Amelia Kanan

Writer + Photographer + Producer

Citizens of Seniority: Growing Old in America

www.ameliakanan.com

When venturing into the modern world with my grandmother, it’s clear to understand how she feels as if the world is pushing her out.

We hadn’t even stepped into the local Trader Joe’s before I witnessed her feelings of fear and invisibility. Shuffling through the busy sliding doors, a stranger unknowingly brushed past her and the gentle impact had set her off balance. As she grasped my arm, I felt her sway with the ebb and flow of patrons.

It dawned on us both that she should be better equipped for this grocery-foraging journey. She retrieved her confidence with a shiny, red cart and surged forward with her hands gripping the handle.

Every time she stopped for an item, she parked the cart, as if she was ready to sit and read the Encyclopedia among the frazzled shoppers.

Yet the time she took was not leisurely, in the least. It was cautionary; time well spent. Constantly on guard, she protected her ghost-like frame from a carelessly swinging basket and a grabby limb that desperately jabbed for a $1.99 bag of Organic Spinach.

Despite logically validating her struggle, my impatience groaned inside. Noticing that after 15 minutes, she had only gathered two of the five items on her list. Ignorantly,  I offered to “go ahead” and “quickly grab” the last three things she needed.

Her annoyed, but polite rejection prompted me to take note. Perhaps this was another instance that will make her feel pushed, just like the unassuming stranger’s neglectful nudge.

Finally, with her collection of five provisions, she turned toward the checkout lanes, the finish line.

However in this stretch for victory, she noticed a rogue toddler with a mini, child cart.

Her panic gave way to survival strength and she swiftly swerved the cart – the wrong way. Luckily, the nimble toddler pivoted to avoid a collision. Everyone walked away without injury, but my grandmother did make a plea for emotional distress on the car ride home.

Later that evening, she would share our grocery journey with her 95-year-old boyfriend over dinner.

Recounting emotions of fear, insult and neglect, she would make large and general accusations like, “everyone” has become too busy, too preoccupied with themselves to care about little old ladies.

I cannot argue, because I agree. I am unfortunately one of them.

So, I listen and attempt to understand. Try to recognize how the world that she gave love, and good, strong-hearted children to, is telling her to leave. Notice that no one depends on her opinions, actively seeks her wisdom or honors the struggles she’s had to endure to keep surviving in this mad, chaotic place.

Maybe, if I can uncover those challenges and feelings of elderly invisibility today, the pain of tomorrow will be less. Or, when they do begin to arrive at my doorstep in years to come, I will be able to embrace them, as they will be packaged with the memories of my grandmother.


This is a small glimpse of the inspiration behind my new photography series, titled “Citizens of Seniority: Growing Old in America.”

According to the article “The U.S. Isn’t Just Getting Older. It’s Getting More Segregated by Age.” age segregation and age-awareness are growing issues.

It is my mission to educate myself and others about senior issues, from healthcare and financial to behavioral and death. Exhibit how aging struggles unite every human being.

Visually compare the living histories that walk within today’s modern world, from those living alone on sidewalks to others who are surrounded by support. Reflect the confusion, worry and embarrassment in wise eyes. And display examples of how this demographic is too often not considered.

If you would like to learn more or know of a potential subject who would like to participate, please contact me at info@ameliakanan.com or ameliakanan.com with the subject “Senior citizen series.”

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Speed Limits

Recently, a friend told me an interesting fact about driving. The gist of it is: humans aren’t biologically comfortable traveling at speeds over 30 mph. Although airplanes fly at a much faster speed than cars, we don’t see clouds speed past us as we do trees or buildings while driving. Thus, frequent and fast-paced driving can induce physical and mental stress.

Just thinking about my weekday commute makes my heart race. If I leave before 7 am and take the quickest route (the 10E to the 110S to the 91E), I can get to my office in 28 minutes flat. But that means I’m at work at 7:28 am flat. Yet, when I wait until 7:01 am or any later and take the same freeways, I have to deal with brake-gas-brake driving for 45 to 60 minutes.

