Efficiency Expert

writerwebI gaze out the window in that dreamy way one does when slipping into a new day, soft memories of night still clinging warm and welcome against my skin.

My assignment is to make a schedule and stick to it, to make the wide open spaces in my life boxed and labeled in order to be more productive. It’s not who I am or who I’ve been, but I’m determined to be happier at the end of the day because of all I’ve accomplished.

I sit to do it now as tea fills my nose with the scent of peppermint, and another radiant blue sky washes over the emerald expanse of the Topa Topa Mountains.

So, what shall I put in this morning between 8 and 10? I think about going back to bed with a heating pad, but return instead to the task at hand, dutifully making boxes with a ruler.  I draw Monday thru Sunday, dividing each day into morning, afternoon and evening.

Resistance creeps in slowly, like incoming fog.  There are so many what-if’s to consider. But my words won’t be set in stone, right? I get up to turn on my computer but it won’t start. Hum?  Must call the repair man. Unless of course it magically repairs itself, as it often does, like some cranky old man, agreeing to show up for work on some days but not others.

The Ojai Valley News waits in the driveway.  I saunter out in my favorite over sized shirt, flatten the paper’s curl to full attention and plop in an Adirondack chair beneath towering sunflowers. Twenty minutes later I know what’s happening in the valley and head back inside.

It’s 8.30.  I’m not doing too well with my calendar making. I’ll get back to it after oatmeal and a brief cleanup of the kitchen.

9.00. I study the lines, hours and days trying to imagine myself the kind of person who keeps a schedule, no matter what.  I usually swim between 7 and 10, unless I’m too tired, like today, then I might wait until 11. How do I write that in? How about swim sometime, does that count? I search for the answer staring into nothing, my eyes finally settling on remnants from a small battlefield to the right of the curtain, where corpses of smashed bugs still cling to the wall, their bloody little bodies adhered.  I remember the victory and my haste in running out the door before cleaning up.

I put down my tea, spic and span the mop and begin to scrub, which leads to multiple cobwebs in multiple corners all around the house, the grand finale happening in the bathroom, where drops of ceiling moisture above the shower have turned to orange stalactites.

Oops.  Off task again.  Since I don’t seem to be doing my scheduling, I vow to appease the Organizational Gods by making one difficult phone call before noon.

9.30  Is the computer ready yet? Maybe if I push the start button with something hard like the end of my pen. Nope.  Skype client at 3, computer must be repaired by then.

Ohhhh… I’ve left my red pen uncapped near the monitor and ink has bled into the Amish patchwork my now-dead mother bought me.

Big breath in.  Remain calm. Big breath out.

Okay, sorry mom.  I cover the stain with a wicker basket and begin making a list. 1. Drop a packet to Dennis on the way to the gym.  (Is it too late to go swimming?)  2.  Buy more stamps.  3. Call the computer repair man. 4. Pick lemons on the way home, oh, and we’re out of bread again.

It’s cool enough now, maybe I’ll forget scheduling and make an apple pie, or go back to bed with a heating pad. I really want to do that and pick this up in the afternoon.

10 o’clock. I’m in bed with welcome heat on my back. Birds are singing out the window and life is good.  I’ll do better tomorrow.

To walk in beauty


I have never felt better in my entire life. Dare I say that? Something inside fears I may challenge a contrary part of the universe with such boldness, but there it is. My life is better than I ever imagined.

Each morning I sit in my backyard, as receptive to the sun as an Ojai orange, letting gentle morning light kiss every cell of my body,  ushering me into sublime states. I’ve been listening to Wayne Dyer demonstrate the power of sound, so I incorporate it into meditation with phases like, the universe dwells in me, as me. I place all limitation in the museum of old beliefs. And, the universe has unobstructed flow through me. I do not limit my abundance.

(I’ve never been comfortable with the Christian idea of God, so I use the word universe instead.)

After that I take a long hot soak in my outside bathtub surrounded by trailing petunias, nasturtiums and purple hyacinths. The roof opens into the bluest sky one can imagine – every single day – dotted only by the arrival of scrub jays dipping in and out of a bath of their own. A gift of wind chimes from my sister accentuates the silence, reminding me of our history, bond and love.

