This is no game

(This piece by Jack Handey, which appeared in The New Yorker January 9, 2006, made us laugh just as hard again this morning. Thank you, Mr. Handey!)

This is no game. You might think this is a game, but, trust me, this is no game.

This is not something where rock beats scissors or paper covers rock or rock wraps itself up in paper and gives itself as a present to scissors. This isn’t anything like that. Or where paper types something on itself and sues scissors.

This isn’t something where you yell “Bingo!” and then it turns out you don’t have bingo after all, and what are the rules again? This isn’t that, my friend.

This isn’t something where you roll the dice and move your battleship around a board and land on a hotel and act like your battleship is having sex with the hotel.

This isn’t tiddlywinks, where you flip your tiddly over another player’s tiddly and an old man winks at you because he thought it was a good move. This isn’t that at all.

This isn’t something where you sink a birdie or hit a badminton birdie or do anything at all with birdies. Look, just forget birdies, O.K.?

Maybe you think this is all one big joke, like the farmer with the beautiful but promiscuous daughter. But what they don’t tell you is the farmer became so depressed that he eventually took his own life.

This is not some brightly colored, sugarcoated piece of candy that you can brush the ants off of and pop in your mouth.

This is not playtime or make-believe. This is real. It’s as real as a beggar squatting by the side of the road, begging, and then you realize, Uh-oh, he’s not begging.

This is as real as a baby deer calling out for his mother. But his mother won’t be coming home anytime soon, because she is drunk in a bar somewhere.

It’s as real as a mummy who still thinks he’s inside a pyramid, but he’s actually in a museum in Ohio.

This is not something where you can dress your kid up like a hobo and send him out trick-or-treating, because, first of all, your kid’s twenty-three, and, secondly, he really is a hobo.

All of this probably sounds oldfashioned and “square” to you. But if loving your wife, your country, your cats, your girlfriend, your girlfriend’s sister, and your girlfriend’s sister’s cat is “square,” then so be it.

You go skipping and prancing through life, skipping through a field of dandelions. But what you don’t see is that on each dandelion is a bee, and on each bee is an ant, and the ant is biting the bee and the bee is biting the flower, and if that shocks you then I’m sorry.

You have never had to struggle to put food on the table, let alone put food on a plate and try to balance it on a spoon until it gets to your mouth.

You will never know what it’s like to work on a farm until your hands are raw, just so people can have fresh marijuana. Or what it’s like to go to a factory and put in eight long hours and then go home and realize that you went to the wrong factory.

I don’t hate you; I pity you. You will never appreciate the magnificent beauty of a double rainbow, or the plainness of a regular rainbow.

You will never grasp the quiet joy of holding your own baby, or the quiet comedy of handing him back to his “father.”

I used to be like you. I would put my napkin in my lap, instead of folding it into a little tent over my plate, like I do now, with a door for the fork to go in.

I would go to parties and laugh—and laugh and laugh—every time somebody said something, in case it was supposed to be funny. I would walk in someplace and slap down a five-dollar bill and say, “Give me all you got,” and not even know what they had there. And whenever I found two of anything I would hold them up to my head like antlers, and then pretend that one “antler” fell off.

I went waltzing along, not caring where I stepped or if the other person even wanted to waltz.

Food seemed to taste better back then. Potatoes were more potatoey, and turnips less turnippy.

But then something happened, something that would make me understand that this is no game. I was walking past a building and I saw a man standing high up on a ledge. “Jump! Jump!” I started yelling. What happened next would haunt me for the rest of my days: the man came down from the building and beat the living daylights out of me. Ever since then, I’ve realized that this is no game.

Maybe one day it will be a game again. Maybe you’ll be able to run up and kick a pumpkin without people asking why you did that and if you’re going to pay for it.

Perhaps one day the Indian will put down his tomahawk and the white man will put down his gun, and the white man will pick up his gun again because, Ha-ha, sucker.

One day we’ll just sit by the fire, chew some tobacky, toast some marshmackies, and maybe strum a tune on the ole guitacky.

And maybe one day we’ll tip our hats to the mockingbird, not out of fear but out of friendliness.

If there’s one single idea I’d like you to take away from this, it is: This is no game. The other thing I’d like you to think about is, could I borrow five hundred dollars?

