Saturday, June 28, 2008

Birthdays like mine

It's my birthday today. Marcie was not only a huge fan of birthdays in general, but someone who reintroduced me to celebrating them for myself. She was also my biggest fan, and therefore my most ebullient celebrant. I miss that.

I am going to try and enjoy my time today, but I will share more about my birthdays and Marcie in later posts. This week, I mean.

Have a good weekend, folks.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tough to watch

The most innocuous things can knock me down and send me back into grief. Television shows do that instantly.

I rid myself of television a few months ago. The only viewing I can do is through the web, and I avoid it. Most shows I watched before Marcie died were because of her and wanting to spend time with her.

Some I simply did not like except to see her enthusiasm for them, such as the Amazing Race, Survivor, and other reality shows. These appealed to Marcie's voyeuristic side.

"I know it is like, total trash, but I love seeing these people just make fools out of themselves," she said.

Some others were not so bad. We watched Weeds on Showtime at the suggestion of Tanya, caught Lost together once in a while, and watched Animal Planet. I refrained from her Desperate Housewives, Dancing with the Stars and American Idol. Ugh.

But I did enjoy watching The Office with her. She filled me in on the little details, kept me informed when reporting took away from my viewing time, and laughed constantly while she watched it.

Last night, because I remember how much she loved it, I tried watching a few episodes on the web. While the laughs were still there, I found myself in tears afterward.

I needed the Marcie touch, the little guffaws, the happy banter, the commercial runs to the bathroom or kitchen and her joy at watching.

All I could think was how much she would have loved each scene with her favorite characters. But who would have thought a television show would carry such emotional weight?

Maybe I'll watch Lost, too. Ugh.

Characters: "Otto Van Otterson" (pt.6)

We searched in mostly silence, using the long foray into Hillcrest as much to exercise as to sate Marcie's curiosity. Marcie and I were out of breath as we trudged up and down hills with no real destination. Finally, she stopped to rest.

We had wandered over to the bus stop bench in front of a Union Bank. Across the street lay one of Marcie's favorite places.

"We need to go there and get chicken pie some night," she said, pointing at the Original Chicken Pie Shop.

All I knew of chicken pot pies was Stouffer's, a dinner we sometimes had at my father's in my childhood. I hated them, but I was willing to try a new source once.

"Sure," I said. "So tell me. How did Otto come to be the ambassador for the river people?"

She was tiring after an hour of wandering, and she smiled and rolled her head back, her red hair catching the sunlight just so as I looked over at her. She looked at me sidelong, smiling.

"Well, I don't really think he's the ambassador by any appointment," she said. "He's just really gregarious and friendly in his own quirky way, and he always smiles."

"So he is more of a goodwill ambassador?" I asked. "Kind of a San Diego Chicken for the Mission Valley Homeless?"

She looked at me and rolled her eyes, tugging on the straps of her backpack, which I slid off her shoulders.

"Thanks," she said. "And Otto is a diplomat, honey, not a mascot. Why do you have to trivialize everything?"

She almost pulled it off, but she guffawed as I went silent, into her hands. "Okay, okay," she said, snorting a little.

"The first time I saw him, I was on the 25 and we were pulling into Fashion Valley," she detailed. "He was standing at the corner behind the Town and Country and waving."

I had seen him do this once, at the entrance to 163 from Hillcrest. I at 6th and University by City Deli and watched. People honked or waved back. He made incoherent sounds at the passing vehicles, waving especially at people who yelled at him.

I had instantly respected him, his suit and beard well-groomed, if one was layered over others and the latter long and in need of a trim. His life was not easy, but he was enjoying it, and his possessions sat at his feet as he took time to hearily hail.

"Hmm," I said.

"Then he showed up at CVS, " she said. "Then one day, I saw him with another homeless guy who had shoplifted from us over by the bus stop at the freeway entrance, by Texas street. The police were arresting the young guy."

I looked at her as we crossed and passed the Hillcrest Stationary store, and she took my hand and swung it as she continued. I remember her smiling.

"The police kept telling him to stay over by the bus bench, and he kept going back and mumbling in his language, then he would smile and pretend to sneak up on them," she said. "Then he would be standing nect to them..."

She stopped and cracked up, so I shook her hand a little and waited. "Well?" I asked.

"He would... huh! He was imitating one of the police, standing behind them with his hands on his hips and pointing at the younger guy, then when he would start warbling how he did, they would make him go back," she said.

"So he was harrassing the police?" I asked, incredulous.

"No, no," she said. "I overheard them asking the guy why he hit Otto before I got on the bus. I saw them let the guy go when I transferred."