Like any love-hate relationship, I have a lot of respect for driving and the rules of the road. I’m not a perfect driver, but I am a passionate driver. Meaning that I apologize when I accidentally cut someone off (even if they had been driving super slow in the LEFT LANE and only sped up the second they saw my turn signal go on). Also, I’m passionately dedicated to educating my fellow road companions via a polite horn beep, an informative hand signal and sometimes, if they’re lucky, a window-to-window pep talk about being mindful and present in their lane of traffic.

Look, I am a very patient and calm person when it comes to most things. After years of working with all kinds of personalities, I’ve mastered the art of not taking things personally and truly letting things roll off my back. I have a strong aversion to grudges and passive-aggression. And, I believe that remaining authentically kind, especially when my face wants to explode with frustration, is always the most beneficial and logical choice.

But I draw the line at bad drivers.

Drivers who don’t look before they change lanes or use their turn signals. Drivers who tail you even when there’s a mile-long traffic jam. Drivers who cruise at dangerously s-l-o-w speeds…in the carpool lane. Drivers who go 10 miles SLOWER than the flow of traffic and are TEXTING while driving on a MAJOR freeway. By the way, are traffic police ticketing frightfully slow af drivers because, frankly, roads are most endangered by fear-driven motorists who are clearly not confident enough to safely operate their vehicles?!

I digress.

Sharing a city with more than 4 million people can unfortunately make strangers feel like obstacles, rather than other humans who are also stressed out because they, too, are driving at biologically unnatural speeds.

In an effort to lay off the innocent drivers who don’t deserve the shade I throw, I’m learning how to slow my roll with a scenic commute. Calmly coasting past trees, shops, schools, churches and people at a speed that feels innately comfortable. Yielding to bicyclists, eager students and hurried pedestrians. A new commute that now makes me, unbelievably, wish that I get stopped at a long, red light.

Nothing Special

Tree (1 of 1)-2

That would be the title of my book. “Nothing Special.”

Inside would be a random collection of colorful images that I’ve lovingly captured and categorized as exactly that. A young girl waiting for a bus alone, a home cooked meal that isn’t stylistically plated or professionally lit, an oversized tree on a small lot and tress. There were would be lots of trees.

At 15 years old, I took my first photography class at 15 years old and never thought, or even hoped, that it would become my career. Photography was like that childhood best friend who you could always count on for candid connections, edgy mischief, and unfiltered self-discovery. The one with whom you’re secretly in love, yet maybe too shy to do anything about it.

Just like the first whiff of darkroom chemicals, it wasn’t love at first sight. At any rate, sparks of true kinship were there. I felt it, venturing into neglected areas hoping to catch something new and feeling protected despite being alone. Or in the nervous excitement that came through the lens, as I pulled focus on something small and unseen.

And that was just the beginning! There was pulsing anticipation, loading a spiral in the pitch dark. Then thrill, once the film dried and displayed crisp, well-balanced frames. Soon thereafter, calming comfort in the chill darkroom, calculating exposure and developing an enlargement. And finally, the best spark of all – the final print. With each one, I could feel my heart expand, knowing that such a long, arduous and triumphant journey would forever be safely preserved.

When you’re young, experiences or relationships such as this can often get whitewashed and taken for granted. You may also be a little unaware that although something has taken root, doesn’t mean you can stop watering it.

Time and time again, my contact sheets were full of nothing special. In the beginning, that was okay. But, after awhile I discovered some troublesome themes. An abandoned home with broken windows and graffiti. A crying baby and a distressed mother. Shattered glass in a bed of roses. A lone stranger, deep in thought. Gravestones at night, lit with my flashlight.

The dry roots were ejecting my buried vulnerabilities from the dark, bursting aberrations into my viewfinder.

Being the novice that I was, troubleshooting was out of the question as was asking for help. Instead, I turned a cold corner and retreated from the negative space.

After 3 years, the time had come to break up. I masked my special love, along with my tender inner truths and said goodbye to my high school sweetheart. Clearly, I thought, the relationship was dead and it had nothing to do with me.