(Author’s Note: Since finishing this article, I have been informed that this is, in fact, a game. I would like to apologize for everything I said above. But please think about the five hundred dollars.) ♦

revisiting Rancho Los Alamitos; a repost from January 2014

(In the final countdown to the end of 2014, I’m reposting my visit to Rancho Los Alamitos in January 2014 entitled “back at the ranch“)

All day long this past work- and appointment-filled Wednesday I clung to the idea of fitting in a short visit to Rancho Los Alamitos. I’d heard there were some changes with the barns, and there was a new foal, all reasons enough to go. And in late February the noisette roses just might be in early bloom. Plus this was Wednesday, one of the weekdays they’d be open, unlike Monday or Tuesday. I stubbornly held the idea in the foreground of my much-distracted brain, while repeated interruptions and crises did their best to submerge it deep into the background throughout the day. But an hour before close at 5 p.m. I found myself triumphantly slipping a $5 bill into the donation box and sprinting off to find the cactus garden while there was still light. This roughly 8-acre remnant of the huge land grant given to a loyal Spanish soldier in 1784, the genesis story for my hometown, is just 4 miles from my house, but sometimes it feels like you have to move worlds to fit in a visit. But when you do go, what you park behind the gates that insulate the rancho from the press of suburbs, freeways, and CSULB/Long Beach State University is, pardon the cliche, not so much a car but a time machine.


 photo P1012880.jpg

The 19th century adobe ranch house is thought to be the oldest domestic building still standing in Southern California
The twin Moreton Bay Figs have shaded the ranch since 1887

 photo P1012867.jpg

Staghorn ferns near the base of a palm, backlit scarlet bougainvillea in the distance


What always floors me about the rancho, gifted by its last owners, the Bixby family, to the city of Long Beach in the ’60s, is its humility. With all that oil money to spend in the ’20s (discovered a few years after a drought killed off the largest cattle ranch in the U.S. — long story), Florence Bixby (1898-1961) somehow resisted the fashion of turning the ranch into a depot for Old World antiquities. It is a place fiercely vernacular and true. She may have hired the best landscape architects in the ’20s and ’30s to shape the gardens, like Frederick Law Olmsted and Florence Yoch, but the materials were homespun simple, local. Florence Bixby, always credited as the main design influence over the house and garden as they appear today, didn’t loot temples for marble or send out legions of plant hunters for the rarest of the rare, and yet Sunset includes it among 13 of the best public gardens in the U.S. And the rancho’s simplicity can’t be explained away with an argument that Florence was a simpleton who didn’t get out much. The painter Mary Cassatt visited for years, and the home was filled with art. (To put the rancho’s embrace of all things West in context, Cassatt’s brother, Alexander Cassatt, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, built New York’s magnificent but doomed Penn Station in 1910 based on the Roman baths of Caracalla. The outrage over Penn Station’s demolition in the mid ’60s pretty much launched the modern historical preservation movement, which was right around the time the rancho left private ownership and was gifted to the public.)

 photo P1013032.jpg

The front lawn. The small gate on the left leads to a secret garden adjacent to the house’s interior courtyard.
The noisettes weren’t in bloom yet, but the rambling banks rose was, seen just to the right of the clump of bird of paradise and elsewhere in the garden.

While other members of Florence’s tribe, the 1 percenters of her day, hid the working man origins of their wealth, Florence embraced them. This is the modest home of someone with a high sensitivity to the pitfalls of hubris, someone with a resolutely austere but gracious cast of mind. Above all, this is a home, not a showcase for wealth. Florence’s home. And you can still feel it in every footfall. And I so wish they’d occasionally list it for rent with airbnb. (just kidding, Florence!)

 photo P1012850.jpg photo P1012839.jpg

The interior courtyard that horse-shoes behind the house.

 photo P1012830.jpg

A wall and pool enclosing the courtyard

 photo P1012856.jpg photo P1012832.jpg

Two big evergreen vines, the Easter Lily vine, Beaumontia grandiflora, and the Cup of Gold vine, Solandra maxima, are trained along the low roofline.
For the moment, the smaller white flowers of the beaumontia are being outmaneuvered by the flamboyance of the cup of gold vine in bloom.

