Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Heart's Crossroads (Without Having to Choose Only One)

My heart yearns, reaches for different places. Not necessarily to live there (except for Ventura, where I do), or even visit, but just to know.

On California Street in downtown Ventura, which is the most direct access to the beach, at least if you're not driving (else you have to stop in the parking garage on the left side at the end of California, in the looming shadow of the Crowne Plaza hotel), there's the Channel Islands Lodge No. 214 for the Masons, though they place it on East Santa Clara, because that's where the entrance is. But the side that I gape at is on California, about three floors, all brick on that one side, going up, up, up. I look at it, I gape, and my mind thinks of...New York. New York City. My family genes in motion in my mind and my heart, being that my late father was from New York City and so is my mother. Mainly, I think about my father in such instances because he lived New York City, he drove those streets, he knew them. My mother lived in New York City too, a regular bus rider, but my father knew full well right off the rhythms of those streets, how you had to keep moving lest you wanted a taxicab up your ass as a fashion accessory. The brick of the Masons building on that side of California doesn't look as hard as the brick you'd find on some buildings in New York City, because it has never lived the life that those New York City buildings have. But in my mind, while I look up at that building from that empty parking lot, which is seldom used, I think of those streets. I imagine my father walking them at times, but mainly driving. I look for him in that brick, and I also think about how badly I want to read more about New York City, in history as well as in novels. I think to myself that I will get to it, provided other books don't get in the way. I try to carve out a section for them, because I want to try to find my father in those pages, to get a greater sense of him through the New York City that others have seen and lived and felt deep in their bones. I will.

Of course, I think about Ventura too, the history I still very much want to know. I know some, like how before the Ventura County Government Center was on that particular sprawling spot on Victoria, it was all lemon groves. Same with Via Ventura, our first apartment complex, on Telephone and Saratoga. All lemon groves, too. I also know many times over that the Barnes & Noble shopping center on Telephone, which includes Michael's, PetSmart, Ethan Allen, Sprouts, Kohl's, and a few other places which don't seem as important with how large those loom, was once a drive-in movie theater called the 101 Drive-In (for the 101 freeway, which abuts Ventura at that certain point). I also know about the movie theater on Mills, near the mall, which showed the first Star Wars trilogy when those were originally released. I love movies, which is probably why I've found out more details about both theaters than really anything else in Ventura. But I'm getting to know more, since I live here and I like it here and I hope to be here for a long time to come. For example, I know very well the security guard station not a few feet after you enter the Hall of Administration in the Government Center, as that's where I've taken so many tests, been on many job interviews, and will hopefully be working there soon, even temporarily so I can do my damndest to get my foot in the door in pursuit of full-time work. But I had no idea that there's a security command center in the basement monitoring the cameras all around the Hall of Administration. More security than the one security guard there which, no matter who it is, is always a good soul. There are terrific men and women there (When I was a volunteer at the Green Valley Library in Henderson, Nevada for five years, I knew Ed, its now-former security guard, quite well. I was also a substitute campus supervisor at La Mesa Junior High, where my father taught, for six years, which provided a kind of security on the campus, also herding students to class and escorting students to the office at the radioed request of whoever there wanted them, and monitoring everything going on during lunch). Of course there are also the maps in the Hall of Administration and the various departments, and I've been interviewed in many of them, and been there when the Board of Supervisors has been meeting, watching some of the proceedings on the closed-circuit flatscreen TVs they have at the entrance to the chamber. I want to know much more, though. I've been to the Ventura County Museum back when they had an exhibit of menus from various Ventura County restaurants in decades' past. I'd love to dig into the history in the research library they have there and I have an angle I may want to pursue as a book, about Ventura County's only empire, an unusual one compared to the typical definition of an empire, but no less important to us here in Ventura County.

And then there was today, full-on rush back into my Southern past. I'm a Southerner by birth, not by blood, having been born in Florida, so I don't have all of what the South is thought to be in personality and range of memory. I do have a fierce love of biscuits, sweet tea sometimes, but most especially storytelling as it is in the South. I adore how time is taken to tell a story well, to comb through all the memories, all the details, to slowly yet surely find that path that draws it all together and touches the heart.

I was at Ventura College this morning, where my sister has begun her latest pre-nursing semester, taking another math course as well as Children's Literature as an elective. Today was her second day of the new semester, but I went with her because the administrative assistant in my department, English, Math and Learning Resources, had her last day today ahead of transferring to the Student Services Center a mere hundred feet away, in the Admissions & Records department, a stepping stone in her ultimate career desire to become an academic counselor, as she's also finishing up coursework for her graduate degree, with the major test coming in February involving so much that made me think that the tests I endured in college weren't so bad.

That was my main objective, because when I joined the department as the Instructional Lab Technician in the Learning Resource Center on Saturdays, mainly overseeing the tech side of California State University Long Beach's Master of Social Work satellite program (there are two classes, one at 8:30 and one at 1 p.m. (with time in between for lunch), both done via webcam, with local CSU students in a classroom in the LRC set up for just this purpose, with the webcams and with microphones so they can ask the professors any questions they might have, or participate in the discussions, with one microphone per two students), Susana was not only willing to answer any questions I had, but she also informed me in my first week that even though the Associated Students of Ventura College (ASVC) office was closed on that particular Friday, she called over so that Angeles, one of the main figures there, would know that I was on campus and would be coming over to get my picture taken for my ID. I think I was there that day to also get my TB test done, as is required by the Ventura County Community College District (VCCCD, which also oversees Oxnard College and Moorpark College), and was grateful to her that I could get that done at the same time, as that ID also serves as my bus pass, all bus routes being free to VCCCD students for another school year. I might well be the only staff member who uses the bus system regularly.

So I wanted to see her in person and bid her a fond farewell, even though I had essentially done that already by email. Sure she's only going to the building next to us, but people get busy, and our department still has needs to take care of. This was also one of those days when I didn't have to go to work early downtown, and I found out yesterday that there was going to be a Classified Senate meeting from 10:30 to noon (Classified being where I am, amidst administrative assistants and others in the same realm. Even though I only work Saturdays, as per my contract, I was still very much welcome and welcomed at the meeting), I had to see what that was all about too, and as it turned out, I met a lot more people here than I do on Saturdays. I needed to get a greater sense of the college I call home. And I did.

But before that, after wishing the very best for Susana and also talking to my boss, the dean of the department, for a little bit about Jeopardy!: The Greatest of All Time (she's obsessed with it and even though she's very much a fan of "Jeopardy!", it sounds like she's even more excited about this), I spent time in the library one floor up from my department, a library that I consider my true home in Ventura. This is a library that breathes, that leads, that senses what you want and guides you to it, sometimes without you knowing that you wanted it in that very moment. It happened to me today.

At 9:45, I decided to go to the restroom in the way back of the library, which, from the Quiet Reading Room, involves walking past the shelves of discarded books and textbooks being sold by Friends of the Library, and walking past the librarians' offices as well, including the head librarian, whose mess of an office I admire. It's not a mess for the sake of being messy, but a determined search for a sense of order, just as soon as this one thing gets done, and then this other thing, and then oh look, it's time to go home. That mess has personality.