Blended strawberries, beets, ginger and yogurt propel me out the door and through the wooded bike path to the Athletic club, where I get to swim, stretch or do yoga with some of the finest instructors in the world. One could not imagine a more ideal setting. And when that’s finished, I pedal back home ready to meet whatever the afternoon might hold, with an open heart and grateful spirit.

When I saw my acupuncturist last week, she said I had the body of a twenty year old. Well, she’s right because it’s been in storage for decades wrapped and preserved against the cold, my only activity, some Olympic indoor swimming to outrun the devil darkness.

But I walk in beauty now. My days are full of richness and a kind of grace and gentle spirit I could only imagine in my former lives. I craved the sun before, complaining to anyone who would listen about its absence. I was depressed and heavy for years, like a plant put in a closet. I withered and become diminished in spirit, never fully comprehending the personal cost. Now, thankfully, all that has changed.

I remember my first days in Ojai when I realized that shorts, tank tops and sandals could be daily apparel, instead of fleece, long underwear and sweat pants. Literally ‘seeing’ my body every day was like visiting an old friend I had dearly missed.

“Oh, there you are. How nice to see you again! So that’s what you look like, I’d nearly forgotten. Welcome Home.”

Starting Over

full of beansI’m sitting today in the gentle grace of the Full of Beans coffee house in Ojai California.

We’ve barely flipped the calendar from January to February, yet I can unwind on the patio beneath the sheltering branches of a Chinese Elm, soak in an abundance of sunlight and relax into my relatively new life. I try not to feel guilty knowing that friends and family are winter bound in the upper regions of Oregon, Vermont and New York.

There is something wonderful and terrifying about having this blank canvas on which to paint my life. Pulling away from forty years of northern existence has allowed the luxury of leaving decades of history behind, and the way one becomes solidified in the minds of others. For example, no one here knows me as the single mom on welfare, crazy enough to think she could make a living in the performing arts. And nobody is saying, “Hey, I remember when you taught at Portland Community College and went out with that guy that was so wrong for you. What was his name?” Or “Oh my God, remember that cross country trip in the hippie van with all the street musicians, and Big Bush, whose Afro took up the front seat?  And what was the name of that guy who did acid about 400 times?” Ah, the wildness of youth wiped clean. Regret nothing that once made you smile!

The downside is the limited way my eyes engage with those around me. When there are years of friendship, a light of recognition passes in a twinkle, landing someplace deep inside. But when there’s no history, you’re just another face. Eyes don’t invite in the same way, they only meet you on the surface, pulling quickly away. No cataloging of memory to be computed and filed, smiled about or declined.

My work has changed form here as well. It flows easily or perhaps it’s the openness of those who live in the sun who are easy. When I lived in Oregon my window faced a forest of old growth trees. Several were damaged by storms forcing them to grow to the side instead of straight up. They were vulnerable but strong as their trunks grew in bizarre shapes, pushing through tangles of neighboring trees until they found enough light to reach for the sky. I often thought how similar our human experience is and how resilient our spirits. When we can’t grow in one direction, when we are thwarted, we reach for another.  We don’t think about it, we just reach because survival depends on it.  It’s the hand we’ve been dealt, the environment we’re born into, our inherent gifts and the limitations we’ve come to grow beyond.

I did seriously wonder if a healer could make a living in a sun-filled place, without the advantage of the Oregon rainforest making everyone depressed. But it seems I can.

I lean into my wooden chair painted in primary shades of playful, listen to wind chimes dancing in an easy breeze and smile as a neighbor’s boxer-lab mix pulls against his leash hoping for a taste of my croissant.

Could life be better?

Giving Thanks

It’s dark. Six o’clock on Thursday night and I’m at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club finding my spot on the floor. The lights are soft – the room, clean, spacious and airy.

Robert, my yoga teacher, bounds in, ready to pretzel us into health and vitality. I smile, remembering my initial reluctance. “I’m not a yoga person,” I’d tell anyone who asked. “No thanks. Who wants to spend an hour on the floor with bent knees?”  I came to class as a curiosity, because I’m a swimmer. That’s all I’ve done, and it’s been enough.

