It was so alarming I could not take pictures. May 2, 2 P.M., 50 boxes were on the ground with nowhere to go. Two principle 6’ bookshelves had no wall space. No kitchen cupboards, no washer & dryer, no sofa. The sun was going down, a dozen people were trying to pile in whatever they could and an unrelenting inner voice kept whispering, “put it in the garage.” A bounding inner voice shouted, “there is no garage, there is no fence, there is no backyard.” The only smart stroke was that the gigantic poodle was overnight at her godmother’s house.
On the other column was that there were ten people organizing my new home. Before the moving truck arrived, one person had all of the technology up and running and two artists had delivered and arranged my mini-garden. Miracles began piling up in the form of things fitting within one inch or less; the desk, the Ikea shelves, the hangers, the shoes, the dishes, etc. Neighbors said hello as they walked up and down the street. Dogs and bikes. People speaking other than English and people who were not white. This was not the isolated island of xenophobes with Prop 8 lawn signs that was in my rearview mirror. This was Long Beach, this was Rose Park, this was the 2nd most diverse city in the US.
In the course of a day, you might hear six disparate sirens. In the course of a month, you would meet 20+ people. In the month of July, you will hear 31 nights of fireworks. Locking doors is how it is done. Saying hello is the minimum. On a Saturday afternoon, you can hear 8 different music tracks reflecting the community. AND you can get the best Mexican food without crossing a street, right around the corner. As my friend Jean said, “This is truly urban living.”
Possibly the epitome happened in June. A man on a bike hollered into the house, “Hey can I buy one of your statues?” I stood on my porch and said no, they are not for sale. He said his mother liked them and wants one. I said, sorry, they are not for sale. The next day he came back and hollered in again. I went to see what’s what. He had a silver spray painted Buddha. He gave it to me explaining that he found it and thought I would like it. When I relayed this story to 2 local friends, they said, “That’s so Long Beach.” And now, after 8 months, I am accustomed to saying that to myself constantly, as friendliness rises up from the sidewalks, That is SO Long Beach.
All new streets with the only familiar orientation being the ocean. The rising and setting sun assured me that I could not get too terribly lost. My GPS was my best friend. After a few google searches I noticed a pattern; nothing I wanted was more than 6 minutes away. The LGBTQ Center is 4.5 minutes. City Hall is 6 minutes. Vons and Ralphs are under 6 minutes and the master blaster was on a HOTTTT August day, there was a paleta shop 6 minutes from my house. Fifty flavors and no one spoke English. I got to stumble with my Buenos Dias, Muchos Gracias and Adios. It is no accident that the Museum of Latin American Art is 5.5 minutes, however the opening of the Frida Kahlo show was beyond an oyster’s pearl.
During Pride all of the statues wore rainbow leis. For the Dalai Lama’s birthday, I hung a Tibetan flag. Months later a woman introduced herself to me saying that she knew she wanted to know the woman in that house. You will find it hard to believe that she was saying it to a man who put up my flag pole and was my high school student in 1972. And just imagine, my letter carrier dressed as Dexter for Halloween delivery. The introductions began so fast and often that I had to admit I will never remember them all.
It’s a long, beautiful drive from Dana Rohrabacher to Alan Lowenthal. It’s a leap from posting support on facebook for $15 minimum wages to sitting at a city council meeting listening to workers stories of raising kids on $9 an hour. It is beyond my expectation that I know people running for City Council in my district and they know my name. I am bursting with national expectation over Hillary #45 but celebrating that now, for me, politics is local and I am engaged.
I did a couple of really interesting things in my new city and county. I went to a different church every week and I said yes to every meeting invitation for 5 months.
I have never had access to so many people who share many of the causes, ideas, and politics I hold. An organizer asked me to coffee which might have seemed normal to her but to me it was unheard of. I have stood in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel in protest, I have been on the Bluffs on World AIDS Day, I prayed in front of the courthouse for gun control. I read a poem at an open mic and spoke of an activist longevity at the Grrrl Collective. I have been welcomed at a Black Lives Matter meeting and talked on a panel on the Whitewashing of Stonewall. I have argued vehemently that transwomen are women and discovered that my lifelong friend is a living hero here in Long Beach.
My journey through the churches was equally rich and surprising. After one service on integration, I suggested to a woman that they might offer a Sunday service in Spanish, to be told that no one in the area speaks Spanish and that is why people live there. After the shooting in South Carolina, I took flowers to a service at the Grant Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church to experience song and community as I have never seen.
Surreptitiously, even to myself, I was searching to see if there was a place to begin public ministry teaching Engaged Buddhism. Almost unbelievably, the perfect multi-faith church is on the next block where I walk the dog most days.
All of this leaves me with two big unknowns. My new friend Kenny and I talk about it often. There is so much going on, how can one choose and where is the greatest opportunity for service. We want to do them all.
Primarily, Long Beach needs affordable housing for Queers; seniors and the homeless. I want to be a part of that long-overdue ground breaking. Personally, I want to use my fifty years of activism to inspire and advise high-risk militant change-makers.
Finally, I want to remember the names of dozens of people who know mine. Just today, as I was walking my dog, a neighbor shouted from the back of her house, “Merry Christmas, Zoe.”
Merry Christmas, Dusty.
Merry Christmas, Long Beach.