Music hath powers …

Round about 1967-68, the then-husband and I, and our infant son, lived in the converted attic of a house in Berkeley. The apartment was wonderful and the downstairs landlady sweet and kind (she wanted to rent to a couple with children!), but she had a stroke and had to move to San Francisco to be closer to her son, and so the downstairs was rented out. When the new tenants moved in, we went down to introduce ourselves. The tenant was a psychiatric social worker (hereinafter PSW) from the neighboring county, who was not friendly. Neither was her huge and scary boyfriend (hereinafter SB), who rode a very large, very noisy hog.

I should mention that neither my then-husband nor I are large people. Short, in fact. He worked indoors and I was student, so also we were pasty. And the kid was less than a year old. Threatening? Us? Hah!

We soon learned that the PSW owned one LP, a version of Lohengrin apparently recorded in a Swiss sanatorium. She would get home at about 6:30 pm on Friday, put it on, crank it up, and play it without cease until she left for work on Monday morning. [This may have been the reason her boyfriend wasn’t friendly, but who am I to ascribe psychological reasons to a non-politician’s behavior?] Our entire apartment acted like a sounding box. We politely asked her to turn it down. The SB glowered. We went back upstairs. Husband, who worked in radio, borrowed a couple of mongo speakers from the station and strung them up facing the wall in the downstairs landing, which fronted her livingroom. We then found a recording of two favorite Spike Jones pieces: Il Barkio (an opera starring dogs) and Der Fuehrer’s Face. Husband dubbed them onto a continuous tape loop, put it on the Ampex, and cranked up the sound. It was … impressive.

Il Barkio

Der Fuhrer’s Face

The PSW cranked up her sound. We cranked up ours. She cranked up hers. We cranked up ours. She beat on her ceiling with a broomstick. We bounced a golf ball on the floor. We both stopped at midnight, by mutual but unspoken consent, for fear the neighbors would call the cops.

The next day, still all steamed up, we marched downstairs to confront her. She opened her front door, shrieking, but before we could respond the SB put his arm over her shoulder, pushed her back, and said, “Hey, man, where’d you get the Spike Jones?”

That relationship didn’t last much longer, but the noise level never reached such heights again.

Il gattino di Kahuku


The composer and diva.

Frankie is composing an opera, Il gattino di Kahuku and is in a ferment of constant creation and rehearsal. First thing in the morning, she works on “Sto morendo di fame.” She experimented with the key and has settled on Squall Major. This is followed by the recitative “Mi elevare ora,” staccato con sentimento, accompanied by acrobatics which always bring down the house. In fact, this morning she experimented with hooking her claws into my shorts as I was trying to put them on, which certainly brought down the pants. This may not make it to the finished work.

The opening aria.

The opening aria. Note the pathos.

She then leads the rest of the cast in the Breakfast Chorus. The big dog, as always, maintains a dignified silence (that is, a basso so profundo that it is beneath the range of human hearing); the small dog, our alto, cavorts on her back legs, performing amazing backwards jetés, and the boy cat, the tenor, leaps onto the kitchen counter, is grabbed and thrown off, leaps again, is thrown again. All this time Frankie leads the company in “Miao miao adesso” or, in the small dog’s case, “Yip yip adesso,” come un rondo.

Basso and soprano in Act

Basso and soprano prepare for Act 2

Act Two is a true innovation in opera, as it is entirely in mime. The cast weaves along the floor, barely avoiding each other. The big dog collapses first, on the floor under the computer desk. The small dog makes sure Frankie has cleaned her plate, then stretches out on the big dog’s bed. The boy cat disappears and Frankie, after running from my shoulder to the keyboard and back again, curls up in the in-tray and falls asleep.

20151009_140751 (1)

Triumphant conclusion to Act Two.

After a few hours Frankie rises to perform “Gioca con me,” insistentemente esigenti, directed to the rest of the cast, turn and turn about. Eventually the boy cat knocks her over, holds her down, and performs acts of cleansing upon her best left to the imagination and not to the operatic stage.

The scene for which the opera was banned in Boston.

The scene for which the opera was banned in Boston.

She takes them stoically, like the classical heroine that she is. She makes her escape and reprises the opening aria as “Ora sono morti di fame,” frenetica ad alta voce.

Our tenor.

Our tenor

The fourth and final act commences with yet another reprise of the opening aria, this time reconfigured as “Sto davvero morendo di fame,” staccato e bellicoso, followed by another round, “Anch’io,” from the rest of the cast. The tenor then takes center stage to perform “Muoio, muoio di disattenzione,” while the soprano weeps. The tenor moves offstage sadly, and our splendid diva commands the stage for the denouement. She performs the aria “Filato giocattolo piede palla di punta” dancing piqué allegro before finding a nearby basket of yarn and diving face-down into it. The applause is tremendous.

All in all, a most satisfying operatic experience. This critic is advised that the work itself mutates slightly from day to day, so multiple viewings are recommended.

Hurricanes and tsunamis and …

We’ve been brushed by hurricane skirts the past week or so, bringing flooding to downtown Kailua-Kona and flash-flood warnings elsewhere; an earthquake in Chili spawned a tsunami advisory, and somebody started muttering about how maybe all we needed to make it a three-some was some action from the volcano goddess. Me, I’m not worried because

Pele is a friend of mine,
I bring her rum and Coke,
and sometimes if she’s so inclined
we sit and share a toke.
I know she’s fond of me because
she sends me stinky smoke
and rumbles gently underground
to let me know we’re folk.