After the restroom, which is one of the many things I love about being on this campus (it's always clean, but more than that, it actual feels restful), I pulled up the library catalog on my phone to look for The Road Taken: The History and Future of America's Infrastructure by Henry Petroski, which I had returned to the E.P. Foster Library downtown in order to replace it on my nightstand stack of books with Nemo Rising by C. Courtney Joyner, billed as a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I found that the college library had a copy of Petroski's book and I figured to get it there since I always keep space on the shelf of one of my bookcases for books from the Ventura College Library.

I tried. I looked it up and I was ready to go find it. Actually, even though I had intended it to be the one I checked out today (the other four slots of my library account are still full, with five books maximum allowed to be checked out), I got distracted once again by the Leisure Reading section near the entrance/exit of the library when I first walked into the library. It was there that I found out that last October, The Fall of Richard Nixon: A Reporter Remembers Watergate by Tom Brokaw was released and I knew nothing about it. This was the first time I had seen it. I needed to read it and there went the one slot I had for The Road Taken. In Leisure Reading, I also found The Optimist's Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age by Bina Venkataraman, and thought to myself, "Ok, I'll save that one for next time. And The Road Taken, too. And I need to write this out on the ASVC notepad I have so I can keep these in mind for the next time my library card's empty."

I don't know how or why it happened. After leaving the restroom, I had the location of The Road Taken on my phone and was going to look for it. Then, within the Library of Congress classification system that the library uses, I somehow ended up in F209, which I call the Southern section. My life. Part of my heart. I couldn't believe the sheer number of books about the South there was. I mean, I know that there are so many books about it, but this particular selection! There are four volumes of Encyclopedia of Southern Culture and I intend to read all of them. In this section, you can have your pick of Alabama, South Carolina, some of Florida and all the others, Virginia, too, that make up the South. The book that got me deeper into getting back into the past that rests within me was Heart of a Small Town: Photographs of Alabama Towns, which I flipped through and knew I could finish it before I left for the meeting. Didn't have to check it out.

I looked through these deeply evocative photos of street corners, storefronts, churches, parlors in Alabama, and also the quotes that accompanied them, which I include here after transcribing the photos of them from my phone into a Word file I called "Southern Passages":

"When I’d finished I sat on the corner of Phil’s father’s stone and smoked a cigarette and enjoyed the utter quiet of that country graveyard. I watched the Spanish moss swaying, swaying, in the two live oaks by the gate. I was in a kind of spell when I left, peaceful, thinking placidly. . . of all the generations which had passed this way since the Spaniards landed in 1519." – Eugene Walter, "The Back-Roads"

"When death visits our little town, each one left knows that he is diminished, by little or much. No man here is a nobody. Everybody is a somebody. And the sadness at death is genuine. What is more, long memories hold the departed in mind and heart. The vacant church pew, the missing face, the voice, the laughter—the good and not-so-good are remembered and missed." – Viola Goode Liddell, A Place of Springs

"What was this building used for in the past?" he said.
"It was a church, then a bank, then it was a restaurant and a fancy gambling house, and now we got it,” Halley explained. “I think somebody said it used to be a jailhouse too."
– Ralph Ellison, "The Golden Day"

"Now, as a matter of fact, I have called in the Devil just recently. He is the only one who can help me get out of this town. Not that I live here, not exactly. I think always about somewhere else, somewhere else where everything is dancing, like people dancing in the streets, and everything is pretty, like children on their birthdays." – Truman Capote, "Children on Their Birthdays"

All of these quotes are me. I yearn for Spanish moss, even though I only saw it once in person, on the way out of Florida, through Tallahassee, essentially at the beginning of a five-day cross-country drive, moving to Southern California. Death, well, I know exactly how that quote feels. And Truman Capote's quote, well, I'm not looking to leave Ventura, but as has been witnessed here, I do think about other places. But Ventura allows that. It senses that many of its residents are from other places and those places are still in our minds. It gives us space to still explore whatever we want about them, and it doesn't mind because we are here. We chose Ventura.

I loved the photos in that book, and besides these quotes, there were others also in the book that impressed me just as much that I only copied down the authors and where the quote came from in order to find where those stories appeared and to hopefully find them in other books so I can read them in full. Those authors and titles are in my phone, and that's going to take a little while. But I don't mind. The South is a significant part of who I am, not the typical South as others know it, but Southern as I know it, as I carry it within me.

So here I sit with a Ventura College sticky note with four titles on it, including one I found a little while ago in the college library catalog called Swinging in Place: Porch Life in Southern Culture by Jocelyn Hazelwood Donlon, from the University of North Carolina Press in 2001. I desperately want to read that one because I know some of that culture. I've lived it. I wish for that ease that porches bring, but I find it in other things here, including my home library at Ventura College. So that suits me.

But here is this list. And there on my shelf is not only the new Tom Brokaw book, but also How the Post Office Created America, Ten Restaurants That Changed America, and two others I had intended to read during winter break, when the campus, and therefore the library was closed, but never got to them because public library books horned in, including ones on Interlibrary Loan. I think I would like to read them now, but there's the South calling to me in those books. Is it strong enough to prevent me chucking them to the side if something else comes along that sparks my interest? Is my Southern heart stronger than that? I'd like to think so. I hope so. These ones reach me deeply, pull at me hard, beckoning insistently. Here is where I once was and I need to go back to it. I need to know more.

I used to think that I could pick only one, that it was either New York City (even though I haven't seen as much of it as my parents and ironically don't have a great desire to go beyond perhaps seeing the FDR Presidential Library and Museum some day in Hyde Park, and Strand Book Store on Broadway in New York City) or Ventura and therefore more of California history, or my origins in the South. We only have so much time to live as it is, but as it happens, I don't think it's a crossroads of the heart with me. I go down one road for a bit, turn around, and go down another one. Yet, with those quotes above and what I read in that book, the South in those words is how I want to write, how I want to live in my books to come. So maybe more of that. But the others can remain. I'm not sure yet whether I'll read what I checked out from the college library, or return them all (except for the Brokaw book) and start over. But based on what I've found there, and that F209 in the library beckons so wildly to me, I think I'll be with it for quite a while. This is the road I'll take for some time in order to reacquaint myself with that Southern storytelling tradition, which may also be in me at this very moment, to be unearthed in whatever story feels right. I don't know, but I know this feels right, right now. Hopefully longer.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Empty Rooms

To those who might check in once in a while to see if I'm still absent, this has been a longer absence than usual.

