It's been a while since I've done a Rambling Blog. I haven't been on any really long walks lately. Weather trouble, back trouble, foot trouble, ankle trouble. But my toes are just dandy! They used to be a major transportation issue. And back, foot and ankle seem to be progressing so expect a major Ramble soon!
Above & Below: street gallery that continues to be repainted:
This strange being on the right is my favorite part of the triptych. I do believe I have the right to call it a triptych, although that's usually reserved for the likes of Hieronymus Bosch. Okay, this ain't no Garden of Earthly Delights. But perhaps a Garden of Castro
There is a series of these photographic portraits scattered around. Usually they are partly torn off. There's always a statement about the person by the (unnamed) photographer that humanizes the subject. Powerful.
And moving off Castro Street, rambling in the 'hood:
This front yard (right) is sometimes fabulously fancy. At the moment, it only boasts a lovely and lonely chandelier.
Below: The Mouse House. It has been the Mouse House as long as I've been in the 'hood. It used to be painted turquoise (sigh of longing) but at least Mickey is still there
Went to State Street park, very hidden, lovely views. After all the rivers of water, much was blocked off. I am not always a respecter of yellow caution tape, but this time I called Nikki to get his doggie ass out of the danger area.
Just a beautiful Victorian, one of my faves:
Never noticed the sign below before. Has it always been there? I'm frequently astonished at the things I've been walking by for years without seeing.
I love this window below. The Native American on the left has been there for a while. The strange multiple portrait is new.
And in the upper window:
Another one of those gorgeous portraits: "Vincent (unhoused): 'I don't know why people litter.'"
I think of this image below as Andy Warhol. Do any Bloggellinis have suggestions?
And let's end with an old-fashioned San Francisco Victorian fantasia:
All for now, Bloggellinis! Terry
Lilith Women's Theater | 547 Douglass St., San Francisco, CA 94114
Below: MY MOTHER, SUZANE BAUM, ON HER 90TH BIRTHDAY.
She came into her beauty again in her 90s.
We had a big party at a restaurant. When Mom lifted her glass for a toast, she looked up at the sky, waved her arm and said to my father in Heaven,
"I made it, Babe!"
My mother died on January 15, 2011. I always think about her around this time.
Mom and I were the last ones standing in our family. My father died in 2005 at the age of 89. My sister Nancy died far too young at 59, in 2009. Mom and I weren't all that compatible. I would have been better off ending up with Dad, and she would have been better off ending up with Nancy.
As Mom once said to me, totally without irony, "Other people live for their parents' approval. Why not YOU?"
It had never occurred to me to live for her, or anyone else's, approval. She shoulda TOLD me! I failed to absorb many unspoken messages as a child, such as "You must grow up, marry a lawyer (or at least a Certified Public Accountant), and have children!" My parents never explicitly TOLD me that and many other messages, such as "Do not choose a career that involves saying embarrassing things in public." They assumed I would just absorb these messages because they were so OBVIOUS. Their mistake.
Although Mom could never really embrace who I grew up to be, she loved to hug me. She was always very affectionate, and she was a loving nurturing mom when it really counted, when I was a child.
My mother was diagnosed wth congestive heart failure early in 2010. She already had round-the-clock helpers at home, because of her lack of mobility due to arthritis. At least the DOCTOR said it was arthritis. Everyone knows ALL old people get arthritis. However, Mom declared: "It's my body and I would know if it was arthritis and I'm telling you it's NOT arthritis!" What could I say to that, other than, "Okay, Mom. So be it!"
Since Dad had died six years earlier, I had been going down to Los Angeles to be with my mother for four days every month. I couldn't stay longer than that because my personality tended to dissolve when I was around her. She considered me an incompetent loser, and I gradually became one in her presence. My best friend Carolyn came down with me once and actually witnessed this amazing transformation. My sudden inability to navigate around my computer caused Carolyn to miss her bus to San Diego, because I could not find the bus schedule.
