Archive for August, 2008

Ghosts In Valley Village

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Ghost Gateway

I’m not a ghost person. I’ve heard plenty of ghoul-geared stories. My mother lived in a house coveted by The Ghost of Hay Hill, a well-known former-farmer entity in Toro Canyon, spoken of at Montecito cocktail parties, heard coughing and using the stairs by my younger sisters. I knew a woman who knew a guy whose quiet campfire was crashed by Big Foot one dark, lonely Oregonian night–not that Big Foot is a ghost, but BF, Nessie, Yeti, Tasmanian Blobster, the haunted house at Disneyland–no, no, not for me. I start channel surfing at the first mention of Queen Mary hauntings or the tiniest glimpse of Linda Blair’s head twirling around.

But either my hormones are having fun at my expense, or something really did play the keys, just briefly, one, two, of the rickety old piano in the charming Valley Village house I’ve been visiting. And now, because I can’t explain what happened, I feel funky, hesitant to return to the house and perform neighborly bits like bringing in the mail (which means passing the piano), watering potted plants, eating someone else’s ice cream and giving my son pool time.

I don’t want to go.

So I Google Valley Village ghosts and come up with one site claiming that classic, Sleepy Hollow type ghost-activity occurs in Valley Village all the time–ghosts floating about Huston and Morella at night with their heads tucked under their arms, hatchets in their chests, bloody knives in their ghoul backs and such. I don’t believe this site–way too cliche–but still, l can’t shake the funky feeling. For me, sweet Valley Village has bared uber, blood-dripping fangs.

I’d like to ask the owners of the house if they’ve heard their piano playing all by itself, but they’re in rainy olde England visiting historic sites like the Tower of London (talk about hauntings!). I could ask the fabulous visiting-us Brits if during their stay at the house they’ve had “experiences”–but they’re up in San Francisco visiting historic sites like Alcatraz Island (hauntings!) and if they haven’t noticed anything unusual to date, I don’t want to scare them, or their nice kids. I might ruin their return and the rest of their stay in Stepford Valley Village. Way too much responsibility for me.

The piano keys incident: I was breastfeeding T on the lovely den couch, watching the Olympics on the massive, wall-hung flat screen TV while my husband was in the quaint Valley Village bathroom. During someone or other’s triple-double-flippish gold medal dive, I heard it: Plink, plink. I could see the piano from where I sat. Heart in my throat, I flicked my eyes back to the TV and kept on breastfeeding. The second my husband vacated the bathroom, I said:

The piano played.

What do you mean? he said.

It. Played.

Played what.

What do you mean, what?

A note, Beethoven’s Fifth, what?

Oh. Two notes together. Did it twice.

My husband nodded and looked around soberly, hands on his hips. Then he made an announcement:

Spirit, whatever you are, we love it here in Valley Village, we admire this house and wish it was ours, we bring nothing but good wishes. Peace! How’s that? he asked, plopping down next to me on the couch.

I regarded him wryly, amazed at how swiflty he believed there was a ghost and simply took action. Especially when what I really wanted to do was run screaming from the house and never look back. Because I hate ghost crap, the unexplained, or wasting energy freaking out when probably it was air on piano strings, or a heavy bug on the keys. But you can’t run screaming from scary situations when you’re a mother. You have to stay calm, be an “adult” and figure things out–fast–and let your husband in on the events. I mean, if it was a ghost tinkling the keys, if it was malicious or “Exorcist”-nasty then the owners wouldn’t live here with their three kids. The house wouldn’t look happily occupied, cozy, meticulously maintained. It would be empty with boards over the windows and signs spraypainted in blood-red, warning TRESPASS AT YOUR OWN RISK and GHOST LIVES HERE.


I want to leave, I told my husband.

Well, okay, sure, he said, glancing at our snoozing son. Whatever you want, babe. Spirit! We love this house and have enjoyed it and especially the pool. Thanks for having us as guests!

My husband talking to the “spirit” was freaking me out even more than eerily tinkling piano keys. Although I was impressed by his lack of fear, was it a good idea to admit the existence of an “it”? Was that just plain asking for a Mozart sonata played by invisible fingers? One thing is certain: I am no Jo Beth Williams in Poltergeist. I could never put a helmet on T and let some “spirit” push him across the kitchen linoleum.

We left.

Here’s the thing: the night before the piano keys incident I had a dream so horrible I woke Scott up with my odd moaning-yell. I dreamed I was in a bathroom drying my hands on a towel when the bathroom door slammed shut and a buzzing “thing” took over the towel and I couldn’t get out of the room, couldn’t move. The only thing I could do was stick my face in the buzzing “thing”, meet it head on and scream. And then Scott woke me up.