Uncle John’s Toupee

Flannel leaf caterpillar

This is not Donald Trump’s toupee, it’s the puss caterpillar of the flannel moth. But it does serve to remind me of a little family history.

My father went down to Mexico in the mid-1930s, looking for work, and fell in love with the country and the capital. His older brother John soon followed him. John always had an eye out for the main chance and (so the family story goes) very much liked it that he could choose almost any profession and practice it in Mexico without much training — and the licenses were cheap. He chose to be an optometrist and did fairly well at it. He married a woman named Virginia, who said that she was not Mexican but French.

An aside: At least at the time, this was a snobby ploy to separate from the lowly Mestizo. Having pure Spanish blood was okay, but if you could claim descent from the French who came over with Maximilian, you were at the pinnacle of the social pyramid — or so they thought. The family story says that Virginia’s folk were quite rich and, before the revolution, used to beat their maids with hairbrushes. This may explain why they emerged from the revolution far less rich than before, and in far fewer numbers.

Theirs was a curious marriage, John and Virginia, perhaps best summed up by a visit they made to California when I was a kid. Dad and John sat, for some reason, in the kitchen (probably because it was closer to the coffeepot) while Mom and Virginia chattered in Spanish in the living room.

Comes John’s voice from the kitchen: “Chachis!” (Accent on the first syllable — his pet name for her.

“Yes, Yonny!” she calls, and minces into the kitchen.

John is lounging in his kitchen chair, his jacket hanging on the chairback behind him.

“Chachis, give me a cigarette.”

“Yes, Yonny!” she says in dulcet tones. She slides her hand into the breast pocket of his jacket, the one that is hanging right behind him on the chair in which he sits, and extracts his pack of cigarettes and his lighter. She puts the cigarette between her lips, leaving traces of lipstick on it, and lights it, then puts it between his lips. She returns the cigarettes and lighter to his pocket.

Johnny puffs, approves of the cigarette, and says, “Thanks, Chachis.”

She twinkles and titters and minces back to the living room.

This act is repeated not only with cigarettes, but with coffee and glasses of water, while Dad and John sit in the kitchen.

It became a family joke. If you wanted something and were near it, you yelled “Chachis!” and the other family members laughed and heaped abuse on you.

Anyway, back to the wig.

Baldness runs in Dad’s family. It skipped my grandfather, but Dad started balding in high school and so did John. It never bothered Dad much, but apparently John hated it. On one visit to California, he and Virginia confided to my folks that their marriage had almost foundered. John had, he explained, bought a toupee and wore it while out of the house, and while wearing it conducted at least one illicit affair. It was the toupee’s fault, he said. It forced him into carnal relations with tramps.  Eventually Virginia found out, snatched the toupee off his head, and threw it into the fire, thus freeing Uncle John from its malign influence. They recounted this tale with great earnestness to my folks, and while they billed and cooed my parents struggled mightily to keep straight faces.

John thought of himself as a Jack of all Arts, and one of them was architecture. He designed the home he had built for himself and Virginia in Mexico City, a place where the building codes, at the time, were lax to non-existent. I hated the house. The stairs from the living room up to the second floor were polished stone slabs with only one side wall and no railings, and I was convinced that I would slip off them and break my neck and die. But John’s most famous innovation was the wall in his bathroom. It faced the street and was taken up by a floor-to-ceiling, side-to-side one way mirror, so that John could take a relaxing shit while looking down on his neighbors. Would have worked fine, too, except that it was put in backwards. I don’t know how many craps John and Virginia took before somebody alerted them to the problem. Instead of having it removed, they covered it with a curtain.

Some years after I became published, John loaned me a copy of a screenplay he had written and solicited my opinion of it. It was a pretty obvious rip-off of the movie RAIN, based on the Somerset Maugham story, but in John’s version the names were changed and People Actually Did It. Not on-camera, you understand, but there was some Hot Action going on, you can betcha. He pointed this out as the innovative factor, after I pointed out the connection with Maugham. I wasn’t particularly impressed, and John kept his literary efforts to himself from then on.

He had, in fact, come to California specifically to pester Barnaby Conrad with it. Conrad was currently in residence somewhere in Marin County, and he was pretty certain that Conrad would love the book and stake it financially, because after all they were both Men’s Men, into bullfighting and boating and other dick-waving events, although Conrad actually did them. In any event, he finagled a meeting, went off with his derivative screenplay in hand — and never mentioned it again.

Conversational farming.

The shack.

The Farm.

Back in the early 1970s my father and brother decided to get back to the land, and Dad bought a 10 acre spread in a small valley near Watsonville, California. The acres were diagonal. The farm was mired in the process of not becoming: in the last century it had not become a truck farm, not become an orchard, and most recently had not become a hog farm. The farm house started life in the mid- or late-1800s as a one room shack. At some later time later a room had been tacked to one side and another along the back, so the building resembled a frustrated letter L. Eventually a bathroom was added to one end and a kitchen to the other, but these weren’t improvements as much as they were accretions. Dirt crept up from the loose floorboards and god knows what sifted in from the roof; frogs inhabited the bathtub drain and lizards lived under the toilet seat. When I went down to visit, usually about twice a month, it amazed me that the place was still standing.

