Ghost House

Posted by: elraymundo at 7:48 am on Monday, July 6, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Family, Self-Spotting, Ah, Memories

The strangest thing happened when Debra and I pulled out of the driveway of our house in Yorba Linda. The house was sold, the movers had gone with our stuff and we were leaving the state of California to move back to Virginia. And we felt nothing. And I mean nothing. No sadness, no remorse, no relief…not even a sensation that we had lived there for the most tumultuous year of our lives.

When we bought the house we thought we’d live in it forever. It was going to be the TeamRaymond Ancestral Home. We were going  to landscape the big hill in the back yard with terraces and fruit trees and hibiscus and sweet-smelling jasmine. We dreamed up plans to expand the pool, add Italian villa-style arches and patio tiles and columns with water that cascaded out of them and splashed back into the pool. Over time it would become a back yard oasis of the kind often seen in southern California - our place to sit and relax and return to from our travels. We were going to make the inside like the riads we saw and fell in love with in Morocco. I found kits to arch the doorways and sites selling beautiful mosaic tiles. Debra had the kitchen of her dreams (or so she thought) and was going to spend her time testing and developing recipes for her chef in Washington, DC and cooking fabulous, delicious meals for us - something she loved to do. We fought for this house, saved it from burning down in November during the Triangle Complex wildfires by spraying flames with a garden hose. And, since they lived less than three miles away, we were going to get the chance to watch our niece and nephew grow up and we could be the cool aunt and uncle with the swimming pool.

Then it all fell apart.

The job I was promised was pulled out from under me in March. We never got settled into the house and though it was a beautiful house it never became a home. The boxes in the garage were never unpacked. The walls were never repainted. We didn’t even get the 20 years worth of wall scuffs and carpet stains from the previous owners cleaned up because we never knew when I was going to have to go back on some insane 24×7 schedule at the data center, or when it would blow up again and I would be gone for 36 or 26 or 22 hours. And once my job was taken from me we pretty much lost any home improvement steam we had remaining after the endless slog that November to March had been.

I know others have had worse times than Debra and I did. Our health was and remains good. :::taps the wooden window shutters with his fingers::: We’ve escaped with a nest egg to begin rebuilding with. I have a good job, and we both have good friends, waiting in Virginia. But five months of constant turmoil (wildfires, mudslides, lightning strikes, power outages, job upheaval, job loss, etc) really took it out of us and once it became obvious that carrying the house with no guarantee of future income was too great a risk for us to take, well, all those dreams and ideas we had for the Ancestral Home died.

We had some bizarre conversations in the two days prior to leaving. Neighbors whom we had not seen or heard from since we hosted a neighborhood party back in December called and came over to wish us well and tell us how sad they were that we were leaving. It was touching and heartfelt, but we both wondered, “Where were you the last six months?” One of the things we liked about the house on Stonehaven Drive was its privacy. We discovered that privacy also meant isolation - until a SOLD sign goes up in the front yard, then suddenly everyone comes out of the woodwork.

After the year we’ve had I didn’t expect the same emotion when we left Yorba Linda that we felt when we left Great Falls, Virginia. As badly as we both wanted to leave Virginia and try something new, it was still really, really hard to go. Especially for Debra. I figured there would be some sort of emotion when we left Stonehaven Drive. Maybe it would be relief or elation or sadness or bitterness - but there was nothing. I simply pointed the Jeep down the hill and we left. No emotion, no tears. (For Debra, the tears will come today when we leave Rancho Mirage and her family behind. Being near family - both hers and mine - has been the one bright, shining star in our time here.) Already our memory of the house is like the house itself: vacant.

It’s been less than forty-eight hours since we left the Ancestral Home and neither of us feels like we ever lived there. 5145 Stonehaven Drive has become a ghost house. It’s an overused expression, but it really does feel like a dream, like the whole year didn’t really happen and that we’re just out here visiting family and getting ready to head back home. (Although heading east with a Jeep packed with odd items like bath mats, a telephone and laundry basket hooks kind of illustrates the fact that this is not an ordinary return from vacation.) For both of us this dreamlike memory of the house is a very strange, very surreal, sensation. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette, wearing a cardigan sweater and feeling very much at home again in my old sitcom.