Besides my four monthly days, I always came home if there was a crisis. Three months after her diagnosis, Mom had what was called an exacerbation of her heart failure, where she had trouble breathing. She called 911, the ambulance rushed her to the hospital, and I rushed down to L.A. When Mom came home after eight days, she announced, "I would definitely rather die than go back to the hospital again. All they did was torture me. And besides, would you look at this bill!" My mother had the kind of insurance that told her exactly how much her treatment cost. "A hundred and eighty thousand dollars to keep a 92-year-old woman alive! That's outrageous!" Her sense of reason was deeply offended.
I said, "Okay, if you're not going back to the hospital, I'm going to get you signed up for Hospice."
Mom was alarmed. "What do I need Hospice for? I'm not DYING! Hospice is for dying people!"
Me: "You need Hospice because, the next time you get an exacerbation, I'm not going to sit here and watch you suffocate, without any medical help!"
So I got Mom signed up for Hospice home visits. The Hospice nurse showed Mom's three helpers how to use the oxygen tank and how to administer morphine to Mom if she was having trouble breathing or in pain. Hospice is all about making the patient comfortable. Traditional Western medical treatment is all about keeping the patient alive as long as possible.
Once, the nurse was trying to draw blood from my mother, who needed to get a weekly blood test for a drug she was taking. The nurse was having trouble finding a vein. After three tries, she stood up straight and said, "I didn't become a hospice nurse so I could poke a patient again and again! Mrs. Baum, you don't need to take this blood test anymore!" My mother was relieved and my mind was blown. A nurse could decide not to follow a doctor's order because it made the patient suffer!
Hospice is a wonderful thing.
Hospice also supplied counselors who came to the house. Of course, my mother scorned counseling, but I was happy to use it. Because it was a Jewish hospice, the counselor was a rabbi. My mother hated that rabbi. It was one thing to be a woman rabbi. It was another thing to be a short, scrawny woman rabbi, as my mother described her. "That is the homeliest rabbi I've ever seen! What do YOU need a counselor for, anyhow?" I retorted: "My mother is very sick, and I need to talk to someone about it!"
Mom went through two exacerbations under hospice care. Each time, when she started having trouble breathing, her helper gave her morphine, she relaxed and went to sleep. When she woke up, she was much better. The exacerbation had passed.
I knew that my mother would probably die soon. I worried that she would suffer for a long time. I also worried that I wouldn't be there when it happened. But I wasn't willing to move down to L.A. for the duration, because of the aforementioned dissolving-personality phenomenon.
On January 10, 2011, I few down to L.A. for my regular four-day monthly visit. When I arrived, Mom was sitting at the kitchen table, totally fine, reading the paper. She announced, "There's a recipe for Ukrainian borscht in the L.A. Times!" That was her way of saying, "My darling daughter, I'm so glad to see you! Would you mind making this soup for your dear old mother?"
I'm telling you, that recipe for Ukrainian borscht was so looooong! It had an astonishing list of ingredients. I went shopping for everything the next day. I remember a whole brisket of beef, among other things. And beets, of course. We had no food processor, so I had to grate lots and lots of beets. I worked on that borscht for days.
One night, The Gang came over to play bridge. These three, all over 90, plus my mother, were the surviving remnant of the Young Modern Friends social club of their youth. The Gang had played bridge in hotels, on cruise ships, at campsites, and always at each others' homes for over 70 years. When The Gang began, they were five couples. That was two bridge tables and one couple sitting out. Now they were reduced to four people, one of whom could still drive, so they could get together. They played bridge once a week at Mom's house. That night, my mother won $1.25. She enjoyed that.
The next day, the borscht was ready! I proudly presented a little cup to Mom, who was sitting in her recliner, reading a New Yorker. She basically lived in that recliner. I thought the soup was pretty damn good. Mom took a few spoonfuls, put the cup down.
I said, "So, what do you think of the soup?"
"That borscht has given me a headache!" she announced. "I don't want any more." I took the cup away.