It was time to discover something new, something more mature, something special.

Mysteriously and problematically, photography wouldn’t let me go. Like that ex-love that always comes back, it seemed to always find a way to thread itself into every pursuit I embarked on. College, jobs, gigs and projects – it found a way to reconnect with me no matter where I went.

Begrudgingly, I took it by the hand and worked with it. Capturing all kinds of scenes, faces, events, new businesses, causes, families and even a few celebrities.

Before I knew it, I found myself depending on it financially. But, more incredibly, we had discovered a new kind of nothing special. One that was full of brightness, alive with vibrancy and composed with clarity.

My settings had adjusted and my aspect ratio was corrected.

My “nothing special” hasn’t only been a career-saving grace, it has been my insightful guide, partner in crime and better half.

Photography overexposed my truths – over and over again – until I acknowledged and embraced them. It gently nudged me to work on underdeveloped traits, such as patience, direction, focus and being quiet. It provided me with filtering and diffusing techniques and helped me widen my view. And made me understand the real value of background and memory.

What’s more, it instructed me to listen, look at the same thing from different angles, remove myself from the picture and remain still in the midst of a chaotic scene.

And, the most transcendent of all, photography taught me that old, sturdy roots are not necessarily restricting or prone to decay. They can push you to stretch and sway freely in the wind, but ensure you’re secure so you don’t get lost in a strong gust. It can be your daily source of great escape.

Photography was the prime picture I needed to trust and release fear so that I could expose myself to better, ambient light. It was the proof I needed to understand that if you allow nothing special to develop at its own speed, it could become your most valuable life treasure.

“I love everything that’s old, – old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine.”

Ameliakanan.com (30 of 31)

Stephanie and I were best friends before we even met in person. Two months before we moved into our college dorm, we talked on the phone almost every day and told each other everything.

Steph wanted to experience as much as she could. She wanted to travel, share awkward moments with strangers, write about the things that impacted her, capture life and create the most epic catalog of memories.

As for me, I just wanted to find a husband. Feeling like I had already done everything on her list, my naiveté led me to believe that my next chapter was supposed to involve a minivan, the PTA and a husband who had sex with me in the garage after our kids’ soccer games.

Looking back, it’s funny to see how obvious it was that both of us desired lives that weren’t necessarily true to our natures. For instance, all I wanted was to be a homemaker, yet my nomadic spirit kept me from sleeping in my own bed most nights of the week. And as determined as Steph was to be spontaneous and free, she was quick to nest and root down in our neighborhood.

Gradually and unknowingly, we learned each other’s tricks. Stephanie shared her important tools of dependability and commitment and I exhibited survival skills for living life spontaneously.

For better and for worse, our friendship had no boundaries. We served up reality checks and called out flaws. Yet even with the harshest of fights, our intentions were never to hurt, but to inspire growth within the other. We didn’t just help each other identify the flaws, but examine them. Was it a scar or a wound? A fear? Or was it just a character trait that hadn’t been built yet? She wanted me to embrace the reality of roots, rather than run from it. I wanted her to learn that goodbyes didn’t always mean that you had to lose something, but maybe gain something better or more evolved.

We didn’t just live together, we developed who we were together. We learned our strengths, weaknesses, dislikes and needs vs. wants. She helped me find pride in my independent life and I helped her see how much of nurturer she truly was. Most importantly, we learned that life was not a stark contrast of black and white, but instead the most beautiful array of gray.

16 years later, 1,000 miles apart, we still talk almost every day and tell each other everything. Although I still tease Steph about living in the same neighborhood and frequenting the same businesses, I am in awe of how she has managed to achieve all of the goals from her 18-year-old list and then some. She has not stopped traveling, sharing awkward moments with strangers, writing about the things that impact her, capturing  life and creating the most epic catalog of memories now with her husband Ryan and their son, Ro – both of whom I adore more than words can begin to describe, but that’s a whole other blog.

Stephanie, Ryan and Ro thank you for teaching me that new chapters can begin without having to say goodbye. Here are a few snapshots for that epic catalog.