In August 2016, while we were living in Nevada, my father was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. There was surgery due to extreme pain that discovered it (Nevada is where washed-out doctors go to practice, and he had complained of stomach pains to the one he had, but that doctor laughed it off and just prescribed more pills), followed by chemotherapy sessions, and then back to Southern California, to Ventura this time, where there was more chemotherapy, ER visits, three hospital visits, and at the beginning of this year, the decision to enter hospice, not least because we had been going at it alone for two years, all of us, and hospice could at least provide a level of support that was crucial, because his body could no longer handle the chemotherapy. In that same month, we had to have Tigger, our 15-year-old miniature pinscher/Italian greyhound, and Kitty, our 13-year-old Italian greyhound/terrier, put down, as they were elderly and desperately ailing. Tigger likely had kidney failure, as there were many times when I'd be walking him, and he would lift his leg, even though he had already peed before and had nothing to give. He thought there was more. Kitty's joints were causing her so much pain, but even with that, she still often dashed in her way to the side of my recliner, wanting to come up and cuddle with me. It was devastating when we had to let them go, particularly because the night we had to do it was the night my father came home from the hospital the second time (he had been in the hospital once the year before). I stayed home with him because he wasn't back in our orbit yet, and my mother and my sister went to take our dogs to the all-night vet that was nearby.

Unfortunately, it wasn't only the dogs. I'd like to cancel the rest of this year because on Wednesday, May 22nd, my father died. The end of his battle with cancer. He died with us remaining three surrounding him. Also, I was born on March 21st. My sister was born on March 23rd. He was incommunicado in that hospital bed in the living room by the time it happened, but he was still very much there. He couldn't talk, his eyes were closed, he was sleeping most of the time, but it's apparent to us that he chose the day, or, rather, the night: the 22nd. He wanted to be between me and my sister.

We still have so much to do, a sudden new world to inhabit, to figure out what we do without our patriarch, without our dogs. We had only just begun to reluctantly accept that our dogs were gone when this happened, and it made it fresh all over again. Three in one year. In the immediate aftermath a little over a week ago, I wondered if anyone had discovered a way to go to sleep afterward and then wake up fully-formed in the next phase of life with everything good already arranged.

Alas, here we are, our apartment too quiet. He had a presence, a personality that filled a room, even in his silence. And we've been getting e-mails from his former fellow teachers, principals, assistant principals, and so many others who remember him fondly. There's been an outpouring of support from students and staff at his final high school, the one he said was the teaching job he had waited for for 40 years, the one he loved the most. He wanted to be at Graduation so badly at the end of this school year that we're going to go in his place, as they plan to honor him during the ceremony.

Still so much to do, so much to go through. I may write more about him, the fond memories I have (he was the only one of us that you could drop into a town he knew absolutely nothing about, and he would be quickly be able to find his way around), and in fact, I might have already in past posts, but I also plan to get back to writing more often. Not just in this blog, not just my book reviews for BookBrowse. I have an 11-page ideas file in Word that I really should start cracking, novels I want to write, poems, children's books. My father died. My mother's getting older. No more time to waste.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Where Are You in Your Mind?

Last night, while trying to get to sleep, I fretted about having so many ideas for nonfiction books and adult novels and YA novels and picture books and still more, and yet I haven't made much headway on any of them. Not out of laziness or ambitions being bigger than my abilities, but I guess it's the paralysis of choice. At least in the way I saw it before thinking about it more this morning.

I wish I could live in a library. Not necessarily a public library. Probably a college or a university library on a sprawling campus (the best kind), with enough space for regular exercise, walking and perhaps eventually even jogging, and a supermarket nearby, maybe some fast-food joints, a bookstore here and there (not only on the campus) to see what's being sold in the area based on what's continually in stock, and perhaps a movie theater or two. In this, I think about Lied Library on the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) campus, which is all on Maryland Parkway, which I consider the most vibrant corridor in Las Vegas, which, if continued to be developed properly, could be one of the great hopes for the city perhaps being known a little more for something else than what it already is and always has been. Further down is the Boulevard Mall, which includes 99 Ranch Market, Goodwill, Ross, Seafood City, which is the local Filipino supermarket, and a Wing Stop Sports bar which, if you know Wing Stop, is much larger than your average Wing Stop, with lots more individual tables, TWO soda dispensers, an honest-to-god bar with alcohol, which is considered amateurish by Vegas standards, and big flatscreen TVs all around. I would have wanted to live at Lied Library, if not for the extreme desert heat and cold that I endured for five years. But that library, my god. Not only was there always more than enough room to walk the UNLV campus, but in the two times I was there as a substitute library aide at Paradise Elementary, which is also on the UNLV campus, I got lost on my way back from Lied Library to the school, before starting work there at 10:30 a.m. Both times, I didn't think I'd get there on time.

The stacks inside Lied Library are so massive that they're located on three successive floors, four if you count the serpentine design of the Leisure Reading section on the first floor, which I never noticed until the final time I was there, as part of our family's farewell tour of Las Vegas, which was cut short at the Wynn on another day when the movers called and said they were going to come to move us out on Sunday, and it was Friday. I was impressed by the sheer number of interesting titles in the Leisure Reading section, which, being in a university library, was far more extensive than Ventura College has in its Leisure Reading section, but it's no less interesting here.

The stacks with call numbers A-HJ are on the third floor, HM-PR on the fourth floor, and PS-Z on the fifth floor, all under the jurisdiction of the Library of Congress classification system. And with what they have, with all the presidential history books I could ever want, translated novels from different countries, every subject that could pop to my mind on a given day (from architecture to music history (especially 1970s music) to various biographies and memoirs and still more), I could easily spend the rest of my life there if such a thing were possible.

And yet, there are other libraries throughout the country, too, such as the New York Public Library (the main, famous one) and other university libraries which very possibly hold as much, if not more as Lied Library. Chances are many of them do, though. It would serve to make me indecisive, but there are considerations which limit me, such as weather. Nothing on the east coast since it gets too cold in winter. Same with the Midwest and in the Great Plains, tornadoes and such, so I wouldn't want to root myself there either.

But that's what it comes down to: Roots. I don't have any. We moved so many times throughout Florida, twice in Santa Clarita (although we did end up in Saugus for eight years, after our first year in Valencia, but there wasn't much in Santa Clarita that made me feel rooted, although I do miss Stater Bros. supermarket), and five times in four years in Las Vegas, owing to various bleak circumstances, such as neighbors next to us and above us smoking constantly and the smoke seeping into our apartment, which caused us to move out after that year), as well as last year at Via Ventura here in Ventura, which ended with our dogs having a massive flea problem because they never properly treated the grounds, and now at the new Island View Apartments, behind the Ralphs supermarket. It's interesting, what with a fourth-floor rooftop deck that takes in a lit-up view at night of Oxnard and Camarillo, further to the west, that's far more impressive to me than the Las Vegas and Los Angeles skylines.