My dad, Dick, worked ten hour days teaching at the local continuation school and a night school ESL program to bring home the mortgage money, while my brother Rick and his friends spent their days sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee and engaging in what I came to call “conversational farming.” They planned to put in a windmill, either in the valley where there was water but no wind, or at the top of a hill where there was plenty of wind and not a drop of water. I remember a short lived plan to hook a generator up to the septic tank in the hopes of producing electricity from methane, because somebody remembered seeing plans for such a device in a copy of the Whole Earth Catalog which they would get their hands on any day now. They decided to buy a plow horse and were very excited until they realized that they couldn’t afford to buy feed and they couldn’t graze the horse because the only grazing land was already scheduled to be a vegetable farm, which was going to go in any day now as soon as they figured out how to plow it which they couldn’t do because they couldn’t afford to rent a tractor and they couldn’t afford to feed a horse, but boy, when that vegetable garden went in they were going to sell organic vegetables down in Santa Cruz and make a bundle. I think the only thing these all talk and no walk back to the soil hippies succeeded in planting was a small dope garden up the hill amid the scrub oaks and dying apricot trees, until the deer discovered it and ate it down to the ground. Since deer apparently don’t get high, that was wasted too. My kid sister lived there for a short time, attending Watsonville High School, until she could take no more of farm, friends, or high school and returned to Berkeley.

The conversational farmers did help Dad put in a small kitchen garden and construct a chicken house, and somebody bought three ducklings, the big white domestic kind. Two were slated to be pets and so were named Admiral Sir Elmore Duck and Gladys, his wife. The third was named Dinner, just so that nobody would mistake his eventual fate.

Blau_Eier_05The chickens were a miscellaneous lot. I remember a couple of White Leghorns, and an Araucana which laid blue green eggs, and some scruffy brownish reddish hens, and a single rooster. The chickens were allowed to run around loose until the local foxes ate too many of them. Dad built a fenced chicken yard which worked well until a coyote came in over the top, so Dad put in a chicken wire roof and brought in more chickens.

I went down to visit one weekend when my son, the third Richard in the family, was about eight. Sunday morning, the conversational farmers suggested that I gather eggs for breakfast. I agreed. As I was on my way out, my father pointed out a stick leaning up against the chicken yard fence, and said it might be a good idea if I took it into the chicken yard with me. I’m a city girl, born and bred, and raised on books like Little House on the Prairie in which innocent and helpless young girls happily gather eggs from the farm’s chickens. I suspected nothing, even when the stick turned out to be more of a cudgel. I picked it up in my left hand and let myself into the yard. I locked the wire fence gate behind me and turned, already stepping toward the nesting boxes in the chicken house.

angry chickenChickens, it seems, fly, especially when city girls come onto their property looking to steal their eggs. I turned to find the flock flying up and down, yelling and shrieking and darting at my face. I edged toward the hen house, protecting my face with my right arm. They kept a clear circle around me which I maintained with threatening waggles of the cudgel as I reached into a nest with my right hand and groped around. It was nasty in there. I thought I felt an egg, so I took my eyes from the mob for a moment – sure enough, a speckled brown egg. I picked it up and turned to find an infuriated chicken screeching and flying straight at my face.

I panicked. Without thinking, I threw the cudgel into my right hand, forgetting that this hand already held a nice, warm, brown, speckled egg. It broke, dripping raw scrambled egg around the stick, over my fingers, and onto the floor of the house. The chickens stopped attacking me and started fighting over who got to eat the broken egg. It was appalling. Even more appalling was the sound I now heard from outside the pen. I looked up to see three generations of Richards rolling on the ground laughing at me, but by the time I got the pen door open and went after them they were long gone.

In time, the conversational farmers hired a dowser to find water in the valley. He came, he dowsed, he found an old cesspit, and he departed with half the farm’s stash in lieu of payment. An attempt was made to charm the neighbors into loaning the conversational farmers a tractor, but the neighbors (thick-necked farm types all) weren’t interested in having anything to do with the commie pinko dope smokin’ free love semi naked hippies who had invaded their little valley. I think they were most upset by the resident would-be Earth Mother, a chubby girl named Mayflower who dressed in fluttering rags and liked to dance naked under the full moon, to encourage growth in the crops that somehow were never planted. I didn’t care for her myself, nor did Dad, but she was the girlfriend of the only mechanic in the group and if they ever did get the money together to buy that windmill or tractor or generator or whatever they were going to need him, so Mayflower happily danced naked in the weeds while the conversational farmers stared, the neighbors peeped, and Dad revised lesson plans.

Neck_of_white_duck.The seasons passed, the garden failed and flourished and failed again, the ducks grew up and grew fat, and the day came for Dinner to turn into his name. The other conversational farmers became sudden vegetarians and my dad was at work, so my brother picked up the cleaver and went outside. I pause to say that he had named the cleaver “Eldridge” and horrified our sister by sitting at the kitchen table sharpening it and chuckling. So, he took Eldridge outside and caught Dinner (who thought he was a pet like the others, and would come up to you looking for food), stretched the duck’s neck over a tree stump, and – couldn’t do it.