But after trying, I saw how easily accomplished the exercises were, and noticed enhanced strength pedaling home on my bike. So now here I am, occupied with folding poses like “downward facing dog” around a recently eaten burrito, or trying to do a reclining twist without putting my foot in Nelson’s face. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. No chanting, just good solid body therapy, smiling faces and Robert’s teaching delivered with joy, humor and reverence for life.

I reach for my toes, amazed that I can touch them. When did that happen?

And my neck that has always resisted turning to the right is now fully mobile.

The class exhales into bridge pose, as I remember a card from my chiropractor in yesterday’s mail. It read, Long Time No See. I’d long ago accepted that my low back would always hurt, I could not bend at the waist enough to touch my toes and a visit to the chiropractor would be a monthly thing. But in seven short months, all that disappeared.

Music by Louie Armstrong fills the room:

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I am filled with gratitude for this beautiful athletic club, new friends made, the masterful teachers who work here, the beauty of Ojai and my ever improving health. I savor the music and the moment as Robert’s voice trails toward the door, “Thanks for showing up everybody and for keeping me employed.”

Money From God

“Our life drawing model canceled,” Norma told me. “If you know of anyone, please let me know.”

My mind drifted to an old Mexican man who often biked past my window, a tattered sombrero shading a weathered face, sandal wrapped feet laboring against an uphill grade. I’d watched him sorting discarded bottles and pop cans with callused hands.

“I think I know just the person,” I told her. “An old man whose face is full of character, strength and ancestry.”

“Perfect! Find him and let me know. If he can pose for three hours we’ll pay him $100.”

It was two weeks before I saw the old man again. Temperatures of 106 kept me inside, hiding behind drawn curtains but I continued thinking about him and what $100 would mean to a man who made his entire income collecting bottles and cans.

Then one morning riding my bike from the health club, I spotted him. Excited, I pulled over and used the only Spanish I know. “Senor.  Hola.  I have work for you, dinero.”

He looked at me as he poured the remaining liquid from a beer bottle he’d found beneath a pepper tree.

“Do you speak any English?
He shook his head. I put my hand over my heart.

“My name is Karen, Karen. And you?”


“Raul, I have work for you, dinero.”

He studied me like I was an exotic bird that had perched on the redwood rail that divided us.

This is not going well.  I held up my hand.

“Wait, don’t go.”

I dug in my gym bag, found my phone and dialed Julio. I needed an interpreter. No luck. A recording. I snapped it shut.

I smiled, motioning toward the health club.

The Ojai Valley Athletic Club is one of the finest in the world, intimidating even me, but bless his heart, Raul trailed in after me, never missing a beat. Jose, the manager of the café was seated in clear view. I went over.

“Jose, this is Raul. He speaks no English and I speak no Spanish. Would you do me a kindness and talk to him on my behalf?”

Jose was sorting morning receipts, white clothes accenting black hair and dark eyes.

“What do you want me to tell him?”  He silently took in Raul’s appearance without apparent judgment.

I placed my gym bag on the table and plopped down next to him, relieved.

“Tell him there’s a group of people who would like to paint him. And that if he can hold still and pose for three hours that he could make $100. Of course, it would not be three hours straight. There would be breaks for walking and stretching.”

Jose looked at me. “I’ll pose for $100. Use me!”

“Thank you, no. It’s his face I want.”

Jose is a handsome man but his essence is not unusual.  There is something in Raul that is primitive and raw, a face untouched by civilization.

Jose studies me for awhile, then translates my words.

“Why would anyone want to paint me?” Raul asked.

“You have a strong face,” I say. “Hermosa.”

Because I didn’t know the date, I had Raul write his address on a napkin, telling him I’d be in touch when I knew details.

I returned home excited. Got on the computer and shot off an email.

Re: Model for Life Drawing:

Success. I have found the Mexican man, spoken with him and he is willing. Let me know your next open date and I’ll pick him up and bring him over.

Reply: Re: Model for Life Drawing:

We don’t need him anymore. We found someone else to fill in. Thanks anyway.

Thanks anyway? But I gave him my word. I promised him income and got his hopes up.

For two days I pondered the situation. Finally deciding to pay him from my own pocket.

In this town people pay $100 for lunch and think nothing of it. But to this man it could mean much needed groceries or health care. I hedged. But I’m not working and my resources are getting low. Maybe I’ll just offer him $20 or $30. Why would I give him $100?