Not pictured: the nightly strolls, Ryan’s professional driving skills, Nicholi’s story about catching on fire, the woman at Faros Beach, yogurt breakfasts and singing “Be My Baby” a capella – over and over again.

 

The People of Sifnos

11 or so years ago I first experienced Sifnos, in the Greek Cyclades, through late night Skype chats with my best friend, as well as her blog where she confessed the curious truths about everyone she met. She lived and worked on the island for two summers in a row and has visited regularly ever since – despite everyone finding out about her blog and their curious truths which she had shared with the world. While she is an insanely talented storyteller, who needs to be writing more, I had a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the magic came from the characters themselves.

Sure enough, that was true. Not only did I get to meet the owner of the bar where she had worked and who had hated her for two minutes and then unofficially adopted her as the daughter he never had, but I also got to watch her and her husband introduce their baby to the magical Greek village that has become a second home to them.

While I don’t have much mileage on the island of Sifnos (that’s meant to be a metaphor, but I also literally can’t drive there…), I have never felt more at home. It was the comfort, familiarity, simplicity of living, lifestyle and obviously the aesthetic pleasure. Most of all, it was the people. Most everyone I met in Sifnos was of my favorite variety: funny, argumentative, loyal, hardworking, resilient, kind and a unique pairing of stubborn and humble. They’re nothing like the Italians. Just kidding…kind of.

George (1 of 1)

This was George and his daughter…or maybe his wife. I couldn’t be sure but he kept trying to send her back to LA with me. Neither of us really spoke the same language, but judging by all the hugs, I’m pretty sure George and I shared a bond. My favorite story with George: on my second night, I couldn’t find my passport. After searching through my entire room and googling “losing passport aboard”, I mustered some hope and went down to the front desk – the last place I remembered having it. It was midnight and George was sitting alone on the patio, happily listening to music. Once we greeted each other, I said, “George, I lost my passport.” He then got very anxious and worried about me, “Oh, no! Big trouble. You must go to the Consulate!” My stomach dropped, thinking this surely meant that he did not have my passport. However, due to the communication fog, I had a feeling things might not be completely clear, so I decided to clarify, “George, do you have my passport?” His face immediately changed, as if a light bulb went on, and he hurriedly walked inside to his desk, where he opened a drawer and pulled out my passport. Seeming just as surprised and relieved as I was, he said, “I thought you give to me, for safe keep!” We laughed and hugged each other as he kept saying, “Very good now. Very good.”

Street Boys (1 of 1)

While I was slightly scared of this crew of boys, I also wanted them all to be my sons. My first experience with them happened when I was walking back to my hotel – well after midnight – and found myself in the middle of this rowdy clan arguing. They were divided into two sides, yelling things back and forth to each other – like the Sharks and the Jets from West Side Story. For a moment I felt like I should intervene and prevent a possible fight. Instead, I just kept walking. Every day afterwards, I kept seeing them around town – walking around, eating ice cream or just sitting on their phones. As I walked to meet my ferry to leave, I creepily said goodbye by taking this photo.

While some may feel uncomfortable with these photos, I think it’s more important to talk about the fact that we (Americans) don’t let our daughters feel uninhibited or unabashed about their bodies. There is no doubt that there are unfortunate dangers and fears that exist in our society, but how much power do we want to give them? And what is the price we are paying for it?

Boat Boy (1 of 1)

I watched this boy stand still for 15 minutes (I was waiting for Stephanie…not just being a creep). That man in the pink shorts never said a word to him the entire time.

 

Vathi was my favorite beach. It seemed like the most relaxing, the least crowded (other than Faros, a not-so-great beach) and had the warmest water). There also weren’t a lot of boats in this bay because there wasn’t a marina.

Cool Chicks (1 of 1)

Bike babes #slay in Apollonia.

These two bosses sat in the same spots, making the same faces, every day.

 

 

Input Mode: Sweden & Croatia

Recently, I took a trip to Sweden and Croatia. The intention was to get away from my life distractions to really focus on my personal creative pursuits. However, I should’ve known better than to take a leisure trip with the intention to work.

