I hate Alzheimer’s disease.
I imagine I hate it the way some people hate cancer or auto-immune disorders or rare genetic conditions. I’m sure I hate those things too, but Alzheimer’s keeps showing up and reminding me of its power to reduce, dislodge and set adrift. In a time of life when people should be enjoying their memories, taking stock of time passed and things accomplished, this disease takes all of that away. It confuses, upsets, deconstructs. And it wreaks further havoc on the afflicted’s family, as they do their best to cope with the situation while watching the person they love fade away before their very eyes.
The pervasiveness scares me the most. My family is coping for the second time in four years. Almost every friend I have has a grandmother, grandfather or other relative who is affected. All of their families have stepped in to be caregivers to their loved ones for as long as they can. It is stressful, all-consuming, life-altering. It is the only option.
I’ve written articles (many years ago now) about the research being done to understand Alzheimer’s and why it attacks the human brain. Some of this vital research is being done in Santa Barbara, at UCSB. I have confidence that these scientists will figure out a way to cure and treat it effectively, but I wish the science was there already. The medicine available now seems like too little, too late.
That first day that someone you have known your whole life doesn’t know you is awful. You can prepare yourself, and guess that it will probably come soon, but when it happens it still rips out your heart. There isn’t anything anyone can say to make it better. You can’t be angry at them for not knowing you – it isn’t their fault. Their confusion, combined with your shock, becomes that moment when you search for the right identifiers to explain why they are supposed to know you.
“I’m your granddaughter.”
“I’m your daughter.”
“I’m your son.”
It’s so hard to know what you are supposed to say next. If I could redo that moment, I think I’d say: “I love you.”
I feel old.
Going back to a place you lived 23 years ago will do that to you.
Especially if it has changed a lot.
It makes you appreciate the things that haven’t changed that much more. Even if some of them are strange.
At the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the lobby of the apartment building where we lived still has the same furniture. This is weird, considering that it’s been updated to a Hilton Vacations resort and was filled with families, dragging their boogie boards and beach gear with them. This made me happy. It reminded me of when we were almost the only kids living there with a bunch of old people.. and Charo. They didn’t have any of the nice huge flower arrangements in there anymore, either.
The ABC stores, still ubiquitous, were around every corner. The Lagoon Pantry wasn’t nearly as dusty and intriguing as it used to be – maybe tourists actually buy things there? Benihana looked dated and had bad Yelp reviews. No more restaurant in the bottom of Tapa Tower.. and the Golden Dragon in the Rainbow Tower was gone too. Tapa Tower karaoke? Nope. The penguins were still there, but I couldn’t find the flamingos. They’ve moved the luau away from the Super Pool, probably to accommodate more people. And they lock up the conference center, so bored kids can’t do cartwheels across the ballrooms. But there are still fireworks every Friday night, and a man who eats fire. Kaisers was breaking, people were surfing, the beach was packed.
I thought about all the great memories we had there and how lucky we were to have truly unique Hawaii experience. And I got to run for the first time from the HHV all the way down past Diamond Head, stopping to take pictures of the lighthouse. Everything seemed smaller and a little less amazing than I remembered it, and the Kalakaua strip was more like Vegas than Hawaii, with all the high end stores.
Fort DeRussy looked the same. A jogging path now circles the lagoon. The pizza parlor, Lappert’s Ice Cream, and Hilton Hawaiian Village barber Leon of Copenhagen – check, check, check. My 11-year-old self still wanted to argue about pineapples. Dole whips continue to be delicious, the perfect treat on a hot day. We went to Local Motion, but there were no bikinis nearly half as awesome as the hot pink one my mother once bought. Ala Moana is now ginormous, four levels, hard as heck to navigate. I recognized the koi pond where we used to take the escalator, and not much else.
Hanauma Bay was still full of gorgeous fish. Sunset, Banzai, Waimea, as beauteous and packed as ever. And my favorite beach – Makap’u – still wild, with crashing waves and hot hot sand. A random tidal wave siren sounded as we walked around, daring me to notice how much things had changed – but how many others remained the same.
We lived in Penthouse 5 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Apartments from June to December 1989. My father was assigned to the Honolulu office of General Telephone and Electric for a special project – as a civil engineer, he planned the undergrounding of phone lines for the state of Hawaii. As a lifelong surfer, he was thrilled to bring us to Hawaii for what could have been permanent residency. As kids who loved to boogie board and play at the beach, we were thrilled to be there.
Life at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Apartments was a trip. From our balcony we could see a free fireworks show every Friday night, as well as the elaborate preparations for the weekly luau, which included the fire eating performances of Siva Afi – at least, I thought that was his name. Googling it now I realize that is actually the name of the traditional Samoan fire knife dance he was performing. Whatever moniker he really went by, my little brother and I were quite impressed with his fire swallowing skills.