Therefore, to be connected to a place? To know it intimately? To feel a sense of civic pride in it? I don't know how that works, nor do I think I'd want to learn. Not that I think we'll move again so quickly, although I hope we don't, as it would be interesting lately to be in one place for more than one year, and by that I mean one apartment complex, but we didn't have a choice from Via Ventura to Island View. We had to get out of Via Ventura, which looks progressively worse and more desperate to bring in tenants since we left. Maybe there's a chance with Island View. There are a lot of problems within the apartment, which are actually much better than what we came from at Via Ventura and before that in Las Vegas. But they do take their sweet time in addressing them. When the Santa Ana winds howled through recently, an incredible draft blew through the gaps in the front door, which made the vertical blinds in front of the sliding patio door billow and I really felt it, since I sleep in the living room, my bed there and my bookcases nearby, towards the back door (it's a two-bedroom apartment, so my parents have the master bedroom, and my sister has the other bedroom). I like it because my TV serves as the living room TV and I've got the kitchen right there. What more could I want for a room? But that front door, which is actually considered the back door by the complex, since what is actually our front door, with our number on it, faces a hallway that leads to doors that open into garages also for rent by residents, needs weather stripping. I'm guessing right now, even though the manager of the complex came with the head maintenance guy last week to look over exactly what we needed adjusted and repaired, they'll run out the clock leading up to Thanksgiving and then let it sit until after Thanksgiving. Hopefully they'll address it afterward, but it's been sitting for so long. Even so, still better from all that we came from, including a bungalow in nearby Henderson, Nevada that had shoddy, stringy carpeting, black mold behind the washer and dryer, and a leaking air conditioning unit from the ceiling that not only required us to put a bucket underneath to catch the drops, but which broke down before the hottest day of the year that year, after a few times in which the shitty maintenance crew there insisted that nothing was wrong with it. It seems to me that matters of shoddy maintenance, as well as delayed maintenance, seem to only exist in the western United States. Never had that in Florida. Can't go back, though, what with hurricanes getting worse, and as a native Floridian away for so long, I've most likely lost my immunity to the humidity.

Anyway, through all of this, it took many years to realize that books, and moreso libraries, have always been my home. I seriously considered a career in aviation, first as a commercial pilot, and then an aircraft mechanic, and then a mechanic for Air Force One, before then trying journalism, which, even though I'm proud of what I did there, I left because I didn't want to live on an ulcer farm. And it was afterward that I realized how much libraries have been there for me. I started reading when I was two years old, and I particularly remember, before Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992 (we lived in Coral Springs, and only got the feeder bands, but they were fierce), worrying about not being able to return The Little Mermaid soundtrack on audio cassette to the Coral Springs Library, since they had closed right before it was due, and any fines that might accrue because of that. Fortunately, I don't think there were any after they reopened. I also remember ignoring my math homework from Broward Community College on Friday afternoons when I was in the Southwest Regional Library in Pembroke Pines, diagonally across from the then-tiny campus, in favor of looking for movies to watch on the weekend, which was how I discovered The Fabulous Baker Boys, starring Jeff Bridges, one of my favorite actors, which became one of my all-time favorite movies. In fact, since my dad dropped me off early at BCC before he went to work as a computer and business education teacher at Silver Trail Middle just down the street, I was always there before the library opened at 7 a.m. and spent my entire semester there before we moved to Southern California. Subsequently, I failed that college Algebra course and had to retake it when I registered at College of the Canyons in Valencia.

There are lots of other stories like that, and libraries have always been my one true home like that. Oftentimes, in my head, in my imagination, I go to those libraries I've loved. I spend time in the stacks at Lied Library, I walk through the Whitney Library on Tropicana in Las Vegas, proud at how they always consistently met the needs of that at times-downtrodden community, and reluctantly ignoring the awful, distracting tile flooring at the main Clark County Library on Flamingo, also in Las Vegas, to admire their paperback collection, as well as their eager interest in so many other subjects in the hope that others will be interested, too. I also look at photos on Yelp of the New York Public Library, as well as photos from inside other university libraries and imagine myself there. In each one, I feel like I'm home. It's why I like living in Ventura. The Ventura College Library is my favorite place in Ventura and between that and the holds I always have from various locations in the Ventura County library system, I'm never short of books.

All this helps me to not panic so much over all that I want to write and haven't begun yet. Those works can be a second home for me. Characters to meet and follow, ideas to expand on. Places in my imagination to explore, unusual things I've thought about that I wonder if others think about, and the only way to find out is to write them and see who reads them. It's more difficult, more challenging than simply opening up a book and reading, but I want to try. Our main computer here in this apartment doesn't feel as much in a dungeon as it was in that apartment at Via Ventura, so that's a start. Plus there's a lamp next to it and it actually becomes cozier at night. So there's some encouragement. Just try. Get up and try. And with enough effort, these stories I want to tell can come to feel like my life with books and libraries. Another place in my life to fondly call home. And I know it will never move.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Desire, Long After a Meal

As a Las Vegas resident, it was often difficult to get to absolutely everything that the city offered in food, at least that which interested me. There'd be that long stretch of summer in which practically hibernating in one's apartment with the air conditioning running 24/7 was critical, at least until 9 or 10 p.m., when you'd strategize about what to put in the cart at Smith's or Vons that wasn't so critical in refrigeration, and then try to get deli last so that it wouldn't be so affected by how warm it still was outside. Ice cream you'd have to rush home, and forget doing that during the day because it would immediately melt. It's why we never bought cans of shaving cream during the day, and then even when we were looking toward summer, we'd stockpile them so we wouldn't have to buy them as often. Otherwise, they would have exploded when bringing them from Target to the car. And in winter, sure you could stay out a little longer if you were bundled up enough, but the desert cold is still uncomfortable enough to make one laser-focus enough on what's already known. In most cases, it would be a long, pilgrimage drive to IKEA with the heater on full blast in the car.

So based on the weather in Las Vegas, and how hard it was to live there most of the time, in apartment living and in work, options were comparatively limited, but no less interesting or reliable. Vietnamese iced coffee came from the VeggiEAT Express counter in the small food court at 99 Ranch Market on Maryland Parkway, near Ross and Goodwill further down, which backed right into the Boulevard Mall on the same property. Although I've heard since we moved that VeggiEAT Xpress closed at 99 Ranch Market, I worshipped it. Every time I went there, I knew I was getting heavenly Vietnamese iced coffee and always the warning when I ordered it without ice that it would be too sweet. I didn't care! We went to 99 Ranch Market once a month, maybe twice, and I wasn't wasting the chance. I knew I could go there and it would always be excellent.

And then there was roast pork from #1 Hawaiian BBQ on Eastern Avenue, which was next to the street that was the main artery to the Walmart shopping center, next to the back of one of the runways at McCarran International. This particular Walmart was one of three options for us. There was the one on Marks Street in Henderson, a slightly sprawling shopping center, which always had the Sunset Station hotel tower in full view, as well as a 99 Cents Only store further down to the right that had more books than I've ever seen at any other 99 Cents Only store, in Santa Clarita and in Ventura. I think it was because this store, as well as the Whitney Library on Tropicana and the main Clark County Library on Flamingo, was attuned to people's needs during the summer. Being that we couldn't go out much, if at all, during those torturous hours, they knew what people might want and they supplied it. I got the sense that more people read in Henderson, even in Vegas, than they seem to here.

