Like Noah’s Ark


Hi, Sis. How are you doing?


I am living with 10 other women in a two-story boarding

Transom or transom light

Transom light (often in U.S., just “transom”)

house built in 1927 for TB patients. This house has it all (sans TB) – a full basement, hardwood floors, high ceilings, big windows (all fairly common in Tucson’s early years but rare since WWII) – even transoms (technically transom lights or fanlights; architecturally speakingtransom is a horizontal crosspiece, often above a door; the transom light is the window above it)! I adore transoms.


I WAS ONLY LOOKING FOR an inexpensive apartment when I stumbled onto this “Program” that seems almost to have been custom-designed for me. I pay $250 a month, period, for which I get not only a very nice room (all utilities, WiFi, other stuff) but also a Mentor. She works with me on “Success Planning,” Financial Education, Financial Capacity-Building, and optional Home-Ownership Planning. I’m required to develop a profitable project and to make regular contributions to a savings account.

Plus I have to keep my room clean.

The cats  (below) don’t live here, though you’d never know it by the way they are fussed over and lavishly fed. They’re feral. Mama is a slut and a baby machine. (See photo caption for update.)

feral cats

Since this photo was taken in mid-September (on our back patio), one baby disappeared. The other four thrived until a dear neighbor rounded them up and took them to a no-kill facility with a good record for placing healthy kittens at a small profit. Now it’s Mama’s turn. We’ll have to pay $45 to have her released to us.


I MOVED IN THREE WEEKS AGO [September 17, 2012] and was comfortable from Day 1.

It would be hard to find a more diverse group. There are two of everything, kind of like on Noah’s Ark: 2 lesbians, 2 African Americans, 2 Mexicans, 2 Native Americans, 2 parolees, and an unpaired Russian. I am the token “None of the Above.”

West University Historic Neighborhood 5-bedroom bungalow

West University Neighborhood 5-bedroom bungalow

For lovers of old architecture, this is the best neighborhood in Tucson – the West University Neighborhood Historic District. I was surprised that the area hadn’t long ago become a collection of university annexes and student apartments. Googling the WUNHD turned up several versions of the neighborhood plan, according to which the neighborhood association moved quickly (and successfully) in the 1970s to prevent U of A expansion, then went on to seek and receive favorable zoning restrictions.

There are a few sorority or fraternity houses, and a few high-end rentals, but for the most part the neighborhood consists of single-family houses in the $300,000-to-$500,000 range.

West University Neighborhood single-family house

West University Neighborhood single-family house

The curious thing is that many of the alleys are actually crisscrossing, semi-hidden, unpaved streets lined with small houses. At first I thought the houses might actually be converted guest houses, but, no, they’re too large and too substantial. They’re not later additions, either… same age as the rest of the neighborhood.

So when we go outside to smoke on the back porch (I with my E-cigarette), we’re looking across the alley at the front porch and front door of a smallish house… which actually sits on the corner of a pair of crisscrossing alleys. Very odd arrangement.

[NOTE: I finally found a bit of info about these secluded little houses; see caption.]

This is one square block. The intersecting street, “N. Bean Ave.” (enhanced in this image), is actually a humble alley. The “alley houses” (circled in red) are single-family dwellings evidently built three to five years earlier (as “servants’ quarters or as rentals for tuberculosis patients or university students”) than the larger houses facing the street. Our house (labeled “A,” built in 1927), was originally a sanatorium.

It’s been too hot to do much walking, but today I had to mail a package so I went as far as the U of A Main Gate, about six blocks east of here. The retail area adjacent to the campus is much cleaner and livelier than it was when I worked a few blocks from here, in the 1990s. There are a Marriott, a post office, several boutiques and specialty shops, and loads of pubs, diners, bar-and-grills, etc., most of which are locally owned, at least as far as I can tell.

That’s all for now. Miss you lots & hope to see you soon….

Our West University Historic Neighborhood house

Dear Family—


Most are,  lately. Have been using E-cigarette pretty much exclusively for 2 months. The research is thin, but most has found E-cigarette safer than smoking — “up to 1,000 times safer” according to one study — an odd statistic…. E-cigs, by the way, don’t stain your teeth.

One does not smoke E-cigarettes, one “vapes” them. Sounds evil, but they come in flavors such as cherry rather than, say, salamander or Type AB Negative. At first it was tempting to “vape” constantly, because you, like, can, plus there are really no side effects… no coughing or nausea, as you’d have if you smoked constantly… but (a) the pleasure wears off, and (b) the cost adds up. Now I’ve found my rhythm and I’m saving $$.

…THIS IS A FUN AND FASCINATING GROUP OF WOMEN. In the interest of full disclosure, I must confide that the phrase “group of women” is a bit misleading. Christy [names herein are being invented on the spot] technically doesn’t qualify, not just because of the deep voice, the height and carriage, and the bristly chin. It’s the crotchial architecture that finally tipped me off.

