holiday is blessedly past, the recycling bins are vomiting cardboard, totally hung over.

But this is a new year, and that is not the image to leave you with. Instead here’s this:

the gift

the gift