Anyway, we leave the desert today and we’re heading for Flagstaff, Arizona. We plan to spend the night there then continue across the top of New Mexico - supposedly a gorgeous drive - and stay in Taos the next night, stopping to see the massive meteor crater in Winslow and the Petrified Forest National Park along the way. After Taos we’ll drop down to Amarillo and head east along I-40 until we hit I-81. From there it’s a pretty straight shot to northern Virginia and back home.


Posted by: elraymundo at 9:04 pm on Friday, January 2, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Self-Spotting

I’ve heard - or read or somehow absorbed - the idea that one’s age shows in the hands, so I had an idea to start a tradition of photographing my hands each year on my birthday. Over the course of 40 years I imagine I’ll see some differences, assuming we still have a world wide web or digital cameras or a Michael in 2049.

Michael's Hands at 42

Hands at 42 - At Home, Yorba Linda, California
Exif: ISO 400; f/16; 2 sec; 135mm
01.02.2009 ©Michael Raymond 2006 - 2009

So Long, 2008

Posted by: elraymundo at 8:12 pm on Thursday, January 1, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Friends, Self-Spotting

Whenever The Debra says something like, “Oh God, I look so old today,” I always remind her to consider the alternative. That’s the perspective I choose to take with 2008, as I send it into its long, wintry goodnight. (Not that there is much “wintry” going on in Southern California, but I try to work with what I’ve got.) 2008 was a massive pain in the butt, but it was better to have lived through it than to have not been around for the experience at all.

To be honest, I can’t wrap up The Year That Was any better than our guests, Wendy Hunter and Rolf Wyss and their two sons did when they came to celebrate my birthday on January 2nd (which I suppose lets the cat out of the bag on the fact that I am writing this post after January 1 and cheating by pre-dating it - but again, I work with what I’ve got). Wendy and Rolf, and their 4-year-old son Jaeger and 8-year-old son Bodø, gave a short performance in our family room which summed up 2008 better than I ever can. They were kind enough to leave a transcript of the performance as well as give me rights to its first publication in North America with an option to add worldwide and electronic permissions with advance written notice - plagiarized and notarized - as long as a live salamander is stapled to the request.


Poem for Michael, Upon Turning 42


At 41, Michael found life a bit dull,
“How to stir things up, and get out of this lull?
I know!” he said, to his lovely mate.
“Let’s get out of Virginia, move to the Golden State.”


So Michael and Debra packed up and came
Moved near family and friends, but what a shame!
Had an earthquake that summer, they were near the epicenter -
Hadn’t closed on their house, they were living in a “renter.”


Went ahead and bought the house near the middle of the market;
Real estate crashed, “Yikes, can we hock it?”
Fellow Yorba Lindans saying, “Yes on Prop 8!”
“Aargh…how can we live in this conservative state?!”


Next thing they knew, fires raged all round about ‘em,
Bonded with those neighbors, “Garden hoses on!” they shouted at ‘em.
With ash in the swimming pool and dust throughout the rooms,
Preparing for the holidays filled Debra with great gloom.


Just when everything was neat and tidy, spick and span,
Torrential rain poured from the skies, enough to break any dam
And send mudslides creeping downward toward all the homes.
“Evacuate!” said authorities. “Now it’s time to roam!”


It’s January 2nd, and orders been restored - all clear!
For Michael looking back, 41 has been quite a year.
What can the next, 42, have in store?


We don’t know, but…we hope you won’t be bored!

To that I would only add this email exchange I had with my boss back in Herndon, Virginia, after we had wished each other a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2009:

2008 wore me out. Between changing jobs, living in four residences, moving twice, crossing the country twice (at high speed while doing conference calls and learning a new job), buying a house, fires almost burning my new house down, mudslides, family holiday drama, losing a top engineer on my team, dealing with the economy and its psychological fallout, and then all the chaos at work to close out December…I’m ready for a quiet year.

