Watch the Signs

The other day, we wandered through the grounds of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse (1929). It’s the city’s most imposing architectural landmark: a towering confection in the Spanish-Colonial style, dazzlingly white, imposing in size, as formal and fantastic as Ricardo Montalbán in his tropical suit. And yet, with its asymmetrical composition, its sunken gardens and wide field, where low-riders pull up and disgorge wedding parties on beautiful sunlit days, the Courthouse is also as playful and fun as a wedding cake.

The grounds have been planted with giant redwoods and other specimens, and the lawns are manicured to within an inch of their life.

As we left the Courthouse and I turned for a last look at the famous clock tower, a rat came scurrying out of some hole, veered toward me and, like a demonic toy car, passed between my feet and raced into oncoming traffic, its tiny clawed feet skittering furiously, dodging left and right between cars. I turned away, too afraid to look.

In all this beauty, a rat. The worm in the rose. The first sign.

Walking along the shorefront, a day later, I spied flat black boxes discreetly placed under each shrub. Rat traps.

It all comes together, when you pay attention.

When you start to look for the signs, they’re everywhere. A pattern, sometimes plain as mud. Other times demanding close study. As one studies the clouds, for example. Or pores over the entrails of birds. Or intercepts the sidelong glances of passing strangers.

What does this really mean? Why is he smiling?

When you least expect it, the signs multiply. Take care, you’re on your own.

Why haven’t I heard?
Everywhere you look.
When and how will it end, and to whose satisfaction?

Roses are Like Racehorses

First day in Santa Barbara, chilled to the bone and standing in front of the Old Mission, at the top of the city. The Mission was founded by Fr. Fermin Francisco de Lasuen in 1786, and it was a political act — they all are — to secure Spain’s claim to the land and to the hearts of the native people. The current building was built in 1820, following the massive 1812 earthquake that nearly levelled the three adobe churches that once stood here.

The present-day Franciscans are kindly men. They have a gift shop, tours, places to pray and study. Maybe to offer penance as well.

Behind me, on the grassy field, is the A.C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden, founded in 1955, with a donation of 500 pedigree rose bushes.

As we watched, in near freezing temperatures, a bridal party assembled under the white tents on the left: men bundled in warm suits and ties, bridesmaids shivering in clouds of lace and tulle.

Then I wandered the rose beds, studying names that are as evocative as the names of racehorses.

Ever since I was a child, roses have haunted my imagination. I stroll past yellow celebrity roses named “Henry Fonda” and “Julia Child.” There’s a salmon-pink “Over the Moon.” The strange, off-putting pink of a “Koko Loko.” But also the more beguiling pinks of “Falling in Love,” “Pink Iceberg” and “Sweet Surrender.” There are the heart-stopping whites of “Pillow Fight” and “White Licorice.” The blood red of “Othello,” and the crimson “Betty Boop,” the latter composed of miniature clustered blooms.

But “Passionate Kisses,” at the end of my stroll, makes the best proposition of all. They’re the only rosebushes in the entire garden without a single bloom on offer. At lease not yet: just thousands of IOUs of kisses to come.

The “Colourific” (above). Many of the roses in the A.C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden have won national awards. Some have been bred here, too. Not sure about this one, or the one below, which was nameless.

Palos Verdes, California

I am on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, twenty-five miles from downtown L.A., and immediately behind me is the Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles: Mostly men with tucked-in shirts, focusing on the ball. To get here, from Long Beach, we passed mile after mile of shipping containers, thousands of them, piled Lego-like beneath giant, idle cranes. The solutions to so many problems are locked in these steel boxes. But here, as long as you don’t turn around, nothing matters.

This lighthouse sits on Point Vicente, named after Friar Vicente of Mission Buena Ventura. Captain George Vancouver did the naming in 1790.

As we walked the beach, we looked up. On my birthday, in 1999, a big chunk of the 18th-hole fairway slid into the Pacific Ocean. Thus, the former Ocean Trails Golf Club was a distressed property when the current developer bought it.

Reflections Over the Course of Several Days Following the Historic United States Presidential Election of November 3rd, 2020

Geez, come in outta the rain, wontcha? Come in an’ lookaround, folks. We got a white sale and a black. We got a goin’-outta-business, we got a everything-must-go, we got a end-a-season, deepdeepdiscount sale, folks. Pleez come in. Lookaround. See anything you like? You no like?

Continue reading “Reflections Over the Course of Several Days Following the Historic United States Presidential Election of November 3rd, 2020”