Friday, May 3, 2013

Not Quite Barbary Lane

I just finished “Mary Ann in Autumn.” The latest installment in the “Tales of the City” series. It’s been on my nightstand for over a year. A close friend, Laura, gave it to me for my birthday, year before last. She remembered how excited I was when I bought “Michael Tolliver Lives.” The previous entry in TOTC. I’ve been enthralled with “Tales” since the first time I lived in San Francisco in the early nineties, before I had even met Shawn. An old friend had come to visit and couldn't say enough about how great it was. He would show up later in my life in few degrees of separation that I may get into later, but I digress. I had watched the first mini series made for PBS. It was so addicting. It had that feel of the seventies, the way it was photographed. The lighting and almost grainy texture gave it a McMillan and Wife-esque quality. The later two, More Tales and Further Tales, shot for Showtime, didn’t have the same feel at all. They were good, just not great. Most of the actors who portrayed the original main characters had been replaced. Luckily Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis stayed on. The Showtime entries came out when I lived in Colorado, then Tucson, so I didn’t have the city as a backdrop, but they re-established my never-ending love for the City By The Bay. I’ve envied Anna Madrigal since our introduction. The “garden variety land lady” as she labeled herself to Edgar when she met him in the park. Although even the address is fictional, since the first time I saw the courtyard, that’s what I have in mind for my ideal living area. Especially in the spaces not seen by the general public. I’ve never been much of a reader. I can probably literally count the books that I’ve completely read cover to cover. With “Tales” I began reading them toward the end of my time in Denver at the recommendation of my roommate at the time. “They’re a really easy read, you’ll like them,” he insisted. He was spot on. After about a year of dusting off the dust cover, I took “Mary Ann” with me to jury duty and devoured about a third of the easy reading pages. But I didn’t pick it up again for months. This book is set in current times (2010) though much has changed even since then, as technology forwards. Anna is now frail. Mary Ann has cancer. Michael is HIV positive. Brian is off traveling the states in an RV. Mona, Connie, Edgar and Frannie are all gone. They are characters, I know, but they have been in my life for two decades, and I was just not ready to lose another one. As I finished the last sentence of the last chapter I was relieved to find that (spoiler alert) there were no casualties amongst my loved ones. Only a hunger for another book from Armistead. On a side note (which coincidentally is how I seem to ramble) I had met Mr. Maupin, well, actually just helped him find some Dockers. It was when I was working at the men’s department at Macy’s in Union Square. This was long before it was remodeled to its current splendor. A fellow employee told me who he was after he had left. This was before I had seen TOTC, so it made little celebrity impact. Though I can be quite star struck, an author, to me at that time, didn’t qualify striking. I am now in my second incarnation of living the life of said landlady. Though it’s been a tough row to hoe. I find myself using that phrase from time to time. Sweet Pam, from the Cockette’s, used it in the documentary. By the way, she just accepted my friend request on Facebook. Color me stricken. When we first got this place in North Park (Number 13 in Americas best Hipster Neighborhoods, according to Forbes) it was in dire need of much attention. After the first few weeks of the really intense work with Dad, the rest of the handyman activities slowed dramatically, just as they had done at our previous two-unit property. It was in North Park as well, but not in as nice an area. It’s not that I’m a lazy cow. Not exactly. I think it’s largely due to the fact that I have so many ideas for the place, all of which cost money, which seems elusive at our current net worth. But it also has to do with the reality that I’m in a rut. Like many times in my life, I’m filled with doubt. My abilities as a designer. My skills as a craftsman. And yes, my laziness. Seems the only time all the chores are done is when we’re ready to go on the market. But this palace (Typo, and it stays!) is different. We don’t want to sell it. Doesn’t mean we may spend time away from it. But we want to grow old(er) here. The neighborhood suits us. The weather, though hot at times, is generally pleasant. Proximity to Balboa Park and the beaches keep us engulfed in beauty. Aunt Marylou commented how lucky we are to live in such surroundings. I commented back that I hope to never take it for granted. I’m an avid over-poster on Facebook. I’m sure by now that many have deleted, or at least unfollowed me due to my constant rambling and picture posting. I just feel like the “friends” have a right to know what my dinner looks like, all instagrammed and artsy. So now our home is habitable. The rear unit is rented. Painting, both interior and exterior have been about 80% complete, and once again, we are living in that unfinished project abyss that we know all too well. Because this is our forever home (a term I borrowed from the Chihuahua Rescue of San Diego it warrants some special touches, and the type of improvements that aren’t strictly about resale. So there is still much to do. Much. We bought a tree for Valentines Day. Started out as a trip to the nursery to get a plant for the yard, in lieu of flowers. Seemed like a smarter way to spend our