Travels with Rain Man

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The movie “Rain Man” often came to mind when I vacationed in San Diego with my cousin Bob. He’s a 60-year-old man with an intellectual disability, much like the character Ray in the Oscar-winning 1988 film. Dustin Hoffman played Raymond, a man with autism nicknamed Ray and Rain Man. My cousin’s manner of speaking, his personality, and the way he walked compared closely with Rain Man’s voice, persona, and gait.

Luckily for Bob, his mother left him a small special needs trust for outings and other extras. And this year, his cousins were informed that Bob had some Social Security Disability funds that could only be spent on select activities that included travel, but not room and board.

In “Rain Man” Tom Cruise played Charlie, the brother who hustled for the chance to manage Ray’s inheritance by moving him out of the facility where he lived. While Bob’s other cousins and I periodically take him on vacations, we return afterward to our respective homes, without illusions that he could thrive outside of the group home where he lives.

Bob’s mother, my late Aunt Alice, once remarked that she never had to explain to others that he was disabled. I experienced the truth of her comment on the trip.

At the Fresno airport, Bob’s caretaker Alice (who coincidentally has the same name as Bob’s mother) handed me his California I.D. and his medical card. In case of an emergency, he’d have access to medical care. I noticed that Bob’s name was marked with a black felt pen on his red canvas rolling bag the way a child’s baggage might be marked for a trip to summer camp.

We said goodbye to Alice and headed to the security area. Bob followed the TSA agent’s directions to empty his pockets and remove his belt. So far so good. I felt confident that I could handle a trip with a disabled adult cousin.

But then, as I walked through the metal scanner, Bob followed behind too closely, not understanding the idea that he had to wait for his turn to go through the machine. The TSA agents sent us back and patiently instructed Bob to wait until they called him for his turn. For the entire trip, Bob stayed close to me. I never imagined that he would intentionally wander off but, like a mother with a young child, I was always concerned about Bob’s safety.

When he entered the men’s restroom near the gate, I paced outside the door. I remembered the first time I allowed my son Ben, who was young at the time, to use a men’s public restroom on his own. Bob emerged unscathed, just as Ben had many years before.

In “Rain Man,” Charlie was impatient and exasperated when Ray absolutely had to watch Mr. Ed on television at a particular time and had to have lime Jell-O with his dinner. After considerable shouting, Charlie gave in to Ray’s steady insistence on following his habitual behaviors.

When traveling with Bob, I, too, discovered life was more comfortable when Bob’s wishes were fulfilled. His dinner had to be at 6 p.m. He preferred hamburgers over anything else. His face, often expressionless, brightened with a broad smile whenever I asked him if he wanted a burger. You’d think he’d won the lottery. We dined a lot at Carl’s, Jr.

Bob and his housemates spend their weekdays at the Regional Center in Porterville, California. Back home, he had a scheduled program of activities that he considered his job, something he liked talking about. “You know, Kristine,” he said, “you go to work for the people. It’s not just the work or the job that you have. You go work because of the people.”  Perhaps he heard those sentiments from Regional Center staff members, but it warmed my heart when he said them, just the same.

There were other moments of grace. After I couldn’t produce the motel key from my purse, Bob said, “These things happen.” We trekked back to the front desk to get another key. Later I found the key safely tucked away in one of my bag’s zippered compartments.

At Safari Park, Bob listened to the guides who shared fascinating facts about the gorillas, rhinoceros, giraffe, elephants, and antelopes. As we walked between exhibits, Bob repeatedly talked about how a maid would clean our room while we were away. He mentioned several times that we might have trouble finding our rental car in the parking lot at the end of the day.  I, too, thought about those things, but only briefly. I could file away and pull up concerns as needed, but Bob replayed issues over and over like a continuous film loop.

I listened to more than a few monologues; Bob sometimes spoke in a stream of consciousness to no one in particular.

In “Rain Man,” Charlie eventually comes to see that it’s in Ray’s best interest to return to the institution where he lives. The closing scene showed Ray stepping on the train with his doctor. His brother Charlie, who had promised to visit soon, waved from the platform. Ray looked straight ahead, seemingly unaware of Charlie.

At the end of our trip, Bob’s caretaker Alice met us at the airport. I helped Bob get seated in the car, and I promised to visit soon. I stepped back and waved from the sidewalk. Bob looked straight ahead, seemingly unaware of me.