Because you gave your word and oddly, it feels like the right thing to do. It really does seem the right thing.

Maybe $60, how about $60?

When Julio came home I explained my dilemma, asking if he’d drive with me to speak with Raul.

“I’m thinking of giving him the full fee anyway.” I confessed.  “It just feels right.”

“Oh Karen, that would mean so much.”

The certainty and tenderness of Julio’s reply erased doubt, convincing me to go ahead.

When we arrived Raul was in front of his house talking with a neighbor. Julio lowered the car window, explained the situation and told him I was going to pay him anyway.

Raul refused, shaking his head. Words passed between them I couldn’t understand.

“Tell him it’s important to take it,” I said.  Raul hesitated, then came to the driver’s window speaking again to Julio.

“What did he say?”  I asked.

He said he would take it because it was money from God.

I smiled. “Yes, Raul, that’s exactly what it is. It’s money from God.”

It will grow


I have no one to blame but myself.

Susan Miller’s Astrology forecast for Sag said: The new eclipse on June 5th will help you see yourself in a completely new light, so much so that you may be moved to change the way you wear your hair, dress or even change your name.

I wish I could point a finger at Astrology or some errant brain wave that zapped my grey matter while I slept, but I can not. Taking responsibility for ones actions is not all its cracked up to be. I miss the less conscious days when I pointed a finger and said, You, You, You!

This is what happened. I entered the realm of the hairdresser, which is one of the worst things I can subject myself to.  Every decade or so I tend to forget what is best for me, believing the same experience will yield a different result. This tendency to deny my best interests shows up in other parts of  life as well, like believing I can trust the invitation on the face of the makeup artist in Macy’s and not come away looking like Tammy Faye Bakker on a bad night. Or like listening to my mother who loved convincing me that the miracles of pharmacology could override a lifelong tendency toward seasickness.

“No dear, you will not become deathly ill crossing the English Channel on a cruise ship and spend hours with your head in the toilet praying for a life flight helicopter, while I dance in my prom dress with one of the ship’s escorts. Not this time.”

But I digress. I told myself it was safe to go to the hairdresser because ALL I wanted was for her to show me how to wear long hair. I wanted a few new tricks with barrettes and bobby pins.

You’re completely safe, I told myself. This won’t be like the time you were touring with Tears of Joy Theater and stopped in Montana to get a perm, then had to finish the tour wearing a headscarf.

When that woman asked how tight I wanted the curl, I’d said, “Make it last.”  Wrong answer!  A touch of Henna and I came away looking like a stand in for Ronald McDonald.  No, this appointment will be fine because I’m older, wiser and in control.

I entered the salon with confidence. The hairdresser was young, (okay, almost everybody is younger than I am these days) capable and cute. We talked. I explained. “No, I did not want her to wash and trim my hair, just show me some options like a friend might do.”

That was going fairly well until she began talking about my face as a picture and my hair as the frame.

Apparently, my picture was not looking so great in the frame because she longed to layer, shape and trim.  She wrinkled her nose, holding the length of my hair at a distance, like one might evaluate a trout past its due date at the fish market. That was the moment she hooked me.

Of course, I needed more than styling options. What was I thinking? I needed much much more. I felt suddenly at risk. Yes, I definitely needed a new frame for my picture and the banishing of my seaweed ends. She was here to save me from myself by producing a fully modern, acceptable version of the woman I had been only moments before.

And so I did it.

She shampooed, cut, layered, thinned, blew my hair dry over a circular brush, showed me how to use a curling iron, then straightened and mouseed each lock until I was the spitting image of …………her.  A thirty year old woman with a hairstyle I would never want.

I thought of my sister who’d come home with an awful cut not long ago and the comment her daughter had made. “Mommy, I think the lady who cuts your hair thinks about other things while she’s at work.”

This woman was not thinking about other things, it was I who vacated myself.

So I thanked her, wrote out the check, got on my bike and pedaled home, immediately showering in the hope of finding some semblance of myself below.

Toweling my hair in the mirror, I said what I always say when devastated by a bad hair decision.

It will grow.

