both sides now

 Above is the view from my driveway. Below is the view of my driveway. Some garage they're building, huh? Almost as big as my house! Ah well, it will provide a barricade of sorts from the full-on view of their porch.


a rant about renters

I am all riled up. My house is a wreck. And so, apparently are the houses of a lot of other people on Block Island.  One real estate agent told me that she has never seen such a sense of entitlement among renters. So I am venting here with the letter I would LIKE to write, but will not to my tenants.

Dear Guests,

Yes, I am booking already for next year! Even as the temps in BI have been in the heavenly seventies. Get ready for a rant, however. I left in June with everything in top form and got home in September to be shocked by the condition of our houses.

Word: Some of you have been stretching the capacity of my houses and septic systems by crowding people in. Hannah’s is meant to house eight; Claudia’s, six. That is code. I do not have bedding for more people (or fold-out couches) for a reason. I know your families have been growing—some I have seen grow up from candy to condom wrappers buried in the couch.
     This past season has been the worst ever. I have just gotten to the island and found unreported broken furniture, busted out screens, stuff moved (presumably to fit in more beds), holes chewed in sofas. I seem to have gained some wetsuits and aerobeds, but where are all my personal bath towels and the four twin contour sheets that were in the locked closet at Hannah’s? I regret being generous with my combination. And what of the wires jerked out of my recently repaired (at great cost) gas fireplace at Claudia’s? I expect some breakage—ok, I have to buy a lot of glassware— but not this much! My house is not a rental car to be abused.
    If you let me know what happened, I can get your insurance to cover it at no cost to you. But when I get home at the end of the season, I have no idea what happened when unless you tell me. Shall I guess and charge random people’s insurance?

FYI, we had an incident this summer when a scammer, known as a “scraper, “ advertised my houses on Craigslist using my VRBO copy, pictures and address. One poor family paid the pittance dude was asking  (Like $1800/wk) and moved in. They were very shocked when the actual tenants showed up. They were lucky that I was reachable to sort it out seeing as I was in Mexico with my dying mother. Be aware that I never advertise on Craigslist. One smart tenant alerted me to such an ad this summer, but other than flagging the ad  (if I can find it), notifying the Block Island Chamber of Commerce and the FBI, there is nothing I can do about it.

I am raising my prices. You may recollect that I lowered them last year because of the new taxes, but it’s not working for me. Costs have gone up amazingly, and so has damage. So I will be charging $200 more/wk during season. That means $5100 for Hannah’s and $5000 for Claudia’s. Off-season rates will remain the same: $4100 for Hannah’s, $4000 for Claudia’s.

These are our homes, not a timeshare. I will try to accommodate your preferences, as usual, based on longevity. Give me your top three preferred dates, and I will strive to make everyone happy. The alternative is to have you race to see who can pay first, like getting online concert tickets! Keep in mind that these houses are meant to be for single families, and rent a larger house if you need one. I want you to be happy and enjoy my oasis, but I want to enjoy it as well!


the difference a year makes

 Last year all of mom's descendants gathered in San Miguel for her 90th birthday. She loved it.
 Then, after a fall and a crack in her pelvis, she went into hospital. She hated the hospital, so as soon as was practical, Rosio and her doctors got her home. There she was reunited with Maximo, her dog, and her beautiful house, which she referred to as "the happy house." She lay in a hospital bed in the living room during August, and all of her children visited her. The last time I recorded her voice, she said, over and over, almost unintelligibly, "Wonderful world." I am not including this recording, because it is heartbreaking to hear her struggling for breath. Should you wish to hear it, let me know. The dog cowered under her bed, eventually refusing to eat, about when mom did.
 On September 21, 2017 she died. My sister Erin was there. And on her birthday today, Erin and Flip and "abuelita's" caregivers (from left Omar, Juanita, Dulce and Rosio, with Maximo) gathered in the spot where her hospital bed had been to celebrate her life.
And then this afternoon Rosio took Maximo to his new home—her home—where he tried to come to terms with Puppi, the dog of the household. We'll have to see how that goes. 


my white parents

This is how my mother looked during the 1950s
My parents were white as white: Mother from the Ku Klux Klan stronghold of southern Indiana, father from Alabama. But they were fiercely against segregation. I grew up in segregated Arkansas, where my mother worked to open day care centers for working mothers on the black side of town.
   On this day 60 years ago, in 1957, the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army escorted The Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students, to Central High. The school had been ordered to integrate; Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus had blocked it. The NAACP brought suit, and the students were finally allowed entry, but it was not a happy year for those brave children.
   The year brought changes to my family as well. As a matter of principle, my father and a number of his University of Arkansas colleagues refused to submit a checklist of "subversive" organizations to which they belonged, among them NAACP. My parents were members.  Faubus's order required the document from all state employees, but my parents and their friends left the state rather than submit. And so at age 8, followed by my younger siblings, I entered school in the suburbs of  New York. The kids there were hostile to a southerner with a funny accent. But I can't even imagine what those other students encountered.


red sky at night

View from Katie's last night
 Not so sure about the sailor's delight thing. Yesterday some boats made it back and forth. They brought tenants to Hannah's, so I left and took up residence at Katie's. After the red sky last night, though, the winds picked up and the tenants at Claudia's were unable to go home—boats cancelled today. So here I am until tomorrow. There are worse places to hide out!
A boat makes it into harbor yesterday morning


the bells of san miguel

The bells they toll for thee, Mama.
My mother died early this morning. My sister and loving caregivers were there. More tk.