Am I ripe for a Freudian brain-squeezing?

Here’s another thing: an hour or so before the piano keys incident I was alone in the house while Scott was on a walk in the lovely V.V. neighborhood with T. I had just brought in the mail and had the oddest, strongest feeling that I was not alone. The feeling was so overwhelming, I looked around, checked out the cute rooms, peeked in some closets. Nothing. Until:

Plink. Plink.

And then there’s my novel, which I’ve been reading over, re-re-re-editing and procrastinating a lot about lately and which needs an ending. My novel is full of ghosts as seen by my heroine, a blocked scribe who may or may not be schizo.

Someone gave us The Secret DVD and if I’m to believe that, then I’ve “attracted” the piano playing ghost and have no one to blame for any haunting but myself. Even though I don’t want to attract ghosts, apparently just by saying I don’t want to attract ghosts will attract them. Or is that the law of opposites. I don’t know. Funky!

And there’s one other thing: the day after the piano keys incident I did a drive-by of the V. V. house. Not seeing any ghost from the outside, nevertheless I was still too chicken to go inside. I made an executive decision to drive T to a nearby park. My plan was to cool my heels by swinging my baby and desperately cultivate some backbone. As I waited at a red light to cross Colfax, which is seldom trafficky, I glanced left and saw a car fishtailing down the road. I watched it coming for a few seconds, then decided I’d better back up as it was heading for the minivan. I put the van in reverse, but before I could move, the fishtailing car fishtailed hood first into a lamp post. BAM. Colfax suddenly came alive. People vaulted out of their Valley Village homes. Many people dashed to the car. A woman in a white terry bathrobe appeared next to my van. I put the window down and we commiserated on the horror. Then, as we watched a woman emerge from the driver’s side of the mangled car, an orange kitten bolted either out of the car, out from under it, or from right near it. An orange kitten shot into the road and made for the other side. Bathrobe-woman and I gasp-screamed as the kitten darted before the wheels of an oncoming truck. The truck, horn blaring, missed the kitten by inches. The orange kitten shot through the white pickets of somebody’s fence and into their manicured V. V. yard and that somebody went looking for it.

I revved the van and got out the heck out of Valley Village. When I was safely home and feeding T lunch, I called my husband and told him we are never, ever moving to that pocket of town.

Currently, I don’t feel crazy, hallucinatory or that I’m the sort who hears dead people. I do feel tired, but that’s nothing new. And as I type this I am IN the sweet V.V. house. Scott and T are out walking. I am: alone. Except for the Olympics on the massive flat screen TV. It’s nice to be back here. It’s nice not to feel as freaked out as I did last week. I can’t explain what happened, or if it did happen or if I confused the piano keys with Scott’s cell phone or a passing ice cream truck. I don’t know. There’s no one in charge I can ask. There’s me: mother, “adult”, mother, “adult”. Perhaps my subconscious “created” the piano keys incident for its own reasons. If so, hopefully everything is worked out now in a healthy, conscious manner. I haven’t dreamed about buzzing ghosts again. We’ve had a fun day with T. All is well in our world. So I’m going to let the piano keys incident go–unless the keys start playing right now…

Here’s a picture of the possible ghost-plunked piano:

Scarier yet, here’s a picture of my own piano—weird legs, clawed feet, bag of unused baby bottles and other baby giveaways and mail scattered about it:

Inherited from my grandmother, Nomi, who would not be pleased with the old girl’s clutter, scratches and trick right leg from being moved up and down condo stairs (by old girl I mean the piano, not Nomi, who passed decades ago, RIP–PLEASE!).

Which is scarier?


And The Whole Lot Changes

Saturday, August 16th, 2008


Then, suddenly, they came: cranes, bulldozers, dirt-removing machines and trucks, equipment resembling sad, slow beasts and dinosaurs with the grrr sucked out of them and tamed by men in their club of yellow hats. The silly sad lot that sticks around never had a chance: the infamous squirrel-killing telephone pole was removed like a wart from a troubled complexion; the crater—scene of recent squirrel annihilation—was dug into and expanded. For six days a week for the last several months our little NoHo condo has shuddered and been shook as the lot next door sank under the weight of progress. The shaking in our home has resembled earth tremors and once, just when I was starting to get used to the walls speaking their new language and the floor adding comment and the dishes in the sink chiming in, just when I put T down for his morning nap, the real earth joined in with its own 5.8 quake that halted the workers and had the sleepless mother out on the balcony with her bleary-eyed son in her arms, exchanging a shaky thumbs-up with the crew.


