1025 Gilman Street, Whole Foods Market

Allegro Roasters, Whole Foods

Allegro Roasters, Whole Foods

Vegetables were artfully arranged by size and color like models at New York’s Fashion Week. I wanted to eat everything. But this was not a farmer’s market or my friend’s kitchen. I’d happened upon the newest Whole Foods Market that had opened last year on Gilman Street in Berkeley, California. I’d returned to the store after my daughter had brought me there to assemble a salad. No ingredient looked more than three seconds old.

The original Whole Foods Market had been founded in Austin, Texas in 1980. Whole Foods went on to acquire a bevy of companies that were committed to the same vision of marketing natural foods. But this particular store offered not only the traditional non-GMO and USDA certified organic selections, but a building flashing recycled technology from every porchlight.

Near the bathroom, there’s a plaque explaining how the store is built of reclaimed wood, and glazed brick from post-consumer recycled material. The Gilman store also has upped the ante regarding refrigeration, using a “transcritical CO2 system,” a natural refrigerant that outdoes traditionally used HFC (hydrofluorocarbons) refrigerants resulting in reduced energy consumption. It doesn’t stop there. Floors are made of “marmoleum,” a natural linoleum product manufactured from linseed oil, wood flour, pine resin, jute and limestone; bags at the check-out counter are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and made of 100% recycled paper.

I wanted to get the whole Whole Foods picture. So I returned. There’s an entire aisle devoted to different chips including Kale Krunch and Avocado Oil Potato together with any number of differently prepared pretzels and popped corn. Tom’s Toothpaste totally elbows out Crest and Colgate brands. At the checkout counter I found no candy, only energy bars, no Good Housekeeping or Enquirer magazines. Standing tall were copies of the Harvard Business Review and Naturally.

I bought one item and made my way to the coffee bar run by Allegro roasters, large burlap sacks of beans piled on the floor. On the counter were glass milk bottles filled with differently colored coffee beans. In addition to the usual lattes, cappuccinos, and espressos, I also had a choice of home brewed, Chemex, and a number of other possibilities. My mind froze. I knew about Chemex and decided to go with a Guatemalan blend. Pastries were expensive; I did look twice at the lemon brioche tart and the sesame lime and guava financier. The name itself was a show-stopper.

My coffee was brewed by a young woman with a single blonde braid She talked with her co-worker who wore two sleeves of tattoos, bicycles running up his arm with a set of keys dangling from a spiky biker belt.

Who shops at Whole Foods? I saw mostly young people who looked like they had jobs, moms with kids in strollers, and a few retirees. Organic seems to be the new trendy thing that comes with a hefty price tag. Maybe it’s the tie-dye of a new generation. Anyhow, I applaud Whole Foods for stepping out there as a model, even if I do prefer my own Farmer Joe’s market in Oakland’s Fruitvale District where the produce is fresh and the prices more reasonable.

I carried my jar of chipotle salsa back to the car.

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Before the city had cut down pecan trees for the mall, before your brother was diagnosed with cancer, before the crazy woman moved into the fishing cabin, brown earth stretched diagonally toward the bayou topped with stubbles of dried grass sticking out like the hairs of a balding man, orange sun shuddering in a harp of light; before that, you know I loved you.

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Ghosts: Sequel 2

DSC01425She pointed to the bronze and wooden statuettes. The fact that she didn’t think the ghost was my husband, interested me while at the same time, I was happy he wasn’t messing with her mind. His own mind occupied a world of special relationships, mathematical probabilities especially about chess, an analytical cast inherited from his royal Russian forebears as well as the winter snow blowing across the taiga, a cutting sarcasm. But the fact that Woody was still rattling around in the basement saddened me. I was sorry he had been unable to find peace. Or maybe the ghost wasn’t one particular individual, but a collective history putrefying in a basement divided into a catacomb of dirt cells. We’d covered the largest section of the floor with cement. Smaller areas were repurposed into a writing room, an area used for my son’s hobbies, a storage area that on occasion became a Haunted House, and the rest, a place for lazy cats to do their business.

After my husband died of congestive heart failure, I sold the house, moved away, and raised my daughter. I met Jenning years later through a dating service. Casual dating had allowed me to reclaim my social self. I wasn’t expecting a great romance. But when I met him at the movie theater, he hugged me warmly. It felt easy and natural. He was a self-described “boy from the South,” new to the area and wanting to be introduced to the sights and sounds of San Francisco. I was a single mom proofreading essays for my daughter’s college applications. We watched Spiderman3, touted by critics as one of the best in the series, great special effects and acting. When the evening was over, he opened my car door and closed it softly. For our second date, we went to a pinball arcade. I watched him work the flippers, his moves. And as we got to know each other, I looked forward to his phone calls, our dates in the car driving anywhere, listening to music, laughter, eating at our favorite pizza joint, taking walks along Leona Canyon, being together in bed. But after seven years, our relationship fell apart.

