Graffiti or Art?


GrafittiAfter a month long break from blogging and church, I have returned. Pulling off the Grove Shafter freeway at 27th street in Oakland on the way to church, I was pleased to see that the Chase billboard has been replaced but it was disheartening to see the growth of the homeless camp.  I missed the camp photo op so I guess I’ll have to come up with a 1,000 word blog post to describe the area. Just kidding.

But, I do have a couple of observations. Judging by the content of debris that oozes its way into the streets under the freeway, I suspect not all of the mess is the work of the homeless. It’s unlikely that car-less pedestrians with shopping carts are capable of hauling eight foot sofas and heavy appliances to the area. Someone is dumping their crap in the street at the expense of the homeless. What are these thoughtless trash dumpers thinking? Do they think their are providing comfortable beds for the homeless.? Do they think the homeless can tweak the appliance innards into working machines? Or perhaps they consider the shell of their old refrigerator to be a “tiny house.” More likely, they don’t want to pay the fees to dump legally. The issue becomes more complicated for the life of the homeless when the city comes by and blames them for the mess.

Meanwhile, under the freeway, off the street, there is a huge empty lot, surrounded by barbed wire topped fencing. Perhaps it would be possible to open the gates and allow this community to migrate over there? Lend them the area and responsibility  to  live their lifestyle without the burden of everyone else’s garbage. Add to their dignity with a couple of portables (yes, I mentioned before that there are problems with that). But how about this? Give them some maintenance responsibility and if successful provide this reward: Japanese shower.

Okay, enough of a rant. The photo above most likely has nothing to do with homeless. It’s about a dozen blocks away from the camp. I just thought it was an interesting piece of art. Or is it graffiti?

My Chase Rant


Thank you so much, Chase. It is remarkable that you had the insensitivity to post this billboard on the edge of a homeless camp. Are you really putting “home ownership within reach in Oakland?”

I see this camp each Sunday as I pull off the freeway on the way to church. I see the tents move from one block to another and then back again whenever the powers that be sweep the area. Yes, I agree the streets need to be cleaned up. But pushing the camps down the street is only a band aid on the problem. Maybe supplying  portable restrooms would help. No wait – that was tried and didn’t work. How about dumpsters on each end? No wait – that was tried and didn’t work either.

The bottom line is you need to treat the cause not the outcome. “Oh but there are shelters for those people,” some say. Yes, there are shelters and they are full. But they are full of people who may have lost their jobs or couldn’t keep up with increasing rents. People who are able to give up their pets for a cot, never take a drink and work hard for a better life. Perhaps they will recall this billboard and approach Chase for that help that is offered.

And then there are the rest. It’s no secret that my son is one of them.  Not in this neighborhood but one similar. He lives this lifestyle because of choices he made in his life. His opportunities are limited by the history of his actions – no one wants to rent to someone who can’t respect their property. Notice I said “can’t” and not “won’t.” Whatever the story behind this scene, no matter what kind of help is offered, some people simply cannot live the way we think they should.

Whether it be drugs or mental instability, herein lies the problem. Many think these people should live the way we want them to live. They just need to quit doing drugs, go to rehab and get a job. It’s not so simple. I’ve mothered an addicted son. For thirty years I’ve watched him repeatedly spiral down, detox, get a job, and lose the job. All the compassion in the world won’t bring back that little boy who broke my heart. I wait, pray and hope for him to emerge from his soggy tent to tread a new path. I also know, it is in his time – not mine.

Every Sunday I leave my comfortable home on the other side of the tunnel and enter this abyss of destruction. Is there a solution? Oh, how I wish. Meanwhile – Chase, you could do a lot better with your funds than to put up the slap in the face billboards in this neighborhood.


Hotels Music and Barbershops


Our weekend get-away began yesterday with a stay at Black Oak Casino in Tuolumne primarily so Grandma and Grandpa could have an evening of Tom Rigney and Flambeau music. The idea was to wear JJ out in the swimming pool and then let him enjoy a peaceful evening in a luxurious room.

The music part was extraordinary with the band fired up on a high stage overlooking a crowded dance floor. We snagged a prime table near the front of the lounge with a perfect view of the band and the dancers. The music was grand as always. The dancers were entertaining to watch. The food part was not so extraordinary. We opted for the seafood buffet which turned out to be a $23 each disappointment. Order off the menu if you happen to go there.

Pokémon was a bit of a bust for JJ. He sneaked out of the room while we were listening to music since he couldn’t get decent internet from inside but the guard sent him back to his room. Meanwhile he demagnetized his key and I had to go rescue him.