You must understand that my brother is a very short man and has never come to terms with that. So far he had been able to blame the farm’s problems on others, who filled a long list that he would review periodically, re-ordering it depending on who he currently found most offensive or who had most recently witnessed his failures. Reprieving Dinner was a non-starter because he would have to explain why Dinner still graced the yard instead of the table, and he couldn’t blame anyone for his lack of nerve except himself. He had said he was going to kill the duck and by damn he was going to do it. So he went back inside, took up the shotgun, went to the yard, and blew the poor damned duck’s head off.

Dinner did what fowl tend to do in such circumstances: he ran around the yard with the remains of his head held on by a bit of skin and flopping against his neck, spouting blood like a fire hydrant. My brother went into the bushes and lost his lunch. After a while Dinner stopped running and pumping and fell down into the dirt, and a bit later my brother went over and prodded him. When Dinner didn’t move, he picked the duck up by one foot, carried it inside, and threw it onto the kitchen table. Plaster dust sifted over it like flour. He went back into the bushes and lost his breakfast. My brother was sitting on the stoop when Dad got home. He jerked his head toward the door and said, “I killed the duck.” Then he went into the bushes and lost his midnight snack.

My dad was also a short man, but he had come to terms with that years previously and was content with himself. He grew up in California’s wide Central Valley during the Great Depression, where he helped supplement the family dinner table with hunting and helped butcher the occasional pig or calf with which my grandfather was paid for his carpentry. So Dad had no problem gutting, plucking, and dressing the duck, and cooked it up a  l’orange with new potatoes on the side. Dad said it was one of the best ducks he had ever tasted. My brother said it tasted like shit. The conversational farmers, forsaking their morning vegetarianism, dug in anyway.

Eventually Dad got tired of supporting the conversational farmers and required them to be productive so they moved away, taking with them dreams of windmills on hills and generators over piles of shit, and horses that never happened and fabulous vegetable gardens that produced just enough food for the gophers. Dad met the woman who became my stepmother, who made him give up his long hair and earring, dressed him in pearl-buttoned Western shirts and Tony Lama boots, and moved him into town. I don’t think my dad had ever been happier. Dad rented the farm out to a series of bleary eyed slackers who did nothing to keep the place going except to dig a cesspit when the old septic tank filled up, and nail flattened tin cans over the leaks in the roof. The old farmhouse rotted so thoroughly that the window sills would fall off all by themselves.

AromasShackWhen Dad and my stepmom decided to build their dream house on the farm, they thought to get rid of the old place by offering it to the local fire department, who could practice their technique while burning the place to the ground. The fire chief came by one day, took a look, and refused – the place wasn’t even good enough for burning and he wouldn’t risk his crew in it. Dad hired guys to come in with sledge hammers and crowbars to take the house down.

To everyone’s surprise, the old place didn’t want to go. It had been built of clear heart virgin redwood which over the years had become one with the nails, except those around the window sills, and it took contractors close to a month to pull the place down. Then my stepmom took the place in hand, as she had taken my dad in hand.

Things that take a long time becoming leave ghosts.  The remnants of the old hog pens are long gone, as are the rotted apricot trees and most of the poison oak. In their place a cozy white house graces the valley floor, surrounded by porches which are, in turn, surrounded by my stepmom’s flower beds and the fruit trees she and Dad planted. It has become a home, and I like visiting. Sometimes, after the folks have gone to bed, I spend an hour in a rocker on the porch, sipping a little Irish whiskey and looking out over the valley. Sometimes, especially when the moon is full, I can almost see a chubby, naked Earth Mother dancing through the flower beds, and if I listen with care I hear the sound of windowsills falling off, all by themselves.

photo credits: “duck neck” By Ezhuttukari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

“Araucana eggs” By Penarc (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

“Angry chicken” Olena Istomina/iStockphoto

all others © 2005 Marta Randall 

Native Plants of Ocean View: ‘Ohi’a Lehua

'Ohi'a lehua in blossom.

‘Ohi’a lehua in blossom.

The ‘ohi’a lehua[i] (Metrosideros polymorpha) is the most common tree in Ocean View and indeed in the Hawaiian Islands. Like OV’s human residents, it is tolerant of almost all environments and thrives from sea level to over 8000 feet, in conditions both wet and dry, from boggy soils to basalt — in fact, just about anywhere. It is usually the first tree to colonize lava, where its roots and leaf-litter help to create and increase soil.

Lehua blossoms.

Lehua blossoms.

The ‘ohi’a lehua takes many forms, from low shrubs in bogs or directly on lava, to majestic specimens that can reach 82 feet tall. Flowers are usually bright to medium red but orange-red, salmon, pink, yellow, or orange forms are also found. The flowers appear in clusters on the terminal ends of the branches. Masses of stamens extend from the flower and give the blossoms their characteristic pom-pom shape.

‘Ohi’a lehua are the keystone species of the Big Island’s native forests, and Ka`u is the location of some of the largest and most pristine native forests in Hawai`i. It has been called the ultimate nurse tree for our native species.

Disease threat.

‘Ohi’a lehua are at risk from a fungus called ‘ohi’a wilt or rapid ‘ohi’a death fungus. It is spreading from Puna, where it already killed half the `ohi`a on 6,000 acres. The fungus clogs the tree’s vascular system. A single `ohi`a dies of thirst in weeks. A stand of `ohi`a dies in three years. In order to help preserve the trees, anyone entering infected forests is urged to clean vehicles, tires, boots and clothing before bringing them back to Ka`u.

