Sunday, December 24, 2006

San Diego Christmas

Outside in my shorts, sandals, and shirt sleeves. It feels like August in Tahoe, but it's Christmas in Northern San Diego County: San Marcos to be exact. The birds are working with high pitched complaint. In the distance the faint highway sounds of 78 make me wonder if there will ever be a day of perfect natural silence. If so, what disaster will have driven the autos of so cal from the freeways?

It's still, not deep sierra, 3 days of hiking with a backpack still, but natural still none the less. I can hear a papery wind in the eucalyptus trees.. the dark trunk variety, and it's a tropical Christmas.

The puppies are goofing in the side yard. Two sparks of light that drop a plastic fist full of doglogs over the yard every day. It's past noon by a few minutes and I can see the tree shadows change on the lawn. Just a moment's image caught on electronic paper to say it's Christmas.

Flock of pigeons? no ducks? I need binoculars to be sure, but the birds are flying and they are ...ducks... about 40 in tight formation, tight turns and swoops over th the pond, not ready to settle, hard to track with the binoculars. I watch them over Jack's Pond which is hidden down the slope of the hill by a neighbors roof line. Enough of a pond to attract ducks in December. The flock disappears.

Above the pond, in the distance , the largest building to the southeast is Palomar Medical Center in Escondido. I can see it clearly from where I sit.

I can see the top floors of the hospital where Jack died this past July.

How strange that I didn't realise we had this view until after he died. We can see the hospital from the back deck & the upper deck. I can sit in the pool Jack never felt and see the spot where he died. Where we all sat with him as he went.

I wish you were here with us this Christmas, but I think we both knew that your last December was going to be your last Christmas too... It a year plus one day since we sprang you from the nursing home. I remember the joy and fear on your face when Kyle and I got you out of there so you could be home for Christmas.

My brother John and his family will be over soon to celebrate Sunday December 24th. We will laugh and talk and watch the Charger's game on Dad's big set. I've tweaked the Boze speakers and hope the surround works like it should.

Little Jackson will run the yard, float the pirate boat on the still pool, watch the dogs pay, and be in the moment, for the moment.

I've got this day, in this place, with this fine weather and the headspace to enjoy it because I uprooted the old life at Tahoe and threw myself and may family into taking care of my dad for his last year on the planet.

I'm glad we changed our lives and got so much closer to him for those last months. It was a gift to all of us.

And so, here, at the house my dad helped us turn into a home, on the day before Christmas 2006, I look out at the place where you died Jack, and hope you know how much the gifts you've given us count toward making this Christmas one that's felt with the heart more than the wallet.

Dad, you've given me the chance to be mindful of the good things around me. Merry Christmas. I miss you.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Motorcycles & Me

I'm not sure if a life long "vehicle post acquisition depression" pattern wasn't set just then. Now whenever I get something I've longed for, _most especially wheels anticipated, desired over a period of time, I find my self wondering what will go wrong to put a pall on the joy. I won't buy a new car for this reason alone, convinced that what ever I purchase will somehow sour and turn on me, causing me some particularly insidious grief. That certainly proved true of the first motorcycle I ever purchased.

I've never told you about a lot of my life after I left home. Call it honoring the O'Connor tradition of remaining silent about anything negative until well after the negative effects of the secret have been dealt with and dissipated. The thinking goes that the knowledge can only bring stress to those you love__ and the knowing provides no possibility of remedy. Seems to me there is about a 10 year stretch I held back from you under the general principles stated above. But I'm in my forties now, still alive, although somewhat amazed that I survived those times, and I suppose its safe to let you in on a few of the crazed events that blew through my life away from home, like a combination of hurricanes, earthquakes and just plain concentrated bad news.

Now that my motorcycle is long gone, (and if Jan is to be believed buried forever in my remote past) the stories can be told. I wanted a BMW motorcycle with all the passion I'd longed for that 10 speed multiplied by the money in my pocket and the strange times that were Berkeley in the early 70's.

I thought the BMW was a sleek, beautiful, majestic machine. My friends called it a big staid German dog. My biking buddies were into hot and crazy limy bikes like the Norton Commando, and Triumph. Loud flashy, oil spurting British steel that could scream up the acceleration curve with a throaty roar.

But I had my eye on a model called the R69_S, big, black, twin chrome tail pipes and huge twin cylinders that spread out parallel to the ground like thick wings. I'd found the machine of my fixation in the want adds__ $1100, it was more than I had, but I wanted it badly. The thing was set up for road touring, a sleek black and Plexiglas wind faring swept back from the headlight. Fiberglass saddlebags hung from the sides. The huge touring gas tank looked like the overstuffed thorax of a monstrous black bumblebee. I was completely consumed with the want of this machine.

