Well, I have to say that social distancing – or even more pronounced social distancing than is normal for me – is letting me get stuff done around the house. The Daughter Unit has work obligations, and a social life of sorts, which the Great Wuhan Coronavirus Panic of 2020 has not yet impacted to any degree. We stocked up at the beginning of the month, topped up over the weekend, so there is nothing I particularly need for projects at the moment. The gym has closed for two weeks – and here was a place which routinely sanitized for your protection anyway. We walked the dogs energetically this morning, in place of an hour on the elliptical, and then the Daughter Unit went off to her place of work, assisting her employer with sorting out their personal and professional expenses for the year. It turns out today that the IRS will generously grant us another ninety days to file, due to the Great Wuhan Coronavirus Panic. Well, it’s a very ill wind indeed that blows no one any good.

I may eventually have to go to Lowe’s for wallpaper paste, and some more paint rollers. The new back door awaits installation now, being painted on all sides, so I moved on to the trim around the hallway doors, and the underside of the attic space access ladder. When the new and toweringly efficient HVAC system was installed some years ago, replacing the decrepit and leaking original contractor-grade system, they put in a brand new ladder and a heavy wooden panel covering it into the hallway ceiling – and I never got around to painting it. So that is done, and tomorrow I will haul in the tall ladder and do the trim around it. I watered the garden, and planted some lettuce, and an assortment of basil seeds. We already have garden tomatoes, by the way – from some starts in 2-inch pots that I bought last fall and protected through the winter, and a wayward plant left over from last year – and the first couple of cuttings of spring salad greens, from seeds I planted early last month. It’s been that warm, you see.

Laundry – done sheets, and blankets. What an onerous chore was lifted off the shoulders of women, with the invention of electric washing machines and dryers? What might have been the weekly-occurring project taking up several days of brutal labor over a boiler, wringer, and clothesline now takes a turn in the washing machine and two hours in the dryer. Listen, you could never sucker me into going into one of those ‘history-house’ projects. I know very well what doing household laundry in the 19th century involved – at the very best, sending it all out to an industrial laundry in the big city and hoping that you got all your stuff back again in one piece, or at least, the pieces you sent it out in. Plus having to sew on all the buttons again, unless you had a maid to do all that needlework. The late 20th century to start of the 21st is the best century ever, thanks to household electricity and plumbing (not to mention air conditioning!) and don’t ever you let some freak afflicted with nostalgie de la boue a la The Life Primitive tell you any different. (An all-over bath once a week. Indeed – spare me. The ancient Romans had the right idea, as far as frequent bathing went.)

And – I processed the bag of small sweet apples through one of those patent apple-peeling/slicing gadgets, dropping them into a bath of water acidulated with a little lemon juice, and put them into the patent dehydrator that I am supposed to do a review of, when all those little apple slices are dried. And only then, did I turn to writing…

I had a client make the final payment on a finished project late this week, and the two potential clients whom we met with earlier in the week are deferring a decision or a start on their projects until later (if ever) so I could take a break from their stuff and do a little bit more on the ongoing house project; a replacement door for the back door into the garage, and one for the second bedroom, which the Daughter Unit currently occupies. We found a quite acceptable metal-reinforced panel door at Home Depot for a reasonable price, but the door for the bedroom is another matter. We were looking for a door with a glass panel in it, for the bedroom is at the end of a hallway with only a single ceiling light, and no natural light from the outside whatever. So – the Daughter Unit has been pushing for the door with a translucent glass panel in it, so as to allow natural light from the bedroom window to seep into the hallway. Only problem was … expense and availability. Such a door is a special order; not in stock at either of the big-box home improvement outlets. Although Wayfair had very nice ones available – the very cheapest of them was $300, which is … a little out of budget. I had to go and order from Home Depot, and the door will be delivered early in May. Until it arrives, my attention will be focused laser-like on the rest of work in the hallway; specifically, covering the ghastly popcorn texture with beadboard panels and cornice molding, and the peel’n-stick lino with cork flooring and new baseboards. (This will be a test run for the look of the rest of the house …) Until I can begin on that, though – I need to replace the narrow set of shelves along the hallway which houses a simply huuuge collection of paperback books. This will involve boxing up all the books, and taking down the metal brackets and MDF planks in order to complete painting that wall, and seeing to a complete-floor-to-ceiling shelf unit just wide enough to accommodate paperback books… no, really, I would rather work on my income taxes …

All the bits and bobs and lists of expenses and profits from sales in various venues, are all tallied up and ready to be delivered to the nice gentleman CPA who has done my income taxes since 1995. What I will do when he retires for real, I have no idea. I can just hope that he is one of those who will carry on out of habit, looking after a diminishing pool of clients, rather like my late business partner did with her clients – and she handed them all onto me, those who survived. I can only hope that my CPA has a younger apprentice handy.