I quickly found myself displeased with every photo I took and every word that I wrote. But instead of feeling frustrated, I reminded myself that there is no such thing as a creative block. As artists, we have two modes: input and output.

Embracing my input mode, my soul slipped away from the tight grip in which it is usually held. I spent full days outside, basked in history, wandered with homeless dogs who oddly wore sweaters, climbed countless stone stairs, found a King’s tomb who had been buried with his mistress and wife laying on top of him, ate carbs without a care, scaled a cliff during a windstorm (totally by accident), drank delicious wines and laughed with strangers.

I also continued to photograph and write because that’s just what I do. Every single day. Whether I like it or not.

 

Dirty Laundry

476528_987241079287_989595418_oIt’s been quite a while since I’ve written on this ol’ blog of mine. I won’t bore you with the reasons for my absence, but I will bore you with a story.

Remember, the genre is called creative non-fiction. As for the truthful parts, it happened so long ago that I can’t even remember his name…

Technically, I broke up with him…in a voicemail the day after Thanksgiving.

Yet, that came as the result of when he had abruptly moved across the country and only called me to complain about moving across the country. Granted, his dad was dying of cancer. Allegedly.

I digress.

Three weeks prior to his move, he put his possessions up for sale on Craigslist and told me that he was thinking about temporarily moving back to a place that he so despised, to take care of a man who he equally despised. Naturally, that rekindled the flame I had initially felt when we had first met. How noble a man to sacrifice his successful career and loving relationship to nurture his cruel, undeserving father on his death bed? Swoon.

And, oh how I swooned. Easily comprising my precious alone time and personal space to fulfill his never-ending need for my physical presence. My quick to surrender behavior wasn’t due to new love, but rather another smooth tactic he used in wooing me, very early in our relationship. Some women are attracted to ambition and perseverance, but not me. I like the man who tells me, on our second date, that his mother never held him as a baby. That’s when the swooning began.

He was the youngest of five and his homeschooling mother was too burnt out on child-rearing to pay him any attention. His abusive father wasn’t any help, either. Luckily, he was a child prodigy who taught himself how to read, do arithmetic and start a business at the age of 8, raking lawns. By the time he was 10 years old, he had saved enough money to buy a lawnmower and at age 12 he was successful enough to have finally won the approval of his family members, aka his new dependents. While his parents and siblings relied on him for money, domestic duties, and decisions, he started public school. There he found comfort in teachers who were eager to mentor the young genius. It was their faith and support that encouraged him to attend college, where he discovered how bored he was of education. The physics major dropped out when he sold his first feature screenplay to Paramount and moved to Hollywood. His quick rise to success brought him the stable, predictable and quiet life he had always wanted, as a screenwriter in Los Angeles.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good story, especially when it involves an underdog (go, Cubs). The funny thing about underdogs though is that they have to fight, not complain or feel sorry themselves, in order to get to the top.

Although he hated being alone and we slept together every night, his future fantasy of us included separate bedrooms. Nonetheless, in spite of his distaste for sharing a bed, he had to be physically connected every other minute we weren’t actually sleeping. Do you know how difficult that makes things when you’re doing laundry? Don’t get me wrong, I’m an affectionate person too but, I was constantly scolded for pulling my hand away too quickly when I needed to use it to pay for something…because his AMEX card had been declined.

The list of problems was endless:

  • He only had an AMEX card
  • He was skeptical of every male in my life, including my brother (gross)
  • He didn’t like to travel
  • He didn’t like when I traveled without him
  • I was never giving him enough attention
  • I gave everyone else too much attention
  • He thought I was secretly in love with his best friend
  • I had to apologize for giving everyone else too much attention (especially if it was his best friend)
  • I had to apologize if I didn’t laugh when he said something funny
  • I had to apologize if I laughed when he said something serious
  • I had to apologize for falling asleep during movies
  • I was always apologizing
  • He never apologized

Why, you may ask, did I stay?

