Category Archives: Richmond

Entering the path of do-goodery

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All kinds of changes are afoot here at Chez LazyBuddhist. In addition to becoming a half-time college student, I’ve started down the path of do-goodery.  In my mind, I always thought of myself as a do-gooder, but it was all intent and not much action.

Living in Richmond, California, I can see around me a lot of need.  Less than a mile away from my cozy enclave of Point Richmond is the neighborhood of the Iron Triangle and the community of North Richmond.  Richmond’s reputation as being a dangerous place to lives mostly comes from the crime, gangs, poverty, addiction and hopelessness in these two areas. In addition, both are directly downstream from the Chevron Refinery, so the health of the neighborhood is not good – the pediatric asthma rate in those neighborhoods are so high, hospitals may as well hand out an asthma inhaler with every new birth.

Three years ago there was a crime committed that got nationwide attention: the gang rape of a 15-year old girl at a school dance at Richmond High. Even now as I write this, my heart hurts for the girl, for our youth, and also for the community. At the time, I wanted to find some way to help to stop the cycle senseless violence that so many young people in our city seemed to be involved in. But, nothing presented itself in a way that made sense for me.

Fast forward three years later. This week I started volunteering at Richmond High as a writing coach through an amazing program called WriterCoach Connection. (Go ahead, click the link and go read about them, especially those of you in the Bay Area who are looking for a well-organized, worthy group to volunteer with. I’ll be here when you’re done.)  I had learned about the organization from a couple of writer friends of mine who had volunteered with them in the Oakland schools.  They both seemed to really enjoy it. So, when I learned they were expanding their program to Richmond, that’s when I knew I found my foothold into community do-goodery.

Most of the volunteers I trained with were Richmond residents – parents, grandparents, retired educators, writers – who, like me, wanted to find some way to help their community.  Even after six-to-eight hours of training we were still nervous about our initial encounters with the kids. Would they like us? Would they see we had no idea what we were doing? Would they even be willing to accept our help? How am I supposed to help a kid compose a thesis statement when I barely remember what one is myself? Oh sweet Buddha, what in the hell have I gotten myself into?

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2 bd/2 ba apt available – dogs OK

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Tonight, as was I was fumbling with my keys to get into my house, I was besieged by the frantic barking of the dogs in the apartment building next door.

“Jesus, dogs, I live here. Can’t I come and go from my own house without you losing your shit?” I mutter to myself. (And yes, I know it’s not the dogs’ fault, but the humans. Still it gets old. Really old.)

It’s not a new complaint. These dogs are only the latest in a series of frantic dogs who have lived in that particular apartment over the years, which got me musing about the occupancy criteria.

Potential tenants (PT): We love it!  We’ll take it.
Landlord (LL): OK, great, but I need to ask you some questions first. Do you have a dog?
PT: Um, we have two. The ad said dogs were allowed.
LL: No, that’s great. How big are they?
PT: Oh, they’re small. Chihuahuas.
LL: Perfect. Do they bark a lot?
PT: Well, they’re protective. Yes, I guess they can be a bit vocal at times.
LL: But could you characterize them as “yappy”?
PT: Some might call them that. But, they’re only like that when they get bored or lonely.
LL: How often are they left alone?
PT: We both work, so they’re alone pretty much all day, and well, frankly most of the evenings too.
LL:  Are they territorial?
PT: Like we said, they’re protective. If anyone comes close to the house, they’ll probably bark.
LL: How close?
PT: I don’t know, 50 yards?  Yeah about half a football field in any direction sounds right.
LL:  Perfect!  Your dogs sound like they will continue the long distinguished history of bored-psycho-yappy dogs that have occupied this particular apartment. I’ll get you the paperwork and we’ll get you moved in ASAP. Welcome to the neighborhood.

The mystery of the disappearing Yogi

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About a week ago, on a beautiful sunny winter’s day, I was rushing to leave the house to go meet a friend.  Yogi, the little cat who I had taken in  a month previous, was vacillating, as cats do, about whether or not she wanted to go outside.  She parked herself, half in and half out, in the middle of the doorway.  I didn’t have time for her nonsense, so I gently nudged with my foot to go outside.  She was already down the walkway by the time I turned around from locking the door.  And that was the last I saw of her.

Yogi was to be my great experiment in having an indoor/outdoor cat.  She had been outside for several weeks before she finally walked in to my house and made herself at home.  She knew a good thing when she saw it.  When I let her out on previous occasions, she would hang for a while outside, but was always eager to come back into the house.  I never had to bribe her or even ask twice.