I nodded, "Because Otto didn't press charges?"

She shrugged. "I decided that Otto had convinced them to let him go, and since I knew the other one lived at the river, and I knew Otto sometimes sat with other river people, that he must be their representative, looking out for them."

"Huh," I said. "Who knows?"

She squeezed my hand. "Oh, I know," she said, a twinkle of mischief in her eye. "I totally know, honey. Otto is the ambassador. He has lived here most of his life and he is the king of the urchins."

"The king?" I asked.

"Well, you know what I mean," she said. "He is dignified and he has pride and character, and he kind of sets an example and does his own thing."

And she looked around, turning her head and yanking my arm downward, turning me.

And there he was, lowering a bag gently into his Mayfair cart as he jabbered at the wind. He pulled a small, feather-bearing fedora cap, a bit stained with sweat, onto his head and laughed, the sound echoing across the street.

As he turned around and scanned the street, Marcie tucker her head in my chest and whispered happily, "Oh my god, don't look, honey, don't look."

Of course I knew I would need to provide a full report and should therefore not look away.

But I did, and he waved and then pushed on, muttering in a language all his own, master of a worl we simply visited from time to time. One very specifically and beautifully drawn by my future wife.

She peered up at me with her wide smile and her mischievous wide-eyed look. "Is he gone?" she asked.

I nodded and she pulled me down and smooched me, the salt of her sweat and sweetness of her ever-present gloss refreshing and wonderful. "Okay, let's go get a chicken pie."

We did, and I didn't like it. But we walked all the way down Washington to Gelato Vero, and that I did indeed enjoy. And there was still more to Otto to know, though not much and more a note than a story.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Characters: "Otto Van Otterson" (pt.5)

Marcie, her interest piqued, simply had to see Otto for herself. The description I drunkenly relayed carried the double disadvantage to her of being both intriguing and less than reliable, given my state.

Of course, it wasn't really unreliable, but Marcie had her issues early on with any drinking of any kind, due in large part to alcoholism in her own family and her awareness of it in mine.

"Honey, you were so drunk, it could have been some random homeless person that you decided looked like Otto," she said. "I just want to go up to Hillcrest and see if he's there."

This was, of course, a mini-adventure, and she would have it with or without me. With sounded safer, not because of Otto, but simply because there was such a profusion of shady characters invading the Hillcrest homeless scene in 1995.

"Okay, we'll go on an Otto safari," I said. "Let me pack a bag with some water and get my wallet."

I packed some water, Marcie's puffed Cheetos, some fruit and a sweater for Marcie in my backpack. Then, while Marcie waited and watched, I also packed a transit map of downtown, a compass, binoculars, my camera, and her survival knife.

"We go to track the almost impossible to find Otterson," I said, effecting a British accent and the breathless excitement of the stereotypical upper-crust documentarian. "This is an ambitious endeavour, and not without its perils."

Marcie started doing her silent laugh as she slipped her own backpack on. We walked down to the stop for the 11 bus and waited, but soon Marcie was antsy.

"You know, I have seen his crew up on 6th by the park lately," she said. "Maybe he has moved there, too. Can we walk up and check the west end out?"

I nodded, and I followed her up the hill a ways, then relieved the silence of the trek. "So where is he from?"

Marcie turned around, eyes wide and biting her lip. "I don't know," she said, voice a little high. "But I used to tell the girls at CVS he was abandoned as a child by the river."

"So he was like Moses?" I asked, smiling.

"No, don't be silly," she admonished. Marcie rolled her eyes and continued walking, the clapping began as she hunched forward and the story poured forth.

"I think his parents were vacationers from Hungary or Austria, and one day, they decided to go home," she said. "They decided that Otto should stay, so they went down to the river and waited until he was playing in the water, then slipped away."

I listened and smiled, but I interjected, "Oh, poor Otto was abandoned!" I said.

"Mmm HM!" Marcie murmured, continuing. "An urchin, lost in a land where nobody spoke his language. All they left him was a paper napkin and some flatware, because they wanted him to not eat with his fingers, which he had never learned to do properly."

I noted the nice summation of the origin of the flatware in the coat pocket, but wondered what food he had. "How did he eat?"

"He spent his early years working the farms in Mission Valley, doing hard labor for money to buy food with," she said. "He also bought a watch from time to time. He never learned to wind them, so he replaced them when they stopped ticking, keeping the old ones."

We both laughed. Marcie looked back with her gentle, doting smile, head cocked a bit. She appreciated our interaction and the attention to her story. I was enjoying it and I stopped her and kissed her, then took her hand.