Shamefully, it was the shameless, dirty, uninhibited and, at the same time, incredibly kind and gentle sex.

In the back of my head, I knew it was just sex and even when I loved him at my hardest, I had never wanted to marry him. This newfound detachment between my heart and body was quite liberating. I felt powerful, knowing I would be the one to leave him and that my heart wasn’t all in like in the past.

I’m sure it was due to the fact that I never trusted him and I am not the kind of girl who has trust issues, I’m actually the opposite of the girl who has trust issues (obviously).

One day, his 1984 BMW stopped working and months went by without any real sign of a new car on the horizon. He felt torn, he said. Wishing he could just buy a shitty car (which I supported), but feeling “business” pressure to buy something more luxurious (which I also supported). These little conversations out loud ponderings often happened as he comfortably rode in the passenger seat of my car. Which, by the way, was another red flag. My driving style is quite commonly a point of real contention. No one, especially any man, has been that content as my passenger.

Anyway, there we were, sailing through a yellow/maybe red light when I casually asked, “So…what are you thinking? ” Well, my tone wasn’t aloof enough because an explosion of accusations blew up in my face. How dare I question how much money he has? How could I be so insensitive about his childhood poverty trauma? He also managed to throw in the whole in love with his best friend stuff, too. Who for, by the way, I had zero attraction and was only overly nice to him because I wanted him to like me enough to stick up for me when/if my boyfriend ever doubted my commitment. Which, evidently was the case.

I could more than understand when he explained that his modest upbringing made him feel very uncomfortable spending money on himself or us. This was fine. I’m not a materialistic person and don’t look to boyfriends to pay for me in any sense, but this was weird.

Just as he questioned my attraction to him, I couldn’t help but question everything from his past to his present. Sometimes I wouldn’t even realize my skepticism until he would defensively react to a quizzical gaze or a question that prodded too deep. Why didn’t he have to go into his office – ever? Why did he only have an AMEX card? I was forced to pay for things too often and, I’m sorry, but “paying” me back by covering my portion of concert tickets gets really old, really fast. Specifically when it is a concert that I didn’t even want to go to, in the first place.

And why, if his family had treated him so awfully, did he talk to them almost every day? I mean, compared to his upbringing, my parents were gold and I only talked to them, maybe, once a week.

Combining this ever-expanding collection of suspicions along with our incompatibility, I was right on the verge of calling it quits.

Alas, things got more complicated when he decided to tell me that he had Asperger’s.

What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to respond? “No, you don’t” or ,”I think we need to break up?”

That next week was brutal. I was so consumed, tracing every memory with a fine tooth comb hoping to find hard evidence to concretely prove to him that he was a liar, that I could barely look at him, let alone sleep with him. But, I did.

Towards the end of that week, he told me that he needed to tell me something.

I just kept thinking, please break up with me, please break up with me.

His dad had 6 months to live.

Was he lying? Was this real? Was it bad that I felt like everything was all about him? When was the last time he took care of me?

Call me old fashioned, but I can’t abandon a person’s heart once they’ve told me, “No one, including my parents, has ever loved me,” or  “I have Asperger’s,” or “My dad is dying of cancer.”

When we said goodbye at the Burbank airport in August, he made me promise that I would come visit for Thanksgiving. Considering he had a flare for theatrics, he asked to communicate mainly through hand written letters and only Facetime twice a week.

A normal person might have wondered if he was going to jail. Or they may have felt relieved. Or, most likely, a normal person wouldn’t even be in that situation. Unfortunately, I’m not normal and I felt abandoned, even heartbroken, by someone who I never actually loved or trusted.

To make matters worse, he didn’t write me one letter and barely Facetimed. His phone calls were infrequent and I couldn’t help but want more. In the times that he did call, I would stop anything I was doing to find a quiet spot alone to talk to him. He hated when I was with other people, especially when those other people tried to say hi to him and wish him well.

The conversations revolved around him being a hero to his family. He spoke about how exhausted he was from taking care of his irresponsible sister and her out of control kids, his brother who had just been arrested and their needy mother (his adjectives, not mine). All of whom, he was also financially supporting.