Even though we didn’t have the best of luck, we are spending another night in this area, staying at the old Sonora Inn.  JJ doesn’t believe in ghosts but he is excited to stay here with the possibility that one might appear. We have a two room suite, the only room that was left and kind of expensive, but JJ is more than happy to have his own space. The best part for him is that we are located right between two Pokemon stops so he can gather balls and critters all night. His phone is on the charger while he and grandpa swim in the rooftop pool. I’m getting my 20 minutes writing in but confess I am allowing myself brief interruptions to gather balls for JJ. I don’t want to hear him complaining again about missing the opportunity to catch a rare Pokemon because he has no balls and then complaining more when he finds out grandma was successful in capturing the coveted creature.

Took care of another issue today. JJ has been begging for a haircut. We found this cute little red barbershop on the edge of town and chanced a visit without an appointment. They guy was hesitant at first but since his scheduled appointment had not arrived yet, he agreed to do a quick cut. It was on $10. Since I’m used to paying $20, I paid him $15. I thought JJ was happy. Not until we got to the car did he mention that the guy “squared off” the forehead line and he thinks he looks like an alien. I can’t seem to win.

So JJ and Grandpa are off to the rooftop pool. I elected not to go when I saw that there is not one tiny bit of shade up there. Not a good place to hang out in over 100 degree weather. Maybe the pool water is refreshing. I might reconsider when my writing time is up. That is if they are not back by then.

The hotel has a bit of an old smell, almost like what you expect when you enter an antique store. The furniture is antique, the carpet worn, in spite of them saying it was revitalized in 2012. The bathtub in JJ’s room is large, deep, and probably never replaced. JJ’s comment was, “you could drown in there.” Well, possibly you could but it would be a long wait to fill it up. Water is a mere trickle and barely warm. The flooring in the bathrooms is relatively new tile but it looks like the only upgrades may have been new toilets. The beds are comfortable. We have a fridge, coffee maker and microwave so that’s a plus. There’s a small table and desk but only one chair. The other bedroom has a king sized bed and one small lounge chair. Fortunately, the in window air conditioners seem to be working fairly well. We get to check out old photos around the room in throughout the halls as we creak across the squeaky floors. I could hear Grandpa and JJ talking from the end of the hall and there’s a lot of street noise. We give in to all that and to enjoy the quaintness.

Eric already tested the bar across the street and noted the shop next to it has two dresses he thinks are just my style. So I looked. Not exactly my style. I’m 67 and don’t go braless, spaghetti strapped, or above the knee. That does not go well with flappy upper arms and road mapped white legs. Eric is dreaming of last night on the dance floor where style didn’t matter. The chubby lady wearing what looked like a skirted bathing suit was a good dancer but those chubby legs kind of wobbled with the beat above the knee. Her husband must have told her she looked great. That’s what husbands do. I’ve learned not to listen to mine. He needs a new pair of eyeglasses.

Beautiful Kauai

When JJ heard that grandma was going to Kauai again there was a tense moment of rebellion. “Why can’t I ever go with you?” he asked. Funny, children never remember when they have accompanied you on trips. I gently reminded him of our trip across country to Virginia to see Uncle Don and Aunt Bonnie. I pointed to the scrapbook from our Alaskan cruise. “But I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii,” he says, arms crossed. I assured him that his day would come.

Plans changed a bit. One of our friends couldn’t go and our hostess offered JJ the spot. Who could say no? We bought the tickets. And plans changed again. This time our friend said she worked it out and could now come on the trip. A bit of trepidation ensued when JJ found out he’d now be traveling with three grandmas. Eight days is a lot of time for a thirteen-year-old to hang with three old ladies.

We managed to pull it off. JJ got his own room high up in the loft. We got the run of downstairs. We wore him out each day – shopping, snorkeling, shopping, eating, shopping, snorkeling, traveling around the island, shopping, snorkeling, eating. We’d end the day with an hour in the swimming pool. JJ escaped to the loft for refuge and slept nearly ten hours each night. We are tough old ladies.

The biggest challenge was catering to his dietary whims – for the most part. He had a brief change of heart about diet once we sent him 1/2 mile up the street to Taco Bell for breakfast on a hot, humid morning and he returned with two cheeseburgers from Burger King because Taco Bell doesn’t open until 11am. Our explanation of Hawaiian time fell on deaf ears. Bubba Burger was 1/2 mile the other direction and that became the favorite fast food of choice. Next time he may eat what we eat. For the month of July he has agreed to thirty-one days of no fast food. We shall see.

