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?