The headache got worse rapidly. My mother was in agony. "I can't stand it! I want to die!" I phoned Hospice and asked for a nurse to come ASAP. Elizabeth Ann, her helper, had been taught what to do until the nurse arrived. She tried to give Mom some pain pills but my mother couldn't get them down. Mom was squirming in her recliner. "I want to die! I want to die!" I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO DO! My mother was in agony, and I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO DO! Elizabeth Ann gently told me to massage my mother's temples. My touch actually calmed my mother down. I seemed to have helped her! Astonishing I will always be grateful to Elizabeth Ann for being there at that moment to tell me what to do.
Elizabeth Ann had been working for my mother for 15 years. Mom always gave her time off to go to court with her delinquent son, who was often in trouble. Mom gave Elizabeth Ann advice about her life, and Elizabeth Ann thought she was very wise. I never thought my mother was wise. Elizabeth Ann adored my mother. I used to tell her that she was my mother's True Daughter. They had a beautiful relationship.
Then it hit me: My mother had some borscht.... And then she was in agony! I tasted the soup again. Maybe it wasn't the greatest borscht in history, but it didn't taste.. FATAL! But still, it certainly didn't give Mom that warm, cosy feeling that you usually get from a nice soup.
What if I had been an awful, irresponsible-- even criminal-- daughter, and everyone knew I was scheming to get my mother's money?!? I could be in big trouble at that moment! Elizabeth Ann would suspect me of poisoning Mom with The Fatal Borscht! She could sneak away to make a phone call to the police! I could be arrested for TRYING TO KILL MY MOTHER, even though I was only guilty of making a mediocre soup!
But the truth was I was a good, responsible daughter, and Elizabeth Ann knew it. Everyone knew it. I was above suspicion. Phew.
The Hospice nurse arrived and gave Mom some morphine that totally relieved her of pain. THANK GOODNESS. Then the nurse left. and Mom laid back in her recliner. Her eyes were closed, but she was awake. "I want to go to bed," she said.
If I hadn't figured it out before, then the fact that Mom wanted to go to bed should have told me she was dying. My mother NEVER wanted to be in bed. She had stopped sleeping in the bed when my father was alive. He was terribly hurt by her decision, but she insisted she was more comfortable in the recliner.
Now Mom wanted to lie down in the hospital bed in her bedroom. I said, "Okay, Mom, Elizabeth Ann and I will put you in the wheelchair and take you to the bed."
Mom, with her eyes closed, said, "The two of you aren't strong enough. Get Noreen from next door."
"Don't worry, Mom, the two of us can do it!" Elizabeth Ann was short and sturdy. I was tall and not so sturdy.
Mom: "No you can't! Get Noreen!"
"Come on, Elizabeth Ann, let's do it.
We tried to lift Mom from the recliner to the wheelchair. It wasn't easy. Was it even possible? She seemed so heavy!
Mom: "Get Noreen!"
"Come on, let's give it another try!" But we could not lift her.
My mother was right. What she knew and we could not accept was that, although she was fully conscious, she was dead weight. She could not lift a muscle to assist us.
This was my mother -- if not to her last breath, then certainly to her last word. She'd always had an iron grip on reality. Her mind was still clear as a bell. She understood that she had no control over her muscles anymore. So she could not help Elizabeth Ann and me with the move to the bed. She also had a good idea of just how much strength the two of us had. She realistically evaluated the situation and decided we needed Noreen's help. My mother, who it turned out was dying, had a much stronger grasp of reality than I had. She was leaving the planet with every marble she'd ever had.
"Go get Noreen!" My mother spoke sharply, her eyes closed. Those were the last words she said. She never spoke or opened her eyes again.
Noreen was home. And, in fact, it took the full strength of all three of us to move my mother from the recliner to the wheelchair and from the wheelchair to the hospital bed.
Two hospice nurses stopped by at different times, to see of there was anything that Mom needed. One nurse assured us that she was not dying, and the other nurse assured us that she WAS.
I phoned my cousin Harriet and my friend Jerry and asked them to come over, to keep me company. So, at some level, I must have understood that Mom was dying. But the idea had not become conscious. The three of us, plus Elizabeth Ann, sat around Mom's hospital bed, chatting.
Suddenly I realized I was very hungry.
"Hey everybody, how about some Ukrainian borscht?"
We decamped to the kitchen and each had a bowl of the soup that had now been simmering for a very long time. It was delicious.