An 'ohi'a lehua growing out of the 1986 lava flow, near Kalapana.

An ‘ohi’a lehua growing out of the 1986 lava flow, near Kalapana.


The reddish brown heartwood of the ‘ohi’a lehua is hard and fine-textured. It was traditionally used in building houses and heiaus, and to make household objects, weapons, tools, and statues. The flowers were used medicinally to treat the pain of childbirth; it is one of the few honey plants that is native to the Hawaiian Islands and in the summer it is not uncommon to hear an ‘ohi’a lehua buzzing with honey bees.


ʻŌhiʻa and Lehua were two young lovers. Madam Pele, the volcano goddess, fell in love with the handsome ʻŌhiʻa and approached him, but he turned her down. Pele’s temper is famously chancy. If she couldn’t have him, no one would, so she transformed ʻŌhiʻa into a tree. His lover Lehua was devastated. Out of pity the other gods turned her into a flower and placed her upon the ʻōhiʻa tree. It is said that when a lehua flower is plucked from an ʻōhiʻa tree, the sky will fill with rain  — the tears of the young lovers.

[i] It is a common misconception that the word ‘ōhi`a is used to refer to the tree and that the word lehua refers only to its flowers. The Hawaiian Dictionary (Pukui and Elbert 1986: 199) defines lehua with these words: “The flower of the ‘ōhi`a tree… also the tree itself [emphasis added].” Thus the Metrosideros polymorpha may be referred to correctly as a lehua tree, or as an ‘ōhi`a lehua, or simply an ‘ōhi`a

Photo credits:

“‘Ohi’a lehua in blossom” by © Marta Randall

“Lehua blossoms hawaii 01” by © CC BY-SA Thomas Tunsch, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Kalapana May 2009” by Brocken Inaglory -, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Drive with aloha, my ass.

We are urged to drive with aloha, aloha in the sense of care and respect for others. Generally I have no problem with this and, in fact, stop for pedestrians before they even think about crossing the street, wave other drivers into the traffic stream ahead of me, and behave like the patient, respectful automotive citizen that I am.

However. I find that I struggle with the spirit of aloha on the long hauls. For example:

Listen, Hyundai or Daewoo or whatever the hell you are, you are supposed to keep up, not behave like a tampon in the flow of traffic. Red car, too. Figures.

For the love of god, you brake *before* going up a hill? Ever heard of momentum?

I know the sign says “Nene 750 feet.” See how it’s in a yellow diamond shape? That means it’s a warning sign. Nene may cross the road here. It does not mean there are native geese in cages on the side of the road. Pay attention and keep up.

You’re a Mustang. You have a low center of gravity. You can take these curves faster than you do. Why, look at those two Jeeps pulling away from you. They have no problem with curves and they have no center of gravity at all.

Can you read? The sign says “40 minimum” not “40 maximum,” and here you are playing it safe by going 35 in a 55mph zone. Please read the Hyundai/Daewoo rant, above. I don’t like repeating myself.

Okay, 55mph. Listen up, tourist in the minivan. On most of this road, 40 is minimum, 55’s the speed limit, 60’s okay, 65’s okay if you look out for the constabulary (easy to see because they all drive high-testosterone SUVs with blue fezzes on top), 70’s pushing it, 75 your ass is toast. Got that? Good. Now speed the hell up.

What police cars look like on the Big Island: huge SUVs of any make and color, but the all have that little blue fez on top.

What police cars look like on the Big Island: huge SUVs of any make and color, but the all have that little blue fez on top.

Buddy, if the cop we just passed saw what you did with your finger, I will be delighted to pull over to let him by, and applaud when he pulls you over. By the way, your right tail-light’s out.

It’s a freaking Scenic Overlook sign, not the lair of some rock monster looking to eat you! Stay on the road!

Signal. Signal. Signal. Were you raised in pigsty? Signal.

I know you’re a tremendously expensive SUV, but that doesn’t give you rights over as much of the road as you’re taking. Get into your own lane and stay there.

If I slow down and wave you into the traffic ahead of me, do not sit there looking at me with your jaw hanging open. And wave afterwards.

It’s a school district, pilgrim! See the sign that says so, and the flashing yellow lights surrounding the “25mph when lights are flashing” sign? Slow the hell down!

There’s more, but you get the idea. I’m working on this, truly I am. Why this evening, I exercised restraint when an idiot in a light truck couldn’t decide whether to take the Pahoa turn-off or not or take it or not or take it … I just huffed out a world-weary sigh and soldiered on.

The Continuing Adventure of Cricket the Small


So this walked into the house tonight via the cat door, all maybe 6 from Galaxy6 419 pounds of her. Off to the vet tomorrow to see if she’s chipped. So far the cats don’t like her and neither does the dog, but she seems grateful for a warm place to sleep.


1/17from Galaxy6 430

After the bath. I think I like this dog, and Peggy does too.


I put a “Found Pet” notice at Craigslist and have received one reply, but am still waiting for that party to offer proof that the dog is hers. We shall see. Other than that, nothing.


We saw the vet this morning. The dog weighs just under 6 lbs. and may not be pregnant, but just malnourished. No parasites in the poo. Bloodwork being done.