 photo P1012874.jpg

On the opposite side of the house is the Music Patio

 photo P1012829.jpg photo P1012823.jpg

Vintage pottery atop the walls of the Secret Garden

 photo P1013052.jpg

A white flash of the horse Bristol visible just behind the fence. The barn was moved, at great cost and effort, back to its original location.
The now one-year-old foal Preston and its mother Valentina were moved out during renovations. Both are snug inside the barn again.
Trees were thinned, leaving those the Bixby family planted, Schinus molle, California pepper trees, to remain.

 photo P1013048.jpg

The last of the Shire horses, the breed that powered the ranches of the 19th century

 photo P1012875.jpg

Cypress Steps and patio

 photo P1013022.jpg

The rose garden. (What else is there to say about a rose garden in winter, other than maybe “Nice box hedging”?)

 photo P1012992.jpg

A portion of the garden designed by Frederick Law Olmsted

 photo P1013012.jpg photo P1012857.jpg

The geranium walk designed by Florence Yoch.
Yoch’s handiwork can at times seem so spare, so simple that viewers might wonder why clients didn’t think of certain devices themselves.”
(The New York Times)

 photo P1013016.jpg

Olmsted’s oleander walk connects the rose garden to the cypress steps. The oleanders succumbed to a pest and have since been replaced, possibly by mulberry, but I couldn’t find a reference.

 photo P1012968.jpg

The tennis court. No pool, but a tennis court. I know I’m overly reading into the landscape as psychological profile, but doesn’t that spell “Protestant work ethic” in bold letters?

 photo P1012960.jpg

An entry to the tennis court

 photo P1012985.jpg

The grape arbor runs the length of the tennis court and leads at one end to the cactus garden and the geranium and oleander walks at the other

 photo P1013004.jpg

The flagstone path leads, if I’m oriented correctly, to the south lawn and the giant Moreton bay figs

 photo P1012886.jpg

In the Cactus Garden, looking at the fencing of the tennis court

 photo P1012904.jpg

William Hertrich, the first curator of the Huntington Desert Garden, worked with Florence on the Cactus Garden

 photo P1012918.jpg photo P1012913.jpg

The new educational center, finished last spring, has images of the plants of the rancho on its walls, including Agave franzosinii

I’ll leave you in the cactus garden to find your way back to where you parked your time machine.

 photo P1012924.jpg

 photo P1012974.jpg

 photo P1012897.jpg

 photo P1012970.jpg

 photo P1012919.jpg

 photo P1012995.jpg

More photos and information on current events can be found on the Rancho’s Facebook page and in this article by Suzanne Muchnic for The Los Angeles Times.

 photo P1013060-001.jpg


support your local (fill in the blank)

May I humbly make a suggestion as to filling in the blank? Your local public radio station. One of my local public radio stations, KCRW, apart from keeping me sane during commutes to different cities all over the South Bay, with news and music programming like this and this (which is what eased me through slogging traffic into Santa Monica last Thursday) proved their incalculable value to their community once again by delivering a heroic news show last Friday. In the aftermath of the most recent expression of our complicated relationship to the Second Amendment, KCRW became a refugee news show when their studio and offices on site at Santa Monica City College were shut down as police stormed the campus. KCRW hastily relocated sometime after noon and were up and streaming from who-knows-where by the time I was driving home Friday afternoon, with live reporting of eyewitness accounts. Voices were unmistakably shaky, but they held on. Bravo, KCRW.

 photo P1013830.jpg

Not At Home

When home during summer (in our non-air-conditioned home), I hang out on the cool east side of the house, religiously sweeping this small patio clean and smooth to receive scorched, bare feet, occasionally laying down rugs for the corgi and cats, bringing a sliver of the reading material that piles up in the house, maybe a Peroni (if it’s after 4 o’clock.) The tile was left over from a friend’s DIY project and laid down decades ago, now badly in need of updating. This east side of the house was a no-go zone when we moved in 22 years ago, with massive oleanders pressing against the windows of the house, their girth reaching to the property line, filling this entire area that is now the patio. That Dutch door is where I head every morning with a cup of coffee to spy on to see what the neighborhood is up to. I defend this space like a cornered badger. Construction materials, rowing machines, bicycles materialize from time to time, but the offending space invader is immediately carried off the premises. And then I sweep again. In another life, I would be the sweeper of libraries, late at night. A little reading, a little sweeping…whisk, whisk.

Photobucket

But I’m rarely at home for the moment. Hope to be back here soon.