It’s funny how the mind works. Last Sunday I was on the freeway from the Burbank Airport to Pasadena, concentrating on my driving because I couldn’t get the passenger side mirror adjusted. Then I passed the Entering Pasadena sign and my brain started singing “Home in Pasadena” without my thinking about it. It’s an old song we had learned for the Combined Women’s Chorus’ trip to LA to sing at the Armand Hammer Museum when they were displaying Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party (which has now found a home in Brooklyn). Coming into town I saw bleachers along the street and realized that they were still there from the Rose Parade ten days before. I didn’t know which teams had played the Rose Bowl until I saw the souvenir shops with Alabama and Texas pennants. The next morning I walked to Old Town for breakfast and found a French bakery whose day-old pastry basket had a sign saying “Born Yesterday.”
I was in Pasadena for my cousin Mike’s memorial Monday at Cal Tech, where  he went as an undergraduate and recently endowed a scholarship in the name of his English professor who was also head of student houses. Mike felt the guy didn’t get the recognition he deserved because he wasn’t a scientist. This was so like Mike. He was a scientist from birth, I think, but never only that. He was editor of the student newspaper at Cal Tech (which he attended on a scholarship), later sang in a shape-note group and in Song of Earth, a chorus that sang songs from all over in their original languages and, as best they could, their original singing styles. That’s where he met his second wife. With his two sons, he refereed soccer for years, and even taught other referees. So people spoke at the memorial from all his lives—music, Cal Tech, Harvard, Arete (the think tank he and a few friends founded), and soccer. I represented his childhood and family, so I led off with the stories I put in my last blog.
And heard some I didn’t know. He and some Harvard friends wanted to protest a visit by Madame Nhu and had heard her quoted as saying the only thing she was afraid of was big hairy caterpillars. So they got up a big hairy caterpillar costume with a cartoon talk balloon over it saying “Boo!” Unfortunately, they couldn’t get close enough for her to see it, but they had fun. At the reception after the program, I noticed that one of the speakers, Mike’s protege at Arete, was wearing an Esher tie with an abacus tie-tack. He had talked about how Mike helped the workers take over the company when a new CEO wanted to merge with another company and the board of directors was going along with it. The workers liked the company the way it was, but didn’t have enough shares to outvote the board. But when Mike added his shares to theirs, they did, They kicked out the CEO and the board and got new ones. Now it is a worker-owned company. Somebody else talked about the trouble Mike had getting a security clearance. He had been at the hearing and said it was more like a trial, with one of the questioners asking leading questions and being judge and jury. The speaker had testified that he’’d seen Mike with my mom and dad, and that Mike obviously had his own opinions and wouldn’t blindly follow anybody else’s. Afterwards somebody expressed puzzlement that they would be so concerned about Mike’s politics, after all, Einstein was a socialist. “And Werner von Braun was a fascist,” I added. The abacus tie-tack guy said the government found there wasn’t much correlation between politics and leaks anyway, and looks at other things now.
Tuesday through Thursday I was in Santa Monica with some time to hang out before my school gig on Friday. I love Santa Monica. It’s so LA but not quite—it has, for instance, the world’s first solar-powered ferris wheel. I went to the Santa Monica Pier every day. The merry-go-round wasn’t open (the one where Paul Newman’s character lived in The Sting) but I got to watch the last fifteen minutes of a lesson at the trapeze school on the pier. I got a big case of circus envy. Where were the trapeze schools when I was young and flexible and fearless? Brand of shampoo in my hotel room: Lox. Lox? Was that name made up by a clueless goy or by a Jew with a sense of humor?
Thursday I moved on to Van Nuys so I wouldn’t have to drive to the school in morning rush-hour. I happened to have a couple of stories from Haiti on my set list, and suddenly everybody had seen Haiti on television. The kids at the school were planning to raise money to send fresh water to the earthquake victims, so “I’m Tipingee, You’re Tipingee, She’s Tippingee, Too” was very appropriate, with Tipingee asking all her friends for help. I was also planning to sing “Lambeth Children,” since the director of the school wanted some Malvina songs, and that fit right in too.
That was in the assembly. Earlier, for the combined fifth-sixth-grade class, I was talking about going on the March on Washington, since Martin Luther King’s birthday was coming up. I told them that some folks we met at dinner the night before the march who lived right in D.C. weren’t going to go because they were afraid there would be violence, but there was no violence. One boy asked if we saw any Ku Klux Klan people. I said no, and then, in the spur of the moment, I swung into the story—which I hadn’t told to kids before—of my grandparents’ home in Long Beach being raided by the KKK. We had a good discussion.
Now I’m in Victorville in the high desert with two other storytellers, Olga Loya and Angela Lloyd, having our annual storytelling retreat. We are used to being five, but one, Kathleen Zundell, died last year of cancer, and Katy Rydell, who moved to Maine, decided she couldn’t come this time. It feels like Los Angeles is emptying out of people I know. Marcia Berman moved to Eugene; Rita Kort, my friend from my days of going to American Library Association conferences, organizing childcare, died of cancer years ago.
It does feel good to be back at Angela’s in the desert outside Victorville. We walked to the little artificial lake where we saw black cormorants sitting with white pelicans last time. This time no pelicans, but a heron was with the cormorants, and on the way back we saw a road-runner. I don’t know that I’d recognize one except that they look exactly like the cartoon version.
Now I’m in San Jose on the AmTrak train waiting to leave for Berkeley. Not only are there tables in these trains, but by each table is a three-prong socket to charge your computer. Olga and I would have gotten to San Jose (where she lives) yesterday but there were warnings of heavy rain and 30-mile-an-hour winds gusting to 80 miles an hour on the Grapevine, so we stayed over an extra night in Victorville. We went to see Avatar, which we all liked, especially since I insisted on sitting in the back where we wouldn’t get seasick. Good politics, amazing special effects, and the battle scenes did seem necessary. Lots of strong women, and I liked Susan Sarandon as an alien. And vicariously riding those dragon-like creatures. And we get to cheer for the indigenous people against the corporate exploiters and their hired guns.
Coming up I-5 today was not too bad. Some wind and spurts of heavy rain, and we did get hit by a tumbleweed blowing across the freeway. But we started the day at the date shake place in Pearblossom. I ordered date, Olga ordered prickly-pear, and we traded half-way through.  
Toot toot! Here we go! And I should be home in time for writing workshop.
Yup. Posting from home.
©2010 by Nancy Schimmel
3 Comments Manage Comments for this Entry
I ordered matzo brei at the Broadway deli near the hotel in Santa Monica one morning, and it was too dry, though the applesauce was excellent. I thought “Why do I ever order this? Nobody makes it like Rita Kort did.” Then I realized why I ordered it.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - 10:29 AM
Wonderful post! and photos! I love it that you realized why you ordered matzo brei. I miss her too. Sally and I saw "Avatar" yesterday, managing to walk between rainstorms to the UA. You caught it nicely, except, of course I sat us closer and was actually moved by the 3D several times (ducking, flinching, etc. Yay! Loved the floating mountains, and THE tree.
Thursday, January 21, 2010 - 08:08 AM
I'm touched that Rita is still remembered.  Strange that I even found this blog.  Nancy, I think of you often and am glad to find you doing well. Carole, maybe you remember me - I lived w/ Rita from 1979 until she died.
Saturday, March 6, 2010 - 09:02 AM
Mama (Mary Helen Caroline)and baby (Cookie) donkey at the ranch where we do our storytellers’ retreat. All photos on this page by Angela Lloyd.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010