So please everyone, while Baby New Year looks cute and cuddly in its New Year Diaper, please tiptoe and whisper and try not to wake it; I need a break.

Happy New Year and may the coming year be blessed, peaceful, prosperous, and full of joy for you all.


Virgil’s Note

Posted by: elraymundo at 10:24 am on Monday, November 12, 2007
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Friends, Nature, Self-Spotting, Ah, Memories

I got a check from Virgil the other day for the money I fronted him for his fantasy football team. There was a note in the envelope with the check that told me not to spend the money on fancy dancin’ girls. That won’t be a problem; the dancin’ girls I liked were never the fancy ones.

Virgil and I have been on three mountaineering trips together and he still kicks around in those sorts of remote places. His note got me to thinking: I think I need to get back on a mountain. It’s been seven years-plus since I was on Rainier and even longer since the two Katahdin trips. Maybe some snow and ice and clear, clean mountain air will get my mind right. And it doesn’t have to be the hardest route or anything super-challenging. No rappels off manky rope tied off on a stub of crumbly rock. No need to toe-point across a sheet of ice (although that was fun). I just want to get to the top, give a barbaric YAWP and then sit down and enjoy. Maybe eat a Cliff bar or something. Take some pictures. And breathe deeply.

Unconscious in Seattle…or maybe over Eastern Montana

Posted by: elraymundo at 11:21 pm on Tuesday, October 16, 2007
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Euphoria, Lotus Blossom, Travel, Self-Spotting

I passed out on the flight home from Seattle last night.

I don’t really know why it happened. I mentioned to Debra that I wasn’t feeling well and then, after thoughtful consideration, felt that I might barf, so I walked from the middle of the airplane to the back where the toilets were. Once I got there I said a few words to a flight attendant about how terribly nice it would be to lie down on the floor and the next thing I knew I was sliding down the wall and crumpling to the floor.

Actually, come to think of it, I didn’t actually know I was sliding down the wall and crumpling to the floor because, as it so happens, I was unconscious while all this was going on.

And so it goes.

The first thing I saw when I came to was Debra, then a flight attendant, a bald-headed dude and a nurse, all hovering over me. Actually, I heard them before I saw them. It was chaotic and noisy, all very jumbled - making sense of things was like trying to put a novel back together blindfolded after feeding it to a ravenous dog. As my brain sorted things out I remember thinking, “Those medical emergency shows really have it nailed the way they portray regaining consciousness from the patient’s point-of-view.” The edges of my eyesight “frame” were singed black and I had panoramic views up other people’s noses.

Soon after coming to, a flight attendant popped an oxygen mask over my face. Debra stroked my hair and the bald-headed dude, who I learned was named Frank and who coached football and wrestling in New York, tucked a folded jacket and an ice pack under my head. A flight attendant held my ankles and raised my legs - I felt like I was about to be prepped for a Brazilian bikini wax - while another flight attendant wrapped my arm in a blood pressure sleeve and started pumping. I felt my arm puff up, ready for it to explode all over the cabin. “Ninety over sixty,” someone far away said. “Hmmm…that seems low,” I thought. Then the nurse, who spoke with a thick European accent, said, “Check his pulse”. A woman’s hand - or a well-moisturized man’s hand - took mine and laid it across my stomach and a thumb pressed against the underside of my wrist.

“I don’t feel a pulse,” said the owner of the thumb.

“Ooh, no pulse,” I thought. “That’s alarming.” I started to hum into the oxygen mask.

I felt a hand touch the side of my neck, presumably scouting for my wayward pulse. Feeling the fingers touch my neck confirmed, for me anyway, that I wasn’t dead and then the owner of the hand called out a number. The nurse said that was a good number and then a soft hand patted my hand. A woman in a green sweater and blue jeans loomed into view somewhere directly above me - I was looking up at her upside-down over my forehead, knees first, then legs, waist, torso and finally her head. “What fabulous green breasts,” I thought. After the green-sweatered woman left, the wrestling coach told Debra I was going to be just fine - maybe he was watching my eyes? - and that he saw this sort of thing all the time while coaching sports. Apparently, athletes just keel over willy-nilly all the time in New York. Debra smiled at the coach and stroked my hair. I suppose I should have felt remorse for looking at the sweatered bottom-sides of another woman’s breasts while my lovely and caring wife tenderly nursed me to health, but I was breathing pure oxygen and still rather out of sorts and feel that I should be excused this one minor indiscretion.

