Friday, September 4, 2015

As Summer Fades

"A Spanish cavalier stood in his retreat
"And on his guitar played a tune, dear
"The music so sweet would oft times repeat
"The blessings of our country and you, dear
"So say darling, say, when I'm far away
"Sometimes you may think of me, dear
"Bright summer days will soon fade away
"So remember what I say and be true, dear."

I remember this song that I learned in school when I was 10 or so years old, back when kids actually learned about things other than how to take multiple choice tests. It would have been around 1965, now 50 years ago. The world was hardly a primitive place, though it's hard to believe you could be out of contact with your kid for hours on end and not really sure of where he was while he played outside, or that you had to go find the nearest landline phone if you encountered a life-and-death emergency.

Now I'm 60, going on 61, and summer 2015 is fading. It's not really that big a deal when you live in San Diego and vacation at your place in Miami Beach, but there's a mood to it. Had the yearly summer lunacy with my Significant Person there, and wonder if she's really gone for good or if this is just like every other summer since 2011, when I started spending time with her there.

For decades, not a day or even a few hours went by that I didn't think of my childhood. It was a handicap of sorts, this collection of memories that take up so much of my brainspace. It took a long long time to understand that it's not normal, or at least that I'm somewhat unique in that way. Then again, I never really understood the concept of competition when I was growing up, and Mom wrote once that I seemed incapable of comprehending aggression in other kids. Even now, I have to consciously remind myself that the future is supposedly more important than the past. That Fleetwood Mac song that Clinton used in his first presidential campaign--itself a part of fading history--never really resonated with me.

So here we'll look at the past few summers, since 2010. It isn't hard to believe the latter is now half a decade ago; it's just hard to believe that a half decade can pass so quickly.

The summer routine for me since forever has been to take a run of 10 days or so out to Arizona right after the school year ends. I tend to my property there, a doublewide mobilehome with deck and carport that looks--for all intents and purposes--like any other house aside from the front door being 3 feet off the ground. The land is 4.4 acres of juniper and pinion pine trees, with low chaparral and an occasional cactus. It's the Prescott area, Williamson Valley, and I love going there though I'm really not sure if I'll live there again myself. It's rented, and though the management company takes 10% they also handle a lot of headaches for me. The broker has become a personal friend over the years. By tacit agreement, our emails are strictly business and our facebook interactions are purely social.

I work outside there for a few days, clearing brush, digging silt out of the drainage ditches, and using the dirt to fill in ruts in the entrance road. I remove everything from the large shed on the upper lot and clean it out. Some of the tenants--who change every few years--are friendly and invite me over, but I tend to keep my distance beyond a few polite exchanges.

When the work is done, I linger a day or two just to enjoy how nice the place looks after my TLC. It can be uncomfortably hot during the day, and the nights are what I love most about the place. You can see the milky way, and the moon reflecting off Tabletop Mountain. At some point I'll stay a night at a motel in town to get cleaned up and have a nice restaurant meal, but I usually return to the shed for the final night there, shaved and showered and supplied with cold beer. I store some old things there that I don't need around my San Diego or Miami Beach places, but that I can't bear to part with. There's a sofa and rocker, shelving, a sea grass floor cover, and a battery operated radio. I haul water up from the house, and use candles for light. It looks like a rustic studio apartment, the ultimate man cave.

Then I generally set out on a run that eventually brings me the long way back to San Diego. In 2010, I set out to see the Grand Canyon for the first time. I went through Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon, had a look at the Northern Arizona University campus in Flagstaff, and stayed in a hostel by the train station. Heck, you can  just read the award-winning story about it here:
(I call it "award winning" because it won an award, not because I think I'm bitchen for writing it.)

Starting in 2011, I've tended to take a second trip somewhere after returning to San Diego. That year, I went to Minnesota and Wisconsin for a week, then on to Miami. This was before I bought my place there in 2014. I had three old friends, from three different periods of my life, between Minneapolis and Eau Claire that I hadn't seen in decades. It was a nice visit, except that I found out two days into the trip that Dad was dying. He and my sister didn't feel that I needed to cut the trip short, but it put quite a damper on things. One of my friends was in the VA hospital in Minneapolis. He'd been there for months with complications from heart surgery. Then all the time in bed rubbed a huge hole in his back, down to the spine. I'd never heard of such a thing, but apparently it happens. Then his kidneys began to malfunction. I spent a couple of days with him, and during that time he went off kidney dialysis and seemed to improve dramatically. By the time I headed over to Mall of America to meet another friend for dinner on my last night there, his wife had come out to get him and he was released from the hospital!

