It’s Christmas Day, an incredibly beautiful day here in Santa Cruz after the wind and rain of the last few days. As we drove home, the air was clearer and brighter than the movie screen that we’d been glued to. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a swashbuckling movie about a new beginning, and I’m thinking about new beginnings and the cycles they mark.
I’ve had a few perceivable cycles, not as many or as dramatic as Princess Leia or Han Solo, but a few. There was the Cath, Jim and Sue cycle in Birmingham and Marlow, the Sunshine, Nick and Tom cycle in New York and Paris, and the Marie-Helene, Daphne, Alban, Nick, Tom, Charlie and Alex cycle in Paris and Santa Cruz, to name but three.
I think that another one is coming. No more children, but something new, a rebirth, a different view of what matters. It’s early days yet, but something is indeed happening here, Mr. Jones, and can be glimpsed in the transitions that have populated this year.
It began with a mistake. Going away for the weekend of January 3rd, I forgot to bring the statins. These are the cholesterol-reducing drugs which have kept my own levels safe for years now. Being an ungrateful sort, I didn’t like them. They made me feel foggy at times, are known to have effects on liver function, and are one of the most-prescribed drugs in the Western world. That last fact alone is a little off-putting, given the misplaced power of big pharma.
I never took them back up, instead seeing a naturopathic MD, Rachel Abrams, who prescribed a significantly increased exercise regime and naturopathic medicines for treating the high cholesterol. I had told her proudly about my regular bike-riding, which involved avoiding hills as much as possible, and she instructed me in no uncertain terms to seek out those hills and go up them. I now bike up to UC Santa Cruz 2-3 times a week. She also got me started doing push-ups, sit-ups and lateral pulls, which felt ridiculous at my age until I actually did it.
Within six months, the results were, to use the doctor’s own word, “fabulous.” The first blood test after the new regime showed bad cholesterol down, good cholesterol up, and a much improved ratio. I felt great, younger and mellower!
January brought another transition, this one subtler. Alex started living with Charlie and me full-time. At first I thought that it was just the Sony PlayStation 4 which Santa Claus had delivered: he couldn’t bear to be apart from those incredible video games. Then I realized that he simply wasn’t sleeping at his mom’s at all any more. We had a 51/49 custody schedule from the Court, but Alex turned 17 in January and ended up at my place. And then we were three! He still spends time with his mom: don’t get me wrong. But I’m really glad at this point that I rented a three-bedroom condo and not the cheaper two-bedroom version.
Of course, this does not necessarily mean that I see much more of him: he has a lot to do all the time. During the school year, he had very challenging courses, including International Baccalaureate physics, chemistry and math, all at the same time. College-hungry parents advise their children to avoid taking all three at once to protect their college application GPAs. Alex managed straight As anyway!
And he had his soccer, two or three practices a week almost every week, games almost every weekend, and several tournaments dotted here and there. He let his math grade drop to a B+ during the height of the soccer season, telling me that he would get it back up when soccer eased off before the end of the semester. And he did!
Then in the summer, he got his first job, at the surf clothing store downtown where Charlie was promoted to manager earlier in the year. He just loved that first paycheck! “I’m just buying shoes, a skateboard deck and skateboard trucks,” he gushed in the text announcing the check. Dad permits himself a happy chuckle!
Charlie enjoyed the challenges that came with being a manager in the store, handling the occasional wierdo who came in off the street (for a small town, Santa Cruz has a lot of these wierdos, perhaps because the weather is so good year round), picking up the pieces after an earlier shift had dropped them, simply being in charge. But he had been growing increasingly restless, and in August that translated into action.
Two days after turning 20, he took off for San Diego, where he lived for three months in an apartment on top of Antony and Courtney’s house. He found a job the first week he was there, brought home free furniture left in front of houses to supplement the basics he had taken down with him, and settled in to his first independent living. He came back here at Thanksgiving to help coach his High School soccer team, now featuring Alex, but the die has been cast. He’s already talking about leaving for Paris after another semester of college.
Another transition: I found a very kind girlfriend! This was in March, and Suzanne broke up with me on several occasions during the first months, always on Wednesdays for some reason, but over time she adjusted and now even allows me to call her my girlfriend. She’s accomplished and sensitive and very smart, not to speak of beautiful. Her two sons are Barak, 26, and Zohar, 20, and she lives with them in a house shared with friends in Santa Cruz.
In short, she’s way too appropriate!
We vacationed together in France and at her brother Michael’s wedding on Long Island. It was strange seeing Paris through Jewish eyes. My former boss there, Aram (Jack) Kevorkian, had talked about the millions of letters sent by ordinary people denouncing Jews to the Gestapo, and all of a sudden I was watching the people around me wondering if they were the descendants of those terribly mean cowards.
We visited the Catacombs, the manmade caves under what is now southern Paris where the city had emptied all of its overcrowded cemeteries during the 19th century, an odd impulse if ever there was one. Suzanne casually remarked that the six million skeletons stacked down there was the same number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. Centuries of all of the dead of Paris equaled a few years of Nazi mass murders.
Both Nick and Tom were in Paris during our stay, and we had the pleasure of hanging out with them, as well as with Nick’s adorable girlfriend Charlotte. Nick is on track, quite simply and relatively easily on track. His university career advances apace. It’s still part-time, but he had his oral placement exams in the fall, and was satisfied with the results.