Then we went back to the bedroom.
Mom was awfully still.
She had stopped breathing while we were having soup.
Maybe my mother was waiting for us to leave her alone so that she could leave us. I've heard that happens. Who knows?
The Fatal Borscht had been entwined in my visit from the first moment I arrived, when Mom had commanded me to make the soup. The borscht had been there at the moment Mom felt the pain that signaled that her dying had begun. And the borscht had been finally consumed at the very moment she died. If it wasn't perfect, it was perfectly ironic. Or if it wasn't that, it was just the way things happened, and we had to make the best of it.
My mother lived to 92. She had a very good life. She had suffered intensely in the end for less than a day. And I had been able to be there the whole time. So we avoided the two things I had feared. Not only that, she had won $1.25 at bridge the day before she died! AND she had been able to give me and her helper instructions up until the very end. That seemed like a pretty good death to me.
A year later, as is the Jewish custom, we met at the cemetery to put a plaque on my mother's crypt. It said, "Beloved wife, mother, aunt, friend and sister-in-law. Playing bridge in heaven, no doubt."
I started this blog when the rain started. This is what I felt about the rainy season on the day it began, New Year's Eve 2022:
December 31, 2022. I sit in my studio tonight, comforted by the continual soft thrum of the rain. Rain rain rain rain rain. Then a little sun. Some wind. Then rain rain rain again. Even though it's often a great inconvenience, these days I think we all feel a little bit more relaxed when it's raining. We don't know what the future holds, but RIGHT NOW the life-giving water is a-comin' down. Yes. It's beginning to feel a lot like a good old-fashioned rainy season.
This is what I felt when I woke up last night, January 15, when the rain was, once again, a-coming down:
The sound of rain was no longer comforting. It was scary. It wasn't a fear for my own particular situation. So far, my home has remained dry inside. So far Blogmistress is fine. So far.
I felt a primal fear of Mother Nature. Why "Mother"? Why this need to personalize the force of Nature at all? I felt fear of the limitless power of the natural world.
WHAT IF IT DOESN'T STOP RAINING?
This could happen.
WHAT IF IT DOES STOP RAINING FOR A LONG LONG TIME?
This too could happen. And this would be worse than if it never stops raining because truly THERE IS NO LIFE WITHOUT WATER.
Is there a place that doesn't get too much or too little rain? And also doesn't have cyclones or tornadoes or hurricanes? Is there anywhere that DOESN'T experience the intense destructive power of Nature?
I keep thinking Pennsylvania doesn't. Am I right? You never read about natural disasters in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania never makes the front page of the New York Times. I really don't like California being on the front page of the New York Times.
The Birthday Flood
A few years ago, 2018, there was a big storm and the water was very personal. I think of it as The Birthday Flood, because it was around midnight of the beginning of my birthday when I discovered there was a waterfall in my bathroom. Really, it was coming down the wall in sheets. It turned out I had a leak, and the water was not staying OUTSIDE, as it was supposed to. I put up a shower curtain to direct most of the rain into the tub. Carolyn and I put buckets everywhere and mopped and mopped and succeeded in keeping the water in the bathroom, so the wood floors weren't ruined. But that bathroom and the upstairs bathroom had to be torn out and rebuilt.
I felt no fear. I knew I had a big mess to deal with, but I had insurance, and I knew that it would pay for putting everything back to the way it was. The assumption that insurance would pay for everything turned out to be false, but I didn't know that. The point is I felt that society had supplied a structure because I had literally paid my dues, also known as insurance premiums, and eventually everything would be okay. I just had to put one foot in front of the other.
I was not afraid because it was my personal problem. I personally had a leak. I got the leak fixed and the bathrooms rebuilt. I had enough money to pay for what the insurance company refused to pay. End of story.
What is the end of the story of this rainy season in California? We must rebuild what has been destroyed and we must figure out how to minimize destruction in the future. People do have ideas about how to do this.
WE CANNOT MAKE IT RAIN DURING A DROUGHT, BUT WE CAN FIND WAYS TO MANAGE THE RAIN WHEN WE GET TOO MUCH OF IT. AND IF WE CAN STORE THAT RAIN, WE'LL DO BETTER IN THE DROUGHT.