And now?

A dug, dirt-emptied, smooth and tidy lot and, this Saturday: silence.

I stare out the window at the silent lot as T messes with his exer-saucer. Sipping coffee I never get right (2 scoops, 1 scoop, 5 scoops–makes no difference), being very Californian by placing myself in the “now”, when everything—even dug, ugly scraped lots—becomes beautiful for a few seconds, feeling strained from T waking at 4, 430, 515 and 630am, wondering how we’re going to get to Valley Village, I ask my husband (in a sort of murmured panic) where the metaphor is in our current view.

Oh my god, babe, he replies, lacing up his running shoes. Can’t you see it?

I swig coffee. For the love of Gloria Steinem, I’m a sleepless mother working on a dubious cup of Joe.

No, I reply tersely.

He is on his feet, pacing the living room, gesticulating, captivating T. I watch him, too. He’s inspiring when he’s passionate about things. Excitement and energy geyser forth, his eyes bright and intense behind those Jeff Goldblummy glasses (it’s all in the rims). I feel like Marian The Librarian to his very-Robert-Preston Music Man . It’s a number to behold. No, not a sales-job–but a song with heart.

New beginnings, he says (pacing). Progress, building up from nothing–classic cliches, babe–don’t you see them? That’s us, the lot is US, babe (he stops and points out the window and concludes with a simile)–like the big B for Bat Man in the sky! (no, he didn’t say that, I’m paraphrasing, but such was the drift)

I turn to the lot.


I can’t say that I don’t want him to be right. I can say I am an optimist-in-training. I can also say I want to be more than optimistic, especially for my son and the beginnings of his boundless energy.

I’m working on it–a little harder–each bitter-cup-of-coffee morning.

Operation Valley Village

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Why I like Valley Village:

1. The turtles

2. Areas specifically fashioned for relaxing (as the squirrel obviously knows)

3. Pleasant house bits that catch the eye

4. Smart gardening: drought resistant-ish plantings everywhere

And most importantly I like Valley Village because:

7. HE likes it

Hey, Valley Village, guess what? Yes, that’s right: We’re coming home. To V.V., where you won’t find discarded mattresses or grungy loveseats sans cushions on street corners.

I just need a little time to rustle up a few things that will get us into the neighborhood…Time? Time! What time! Shhh…


A Pyrate’s Life For T (Or–Not)

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Fortune Red Pyrate

Pyrates Are For Parents? (Arrrrrrr…)

On a recent trip to Disneyland…
On a recent trip to Disneyland with an eight month old who hates his stroller…
On a recent trip to DisL in 4000F…

On a recent trip to DL in high summer with a 25lb eight month old who hates his stroller, one fraying Baby Bjorn, one valiant husband with a sore back, one vanishing sippy cup, one stroller carrying not the baby, but the baby packpack and bags of the four fabulous, visiting-us Brits, the fabulous Brits I follow with our laden stroller as they run, with fixed, scary smiles, for the gates of the happiest place on Earth, on this very recent trip to DL I realize that sleepless mothers really do see all kinds of things.

Sleepless mothers do not see:
1. the inside of the Enchanted Tiki Room
2. where the sippy cup was flung to for the last time
3. husband and child when the man in charge forgets to mention he’s heading for shade behind the faux-trunk of the rambling treehouse
4. pyrates doing their song and sway inside the infamous, Deppian ride, my favorite ride

Sleepless mothers (and fathers!) do see:
1. the Exit for the Enchanted Tiki Room
2. the Exit for the Pirates of the Caribbean
3. fast food joints near Exits (fritters! corn dogs!)
4. the Pirates gift shop (several, all selling basically the same skulled and cross-boned items, shops connected by a cool, delightfully unpeopled faux-Caribbean walkway)
5. The Mob in all its sun-exposed, scantily clad splendor

And if I wasn’t a sleepless mother at DL with visiting-us Brits and a cranky eight month old, I certainly woulnd’t have seen Fortune Red, the latex pyrate who will speak to your child from inside his creepy glass case and eventually vomit a fortune with text so tiny and lengthy you don’t bother reading, but toss it immediately into the trash before your baby rips it from your fingers and puts it in his mouth because now he’s bored with Red, even though at first he maybe wanted to cry when Red arrrrrred on unintelligibly. And I never would have tried those sugary fritters. Nor would I have purchased the babyfood food bowl shaped like a great pyrate ship’s wheel and decaled in Disney characters wearing pyrate regalia (Pluto holding the jailer’s keys in his mouth—why did I find this offensive?—Mickey should have had the keys in his mouth?—or Goofy?—well, I suppose Pluto is the obvious choice…).