The Centre National des Arts et Metiers (CNAM) puts its students through a series of exams to discern how many courses they really need. It’s a university for people like Nick who already have a career, and doesn’t want to make its students take courses which duplicate what they’ve learned in the real world. After his orals, the CNAM determined that Nick didn’t need many more courses to graduate: such a pragmatic and sensible use of exams!
Tom lived the whole year in Athens until returning to Paris to earn some money right in the middle of our vacation. It can be worrying being a parent of a struggling musician: every instinct leads me to tell him to find some more sure way of earning money. I hold off on doing so as much as possible, because he still lives for his music, and nothing else makes him as happy. He called me before the Holidays and sang “White Christmas.” I melted. “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, with every Christmas card I write.” What a voice, and I don’t mean Bing!
He was visiting a Greek island in the spring when a friend of a friend asked him to take him home on his Vespa because he (the friend of a friend) was too drunk to ride it himself. Tom obligingly did so, but the drunk friend riding on the pillion then managed to cause him to crash, by pulling him this way and that while all the time yelling at him. A few days later, the drunk “friend” then told him that it was a rented Vespa and that Tom would have to pay for the damage caused by his crash, something like $2,000! This sort of story makes me glad that I’m no longer young. With a little help from his friends, Tom figured it out, and never paid the drunk so-called friend a penny.
Nick’s well on his way, Tom is still searching, and both are a pleasure to meet with and hang out with. And having two good reasons to visit Paris on vacation is not what you can seriously say is a bad thing.
I then took my regular BritRail trip in the UK while Suzanne visited her dad in Tel Aviv. The five-day visit culminated this time in a drive around the scenic Isle of Skye, and was as wonderful as ever: the sleeper train and the wild scenery, the meals with old friends, and staying in Marlow with Sue and Derek. But England was remembering the 75th anniversary of the Blitz: September 7, 1940 was its first night.
The BBC showed Pathe newsreels of the evacuation of children from the big cities, to protect them from the bombing, the people more or less living in the London Underground, sheltering from the bombs as soon as the air-raid sirens started howling, which they did in London for 57 consecutive nights, and the after-effects of those bombs, the streets bombed flat and the fires still burning. The Luftwaffe bombed English cities night after night for over eight months. I looked up the facts in Wikipedia.
Perhaps it was a premonition. The problem with Paris is that every terrorist on earth dreams of wreaking havoc there. Paris is a beautiful woman, and the ugly and impotent dream of hurting her. Nick texted me at the office during that afternoon of Friday November the 13th: “we are fine.”
I called him for an explanation, and then watched, horrified, online as the attacks evolved. Charlotte and Nick used to live on the rue de Charonne, where La Belle Équipe restaurant was shot up by a self-appointed firing squad and 19 people killed. Tom had left Paris to return to Athens a couple of days before, but he had been a regular at the Bataclan concert hall, where 89 were cruelly murdered and hundreds more badly wounded, mostly young concert-goers like him.
Back in the US, Alex’s last soccer tournament took place at the end of September. This was a more significant transition than it sounds. Starting with Alban playing for Happy Valley School in the fall of 1997, I have been watching youth soccer in Santa Cruz County for 18-1/2 years, and Alex is my last little player. It’s a comforting routine of matches and tournaments and parents who have grown used to each other and to their shared routine.
Alex will graduate high school in June of next year, and his last high school soccer season will end in February. I feel lost already every year when the English Premier League shuts up shop from mid-May through mid-August.
With no more competitive youth soccer to watch on weekends, no more high school soccer to watch during the week, I’m going to feel more than lost. We’re talking my version of the empty nest syndrome, and even in anticipation it already feels very empty.
Perhaps in response, I finally bought a nest of my own, a house in South Lake Tahoe. This was a simple but meaningful transition. I had spent quite a while feeling indignant about not being able to afford my own home after the divorce. Finally, I realized that even if a house in Santa Cruz was off the cards, a home in the mountains was within reach and would be a great place to live. And I realized that my continuing distance from clients, who are nowadays happier contacting me by email and phone because that costs them less, have opened other vistas.
My new nest sits at over 6,200 feet above sea level in the Sierra Nevada, the mountain range which marks the eastern boundary of California along much of the State’s length. It is about a mile from the lake itself and four miles from the casinos on the Nevada state line, in the middle of scenery that just doesn’t quit, summer or winter.
The house was renovated before I bought it, and has forced air central heating powered by a furnace which keeps you hot inside when it is 10˚F outside. There are four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two separate living rooms and two chimneys, not forgetting two garages and an amazing insulated cellar.
Its natural beauty has made the lake a holiday resort, and I’m hoping that the incredible skiing and hiking in the area might encourage the boys to come visit regularly now that I’ve moved here. For now, they don’t seem much inclined to leave the condo, which has become somehow more attractive since I moved out (well, I haven’t entirely moved, but they certainly have more freedom to do what they want when I’m up here most of the time!)
However, the power of positive thinking has already been demonstrated: copying Marie-Helene, I rented out three of the bedrooms in the house, which earns almost as much as the mortgage, while retaining more than enough enough space for me and the boys when they visit.
This Christmas started in the condo, so that the boys could spend part of the day with me and part with their mom. Suzanne and I then drove up here and are spending a few nights here beginning with Boxing Day.
It’s been snowing up a storm: the ski lifts are all open early, and some of them didn’t open at all during the last few years. Our very own white Christmas!
Clearing the snow and ice out of the driveway, “where the treetops glisten,” I count my blessings one more time, and hear again Tom’s lovely voice singing his wishes for the season.
“May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white!”