She was an odd little cat.  It was in November that she started making guest appearances at the spot where I feed Pretty, my longtime feral cat.  This little black and white stranger was not at all skittish, and would immediately start purring and making air biscuits when you picked her up.  I figured with a cat this tame, that she must belong to a neighbor and  was just another annoying moocher who came around and ate Pretty’s food.  I’m very protective of Pretty, and any creature who disturbs our routine is subject to my annoyance.

One of my neighbors, Bonnie Jo, who feeds a feral colony at the end of my street, decided to take on Yogi (whom she called Pogo) as one of her clan, and started feeding her and set up a little cat house for her on my property, away from Pretty.  I had no problem with that.  With a regular feeding schedule (Bonnie Jo is like clockwork) and a warm place to sleep, Yogi became a regular.  Even Pretty even learned to tolerate her. And giving Yogi a nice petting in the morning became part of my routine.

One sunny day in January, it was so warm I had my front door open as I went about my household chores.  Yogi parked herself outside the screen door in the morning and started looking inside longingly.  “Oh don’t try to make me feel guilty, young lady”, I told her every time I caught her looking in.  She just sat there.  And sat there.  And sat there some more.  All day.  Finally, around 4:30 pm I broke down and called her bluff.  “Fine. You want in?  I dare you to come in.”  I opened the door and in she walked.  And after some initial inspection of the premises, she curled up on my favorite blankie and went to sleep.

Yogi makes herself at home

For the first couple of days, I would put her back outside when I wasn’t home. She needed to get checked out by a vet before it was safe to to have her interact with my other cats, Sasquatch and Tangerine. One morning, however, she decided that this arrangement was not suitable and wanted to be in the house NOW.  As I was getting ready for work, that damn cat started leaping up on my window sills and climbing my screen doors.  She would not take no for an answer.  After I made some minor configurations of the house in order to keep the newcomer away from the old timers, Yogi moved in.

Yogi and I had a strange relationship.  Maybe it was the bold way she foisted herself on me, or maybe it was learning within a week after she joined the household that she was soon going to cost me $600 to get a possibly cancerous lump on her side biopsied (plus the promise of further  medical costs and/or the pain and sadness of watching her decline).  She had her moments of being very affectionate and sweet, but most of the time she was indifferent to to everyone in the household.  She was an odd little presence, but I accepted her and was willing to take care of her, though she wasn’t necessarily in my heart.  But, I certainly didn’t want her to leave.

There are, of course, theories as to where Yogi has gone. I try not to dwell on the bad scenarios. I’m hoping maybe her previous people found her and there was a joyous reunion.  Or perhaps she just walked into someone else’s house  to try them on for a while.  Or maybe she was merely an emanation who came into my life as to test how open my heart was. If that was the test,  I fear I failed it.

Weird happenings at Chez LB

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You know you still may be a wee bit too relaxed upon returning from a  meditation retreat when you encounter a noose hanging from your walnut tree and instead of saying “holy shitballs! it’s a fucking noose!”, you simply go “Huh. I wonder what that noose is doing there?” and then head off to work as if you didn’t have a fucking noose hanging ten feet from your back door.

It’s not a very big noose.  You couldn’t hang a person from it, though you could  fit a cat or small dog.  But, no question, it’s a noose, complete with a hangman’s knot.  I guess my immediate thought was that it had been there for a while, hidden by the leaves that had recently fallen.  Perhaps it was left by my landlord or some arborist during a tree trimming adventure.  That really is, by far, the least alarming theory, and this morning that explanation sufficed.  Though, I figured I’d make a few phone calls to my landlord, the Boyfriend, and a neighbor, who are the only people who have any reason to be up near my back porch.

It wasn’t until I started hearing back from those folks that I started to become alarmed.  My landlord wants me to call the police. A little extreme, I think, but I’ll consider it.  My neighbor was thoroughly creeped out and may be a little frightened to associate with me now.  But, it was the Boyfriend’s reaction that made me realize how crazy this is.

“Hey hon, do you recall seeing a noose hanging from the walnut tree lately?” I asked nonchalantly.

There was a pause of several seconds. I thought maybe we had lost our connection. Finally, he sputtered, “What? Did you say . . . noose?”

“Yeah, a noose. A small one, but a noose. Have you seen it before?” I blithely asked.

“A noose?  Like with a hangman’s knot? A fucking noose?”  he asked incredulously.

