The Long Conversation


Palden Lhamo

This could have been me, earlier today,
protecting my young (more on that below)

Officially, it is Palden Lhamo, the female guardian spirit of the sacred lake (Lhamo La-tso), who promised Gendun Drup, the 1st Dalai Lama, in one of his visions, that she “would protect the reincarnation lineage of the Dalai Lamas.” But “never trust a guardian spirit who wears a mutant monkey and a cobra” is what I always say.

To my provincial eye, she looks like a very pink woman in blackface with curlers in her hair, but then I peer more closely and they are not curlers, they are little pink Tweety Birds, behind which is a phallus wearing a cowboy hat and having either wings or leaves, and there is quite a crowd of people, shrimp, squid, and other creatures and Private Parts there on that quilt, which resembles farmland as viewed from an airplane, if you are on acid, and, forgive me, but I can’t help noticing yet another phallus emerging from a green cluster of hair curlers on top of her retro–Patti Labelle hair…. If I went back to school, I think I could get a master’s degree based just on this image….

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Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

Grace Cathedral, a 160-year-old Episcopal church in San Francisco. The current structure was begun in 1928 and completed in 1964

Great Names

I’m going to listen, probably tomorrow, to the program “Pico Iyer: The Open Road” on my new online best friend, the audio archives of the Forum at Grace Cathedral.

Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer -- Easy on the eyes, huh?

The program description begins, “Pico Iyer has been engaged in conversation with the Dalai Lama for the last three decades.” Wow! That surpasses even the length of my phone chats with my late mother-in-law.

(Dear woman that she was, she would pretend not to notice that you were making phone-conversation-concluding noises, such as, “Well, Eli is getting into the carbolic acid again, I really need to go.”)

What a great name — “Pico Iyer.” I briefly consider changing my name to “Pico Iyer” (since I can’t bear his children), which rolls off the tongue even more deliciously than “Vida Blue,” but neither name is as excellent as “Catfish Hunter.”

Vida Blue (Associated Press)

Vida Blue (Associated Press)

In 1968, playing for the Oakland A’s, Hunter pitched a perfect game — one of only eighteen perfect games in Major League Baseball history, and the first in forty-six years. I know this, not because I habitually absorb baseball statistics, but because the nation was paying particular attention to the A’s at that time, a talented and whimsical lot with matching mustaches and colorful names:  Catfish Hunter and Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers and Blue Moon Odom. This would have been during the decade before Pico Iyer began his conversation with the Dalai Lama. Iyer was just a kid, and I bet he’s never even heard of Blue Moon Odom.

Sadly, Catfish Hunter died at 53 of injuries sustained during a fall down a flight of stairs. Like my dad, who died in 1985, Hunter was afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Catfish Hunter

Catfish Hunter

Over the years, as my children have generated progeny of their own, I’ve lobbied for the boy babies — any or all — to be named “Catfish.” On February 3, however, I gained another grandchild, and she is the first to carry my name (as a middle name, but it’s still gratifying) — Adalyn Mary. It’s lovely, but I’m going to call her “Catfish” when I meet her in a month or two.

Moving Out

February 8, 1: 30 a.m. I am walking home from the Kwik Shop, five blocks, uphill, trying to find pathways in the new snow. It is snowing now, the lovely dry flakes that fall in clumps when the atmospheric temperature is just so. The walk, the snow, even the effort — since I’m carrying about 15 pounds with each hand, plus a Large Coffee — are calming. There’s very little traffic, and I’m having a Quiet Snow Moment.

I was supposed to have vacated my apartment by January 31, but so much needs to be done that I consider the options and decide to read a book, and January 31 comes and goes.

Snowstorm greeting card

Snowstorm greeting card by apmercer at


Sometimes I can’t even read. I’ve been experiencing frequent vertigo attacks, vertigo being “a specific type of dizziness, a major symptom of a balance disorder. It is a form of hallucination, a sensation of the environment spinning around one, usually in a clockwise fashion…. It can cause nausea and vomiting and, in severe cases, it may give rise to difficulties with standing and walking.” (Wikipedia)

During a vertigo episode, I have to lie very still. Even turning my head on the pillow makes the room spin. So I listen to books from Audible and keep a barf bucket by the bed and wait a couple of hours for it (the vertigo) to go away.


Valentine: "Cherry Conditioner"

Throughout the packing-and-moving process, I am beset by neurosis-induced disorders: hives, panic attacks, neuralgia, and various types of avoidance behavior. I make Valentines to sell on my website, for example, though there is an ample selection already.


Valentine: "Second by Second"

Bad News x 2

This morning, after my peaceful walk in the snow, I e-mail my mover and arrange for him to bring his crew on Tuesday. I do a little non-packing-related work, sleep for a few hours, and am awakened by a 7:30 a.m. phone call advising me that packers and movers would be arriving this morning. This arrangement was made by the church in which I have lived for the past seven years, pursuant to eviction proceedings (see “A Fine Mess” below).

On parenthood...

On parenthood...

My older son, Charlie (not his real name, which is John), has been the church cleaning manager going on five years. He lives next door, rent-free, in a charming little house that was the parsonage at one time. Last week he slipped on some ice and broke his leg — a seriously bad break, requiring surgery, which is scheduled for this coming Friday.

With or without the surgery, he will be unable to work for three months. He had been at his “day job” for only two weeks — no disability insurance, of course, and certainly no guarantee that his day job will be waiting for him.

Enraged woman

A lioness enraged

But it’s all moot, because he is in jail, and no one can or will post his $5,000 bail. I will spare you the details of his arrest, except to say that it seemed a certainty that the church would fire him. When I learned that the trustees were meeting this morning to determine his fate, I was beyond furious. I burst into the office where three of the trustees were waiting for the others to arrive. “Hysterical” is probably the best term to describe my condition, although I prefer “enraged lioness.”

I said some terrible things. I did. I got personal. My legs were shaking the way they do when I have to sing a solo in public. I felt like one of those old-fashioned windup mechanical soldiers who’s stuck in place.

But I made my point: You can’t have this meeting when Charlie can’t be there to speak for himself (or when he can’t have legal representation). We, as a church, “REACH OUT” to people like Charlie all the time. Can’t we “REACH IN,” make him accountable, help him clean up his act? We can ruin his life — leaving him with nowhere to live, no job (and unable to get one), and no money — or we can act like a church and give him a chance to grow up and behave responsibly.

The offending kitty?

The offending kitty?

Charlie has ADHD and self-medicates with alcohol (though drinking was not a factor in his arrest). He struggles. Every day, he fights the good fight. I am proud of him. I bleed for him. As someone named Elizabeth Stone said, “Making the decision to have a child — it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.”

When all is said and done, I get a day’s respite from moving, and the trustees decide not to fire Charlie, at least “not at this time.”

Thank you, Whoever Is On Duty. I will use this small hiatus to organize my stuff, pack what I can, and clean up the large cat turds I noticed on the dark-brown carpeting, left near the litter box by a kitty with bad aim, I’m thinking.

Tuesday, February 9, 12:25 a.m. Charlie calls. At his hearing tonight, charges and bail are drastically reduced, and he is home.

And may Whoever Is On Duty bless you and your endeavors…. —Mary

Feelgood music on

Feelgood music on


One thought on “The Long Conversation

  1. P.S. I pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary when one of my children is suffering. She’s a mother; she’s On Duty ALL the time…. And I sort of scan the spiritual cosmos for my own dear mom. She died in 1974, but sometimes she lets me know she’s around… definitively!

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