An Evening with Stormy Daniels

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Stormy Daniels Stormy Daniels burst on stage to the sounds of “American Woman” at her Rancho Cordova show at Gold Club Centerfolds. What was I doing there? The chance to see a woman who stood up to Donald Trump had piqued my interest to the point that I bought tickets to the show. In this era, the United States is a theater that includes a porn actor and movie director who allegedly had an affair with Donald Trump. I just couldn’t resist.

It wasn’t hard to convince my male friend to accompany me. We had arrived early to secure good seats. The large venue had a stage with a couple of highly-polished brass poles. A dozen upholstered chairs lined the edge of the stage and others surrounded small circular tables. A hostess had directed us toward a good viewing area. Stormy would perform in an hour.

While we waited, a series of naked dancers performed. Besides the on-stage entertainment, the off-stage action was intense. Working the room were about 20 college-age women dressed in thongs, string-like bras, and high-heeled platform shoes. A woman would sit next to a solo man, touch him on the shoulder or leg, and appear to listen attentively to whatever he had to say.

Now and then a dancer and man stood up and strolled toward the hallway with a red neon sign indicating the entrance to the “Platinum Room.”  I peered down the hall and discovered an ATM machine; a convenience for someone who might need last minute cash on his visit to this mystery room with a nearly naked woman.

The middle-aged general manager who wore black tailored pants and a black and white checked blazer visited our table. My friend asked her to explain the entryway sign that indicated the regular dancers don’t get paid by the club. The women, she said, are independent contractors who run their own businesses; the women pay the club to work there, not the other way around. Days later I considered whether the regular dancers made the equivalent of minimum wage and whether they had health insurance.

But that evening, Stormy Daniels held our attention.  Moments after her entrance, Daniels whipped off her full-length sequined red, white, and blue cape to reveal a star-studded Wonder Woman type bra. Blue and red lights flashed.

After a few more seconds passed, her top and the blue thong slid off.  Piece by piece, the costume went missing. Stormy caressed one pole, strutted across the stage, and climbed up and down the other one.

She did acrobatics, got down low on the stage, rolled this way and that, face-up and facedown, and waved her tail. Finally, she raised a plastic bottle over her head and squeezed a pink liquid down her body.

As she crawled to the edge of the stage, men and women drew closer—a scene similar to what had we seen with the local dancers. She wagged her breasts on men’s faces. Guests plastered bills to her wet skin. The show was short, but I’m not complaining. Nothing about Stormy Daniels was left to the imagination. Although she didn’t say a word on stage, she told her story in her recently published book, Full Disclosure.

I admire her tenacity in winning the right to talk about Donald Trump, fighting and gaining release from a non-disclosure agreement. Her battle contributed to public discussion and debate about that type of contract.

After the show, we talked to one of the couples in our age bracket — the over-50 crowd. The wife said they had come to the show to view a newsmaker who won’t be forgotten soon.  Those were my thoughts exactly.

Like many people, I tend to judge others by their actions and myself by my intentions. Without question, some of the ticket holders came to see Stormy Daniels in the buff, but others, like me, were there out of wonderment over a woman who stood up to power. My curiosity was satisfied. After all, there was no mystery here. On stage and in her book, Stormy Daniels exposed a great deal. And for 40 dollars, I bought a glimpse of history.

“An Evening with Stormy Daniels” appeared as a guest commentary in the October 14, 2018 edition of the Davis Vanguard, an online news magazine.


Finding peace

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Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. —Dalai Lama


Key West, Florida. On Key West’s Duval Street, I meandered past the trendy boutiques, seedy bars, and an array of restaurants, including Jimmy Buffet’s original Margaritaville. This was American kitsch at its best.

When I noticed something different — a banner outside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church announcing the “Drepung Gomang Tibetan Monks Sacred Art Tour” — I turned away from the steady stream of winter visitors and stepped inside the sanctuary.

Monks - Outside banner

A cosmos away from the outside world, Buddhist monks labored over the creation of a brilliantly colored sand mandala. Seated on a platform on the sanctuary floor directly below the wooden crosses and cerulean blue stained glass windows, the monks from southern India, applied millions of particles of dyed sand to a peace mandala.

The sand, colored with vegetable dyes or opaque tempera, was poured onto the mandala platform with a narrow metal funnel called a chakpur which was scraped by another metal rod to cause sufficient vibration for the grains of sand to trickle out of its end. The two pieces of the chakpur symbolize wisdom and compassion. In the sand mandala ceremony, I found threads of wisdom for life and more compassion for others and myself.