In other news, it seems that springtime has arrived – alas, not in the trees to the back of the property, which is mystifying. The plum and peach are still bare sticks; no blossoms or budding leaves at all. Neither is there any fresh spring growth on the thrice-cursed hackberry weed tree, just the other side of the fence line – a tree which I hate with the passion of a thousand burning suns for the manner in which it scatters nasty, weedy sprouts all across my yard. I hate the hackberry, so I do. If the wretched seedlings aren’t pulled up entire by the time they are about three or four inches tall, they send a tap-root halfway to the center of the earth and defy extermination … only cutting damned thing off at ground level and painting the bleeding stump with a chemical concoction available from the local nursery keeps it from propagating… This weekend, plant out the various seeds and seedlings, as mid-March marks the last possible frost in South Texas. I did get a jump on this, in sheltering some tomato starts through the winter; they are just now bearing a handful of tomatoes ripe enough to eat, and a tub full of spring greens is nicely ready for salads … and that was my week.

29. February 2020 · Comments Off on You Can’t Go Home Again · Categories: Memoir

Well, you can, sort of – but in the larger sense Thomas Wolfe was right: you can’t physically go home again, not after a good few years have passed. I’ve amused myself, since discovering google earth and street view by looking for and locating the houses that I have lived in, and seeing how they appear now. That is if I have a clear memory of the address, and if the house itself still exists. Which is not always the case: the GI student housing in Santa Barbara was gone shortly after Dad finished the graduate level program at UC-Santa Barbara in the mid-1950ies. I have no notion of where to even begin looking for the house in the backwoods of Beverly Hills (yes, Beverly Hills does, or did have a backwoods, per se.) With unpaved roads, even, although it probably isn’t the case now. The White Cottage at the corner of La Tuna Canyon and Wheatland in the Sun Valley end of the San Fernando Valley is still there, although it looks as if the massive sycamore tree that shaded half of the back yard is gone, and La Tuna Canyon road has been widened and had sidewalks installed, so the fence line has been moved back. I can “walk” up the half-mile of La Tuna Canyon to Vinedale Elementary. The shapes of the hills looming over the canyon, as it funnels back into the Verdugo Hills are still familiar. Many of the roads which ran back from La Tuna Canyon were unpaved then – they’re paved now, it seems.

Mom and I, on the front porch of the GI Bill Student Housing

The next house, which I always thought of as Redwood house, was at the corner of Hillrose and Rosetta, at that corner of Shadow Hills which touched the edge of Sunland. Again, a dirt road, and lines of olive trees which had once been part of an olive orchard. That house is long gone – it was where the 210 Freeway drops down into Big Tujunga Wash, halfway between the Ralphs’ on Foothill Boulevard, and the fire station on Wentworth. I can “walk” from Sunland Elementary to Olive Grove and up a block to Hillrose … and that’s where the road ends, at a chain-link fence overlooking the highway.

Redwood House, from the hillside below

The house after that, the second house on the left up Cedarvale from Estepa, was curiously only a stone’s throw from the White Cottage, geographically. Not by road, though – it was a drive of at least half an hour between the two, going around through two different canyons. It’s been remodeled, extensively from when we lived there, and the new owners cut down most of the trees around the house. We liked the trees for the shade, but now the view is spectacular, or so I can judge from street view. The pool is still there, but I can’t see if the well still exists. There was a small spring/seep in the hillside, and a small well which never dried out entirely. I lived there from the age of sixteen, until I enlisted in the Air Force. My parents sold that house when my youngest brother finished high school and decamped to Northern San Diego County.

In the driveway of Hilltop House: Little Brother, Dad, the family station wagon and Mom.