Aqua Abstravanganza


It was 8.30 in the morning under a cloudless California sky, when I waded into the shallow end at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club swimming pool, determined to try every exercise class offered, at least once. This one was called Aqua Abstravaganza, which I hoped would supplement lap swimming.

Warm water pooled around my waist as I greeted those who’d already arrived, noticing their hats, eye glasses and tee-shirts worn to ward off the coming of another sultry day. A woman with flowing grey hair smiled in my direction, introducing herself. The others followed, offering kindness and extended hands. Being greeted with such gracious acceptance is part of what I love about coming to this club. It’s an extension of the grace, beauty and specialness that is Ojai. Unfortunately, I forgot their names minutes after being introduced, my aging memory as short as my eyelash.

A young woman from a dark-skinned, dark-haired country told me this was her second class.

“I’ve come back because I love the teacher’s humor,” she confides, her cinnamon eyes catching rays of light from the water. She radiates health and youth, her long hair carefully braided and tucked out of the way. She’s attentive and eager for the class to begin.

The others are older, much older, being called by the grace and support water allows the elderly. The instructor, Debora, appeared in snug black pants and grey top, brown hair cascading around her shoulders. She too extends a hand. “Oh, you’re new. Welcome!”

This group has obviously been together a long time, as a kind of social club.

“Okay class,” Debora begins, “we’re starting today by running in place, so bring those knees up.”

A birdlike woman peering beneath the twilled rim of a khaki hat pays no attention, preferring to visit with her friend instead.

“Did you watch that reality show last night? Well I did and that man never should have won. They count on people not calling in but I’ll tell you what. I did call in because I think the judges are crooked. It’s just not fair. Anyone can see he was not the most talented. It was the singer, she was the best and then the girl with the dancing dog.”

Obviously an urgent conversation, much more important than the matter of moving about in water.

A series of jumping jacks propelled me near another huddled couple.

“So how was your trip to Thailand? We really missed you here. Did you know that Peggy broke her foot? Yes, she did, but is recovering nicely. Said she’d try and make it today. They have her in a walking boot. One just never knows, does one?”

At 9 o’clock, (yes, I was counting the minutes) the instructor suggested we venture into the deep end. Frankly, I was completely surprised anyone noticed the request. But move they did, like a great water-bound pod of visiting couples. At this point the exotic beauty with the braided hair leapt from the pool, grabbed her towel, a splashed copy of the New York Times and darted toward the changing room, clearly late for something.

The men were in the deep end doing just as much talking as the women.

“Are you having trouble with this kick, Bob?” The instructor asked. “Bob?

Bob are you with us?”

Bob looked up as if coming out of trance. “What kick?”

Bookcase kind of roots


A quiet morning. My car is broken and my body the same, so there is a welcome lack of running around. I think of all the things I have to do and am grateful for the respite, a time to reflect and write. I look out at adirondack chairs with peeling paint and rotting wood. The man who delivered them distaining my choice, “These are nothing more than firewood.” But I know I can sand and scrap and fill and repair until they shine with new life. But not today.  

I own a bookcase now which is a revelation in itself and one of the reasons I can’t move from my bed. The young part of me thought it fine to carry it in, but my intention landed on months of lifting, hauling, hammering and Thanksgiving cooking. My body screamed, “Enough” and down I went.

The bookcase is a big solid fellow standing firm and steady, like a living room sentry emanating stability and a sense of home. Without fully realizing it, I’d made a decision long ago to keep moving and stay light on my feet, because where ever I landed would be temporary, a resting place until the next place and the next and the next. I needed to keep moving, which meant owning few possessions.

I had therapy about my lack of connection to place and earth, blaming it on my spiritual nature, personal wiring, or disconnection to family. It became something to live with and endure, a depressed sad place, like a low grade toothache that would never be repaired.

But then I moved south to Ojai and the sun and a tiny town of artists filled with people I could relate to. I rented a big house and found myself filling it daily with treasures from sales and thrift stores. The hunter gatherer in me came forward and the minimalist walked away. I’m putting down roots now, bookcase kind of roots, which are heavy, lasting and not easily moved.

Who is this person with all this furniture? Is she some relation to me? Life is so new and different and rich and sweet, with none of the adjustment trauma I feared – just a homecoming pure, simple and over-due.