I left Louisiana in the early morning. It was still dark. My boxes were packed along the back wall of the garage waiting for a trucking company to pick them up at a later time. It rained all the way through Texas. I stopped for breakfast in Canton outside of Dallas at a restaurant that was half “World Famous Hamburgers” serving beef, duck and elk burgers, and half a “World Famous Dairy Palace” serving 32 flavors of hand-dipped ice cream. I was glad they also served breakfast and poured coffee. Both were excellent. At the cash register they gave out emery boards imprinted with the restaurant’s name. Plastic poinsettias were stuck inside boxes of plastic philodendrons. I’d been driving for hours and sat in a red-padded booth. Seating areas were packed close. In front of me sat a couple; a woman faced me, her hair carefully coiffed. She looked to be all about business. “What do you do on the weekend? What kind of chores do you do?”

The man answered without hesitation. He was prepared. “Oh, I like to relax, not do much. Sit around and listen to music. Putter. Fix things. Sunday I go shopping, laundry. Things like that. Like to pour myself a beer. I watch football, but I’m not an addict.”

Satisfied, she volleyed with, “Are you a thrower? Are you jealous?” He discussed his relationship style, no, he preferred to taDSC01425lk things out rather than hurl plates through the air, “I’m a communicator,” and while he was capable of jealously and hated to see someone he had loved go out with another man, he tried not to be a total asshole. They both seemed satisfied. From there, the conversation drifted to real estate and politics. At first I thought this woman was a real loser; I’d never heard of anyone interviewing a prospective lover about relationship style. But after I thought about it, her approach made perfect sense. Maybe they were considering moving in together. Maybe she wanted to know what to expect. He didn’t ask her any questions. At least not right then.

Links to My Work

Two Places: Cross the Bay Bridge to Oakland, California and walk the bayous of Louisiana
Price(USD): $15.00
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Customer Service

Emails of online surveys: Geico, Kaiser, AT&T. A database addition on a scale of one to five. But I need customer service to tell me everything will be all right after a fender bender on the freeway one exit before my own get-away, before everything piled up on me broken: the desk, doors, sink disposal, guitar string, heart, everywhere people holding hands, dog owners walking with shepherds, collies, golden retrievers. The Customer Service Department for Allied Movers called, wants yes or no answers to ten questions. This is not customer service, people. This is harassment.

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Bayou Bartholomew

Bayou Bartholomew

Louisiana bayou,
you are a collection basket
for Mother Nature’s hand-me-downs.

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Ghosts: Sequel 1

IMG_0868My mouth dropped. Never had I expected her to utter those words. “Yes,” I said, feeling an immediate kinship with a woman who was standing in front of me on the cement pavement at the bottom of the driveway of my old house where I had raised my children and where she now lived. “When we first moved here,” I explained, “for the first three years or so we heard something; the house had a bad feeling. Something foul. There was an ooze, something ancient that didn’t care for our intrusion. My husband used to hear chains rattling at night in the basement. But I wasn’t sure if I believed him. He used to dress up as Richard III for Halloween and recited Shakespeare on the front porch standing before the spider webs we wove around the banister. My son said he saw the ghost, a heavy presence like a water balloon about to burst its skin. All I know is that I had a feeling of discomfort. I’d always look around before I placed my foot on the last step to the basement.” She seemed relieved, nodded for me to continue. “But after awhile,” I said, “the ghost went away. We were happy for a time living in this house, raising our children. Maybe that made the ghost happy.”

Cam had stirred up twenty-five years inside me. I thought the ghost must be Woody or Forest, which had been the name on all official documents, husband of the woman whom we had originally bought the Oakland house from for $65,000. Some said he had committed suicide, died in the bathtub; neighbors revealed the story more than six months after we had lived there. “He was an alcoholic,” said some. “Killed in a car crash,” reported others. His wife, Jane, as I recall, taught at the University of California at Berkeley, or maybe it was the other way around; her house was filled with artwork, vibrant colors, paintings with a Mazatlan sensibility; outside she grew cactus. Living there, I came to believe that there was something clinging to the foundation. But after I had replaced the green Kenmore that never worked well with an antique Wedgewood, and also listened to a dream where my mother instructed me to hang my family’s photos in the kitchen, that creepy sensibility dissipated.