We took long walks down Waikiki, swam laps in the apartment pool every day, shopped at the Ala Moana Mall, and on the weekends would tour different parts of the island. I became obsessed with Dole Whips. I also was thoroughly convinced that pineapples grew underground, like potatoes, because despite passing row upon row of pineapple plants as we drove past the Dole fields coming back from the North Shore, I never saw a single pineapple above ground awaiting harvest.
Thanks to an expense account from my dad’s company, we ate out a lot. This six months of my life is probably why as an adult I’m a bit of a profligate foodie. My brother and I would “rate” each restaurant using a Sanrio sticker book we’d gotten at the Japanese grocery store in the Ala Moana Mall. That place had the best bakery – and amazing apple fritters – that I have ever had.
Little things about living at the Hilton stand out: being Charo’s neighbor, we’d see her in the elevator. She had a permanent show there at the time. There was an elderly man named George in our building who liked to ask my brother and I, every time he saw us, “Do you know why they called it Hawaii 5-0?” We’d always say no. He’d gleefully answer himself: “Because Hawaii was the 50th state!” One day we finally got to ride the paddle boats out into the lagoon in our front yard. We were dismayed to find you couldn’t de-board on the little island in the center. There were a few other kids in our building. We played baseball with them on the lawn next to the lagoon, they’d never played before.
It was a strange place to live, with the constant comings and goings of tourists and a permanent party right outside at the resort, and probably wouldn’t have been right for us long term. But for our temporary paradise vacation, it was an amazing spot to call home. Here we are standing in front of the lagoon – in our front yard!
Two of my favorite people are due to leave Santa Barbara next week. They’ll be back, in fits and starts, but their time living here has come to an end. If the skies seem a little less blue starting next Tuesday, it might be because the Hammedillos have left the area.
Chris and Danielle – you have no idea how much we will all miss you. Me especially. Your good-natured, laid back, fun loving, kind and generous natures have been so appreciated. I’ve never had friends who fed me as many delicious meals as you have, or were so generous with their open door policy. Miso soup and quesadillas are going to be decidedly less delicious from here on out. There won’t be any more line dancing without you, Danielle, or Korean soap operas either. And Chris, I know I’m doomed to try less interesting beer from this point forward.
I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not that you both happen to be from my favorite state, the Land of Enchantment. I’m jealous that you get to go back there, but happy for your families that they will be able to see you more now. And I’ll come visit, you can be sure of that.
I’m sad that we didn’t meet sooner, but so glad we got to have this year of hanging out together. I can’t finish this post without a thank you to Kelly and Bryan, because without them I would never have known you. Be well and brilliant, and I know we’ll see you further on down the road.
Love, your friend, Matilda Correcaminos
As a very young kid, Tom McCord was the very first person I ever knew who was “different.” He was my dad’s very good friend.
Tom didn’t drive a car, so when he came over to our house to spend time with us, we’d go pick him up at his parents in Santa Ynez Oaks. He was the only grown-up I knew who lived with his parents, which made him seem lucky in my eyes. He didn’t walk quite right, one of his legs seemed to drag behind the other. He didn’t talk quite right, either, so I had to listen closely to be able to understand him. But other than that, he was the coolest person ever. He’d get down on his arms and knees, let me jump on his back and give me a pony ride around the couch. He taught me about toe-jam. He called me Lea-bongea-banana-nana-fo-fea. And I could tell from the way my parents treated him and laughed and smiled more when he was around that he was a very good friend.
I’m not sure how old I was when I could understand why Tom wasn’t like everybody else. I’m sure I asked my mom at some point. There had been an accident, she explained, and he had fallen from a high cliff in Northern California. For a long time, he did not wake up. My dad went to visit him in his hospital room, while he lay lifeless in a coma for many months. But Tom didn’t die. I’ve always been convinced that the overwhelming positivity that imbues his soul is the reason he was able to wake up.
My dad, William Etling, has written some amazing things about Tom that summarize the kind of person he is. A few excerpts:
“Tom was my best friend at Santa Ynez High, class of 1971. He was a good student, surfed, was on the wrestling and football teams, was funny, good looking, and well liked by all. Upon graduation he headed off to Humboldt State, where one terrible night in 1973 a fall from a beachside bluff left him in a coma. He was 19 years old.
Through it all, this gregarious, kind, open-hearted guy, who always had a bevy of friends from all walks of life, honed his stellar sense of humor and a fearless, ebullient charm that melts the heart.
When I visited him at his home in Socorro, New Mexico, we went out for breakfast, and he greeted everyone he met. If they weren’t friends before that moment, they were after. Making his way down the street with the swinging gait his injuries left him, he had a trail of smiling people in his wake.”