Dear Julio works in the house and art space making earthy magic while dancing salsa and singing Spanish songs, friends Gino and Barbara tell me stories of Spain as they luxuriate in creativity and 60 years of passion. Lee makes silly jokes at the thrift store, delivering purchases in exchange for homemade cookies, and Teryn, a Portland real estate transplant, has embraced me like a lost sister. Old friends, clients and family stay connected, reminding me that I’m still loved and cared for. And I have my son, Clay, Khrystyne and my California granddaughter near, so where is the trauma in that?   

Diminishing funds return my thoughts to healing work, an obligation to reinstate my financial life, but the work refuses to manifest, because it belongs to the person I left behind.

And so I wait and get scared and anxious, but mostly I trust, because the universe has brought me away from rain and wet and grey and dark and pneumonia, into a place of natural splendor and light. Surely this last piece will come forward as well, like the final note of a symphony hovering in the air – waiting for just the right moment to sound.

What is there about a BMW?

I’ve devoted my adult life to helping people heal so they could stop living in pain, and learn to embrace joy and possibility instead. This was not an easy work.  It could have been, if I’d done it halfway, seeing people on the hour every hour for the fee alone, but that was not my style.  The work was intense and deep so I could do little of it, which often resulted in living hand to mouth.

I drove economy cars, my favorite being a Nissan Sentra, which I bitterly grieved when it broke beyond my ability to fix.  I was married at the time with a holiday trip to Los Angeles planned, so we scurried about searching for a vehicle in our price range. At the last minute we found a 2002 BMW which drove like a dream. The used car guy gave us a deal and the credit union plugged us in at $200 a month. It was doable. The car was definitely a boy car with black leather interior, glowing jet plane dash and sports tires hugging the road on every curve, the price of gas and repairs astronomical. The car was a thoroughbred race horse in need of exquisite care.

One year after purchase, my recently married husband split, offering car payments as a parting gift. Then my mother died, leaving me enough money to move from Oregon – bless her generous soul. And so I arrived in my new California home looking like a rich lady with a fancy car and some bills in her pocket, instead of the single welfare mom I’d been most of my life. 

The thing is – I am just me, the same country girl I’ve always been who is not afraid of hard work, dresses for comfort instead of fashion, and has no airs at all. But apparently my car speaks louder than I do.

People believe that folks who drive BMW’s are rich. They just do and I used to too. I remember when a young doctor came for sessions, asking for a sliding scale. I considered his school loans and said yes, but when I saw him speed off in a vintage Beemer I was furious. “That’s the last time I’m giving anyone a sliding scale,” I said aloud. I felt had, taken advantage of, resentful, and all because of my beliefs about his car. 

Let me back up here and share some of my BMW interactions.

First there was my client, Susan, who drove a brand new BMW while speaking of her financial woes. Her abusive husband had more money than God, but kept her on a tiny budget, causing her to steal grocery money for our sessions. “Things are not always as they appear,” she told me.

Over dinner, a woman from my writing group expressed how much she hated those BMW drivers – those people. “They always push ahead of everyone else on the freeway and have no manners at all.”

“But I’m not like that,” I countered. “Maybe it’s because the car is a race horse and doesn’t like to be reined in.” She was unconvinced. I had crossed a line and there was no way back.

My own daughter was uncomfortable driving the car to her daughter’s environmentally conscious school where the parents walk, bike or arrive in old Volvo’s. “What will people think?” she said “That car is not the image I want to convey.”

The BMW stigma baffled me, so I asked a client to share his thoughts as we made conversation on the way to his KIA station wagon. “Why do you think folks dislike BMW drivers so much?”  He didn’t hesitate. “Those people think their crap doesn’t stink.”  Those people.

Another client, a world famous rock star who tours the globe making several million a week often used sessions to lament discrimination toward the rich. At the time I thought I’d like to have such a problem. Only now do I begin to understand. Folks in Oregon have yelled at me, tried to force me off the road or made nasty slurs as I’ve driven by, things they never did when I drove the Sentra. 

In Ojai, at a recent yard sale, a man drove off in his BMW, and the woman having the sale was upset. “I don’t believe it. Here I was giving him deals and he drives away in a BMW.” I remembered the young doctor I’d felt the same way about and decided to explain that all BMW drivers were not rich. She was unconvinced.