There was also the one on East Serene Avenue, which had a Wienerschnitzel nearby, an Office Max next door, and a Home Depot on the far right end of the property. That one was the more serious of the Walmart Supercenters in Las Vegas. It didn't loom like the one on Marks did, and in fact, I have an idea for a novel set in that one. And it didn't have the momentary distraction of planes taking off next to you at the McCarran one while you got out of your car and locked up before going inside. You simply joined the subdued herd and went in to get whatever you wanted. That was the domestic game, though. If one Walmart didn't have what you were looking for, you went to the next one, and then the next one, and always kept track of which Walmart had what, in case you didn't want to spend too much time in one.

Anyway, about the roast pork, I knew that was the ultimate for me. They did it well there and it was the only place I'd swear by for roast pork. Same with Capriotti's Sandwich Shop and their Bobbie, with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mayo. Once in a while, I'd drift to the Slaw Be Jo (roast beef, provolone cheese, cole slaw, Russian dressing and mayo), but 90% of the time, the Bobbie was for me. I love Jimmy John's here in Ventura because they don't show off like Jersey Mike's does, and their sandwiches are often better, but I still miss my Bobbie. However, I never want to go back to Las Vegas, for anything, so the Bobbie will remain a fond memory.

It's different in Ventura and its relatively nearby environs within the county. Take tomorrow, when I have to go to the Ventura County Community College District office in Camarillo for a test for an Office Assistant position. The office is on East Daily Drive, and about a block or two from it is an intimate strip mall that contains Basil & Mint Vietnamese Cafe. Now, when we moved to Ventura, I swore by the Vietnamese iced coffee at Pholicious, which has since been renamed Pho & Tea, in the food court at the Pacific View Mall. But the first time I had to go to that district office for a test for another job I didn't get, we discovered that strip mall, that Vietnamese restaurant, and I was curious. Could they possibly have Vietnamese iced coffee? And what was it like?

As it turns out, if I must compare Vietnamese iced coffees between the present and the past, the iced coffee at Basil & Mint is worlds better than the iced coffee at the VeggiEAT Xpress counter at 99 Ranch. After the second or third time, I learned from my favorite waiter there that they make the iced coffee every morning, using Cafe du Monde coffee from New Orleans and condensed milk of course, and it's the coffee that makes it because of the chicory. Now, I could buy the coffee and the condensed milk and try to make it myself, but I prefer to anticipate it. I don't need it all the time, and I know, having been to Basil & Mint four times, that there is absolutely no chance I could be disappointed by it in the future because the owner of the restaurant is entrenched in Camarillo, as his cousin owns Bigstraw Boba on Verdugo Way, in that leafy shopping center, near the Old New York Deli & Bakery. And there, at Basil & Mint, I always get a Vietnamese iced coffee right when I arrive, and then another, to go, on the way out. That's my tradition there.

I also think about the sandwich I had from Westridge Market in Ojai a few weeks ago, when my mom, my sister and I went up there for the day. It was a baguette sandwich, from Boars Head, an Italian sub, as they called it, with Genoa salami, pepperoni, capocollo, lettuce, tomato, their deli dressing, red onion, and provolone cheese. I'm not into Italian subs, and I only try a bit if someone else in my family gets it, but this was the most perfect sandwich I had ever had. I didn't know much about baguettes before this, but I think it is the perfect sandwich bread because it requires the sandwich maker to be subtle, not to overload it, to offer flavors not often considered, and to meet the demands of the bread. It all has to work together and not spring apart because there's too much between the baguette slices.

I won't ever forget that sandwich and I'll hope to have it again the next time we go to Ojai, if we don't end up at Ojai Pizza Company again, or even Bonnie Lu's, a country cafe that has pico de gallo that I swear was made by fairies. I've never tasted other pico de gallo so fresh like theirs is. That sandwich taught me that it's not enough to simply make a sandwich. You have to think about the bread and you have to think about the ingredients you want to combine. My other favorite breads for a sandwich is straight rye and marble rye. I can't imagine any other kinds for a sandwich and the only time I make an exception is for a standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich with whatever bread we have in the house, which is usually wheat bread. But even with that simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that baguette sandwich still looms in my memory.

I know it's the consistent weather here that allows for such ongoing desire to have what one loves in food. The second best Vietnamese iced coffee, to me, is at Boba Smoothies in what they call the Rose Shopping Center on North Rose Avenue in Oxnard, that strip of stores facing, yes, a Walmart. In fact, we go to that Walmart because our own, much smaller Walmart, doesn't have everything we need, although our own Walmart is still our go-to for disposable razors, toilet paper and paper towels, and I hope they stock Producers Egg Nog this year, although they don't stock much else of the Producers brand anymore, which is still around. It helps that we have it across the street from us, along with Trader Joe's, and our apartment complex is located directly behind the Ralphs supermarket.

That particular Vietnamese iced coffee from Boba Smoothies is sharp and involving like Vietnamese iced coffee should be, whereas the one at Pho & Tea in the Pacific View Mall is sometimes drowned out by the condensed milk they overuse. Even at the Pho & Tea at The Oaks mall in Thousand Oaks, where the prices are higher, there's still the risk of getting the same kind of Vietnamese iced coffee as at the Pacific View Mall, namely because the same company owns both malls, and it's the same owner for both locations.

There's a contrast to all this, of course. Last night, we had takeout wings from Wing Stop, and I decided on an order split between their Louisiana Rub and garlic Parmesan, instead of all garlic Parmesan like I usually get. I'm not fond of Wing Stop. It gets boring and the only reason I got a different order than usual was just to see what the Louisiana Rub was like nowadays. Not out of genuine curiosity, but just something different to look at and get it over with. After I finished, it all disappeared from my mind. No further thoughts like the Boar's Head baguette sandwich from Westridge Market in Ojai, no anticipation for it again like the Vietnamese iced coffee from Basil & Mint. Wings don't interest me much, which is probably it. Give me pork, give me turkey. In fact, with turkey, it always interests me how different places roast it, what they use. We don't cook a whole turkey for Thanksgiving. We generally order a roasted turkey breast and it looks like this time it will be from Sprouts, provided my father orders it by the end of the week, which is what he wants, but man, we're getting down to the wire on that. Even so, I never get tired of turkey because of the different ways that I can find it. And I think I know why all this continually fascinates me.

I never knew who made the Vietnamese iced coffee at VeggiEAT Express at 99 Ranch Market, since it was always already in containers in that glass door refrigerator on the wall behind the register. It had likely been a while since we'd been there and I just wanted it. With the roast pork at #1 Hawaiian BBQ, I sometimes thought about when they might have put it in the oven to roast, what might have been done to it beforehand, but that was it. Once I got my order, I didn't care any more about the methods to my dear madness.