I was working at the ice house at the time, living a very cash flush lifestyle, little did I know that I had more money in my pocket than at any time in my life since. I had it figured that if I spent every dime I owned, plus the rent money I could get my machine. I'd then tighten the belt to next pay day and be ahead again.

I wanted the BMW, but felt obliged to shop the field. I rode a British bike, a red Triumph that had been in storage for a few years, over the garage where the BMW was parked. The Triumph's gas tank hadn't been properly drained before storage, the old fuel gummed up the carbs causing the bike to buck, surge, wheeze, smoke, and growl. I knew I didn't want the
Triumph, but I still didn't have enough to pay for the BMW.

I drove the Triumph up to the BMW owner. "I'm going to buy this Triumph for $900, unless you'll sell me the BMW for the same amount." I was desperate, it was all I had. The conviction in my voice convinced the guy. With a muttered curse, he cut his price $200 and we made a deal. It was Christmas morning all over again. I even managed to drive the bike into the room I was living in at the time. I spent the night watching it gleam, trying the key (a spike like affair that socketed into the headlight), admiring the German chrome. I rode without incident for a week. Then it happened.

As I accelerated around a corner on to Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley a small silver fiberglass sports car darted left across my lane__and stopped. I had enough time to lock up the breaks and lay on the horn. The screeching tires howled down a thick black streak of rubber as time slowed down. The passenger in the sports car watched me wide eyed as I skidded into the car. The bike slammed into the door, launching me, with my girl friend still hugging my back, up through the faring of the bike. We somersaulted over the sports car, a neat ballistic flip through the early evening air, landing in a breathless heap twenty feet beyond the wreck. I hit tail first and skidded far enough on my fanny to singe my bum. My girl still clinging to my back landed on me. I cushioned the shock of her landing and she walked away from the wreck with out a scratch.

The shock of the pavement knocked the wind from me. I sat dazed in the street, strangers suddenly surrounding us with questions.

"Are you all right?"

"You're cut!"

Blood trickled down my face from a laceration on my temple. I'd snapped the Plexiglas out of the faring with my big Irish head. We were bundled into a VW bus and driven to the University Hospital by helpful strangers. I the doctor jerked stitches through my head with a special snapping emphasis as he lectured me on the stupidity of not wearing a helmet.

The next day I awoke too stiff to move. I felt like I'd been carefully and completely beaten from head to toe with a baseball bat. Too sore to work, too broke not to I forced myself back to the Icehouse. I cripped my way through the swing shift __my body and my bike were broke. The bike was never the same after that, I couldn't afford to get it 100% fixed. The vehicular joy was burned out of me once again. I just suffered stupidly until the pain and the hassles went away. Another prime example of the O'Connor dictum of not sharing pain with your loved ones. What you didn't know couldn't upset you.

High Mountain

In the high mountains finding my way
horizon ridge vague above moving fog
alone here with forty peaks visible
sound of wind
insects buzz
the mountains are moving
a small bird hops lightly on new ice
aquamarine blue
the high lakes like Navaho turquoise
winter slips from scraped granite
creeks swell
buried trees groan under snowlode
the land is swift with change

giant mother shudder to spring

Exhibition of Speed

When I was living under your roof I was obliged to tell you when I was caught, really caught, doing senseless things. I still feel the embarrassment of having to tell you about that moronic ticket.

I'd been out cruising that night. I'd probably told you I was going to the drive-in or a movie. No doubt I'd driven by a movie theater and certainly I'd driven through the drive-in. Teenage veracity at its best.

Cruising' with my high school buddies, Big George, Danny Moore, Robby Brown, and Mark S. Letter. Robby was down, really depressed over the death of his cousin. His cousin had been a junior at Notre Dame. Suddenly we all knew someone who'd died in the parking lot at the Safeway just a few blocks from school. I stared at the death spot in the parking lot every time I drove by.

Robby's cousin had been riding his motorcycle (why do I still remember it was a blue Triumph 650?), he hit a puddle, skidded out of control, struck the curb and shot through the front window of a parked car snapping his neck and ending his 17 year old life in an instant.

Everybody at school was shocked. There was a memorial mass. Death had touched one of us, we didn't feel as immortal for awhile.

I felt a special responsibility as driver to cheer Robby and everybody else up that night. I was driving your '64 Chevy Impala. It was a two-door, metallic silver, with black bucket seats and wire wheel covers. A cool car, except for the automatic. Instead of 4-on-the-floor, there was a hand wide chrome automatic shifter, although you could still get rubber if you revved the engine and dropped it quick into drive.

We cruised the valley that night, rolled through the Bob's Big Boy in Toloucca Lake, radio blaring, goosing the engine, pounding the sides of the car in challenge to all. I was way out of myself, driven by the need to shock and elevate by pal's mood. We all were trying to cheer Robby up, trying to forget that death had taken someone we actually knew. It was all the justification we needed.