Only yesterday my friend Barbara, being sympathetic to the 99% movement, waved her support through my car window, then felt embarrassed. “Oh my gosh, here I am saying I’m supportive while driving around in a BMW. How ridiculous that must seem.”

And this morning my friend Julio recoiled when I offered to drive him in search of employment. “No, no Karen. If I show up in a BMW, no one will think I need the work. I’ll take my bike.”

So that’s my story. Ordinary girl buys extraordinary car and gets stuck in a societal box. Don’t you think that’s a lot of authority for a car to have?  I sure do.

Truth be known, a pick up truck would serve my wants much better for the hauling, gardening and transporting I need, but I do love the way the car drives, its elegant spirit and beautiful interior.

And sometimes I have to admit that its fun and even helpful to have folks believe that I’m wealthy and successful, because in many ways I am. So for the time being, I’m that rich lady who drives around Ojai in her Beemer. Sometimes in a twilight zone of prejudice, but all the time enjoying a car that handles like it was made in heaven. 

Meeting Julio

It was five o’clock in the morning when I slammed on the brakes at my new house, eager to unload the things I’d stored in my son’s garage. I fumbled in the dark, balancing keys in one hand and boxes in the other. There it was, the click of the lock. I pushed the door open, then stopped. There were sounds coming from the back room. Alarmed, I dropped the boxes and switched on the light. Then I heard it again, only louder this time, a kind of scurrying and shuffling.

“Is anybody there? Is somebody in my house?”

I went to the back bedroom, opened the door and saw a young man looking embarrassed and ashamed.

“What on earth are you doing in my house?”

“I’m sorry, I’m very very sorry,” he mumbled in halted English. “I just needed a place to sleep.”

“How did you get in?”

“Oh, I didn’t break a window or anything, just took the screen off and climbed through.”

My memory flashed to opening the back window before I left for Los Angeles.  Seemed like a good idea at the time but I was regretting it now. He’d settled on the bed, a bare mattress waiting to be removed by the last tenant.

“I’m so sorry,” he repeated, covering his face with his jacket. “I just needed a place to rest.”

I studied his face for a moment, then grabbed a blanket and pillow from the trunk.

“Here, if you came to sleep, then sleep. I’m going to be moving things inside now, so it’ll be a little noisy. I’m going to close your door so you won’t be bothered.”

“Let me help you.”

“No, you came to sleep, so get as much as you can. We’ll talk about this in the morning.”

I made trip after trip from the car to the house, all the time thinking how desperate and broke a person must be to enter a stranger’s home for shelter.

Julio woke at 7.30, came out and apologized once again. I’d unloaded boxes but had no furniture for our ‘talk’ so we sat together on the floor.

“Tell me about yourself.” I asked.

He seemed shy and humble, told me he was 35 years old, had lost a job in electronics in Santa Barbara after being hurt in a car accident and come to Ojai with the idea of working in the orange groves. He had his bachelor’s degree and hoped to learn internet marketing when he recovered. But just last night he’d found work washing dishes from 9.30 in the morning, until 9.30 at night, with a two hour break in the middle. He was determined to keep the job but had no place to stay, so decided to sleep on the street. He’d tried sleeping near the library but was told to move along, then remembered the real estate sign that had been in front of my house.

“Are you going to call the police? Have them put me in jail?”

“Nope,” I answered. “I’m going to give you breakfast, wash your clothes and let you stay here until you get on your feet. How does that sound?”

Apparently it sounded pretty good because his eyes watered and he launched into ways he could earn his keep by helping in the garden or the house or anything else I could think of.

After our talk, he left to wash dishes, a one mile walk, returning during his lunch break to see how he could help.

I was headed to the hardware store and then the grocery, so he came along, insisting he push the grocery cart and carry all my purchases. It was a little surreal in a, Driving Miss Daisy, kind of way – the old white haired woman with her hired man in tow.

After lunch he returned to work, but not before advising me to close the gate and lock the windows.

I laughed. “What? You imagine somebody is going to break in? It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”

He smiled, than fixed his gaze on mine. “Thank you for trusting me. You won’t be sorry.”

And so the universe has brought me my first housemate, not the one I imagined and not the moneyed kind, but it appears we are rather a timely fit.