Friday, April 16, 2010

At Home In The Garden

While I continue to unspool my pictures of our recent road trip to Alabama life in the Keys goes on. For some of us it involves more work, for others more observation. In my own yard I am under constant surveillance. I had wanted to build a small patch of grass for my last Labrador who had enjoyed our California lawn, but I procrastinated so long that Emma Goldman died before I built her a patch of lawn. Cheyenne is benefiting from my guilty conscience. A week after I got her I went to the garden store on Rockland Key and bought four pieces of $2 turf (Augustine grass for those that care) and laid them in a surplus vegetable bed I built two years ago. Now she has a cool spot to stretch out on and observe my comings and goings. Yesterday I was working to fill some surplus trash cans with yard waste as the pick up is on Friday mornings. I was raking the huge dead dinner plates we call sea grape leaves. It's been very windy, typical for the spring around here, and these huge acidic leaves blow everywhere. It's a dog's life watching the Old Man rake and lift, as he doesn't much care for leaf blowers and the like. The crop of fallen palm fronds is much reduced as prudent pruning has cleared the dead and dying fronds from around the house.I am not one to desire the impossible so I didn't look to create a perfectly organized space around my house. I just hope to keep things more or less under control. My wife is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz and she wears a UCSC Slugs license plate holder on the back of her Sebring Convertible. When she was in Santa Cruz a couple of years ago she went by the campus bookstore and brought back a few souvenirs of her under graduate days including this:
Banana slugs are prolific under the redwood trees of Santa Cruz County and when the campus Chancellor wanted to create a school mascot (the campus only participates in swimming and has no ball teams) his suggestion of the Sea lion as a mascot was voted down and to his chagrin he was forced to swallow hard and accept the Banana Slug as the campus mascot. Chancellor Robert Sinsheimer was a decent man, and very involved in the promotion of science on campus that led eventually to the mapping of the human genome in large part at UCSC, but he didn't understand the hippie rebels my wife grew up amongst. Sinsheimer left soon after and the mascot remains. As far as I know this is the only banana slug in the Florida Keys but I am ready to stand corrected. Herewith a picture from Wikipedia of the brute in question:How we got there from sea grapes remains a mystery to me.

Johnny and Karl in Birmingham

For many of the early years of my married life Johnny Coley was a myth. My wife had happy memories of her youth spent in the city of Birmingham, Alabama with a tight group of friends learning to be young independent adults. They lived in the kudzu mansion and they planned to save the world, as one did back then. Johnny Coley still lives there.My wife loved Birmingham but she became a lawyer in California near her parents who lived in Santa Clara in what is now known as Silicon Valley. She thought the California she had grown up in was a cold and harried place compared to Birmingham. Johnny Coley hung on there but Karl also moved to California in move that took him far from his family in Birmingham. He still lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains and would live nowhere else.That he was back visiting his mother in Birmingham to visit his mother was just a coincidence, but that coincidence was one of the driving forces that...forced us to drive to Birmingham despite the Nissan's reluctance. This was what my wife was afraid of missing out on, had we abandoned the journey, wine on Johnny's terrace overlooking Birmingham.I had done a lot of driving and was sucking up the plonk like a dried sponge. Cheyenne did the honors for me.Karl the artist was busy taking pictures of animals faces very close up for a project. He was sitting in the doorway to the terrace because of his fear of heights. He figured if the cantilevered terrace were to fall he would have time to roll back into the apartment. He is quite athletic so it occurred to me he probably could have saved himself in any event with a graceful leap because he runs his own dance company:
Karl still remembers the story I did about his company which aired on Morning Edition decades ago when I was a stringer for NPR. We have known each other for a while.
I wanted Karl to perch on an empty water bottle for me, and he was game but we lacked the equipment so I used this picture from his flier. Dance is his passion and math is his profession as he teaches at a Community College in California. His dance company combines math with movement in a particular way. A conversation with Karl is always an exploration from a different angle.

A conversation with Johnny is on a whole different plane because Johnny sees the world from his very own perspective.Johnny sees the world as it is and questions everything, more so than even I do, and to be around someone who can force me to see things from a different angle is refreshing. He lives on the margins of life, working in the library, keeping an eye on his mother who lives in another apartment in the building and in his words "being lazy." His laziness involves activities that would exhausting to most. he reads voraciously and is always on the lookout for things that might catch his eye. He thought of me when came across (where did he come across this?) this card revealing Italian anarchists' subversive goals:
Johnny's laziness is actually an acknowledgment that his interests, and there are many of them, are of the kind that don't generate money. "I feel embarrassed by the economic downturn," Johnny told me with his self deprecating smile and his thick southern drawl. "My neighbors worked hard for everything they had and lost it all. I had nothing to start with and now we are in a Depression and I still don't have anything even though I lost nothing." He does have an apartment with great views of the Magic City.
A pleasant afternoon of conversation as the sun headed to the horizon. Then I had to nap because the day wasn't yet done.Napping in progress.
If you have a dog you have to take her for a walk and Cheyenne luckily loves elevators, as we were on the ninth floor.
And happily Highland Avenue has three parks open to dogs about which more later when I take Cheyenne for neighborhood walks. One reason we didn't go to California form Spring Break because of the expense and the cold, after a winter of being cold we wanted to be warm on vacation. Birmingham came through after the cold front blew itself out and temperatures rose steadily the longer we stayed, even though trees never did get properly leafy.
After our walk I gave Cheyenne her dinner and put her in the car for the evening, her familiar safe place while we went out to dinner.
Dinner was at Karl's mother's place with Karl's siblings and his mother presiding. These kinds of events cause me high anxiety but my wife is there to steer me and I follow her lead. I rarely have dinner with people who practice tap dancing before the meal. We got a lesson from Karl:The household got busy producing an impromptu meal that Karl's mom pulled out of her head at the last minute, baked fish in mustard sauce, roast potatoes, grilled asparagus, and lots of hard work.
Then Johnny Coley arrived to be greeted by the dogs, the ones that meant it was better for Cheyenne to stay in the car in town for the evening.
Karl's brother lives in new York City, actually in Brooklyn a place he loves and sparked my interest in the place. Usually one hears about Brooklyn in the movies as a place where people go when they are banished from Manhattan but he loves the community and neighborhood where people work together. It sounds very unlike New York, the frenzied.
Karl's mom presided over a dinner table filled with conversation and plate passing......under the chandelier.After dinner we checked out a school project from Karl's brother who hands out six inch squares of paper with ink outlines. Each piece of paper gets colored at will and at the end of the year the pieces are restored as one and a mural is the result.
This year's theme is apparently the First Family:
It will be a hell of an achievement, and it was quite apparent in it's early form laid out on the dining room floor. Karl's family is talented.
The proud artist. His t-shirt reads "Develop, don't destroy."I took pleasure in being the passenger in the back of Johnny's car as went back to the city and woke Cheyenne up for her evening walk.
The old friends had lots to talk about.