The Miami leg was the beginning of the yearly bummer with my significant whatever-she-is. She picked me up at the airport and immediately began bitching about my hair, my clothes, my weight, and everything I said or did. If it wasn't so easy just to tell her to fuck off and not bother with her, I probably would have slapped her. When she started telling me about how her ex-husband abused her, I told her that maybe she deserved it and that was the end of that. I spent five crummy days at a hotel in downtown Miami, waiting to go home. She gave me a ride to the airport on the last day, then smiled at me like nothing had happened. I told her thank you for the ride, and turned and walked away. This wasn't the end of things, though. By the time I returned at the end of the year, we were again like the high school sweethearts we'd once been.

Dad died three days after I got back, on the second day of summer sessions in the last year I taught summers. Because I taught evenings and had the days free, basically the entire matter of settling things fell to me. It was a bummer of a summer, and you can read about it here:

I ramble, so let's take the other summers in brief sketches.

2012 was the Arizona run, followed by a visit to Vegas to see a friend from Japan days for the first time since 1996. He lived just a few miles from the strip, off Sahara, but never went there. This was fine with me. He and his Chinese wife thought the water in their pool was too cold, but I was happy to spend most of the next couple of days soaking in it. Then I headed for Death Valley, enroute eventually to my brother's place in Reno. I spent the night in the parking lot at Badwater, making me the lowest person in the United States for one evening. I went through Yosemite in a snowstorm to visit another friend from Peru days outside of Sonora, then camped a night near Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe before arriving in Reno.

There's a story about that too, come to think of it:

The second summer 2012 trip was five weeks in Europe, sandwiched between flights and short stays in Miami. The gal, a world-class talker, had spent months gassing on and on about taking a trip with me to the Florida Keys, but went into a don't-touch-me routine as soon as I got there. Again I told her to get lost. I flew into Lisbon, then on to Frankfurt, where I'd lived from 1976-79 while stationed there with the army. It was my first time back in Europe since December 1979, and a nostalgic trip. I took a train to Munich, studied for four weeks at Goethe Institut while staying at the edge of Olympic Park during the 40th anniversary celebration of the Munich Olympics. Then a two-week Eurailpass trip, where I saw the home of a paternal great-great grandfather, visited the hometown of El Cordobes, returned to the University of Valencia where I'd studied for five weeks in summer 1979, and spent a couple of days in Lisbon before my flight back to Miami.

I didn't call the gal during the three days I was there before returning to San Diego, though I'd spent most of the break times at Goethe Institut arguing with her by facebook chat. This is FAR from the end of the story of her and me, though... Read a bit about my time in Munich if you'd like:

2013 was all Arizona, with just a short step into Nevada. That was the year of the fires. The larger one was still going when I got into town. It had been moving down Granite Mountain and steadily toward my house. The tenant had been sitting on the roof a couple of nights before, waiting for the evacuation order. Eventually the evacuation area would extend to within a few hundred yards of my property; the lights from the police roadblock shining into my shed all night. I attended a briefing on the fire at Prescott High School, and spent a couple of days doing the usual chores on the property, confident at last that it wasn't going to go up in flames. I left feeling pretty good about the community and very "up" in general.

Then I headed for the Grand Canyon, this time to take a paddling trip on the Colorado River. I spent two nights in Oak Creek Canyon, climbing a steep mountain several times for exercise. Then a couple of days in Flagstaff, camping in a crummy campground that must turn into a muddy mess every time it rains. Then two nights in Grand Canyon Village before hiking down the Bright Angel Trail to the rendezvous point, where some people got off and hiked up the hill while others joined the guides for the lower river leg of the trip. It was there that the guides told me they'd gotten their first news briefing in a week, and heard about the tragedy of the firefighters in Yarnell just the day before.

Everyone got along fine on this trip-of-a-lifetime, though I didn't make any lasting friends beyond adding a few to facebook and meeting the trip leader a year later for lunch. We came out at the east end of Lake Meade, so I called my friend in Vegas and spent another couple of days at his place before heading home via Lake Havasu City and Parker. It was interesting to follow the river, then the All American Canal, until it peters out in a series of irrigation ditches outside Calexico. Maybe some of it was the same water we'd been riding on a few days before!