blowing 30ish

The TV trucks are staked out in front of Hannah's Hideaway for a good view of the boiling ocean. (The surf, however, here anyway, is no good for surfing—just mush all over everywhere.) Boats have not run for the second day, and I am kind of hoping they won't tomorrow. Tenants are supposed to be coming in, and I would have to decamp early morning. Prepping for a night on Johnny's couch before I an get into my own pace. Wind whistling in the chimney and clanking anything there is to clank. Garbage cans rolling around the lawn. It's just another blow.


hurricane dreams

My plan was to lie in bed all day and watch the waves roll in as Jose skirted the coast. I mean, who knows how long there will be a house here or a me here to watch. But I got up to put some stuff in the washing machine and the next thing you know another hurricane chaser came by and then there was socializing for some hours and anyway not much hurricane action. Power's on. Storm doors shut. Firewood in. Little bit of rain. Wind picking up to 20 mph or so—not even a decent nor'easter as yet.
  But I'm still wearing my bathrobe.


birthday girlz

 She walked a tightrope between six and seven. The birthday party was over, but as the magic hour fell, alone in the back yard, she was still practicing on the slackline. She'll be better at it next year, and the next year.
   The all-Elmo birthday was a big success. She got the Elmo cake, made by Mama, and made herself an Elmo T-shirt, which she wore  despite her friends in party dresses. The paper plates and cups and napkins were Elmo too, though Mama was hard put to find stock that didn't say "first birthday." Who knows why, at sevn, in first grade, she had taken such a shine to Sesame Street. But she had, and it was a done deal. And everybody loved it.


southern delights

 Can you even? Jan and I saw this bag of —what?—in Walmart and had to go for it. We were hysterically laughing at the (self) checkout counter. Jan was extremely disappointed that the inside of the package looked nothing like the outside and was simply filled with—chips. Sigh. She said she could detect a faint taste of gravy, but all I tasted was pepper. We did a blind taste test on a friend who could not tell what the flavor was meant to be. But they were a big hit with her dog.
  Other delights: My cousins Richard and his son Merrell.


the story of calmamama

Daughter Hannah releases promo film just in time for the day she became a (lessthancalma) mama.  And I will see her and the mice tomorrow!


now we are seven

Who's this snaggle-toothed, leggy creature? Camilla Imogen? How can it be? Can we even imagine life without her—only seven years and a day ago? Happy bday, Mimi!


lot of water under

 Sixteen (?) years ago yesterday, I was painting on the beach in Block Island with Katie Knapp anders and  her class when Ed called to tell me that planes had flown into the World Trade towers and the Pentagon. He only got through because he was at Fox news. I couldn't really take that in. Everybody in the class borrowed my cell phone (not as pervasive at the time) to call family in New York. Nobody could get through. All I wanted to do was get to New York as fast as possible. But my brother Chris was in Block Island building the porch on Claudia's.
   Donna was in Europe, and her plane was grounded. You couldn't fly into New York.
   Frustrated by missing the biggest news event of all time in our hometown, we finally made it to the city to spend days wandering around downtown talking to people and taking pictures and video. I was pissed that I had just retired from People and had no brief to cover the story (though I later found out my editor would have been happy to have me cover it freelance). We never published our stuff but it did lead to our getting a gig doing documentaries at Oxygen.
    But this year, we were on the spot.
Donna Ferrato shoots the new World Trade.


difference a day makes

 The difference a day makes. Started yesterday morning in clouds in the Great Smoky Mountains outside of Asheville, NC, and wound up at sunset on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Found a parking spot, but did not have the energy to empty the truckful of Missouri, Mexico and Alabama. Did that when I had to move the truck today. And now for the overdue bills.
   Word from brother Ben: Mom is in a holding pattern. Rarely conscious, but still in there somewhere.


art in mexico

A young artist at work in his stuio and gallery.

At the bottom of the hillside where mom lives is an old fabric factory that has been converted into galleries and artists' studios. I had no idea. It is amazing, a giant labyrinth with scores of world class artists and thousands of works. People must come to buy from all over the country and from abroad.
  And then there is the found art in the markets, with pyramids of fruit and conglomerations of objects. Like zippers.
  I have left Mexico, however. My mother did not appear to hear me or see me when I bade her adieu, but apparantly this ayem she informed her overnight caregiver that I had left. So there is some there there. I am now in Alabama visiting family and friends and will head up the coast (chased by hurricanes?) tomorrow or the next day.


Mom said she wanted to sit up, and the doctor  says, at this point, let her do whatever she wants. So Rosio and Omar and I wrestled her into her favorite rocking chair and lit the fire in the fireplace. Rosio planned to give her her Sunday bath. But she kept slipping down and flopping over, so we gave up and put her back in bed. The dog was very confused.


 On a good day, Mom can enjoy the roses that the flower man brings to her door. Rosio arranges them in a vase within her line of sight, and puts one bloom near her in bed. On a good day, Mom can recognize her dog or her children. But most days she can't. And on bad days, we listen to her labored breathing and her whimpers as Rosio tries to get her to drink some Ensure or take her meds or comb her hair or just hold her hand. It is not an easy time for anyone. At the moment I am planning to leave on Sunday, but I could change my mind.