Day of Celebration I

Quick note: The return plane ride has left me with an extra gift: a cold. I feel OK, but everyone around me jumps back three feet if I cough or blow my nose. I’m really worried that I went to the hospital on Tuesday before I knew I was sick. And it drove the idea of posting this entry right out of my head until I was ready to think about crashing for the night. Blame any mistakes on the Benadryl.

OK, so back to California. We had intended to celebrate Anna’s birthday on Sunday 9/20 so that Ashley and Kathryn’s children (actually young men) could join us. Also we expected Phil James, whose father is descended from the first Anna James. (Ashley, Anna and I are all descendants of Anna II. Our common ancestor married three women named Anna, hence my references to the family palm frond rather than the family tree). Anyway, Phil couldn’t meet us till Monday and Skylar, the younger son, was moving. So that left older son Julian and the four of us for Sunday. As it turned out, he couldn’t stay for dinner either, but we didn’t learn that till later. I had said I would contribute to the festivities by making dinner.

Julian arrived in late morning bearing excellent orange juice for the brunch. Julian is a handsome, soft-spoken young man who does quality control for Lucas Films. Ash said later that Julian supervises 40 people all older than he is and that he had bested some serious competition to get the job.

After a feast of pancakes that Ash made from buckwheat, cornmeal and regular flour with bacon for everyone else and veggie sausages for me, we chatted and then went shopping for dinner.

Our first stop was Costco. I may be the only person on the planet who had never before experienced the chaos and overkill of one of the discounters. What a place! It works great if you’re feeding the masses but unless you have storage space to burn there’s no way to fit all that stuff in the normal house. And anything with an expiration date would go bad long before Larry and I used it up, which would defeat the whole purpose of bulk shopping.

And the place had too many people and too much variety. I went on sensory overload and so don’t remember a great many details. Before we walked in I thought it was merely for groceries, but what greeted us at the entrance were bins and bins and bins loaded with down jackets – the really puffy style. (Was it real down or fiber fill?)  I didn’t think it got that cold around San Francisco. Plus it was 90-plus degrees outside. Even so, mobs of people pawed through the bins, grabbing at the jackets, sometimes trying them on but mostly just piling them into overflowing shopping carts. I almost passed out from heat prostration just watching them. Most of the folks sampling the wares looked as though they had arrived from climates where a cold snap might mean 70 degrees, so I guess I could understand their need for heavy warmth. Either that or they were headed to ski country, but they didn’t strike me as the schussing type. I didn’t think to look at the price and when I went on the Costco web site, it rejected “down jackets” and asked me if I wanted “packets” rather than “jackets.” Oh, well.

We fought our way to a shopping cart, which allowed me a bit of time to recover. As I surveyed the clothing aisle, I found little jersey peasant blouses that I could wear in place of the cool weather turtle necks that I packed. They worked out perfectly in the 90-degree days that followed. Then it was on to the food. We purchased a huge slab of salmon that was absolutely fresh, a huge box of croissants, and a huge tub of whitefish salad. (Do you detect a theme here?) The only thing that wasn’t truly huge was the bouquet of flowers I got for Kathryn – and even that was far more substantial than the puny selections at Stop & Shop.

Confusion reigned at the checkout counter, and then we couldn’t seem to get out of the store because of the people lined up at the prepared food window. Am trying to remember what they served, but the only thing that comes back is chicken.

Then it was on to Trader Joe’s for mustard, olive oil, dessert, etc., mainly because we didn’t want to supersize those items. T.J.’s is my kind of store and I found everything except the dessert, a lemon sherbet served on half a lemon. But the young man working in the frozen food aisle recommended lemon squares. They turned out to be totally decadent, intensely lemony without being sweet.

Then we stopped at one of the houses that Ash and Kathryn own to get a few leaves of a Meyer lemon tree, which was suffering from some ailment. From there we progressed to the garden shop where the resident expert said the tree needed nitrogen (I think). Anna and I browsed the indoors and outdoors. We found a gaggle of rosemary trees. Anna said in her area of Colorado they decorate them for Christmas. We told Kathryn to check them out as a way to mask the devastation wrought by their neighbor up the hill who had trashed a couple of oaks and some gorgeous foliage. In this part of the country what she did would have been a capital offense.

Ash bought two kinds of fertilizer for the Meyer lemons, including a big bag of chicken poop. After we unloaded the groceries he immediately dropped off the poop because he didn’t want it smelling up his car.

Kathryn began making mojitos – a drink I’d never sampled before – which Ashley learned to make when he and then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown visited Fidel Castro in 2000. They were an excellent treat but a bit large and somewhat too sweet.

While we chatted and sipped I made dinner, which consisted of salmon (recipe to follow), rice pilaf out of the box, and salad. Ash regaled us with the story of his Cuba trip. He said on the last night they were at a resort miles away from Havana. They drank mucho and didn’t eat much. He got drunk and fell asleep. When he woke up he was locked in a room, and the guards wouldn’t let him out. When they released him at last, he asked one of the escorts how they were going to make their flight. The guy said, “We’re going to fly.” Ash said the place was so isolated he didn’t think it had an airport. Everyone, including Fidel piled into three Mercedes limos and proceeded down the unimproved road at 60, 70, 80 mph, playing “Where’s Fidel?” That game is a kind of three-card monte with the cars speeding past each other so no one on the outside knows which one holds El Jefe. This went on for some time, and Ash finally asked his escort when they would reach the airport. The guy said, “What airport?” Ash said, “You said we were going to fly.” As their car sped to the front of the queue, the guy replied, “We are flying.”

They arrived at the hotel all set to dash up to the room and pack. Someone said, “Oh, you don’t need to. It’s been done for you.” So Ash went to collect the bags  from the desk and the clerk wouldn’t release them. Ash said he asked the guy, “Do you know who is in that car? Fidel Castro. You better hand over the bags.” The clerk said, “Yeah, right.” Ash marched back out to the car and said, “Mr. President, we have a problem. They won’t give us our bags.” He said Castro got out of the car, with military folks lined up on either side of the canopied entrance, and walked into the lobby of the hotel. The clerk nearly passed out. And of course the bags were duly delivered.

By this time the plane for the States should have been off the ground, and Ash was in a panic. But again, El Jefe came through. He made a call, and they held the plane so Mayor Brown and Ash could return to Oakland without a hitch.

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