CALIFORNIANS, PLEASE WRITE YOUR ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES AND URGE THEM TO PRIORITIZE THIS.
Your Blogmistress never dared to dream she would one day be in a calendar -- and for the month of March yet -- Women's History Month! This calendar is a wonderful gift from OUTWORDS, the brainchild of Mason Funk, to the people who participated in his project:
"OUTWORDS is the only project in the United States specifically dedicated to capturing professional quality on-camera interviews with LGBTQ+ elders from all cultural, economic, political and geographical areas and backgrounds."
OUTWORDS is really quite wonderful. You can go to....
....and watch video interviews with all kinds of fascinating people. When Blackberri died, I went to the archive and spent some time with the video avatar of this wonderful folk singer who was the first out gay person to perform on television. What a great feeling to be with Blackberri, to learn more about him FROM him, at the moment I was grieving his loss.
So dear Mason decided to make a calendar to send to all the folks who had participated in OUTWORDS. It was a big surprise to me. And I was excited to see it even BEFORE I got to March. And then, when I DID get to March... Look who's sharing the month (starting from top left):
Col. Grethe Cammermeyer & Rep. Karen Clark
The "BLACK RADICAL WOMEN" exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum
The WOMEN'S PROJECT
Michigan State Capitol for Pride
Little Old Moi in the 1989 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade
The Combahee River Collective
Gloria Steinem & Susan Allen, AND...
Holly Near, Odetta, & Ronnie Gilbert.
Quite a classy crew, don't you agree? I am honored and astounded to be on the same page with these amazing activists and artists. However, although I am LITERALLY on the same page, I am not METAPHORICALLY "on the same page."
In my life, the answer to the question, "Which one is not like the other ones?" often turns out to be me. That is true IN SPADES for this calendar page. That makes it all the sweeter. I'm so grateful to Mason for having the guts (aka bad judgment) to include me as one of the Miss Marches, capturing one of the greatest performances of my life.
Now, my little Bloggellinis, come gather round to hear how Blogmistress ended up with a dildo coming out of her hat and a belt of phallic vegetables (not to mention all the stuffed gloves), making a spectacle of herself on Market Street, the last Sunday in June in the year 1989.
Well. My friend Fraser and I were taking a class in gay literature, taught through City College of San Francisco. Fraser and I always walked home together. One night we were chatting about the upcoming Gay Pride Parade, which was about two months away.
We both loved the Parade. But neither of us had ever organized a contingent. In those days, we watched from the sidelines until we saw a contingent we liked or someone we knew. We would go join them and march as long as we felt like marching, go back to the sidelines, maybe get something to eat, come back, start marching again, rinse and repeat. It was all very loose. (That's not possible anymore now that they have barriers along the route.)
Fraser and I agreed it was time for us to GIVE BACK to this fabulous and beloved community event that had given us so much. We tried to think of amusing names for contingents we might organize. Fraser came up with "Gays Named Bruce." That was Fraser's birth name, which he hated. He had changed it a year earlier. At the time, "Bruce" was a stereotypical name for an effeminate gay man. That was the main reason he changed his name to Fraser. My idea for a contingent was "Lesbians for Penetration." I thought it would be funny to mock the stereotype of lesbians as women who couldn't bear the thought of any kind of a projectile inside them, let alone the unpleasant person attached to the projectile. We both congratulated ourselves on being hilarious, and dropped the matter for a few weeks.
Well, it turned out that I had dropped it for a few weeks. Fraser had just dropped it. When I brought the idea up again as the Parade got closer, he protested that he had never had any intention of following through and organizing any kind of contingent -- let alone one called "Gays Named Bruce."
I could understand that. Fraser had a kind of soft-spoken, elegant demeanor. He was indeed a gentleman, whereas I was no lady. In truth, I'm an exhibitionist. I decided to forge ahead with Lesbians for Penetration. So I went about organizing my contingent.
There was one teeny tiny miniscule difficulty: Absolutely no one would march with me.