Oh yeah... I took a week long trip to Miami later in August, but got into another blowout with the gal. This time it might have even been more my fault than hers. I told her it was a drag being with her, and got out of her car at a stoplight along Collins Avenue. Among the various annoying things about her is that she seems to have no friends of her own. Her best friend is a Peruvian lady I introduced her to in 2010. She was an old friend I'd taught with in Lima, but she'd since moved to Miami Beach. Anyway, we were going to meet her for dinner, and I told the gal to count me out and just go with her new best friend. This is STILL not the end of that story.

You can read a little about my state of mind then, and my affinity for Miami Beach here:

2014 was another Arizona+ road trip. It was the usual routine in Prescott, then a ride up Nevada's 95 just to see what it looked like. I spent a night in Tonopah, which has some interesting characters. Then headed for Reno, passing through the big ammunition storage facilities near Walker Lake. Stopped in at the museum there, and got into a discussion of whether the F-100 Super Sabre had been an inferior plane to the F-86 Saber. A nice visit to Reno followed, then it was on to Auburn for lunch with the raft trip leader from last year. Like many of the guides, she's a teacher who does it as a part time job during the summers. As I told her, it must be nice to take the trip of a lifetime several times in a season.

Then I spent a couple of days in Contra Costa County, seeing the Sacramento River delta and the settings for several scenes from Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full, On the spur of the moment, I called an old army buddy who lived nearby, and saw him and his wife for the first time since I'd been stationed in Germany with him. Then a quick run through San Franciso and down the Coast Highway back to San Diego. I spent the final night at a roadside rest outside Santa Barbara, and visited a friend's bakery in Oxnard for awhile. His wife said later that my visit had cheered him up; he'd been in a downer lately.

The second leg of summer 2014 was a visit to Indiana to family plots and the places where Mom and Dad grew up. Dad was from Franklin, south of Indianapolis. Mom was from Switzerland County; she'd lived in several small towns along the Ohio River across from Cincinnati. On my last day there, I drove over to Cincinnati to see one of the friends I'd visited three years before in Wisconsin. It was his hometown, and he'd moved back there a couple of years ago.

Then on to Miami. Earlier in the year, I'd bought a condo around 85th and Collins. Things had since been patched up with the gal during my end of year visit, but I saw her all of once during my five weeks there in the summer. I stayed quite busy fixing the place up, furnishing it modestly, and cooking myself gourmet meals every night. After a half dozen times talking to her about getting together and having her cancel out, I once again told her to fuck off... though she'd be back. The rest of the trip was pleasant but uneventful. I got a kick out of the idea that I now lived part of the year on the east coast, and wasn't just a a visitor.

This summer it was a week in Washington DC and New York City, after an unusually short Arizona run that was strictly TCB (takin' care of business). I'd lived in Washington during army days, had been back a couple of times, and know my way around pretty well. Manhattan I can basically navigate, having visited a few times from Washington and during a TESOL Convention in 1991. That really almost warrants a separate story here.

I rode the train from New York to Miami. Glad I did, but it was a pain in the ass at the time. Once the train gets a little behind schedule--which it often does--it ends up having to stop and wait constantly while freight trains pass going the other way. Still, arriving by train in a place where I own a home gave me the very neat feeling that I was more than a tourist while traveling around the east coast.

We got into Miami six hours late. Actually, I got off in Hollywood, which was more convenient for... the gal... to pick me up and take me to my condo. We had a nice evening visit by the poolside for several hours, and that's the last time I saw her during my four weeks there. I cooked nice meals like the one pictured below, and enjoyed my neat little place on the inland waterway, all of two blocks from the beach.

I returned on July 17, wanting to have more time this year to enjoy my hometown during vacation, which after all is a place people travel thousands of miles to be in. However, bummed more than ever about the gal and arguing with her non-stop via text messages, I finally decided to start the project of upgrading my stuff and getting organized. I bought my first smart phone, my first flatscreen TV, and my first DVD player. I converted my CDs to MP3 and loaded them into my phone, then got a good quality Bluetooth speaker to play the music on.

Another family friend died in late August, and I went to another funeral with my sister. Friends of my parents, about a decade younger than they, are starting to fade away one by one. It's that time of life. Thus did summer for all intents and purposes end, and as part of the self-improvement kick I'm on, I taught myself Blackboard, the popular course management program for college instructors.

I'm very much in work mode now. EVERYBODY says I deserve a better gal, but I can't seem to find one and right now I don't have the time to worry about it.