Driftwood Roots of Cape Henry

I went to Cape Henry near Virginia Beach last week for a small family reunion of aunts and uncles and cousins on my mom’s side of the family. (My last post on sleeping at the airport was a fitting postscript to the drive down there. It’s a mistake to drive through Virginia on I-95 if you’re going to be there anywhere near rush hour.) There was nothing better to do one afternoon except stroll on the beach and shoot driftwood. I like driftwood because it’s one of the most common examples of beautiful decomposition. Another gallery of nondriftwood from this trip will posted soon.

Going Back to Cali

Another friend from California is moving back on Wednesday. I’m the only one I know who ever stayed in New York. I may have to move back myself if I can’t find steady work soon. I could sublet my apartment and focus on better Photoshop! And better website design! Still, it’s quite the letdown to have to move back in with your parents. I can blame the recession but plenty of people are getting by fine and thriving. Sigh.

Playing Ping Pong for the Coach

I learned how to play ping pong on a permanent metal table bolted on a deck in the park behind my house. At night, the sprinkers would leave puddles of water on the table causing the table top to rust and blister. When it got bad enough, a new sheet of metal would be installed with a fresh coat of industrial paint. While the ball didn’t bounce exactly like it does on a wood table (or sound the same), I got good enough at it to where I came in fourth place in the city ping pong tournament. Okay, table tennis, whatever.

The paddles and the net for table provided by a park director who all the kids called “coach.” Coach also provided crayons, construction paper, popsicle sticks, Carroms, chess, checkers, backgammon, playing cards, cribbage, Parcheesi, Trouble, Sorry, basketballs, kickballs, four-square balls, softballs, bats, bases, footballs, flags (tackle football was frowned upon), frisbees, and sometimes donated tennis balls and rackets. I remember the mildewy smell of the coach’s office like Marcel Proust and a lot of the coach’s names: Curt, Pam, Karl, Gary, Jan. My family went to one of their weddings.

When Proposition 9 passed (California) and all of Coach’s salary went kaput, I lost a small piece of faith in humanity.  I couldn’t understand how my city would get rid of all of the city park’s coaches. I felt like my city and state didn’t care about kids. That ping pong table is gone and the city doesn’t even hold ping pong tournaments anymore. You can still be a ping pong champion out of your own pocket, I suppose.

With all of the handwringing over Obama’s stimulus package, get over it. It will be stimulating.

Update: Jay breaks it down in hard numbers.

See also this debunking of the right’s perpetual FDR myths.

Backyard Memories

I’m processing my two trips to California in two months but in the meantime, here are some photos of the family backyard with some memories and other comments.

I realize I was privileged having such a large backyard growing up. It was on a heavily sculptured and landscaped hill. No grand football games, basketball court, or swimming pool. As our two story house’s two floors are circular, the landscape features two circular paths with staircases connecting the levels.

Needless to say, the circular structures in both the house and backyard lend themselves to endless games of tag and hide-and-go-seek. No dead ends. Also, we were very lucky in that the backyard has a gate that leads to a city park. This is where most of the elbows-in-the-face basketball games, ping pong, grand football games, tennis lessons, frisbee tossing, and general neighborhood squabbling took place. I could tell some stories about each of those. Neighborhood kids from across the street often used our backyard as a shortcut to the park. This was occasionally tolerated by my parents but often not, and they would padlock the gate. Different circumstances — losing the lock, losing the key, a combination becoming public — would often thwart their efforts. In our adolescences, this is where we would surreptitiously drink our Mickey Big Mouths and get stoned. Again, fodder for more stories…

The middle level of the backyard has two platforms populated with outdoor furniture, some appropriated from my grandparents’ houses. Some of these tin cans must be over 50 years old. You can still sit in them after a good rag cleaning. These concrete and tile platforms form the heart of our summer backyard parties being roomy enough for a couple picnic tables, a barbecue, and kegs and drink service.

My mother would occasionally make marmelade with the sour oranges that the tree on the left produced. Because of the growth of two large pine trees planted in the late 70s by my siblings (after a volunteer tree planting after a large fire burned down a nearby hillside), the orange tree isn’t get as much light as it should and is producing less fruit. There are lemon trees and bushes, a grapefruit tree, and an almost dead peach tree not getting enough sunlight anymore but my parents seem to be enjoying the shade the taller pine trees are throwing on the house for the time being. Mom has yet to retire and says she has lots of plans for the house when that happens. Oh, goody!

To the left in the photo below, you can sort of see where the built-in barbecue is. (The grill chef, usually Dad, stands on another platform below.) Over the barbecue is a contraption that lets you raise and lower the grill with a crank. When Mom retires, I really hope fixing this is part of the agenda. It was on this platform where I remember sipping my first PBR and getting my first beer buzz. As you can see there are geranium plants, jade, ivy and olive trees that aren’t getting enough sunlight anymore. The soil also probably needs some fertilizer at this point. Besides mowing the front and small back lawns (up top by the house, not pictured here), the olive trees were the scourge of our backyard chores growing up. They were forever shedding leaves and olives and needing stump shoots getting pruned. Olive trees are quite the sturdy beast.

And there you have the homestead backyard. I fondly remember it and pay tribute.

Update: Couple more photos…