“Yeah, yeah, a noose.  I figured it’s been there for a while and we just didn’t see it because of the leaves.  My guess is that a tree trimmer left it there.” I said as if everyone had a fucking noose hanging from one of their trees.

“A tree trimmer wouldn’t use a hangman’s knot. They would just use a loop” he said with some impatience as if I should be fully familiar with the type of knots used by arborists.

“Oh, OK.  Just checking.  I’ll look at it in the morning and figure out whether I should inform the police.  Talk to you later. I have to go to a meeting.” I said rather abruptly.  I just didn’t want to hear his conspiracy theories as why I would have a fucking noose hanging from my walnut tree.

Maybe it’s the inner stillness that remains from the retreat or maybe I’m fooling myself, but I’m not that worried.  I like my story that it is the remnants of a tree trimming adventure, and I think I’m sticking to it.  But, in case you never hear from me again, please tell the police about that stupid fucking noose hanging from the old walnut tree.

Update: Even though ignorance was indeed bliss in this case, I decided to break my bliss bubble and follow up on my theory that it was simply some rope left over by a tree trimmer.  So, I Googled “Aborists, Marin County” and called the one that sound vaguely familiar.

LazyBuddhist (LB):  Hi.  Uh . . . I have a kind of weird question
Aborist Chick (AC):  Oh, aren’t they all?  Shoot.
LB: OK, so . . . uh . . . well . . . OK, so during the course of an aborist doing his or her job chopping some limbs off a tree, would they ever use a hangman’s knot on the rope they use to grab the limbs?
AC: A hangman’s knot?
LB: Yeah, you know, the kind they use when they make a noose.
AC: A noose.
LB: Yeah, a noose. Do they ever create a noose type loop when working on a tree?
AC: Nope. No nooses.
LB: Are you sure?
AC: Yep.  So, ya got a noose in your tree?
LB: Yep.  It’s not a human size noose though.
AC: Squirrel sized?
LB: What, are you implying I have suicidal squirrels?
AC: No, not at all. I’m sure your squirrels are very happy.
LB: They are, thank you very much. No, I would say it’s kind of Corgi sized.
AC: I think I can safely say we never make Corgi sized nooses during the course of our work.  Anything else I can help you with?
LB: No, I guess I need to go call the police now.  Thanks for your help.
AC:  No no no, thank you. This story has made my day and will no doubt provide much laughter to colleagues.  Good luck with that noose.

Good intentions

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Friday morning, Nov 26

Today is the day I’m finally going to bring Pretty, the feral cat that I’ve been taking care of for the last five years, into the house and try to tame her down. I’ve prepared my home office with a litter box, a safe hidey-hole and have spritzed the entire room with At Ease, a pheromone-based herbal calming spray.  I have no illusions that this will be particularly easy, but I’m going to give it a go. It has taken a long time for this little cat to trust me enough to let me pet her, to be able to pick her up.  I hope I don’t blow all that collateral in this attempt to bring her in so she is safe and warm.

Friday afternoon, Nov 26

Pretty was no where to be found when I went downstairs to feed her this morning.  I am not entirely surprised as this has been happening more and more. Other cats in the neighborhood have apparently caught wind to the fact that there is food and a shy cat who refuses to fight for her territory over here.

What does surprise me, however, is that someone picked up her food dishes from outside my back door and placed them on my porch while I was out of the house for a mere hour.  I find this extremely disturbing.  And while I’m not proud of this leap in logic, I took it as a sign that Pretty was dead.  Yes, in my dark fantasies, people kill cats and then leave their empty dishes on your porch as way of letting you know.  (Note to self: skip the annual Godfather marathon on AMC next year.)

Friday evening, Nov 26

Pretty isn’t dead. When I head out to my car to go to the grocery story, she comes dashing up the stairs in search of food.  I’m ecstatic to see her, but the nerves kick in as I know this is my big chance.

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Sittin’ in the middle of it

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My landlord left me a voice mail on Monday evening.

“Hey, LB, listen a termite inspector is coming on Wednesday and he needs to come into the house and have a look around.  I can let him in and show him around, but I need to know what the protocol is with the rabbits.”  my landlord said rather gently.

My first reaction was relief that the bunnies in the middle of the room have finally been acknowledged.  I mean, with all the work he had been doing on the house, there was no way he couldn’t have seen the bunnies in the sunroom. I was expecting him to, at the very least, be concerned. But this phone call signaled I need not keep my bunnies in the closet any more when he or an inspector come into the house. (And yes, I literally put my bunnies in the closet when some bank guy came in and inspected the house.  Imagine his surprise when he opened the closet door.)