I also learned that I can call the local Humane Society and put in a “Found Dog” notice. I did that, sent them a photo, and let them know that I would foster her and, if nobody legit claims her, I want to adopt her. If someone legit does claim her, they have to pay me back the $200+ I just laid out at the vet’s for the visit, meds, blood work, etc., plus boarding charges while she’s with me. That should weed out the non-serious claimants. I have the feeling that nobody’s going to claim her.

I broke down and named her. She’s Cricket. She and Abby are curled up, touching, on the indoor dog bed. Life’s good.


If any of you have an in with St. Francis, I’d appreciate any petitions in behalf of my little Cricket, who lost it from both ends this evening and couldn’t walk straight and kinda had tummy spasms. She is spending the night in the capable hands of Dr Aaron and his staff, and I should learn more of her condition tomorrow.

I don’t limit the request just to St. Francis, I’ll take good thoughts from anyone to anyone/thing.

It’s not fair, to have fallen this much in love with a critter this fast.


The news so far: Cricket is still with Ali’i Vet and will spend today there, too. After receiving IV fluids and some anti-nausea meds, she settled down and is, today, showing some appetite and good spirits.

As to the cause of the problem, they rushed her blood work and found that she is both severely malnourished and tremendously anemic – the doc said she’s working at 50% of her blood capacity (?) which shows that she’s been out in the wild for at least a month. The fact that she has adapted to this, somewhat, goes to show that she’s a tough little girl.

Although no worms were detected in her stool, Dr Aaron thinks he feels tapeworms in her guts. She has lots of fleas. So the current thinking is this: I gave her the first dose of de-wormer, per instructions, yesterday. This caused the stomach and intestinal upset and, given her weakened condition, the upset put her in shock. It’s lucky I was there when it happened; lucky the clinic was, by chance, open late; lucky that I wrapped her in a warm beach towel and hustled her down there.

All things being equal, she will continue to improve. They are carefully de-worming her, and she’s on a frequent diet of a special anti-nausea dog food mixed with chicken baby food (er, food for human babies made from chickens. No, wait, baby food made from chickens intended for human babies. Not human babies made from chickens, and not food for baby chickens). A little giddy, am I? Well, yes.


Doggie news: Cricket is still at Ali’i Vet. They’ve been deworming her, with considerable success, and she’s eating (as one of the vets said) as if she owned stock in the dog food company. I should get her back tomorrow afternoon.


She’s back! And tired. And expensive.from Galaxy6 443


I picked her up at the vet’s yesterday – an 80+ mile round trip, but worth it. She has been de-wormed most emphatically, rehydrated, and well-fed. Still no idea what caused the incident, since the prescription dewormer I gave her is very gentle; no indication of anything wrong with her innards, either. She is still losing the bloated belly, so I think she wasn’t pregnant after all, or if she is, it’s early enough along so that once she is fully healthy, I can have her spayed and she won’t have physical problems.

I took this tired 6 pound couch-potato to the vet, and what I got back is a spunky, bouncy little girl who is not afraid of anything, including the vacuum cleaner. She dances on her hind legs when she’s really excited. She remembered me (something I was a little worried about) and nuzzled right up. I don’t have a car-seat harness for her (something I have to get as soon as my SS is deposited), so she tried to help me drive home. It’s not safe, of course, but it was kinda fun to watch her interest in the passing scene.

I took the Craigslist notice down. This, damn it, is *my* dog.


I can report that she’s a whole different doggie. She bounces backwards on her hind legs as I fix her meals, she wags so hard that the tail really does wag the dog, and she won’t get more than a couple of yards away from me without prancing back to make sure I haven’t disappeared.

We’re headed back to the vet in an hour for more blood work, and a stop at the local pet/nursery/tchotchkes shop in the hopes that they have a car-seat harness small enough for her.


We’re home from the vet with preliminary reports on the bloodwork. Her protein levels are up, and her red blood count has almost doubled, although it’s not near normal yet. They’ll do the other tests this evening at their lab, but as things stand its all systems go for Cricket the Wonder Dog.

She may be going into heat. She’s still not healthy enough for surgery so for the next 3 weeks I get to be the Fearsome & Terrible Duenna. Those who know me well can now fall over yourselves laughing.


The last bloodwork results are back. White cell count up to normal, red cell count not there yet but rising, urinalysis shows no problems (so she really is unhousebroken). Monday she woke up looking as bloated as she did when she first showed up, lethargic, the whole thing. Worried hell out of me. Tuesday I woke to discover her back to her bouncy enthusiastic self, and a truly tremendous poo on the lanai. I don’t understand how she manages to hold that much inside her, I truly don’t.from Galaxy6 605

This should give you a clearer view of her progress.  Fattening up nicely; soon she will be dinner size.



Doggy update: Cricket continues to be a delight. I left her and Abby inside yesterday (grocery shopping) and when I came back, Cricket was waiting at the livingroom window. Then she rushed to the lanai to make sure I really was coming. Then she raced to the front door and performed some first class Cavorting, including the mid-air body twist and the Upright Vertical fling at a yard (at least) from the floor. I wish my hands hadn’t been full — I wish my hands weren’t so shaky that I can’t take a decent video.

