So Many Questions


This is a rented U-Haul truck filled with a Tetris of cat scratchers.
How many are there?

We are speeding out of Davis city limits toward the Causeway into Sacramento.
Where are they going? Is there a feline warehouse somewhere? A kitty zoo?

The scratchers aren’t tattered yet.
Seriously, where is the herd of cats? How many must there be?

In fact, the scratchers seem to be in pristine condition. Untouched so far.
What will the (hundreds of) cats think when they see this plunder? How long will it take for the carpet to be destroyed?

An entire truckload to be torn and poked and shredded.
What drives a person to this point?

Home Depot – Paloma Negra


The past few weeks at Home Depot have been interesting because the numbers have been greater.

I keep thinking we need an easel to write out some of the words, to be able to see them. The other day, one of the men complimented my Spanish, saying, “You know more Spanish than I know English, and I live here in the US.” I explained that I have been studying Spanish off and on since Senora Hernandez’s class in seventh grade, a long time ago. Still lamenting his English, he asked, “But what new have you learned today?” As if ready for the question, I responded, “Your names” with a sincerity that emphasized how grateful I am for the stories they share. This was not enough, so two of the men went into the mode of questioning whether I knew a variety of things, including irregular masculine and feminine nouns, the difference an accent over vowels makes, and so on. Finally, one mentioned that, unlike English, Spanish does not have the question: Do, as in: Do you want a sandwich? That was news to me. I was delighted for this information and for their work to deliver it to me.

In addition, I always ask for homework. One of the men suggested that I learn to sing “Paloma Negra,” a sad song (see below). Another quickly chimed in, saying that I am too white to be able to ht the low notes of the song. We all laughed.

When I tell people about this project, most think I am crazy, but the other day I was having breakfast with my friend A and her mother (a monolingual Spanish speaker). When A’s mom heard about the classes, she said, “I would like to come” even though her A, my friend, said it is a crazy idea. When I told A’s mom about the homework, this usually shy woman sang out in the midst of Starbucks the beginning of “Paloma Negra.” A was more shocked (and impressed) than I was.

Sometimes when I tell people about these classes, I have to remind them that some of these men are not uneducated and often have great interest in politics and culture. They are just in limbo here in the US right now. For me, this was punctuated when I asked Daniel, one of the regulars in the parking lot, what his dreams are. He said: “When I was younger and in Mexico, I was a good student, and I dreamed of going to university in the US. Now, I have no dreams. Maybe when I return to Mexico (in ten years) I will have dreams again.”

It was very hard to translate these words for my Advanced Comp students, but these words made us even more aware of what we have.

Paloma Negra negra

Ya me canso de llorar y no amanece
Ya no sé si maldecirte o por ti rezar
Tengo miedo de buscarte y de encontrarte
Donde me aseguran mis amigos que te vas
Hay momentos en que quisiera mejor rajarme
Arrancarme ya los clavos de mi penar
Pero mis ojos se mueren sin mirar tus ojos
Y mi cariño con la aurora te vuelve a esperar

Y agarraste por tu cuenta la parranda
Paloma negra, paloma negra ¿dónde, dónde andarás?
Ya no jueges con mi honra parrandera
Si tus caricias han de ser mías, de nadie más
Y aunque te amo con locura ya no vuelva
Paloma negra eres la reja de un penar
Quiero ser libre vivir mi vida con quien yo quiera
Díos dame fuerza que me estoy muriendo
por irlo a buscar

Y agarraste por tu cuenta las parrandas

black dove
I’m tired of crying with no hope
I don’t know whether to curse you or pray for you
I’m afraid to look for you and find you
Where my friends assured me you go
There are times when I’d like to die
And release myself from this suffering
But my eyes will die without seeing yours
And at dawn my love will be waiting for you again

As for you, you are partying
Black dove, black dove, where are you?
You shouldn’t play with my pride
Since your affection should have been mine and no one else’s.
And even though I love you madly, don’t come back
I want to be free, live my life with someone I love
God give me strength because I’m dying to go look for him

Yarn Bomb


Sitting on a corner in Berkeley on beautiful Saturday evening, M and I noticed this yarn bomb. In light of the pressure cooker IEDs (improvised explosive devices) set off earlier in the week, I cringed at the thought of anything named bomb. But, like most graffiti knitting, it was delightful and surprising.

In Advanced Comp, we have been working, for several weeks now, on definition essays, trying to define such controversial issues as lying and beauty and fidelity and torture and marriage. Simultaneously, the news has been wrestling with the term terrorist and the appropriate way to interrogate the living and lock down a city and respond as a nation to horrible acts. And, though I have listened to more than a day’s worth of reporting, and though I appreciate this eloquent counterargument to violence, it seems to me, tonight, there are no answers.

Speaking of Yodeling…


I mentioned that I had the chance to tell Bradley (in Seattle) about the verb: yodel. One week later, thanks to the invitation of Kerstin, the woman pictured below in lederhosen, at the Bockbierfest in Sacramento, I was witness to a yodeling contest. It was pure delight, even (or perhaps especially) when the intoxicated attempted to do it.

The music and twirling dances reminded me of learning to square dance in sixth grade, especially as I saw girls dancing with girls and boys with boys. It is so much easier sometimes to just have fun.

We had so much fun that M, more than tipsy, insisted we never miss one of these.

We were among the last people leaving at the end of the night. As we made our way to our car, a young man offered to pay us ten dollars to help him and his two pickled friends to get their car to someplace for the rest of the night, so they could wander home through the cool streets.

Parking them in Safeway’s lot, I wouldn’t take their money even though the seatbelt didn’t work, and the stick shift was stubborn, and one taillight was out.

The next morning, when I went for groceries, the green Bronco was still there.



Fiesta de Quince Anos


My young friend Maria celebrated her fifteenth birthday on Saturday night. I felt as though I was back in Oaxaca watching the event unfold: the last doll, the adorning with jewelry and shoes, the first bouquet of roses, waltzes with father, uncles, cousins, a toast to the woman before us.

But this time I was not only a witness to the custom. In the Mexican tradition of guelaguetza, as friends and family, we contributed to the celebration. M and I delivered the cake. Tres leches filled with strawberry composed the base, chocolate with fresh peach was the middle, and white cake with pineapple rested as the top tier.

This night, we ate and drank and cheered and talked and danced, celebrating the intelligent, graceful, and beautiful woman she has become.






I am not a good cook. But I have recently been watching the Food Network, and sometimes I think that maybe I can make delicious things.

Recently, I made hummus from Alton Brown’s foolproof recipe, dry garbanzo beans, a couple of lemons, a palm of salt, thirty seconds of drizzling oil, a glop of tahini, and M’s fancy food processor.

It wasn’t horrible. But I wasn’t sure it was tasty enough for me to stop buying it already made until I saw how quickly it grew this thick, gray field of mold.

I am not even good at storing bland, boiled beans for more than five days.