Here, I know. I can imagine them making the Vietnamese iced coffee at Basil & Mint after the waiter told me all about it. I can imagine the care that went into it, because I can taste it. I don't know who made the Italian sub that I bought at Westridge Market, but it's clear that they love sandwiches. In fact, that sandwich is what shifted my list of my favorite foods. My top two are quesadillas and nachos. My third used to be Fettucine Alfredo, but that one sandwich is what put sandwiches at #3, knocking Fettucine Alfredo to #4, if I even still go for it. I know it was also the setting at Westridge, when we found a table nestled behind a sharp "U" shape of bushes outside the store, that looked out at those majestic Ojai mountains that always make me think, "Who the hell needs TV?" For that lunch with my mom and my sister, there was also deviled eggs and orange milk that Meridith had wanted to try from a glass bottle in that refrigerated section. She and my mom had had sushi, but all that mattered to me was that sandwich.

Here, within food, it's also the people. Here are people in Ventura County who care. In Camarillo, the rest of the Basil & Mint Cafe menu, besides the Vietnamese iced coffee, is phenomenal. I love their sandwiches there, especially their pork offering, and I can sense the dedication from the kitchen, the pride in their work. Here in Ventura, there are good people. The ones at Jimmy John's are not only fast, but they know exactly what's wanted in each sandwich. They must glance at that order receipt right away and then commit it to memory in a split second.

Oh, and CJ's Barbecue in this Ralphs shopping center! I nearly forgot about the rib tips and the black-eyed peas there! Pork rib tips, which was already a plus with me, and they do some magic to those, too, but it's clear that whoever does it has been fascinated and completely in love with barbecue for years. And their deep, rich, salty flavoring for their black-eye peas makes it my favorite side.

See, we're not a demonstrative town. We won't hype anything up like Los Angeles hypes things up all the time, from movie premieres, to expensive Apple store openings, to whatever else requires media coverage. You have to look for what might interest you and then decide, on your own, what's worth your time. There are no outside influences, and that's what I like here. And when you find it, you hold onto it. I don't know who actually makes the ham and cheese croissants, for another example, that Master's Donuts sells across the street from me, but they're the best I've had in Ventura County. If it's actually the ones who run the store, more power to them. I'm not entirely sure because when we ordered one of their enormous donuts in order to thank the movers that we had on the morning we moved from Via Ventura to Island View Apartments, behind Ralphs, it was a croissant box that looked like a shipment box, from somewhere deeper in Southern California. So maybe they do order the ham and cheese croissants to sell in the shop. Even so, they know quality. They're aware of what's wonderful, what would raise their profile even more than it already is.

It's also like Luna Grill, which is in the Vons shopping center, which I worshipped when we lived nearby at Via Ventura. I haven't been there in a long time since there's been other, closer (and not so close) distractions, but besides their gyros quesadilla being one of the best quesadillas I've ever had, they have baklava wedges that I swore by. In that small kitchen, though, they definitely don't make those. They come from Baklava King in Santee, in San Diego County. And this is another example of people here caring, of wanting what matches the quality of what they already serve. Someone probably fielded offers from different bakeries that make baklava, and decided which one would be best for Luna Grill. And it is indeed as if they made it themselves.

It'll be the same with Thanksgiving. Yes, we're likely having the roasted turkey breast from Sprouts, and the cornbread stuffing from the Trader Joe's box, and the cranberry sauce from the Trader Joe's jar (the best I've had in so long), and probably green bean casserole and the usual candied yams, as well as pumpkin pie, wherever that might be coming from (I haven't decided yet, although I did like the pumpkin pie we got last year from Vallarta Supermarket in Oxnard, which came from the Jessie Lord Bakery in Torrance, but I might want to try a different one), and very possibly apple pie, too. But I will still read up on how others are celebrating Thanksgiving, what they like, because there is always an interesting combination of flavors to be found in any Thanksgiving feast and actually, despite quesadillas, nachos, and sandwiches being my favorite foods, my favorite meal is a Thanksgiving feast. Not even an hour and a half at Golden Corral (which had its grand opening in Oxnard today, so we'll be going soon) can top that. And there again, I wonder about all those who make this possible. The knowledge. The passion. The care. That's what it means here in Ventura, and I'm glad to have it.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Trial and Error at Ventura Harbor Village

Two weeks ago, my father and I went downstairs to the elections department in the lower plaza of the Ventura County Government Center in Ventura (conveniently down the street from where we live) so he could register to permanently vote by mail.

While we waited for his application to be processed, I got to talking again with the delightful bearded guy behind the counter and the subject came around to Ojai, where he had grown up. I told him that whenever we went to Ojai, namely my mom, my sister and I lately, we always go to Ojai Pizza Company, which my mom loves for the pizza and which I love for their iced tea, which comes from Peerless Coffee & Tea in Oakland. I love the Ojai Library for its wood-paneled reading room atmosphere, and that iced tea matches the atmosphere, although I can't bring it there because they don't allow it in there, or any other food or drink. But while I do drink it, I imagine myself in the library in it, no matter if we're in Ojai Pizza Company or eating at the beautiful park nearby.

The elections guy told me that his favorite thing at Ojai Pizza Company is a calzone with pepperoni, pineapple and extra black olives. It appealed to me because I love calzones, empanadas, any foodstuff that's enclosed. Even McDonald's apple pie once in a great while. Then I raved to him about the pico de gallo that comes with the quesadilla and possibly more at Bonnie Lu's Country Cafe, also in Ojai, about how that pico de gallo is not only the freshest I've ever tasted, but it had to have been made by some means of a magical alchemy or by fairies themselves in the kitchen. There's no other explanation for how spiritually incredible that pico de gallo is, and obviously I've never forgotten it.

But even as we talked about that pico de gallo, and how he told me, shockingly, that he's never had it, I was thinking about his calzone recommendation. We haven't been to Ojai Pizza Company, or even Ojai itself, since before the sheer fright of the Thomas Fire that also bore down on Ojai. We figured to let time pass after the fire for everything to get back to normal in Ojai, including the water supply (for my iced tea), before we ventured back there. But life got in the way. Me and my sister's constant job hunting. My father ending up in the hospital again owing to a kidney infection and a severely low white blood cell count. Him gradually recovering from that eight-day stay and getting back on chemotherapy. More job hunting. Looking to live somewhere else in Ventura, namely the apartments behind Ralphs. Us exploring in full what might be available there and eventually finding the unit that's right for us, with about 30 square feet more than our current apartment, and slightly more space to work with, including more walls than we imagined, which means more spots to hang pictures, based on the mirror-image apartment we walked through on the second floor of the building across from our new apartment, which showed us what we will have. The apartment complex is still under construction, with so many interiors still to be done, but ours should be ready by mid-July.

So much to do. So little time to return to our favorite haunts, including the Oaks mall in Thousand Oaks, which I consider the best mall in Southern California. But we want to try as soon as possible before things get really busy, before we move again, before we essentially start living a new life in which Mom has said that the only reason she'll move again is to the beach if we ever have that opportunity, most likely by winning the lottery. Otherwise, this is the place, not least because it's her castle, as she said, along with an apartment number that matches her birthday, the first time the number of an apartment is for her. It's always been for the rest of us.