“I don’t think the ghost was your husband. He bounced up and down on my bed and pulled back the covers. He scared me. That’s why I put Buddhas all around the windowsill.”

Links to My Work

Two Places: Cross the Bay Bridge to Oakland, California and walk the bayous of Louisiana
Price(USD): $15.00
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Ghostly Relationships

IMG_0781Down a driveway of cement cobblestones, I talked to her about ghosts. Cam was my height, which means short, mostly black hair gathered in a ponytail, silver and grey on top bordered by red and blue streaks. She was Asian, maybe Vietnamese, renting a basement room, which at various times had served as my son and daughter’s living space. On this particular day I’d pulled up to the house where I’d lived with my husband for twenty-five years, the same house where he had died, the same house where I’d raised my children, where we’d eaten meals together at the kitchen table and stepped on the porch at night to look at stars. But on this particular day I was feeling nostalgic. I slowed down at the curb of my old house about twenty minutes from where I currently lived, wanting to catch a glimpse of the garden where for years I had waged a battle with ferocious weeds, transforming patches of Bermuda grass into stays of Pacific Coast Iris, a wisteria vine, an herb and vegetable garden, daffodils in the spring.

Bay Laurel trees in my new neighborhood were beginning to tease the air with spikey leaves; it wasn’t yet quite spring. I wondered if the apple tree I had planted in our backyard was still there. I wondered if I’d see any daffodils with two-tone cream cups. I’d recently returned to the Bay Area following an almost three-year sojourn in the south. I think my unplanned visit was part of a reintegration, reacquainting myself with the path I’d traveled in the hope of creating a new one.

She said it was okay for me to look at the garden even though Lester, the man whom I’d sold the house to, wasn’t at home. I only wanted to look at the garden, I said to her, not go inside the house, and while I was standing there, recognized the rosemary bush I’d planted, remembered walking down to the garden with a scissors to snip a bunch to use in dinner preparation. I saw a crowd of agapanthus, Lily of the Nile. The original plants were small pots I’d originally brought back from a Lake Merritt Garden show, purplish-blue and white blossoms. She nodded and said it was okay and opened the gate. I stepped inside. There was a gazebo just beyond the backyard stairs, a raised garden bed filled with kale, collards, and lettuce (this may have been Lester’s winter garden), succulents with thickly padded leaves, a clipped grapevine that twined around the back stairs (possibly the one I had planted in another section of the garden), an area with roses, fuchsias, jasmine, a brick walk-way possibly built with the ones we had left in a pile following the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, a pergola near the back fence, actually a stone wall that my kids and their friends had decorated with drawings. I recognized my Pacific Coast Iris in the same spot where I’d planted them. But I realized that this garden was not mine. Yet Lester had used the plants and the ideas I’d left behind, and in that way, I had contributed to the garden. I clicked pictures with my cellphone and stepped back outside through the gate.

“Can I ask you something?” said Cam. She had allowed a moment for me to ferry my thoughts from past to the present.


“How long did you live here?” She held a small notebook and a pencil in one hand. She seemed like she was about to take notes.

“Have you ever seen ghosts in the house?”

Gentle Readers:
Through the magic of Google Analytics, I know there are several hundred dedicated readers of this blog. Thank you for your interest. Who are you in Baton Rouge, Mohegan Lake (Judi is that you?), Oakland, San Francisco, Natchitoches, Las Vegas, and Houston?  Who are my readers in China, France? Leave a reply below. Join the party!

  • Review of my poetry collection “Two Places” by Nina Serrano of Estuary Press.
  • Links to My Work

    Two Places: Cross the Bay Bridge to Oakland, California and walk the bayous of Louisiana
    Price(USD): $15.00
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    IMG_1081two angels sit on steps

    the third
    a look-out
    for whatever
    got them into this mess—

    a rag of wings
    a bindle of legs

    angels on a goof setting off a debate whose bright idea the whole thing had been anyway, to forsake  a clock tower several blocks away from where they’d offered free target practice to pigeons for years, but gave in to redevelopment, waited for someone to climb the stairs to where they were now encased, to stroke a torn wing bud, to kiss each ding with garlicky breath

    Gentle Angels:
    Through the magic of Google Analytics, I know there are several hundred dedicated readers of this blog. Thank you for your interest. Who are you in Baton Rouge, Mohegan Lake (Judi is that you?), Oakland, San Francisco, Natchitoches, Las Vegas, and Houston?  Who are my readers in China, France? Leave a reply below. Join the party!