The monks dedicated a week to the construction of the compassion mandala. As I watched the monks at work, a church volunteer explained that the Mandala sand would be swept up and deposited into the sea in a few days.

According to the monks, students of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the sand mandala is a vehicle to generate compassion. The mandala’s construction and deconstruction is intended to help people realize the impermanence of reality.

As the sands journey around the world through rivers and oceans, the process  is also meant to promote the lofty goal of a cosmic  healing of the environment.

Monks 1 Flags inside

On Sunday afternoon the monks, along with spectators, traveled to the Key West harbor where the sand was ceremonially poured into the sea to spread the healing energies of the mandala throughout the world. Some of that healing energy must have reached me that day.

I mentally swept up the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years that I spent with loved ones who are no longer present in my life and imagined pouring the memories into the ocean.

Just as the monks intended, the sand mandala experience helped me move a bit closer to embracing  the temporary nature of our lives.

The current carried away the sands of the mandala. Some of the sand may be washed back ashore at Key West  while other particles will reach distant shores. Maybe the monks have it right and the sand will spread healing energy throughout the world.

Love doesn’t make the world go ’round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile. —Franklin P. Jones




Acceptance 101, Making a God Box

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I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess. Martin Luther


One year when I was enrolled in Self-Pity 101 and deeply involved in my studies, a close friend who belonged to a 12-Step program invited me to a women’s weekend at the Ralston White Retreat in Marin County. I doubted that her program could do a better job than mine of addressing my top concern – myself—but I agreed to attend because the destination intrigued me.

The historic house, now a retreat, was nestled in the redwoods. I arrived on a wet, windy Saturday mooning in December. Long branches of moss-laden redwoods swayed as a storm ripped through Northern California.


That afternoon, rain pounded against the picture windows while I sat on a sofa in a workshop on God Boxes. I listened to thirty-something Jessie, who held a cigar box covered with a collage of paint, photos, and rice paper. She said, “My God Box holds the problems I turn over to my high power.”

I crossed my legs and amused myself by rolling my ankle and counting the times it circled around. This craft project might be a misplaced belief in magic. A decorated container seemed as helpful as magic underwear. That is, not at all.

Perhaps my problems were far from one-of-a-kind. Yet I pouted privately that even so, they were worse than anyone else’s because my children left to live with their father after our divorce, leaving my nest emptier earlier than other mothers’ empty nests. I held tight to my self-pity.

As if she read my mind, Jessie laughed and pushed back her dark, curly, long hair. “Everything I’ve let go of has claw marks on it.” That caught my attention. She shared her story about leaving a physically abusive partner and struggling with alcohol, coming across happy and calm. I wanted the peace she had.

Jessie shared a quote from Martin Luther, “I have held many things in my hands and have lost them all, but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.

She continued, “A God Box holds that which one places in God’s hands: unsolved problems, unanswered questions, sorrows, and unrequited love—the things you wish to let go of and give to God.”

“On a slip of paper, write a sentence, please, or a single word about the relationship or any other concern that seems to have no solution,” she said. “In so doing, a ritual is created that will help you let go and turn it over to God. You can more easily let go after making a symbolic gesture of turning over the concern to God.”

I moved to the long table with magazines, glued a copy of Martin Luther’s quote on the inside lid of a box, and made my own God Box.

The words I wrote on two slips of paper were the names of my daughter and son. When I tucked the papers inside the God Box, I recalled Jessie’s words, “Life has its mysteries and I am not in charge.”

As we finished our boxes, Jessie said, “You may say it’s only a box, but it’s no small thing to make a ritual of letting go. Whatever you place in your god Box, you turn over to the Divine.”

That weekend I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about my son and daughter. They were on their own paths. I still missed then, but I started accepting the fact that their lives no longer revolved around me.

Having two incredible children who are healthy and pursuing their own forms of happiness was truly a blessing whether or not the children, now adults, visited me as often as I would have preferred.

My situation was a slice of the human condition, a drama, yes, but a plain vanilla one because almost all parents wish to see more of their children. I started seeing myself as not so unique, but as a parent among parents, a mother among mothers.

Life wasn’t all about me. After all, the children were ok; they loved me, and I loved them. They were healthy and busy following their dreams. I felt truly blessed.

Driving home, I surveyed the sun-kissed landscape and decided it was time to enroll in acceptance 101.

