Monday, October 10, 2005

Discovery Day, or Columbus Day

Discovery Day, or Columbus Day – a holiday for Italian-Americans who take pride in the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492 – setting sail from Spain and sponsored by the great royal couple, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. But Columbus was a native of Genoa, the great merchant port of Italy, and so modern-day Italians claim him as a hero.

I saw some newspaper rename Columbus’s Discovery the “Encounter,” as if two boats had stumbled upon each other in the mid-Atlantic, or if two old friends had run into each other at the grocery store – that’s an encounter. But it cheapens history to call Columbus’s voyage an “Encounter.” It’s when we found out the New World was there. Later on my ancestors decided to immigrate across this ocean. And I’m here now. This is an awesome fact. The whole world changed because of Columbus. We didn’t know each other before his voyage, on either side of the Atlantic – but now we do. The rest is details.

So what’s with all the apologies? They are so fake. There is only one kind of real apology and that is when I myself do something wrong and, knowing that, I confess to the people I have offended. One cannot apologize or take credit for the deeds of other people. You can make a general apology along the lines of “Excuse me for living.” What is that worth?

A good enough writer to be a bad gardener. This is what I am – a good enough writer to be a bad gardener. Oh, I could be a really great gardener if that is all that I did. If gardening was my first and truest vocation, I could be one of the best in the world. Take this weekend, for example. I worked on my sister’s garden in Venice, and I worked on my brother’s garden in Pasadena. Not knowing the plants and climate of this sup-tropical climate, I still did an incredible job. I achieved a transformation within the time allowed and using the materials at hand. I could just see it, even with these unfamiliar plants. And the work was deeply satisfying as well.

Now, if that was all I did, I would become one of the best in the world. I would be writing gardening books, designing public landscapes, and be deeply involved in horticultural research. I would be recognized as an authority – that would simply happen if I chose to focus on that work – if it were possible for me to focus on that work.

But it’s only my day job. I’m a writer. That’s what consumes me. That’s what is on my mind most of the time. And the more I write the better I get. I started writing 30 years ago – 29 years ago actually, in 1976. I have slowly gotten better.

But I’m still not good enough. I can’t get the paying gigs. I can’t get the attention of the great Editor who can do something with it. So I can’t put the time in – I have to keep my day job. If I could put the time in, doing a lot more writing than I am doing now – if I could justify that effort with some income and readership – then I would be so much better at writing than I am now.

I am not such a good gardener, and I am not such a good writer. That’s it. Meanwhile beautiful women keep walking into this café. I am not exactly suffering.

Cheeseburgers. Saturday night, on a movie date with Eileen – she of the long-stalking legs – we discussed after-movie food. That’s when I started thinking of a cheeseburger, except I knew it was too late in the day for such a large meal, so I fell back on a grilled-cheese sandwich. Eileen fixed me one at her place. She used good rye bread with lots of caraway seeds.

Okay, but the next day, Sunday, I’m still thinking of a cheeseburger, like a faint mirage, only I’m getting closer. And today it was even stronger. I have had three days of strong physical labor, so I can surely handle one now – with French fries and a Coke – the complete classic.

But then I had this idea. Here I am in sunny Los Angeles where nobody eats red meat – not my sister, not Eileen, not my brother – none of them eat red meat except every once in a while. Why don’t I, as an experiment, get on the team? That’s what I will do – skip the cheeseburger and eat light – fill up on avocadoes and fruit cups and hummus and fish – like the natives do. Can’t hurt.

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