Some people might consider discretion the better part of valor, but consider discretion boring and unproductive. Catching Christy smoking solo on the patio, I made a cursory apology for being slow-witted, farsighted, and tactless, adding that since our program is called “Women in Transition” I had assumed blah blah and so forth but had only just that day observed that her gender was less straightforward than I had thought, and I asked if she were planning to have surgery. She replied with no embarrassment whatever that the procedure had been scheduled years ago (she’s 52) but that her partner’s death had been a crushing loss both emotionally and financially and she’d been unable to proceed with the operation. I asked and she answered a few more intrusive questions, and we went on to talk about old movies.

I should mention that Christy is adored here. She is soft-spoken, kindhearted, exceedingly bright, a terrific cook, generous, and principled. She spent an afternoon decorating the front hallway and porch with Halloween lights, spider webs, and black widows. She feeds the cats and any hungry-looking humans who wander into the kitchen while she’s cooking.

It would be in poor taste, I suppose, to offer grooming tips. Christy is forever experimenting with makeup, and the effect is kind of funny and kind of sweet, especially in the late afternoon, when 5 o’clock shadow is evident. And maybe, for someone who’s been on the planet for half a century, she’s a mite heavy-handed with her eye shadow. But underneath it all, so to speak, she’s comfortable in her skin.  She’s working toward a degree in graphic design, and she puts money aside regularly toward a down payment on a house. Anatomical technicalities notwithstanding, Christy is more contented than three-fourths of the people I know.

The house next door, east

THESE ARE WOMEN who, for whatever reason, have asked for and received do-overs… are in their 40s or 50s, many working earnestly toward a degree… two (one Russian, one Mexican) are learning English so as to qualify for better jobs… two are trying to establish good employment records after imprisonment for drug-related felonies… one was basically a prisoner for years in an abusive marriage… one is a drama major who lost her scholarship because, at age 52, she had to have hip-replacement surgery…. Everyone has a different story, of course, but all are talented, intelligent, and generous….

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Hi, Sweetie—


NOT SURE THERE’S ENOUGH DRAMA for memoir material. The women here live from day to day with the hope that most of the drama is behind them. Candace — age 50, energetic, studious, sincerely pious, kind, gregarious — has been here longest, about two years… and just found out she has stage 1 cirrhosis… is already being treated for hepatitis C.

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Candace served 5+ years in prison. It’s been a decade, I’m thinking, since she used alcohol or nonprescription drugs. Her parents aren’t living, but she has a sister she’s close to; her (grown) kids are hellions who were taken from Candace and raised by their dad’s relatives. Candace’s biggest challenges are her math class and her mama-guilt. She doesn’t dwell on the past, though, and hopes the felony conviction won’t stand in the way of her goal (founding and operating a prison ministry).

Difficult to imagine all this in her, at least outwardly, because she looks younger than her years and she has a lot of vitality. There’s another chronically ill resident — Marjorie, a Navajo nearing 60 — who goes to the hospital for dialysis three times a week (the legacy of heavy drinking during her second marriage). She spends a lot of time with her married daughter, pregnant and the mother of a two-year-old cutie pie. Marjorie’s first husband was murdered in a drug fiasco. She’s amazingly cheerful considering horrific episodes in her past and the sheer inconvenience of her day-to-day life….

A couple of the other women were married to extreme macho types and are just rebuilding their self-respect a day at a time. There are two or three residents I don’t know well because they work nights and sleep days. We’re not a formal unit — we have house meetings every two weeks only for the purpose of discussing things like there’s a loose bearing in the clothes dryer. Mutual support is voluntary, situational, as might occur in any group residence.

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Candace and Marjorie know more than average about each person’s “story” … Candace because she’s kind and easy to talk to, Marjorie because she’s nosy. My particular pal (Toni, who reminds me a little of Jake) is another ex-felon. She’s 40 and exudes so much male energy (more, even, than Christy) that I literally forget she’s a woman half the time….



Later this month I’ll start teaching meditation to all who are interested.  Most will participate because of unanimous affection and respect for our house manager (my mentor, Cassie), who handles her responsibilities more by intuition than by rules and regs. Turns out she is two days older than I am; we had a double birthday celebration here on Saturday, October 20.




The potentially profitable project I’m working on most actively is a revised version of a business-writer’s manual I did several years ago, emphasizing clarity versus jargon in writing and public speaking. Recent research I’ve done indicates that the biggest problem in what I refer to as “communication with a public audience” (any form of public speaking, business writing, journalism, etc.) goes beyond lack of clarity to subtle antagonism, a puerile show of power, with ramifications at every level and in every sector of society. My book addresses writing as a form of personal interaction to which the principles of “social intelligence” (as set forth in Daniel Goleman’s book by that title) should apply.

Of particular concern to me are memes that slide into public consciousness due to the growing incidence of “sweeping generalizations” in journalism, and the increasing disregard for other journalism standards…. More on this when I’ve made some progress….

* * *

AND TO ALL READERS: MAY WHOEVER IS ON DUTY bless you abundantly… even if you have no interest in my eBay offerings… regarding which, might you reconsider?

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