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    Ode to Aunt Elsie

    DSC01304I look at the walls of your town house where you lived for more than forty years and died after your hundredth birthday just as you predicted you would. I’m looking at your walls, family photographs of children and grandchildren, obligatory framed pictures of you and your husband from a marriage you endured; paintings of mountains and houses—a range of browns, beige, rust, sand, every color of earth—from rugs to bedspreads; I remember how you dressed with such good taste in expensive clothing, your body measurements recorded and checked off on a piece of paper in your bathroom. Paintings by your friends, a Marc Chagall hanging in the living room; a cabinet filled with dolls from around the world, symbolic of your internationalism and frugalness; Rosh Hashanah cards in stacks that you didn’t use printed by the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism for a fund-raiser you may have organized, a menorah hanging next to a Mexican yarn doll with green serape, piles of National Geographic’s, books on art from Italy, cover designs for Vanity Fair magazine, art works made by family members sitting on ledges and shelves including a raku pencil holder with feet and eyes I gave to you so many years ago, dried stalks of lavender in your kitchen together with five containers of cinnamon, glass jars of beans, whole wheat macaroni, rancid sunflower seeds; you kept track of every baby announcement, birth day, bar and bat mitzvah, logged dates in a book; pictures of my own children, collections of ribbon, thread, buttons, keys, marbles, girdle snaps, scissors, a couch facing two stained glass windows like sitting in a synagogue (with you), praying.

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    Catching Flying Fish

    IMG_1278The old woman who lived beneath our house called up to me. “Why are you leaning over the railing with a fishing pole?” I wanted to do something special like catch the beautiful silver fish swimming beneath our deck. If I pressed my ear to the redwood planks, I could hear them. I’d even baited my fishing pole with chewing gum. But it was the sugarless kind, and I was afraid I might not get any bites.

    Basuma moved slowly. Her legs were swollen from working as a check-out clerk in a supermarket. Her grey braids reached the top step. Basuma settled into a broken lounge chair and straightened out her dress. She pointed to the garden. “It’s filled with weeds.”

    “I know. But my mother doesn’t have time to do that.”

    “You can help her.” I was silent. Weeding was not my favorite thing. She looked at my pole. “You trying to catch something?”


    “The ones swimming beneath the deck?” her brown eyes widened. I nodded. “Come over here. Sit down.”

    “But what if a fish bites?”

    Basuma laughed. She was one of the biggest women I’d ever known with a curtain of flesh that hung beneath each arm. Freckles covered her hands and arms, making her look like a ripe banana.

    She took my hand and pointed to a flowering plum tree in our backyard. “See anything?” I could make out several birds with red throats. One bird put a wriggly thing into the smaller bird’s beak. “The momma bird is feeding the baby bird,” she said, casting off her slippers and pushing them beneath the lounge chair.

    “How do you know it’s a momma bird? Where’s the daddy?” My own father lived far away.

    “Daddy’s is waiting for his turn,” she said, pointing to a row of houses on the next block. “Until then, he’s watching out for cats.”

    “Basuma,” I said, shaking off my flip-flops. I placed them next to her slippers. “There’s no way a bird is going to sit and look for cats.”

    “Not so,” she said, in a sing-song voice. “Daddies know that cats wait for little birds with shaky wings to fall from the tree and then snap them up for lunch. And when it sees the cat scrunch itself up into a waiting rock beneath the tree with its mouth open and its tail ticking,” she continued, “the daddy flies to the branch and warns its family to fly away.”

    “Basuma, how does a bird learn how to fly?”

    “The momma bird teaches it how to use its wings.”

    “But how does the momma bird learn how to fly?”

    She scratched around in her scalp and pulled out a brown and white feather from her grey hair and began to fan herself. “Can’t you guess? Her momma, of course.”

    “But how did the first momma learn how to fly?”

    “Sheesh, child, it’s much too warm here.” “Let’s go down to the basement.”

    We climbed the winding wooden stairs to her small room.  Its walls were cool gray cinder blocks. The window looked out on the garden. Basuma sat in a rocker, the only chair in the room. I sat on a blue rug and leaned my head against her bed. “Tell me.”

    “Once there was a Bird Woman named Liana,” she began.

    “Liana!” I said. “That’s my name!”

    “Of course, no one knew about her being the Bird Woman. That came later. Liana was nobody’s child and everybody’s child. She was an orphan who had been brought to the village as an infant. Everyone said that once she got older, she would share a great gift. So all the families in the village helped to raise Liana. Every year she got to live with another family. She grew up learning a bit of something from everyone.

    “One family taught her how to listen. Find those places where roots grow around a tree. Listen to what they have to say to you. Once you do, you will know how to hear.