My second reaction was my usual one whenever someone, besides the boyfriend and a couple of close friends, is going to be coming into my house: panic.  Neurotic old tapes start blasting in my head.  I’m going to be judged. People are going to know what a dirty, bad person I am. I am not good enough.  I must hide the evidence of my slothful ways.  Shame.

And no, my house is not that bad (though, admittedly, with the advent of shows like Hoarders, the bar is now set pretty high). I’m not going to win any awards for my housekeeping skills. And I am certainly not one of those people who think cleaning is stress relieving, or even fun.  But, I don’t need my house to be immaculate in order to feel comfortable.

So, Tuesday night and Wednesday morning I throw myself into a cleaning frenzy in anticipation of the termite inspector and my landlord coming into the house. The termite guy is scheduled to be here at 11:30, so at 11:00 I finish up and mop myself into a corner where I can finally collapse into my comfy chair.  With the floors clean there is nothing else to do but wait.

On the side table next to my chair is a nice collection of reading materials, plus my iPhone.  Plenty of things to do to bide my time and take my mind off the impending disaster I’ve created in my head.  But instead, I opt to just sit with it. Look at it.  Sense it.

My body is vibrating.  The anxiety feels like an electric charge running throughout my veins. I stop to sense my heart beat. A bit fast and irregular. In fact the more I focus on it, the more irregular it seems. I stop focusing on my heart beat.  I notice the urge to pick up my iPhone and distract myself with one of my favorite games, Bejeweled.  But no, just sit with it.

What is this story I am telling myself? Mostly it is a fear of being judged. Normally, not a huge fear of mine, yet when it comes to my living quarters, it’s huge. It’s like when I open up my home, I am opening up me. Come inside. Look around.  Here is my private self. Judge me judge me judge me.

Going deeper. Where the hell does this come from? Am I really that insecure? I don’t think so. Memories of growing up ashamed of where I lived. Wrong side of the tracks. And all of my friends came from the right side of the tracks. Hiding. Lying.  And my mother’s shame. She grew up with more. She never wanted that house. Her depression deepened when we moved to the little shack next to the freeway.  Don’t invite your friends over. She just gave up.

So, this is the story that is running through my head.  And it’s not even my story. It’s my mother’s.  And every pore in my body was in it at that moment. Damn.

The termite guy finally shows up at noon. Lovely man. My landlord doesn’t join him on the inspection. It took all of five minutes. We probably spent more time talking about Mr. Binkles who ran over to check out this stranger in the paper booties.  He doesn’t see any sign of termites.  Have a good day, ma’am.

I change the channel in my head from the History Channel to more reality based programming.  It’s all just one story or another.  Some pleasant, some unpleasant and some neutral. Some are mine and some I’ve inherited. Just another day.

My neighbor thinks I’m an asshole

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I’ll admit it.    I’m a bit of a people pleaser.  Not pathologically so, but it does matter to me if most people like me.  So, that’s why it bugs me that my neighbor thinks I’m an asshole.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when Pretty reappeared after a month’s absence.  I was outside watching her eat.  She tends to feel safer when I am standing nearby, and since she already seemed pretty fragile, I was taking my job as protector fairly seriously.  Next thing I know, a neighbor’s Chihuahua comes barreling towards her, which causes her to dash for cover.  I said, to no one in particular, “god damn it!”  and when I looked up, my new neighbor was a few feet away from me.  He looked a bit taken aback by my reaction.

“She wasn’t going to hurt the cat. She just likes to chase them” he said.

“No, I didn’t think she was going to hurt her. It’s just that this little cat is really fragile right now . . . ” I started to explain. 

He called for the dog, then picked her up and walked back to his house without saying much else. 

For the rest of the day I felt bad that I had come off so rude to this new neighbor who had seemed so nice when I met him the first time. I thought about writing a letter apologizing for my rudeness and to ask him if he could kindly keep his dogs on a leash when walking through my (OK, my landlord’s) property, or carry them in his arms so that they don’t harass my Pretty.  After all, he does pass through my yard while walking his dogs. 