Mindfully masking my doubt and contempt, I would ask, “How’s your dad?”

He would groan in response, “He’s fine, just creating more problems like usual.”

Then, he would say something dirty, instigating phone sex.

Being the devoted, distant girlfriend I was, I would comply.

I felt emptier after talking to him. The worst of it all was that he never once asked, “How was your day?”

One night, a few weeks before I broke up with him, I went home with someone who I had known for years. He was smart, funny, attractive, and most meaningful of all, he actually enjoyed talking with me. Something my absent “boyfriend” saw as an obligation, even when he was present. After we started kissing, I awkwardly stopped and fled from his apartment in the middle of the night, knowing this was a betrayal of some sort that I couldn’t commit, even to my nonexistent, lying boyfriend, who didn’t like talking with me.

It’s embarrassing to admit that I cried when I ended things in that voicemail. They weren’t sad tears for him, they were angry tears for me. I’m not an angry person, so I was also just angry that I was angry, in the first place.

I’ll never know why he actually moved. Did he want to break up with me, but didn’t know how to actually do it? Did his dad really have cancer? Could he not afford to buy a car? Was his family actually very loving and insisted that he move home due to his Aspergers and finances?

And, then I think, “Did he even move?”

Things Strangers Say: Eddie

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” – HL

This is Eddie.

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He picked me up from LAX the other day and in the Lyft to my house, we talked.

In 2000, Eddie took in his nephew who had fallen into the foster care system. He enrolled the troubled teen into a boot camp with the LAPD for youth and when he began to see the positive results, he began volunteering there too.

“It’s the real life human being who makes the connections and ultimately makes the change.” That’s the kind of stuff Eddie says.

Due to funding, the program went away but with support from the LAPD and a judge, Eddie opened his own program which quickly eveolved into a security company with over 50 employees who specialized in conflict resolution. Rooted in building relationships, Eddie’s company tremendously decreased crime and improved behavioral issues in multiple LAUSD schools and a section 8 housing complex. Eddie and his crew were held in high regard by their clients, colleagues, students and residents.

Then a charter school moved in and populated the schools where Eddie had been for nearly 10 years. For the next year and a half, Eddie was the victim of workplace bullying and straight out sabotage. One of the charter school’s administrators poached 20 of Eddie’s employees and bad-mouthed Eddie current and potential clients. This led to the demise of Eddie’s success.

In that year and a half, Eddie also accumulated evidence that could prove misconduct but said he will not take legal action. What’s he going to gain other than more money lost, bitter tension, and damaging shame? As hard as Eddie could fight, the for-profit “school” will fight harder to protect their business.

“I’m mature enough to move on, but bullying is bullying and there needs to be more accountability so people are held responsible for their actions.”

Eddie is resilient and it’s his strong belief in his cause that gives him fuel to restart his company at square one.

When I asked him if he was nervous about this happening again, he responded, “There’s problems everywhere. A lot of schools have issues but they hire the wrong people. I’m trained in conflict resolution and have results that show its success with youth.”

Weekend at Gammy’s

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My sweet, but tenacious Gammy.

Forgive the obvious title reference to the late ’80’s comedy where Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman try to pass their dead boss Bernie off as alive. Such a good movie. Did you know that movie was 18 years in the making?

Unlike Bernie, Gammy is alive and well.

Gammy is my 83-year old grandma, who lives in one of those bougie retirement communities where college dorm drama and country club dinners are thrown into a blender at high speed. The result is an overpriced, flavorless puree of dead ends.

#thefuturessobrightIgottawearshades

That isn’t fair, it’s not always depressing. One night, over 3 bottles of wine, a fellow resident named Mary vented her frustration with her daughter who had told her that she wasn’t allowed to drink anymore.

“My daughter thinks she controls me because she took away my car. What she doesn’t know, is that I’ve learned how to ride the bus to Trader Joe’s and buy my wine. I’ve lost 10 lbs with all the walking I’ve had to do to get to the bus stop.”