Thus, at that counter, I thought about that calzone. It appealed to me since I love black olives, any kind of olives really, a genetic gift from my mother. I could go for that at Ojai Pizza Company. Or maybe not. We haven't been to Ojai since last October or November. It will be easy to cover ground at the Ojai Library again since I'll look at the new releases, which are better than what the E.P. Foster Library in downtown Ventura offers, and certainly better than what my local Hill Road Library has. I'll look at the expansive back wall of novels since there's always something there that pops out to me. But a pepperoni, pineapple, and black olive calzone? I've tried the pizza at Ojai Pizza Company, but I've grown attached to the vegetarian sandwich they have there, which is zucchini, mushroom, red onion, roasted bell pepper, black olive, and tomato. I don't ask for any extras. I love it just the way it is. So would it be worth trying that calzone, risking it being just ok, despite my love of calzones? Probably not, because of how long it's been since we were there. If we go to Ojai soon, and then again before the end of the year, then maybe I'll try the calzone. That would be the better plan.

It was the same at Ventura Harbor Village yesterday. The trial the past two times we were there is that the arcade hadn't fixed my beloved Galaga machine, only beloved because Galaga's on it, not necessarily the machine itself. The second-to-last time we were there, the image was all stretched out, and I couldn't even see the ship to determine where I was at the bottom of the screen, to try to dodge the aliens' weapons. I could see what I fired, but I was moving left to right and right to left blindly. Then the last time we went, the machine was off, out of order, and I left a note on an index card on the machine, from the perspective of the aliens and the fighter, imploring the arcade to fix it because, "Have you seen Wreck-It Ralph? Do you know what happens to arcade games that are out of order and are then not fixed? Help us!"

After eating at Andria's Seafood Restaurant, which my mom loves for their homemade tartar sauce and cocktail sauce (it was my parents' 36th wedding anniversary and Mom saw that as the best place to celebrate. She was right), Meridith and I stopped at the arcade on the way to Coastal Cone for ice cream to see if the Galaga machine was fixed. It was fixed as best as could be. I could see the fighter, although where you look to see how many lives you have left, you could only see the tip of the nose of the fighter. If this was the arcade at Sam's Town in Las Vegas, or at Sunset Station in Henderson, or the arcade at The Orleans in Vegas, I would have complained. But this is Ventura, a small town. I'm grateful just to have a working machine, although I haven't been back to Golf 'n Stuff on Walker Street near where we live lately to see if that Galaga machine is still there. Those are the only two that I know I have. That's good enough for me. But I need to know that they're working, that they're still there. And this one was, though I didn't go for it right away, not only because we were going to have ice cream, but I found three credits someone had left in the Pirates of the Caribbean pinball machine, and I wasn't going to give up that opportunity.

The errors came with what I had at Andria's and at Coastal Cone. I didn't have to think long and hard about what I was going to have at Andria's. Clam chowder. I love clam chowder and Andria's clam chowder is nice enough. Having fresh clams in it makes a wonderful difference of course. But the error in this latest visit was that I ordered a piece of Andria's fish, which they don't list specifically as they do their cod and halibut. The fish was fine, but it turns out I didn't need a piece of fried fish alongside my clam chowder. The clam chowder had been enough, and Meridith shared some of her fries with me. She likes their fries there, since she can dip them in tartar sauce to block out some of the potato taste (she doesn't like potatoes, but there are certain kinds of fries she likes), but gives me the more mealy ones. Of course, there are potatoes too in the chowder, but to me, the fries at Andria's are the best in Ventura, just like the fries at Raising Cane's were, and most likely still are, the best in the Las Vegas Valley. Next time, it's just clam chowder for me and if Meridith happens to order anything with fries again (this time it was calamari and it was much better calamari than the last time we went), I'll have a few. I don't need a big piece of fried fish alongside the sanctity of Andria's clam chowder.

Then there was the error at Coastal Cone. I had been looking at their menu online the two nights before we went, wondering what to order. On May 31st, we had gone to Baskin-Robbins in the 99 Cents Only shopping center on South Victoria for their $1.50 scoops, which they do every 31st in a month. I had a scoop of butter pecan there, and a scoop of Mom's Makin' Cookies, which turned out to be one of their best flavors. Brown sugar-flavored ice cream, chocolate chip cookie pieces, chocolate flavored chips and a cookie dough batter ribbon. The butter pecan there? I forgot how utterly bland it was and was forcefully reminded this time. I needed butter pecan back, especially the Thrifty version that's offered at Coastal Cone. To me, that's the best one.

But then I saw on the menu on Coastal Cone's website that they had a 1950's Malt, which is vanilla ice cream, double malted milk, and Hershey's syrup. I love malts, and this sounded perfect. But vanilla? With how infrequently we visit Coastal Cone, I wasn't going to waste $8.50 on vanilla (the prices went up at Coastal Cone and at Andria's, likely because whoever owns the Ventura Harbor Village property raised the rents). And I've also returned to my love of brownies (not excessively, since I'm losing weight pretty well right now, not least because of all the stress I've been going through in the past year and a half, and Dad's latest hospital stay helped me drop a few pounds immediately), so there was also a chocolate walnut brownie ice cream flavor there. Perfect! I'd get more of a texture of something despite ice cream being blended into an almost-liquid. Some blended-up walnuts, brownie pieces. It sounded good! Yes!

Of course it sounds good before you have it. The ice cream itself is good, when it's ice cream. And I got my malt, a double scoop, but walnut pieces kept getting stuck at the tip of the straw along with fake-tasting brownie pieces as it turned out, and I realized I had squandered my chance at Coastal Cone. I should have gotten two scoops of butter pecan in a cup (I'm not one for cones, unless the cone is something really special, and their fish-shaped waffle cones are smaller in person than they're shown online), and I would have been very happy with that.

I've tried butter pecan in a malt at Coastal Cone before, and for me, it just doesn't work. I need the texture of the ice cream and the pecans located prominently throughout. If it was any other ice cream place, say somewhere in L.A. that basically requires a two-day drive from Ventura (everything is further away here than it was in Santa Clarita, and if we have to make such a drive, then I want the Getty Center or Philippe's French dip sandwiches in downtown L.A., or Langer's Deli well before some ice cream place), then I'll try a malt again at one of those places since I don't care about the ice cream as much as I do at Coastal Cone and also at Ojai Ice Cream, where those ice creams are homemade.