And if I wasn’t a sleepless mother at DL with an eight month old with powerful marshmallow thighs and a passion for keeping on the move while pulling my hair out, I wouldn’t have heard or noticed the faux-pyrates across the excellent lake, fully miched and singing pyrate sea shanties, singing their faux-pyrate hearts out and captivating my boy, calming those deadly marshmallow thighs partly because of the deep harmonies echoing across the water and partly because the sleepless mommy, hefting T in her arms, danced her heat-wrung-heart out, like the crazy wench she is now, attracting puzzled, or concerned looks from The Mob (except those Mobbers with red-faced babies passed out in their arms).

Still, by the time we spotted the Brits stumbling from the Pirates of the Caribbean Exit, their faces damp with the ride’s misty, waterfalling features, their eyes blinded by California sun, their expressions disappointed because they’re back in the real world, the pyrate’s world still ringing in their awed, Britty ears, I couldn’t dance anymore, my son beyond fussy—he was pseudo-fuss-boy, fuss-ga-ga and it was then my husband and I worried about heat stroke and once again had an OOPS realization: what in pyrate’s booty were we thinking, bringing an eight month old to an intensely-summered Disneyland? Hello? Didn’t we learn our lesson with the Ramona Pageant in the heat of a Hemet pre-summer? Didn’t we learn after Santa Barbara’s broiling June Solstice Parade, when we took refuge from the heat and the terrifying drumming in a shady, boring, non-parade-afflicted alley? Excuse me? No? We had to learn it again? In the most crowded place on Earth? Arrrrr!


And then I remembered it. I’d had the presence of a tiny bit of mind to Google DL before we left home. Near the photo developing place on Main Street, across from a café and between the First Aid station and the corn dog cart—yes, yes! THE BABY CENTER. Truly the happiest place on Earth, within the happiest place on Earth. Here’s why:

Pleasantly freezing air the second we opened the Ma and Pa Kettle country-kitcheny door. Greetings from the kindest senior citizens that have ever lived, Mabel and Wilma. When we forgot to shut the door, the precious, crisp air escaping, did they scold us? No. Wilma slipped tactfully by us and shut the door with a quiet, knowing smile as Mabel continued the Welcome. The epitome of old-fashioned hospitality in their immaculately ironed Victorian pinafores, Mabel and Wilma, two ladies straight out of Mary Poppins (I wouldn’t have resisted if they’d offered spoonfuls of sugar), assured us I could change our baby, breastfeed our baby in privacy, or lounge on the chairs with our baby for as long as I wanted. Your husband can stay here, too! they told us. Ah. Ahhhhh. I collapsed in a stripy lounge chair with T passed out in my arms and gazed at old fashioned lamps and old-fashioned lace-and-flower window dressings and old-fashioned portraits of small old-fashioned children wearing clothes you just don’t see anymore. I wondered if the portraits were of Walt as a baby, but didn’t ask for fear of waking my own. So quiet. So cool. When Scott left to purchase a corn dog for me so I could survive the drive home, my eyelids actually dropped. Safe and cool in the Magic Kingdom.

Okay, their names were not Mabel and Wilma, not that I know of, anyway. I was so worried about T, I forgot my manners and didn’t introduce myself. I simply took what they–Mabel, Wilma, Hortense, Prunella, Drusilla, Florence–offered. Which seemed to make them happy.

And then we left. But not before Scott presented me with the best corndog I’ve ever eaten in my life. No mall corndog, this. THIS dog was freshly well-battered and deep fried. Hot to the tongue! Moist, yet crispy. So bad for the system. So appreciated by a sleepless mother.


Friday, August 1st, 2008
    Full Flower Moon

May (mostly), the petticoat swirl of open
-ing meadow, pinkening bud. I say:
rose, peony, phlox. And I say: petal-
shorn, plucked, blown until only the head
remains, one pale sticky oval crushed by u-
niverse so formidable it upgrades the dead
into blossoming. Old flower-face—you!
Cruel palette-eye! Where, where is your color?
I say: dearest, warmest, sugar-phlox fairy.
Dare I say: more. It’s May (mostly). And I
am showered and sweet beneath puckered
moonlight, stem right behind an ear. I am thigh-
deep in meadow and I must know: are you
dressed? Staunch, seasonal gloom cut? Dancy
gleamy blue-fires broken through? Show
me. The moon requires it. I confess: May.
More! I confess the kiss: a peony, phlox,
a peony, phlox, a peony, phlox, the