So I hummed, and then chatted with the flight attendant. After ten or fifteen minutes on the floor of the airplane, I was helped to my feet and walked up to the second row of the cabin by Frank the football coach. This new row had more legroom (score!) than our previous seats and was significantly cooler than the middle of the plane where we had been seated, so I determined there was an unmistakable upside to passing out after all. I kept the oxygen mask on for another ten minutes and then, feeling just peachy, told Debra she could give the mask and tank and its assorted hoses and valves and tubes back to the flight attendants. The rest of the flight was just fine, no repercussions or illness whatsoever.

I called my dad this morning and told him all this and then mentioned that The Debra hadn’t really seen the humor in any of this losing-consciousness business.

“Did I at least crumple to the floor gracefully?” I had asked Debra.

“Michael, I don’t think that’s funny,” she said. “In fact, it’s not funny at all.” Then she shot me one of those ‘Don’t be frivolous with me’ looks that I get when she asks me something deadly serious like, “Have you seen my car keys?” and I reply with something helpful like, “No, have you checked your butt?”

Anyway, Dad laughed and then told me a part of the Shooting Story that I hadn’t heard before.

When he was eighteen my dad was accidentally shot in the jaw by his best friend, Ray Wilkins, while they were hunting rabbits in Oklahoma. (Perhaps this little oopsie with the rifle is why Ray later took up archery.) To this day, pieces of the bullet are still lodged in Dad’s jaw and there has always been a very small amount of paralysis on the left side of his face as a result.

Aside: Many years ago I told a Danish girl how my father had been shot in the jaw and she spent the rest of the day telling her friends, “Michael’s father was shot with a gun and now when he smiles his face looks like this” and she would drag the entire left side of her face toward the floor with her hand as if her face were made of melting wax. She didn’t seem to care when I explained that the effect was not quite so pronounced, she just liked to tell the story that way.

“When I was lying there on the table in the hospital,” said Dad, “and after I realized that I wasn’t going to die from being shot, my mother came in to see me. I was wearing boots, not exactly cowboy boots, but boots that you pulled on, and mom said, ‘Son, wouldn’t you be more comfortable with your shoes off’? And I told her, ‘No, mom, if I’m going to die I’m going to die with my boots on.’

Well, she didn’t much care for that comment.”

“Women think different from us, Dad,” I said, laughing. “They’ve got no sense of humor about this sort of stuff.” And Dad agreed.

Debra asked me later what I was thinking while I was laying there splashing about merrily in the blackness on the floor of the plane. She asked with a serious, but inquisitive look on her face, as if a great truth might have been revealed to me while I was knocked out, like the secret of the mummy or the location of Atlantis or where her lost earring went.

“I didn’t think about much at all,” I said, “I just laid there and hummed a Stone Temple Pilots song.” Debra looked disappointed. A, she had no idea who Stone Temple Pilots were and B, the secret location of the Ark of the Covenant hadn’t come tumbling out.

So the whole experience got me to thinking and, after noodling on it a bit, I decided that that’s how I hope things’ll go whenever The End comes. Not necessarily on the floor of a JetBlue flight somewhere over eastern Montana or with my legs held up in the air like goalposts, but definitely with a gentle, peaceful feeling, like the kind you get when nodding off to sleep while sucking on pure oxygen, with someone I love stroking my hair, smiling and humming a song that I like…

…but hopefully a much better song than Plush.

***** ***** *****

P.S. Thanks to the crew and passengers of JetBlue Flight 176. You were a great bunch of folks to pass out with.

Love, El Raymundo

Silk Dragons

Posted by: elraymundo at 6:11 pm on Saturday, April 14, 2007
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Books & Literature, Lotus Blossom, Self-Spotting

Jeff Watson AI Threat Level: Green - The reader may proceed without danger of reading anything related to American Idol.