Snorkeling was the highlight. With rented gear JJ had a quick snorkeling lesson in the pool and we were off to the beaches. First up was Lydgate Beach Park, an area with two enclosed ponds, perfect for beginners. For a kid who only had one two week swim lesson session in his entire life, JJ surprised us with his ability to outswim any of us. Snorkeling is now his favorite sport.

We moved on to Poipu where we returned three times. It was the best – except for one day – the day we crossed the sandbar to the adventurous side of the beach. Maybe a little too exhausted and heading back to shore, a huge wave plunged us over to the rocky area. A little banged up, JJ missing one fin and the snorkel gear, we bumped and scooted our way to shore, a big lesson to be learned. An expensive lesson.

Moala’a Bay was the favorite beach. I promised my friend I wouldn’t advertise this one. It’s mostly private, not so easy to get to, but the most beautiful beach we visited. While it was lovely to bask in the sun there, on this particular day, it was too risky to snorkel. We tried to follow the channel out to the reefs but wind and waves warned us not to proceed. Don’t go there 🙂

Did I mention we went shopping? I tried my best to fill up that extra thirteen pounds of space in my suitcase but bottom line, I added only five pounds to the suitcase, five pounds to my body and a weighted fistful of charge slips. Of course we absolutely needed everything we purchased. JJ caught on to the math quickly – one gift for grandpa – two gifts for us – one gift for daddy – two gifts for us – one gift for mommy – two gifts for us.

While it was the adventure of a lifetime for JJ, I think he is happy to be home cuddled up with his nameless cat. JJ survived eight days of three grandmas and questions their ability to agree on anything. We three old ladies survived the teenager the only way we knew how:


Circle Way


Years ago, sometime in the 1990s, I had the privilege to attend the Women’s Dream Quest at Grace Cathedral. It was during this time of much strife and uncertainty that I discovered the labyrinth in this cavernous gothic cathedral. Not knowing what to expect I entered this sacred space nervous and scared but hopeful of finding a sense of spiritual peace. Sleeping bags, pillows and overnight bags lined up against one wall, eighty women gathered around the labyrinth for the opening ceremony.

I took my place in the circle, skepticism growing as we began with chants, songs and dance. Not being gifted with a pleasant singing voice or rhythm to dance I followed in awkward evolution hoping no one would notice I wasn’t verbalizing the words. When the time came to draw cards for smaller group assignments, I was relieved and yet worried knowing I would have to participate. I was assigned to the turtle group. My first thought was at least I can stay hidden within the shell.

We tossed the talking ball back and forth as each woman volunteered to reveal her purpose for being there. I waited to be last whereupon I blurted out, “I just want to sleep overnight in the cathedral.” It wasn’t exactly the truth but I wasn’t willing to share with these people I had met only a few minutes before. I’d have to sleep on it. That was okay.

After changing into our night clothes and having a light snack, we returned to the cathedral for the nighttime activities – pretty much whatever you chose to do – some art projects, meditation, blessings, journaling, walking the labyrinth. Not blessed with much artistic capability, the doll I made was simply a head with a purple robe. I still have her tucked away in my nightstand. As I snuggled into my sleeping bag on the hard concrete floor, the building was abuzz with action. Women walked, danced and crawled the labyrinth. I waited, wanting to walk the labyrinth in the dark peace of night. Soon the lights dimmed.

I slept for a bit, waking up to loud husky snores echoing from a cot on the other side of the pews. I wondered if the woman would be embarrassed if she knew. It was dark except for the candles around the labyrinth and only a few women were still wandering around. I picked up a small green rock that I had brought with me and headed to the labyrinth. Slowly I made the circuits into the center, dropped to my knees in meditation and made the journey out of the maze. I placed the rock on the altar.

At daybreak as the sun shone through the beautiful stained glass windows, Judith Tripp (our leader) strolled through the cathedral with her guitar singing Morning Has Broken. Soon she had a parade of women behind her. My sleeping bag was warm and I chose to stay cuddled up as I watched the procession in awe. When the call came for our first group, I stopped by the altar and picked up the green rock, surprised by its warmth in the chilly environment.

By noon we had finished up our small groups, had breakfast, and performed skits related to our animal cards. I felt blessed, at peace, and at ease – ready to make the journey to the hospital where my son lay deathly sick. I placed the healing rock in his hand praying that good health would return. He still has the rock.

I bring this up over two decades after the experience because I was checking the Grace Cathedral calendar for the labyrinth walk schedule. I was surprised to find that Judith Tripp has a Women’s Dream Quest this coming October. It might just be the nudge I need back into spirituality.

For more information see CircleWay and Grace Cathedral websites.