But time passed and I never left that note.  I watched a few times from my window as one or the other of his Chihuahuas made a beeline for the area where I feed Pretty.  If  it wasn’t him and his two Chihuahuas, it was another new neighbor and their Chihuahua.  In the last two months, there has been a Chihuahua explosion in my immediate vicinity: five freakin’ Chihuahuas within a 50 yard radius.   Look, I have nothing against Chihuahuas – they’re dogs and they are going to do dog stuff like chase cats and eat their food.  I get it.   What I don’t appreciate is how people let them go unleashed, figuring they’re tiny and harmless and don’t need to contained.   But, for the sake of being neighborly, I refrain from yelling out my window “keep your goddamn Chihuahuas out of my yard!”

In the meantime, my landlord started working on my house.  After a few days, noticing how people were constantly using his property as a through way to get to an alley that serves as a shortcut, he decides to fortify a fence to make it more difficult for people to pass through, and then slapped  No Trespassing/Private Property sign on both sides of the property.  While I have sometimes been annoyed by people cutting through, I thought his approach was a bit heavy-handed and less than neighborly. 

Apparently the neighbors got the message, though.  I didn’t see the Chihuahua Man crossing by anymore.  That is, until this morning.

As I was guarding Pretty I saw one of Chihuahua Man’s dogs a few yards away. She was barking in my general direction, but she didn’t get too close.  Knowing that her owner couldn’t be too far behind, I waited until I saw him so I could talk to him.  I still felt bad about our previous interaction, and I’m sure all the No Trespassing signs that went up shortly thereafter didn’t help the situation.

“Hi!” I waved and smiled.

“Hey” he nodded sans a smile.

“Listen, I wanted to apologize for our interaction a few weeks back. I didn’t mean to be rude.  I was just upset because the cat is really skittish and she had just come back from being missing for a month.” I explained.

“It’s not like she was going to hurt her. She just wanted to eat her food.” he said sounding somewhat defensive.

“No, I didn’t think she was going to hurt her.”  I started, but opted to change the topic since he clearly didn’t grok the whole feral cat thing.  “Also, despite the new signage my landlord put up, you’re free to pass through.  I haven’t had any problem with it.”

He continued to look at me impassively. 

I nervously continued. “Considering our last interaction and the timing of the signs, I just wanted to let you know that I have no problem with you or your partner passing by.  Those signs were not directed at you.”

“Yeah, well, that’s how we took it.” he said with no sign of softening.

“So, feel free to use walkway, but if I could just ask you to either have your dogs in your arms or on a leash when you pass through so as to not bother the cat.” I said in a manner that was probably more pleading than firm. 

“Yeah, fine. Thanks.” he said with no emotion. 

Never once did he break a smile.  I mean, this was all a silly misunderstanding. I’m a good person, really, I am.  Like me, won’t you? 

So, we’ll see where this goes.  Hopefully, all will be well in the neighborhood. But, if he continues to let his dogs harass my Pretty, well . . . you think I’m an asshole now? 

Trapped

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Outside my one of my living room windows, a worker is using a sander to strip off the old paint from my window trim.  My landlord is outside my bedroom window doing the same.  Both men occasionally take a break from the machine and scrape scrape scrape away by hand.  The house vibrates with both the mechanical and manual assaults.

Plastic tarps cover the rest of the windows. They were placed there three days ago when they treated all the wood shingles with this stinky stain/weather proofing stuff.  I’m not sure why the windows are still covered.   It is certainly not to protect me from the smell as that has permeated the house all week.

Meanwhile my car sits useless in the driveway.   The fellow who is currently sanding outside my window is also a mechanic.  He advised me not to drive it since he thinks the timing belt and some thing-a-ma-jig does something-or-the-other needs to be replaced.  Even I know bad things can happen if the timing belt goes, so I’m taking his advice and not driving it.

So, I’m trapped in my plastic-enclosed house on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in July surrounded by the sound of sanders and scrape scrape scraping and the smell of wood finish.   Did I mention it was on a Saturday?  Saturday is my day of rest. The day I sleep in. The day I putter around the house in a t-shirt and undies.  The day I can relax and read and doze.

I also feel trapped inside my own frustration and anxiety.  There is no one to blame.  Granted, I wish my landlord had kept his word and finished up yesterday.  But, I can’t blame him for taking the opportunity to get another day’s work in before he leaves on vacation.   For landlords, D and J are incredibly non-intrusive.  In my 12 years of being their tenant (at this and a previous property),  I would say there have been less than a handful of times where I have felt they were invading my space (which technically is their space).    They’re good people.

In theory, I could go out for walk.  But, there again I feel trapped.  In any direction  from my house you are faced with hills, some more daunting than others, but they’re still freakin’ hills.  I feel trapped by my out of shape body that resists hauling itself up these damn hills, and by my pride that fears being laughed at as I huff and puff and sweat profusely.