People generally don’t react well to those who are different than the rest of us. Whether it’s a physical or mental handicap, an accident, disease or injury that has changed someone’s body or mind or spirit, treating that person equally and openly doesn’t come naturally to some. I like to think that knowing Tom so early in my life helped me be kinder to those who are other-abled.
Tom has lived independently in Socorro, New Mexico for many years. He has a job at the library there, and somewhere along the way one of his coworkers, librarian Kathryn Albrecht, realized what some of us already knew. Tom had a gift for language. He knows more words than anyone I’ve ever met. And his ability to put them together, poignantly, as poetry, is divine.
Before there were computers, Tom would write my dad amazing letters. He saved them all. They were wondrous tales of words intertwined with emotion and big, brilliant statements about the universe. Some of his poems are like that. Others are smaller, sweeter, sneakier. Albrecht’s collation of the poems Tom left on her desk at the library is now a book, “Riding on Hurled Bones.” Speaking as someone who doesn’t care much for poetry, it’s a remarkable piece of writing. You should buy it, and read it, but more importantly, perhaps, you should meet Tom McCord.
There will be two book signings in Solvang and Los Olivos next Friday and Saturday, Aug. 9 and 10. I’ll be at the Saturday event, and I’d encourage you to come to either one. As Dad writes: “The greatest gift of all we take for granted. It’s lost in the day-to-day round of petty annoyances. Just being here, alive, drawing breath, and looking on in wonder at the mystery and majesty of it all, is the ultimate miracle. A few special people, like Tom, risen from the dead, hold that truth in their hearts. If only we all did.”
Tom, thank you for everything you have opened my eyes to in this life. Toe jam first, followed by a lot of really big life lessons that I’ll forever cherish, because I knew you.
The Riding on Hurled Bones Tour 2013 comes to Los Olivos August 10 from 6-8 pm, with music, wine, and the inimitable Thomas Joseph McCord, signing his new book. 2920 B Grand Avenue, Los Olivos, CA 93441.
As a Santa Ynez Valley native, I’ve been eating at Mattei’s Tavern for my entire life. It’s gone through many versions as a restaurant, and had many owners and chefs. At one point it was a Chart House, with a memorably terrific salad bar. The most recent iteration, Brother’s at Mattei’s Tavern, left a very high standard to live up to. By the way, you can still find the Brothers Nichols and their fine cuisine at Sides Hardware and Shoes just down the street in Los Olivos, and I would recommend you take your business there as opposed to the “new” Mattei’s Tavern. Brothers will also be opening up the Red Barn in Santa Ynez come November, and that should be a welcome addition to the local steakhouse scene. Unfortunately, the Hitching Post has fallen off the preferred local dining list, since it’s constantly packed with tourists having their own Sideways experience.
The moment we walked in the front door at Matteis this Saturday night, I knew things had changed. The bar/foyer area was once my favorite part of the restaurant, especially in the winter when the fireplace is burning. It’s now been revamped in such a way that feels a bit like a processing area. The day we were there, two weeks after opening, it still reeked of fresh green paint, which was quite unpleasant. The bench seating along the right wall is far removed from the cozy feel that this room always had in the past. Gone are the paintings of the Matteis, by their son, noted portrait painter Clarence Mattei, that once hung over the fireplace. Also absent was the big host’s podium that used to be directly to the right of the front door. The room was lighter and brighter, but it felt too bright to me.
Though the restaurant was less than half full, we were seated at a table directly across from the kitchen, basically alongside the restaurant’s main thoroughfare. The temperature was extremely warm due to being so close to the stoves. With heavy foot traffic of the staff passing to and from the kitchen, and the warmth, we knew we would not be able to enjoy our meal at this table and had to ask to be moved. The staff was happy to accommodate our request and we were reseated in a table on the enclosed porch, formerly known as the wicker room. Gone are the comfy wicker chairs that were once here, replaced by modern cloth chairs that weren’t all that comfortable. I also noted the lack of table cloths – it felt a bit too casual without them.
The wine list is fabulous. I would expect nothing less from a restaurant owned by Charles Banks, former owner of Screaming Eagle, and now involved in many winery ventures including Jonata on the Central Coast, Sandhi Wines and Mayacamas Vineyards. There are options for every price point. I don’t know that they’ll be moving many $1,400 bottles of Bordeaux, but it’s certainly possible if they attract the kind of clientele that Mr. Banks will hope to have come to his boutique hotel. That will be developed on the Mattei’s property in the coming months/years, so the historic character of this place will be quite altered in the very near future. You can read more about the development planned for the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern in this Lompoc Record article.
