Fruit Baskets and Other Thoughts (Or Please Help Luis)

I grew up in Michigan. I went to college in Michigan. During the summer after my freshman year of college, I lived in Santa Barbara, California.

The reason for my relocation?

I was recruited to sell books by a Nashville-based publishing company. I ran my own business cold-calling clients by selling books door-to-door.

They weren’t encyclopedias; they were study guides that were essentially like having a teacher’s guide for subjects ranging from English to algebra, and the books spanned kindergarten through high school advanced placement levels.

I carried a 25-pound case on my back and biked through the city of Santa Barbara six days a week, working 80-85 hours per week. To this day, it remains one of the most challenging AND rewarding experiences of my entire life.

(I’ll tell the story of my visit to the ER another time.)

While, I was handsomely compensated financially for my efforts, the lasting reward of that job was the human aspect: the people whose lives I touched, the people who also touched mine.

After selling the books, I personally delivered them to each family at the end of the summer, and showed each individual how they could access the information inside.

I lived in a primarily white and privileged neighborhood in the San Roque district of Santa Barbara that summer, but I canvassed every neighborhood in the city, regardless of its socioeconomic status. I spent weeks in a Hispanic neighborhood in the city. I remember “white” people warning me not to venture into the Hispanic neighborhoods — especially since I was carrying cash.

I didn’t listen.

I’m incredibly glad I didn’t.

Those “dangerous” Hispanic neighborhoods brought me the most joy that summer. I was welcomed into so many homes, and my hosts fed me lavishly. I met warm, honest people with an incredible work ethic and a strong sense of family — the kind of generous, caring people who made me feel at home even 3,000 miles away from my own.

These were people working two and three jobs to support their children.

I will never forget a white man telling me later that summer the “lazy Mexicans were ruining everything.” I was livid. I wanted to shout at him and storm out the door.

I wish I had.

I regretted not doing so that night when I went to bed, and I still regret it to this day. I’d like to think I would do that now.

One of my clients was a gardener in the neighborhood where I lived. We would wave at each other every day as I rode off for work, and I will never forget the day I sat down with his sons to show him how to find their algebra answers.

Sure, it was a business, but for me it was a service.

My dad flew out from Michigan, rented a car, and helped me deliver the books. He was by my side as I delivered the books to the families and showed them how to use them.

That summer is one I will never forget, and neither will my dad.

20 years later, I find myself managing a sports bar.

Most of our cooks are from the state of Oaxaca in Mexico and so are our busboys. I can honestly say the same warmth and generosity of spirit exists with our staff that existed in the families I met in Santa Barbara half a lifetime ago. We have staff who have been loyally serving for more than 25 years.

Luis is one of those men.

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Here were are mugging for the camera.

Luis has hand washed dishes, stocked produce, and bussed tables faithfully for the San Francisco Saloon for more than 30 years. He rides the bus to work each day.

Now he is experiencing a life-threatening health issue.

In his absence, a few of us have stepped up to do his job ourselves, and I know I speak for all of us when I say it is incredibly hard work. It is the hard, thankless work that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated.

Initially when Lou’s daughter told us he needed a few weeks off, I set out to make him a fruit basket because his diet has been restricted of late.

My coworkers stepped up to contribute, and I assembled a nice basket.

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Fruit

Like duh.

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Fruit with a card.

Per usual, my helper didn’t exactly help.

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He was too busy throwing shade.

He isn’t into anything that doesn’t involve meat — or scratches on his big, boxy Boxer head. (I love him anyway.)

Nevertheless, I persisted.

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I finished the basket off with a bow.

(Duh.)

I brought it to Luis yesterday, and I met his wife for the first time. Though she doesn’t speak a word of English, and my Spanish is lame at best, I was blessed to spend time with them. She made me feel welcome, and she even gave me gifts.

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The basket was made in Oaxaca, and the bag is meant for grocery shopping.

I left their home wanting to do more.

Luis was admitted to the hospital hours after I left his home.

The state of California limits us as his employer to only 40 hours of sick pay, despite his 30+ years of loyal service.

That is why I created a GoFundMe for his family. I want to do more for my hard-working friend than a basket full of bananas. While I’m grateful to my coworkers for chipping in for fruit, I want to up the ante.

In less than 24 hours, I am proud to say we are already at 40% of the goal. I would love to demolish that goal.

I know there are many worthy causes, so no pressure… I will obviously still love you even if you don’t contribute, but here’s the link just in case: HELP THE RAMOS FAMILY.