- - - - -

Written from: Great Falls, Virginia
Weather: 52° and raining

Today I was grumpy, but I didn’t know why. This happens from time to time.

“I’m grumpy today for some reason,” I said to La Raymunda.
“Yes,” she said from the treadmill, “you are.”
“I have no idea why.”
“Do you think it’s the Google thing?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe you should take a shower. Clean up from mowing the lawn. You’ll feel better.”
“Maybe I’ll just get drunk on the couch.”
“That might work too.”

I split the middle instead. I built a great big fire in the fireplace, poured a snifter full of Poire William pear brandy and read the funny papers (which aren’t really very funny anymore, but are rather stultifying, inane and obvious) and read Simon Winchester’s The River at the Center of the World, about the Yangtze River in China.

From page 267:

“Her grandfather was seated under a persimmon tree at the edge of the cliff, smoking a pipe and gazing down at the boiling river below. He was quite deaf and made no move when I walked up to him and then stood beside him. He was dressed in an old gown of dark blue silk adorned with dragons. He looked perfectly at peace with his world, warming himself in the late spring sunshine, puffing on a tiny nut of tobacco, watching the ships churn by.”

I packed up and lit my own pipe and thought about that paragraph for a while.

There’s a lot going on…all the time. And it all moves pretty fast. Too fast.

I spent the better part of seven years of my life, from 1991 to 1998, wandering around, meeting people, seeing what there was to see, doing what there was to do and, to keep with the metaphor, keeping out of the faster currents. After nearly ten years in the rapids, and yes, they’ve been rewarding years, I’m feeling like I’m ready to head back to the riverbank and just watch for a while. There’s enough to do and be and see without being in the midst of all the turbulence.

Anybody know where I can get a comfortable chair and an old silk gown adorned with dragons?


Posted by: elraymundo at 11:37 pm on Thursday, April 12, 2007
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Euphoria, Self-Spotting

Jeff Watson AI Threat Level: Green - The reader may proceed without danger of reading anything related to American Idol.

- - - - -

Seven weeks ago I began training for the 1st Annual TeamRaymond Basement Marathon.

The first day I ran, back on February 21st, I kept a pace of five miles per hour. I couldn’t sustain that pace the entire three miles and so I had to walk about one-third of the distance. Tonight (yeah, tonight…I didn’t start until 10:45pm) I ran three miles - the entire three miles - at six miles per hour. And without much effort. That’s what…a twenty percent increase in speed over a seven week period?

I feel pretty good about that.

May 31st is seven weeks away. If I can raise my speed another twenty percent then I’ll be running at over seven miles per hour as my base speed. And if I can sustain seven miles per hour over the length of a marathon then I’ll finish in three hours and change. About three hours and forty-three minutes, to be more accurate.

A sub-four hour marathon. I could live with that.

- - - - -

Total miles run to date: 137 miles
Longest distance run to date: 12 miles
Upcoming distance: 13 miles. Ugh.

Self-Spotting - 05.09.2006

Posted by: elraymundo at 6:43 am on Tuesday, May 9, 2006
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Books & Literature, Lotus Blossom, Self-Spotting

Last night, I spotted myself in Henderson the Rain King, a novel by Saul Bellow.

This snippet, from page 89, as Eugene Henderson contemplates exploding a homemade bomb in a cistern plagued by frogs in order to save a remote African tribe from drought…

“Oh, Mistah Henderson – you ‘strodinary man. But sir. Do not be carried away.”
“Ha, ha, Prince – pardon me, but this is where you happen to be wrong. If I don’t get carried away I never accomplish anything.

…inspired this snippet between La Raymunda and me:

Me, with great gravity: “Here, listen to this. It describes me perfectly.” I read the quote.
La Raymunda waits in silence for another shoe to drop.
Me, wounded: “You don’t understand.”
“I do understand. If you don’t get carried away it means you’re not interested and you don’t get anything done.”
Precisely. So people need to stop telling me not to get carried away. All my life people are telling me not to get carried away with things”
Sensing the drop of the other shoe, Debra replies, “I’ll alert the media.”