Despite the inherent anxiety of the situation, I am resisting medicating it away.   Instead I am trying to use all those things I’ve learned over the years in my Buddhist practice.  I’ve piled on the patience.  I recognize there is nothing to fix here.  No one to be angry at.  Home repairs are a pain in the ass as anyone who is fortunate enough to have a roof over their head knows.  At least they aren’t in the house.  I’m also choosing to focus (at least some of the time) on the positive.   I feel a lot of gratitude for my landlady who included me in their burrito run.   I feel damn lucky I made it home  from work yesterday safe and sound. Driving through the streets of San Francisco with a car that stalled EVERY TIME I stopped was nerve wracking and, at times, frightening. I’m grateful that the workman was able to find the problem with my car and will be back on Monday with all his tools to fix it (and yes, I’ve talked to my neighbors who used him as a mechanic and they all love his work and his prices).  And mostly I’m trying to remain mindful. I’ve noticed how my entire body vibrates when the sanders are going.  Since it’s near impossible to think when those things are going anyway, at least I can occupy myself with investigating the physical sensations and their impact on my mind.

After a bit of reprieve, during which I wrote this post, they’re back at it. And from the sound of it, they will soon be at a window outside my office.  I think I’ll go hide in the bedroom for a while and comfort the critters.

This too shall pass. This too shall pass.

Sittin’ on the dock of the bay

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A Friday late afternoon on what feels like the first day of Spring and a trip to a Ferry Point Park is order. I find myself a bench facing the water and simply jot down my observations. All is quiet except the electronic bonging of the buoys on the bay. The sun warms the side of my face and my right arm. In the distance is San Francisco.

I watch a couple of young dudes who have hopped the fence on a dock that has been deemed dangerous. They hang out and just goof in their over-sized shorts. A sailboat ambles by letting the subtle breeze dictate its pace.  Further down the trail an old couple argue their old arguments, their voices slashing at the quietude.  Three young people in matching magenta hair are all “dude” and “shit” and one of them proclaims her belief in aliens as they walk by.  A pregnant woman and three small children (possibly more as their other children straggling behind) make their way towards the old ferry landing with their fishing gear. The little boy hides behind the stroller and then peeks out and says “hi”. A white guy in a cabbie cap, a neat blue button-down shirt and dockers walks by smoking a cigarette. He doesn’t say “hi”. Perhaps he had a long week at work and is not feeling up to forced pleasantries.

Two kayakers paddle into view, their boats close enough to converse without shouting, but mostly they are silent and the only sound is the rhythmic splash of their oars. A pair of trim women, probably in their 50’s, walk by looking comfortable and serene. I imagine that perhaps they are yoga buddies, but today since it was so beautiful opted to go for a walk instead. And then it is quiet again.

Soon a young Asian woman comes along pushing a young boy on his bicycle. The bike looks new, modern, but his metal training wheels with the chipped yellow paint look like they may have been passed down or found at a garage sale.  A few minutes later an older Asian gentleman is pulling a very young girl on a very tiny bike with even tinier training wheels. The man has the bike on a make shift leash pulling the girl along as her legs dangle idle.

At the beginning of the trail, right at the water’s edge, I see a lanky adult in a vest and a Tilley hat pulling a  neatly dressed small boy close and whispering in his ear. I can’t tell if the move is to comfort the child or to admonish him.  Their dog, still listening to ancient instincts, starts to point at what I can only guess is a bird in a bush.  As they walk closer I see the lanky adult is probably the child’s grandmother.  As they walk by the woman greets me kindly and the child turns to watch me write.

“She’s writing a ticket” he says getting the older adult’s attention.

“No, silly, she’s just writing.” she says as she turns to me,  “he’s a little obsessed right now with getting tickets.”

“I got beat up by a bully today” the boy tells me.  Looking at his outfit it looks like he may attend a private school where those sort of things are not supposed to happen.

“Oh, that’s awful” I said.

The older woman once again pulls him close. “He did the right thing and told the Principal”. The boy looks up at her. “Didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess” sounding a bit worried. “But” he said changing the subject “I knew she wasn’t writing a ticket. I was just joking”. He stepped away from her as if to establish his autonomy.

The grandmother doesn’t fall for his attempt at changing the topic and continues “I asked him how he was going to deal with that bully and he said he was going to change schools.”  The hopelessness in that statement stunned me. “But, we’re not going to do that, are we?” she said changing her focus back to the boy.