I think the barracks where I lived at Misawa AB is gone; that whole base was revamped when the F-16 wing moved in. I can’t even begin to find building in the R housing area, out the POL gate where I rented the little sliver of apartment. That whole area has been revamped. The Wherry duplex in the enlisted housing area at Mather AFB where we lived for a year – that’s all gone. It looks like all very upscale condos, now. That was a very bare-bones kind of place; conblock walls, industrial linoleum on the floor, and metal cabinets in the kitchen. I had no furniture other than a rattan rocking chair, a couple of book cases, and my daughter’s crib when we moved in, but by the time we moved on, I had managed to purchase a single arm chair, an upholstered small sofa, a round wooden table and two chairs. There was a trailing rose bush by the front door. The housing office inspector gave me grief for trying to train it up the porch supports. This experience and the chore of cleaning that place before checking out of that base cured me of any desire to live in base housing. Uncle Sam is a sucky landlord.

The barracks at Sondrestrom AB in Greenland is still there; they’ve jazzed up the grey concrete slabs with red and white stripes, and green paint, and put a modernistic entryway to what was the dining facility; not much has changed with all that, at least on the surface. Looks like there are some restaurants, and a B&B, but the general aspect is still gritty grey dust, and bare rock mountains looming above. As we used to say grimly to each other: it’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from there. In the winter – when it was midnight-dark for most of the day with perhaps a pale twilight at mid-day, it was an amazing and unearthly sight; to come down the hill from the AFRTS station, and see the whole base lit by glowing yellow lights. In the dry arctic air, the vents from the buildings filled the head of the fjord with billowing golden clouds of water vapor.

For three years after that, we lived in a second-floor apartment on a corner in suburban Athens; a narrow balcony ran around two sides of the apartment, which took up the whole of a single floor, at the intersection of Knossou and Delphon.  From the windows on the street side, we could look out at the Saronic Gulf and the perfect triangular island of Aegina; it looks like they have built another three or four story apartment block across the street, so likely there is no chance of that same view from the apartment today. The little tile-roofed villa across the road in the other direction is still there, but the empty lot which was next door, in which an elderly man kept chickens and rabbits and a bit of a garden with lemon trees, has been replaced by another three or four story apartment block. But the building itself looks well-kept; whoever is living in the second-floor apartment has a series of nice plants in pots along the balcony.

Spain: the place where we lived the longest until we settled in Texas. I had no taste for a high-rise city apartment, which was all that was on offer, until the friend who was helping me house hunt said, “Let’s go see if there’s anything in San Lamberto…” This was a complex of duplexes and low-rise apartment buildings outside the city, which once had been American base housing, but now was in private ownership. There was an empty unit available for a reasonable rent, at the corner of what is now Calle Placido Domingo and Calle C. A ground-floor unit with a garden, and a shaded terrace. It is barely recognizable, now, although the two palm trees are still there and thriving. The new owners added a swimming pool, a small addition where I used to stack wood for the fireplace outside the dining area window, and a covered shelter for a car. The low wall and pillars are still there, but they have put in dark green fencing panels above, and the lawn looks a little better than when I lived there. My daughter went from kindergarten to the sixth grade in the time we lived there. I tried tracing the route that I usually drove from San Lam, past the Spanish regional airport to the Garripinellos gate, but again – too much has been changed. It used to be a narrow wandering country road; now there’s some fairly substantial interchanges.

The little white and grey house in the middle of the block of Jefferson between 36th and 37th was the perfect small house. I wish I could have owned it, so that I could have fixed it up properly. A perfect dolls’ house, with a big window on either side of the front door, and a long garden in back, with hedges so thick on either side that the lights of other houses could barely be seen in summer. Lilacs along one side, a row of apricot trees on the other, a bearing cherry tree, a shed where we might have kept chickens, a green lawn and a garden plot which I managed to rototill for two summers. In the spring, lilies of the valley came up at the edge of the front walk … we were there for two and a half years. The sun came up in the morning over the iron-grey wall of the Wasatch front, and in the afternoon, light poured in through the back of the house through an enormous picture window which gave on the yard. Paradise. I am still angry at the assignment detailer for my career field, who did not send me back there; this after hearing for years how they would reward you for years overseas by making certain that your last assignment before retiring was to the base where you most wanted to be. The house looks good, though: the present owner has taken down that cheap metal awning over the porch, and put in a planter and a new set of steps where the front porch used to be, and taken out the ragged hedge which formerly bisected the lawn.