The Sonoma Coast State Park, Pure Bliss for Max

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Max and I found dog heaven on a recent trip along the California coast. The Sonoma Coast State Park offered a choice of more than half a dozen different beaches, all of them dog-friendly,

The seventeen-mile stretch of sandy beaches, secluded coves, and craggy rocks that form the park is located less than a two hour drive north of San Francisco. oOn our late January trip I searched for a beach with just the right kind of access. The parking lot needed to be close to the shore. Yes, lazy me wanted an easy stroll to the beach, but that wasn’t the only reason. As soon as Max exited the car and sniffed the sea, he would be prone to leaping off tall rocks to get to the water, a feat he tried some years back.

On that initial visit Max was an energetic two-year-old  who had never before seen the ocean. His enthusiasm knew no bounds. We had parked high above the sea and descended a narrow trail to reach the beach a thousand feet below. Scrub brush enclosed the trail most of the way so Max couldn’t see the water.

  • img_1408But then, when the trail widened atop a huge boulder, the ocean came into plain sight. There was also a remaining drop in elevation of twenty feet between us and the beach. The sight of Pacific Ocean triggered Max’s instinctive love of water. He flew into the air straight off the rock.

I stared at Max, frozen in shock. My mind registered the seconds between his leap and his landing as a slow motion movie. My heart pounded with fear that many of poor Max’s bones were about to shatter. To my amazement, he landed, shook himself, and raced to the surf. He happily immersed himself in the sea.

Over and over, Max ran into the waves and back to me, wagging his wet tail with joy. The ocean was his holy grail and he had found it.

img_1404But this year, Max was older and calmer. The trek to the shore was uneventful. I walked along the sun-splashed sandy beach while Max sniffed at the kelp and crab shells.

Intrigued by the magnificence of the surf crashing ashore and curling back to the sea, I failed to notice the black sand beneath my feet was wet for a reason. With little warning, one of the mesmerizing magnificent waves rumbled toward us nonstop. Foaming saltwater swirled wildly over and around my previously dry feet and legs. All the warnings to be aware of the dangers of fast moving waves are true. Fortunately, this was a fairly small wave.

While I scampered away from the ocean, Max pranced away without even getting wet. At the end of our morning at the beach, Max was sandy but perfectly dry. This year I was the wet one.

Many websites offer helpful information. This one is comprehensive:  The Sonoma Coast State Park.

The Tideline is edited by Marianna Shearer.

The Case of the Missing Alligator

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Max carried his lime green stuffed alligator to the Buick for our drive to Guerneville, California. The Russian River town is about 90 miles north of San Francisco and one of our favorite places for a weekend getaway. Our lodging choice on this trip was the Cottages by the River.


Yes, I was told on the phone, dogs were welcome for a $25 nightly fee, even big ones. “What is your dog’s name?” asked the clerk. When we reached the Cottages, we parked outside the fence surrounding the property. Max pranced alongside Nick and me as we passed through the gate.


We checked in and signed the pet agreement. The innkeeper handed us a rectangular box with the words, “Welcome Max” on the top. Inside the box we found a water dish, dog biscuits, and a floor towel. The clerk invited us to join other guests for S’mores at the fire pit that evening.

max-cottage-exteriorWe discovered fourteen little houses  that flanked a carefully landscaped lawn. Brightly colored flowers — hibiscus, geraniums, calendula, and an array of emerald plants adorned each one.

Inside our unit, Max slurped the water and rested on his dog towel.  After we had settled in, we strolled to the gated pet area designed for dogs to do their business.

Carrying his alligator, Max sauntered along the path. He did his job and then leisurely sniffed the plants and rocks. Later on when it was time to drive to the ocean, Max simply refused to go.  Stubbornly, he stood on the path by the cottage. Usually, he the leads the way to the car.

max-pet-areaMax’s paws wouldn’t move until I realized what was going on. I retraced the route to the pet area with Max following close behind. He nosed through the gate and quickly found his alligator on the ground right where he left it.

Wagging his tail, Max rushed past me to show Nick and all was well again. Later that evening, we joined other guests at the fire pit and roasted S’mores, with ingredients provided by the Cottages.

max-fire-pitThat night Max stretched out on the floor beside our bed.  He sighed deeply, resting his chin on the stuffed toy and drifted into the land of dreams. Chasing squirrels. Retrieving ducks. Carrying the alligator toy. Sweet dreams, Max.