“No. I’m going to go up to him and tell him he owes me an apology”, he said somewhat mechanically but with confidence.

“OK, well you take good care of yourself and know no one deserves to be bullied and it’s not your fault.” I said with some conviction even though I had no idea what I was saying.

The boy waved good-bye and they walked off with the grandmother’s arm once again wrapped around his shoulder.

What to do about Richmond?

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I live in Richmond, California. Yes, that Richmond. The Richmond that often finds itself in the news as a gang-infested hell-hole. It’s not all that unusual to read about a spate of four or five shootings over the course of a night or two. Hell, a couple of years ago it got so bad that there was talk of bringing in the National Guard as a back-up.  When many people think of Richmond the words that may spring to mind are “violence”, “poverty”, “gangs”,  and, my favorite, “the armpit of the Bay Area.”   And now, you can add to that list “gang rape.”

That’s not the Richmond I live in.  Like many of us who live in nice neighborhoods in sketchy cities, we identify ourselves by our neighborhood.  So, when people ask where I live, I don’t say Richmond, I say Point Richmond just as others may say they live in The Marina, or the Richmond Hills.  When I say Point Richmond, the words that spring to mind are “quaint”, “historical”,  or “nice”.  Yet, here in quaint, historical, nice, Point Richmond, we are less than a mile away from the Iron Triangle and North Richmond, the poorest and most violent neighborhoods around.  And Richmond High, the sight of that horrendous gang rape is only three miles away.

My first reaction to the news of that gang rape was incredible sadness.  Sad for the victim of such depraved, animalistic violence, and sad for my city that will once again be dragged through mud as a place that breeds young men with no sense of right and wrong, no remorse, and whose basest instincts are given free reign.  And yet I also feel sad for those young men who perpetrated this crime. No one wants to grow up to be a monster. No young child says “when I grow up I want to spend most of my life in and out of prison.” Yet, this is the life they, their parents, their community, and their culture have created for them.  Of course, they deserved to be punished severely. But, how will that change things?  Yes, the community will be safe, for a while, from this particular group of young men.  And yes, patrols will probably be increased in that area and new lighting installed. All of that is good and long needed.

But, what about the deeper issues?  Is there a whole generation of young men in our midst who have no capacity for empathy or compassion?  How do we keep our girls safe, self-assured and strong in a culture where that simply isn’t a priority?   How do you instill a respect for living beings and life itself, when clearly, too many see life as cheap, for others and for themselves?

I want to help, yet I am at a loss as how I can.  I am not a parent, a social worker, a community activist, or a civic leader.  I am simply a citizen of Richmond, California, saddened and horrified at an unspeakably inhumane crime, and what it says about our young men , our city, and the culture that has created them.

Spidertown

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No need for faux spiderwebs for Halloween at Chez LazyBuddhist.  No, at this time of year, my yard becomes Spidertown.

two spiders do battle outside my kitchen window

two spiders do battle outside my kitchen window

I’ve lived in this neighborhood for about 12 years now so I’ve become used to the annual spider invasion.  It usually happens in the latter part of the summer or early fall.  But, it does seem that each year these damn spiders are getting bigger and bigger.  You would think I lived next to a nuclear power plant rather than merely an oil refinery.  One big guy has a web that is probably close to three feet in diameter.  It’s right next to my walkway, which is fine with me.  When he starts to encroach across my walkway?  Well, bub, you’ll find out who is the bigger and more dangerous species. With the flick of this yardstick, I can bring down your days of work.  So, don’t even think about expanding across my walkways, ‘k?

Sure, now I sound all bold and brave when it comes to my eight-legged friends.  And normally, I have a live and let live philosophy when it comes to spiders.  But, if I’m surprised by one by walking into its web, or having it lower its creepy self in front of my eyes while driving 65 mph, I become a damn shrieking fool.  (And yes, I did have a stow-away in my car reveal itself to me while I was driving over a bridge at 65 mph.  I completely and utterly spazzed out for the entire length of the bridge until I was safely across and found a place to park, lept out of my car and fully shook out my clothing, hair and car to make sure he wasn’t on me.  I didn’t find him that morning, but I scared him enough to go take cover, only revealing himself a couple of days later when he started spinning a web in the back window of my car.)