I think she may be over being in heat, so I’m going to take her to visit our friend Judy at Ali’i Vet just to make sure. If she is, then I need to call the Humane Society, where I registered her as being fostered, and tell them I want to adopt — and she will be legally mine! Judy tells me that they will help with the cost of neutering and having her chipped.


Doggie update: I have been taking both dogs with me to the Tuesday afternoon knitting group. Cricket gets passed from hand to hand and cooed at, while Abby has learned to relax among a group of chattering women and accept pets from anyone offering them. However, Abby does *not* like riding in the car. She huddles down into a foot well and tucks her head in.

Earlier this week Abby seemed to be having a hard time breathing and yesterday she was off her feed, so I thought I would leave her home and let her rest. I patted her and told her goodbye, leashed Cricket, and took her out to the car. The minute I had the car door open, Abby rocketed into the front seat and huddled down on the pedals. It was only by great persuasion that I was able to get her into the passenger side, where Cricket joined her. The two of them rode happily to the community center, Abby found her place under the table in front of my chair, and Cricket was cooed at. Then back into the car and home, no problems at all.

I think that Abby is coming to appreciate having a companion animal in her life.


Such good news! My sweet, damaged, reticent dog Abby has, since a few days ago, made it a habit to join Cricket and me in the living room in the evenings. She makes herself comfy on the couch, which most dogs do, but Abby doesn’t. And tonight, for the first time, she brought one of her heretofore ignored soft dog toys with her, mouthed it gently, and has gone to sleep with her chin atop it.

The semi-feral girl cats took off a few days after Cricket showed up, although they pop in late at night to eat. But yesterday Pudge showed up late in the evening to rub herself against Abby before fleeing, and this afternoon CJ swaggered up to me on the lanai to treat me to a good long session of purrs, bellyrubs, and ecstatically stretched claws. They both look sleek and well-fed and I have new hope that they will rejoin us inside someday soon.

Life is good.


Doggie update: Cricket is back at the vet’s. She’s been bloating up for the past few days, off her feed (unless she gets wet food) and passing poo that I will not describe, out of respect for all of our stomachs. I should get a call in the afternoon, after they’ve done a bit more bloodwork. Am hoping that they don’t have to take her to their big clinic in Kona for ultrasound, etc.

So back to work, if only to keep from brooding about this.


Doggie update: Cricket comes home tomorrow. The ultrasound was inconclusive, which is bad because we don’t have an answer, and good because it didn’t reveal a Vile Condition. Her protein levels are back in the basement and no one knows why. Nor do we know what causes the accumulation of clear fluid in her belly. Her GI tract is pretty irritated.

So we’re trying a high-protein low-fat diet, antibiotics for the GI tract, and a steroid, with luck short-term, to see if she responds well. The steroid will cause her to drink more water than normal and pee it right back out again, so my continued efforts to housebreak her will be … interesting.

Abby misses her almost as much as I do. The cats, not so much. They’re cats.


Cricket is home, happy to be here, and pretty strange-looking. They extracted about a cup of liquid from her belly, but some of it slipped out subcutaneously so now she looks like a very miniature cow with a lop-sided udder. The liquid should be reabsorbed with time. She is also a patchwork of shaved places. But she’s happy to be home and we’re happy to have her (except for CJ, who has been sleeping during the day with Abby and with me during the night. CJ took one look and departed. I’m hoping she’ll be back).

Prednisone and two types of antibiotics, and special food. Current guess is that she ate something while she was out on the lava that played merry hell with her GI tract. Depending on how she reacts to treatment, she may be on a small dose of prednisone for life, but apparently the staff was hiding her meds in little dogfood meatballs and she gulped them on down, so dosing her won’t entail any drama.

She clocks in at 6lb 2oz, and should gain a bit more as her innards settle down.

She spent an hour sleeping in my lap and when she woke, she left a wet spot on my jeans. Not pee, more of that clear liquid they suctioned out of her belly. So I rushed her down to the vet (and, of course, Abby had to come because if Cricket gets to ride in the car, then Abby insists on riding in the car). Turns out it was not an incision leaking, it was more of the clear belly liquid coming out through her skin. Very odd, but I saw the vet gently pinch a section of her belly, and it got wet. Who knew? All is well.


Doggie update. Cricket continues to improve. Her subcutaneous spill is much reduced and I feel confident enough to have started the crate training.

One odd side-effect of all this trauma is that she is shedding little flakes of skin. I suspect that after the belly stretching and reduction, she is getting rid of unwanted skin. I’m hoping she can teach this trick to me.


Doggie update: 6 lb 9 oz, a 7 oz gain from last week. For someone Cricket’s size, this is considerable. Her skin is still flaking a little, from the bloating they said, but it seems to respond well to brushing and she adores the attention. I’ll take her in on Saturday to have her nails clipped, since they are black and I can’t even guess at where the veins are.

. In the mornings Jack joins us for breakfast. He looms over Cricket, but she ignores him. When she doesn’t ignore him, he gives her that Superior Cat look and she backs off. May I say that I love this? I do.


Doggie update. It’s hard to get a photo of her when she’s not cuddled up tight or being used as Abbyfrom Galaxy6 605‘s headrest, but here she is. Her eyes are bright and clear, her skin is tightening and clearing, and she feels solid and strong under my hand.

