“Life in California, September 1989”

Excerpts 3 & 4. These two essays are from Cycling in the City — How I Got My Confidence Back, Book 2 in the Burnout to Bliss series.

Life in California

September 1989

Our street in Sacramento was a highway – four lanes of fast-moving traffic, a constant whooshing sound. I learned out of desperation to reframe that unfamiliar noise to be white noise for sleeping. There was an attached garage and a backyard with trees. Catherine set me up in the spare bedroom with a mattress on top of the waist-high, six-drawer dresser she’d used as a student. Our cats met each other, decided living together was okay, and the only thing left was to figure out the money thing. I had very little, and I wanted to stretch it as far as possible.

Enter “bartering.”

My first barter opportunity came when Catherine asked me to come along to a car dealer one evening. She was buying a new truck, and the dealer offered her $1500 for her car. I heard myself whisper, “Let me sell it.” Without batting an eye, she withdrew her trade-in and closed the deal without it.

That’s another thing I liked about Catherine. She respected me (and probably anyone else she let into her circle). She didn’t tell me to butt out, and she didn’t ask me anything else – not to prove it, not for evidence. I had said I could do it, and she trusted me to do it. Oddly, I was dead certain that I could, even though I’d never sold a car before in my life.

Days later, I had sold her Toyota station wagon for $4,500 – three times the trade-in offer from the car dealer.

I simply checked the newspaper to see what the going rate was in this city, and phoned a bank to get the blue book value. It was no bother to clean up her car, because she did it meticulously every weekend. No problem to park it on the front lawn and show it to whoever answered my ad. I had nothing but time, and lots of desire to be of service.

When the third caller came back with a check for the full asking price, Catherine was astonished. She wanted to give me the difference between the dealer’s offer of $1500 and the sale price of $4500, but I declined.

“I don’t need the cash. I need a place to stay,” I explained.

She smiled and agreed to accept the full price of the sale for my rent.

I’m sure she understood my need to feel independent, my need to pay my own way instead of accepting her original offer for free rent. It’s dangerous enough to anyone’s self-esteem to collapse onto another.

It’s especially dangerous if one has a lousy sense of self-esteem and is recovering from a nervous breakdown. Besides, I’m proud of the fact that I’ve always paid my way, no matter how poor I might have appeared to others.

And that night, lying in bed, I couldn’t help but notice that by offering myself in service when I said I’d sell her car, having no agenda other than to be helpful, I had inadvertently opened myself to the Tao, the natural flow of energy in the universe.

It wasn’t like I was so mystical. But it was true that in many ways, I felt as if I no longer existed in the real world unless someone called my name or otherwise broke through whatever veil surrounded me. I had no interest in the “real world” except the reminders from my body that I did, in fact, still exist.

And that contemplation helped me realize that it was definitely time to go public, to see what it felt like being somewhere besides at home.



I went to church, admittedly hopeful that I would meet someone, but also to establish some sort of routine for my new life. I had arrived early, having no idea how long it took to get anywhere in this new city.

On the walk from the parking lot, I met a charming woman who appeared to be about 70+ years old, who wore a red shirt-dress with a slim skirt and a big smile. She welcomed me and introduced me to all her other friends.

As I looked around throughout the service, I noticed that the constituency was similar to that of my church in Purgatory. Everyone was much older than I was.

A sad thought occurred to me. If the future of Presbyterianism depended on the present day constituency, and if these two churches represent the overall picture, then Presbyterianism is doomed to die out in about ten years! 

The service was somewhat similar to the one I knew from home, but there was a lot of rah-rah specialness – like the opening ritual. The congregation was called to stand up. Then we were directed to turn to our left. Everyone gave a backrub to the one in front. Then they changed directions and would do that person’s back.

There were lots of jokes and pep-rally voices. The minister had jokes, too, just as my minister did back home. But the overall mood in this church was one of “Let’s party!”

I wondered if maybe they had to do that for these old people to keep them from falling asleep.

The music was also different for the doxology and the other routine song – too bad for me, because those are two I did rather well. Instead, I was singing in my baritone voice to all the tunes that required soprano-like unison melody only (no harmonizing allowed). And I’m sure the old ladies were not impressed. It seems that, at least here, in this church, when you’re over 70, you sing soprano whether you can or not. My voice doesn’t do soprano. In my high school choir, I frequently sang tenor with the men.

The ladies were kind to me and invited me to stay after for coffee and treats. They also politely suggested that I try the Northwestern Presbyterian next Sunday.

That was the last time I went to church in California.


Cycling in the City is $.99 for a limited time. Buy it here.


Update: Weird INDY Project

I’ve been doing my property manager gig since March when a tenant moved into the basement of his friends’ house because he was lonely. Then the gal who broke up with her boyfriend told me she needs to move 5/1 so she can have a puppy (they aren’t allowed here).

That gig continues for at least a week or two after the new tenant is settled. Now I’m in the “placed the ad, reply to emails and do phone interviews, and show the apt. stage.” This tenant okayed showing while she’s moving.

This is the white-knuckle stage of “Is there still a good tenant out there who wants to live in a triplex?” That particular apartment has been “handed down” for over fifteen years with current tenant referrals. Not this time.

So: writing. There simply has been no time to write and there won’t be until the new tenant is settled in, and we’re not even close to that point.

Seeing this as an opportunity, (I’m a silver-lining kind of gal) I’ve committed myself to “getting ready to move.” In my world, that means getting rid of things I don’t want to pay someone else to move for me. My apartment is total chaos.

I already got rid of my living room furniture. Now the floor is a packing space of open boxes with black marker labels on the flaps — e.g., Humane Society Thrift store, Craig’s List, Durango Online Garage Sale. And I empty the trash frequently throughout day (“toss-it!” stuff).

As I was clearing the clutter off the microwave (tiny photos and other memorabilia), I came across this postcard-size collage magnet I bought at a friend’s art booth in a Whole Expo:

You suffer when you chase a dream that doesn’t belong to you!

That fairly sums up my feelings about writing at the moment. I do love it. And after all these years — waiting for MY time when I could pursue my life’s dream — it just might be time for me to face the possibility that “it’s not mine to do.”

No worries. I will always write — for myself. I’ve kept journals my entire life.

Till next time, please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows. ~Tzaddi






2 responses to ““Life in California, September 1989”

  1. Deanna Benson

    Bought “Cycling in the City”, was moved to a lot of thoughts as to how I have moved several times in Texas, moved by things happening in my life. Good read!

  2. Thanks, Deanna! Did you post your comment on Amazon?

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