You can read more about the meal we had and why we were so disappointed in the food in my review on Yelp. Suffice to say it was disappointing. You might argue that we came in with a bias and were predisposed to dislike everything, but I would argue that I was very excited to take Peter to somewhere that is so important to me. I hoped we’d have an absolutely amazing meal and be telling all our friends how great it was. In the past, I have been lucky enough to have not just great meals at Mattei’s, but made memories. At the price point now, it would have to be an extremely special occasion for me to ever dine there in the future. Based on this poor first experience, I don’t think I’ll ever go back.
Even before our appetizers arrived we struck up a conversation with an older local couple one table over from ours. The woman said: “I hope you have better luck with your food than we did.” With a look of disappointment, she told me how sad she would be to tell her 10 children that the restaurant they had enjoyed so much over the years wouldn’t be somewhere they’d be able to eat as a family anymore. I agreed, and unfortunately I suspect many other locals will as well. I know many of us had hoped that we’d still be able to enjoy this restaurant and historic space as we had in the past. Alas.
A few months ago I wrote a blog post that bemoaned an unfortunate truth: A lot of high end running shoes are really ugly.
Much to my surprise, this post got a lot of attention out there on the interweb. Strangers commented. People search for the term “why are running shoes so ugly” on a daily basis. It’s one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written, and it keeps getting traffic week in and week out.
It’s time for me to buy another pair of running shoes, so naturally this ugly shoe issue has been on my mind again. Right now I’m leaning toward a pair of Asics Kayanos that are gray and pink. Yes, pink, a color I despise. But it’s one of the only Kayano models available right now that doesn’t look like it was designed for a disco clown going to a Palm Springs rave.
I started searching around online to see if I could find any models of shoes that I found truly attractive. But my search couldn’t be limited to aesthetics. Performance of the shoe should be every runners’ priority, even if you make that final purchase decision based on the fact that you like the way you look. (Sidebar: I don’t understand how Men’s Wearhouse could get rid of George Zimmer. And I feel like his ouster means I have to stop saying “I guarantee it” all the time.)
Just this week I finished reading the fantastic “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. I was late to the party on this book, which was mostly as good as everyone said. I was more interested in the culture of the Tarahumara Indians, though, and McDougall spends a lot of time delving into the evolutionary science that allows us to run and the pros and cons of conventional running shoes.
Based partially on the immense popularity of McDougall’s book and the high number of people who adopted minimalist running footwear in its wake, you’ll now find minimalist shoes everywhere you go. I own a couple pairs, and when I first bought them I made a stupid mistake: I went running in them. Keep in mind that I am a six-foot-tall, 150-pound woman who mostly runs on asphalt and tackles a lot of hills. I quickly discovered, thanks to horrible shooting pain in my legs, that minimalist shoes were not going to work for me as running footwear. Then a few months later I got serious plantar fasciitis, which took months to recover from. I’m sure that some of the assertions of McDougall’s text are accurate – our running form is often unnatural, and our feet are not conditioned to run without shoes, and shoe companies make a lot of money. But I’m not running to hunt down an antelope for dinner, a practice that he devotes great time to in his book. I’m running to be healthy, ease stress, enjoy the city where I live, and impress my friends. I’ll continue wearing shoes to do so for the foreseeable future. (Occasional beach runs excluded.)
Back at square one: I need to buy shoes and I don’t like the way they look. I scrolled through a slideshow of the “25 Best Running Shoes of 2013” and found most to be away from my taste. There were two I found acceptable, but both were for trail running. I tend to stay away from trails, as they are great places to sprain my ankles.
Next I navigated over to Runner’s World. They’re known for their expertise at shoe selection, and the midpack runner listens to their footwear recommendations as gospel. I follow their hilarious editor at large Mark Remy on Facebook. To my delight, I found that he had just written about a new REMY shoe, the Gimmùk. It’s a game changer, according to a news release he got. He writes: “Gimmùk is a Tarahumaran word meaning, roughly, ‘product differentiation.’”
At this point I was laughing so hard that I had trouble getting back to my original mission. Focus, Etling! I scrolled through the 2013 Summer Shoe Guide. Overwhelming shades of lime green, neon yellow and orange sherbert made me crave margaritas and frozen yogurt. How about some simple blues, reds and grays, shoe companies? Is that really too much to ask? I jumped over to the Spring Shoe Guide. Here I found something that didn’t totally offend me – the Asics Gel Lyte 33 2. Classic Asics design with a deep blue hue. Hmmm. I might have to give these babies a try. If I was still a fast runner, I’d even venture to the Newton Gravity Neutral Performance Trainer. Their flashy red blue and yellow combo is Olympic-caliber, though, and my mile splits aren’t speedy enough to pull that off, especially at a $175 price point.
For now, I am still running in the Kayanos I purchased six months ago. The heels are completely worn out and they smell like a dead animal. Maybe the Tarahumara were right. Sandals made out of old tires might be a better way to go.