Master Jack is not perturbed by dogs, especially dogs weighing less than he does, so they have arrived at an entente cordiale — she doesn’t make any moves toward his food, and he ignores hers. The other two haven’t yet learned that the best way to handle her is with threats, so they tend to fly and she tends to chase them. We’re working on that.



In answer to questions about how Jack is taking all of this: he and Cricket conspire together in the evenings to keep me in my chair. Abby lies on the couch across the room and looks at us as though we are nuts.


Doggie update: I think I told y’all that the Humane Society agreed to pay to have Cricket spayed, since I first fostered and then adopted her. The Society sends in a group of vets and nurses and they do wholesale neutering and spaying one day a month. I made the appointment through our local vet.

Dr. Aaron saw Cricket’s name on the list and pulled her from it, because he’s not yet convinced that she’s strong enough yet. He had blood tests done and, sure enough, her protein levels have hit the bottom again — the reason that she looks tubby in recent photos. So starting tomorrow, she’s back on prednisone, perhaps long-term.

And that’s why I love Ali’i Veterinary Hospital.

from Galaxy6 646



And out the other end


So, to get the most important news out of the way: It worked. Six weeks of radiation and two bouts of chemo, and my recent PET scan shows no, repeat no, suspicious masses of any sort. No cancer, no sign of metastases, all is well and more than well.

However, I do need to tell you about the Side Effects Fairy, who unlike the Tooth Fairy is both real and malevolent. Remember Glenda the Good from the movie version of The Wizard of Oz? The sparkly, cotton-candy-pink goody-two-shoes who appears in a bubble, smiling like an idiot and waving her wand about in little circles, sort of like Queen Elizabeth greeting the peasants or the Pope scattering blessings? The one who waited until the very end of the movie to tell Dorothy how the Ruby Slippers worked (if she had done this at the beginning it would have saved Dorothy et al. lots of trouble). Anyway, yeah, that one. Since losing her job at MGM she has taken a very well-funded position with the pharmaceutical industry, and visits recovering cancer patients even after their therapy is over to remind them of all the good shit Big Pharma has done, and continues to do, to them. She appears without her bubble, but with that goddamned wand and a clipboard, and says in saccharine tones, “Well, hello there, sweetheart! So glad to see that you’re feeling well! Well, let’s just take a little stroll down the Side Effects list, and — Oh! My! You haven’t had sores in your mouth for weeks! We can take care of that for you. Ding!” and the bitch whacks you upside the head with that wand and away she goes and your mouth goes to hell. Until the next time, when she may note that the mouth sores have disappeared but what about a little explosive diarrhea? Or some nostalgic nausea? Oh, I know, I’ll bet you would just love to revisit the “energy level of a dead dishrag” moments again.

I always did like Margaret Hamilton better.

So the treatment is over with and was successful, but the maladies linger on. They are getting better as, over time, the SE Fairy loses her grip, but just when you think you’ve swept her out the door … All in all, though, it ain’t bad, children. In fact, it’s very good indeed.

My weight loss is leveling out at about 30 pounds; I have less hair than I had going into this although I hope that some of it will grow back; my energy level is still low, but I’m alive, improving, and apparently on the way to a full recovery. I’m managing my ongoing depression pretty damn well. On 11/5/14 I fly to Honolulu (my valiant sister coming with me) to have the port removed, and that, I believe, will be that.

Like an Oscar recipient, I have a long, long list of people to thank, but unlike an Oscar recipient I am not going to list names. Y’all know who you are, and what your support has meant to me since last April. I am happy, and healthy, and am even writing fiction again. My battle with Social Security is ongoing, but even that isn’t getting me down.

So thank you all again, and may the Clerk of Fate rain happiness and good fortune down on all of you, as she has to me.

Dieseling toward the end


Long time no news, but it’s all good.

I received a formal letter from Social Security saying that they are looking into my request (the one where they are politely asked to fix their fuck-up) and that my monthly benefit will not change until everything is resolved. From what I gather from online sources, this takes months. So, sigh of relief.

Had my last follow-up visit with the radiation oncologist today: everything looks fine, no external sign of any continuing cancer, and I am healing well. We’ll know more after the PET scan in October, but everyone is optimistic about that. Me, I just want to get it over.

I have been losing weight at a tremendous rate: almost 20 pounds since the beginning of all this, and 10 just within the past month. Since I probably had about 30 pounds I could safely shed going in, nobody is worried as long as the appetite loss doesn’t interfere with my healing. Bought my first pair of size 10 jeans in close to three decades, and am feeling rather smug about that. I have a pile of size 14 jeans and shorts to truck down to the local thrift shop. Nota bene: I do not recommend chemo and radiation as a weight-loss measure.

I’m hoping that if nothing lights up in the next PET scan, the oncologist will decide to get this port out of my chest — the slimmer I get, the more it sticks out and it’s sensitive, especially when one of the cats walks across it. I’ll be happy to see it go.

Further reports as events warrant.

… later

Apparently I typed too soon: this afternoon I got a call from Lorena at Social Security in Hilo, who said that my request for a waiver had been turned down, but she was willing to make me an offer whereby instead of snatching my entire benefit, I would only have to pay them $500/month. I pointed out that the original error was not my fault; she said it was still earned income. I told her I wanted to file an appeal and she said she’d send me the papers. Not the kind of hassle I need, but I can’t survive on $1400/month, not unless I eat the cats.