Sleeping driveway spider

Sleeping driveway spider

I’m not the only one who spazzes out when encountering a spiderweb.  One  fall day a couple of years back, a young. outdoorsy looking man was canvassing my neighborhood for the Sierra Club.  I was at the back of the house, so I called out to him to meet me at the backdoor. He walked right into a huge spiderweb and started freaking the fuck out.  I tried my best not to laugh, but there was something so deliciously ironic about seeing this big rugged nature boy completely lose his shit when walking into a spider web.  I know, bad Buddhist, bad bad Buddhist.

Despite my fear of spiders, I’m not a spider killer.  If there is a spider in the house, we strike a deal – you stay over there, and I stay here. And since most of the time they are places I care not to be, we’re cool.  I let them have the ceiling, the upper part of the walls, or the basement.  Enjoy yourself Mr. Spider. Let us co-exist peacefully.   And if he fails to understand our agreement about boundaries, well, that is what the boyfriend is for.  He is not a spider killer either, but he is adept at capturing them and taking them outside.  Good boyfriend, good good boyfriend.

walkway spider w/ 3 ft wide web

walkway spider w/ 3 ft wide web

This year one of the spiders have located himself right outside my kitchen widow.  Every morning is like my own personal episode of Nature.  One morning, there was the turf battle (see pic above) where these two pretty equally matched spiders kept attacking each other.  It was fascinating, especially how this one spider would curl up in a ball and play dead.  When the other spider came over to poke at him to see if he was still alive, the curled up spider would spring open and start wildly attacking the other one.  Unfortunately, that spider that got attacked wasn’t the smartest spider, as he kept falling for the other one’s play dead ploy.  I could have watched this for hours, but I had to go to work.  When I came home, there was only one spider left – the victor.  Now I watch him work on his web in the morning with all the grace of a harpist plucking at the strings.

At a safe distance I can appreciate the effort and workmanship that go into making these massive webs.  And that the way  I like it – at a distance.

The Point Richmond turkeys

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I wonder if the turkeys are going to come by today.  Even though they’ve been coming by two, maybe three times a week for the last three months, I still get excited whenever I see them.  I start talking in that tone of voice I reserve for kittens or puppies and can never just say the word “turkey” once.  It has to be “hi turkey turkey turkey!”  Yes, apparently being in the presence of poultry makes me act like a damn fool.

No one knows where these birds suddenly came from.  All I know is that the week after I got back from my retreat at Spirit Rock, which also hosts a flock of turkeys, these turkeys showed up in the lot behind my house.  Since where I live in no way resembles the peaceful, idyllic hills of Spirit Rock, I was so thrilled to at least have my own flock of turkeys.  And to further add to the appeal of these wild creatures, the flock of a dozen or so also included some baby turkeys, which I later learned are called poults.   They’ve grown up quickly, those poults, now I can barely distinguish them from the rest of the flock.

I’ve heard turkeys can become quite a nuisance in some neighborhoods.  I can understand that, especially neighborhoods where a well-tended lush lawn is valued.  But, that’s not the case here in Point Richmond.  This older, hilly neighborhood does not have a lot of lawns for them to tear up though I’m not sure how they feel about other kinds of landscaping.  They will always be welcome in the large hilly lot behind my house though.  At one point an ambitious/greedy developer bought that lot and had plans for a large apartment complex.  He got as far as building a huge concrete foundation and then ran out of money and then he was foreclosed upon.  It’s the most perplexing structure.  The boyfriend, who is a builder himself, is likewise baffled about what was going to built upon that unusual foundation.  I like to call it the Stonehenge of Point Richmond.  So, once again, that lot becomes open space, a perfect place for a flock of turkeys to hang out.

But, they’re not much for just hanging out, those turkeys.  They are quite focused, constantly pecking and digging for food.  To encourage them, the boyfriend scatters birdseed behind my house and it does appear these huge birds do like the same seed I feed to dainty little songbirds.  I’ll see them for about a half an hour outside the back of my house then they move along.  I’ve spotted them on the other side of town walking down the middle of the street as if they owned it.  After sitting for a minute or two waiting for them to cross, I gave my horn a gentle tap to encourage them to scatter.  Another neighbor a few blocks away said they wandered through a party she was having in backyard.

I think these turkeys were wise to choose our little community for their new home.  Every year on Thanksgiving morning, there is the tradition of the Point Richmond Turkey Shoot.  Fortunately, there are no guns involved, just bad poetry, our City Councilman’s goats and Wild Turkey whiskey.  Perhaps this year we find some way to incorporate and honor and new neighbors into the annual ritual.  That would be a nice way to officially welcome them.  We’re friendly like that.