Hallmark Holiday dollars. When we arrived, there she was. This big behemoth of a droopy Christmas tree. It’s called a Kashmir Cypress, and I had been admiring it since my first trip to Armstrong Morena Boulevard during this incarnation of our San Diego residency, which was over a year ago. But what I noticed from the car was the big beautiful green and turquoise clearance tag that ornamented her feathery appendages that were dancing in the breeze. I couldn’t see the amount, but I knew it could be huge. Several of the plants I was growing in pots out back were a result of said tag. Most of them were 70% off their original price. Largely due to leaves falling, flowers spent or pots outgrown. Sylvia’s case was the latter. But even at 70% off, she would be a hefty investment. Her leaves, or needles, whatever they are called, seemed to be turning brown throughout. When we questioned the helper gal she seemed convinced that she was merely ready to be planted firmly into the earth. The caveat? Clearance items are not entitled to the lifetime guarantee for trees and shrubs that Armstrong offers. We walked around the nursery as planned, looking for a plant, trying to dismiss this majestic specimen that would anchor the mystical garden I had been planning in our front yard for months. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. It was like in the movies when all the character hears is a freight train in deafening approach. When we bought our home, most of the yard areas were covered in weedy grass. I would mow it after rains, tried spreading “guaranteed to grow” seed and watering to the tune of astronomical water bills to no avail. I finally concluded that I didn’t want that at all. I didn’t want our yard to look like everyone else’s. I wanted lush yet low care. Variety and color. I want Barbary Lane in San Diego. I took out all the grass, tilled the entire yard and came up with several versions of the layout that our yard will someday become. But I needed a focal point. On the “floor plan” of the yard, there was just a big circle, which, when viewed from the front bedroom would be smack dab in the middle of the giant arched triptych window that dominated the elevation of our house. I knew where I wanted to place it. I knew how big it should be. I knew it would be evergreen. But what I was not sure of is what species it would be. We had toyed back and forth on some type of pine, that we could decorate, stylishly and elegantly, during the holidays, but most that I looked at seemed so common. I don’t do common. So on this Valentines Day we took it as a sign, assured by our helper lady that she’d perk right up once she was planted. Two days and two hundred dollars later the van arrived with Sylvia. We named her after my paternal Grandmother. They have similarities. I’ll leave it at that. Since her interment (The tree, not Grandma) she has gotten progressively worse for wear. Not rapidly, but steadily. We still hold hope, but it’s not looking good. Sensibility be damned, I am trudging forward. I’ve peppered in another tree, Golden Desert Ash, Another cypress that looks like a baby Sylvia, only green. And several small shrubs and flowers. I have three zones for the front yard, two for the back, and another for the rear unit, which has it’s own yard but is currently covered in low care (no care) landscape fabric and gravel. Very Tucson. We’re growing a tree for the tenants yard in a pot in our own back yard. But it still has a long way to go to be significant in their space. Plus I like having as much life as I can in our otherwise barren personal space. The plan for the back is mostly a large deck, a built in hot tub to the west and a wall of six Pittosporum to the north. Their street name is Silver Sheen. I know, right? I tend to try to get the smallest version of plants that I can, especially when I’m arranging them in repetition. I find that the younger ones have a better survival rate and adaptability ratio. Case and point: Sylvia! And it’s cheaper, so there’s that. Of course at this time, our back consists of a highly cracked, lopsided concrete slab, a pad of sharp gray and rose colored large scale gravel where a metal shed had once stood, and the rest is dry cracked earth. The only salvation is a splash of color from my DIY painted patio set, an umbrella left to me by my dear friend Matt, who moved to Northern California. A few potted plants and my sextuplets round out the mix. My beloved Pittosporum Silver Sheen are doing fantastically well in their potted row along the fence that separates us from our neighbor Kristen. I’ve named them after childhood neighbors of my Mom’s. Just cause it’s easy for me to remember them in a series of six. Uko, Minako, Shegeko, Famika, Samika and Don. The Hasikawa’s. Names I learned, people I never met, and like an elephant… They are more than three times the size they were when I purchased them. One per month starting in early spring of last year. I had only one casualty, which the nursery replaced, making good on their guarantee for life promise for full priced shrubs and trees. I got some tips for Sylvia the other day from an old codger behind the register who really seemed to know his stuff. Keeping fingers crossed. I know this will never be Barbary Lane, but it will someday have my signature and I can get to the point where my day to day doesn’t involve heavy equipment, concrete, bricks or loads of rock, irrigation tubes and emitters, or building of the many decks that I have planned. That day when I can wander through my gardens in my muumuu, pruners in hand and visit with my babies. Longing for that day.

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