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Tom and Gammy browse the menu over pre-dinner cocktails in his apartment.

Mary is the best.

So is Tom. My grandma’s newest boyfriend.

Gammy, though she would never admit it, is a serial monogamous and so is Tom.

This 92-year old, a Princeton man and poet, has sailed all over the world, been married 3 times, and has 4 children. Since he can’t walk very well anymore, let alone sail, he founded a Yacht Club for remote control sailboats. Every Sunday, the flags would go up at the pond and a dozen or so people came to watch the 8 mini-sail regatta. And even though, Tom asked permission and had an off-site Harbor Master oversee the launching and lifting of the little boats out of the water, the retirement community shut it down.

“It just doesn’t make sense – you won the race. You won your human race for survival and it’s not like you get a trophy or special awards for anything. Instead, everything gets taken away from you.”

That was me speaking, not Tom. He’s too humble to say that he won anything. But, he did agree with what I said.

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Gammy and Tom get their mail after their nightly escapades.

Every month, I visit for a weekend and catch up on the latest gossip and hear about the current fight against “the man”, aka the administration. Among the complaints are gripes regarding the cheap processed food, lack of information, condescending communication, and, worst of all fake flowers.

There used to be strict dining attire rules until Gammy led a movement of rebellion. “There are silk flowers and soggy vegetables, I will wear whatever I want to dinner.” In an attempt to win my grandma’s affection, Tom began bringing an electric candle and a miniature, fresh house plant which he brings to dinner every night. It’s a little embarrassing going to dinner with the two of them who like to make a display of the removal and replacing of centerpieces.

To their credit, it has become a trend. However, I’m sure it won’t be long until “the man” puts a stop to that as well.

Things Strangers Say: Gym (B)Rats

Returning to the parking garage, two 40-something women walked up to the valet’s desk and handed the man their ticket stubs.

“Fifteen dollah each,” he said with a Vietnamese accent.

“But it’s free parking for the first three hours,” the woman with electric blue Fendi sunglasses snapped, with fry in her voice.

“Need validation,” he said.

“I come here all the time and this is never a problem. Where’s Carlos?”

“Carlos not here today.”

“You gave us these tickets an hour ago,” the other woman, in a hot pink trucker hat, spouted off. Gesturing to her lulu gear, she continued, “Clearly, we were at the gym. The only gym here and you know they validate.”

“Rules are validation only,” the man said without looking at them and kept busy with a stack of papers.

Fendi was pissed.

“But that means we have to go all the way back, up two escalators and into the gym just to get a stupid, little stamp.”

Hot Pink Trucker honed in on logistics, “It’s not even an electronic system – so it doesn’t need to be scanned. You’re just making this difficult for no reason.”

Almost smiling, Fendi spoke slowly, accentuating her fry, “Right. So, do you understand how your validation process is pointless?”

A full minute passed as the grown women stared in silence at the valet, who hadn’t abandoned his paperwork diversion ploy.

Hot Pink Trucker wasn’t having it, “Excuse me, we’re asking you a question. Are you unable to provide an answer?”

“He probably doesn’t understand, he can barely speak English.”

“Do you have a manager we can speak to?”

“Yes. Me,” the man looked Hot Pint Trucker dead in the eyes.

“Let’s just report him to the gym. We pay too much money to be treated like this,” surrendering her fight, Fendi initiated the walk away.

While going back up the two escalators and into the gym, an older man brought his stamped ticket to the valet. In exchange, the valet beamed a warm smile and a hearty thank you before the customer walked to his car.

The women returned, hushed. Hot Pink Trucker threw her stamped piece of paper in the general direction of the valet. He struggled to bend to the ground where the ticket landed.

Glaring from above, Fendi placed her ticket on the desk and said, “You’re rude and ungrateful for the position you’ve been allowed.”

Upon their final exit and unaware of the situation, the older man drove up, got out of his car, and handed the valet a fifty-dollar bill.

He thanked the valet for his smile and said, “It comforts me to know there are good people living in this world. Happy holidays, sir.”