Monday, April 26, 2010

Wishful Thinking

The idea for this illustration came to me while standing in line outside the career center. The sun was coming up (told ya the line forms early for free classes), and our long shadows stretched out across the adjacent landscaping.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Barriers to Employment

It’s chilly outside the career center, but the camaraderie is warm. Eddie is always first in line, always with a big toothless smile on his face.

The line forms early for free computer classes. We stand under the palm trees and try not to get pooped on by excited sparrows. There’s an interesting mix of people - some are young, working towards their GED; others are shocked to find themselves unemployed for the first time in 25 years. One woman held the same job for 30 years. She was hoping to become a CPA, but her transcripts from the university she attended were destroyed. A few seniors just want to learn to email and buy birthday presents online, but most folks come in hopes of becoming more employable.

One day I notice a middle-aged woman with every feature on her face – eyebrows, nose, mouth, ears - completely encircled with piercings. She looks as though she got caught in the crossfire of some bizarre Bedazzler shoot-out. Plus, her hair is all the colors of a box of popsicles. I can’t help wondering what kind of job she is going for. I’m guessing not preschool teacher. I’m tempted to try to count the number of studs in her head - there must be over a hundred – but I don’t want to stare. She glances over at me and smiles. I smile back. I quickly surmise that she’s nice, but I still worry she’d scare the tattoos right off the manager at Al’s Auto Parts.

Some weeks ago I took a resume workshop. Mostly I wanted to know how skills like boo-boo kissing and vacuuming Doritos crumbs from car seats transfer to the job market. No one buys terms like household manager or domestic engineer.

Every few minutes the presentation was hijacked by someone else wanting to discuss how their felony convictions hinder their job search. For a moment I wondered if I’d wandered into the wrong workshop. Even the instructor gently reminded everyone about his other workshop, “From Hard Time to Full Time.” I was intrigued by the euphemisms everyone used. No one was convicted, they “picked up” a felony. It sounded like a trip to the farmer’s market. I picked up some squash, a watermelon, a couple of felonies…

There was another stay-home mom in the workshop, about my age. Her hand went up. Finally, I thought, I might get some useful information out of this class.

“Um, yeah,” the woman said, “I picked up my felony when I was eighteen…”

Okay then. I may have some things going for me. I don’t have a criminal record, and my face won’t set off any metal detectors. It’s still a chilly climate for job seekers everywhere.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fledglings and Painting Notes

Spring is in the air, and so are the fledglings. They go whiffling around the neighborhood, practicing their frantic acrobatics. Occasionally they crash land in my garden. I want to pick them up and put them in my pocket. I want to pat their fuzzy heads and feed them tidbits. I wait anxiously and watch for passing cats, hoping they make it into the nearest tree.

Maybe I had the fledglings in mind when I painted this picture. Maybe I was thinking of the story I started writing months ago. I haven’t had time to work on it, but it flaps around in my head anyway. It’s about a bird (not the one in the picture). I know how I want the book to look. I see the shades of blue the sky ought to be and how scruffy the main character is. I painted the picture to remind me, when I find time to work on it.

Do the mama birds wonder where the time goes?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Brush With Nature

If you’re the mother of a teenage girl, sometimes the closest you get to observing wildlife in its natural habitat is strolling around the mall. This week the weather is so inviting, my daughter suggests a hike.

We pick a trail in a canyon along the San Diego River. Rainy days and warm weather have urged wildflowers and critters out of hiding, too. I follow my daughter and dog Luna, stopping here and there to enjoy green mountains dotted with purple and orange. Next to us, water striders skim along the top of the water. Lizards spring out of nowhere, stop to flex their muscles with a push-up or two, and then wriggle up piles of rocks.

We pause at the top of a hill and enjoy the burble of the stream. “What’s that on Luna’s back?” my daughter asks. “Is that a tick?”

My daughter has seen one tick in her life, at my parents’ house in New York. I haven’t seen one here in twenty years. “I doubt it,” I say, not bothering to look. “It’s just a spider. Flick it off.”

She nudges it with the leash.

“Not like that,” I tell her. “Now it’s probably on the leash. Brush it off.”

She cracks the leash like a whip.

“Ouch!” I protest.

“Oh, sorry,” she says. “I wanted to be sure I got it off.”

I rub the sore spot on my thigh as we walk on. The trail narrows as we get further into the canyon; shrubs reach out across the dirt path. We pass through a long patch of shrubbery and stop to enjoy the view.

“There’s another one of those things,” my daughter says, pointing to a spot on Luna’s back.This time I bend down to get a look.

“Ew!” I hop back, suddenly remembering why I prefer hiking on wide open trails. “It is a tick!” I flick the offending creature into the grass. We both shudder and leap around, doing the I-feel-like -I’m-crawling-with-bugs dance. Luna tips up her nose and sniffs the air.

We glance around. We’re deep into the canyon now. Besides that, we’ve taken a trail that doesn’t loop around like some other trails in the park. To return, we have no choice but to reenter the tick-infested thicket. My daughter bites her lower lip. We stare at each other and read each other’s thoughts: how ‘bout we just stand here indefinitely? No chance we can get airlifted out of a canyon just because ticks freak us out.

Resigned, we pick our way gingerly back through the woods. With stomachs sucked we sidle through the brush, trying not to scrape against any leaves. At every clearing we pause to inspect ourselves.

“I’d rather get poison oak,” I say as we march on.

“Me too,” my daughter agrees, trailing behind me with Luna. “I’d rather scratch for a week than have a tick on me for one second.”

“I’d rather spot a mountain lion.”

“Yeah, me too. At least they’re not gross and they don’t stick in your hair.”

“Or a snake,” I say.

“Oh, a snake, sure. You see those in the pet store.”

“No kidding.” I pick a leaf from my shirt. “I’d much rather…whoa!” I dig in my heels. My daughter and Luna plow into my backside.

“What are you doing?” my daughter protests.

“Snake.” I say.

“Are you serious?”

“Yes, really.”


“Right there! I almost stepped on it.” We watch the snake slip past us into the grass.


“No, it’s okay.” I say. “I think it’s a friendly snake.”

“No, never mind the snake.”

“What, then?”

“We better take back the part about the mountain lion.”

“Oh, right. Good point.” I say. And in case the spirits of the trails were still listening, I state firmly, “We were only KIDDING about the MOUNTAIN LION.”

I see a group of hikers approaching. An enthusiastic puppy scrambles beside them, a husky with big blue eyes and a coat like a feather duster.

“Watch out for ticks,” I offer as they pass by. “Don’t let her get into the tall grass.”

As soon as they pass, I start laughing.

“What’s so funny?” my daughter asks.

“I forgot to mention the snake.”

“Oh, great, Mom. They’ll yell, ‘Hey, why didn’t you warn us about that snake over here?’ and you’ll be like, ‘Yeah, yeah…snake, whatever. Didn’t you hear me? There are ticks out here. Ticks! TICKS, I say!’”

By the time we reach the car, another tick had already burrowed into Luna’s back leg. As I open the car door to let the dog and her nasty little hitchhiker into the back seat, I turn to meet my daughter’s disgusted look.

“Well then. Next time, the mall?”