The Jefferson St. House when I lived in it – in winter

Korea: a year in a barracks building, across the road from the Navy Club at Yongsan Army Infantry Garrison. It looks as if that building isn’t there, as far as I can see. The whole garrison has relocated to Camp Humpreys, but the Dragon Hill Lodge still exists, as a recreation center and hotel run by MWR. No luck in tracing anything of my route to work at AFKN, on the hill above the main PX.

The one home that I most deeply regret loosing was not a home which I lived, although my daughter did, during the year that I spent in Korea; that was Mom and Dad’s retirement place, the house that Dad first designed and oversaw building on a rocky knoll with a view down into the Guajito, in the hills above Valley Center, Northern San Diego County. They spent five years doing this, having initially expected to get it done in three, but had a marvelous time anyway. When we came home between tours in Spain (having saved the government a bomb of money through signing on to a second tour in place, so we had a free round-trip home as a reward) the house was coming down the home stretch, and we shared the RV with Mom, Dad, and their dogs. It was far enough along that we celebrated Christmas in the house, among the sheets of drywall stacked up in the dining are – drywall which Dad would teach me to hang and mud. Mom designed and laid out the garden – and when the house burned in the Paradise Mountain Fire in 2003, Mom and Dad moved into another RV on the site and built it all again, with improvements. (They hired out all the tough jobs that Dad had done, first time around.) We made a road trip from Texas to California most years. And then Dad died, suddenly in 2010. Mom didn’t want to leave the place they had shared, although … we all worried about her being there alone with the dogs. My youngest brother even brought up how risky it was, only to be slapped down. A few years later, his fears were realized when Mom fell and injured her back so severely that she was paralyzed from the shoulders down. Their house had to be sold, of course. My sister, who took over care of Mom, needed to have her own house renovated to accommodate a semi-paralyzed invalid. Originally, we were all four supposed to inherit a quarter share of it, and I entertained thoughts of buying out my brothers’ and keeping the property as a kind of family compound. Not to happen. I used the proceeds from the sale of my own California real estate to fix up the current Chez Hayes. Likely, I will never return to California. But I look at the view from the dead-end road past Mom and Dad’s house, and follow the dirt road back, looking at all the places that we went past, and think of the view over the Guajito, of how I would run on the dirt roads in the early morning, and the quail pattering through the thicket by the gate because Dad was in the habit of throwing out seed for them, the bends in the Woods Valley Road, the stench from the chicken farm at the foot of the last leg of road up to Mom and Dad’s…

It doesn’t look like the new owners have done very much, at least, not that we can see from the road view. But the owners of the next property over seemed to have established a nursery; greenhouses, and sheds and all. The previous owner of that place had let it go to wrack and ruin; basically returning to nature after the fire, save for messing around incompetently with an earth-mover on weekends – to the detriment of the watershed down into Mom and Dad’s driveway.

My daughter looked at the satellite view, and said, “Don’t say anything of this to Mom.”

No, you can’t go home.  

Slowly but surely, stuff is getting done; the Daughter Unit and I forswore the gym this morning in favor of a very brisk two-mile walk through the neighborhood with the dogs. I finally finished a post on a WWII novel which had been lingering in the ‘half-finished’ queue for weeks. Made the call to activate the new ATM card, and – this was the biggie – filed the state sales tax form and sent in payment. This was made a bit easier for me for having worked out a long spread sheet with the formulas for calculating what was due in each category – which as my sales were pretty minimal last year resulted in some amounts due to various small entities which were in pennies. So, had to round up to a dollar on the state web-pay page, in most cases – but the grand total owed still came out to about what it should have been according to my own calculations, so that’s all square and taken care of. As far as other tax materiel – have to wait for the various W-2s to come floating in to put the tidy package all together for the nice CPA who has looked after my tax stuff since we settled in San Antonio.