OK, that’s all.

Goodnight.

 

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Bobby’s Birthday (Or I make another gift basket)

My friend Rob’s birthday was yesterday, so I set out to make it special. I conspired with his girlfriend, Mary, to make sure I picked up all of his favorite movie theater candy, and the boys chipped in as well — including Albus.

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He picked out the golf balls at Dick’s.

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There were a lot of options. 

I wanted to package the goodies in a practical way, so I picked up a collapsable organizer from Marshall’s.

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Here’s the pre-assembly situation.

I put a bow on the bag because everything is better with bows — even gifts for boys. (I think I’ve said that before, but you can never say it too many times.)

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Every item in here has a story, naturally.

For example, Rob loves sloths, so I bought one for him. I used my glue gun to put the AMC gift card in his hot little sloth hand. The weird man ballerina box contains Australian sour gummies. I made the Twinkle Toes sign because Tim calls everyone Twinkle Toes, and he was one of the boys who chipped in for the gift. (Matt was the other.)

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It seemed like the right thing to do.

Tim, Rob, Matt, and I are all dog people, so a card mocking a cat seemed like the right choice.

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Larry, Daryl, and Anita are our aliases.

Basically, we think they’re terrible names, so we call each other by them as a form of demented endearment.

Okay, that’s all for now. I’m blasting some Danzig and breaking out my book outline.

Bye!

Gift Wrap Goodness (Or Presents for People I Love)

I like presents.

I like giving them, I like getting them, and I LOVE wrapping them.

Since we’re just ending the holiday season, I thought I should show you some of my giftiness.

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This was a book for Dan.

Dan is from Minnesota (where the moose hang out). Dan likes Jameson, books, and bread pudding. I didn’t have time to make him dessert, but I did make him dinner on Christmas day, so there’s that.

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This was a bartening book for Tim. (He asked for it.)

Tim can be grumpy, but he always brings me clean socks, new shirts, and salad without tomatoes or raw onions because he knows I hate them. He has like 32,000 dogs, so I had to wrap his present in pugs. (Also? I garnished his gift with a lamb’s ear covered in liver paste for one of his beasts.)

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My boss, Brian, likes bread and recipes, so this was for him.

It was a soup recipe book because he’s bonkers for soup. I added some holiday flair in the way of bulbs to counteract his seasonal “Ba-Humbug” situation.

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This naughty nugget and his gift were for Lauren.

Lauren is my dog’s fairy godmother. She lets him sleep with her whenever he spends the night, and we both love her to death.

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This little mouse and his books were for Jody.

Jody and I have been friends since we were 19 years old. We met while we were having meltdowns in edit bays in Ann Arbor, and the rest is history. 20 years later, we’ve been together for funerals, birthdays, Christmas Mass, and everything in between. This is a stack of Narnia books for her son, Connor, who just happens to be my birthday buddy. 

Jody attended my church Christmas Tea in December, and I gave her a copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Connor was HOOKED, so I bought her the rest of the series.

More on the church Christmas Tea later….

Old Friends Know What You Need (Or Emergency Encouragement)

Last night I was glum. I was watching Grey’s Anatomy when my phone vibrated next to me. Delighted to see it was my dear friend, Chris, I responded immediately.

He texts me when he’s working the night shift in the ER. He’s in Michigan, so I’m one of the few people still awake during the long, odd hours he is on his feet pulling bullets out of people.

We caught up on life: his twins, my dog, the state of my love life.

I admitted that my writing wasn’t going well. Forever an optimist, and forever my biggest fan, he encouraged me.

My life may not have been hanging in the balance, but my motivation certainly was. His belief in me was just what the doctor ordered.  (Forgive the cliche.)

As we texted, it occurred to me that the men already in my life — my friends — have set the bar exceptionally high and I told him as much.

“I pity the poor man who has to live up to the standard you’ve all set,” I told him.

“You’re too kind,” he replied.

“Well, it’s true,” I countered.

And it is.

Chris and I have been friends since we were 12 years old, and he is a tremendous human being. He has forgiven me for paying more attention to his soccer teammates when I was tutoring them in calculus… and other transgressions.

He has also come through for me with words of encouragement, a listening ear, and loyal friendship for 26 years. We first bonded over a mutual love of Twin Peaks at 7th grade camp, and we’ve never looked back.

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That’s why it was easy to give a toast at his wedding.

After last night’s pep talk from the doc, I’m ready to do a little writing today.

(Writing other than this, that is.)