Oh, I was acquainted with plenty of lesbians, some of whom I KNEW, from personal experience, were pro-penetration in the bedroom. But absolutely no one --- and I mean not one of the dykes I encountered at a time when dykes were plentiful in the city -- not one, no matter their sexual proclivities, was willing to carry a sign or march NEXT to me while I carried a sign with the words "Lesbians for Penetration" on it. Somehow the image of the virgin lesbian was sacred to all of them, although often honored only in the breach.
I KNEW I was being naughty when I came up with the idea, but I didn't realize until then that I had stumbled upon a FULL-BLOWN TABOO!
It was like a red flag to a bull. The more people refused to march with me, the more I relished the prospect of doing it. One day, I encountered the Lesbian Avengers in the Castro. The Avengers were notorious -- the most rowdy dyke organization in the city. They were signing up women to march with them in the Parade. I said brightly to one of them, "I'm marching with the Lesbians for Penetration contingent!" She gave me a look of such horror. Or was it disgust?
Really, what was the big deal? Didn't anybody have a sense of humor anymore? Did we really have to pretend that we had orgasms by dancing around in a circle holding hands until we fell to the earth exhausted?
Anyhow, who WAS buying all those dildos at Good Vibrations, the sex toy emporium?
Finally, the day of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade arrived. I got dressed, cut a little hole in my straw hat for the dildo, and went to the fridge to make my phallic vegetable belt. I was raring to go! My housemate, Iris, and I would walk together down to Castro and Market, where the Parade would begin. Iris was deep into bondage and SM at the time, but she also refused to be in my contingent. Part way down, I had to re-tie my shoe and handed her my sign while I attended to my laces. After a few seconds, she wailed, "Oh my god, I'm holding your sign! Get it away from me!" She threw it down.
I saw that red flag, I snorted, pawed the ground, tossed my head and got ready to march! I would show Iris and the Lesbian Avengers and... everyone! I got in line behind the Eagle, a big bar float with loud music, to give me energy. Behind me was the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. We started walking. I made sure there was lots of space between me and the Eagle float. After all, I was a CONTINGENT -- admittedly the only solo contingent, but STILL a contingent! The SF AIDS Foundation made absolutely sure that there was a LOT of space between them and me. Very shortly, we arrived in front of the crowd filling the sidewalk, waiting for the Parade to start.
The San Francisco Gay Pride Parade is a really big deal. An enormous number of people come to town to see it. It's massive -- 300,000 people and more crammed on the sidewalk, lining the street all the way down Market Street to the Embarcadero, waiting to see what the gay community came up with that year. Would the crowd get the joke? Or would I be met by the same silent disapproval I encountered from the Lesbian Avengers? At that last moment I suddenly had a terrible feeling that I might have made a BIG MISTAKE.
As I started marching, I saw puzzlement in people's faces, heard the titters, the giggles... And then the crowd burst into a giant roar of laughter. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people were surprised and delighted into a giant roar of laughter. It was glorious. As I continued down Market, I was met always with thousands bursting into laughter as they read my sign, saw all the lewd white hands and ogled my salacious carrot, leek and cucumber. I pranced all the way, waggling my dildo at the joyous crowd. Everything I'd experienced leading up to the parade -- the disapproval, the disdain, the prudishness --it was all dissolved by the Gay Pride Parade, that one day in the year when everyone is free to be themselves, when anything is possible and everyone is beautiful.
That enormous ocean of laughter engulfed me. I felt like that ocean was lifting me up and carrying me down Market Street. Oh, I pranced, you'd better believe it. I knew my back would be killing me the next day, but I didn't care. I never stopped prancing until I got to the end of the march, at the Embarcadero.
And then it was over.
Marching as Lesbians for Penetration was one of the great performances of my life. I've performed all over the world, but there has never been anything to match that day I pranced down Market Street and made 300,000 people roar with laughter.
And now that day has been enshrined in the OUTWORDS 2023 Calendar. I couldn't be more thrilled.
All for now, Bloggellinis!
Lilith Women's Theater | 547 Douglass St., San Francisco, CA 94114