Of course we finally found some other guys out cruising in another car --they'd taken up the challenge. We drove side by side, door handle to door handle, motors roaring, accelerating briefly from light to light-- Challenging and sneering. Doing the dance, feeling the adolescent thrill of competition and speed.

I was never one to race, it scared me, I was always afraid of wrecking the car or getting caught. But tonight was different. We had something to forget. I had a friend to cheer up--all this without a thought about risking our lives in a car to forget the death by motorcycle of a friend.

We rolled to a stop side by side in front of a traffic light. I revved the motor and pounded the door, shouting a challenge to race. Strangely the guys in the other car they seemed suddenly subdued. All the bravado had leaked out of them. They sat at the light, hunkered down, engine silent-they didn't even want to look at us. I thought we'd cowed them and continued to rev the engine.

The light changed, I dropped it into drive, punched the accelerator and burned rubber. A high satisfying squeal smoked from the tires as we left our opponents standing still at the light.

"Yeeee Hah! WE BLEW THEM AWAY!" I couldn't believe I'd won!

Then I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the motorcycle cop with his lights all spinning and the siren going. He?d right behind us, watching the byplay, taking it all in.

"Don't you feel like an ass?" The cop grinned a mean, tight, strained smile down at me. It seemed like he was wiping a thin mist of exhaust and burnt tires off his mirror sunglasses. "Gimme your license and registration kid." I handed it over and slunk down in the seat -mortified, embarrassed, self-conscious, certain the whole adolescent world was cruising by us slow and laughing hard. My pals were dead silent while the cop wrote out the ticket. That little yellow official message of doom read: Exhibition of Speed.

I signed the promise to appear. I meekly said, "Thank you sir", eased the car into gear and, slowly, cautiously, checking all the mirrors and glancing over my shoulders into the blind spot, pulled away sheepishly into traffic. The cop cruised a few cars behind me for miles, while my buddies exploded with screams of laughter, howling over my grim fate, pointing, chuckling, slugging me in the arm, calling me names --and generally having a good time at my expense. I had to laugh at myself. I did feel a bit of satisfaction at having cheered up Robby.

But at the end of the evening I had to come in and face you. You had guests over for cards. I walked in, nodded hello and quickly headed straight for my room. I was amazed that you could read my face so easily.

"What happened Dennis?"

A version of the story trickled out. The ticket said it all. You were disappointed, I was grounded. I felt relieved that you'd taken it as well as you had.

Thanks again.

Jack O'Connor

Most of the writing in this blog was inspired by thinking about my father, Jack O'Connor. I've tried to catch those special moments of childhood that you remember through the filter of many decades as an adult.

I wrote the narrative pieces after learning Jack was very ill. I thought he was going to die. Since I was stuck 600 miles away in the mountains at the time, shackled to a classroom teaching job and unable to be with my folks when they needed me, I turned to writing as a way to vent the steam.

The product was dozens of narratives based on growing up in the San Fernando Valley as the eldest son of Jack and Joan O'Connor.

Both my mom and dad are gone now. Joan died in March 2001. Jack died in July 2006.

They both live in the minds and hearts of those who knew and loved them. All of the writing here is dedicated to their memories.

Dennis O'Connor
December, 2006

Friday, December 08, 2006

Automatic Writing

Insect thin grey wings wiggles black body
on my arm hair.
Thin crescent moon at noon.

Bird chirp
Flea foot on note paper
Water rumble
Nervous foot
Water bubble

Bird whistle

Mumble of kids
Brett stands on a log
Smiling Happy Boy
Rough wood on the bike bridge
Ben slaps him down now.

Skin heats under sun
Brittle pine needles
Bamboo reed like packed straw
Fingers tingle in cold water
Scrape of branches on my skull, shoes, soul?

Like chicken feet in the sand
Patterns in the stream bottom

On a wooden bridge
(Lorena shows us the moon crescent in the sky)

Birds find a way
At every sunlit moment
To whistle their lives
A fly buzzes me
Ah, So how does your skin feel?
Tangles in your hair

Lorena & Ingrid tease the whispering creek
With muddy shoes
& smile

Chatter bird
Water riffle
Sniffle of weeping bird

Squirrel whistle
Trees sign a breathing hum

Tall tree, fire hole of sun in clouds
a Butter fly
Shadows the blue
Pine needle pom-poms
Shot with light.

3 dogs, splash and drink from the stream-

I’m dog thirsty and ready to shake

Wet grit of stream caught
Pine needles

I haven’t spent enough time just sitting in the woods

Waiting for God
In the breezes & squalls

To make my presence
Known to

Enjoy a moment

When the temptations
Are at bay

And the sweet Brief

Idea of poetry can
Be had...

Old grey

Fat man now

More memories than dew

drops on a bare branch.