Read a couple of chapters of William Howard Russell’s My Diary North and South – he was the big international correspondent for the Times of London newspaper; a convivial and unrepentant Irishman, often considered the first war correspondent, having made his fame for reporting on interesting developments in the Crimean War. He was sufficiently famous after that to have had many doors open to him and spent the opening months of the American Civil War on a prolonged jaunt through the border states and the south. During a short visit to Washington DC he hobnobbed with many important personalities in the new Republican administration – including a visit to the White House and a meeting with Abraham Lincoln, who was derisively called “the Railsplitter” by many snobbish Northerners which Russell encountered early on. Russell also noted that Lincoln deployed humorous anecdotes as a way of lubricating potentially awkward social encounters … well, I am looking for the low-down on public mood, going into the early months of that war, and Russell looks like a wonderful source for channeling contemporary feelings and observations.

Fiddled around with the Luna City website, added a page for the two compendium volumes, and a PayPal order button after generating the ‘button’ for it, something which I ought to have done weeks and weeks ago. Honestly, I tend to forget about the Luna City website; it’s kind of a static website, not an active blog so much as my book blog/website is.

I fiddled with installing a new doorknob to one of the bedrooms – hoping that this would fix an ongoing problem with the latch not settling properly. Nope; I think this problem won’t be solved until I get around to replacing all the original interior doors in the house. The existing doors are all that cheap contractor-grade hollow core doors … (pauses for a moment to look up the solid wood slab doors at the local Big Box … oh, nice – $125 or so.) replacing the doors will come, possibly later this year. The big project will be replacing the exterior garage door – and maybe we can get a start on that this week, when I can make a down payment on it to the contractor.

And that’s the Monday at Chez Hayes…

20. January 2020 · Comments Off on Ice Cold In Alex · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

It’s one of those old books, popular in the 1950ies; probably made most notably famous when they made a move out of it. That’s when I probably first came aware – that notable all-stars Brit movie, starring anyone who was anyone in Brit-theatre at the time, a movie which showed on one of the late-night broadcast channels when I was a teenager and a bit obsessed with World War II. Oddly enough, it’s not readily available in the US format in DVD, although it was one of the very best and most popular post-war movies, filmed as it was on location in Libya and Egypt. The Daughter Unit and I were watching the documentary series WWII in HD Color, and the episode covering the war in North Africa, and I was moved to take down my copy of Ice Cold in Alex and re-read it … just because.

It’s a road trip, basically – a road trip through the Libyan desert in a battered military ambulance named Katy, in the summer of 1942. A pair of British Army Medical chaps, company commander Captain Anson, and driver/mechanic Sergeant Major Pugh are assigned to transport two nurses out of Tobruk to presumed safety in Alexandria, since Tobruk is about to fall to a renewed and ferocious German advance. The nurses had become separated from their party and left behind in the confusion, mostly because the younger of the two is a piece of hysterical baggage. Captain Anson, Sergeant Pugh and the surviving nurse, Sister Murdoch, meet up with a Captain Zimmerman, ostensibly of the South African expeditionary force, and set off through the desert, hoping to be able to evade the German forces about to invest Tobruk and make it safely through the inhospitable desert to Alexandria.

The North African desert: for your average English soldier, fresh from the soggy green meadows of the rural British Isles or the equally wet and eternally soot-stained urban regions, it must have seemed as alien as the moon … and three times deadlier. Captain Anson, who has been out in the thick of it for more than two years, is coping with PTSD by pouring alcohol on his shattered nerves, and keeping himself going by focusing on the ice-cold beer served up at a little bar in Alexandria – beers which he has promised to buy for his little party – if they make it through that desert. Sergeant Pugh, his able NCO, copes by mechanically babying the ambulance which they all depend upon for survival … and doing his best to unobtrusively support his officer. Sister Diana Murdoch, whose home-life growing up was not a happy one, finds herself falling for the taciturn enlisted man, Sergeant Pugh, himself a widower. And then there is Captain Zimmerman, who from the very beginning is obviously not who he says he is … but against the indifferent desert, does it really matter?

And author Christopher Landon wrote so very movingly of the North African desert; the harsh alien beauty of the place, which I think made a mark on him that lasted to end of his own life. It’s a good read, most of all for the descriptions of the desert, and the conditions under which the British and allies in North Africa fought and lived.