"How did he know what to do?" I asked as we walked, arms swinging, hands clasped. "Farm work is labor, but there are some basics you need to know, especially with a language barrier."

She smiled and a little laugh escaped her. "His parents were goat farmers in the old country," she said, turning to me and smiling again as I laughed. I shook my head.

"Well, that's what I like to think!" she said. "They were goat farmers who decided to leave Otto behind in the land of opportunity. Unfortunately, he never had one."

I nodded as the story obviously prepared for a dark turn with her voice changing.

"When he was noticed by a police officer one day, wandering round talking to himself, he was taken away," she said sadly. "He lost his little knickerbockers, now way too small for him anyways, his silverware, and his watches."

"Aww," I said.

"They kept him for years and years in a mental hospital, then when Ronald Reagan closed all the hospitals, he was let loose," she said. "He promptly wandered back to Mission Valley."

I nodded and scanned the last bit of Balboa Park's west side for homeless. There were a few, but the weekend volleyball games at "Gay Beach" had likely chased off most of them.

"Everything was different," she said in a mournful tone. "There were few farms and the valley now had a big freeway in it. Otto had only the plastic ware he left the hospital with, a set of pajamas and some moccasins he sewed himself in occupational therapy at the hospital."

I started cracking up, but she grabbed my arm a little higher up and tried to calm my guffawing as she continued, suppressing her own chuckles.

"But in a stroke of luck, he found a suitcase dropped on the side of the road, perhaps fallen off a station wagon, with just what he needed," she said. "Soon, he was in a new woolen suit, sporting not one, not two, but three watches, and with a set of silver utensils."

She stopped as we prepared to cross west toward Banker's Hill. "And what made it fancy," she said. "What made it fancy was the CLOTH napkin, actually a handkerchief, which he found inside the suitcase."

"So he was all set?" I asked.

"Yes, he was all set," she said, clapping her hands as we walked northward. "But he needed work, and for that, he turned to the river, where his destiny awaited."

I began to ask, but she stopped me. "Honey, let's go see if we can find him in Mission hills. I don't think he usually wanders this far. He's not very mobile."

I nodded and we walked on in silence for a while. When we passed Jimmy Carter's, I prompted her. "So was his destiny to be ambassador of the river people?"

She fell forward a little, acting silly. She looked up at me. "Oh, so you're enjoying Otto's story?" she asked.

I nodded and she took my hand and squeezed it. "Well, I'll share more later."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Update issues

The photos are overdue. I'll get to them, but it's still hard to look at them and see her face so many times and keep it together. I'll probably end up posting the last two chapters on Otto
first. I have been home today from work, and not at the top of my game, so no update today.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The blouse

I remember what you said that night
in a dim-lit coffee house.
Your cigarette cherry glowed red light
and smoke rolled up your blouse

"I hope you'll take it slow with me,
I've been in quite a state.
I'll give it time and then we'll see,
If we still want to date."

You puffed again and I drank a bit
and nodded, acted cool.
The cherry glowed, your face was lit
I stared, a happy fool.

"That's fine with me, I'll take my time,
and learn what makes you tick.
And after all, we're in our prime.
We need not be so quick."

You rolled your eyes and took a drink
as night slipped over day.
You looked at me and paused to think,
I wondered what you'd say.

"But don't dare drag your feet with me,
I have my pick of men.
I've many places I must see,
And some to see again."

I smiled and took your cigarette.
I puffed and blew a ring.
I smiled and said, "On that I'd bet,
the men and everything."

You took it back and pulled a drag,
then turned and put it down.
You took my hand, picked up your bag,
Smiling behind a frown.

"I'm serious you know," you said.
"You may not have a chance."
"So if you want then go ahead,
and show me some romance."

For seven years we wined and dined,
and loved and laughed and fought.
To wed me you were "not inclined."
"Never," or so you thought.

Then after one more coffee cup
that morning in the fall,
You gave your one-time "never" up,
and said we'd change it all.

For seven more we lived a life
as one made out of two,
For me, you were a loving wife,
and I, a mate for you.

I remember what you said that day,
the glow of dusk's last light.
You took your time, as was your way,
and spoke into the night.

"I'm glad you took it slow with me,
I've been in quite a state.
And soon my soul will have to flee,
I'm sorry, it can't wait."

"So many places I did see
and some I saw again.
You didn't drag your feet with me,
said, 'Now,' when I asked, 'When?"

"I'm meant it back then when I said
you may not have a chance.
But I'm so glad you went ahead.
It was such sweet romance."

The night you left I saw your face
inside the coffee house.
Your smile behind a knowing frown,
above your pretty blouse.