Next time, it's only clam chowder at Andria's and only butter pecan ice cream at Coastal Cone. Galaga works, thankfully, and after Coastal Cone, I played it four times. I know that every kind of ideal one seeks is a process of trial and error. And I have it down at Pho & Tea at the Pacific View Mall, where I always get Vietnamese iced coffee and their pork sausage spring rolls. Next time, I might venture toward a Vietnamese grilled pork sandwich, but I know already that it's good, since I had it when I was first experimenting there, back when it was called Pholicious, when I was looking for what was right for me, besides the Vietnamese iced coffee, which I know is always right, and which is the only coffee I ever drink, to the exclusion of all other coffees. I suppose it's a good record, though, being that I've nearly hit upon what's right for me at Andria's within two years (the year before we moved, and nearly a year that we've lived here in Ventura) and at Coastal Cone. In this town, in this region, it's accessibility, based on how often you get to each place. In Vegas, it was easy. 99 Ranch Market on South Maryland Parkway was almost right there, for my Vietnamese iced coffee, and #1 Hawaiian Barbecue on the outskirts of the Walmart shopping center at the back of McCarran International on South East Avenue was almost right there, for my roast pork, and they could always be had. Here, you take time. You really think about things. After the interesting distractions to be had in Santa Clarita and moreso outside of it, and in Las Vegas, Ventura strips your life down to the bare essentials, and it's scary at times. But here, you really do figure out what matters and what to do next and where to go next. At this point in my life, it feels right, knowing what truly matters while looking for my place here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Tuesdays in Limbo

If you ever visit Ventura, arrive on two different days, for contrast.

I recommend mid-Friday afternoon, to start, because as the day goes on, the town gradually unwinds. By the time you get to 6 p.m. on, before the town begins to close down, there's an unhurried vibe that's especially lovely downtown amidst the restaurants, such as Dargan's Irish Pub and Restaurant, as well as the antique shops and the consignment stores, and certainly the bookstores, too, especially the Calico Cat Bookshop, which you should try before it closes at 5. It's nice just walking down Main Street, to California Street, where the Erle Stanley Gardner building stands stately on the corner. This is where Gardner hashed out the first few drafts for his first Perry Mason novel. Stand here at dusk, looking up at the building, and you feel a sense of history that lingers, which seems rare in Southern California. But it's here for you to look at, to think about, and not just by the plaque next to the side door of that giant concrete dignity.

The same feeling is almost as prevalent at the Pacific View Mall, particularly in the food court. It feels muted, almost defeated, but there's a kind of quiet you'd be hard-pressed to find in very many other malls. Macerich, which also owns The Oaks mall in Thousand Oaks, which I consider the best mall in Southern California, seems to leave the Pacific View's second floor to the ravages of time, what with how they don't seem to make an effort to attract new tenants to empty storefronts up there. The Oaks has The Open Book, my favorite bookstore in this region, and for that reason, I was given a $25 gift card to it as one of my recent birthday presents. The Pacific View Mall could use a bookstore, too, because inasmuch as there is the beach in Ventura, and downtown Ventura with various interesting shops (and window displays! I love living in a town whose downtown area has window displays!), and Ventura Harbor with its attached Village, it doesn't take long to cover everything Ventura offers. I like having it that way, without the constant rush and hype of Greater Los Angeles. I lived with the tumult of Las Vegas for five years, and before that, nine years of living 30 minutes north of Los Angeles in Santa Clarita. While there were visits to Anaheim and Pasadena and Buena Park and Van Nuys and Woodland Hills and so on from that, I always flitted between towns. In here and then gone. To IKEA and then gone. To Downtown Disney and then gone. I never knew those towns for themselves, although Buena Park with its heavy ghosts of history continues to fascinate me, and I've recently become interested in Burbank, after going back to my palace temple that is Porto's Cuban Bakery after five years away. Not to live there, or in Buena Park, but just what it is. For example, I had no idea that Warner Bros. Studios is just down the street from Porto's, at least not until this visit. I thought it was further out.

Every night, Ventura gives you space to think, to plan, to possibly even relax. I've never lived in any town before that allows it. But while it's a stringent space of time any other day of the week, Friday nights just gently unravel to whatever you want to do. You could even get the same feeling browsing the magazine racks at the Barnes & Noble on Telephone Road. Even just walking around Ventura Harbor Village before getting ice cream at Coastal Cone has the same effect.

On the flip side, there's Tuesdays in Ventura. Markedly different from Tuesdays with Morrie, in that Morrie was more alive than Ventura is on a Tuesday. This is actually more fascinating to me than Friday nights in Ventura. There is nothing in Ventura on a Friday, and by that I mean that Ventura on a Tuesday is the physical manifestation of being in Limbo. This is where you go if you want a preview of what that might be like, if your religion insists that Limbo is part of the afterlife.

The town is a total blank. There is absolutely no energy you can sense from the cars driving on Telephone, not in Ralphs, not in Walmart, not at the harbor, not at the mall, nowhere! I think of the ghosts that burst through the windows at the ceiling during "Once Upon a December" in the animated Anastasia, but without the dresses or anything else colorful. And this lasts all day! I don't know if this is the town's day for regrouping, but you could go from one end of it to the other and then on to State Route 126 to Santa Clarita without having a sense of what Ventura is.

Maybe it's the town's way of insisting that residents and visitors alike take this one day to add their own spark to the town, to see that spark for themselves, unencumbered by what the town usually offers. You know, do your own thing, find your own bliss, and don't let us bother you. I like that possibility, but it gets disconcerting for those of us who live here. It feels like a possible Twilight Zone episode in which the town disappears beneath your feet.

Ok, so I've gone on and on about that, but Ventura is reliable in that when Wednesday hits, it's back to business as usual. It rises again and covers everything. But I know why this consumes me. Adding to what I mentioned above about flitting in between towns, I've never known one town on its own terms. I've used a town, a city, for the resources it has for what I need, but I've never thought about it on its own. Never any reason to. But here I am, away from the noise of bigger cities, the demands, those expensive experiences that you must have that only benefit those who are selling them. I have my libraries, especially my beloved Ventura College library, and I know where to find my equally beloved Vietnamese iced coffee. That's all I need. And it's new to me to slow down like this, but I think I can get used to it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Life in Pieces

I am not Minnesota like Garrison Keillor,
nor Florida like Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry,
not even New Jersey like Richard Ford.

I am pieces of all the places I lived in
as different as the time zones
in which they sit.

I am the candle store at Old Town in Kissimmee, Florida,
transfixed by one color being sensuously carved into many,
from one long bulk of wax.

I am Tomorrowland at Walt Disney World,
my home whenever I was there all day,
happily lost in the glitter of stars,
and the promise of tomorrow.

I am the view of the twinkling canyon in the night,
from the hilltop parking lot of La Mesa Junior High
in Canyon Country in Santa Clarita,
during some event or recital held there,
able to see it thanks to my father
having to be there for whatever was held inside.

I am The Cosmopolitan on the Las Vegas Strip,
before it was stripped of its creativity and
welcoming light and encouraging art,
digital, music, and otherwise,
when an investment group that did not understand
its pulsing power,
took over and gutted it.

I am that cream-colored hallway to the hotel lobby at
Green Valley Ranch,
elegant, graceful, with music
that made me think that whoever
programmed The Cosmopolitan
had fled there.
I miss pretending to feel wealthy
down that hallway,
all its gently artistic touches
mine. All mine.

Lately I am the library at Ventura College,
lost in the stacks,
but not lost like that,
overjoyed to discover books that I didn't know existed,
that very few there today knows existed.
I cannot easily find or know home
with how many times we've moved,
but the college library is a start
like all the others.