    “Another family taught Liana how to sing. This was a family secret. “You can move rocks when they sit on your heart.“ Still, Liana was sad. She wanted to know about her mother. She wanted to know about her father. She tried to move the heavy rock from her heart, but it wouldn’t budge. One evening she leaned against a walnut tree.

    “Why are your eyes sliding off your face?” asked an ant who had made a trek down the bark of the tree to talk with her.

    “I think something must be wrong with me.”

    “Don’t you have a fire each night?”


    “And isn’t your belly filled with food?”


    “Then what can be wrong? I’m always happy when I’m warm and my belly is full.”

    “But you don’t understand. I receive gifts from all the families; I have none to share.” Now Liana was now living with Malley’s family, a girl who was just a few years younger than Liana, and her little brother Joosh. They were her favorite family.

    The ant scratched her head. Climbing up and down and around and everywhere, she knew many things through her antennae. “I know! You can borrow my smelling. Then you will have a gift to share.” The ant crawled up into Liana’s ear and rubbed its antennae against the side of her head. All Liana felt was a tickle. Later that evening, she ate dinner with Malley and Joosh, and fell asleep.

    “The next morning she awoke covered with her leaf bark blanket. The children’s mother must’ve taken it from her pack to keep Liana warm. She opened her eyes and saw that the moon had not yet disappeared. But even though the day was still young, she felt something had changed.

    “Liana smelled the dew on the leaves, a cool wet freshness. She looked for moss on the back of the trees and inhaled the difference between damp and wet. Smoke from last night’s fire curled up inside her nostrils and brought her yesterday’s memories. The ant had given Liana its sense of smell. She jumped up from her blanket.

    “What’s wrong?” asked Malley, stirring in her bed of soft fresh leaves. “Why are you up so early?”

    “I am making breakfast.” Liana raked the live coals into a pile. She was older than Malley and knew how to do this.

    “Joosh heard both girls and rolled out from his covers. He made it is business to be a part of everything.

    “Liana poured tea from a kettle. She could smell the hot water; she learned that water has its own special smell. Liana loved these two children. She wanted to do something for them and felt she could. She cupped the ear of each one with her hand, and blew softly through it. She released the gift of smell. The children walked through the forest together. But the ant’s gift was magnified through their own larger size.

    “Now we know everything,” said Malley.

    “What?” Joosh pulled the hem of his sister’s dress.

    “Quiet. You’re too little to understand.” Of course, this got him angry. Joosh bared his teeth and stuck out his tongue and stomped up and down on the pine needles.

    “Malley began to laugh. But as they walked, they noticed an opossum on lying its back with its belly ripped open, entrails pulsing and slimy. Malley and Joosh smelled the stench of death. The boy’s face turned gray. He held his stomach and felt sick. Malley grabbed her brother’s hand, and they ran. Then they smelled their fear.

    “Liana ran after them. “Come back.”

    “Get up, please” the children sobbed to their parents.  Liana didn’t understand that fear is something all creatures must learn so that they can protect themselves. She didn’t understand that it was its own gift.

    “But there was no one to hug Liana. She had wanted to show the children her love but instead she felt that she had hurt them. At the last tree beyond the big rock, she saw nothing but a blue swirl. She didn’t care what happened. She felt she had to leave the village.

    “Each special thing that the villagers had taught Liana grew into a feather. Her back grew thick with them, and the wind parted her dark hair down the middle of her neck, which spread over her arms into two wings. Liana had turned into the first Bird Woman, moving so quietly through the air, she didn’t even disturb the wind. But her beautiful song was heard throughout the village.”


    I awoke up from the lounge chair holding my fishing pole. Basuma was gone. My pole shuddered. Something was stuck to the chewing gum and I yanked it toward me. It was a small brown feather with silver glitter. It looked like a school project. But where was Basuma? And why wasn’t I in the basement?

    “Liana,” I heard my mother call from the kitchen. “Come here and help me unpack the groceries. I just got back from work. What a busy day at the check-out counter. Everyone’s buying bags of food for the holidays.”

    I placed the feather inside my pocket and went to the kitchen. “What’s for dinner?”

    “Spaghetti.” She hugged me.

    I started to help her unpack. “What’s that funny thing you have?” she asked, pointing to my pole.

    “I was fishing off the deck with Basuma and then she told me a story.”

    “Basuma?” my mother laughed. “Oh, child. “The more you grow, the more stories you make up. One of these days you’re just going to sprout wings and fly out of here.”

    Links to Published Work

    Two Places: Cross the Bay Bridge to Oakland, California and walk the bayous of Louisiana
    Price(USD): $15.00
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