Rose drove a convertible white land shark Father left in the garage when he was away on business. She drove up the coast with Tom and didn’t feel like a drag. The radio played the Jefferson Airplane when the garden flowers, baby, are dead yes, the wind off the ocean blowing her hair all around. And your mind, your mind, is so full of red: Mother’s potted tulips wilting in the So Cal sun. They had a picnic with Gallo wine, strong sharp cheese, and an apple Tom split between them with his boy scout pocket knife, there by the cliffs at Refugio. The green Mexican blanket in the back seat was a little scratchy when they lay down on it. She never got cold. Through Santa Barbara, under the palms at Hope Ranch and along the white sand it rained but they didn’t put the top up. When she drove around and around the dolphin fountain Tom was laughing. He hardly ever laughed. That summer they sent her away.


Burned badly by the liquid sun at the pool, Claire lies on her stomach in the camper’s loft bedroom with her T-shirt pulled up to expose her back to the circulating air. Her nose and cheeks burn, both with what the sun has done to her and with the chemically infused lotion she applied afterward from her grandmother’s toiletry bag—Rose Milk, the pink and smelly concoction pimped every week by Lawrence Welk on his show. It first felt cool going on, then stung, then relaxed into a long, slow smoldering-ember effect. From up here, she has a command position as her grandfather barrels up Highway Five in the Chevy through green, green country—the open fields at Winters, the rich cut banks just before Redding, the alpine forest that make her sneeze over the pass, all ending without punctuation in the serpentine pygmy forest at Weed. Her blond boy cousins flank her—Todd on her left, David on her right—also apparently ignoring their own angry sunburns, which make the skin of their noses not jus…

Incident Control

Trying to get my daughter to sleep, I drive Mom’s minivan up to Claraboya. At the entrance on Mountain Avenue a painted block wall with metal letters in script proclaims the name of the neighborhood—and a sign tells us to “SMILE—This neighborhood patrolled by video camera.” We turn right just past the sign and cruise past Seven Fifty-Two Valparaiso, my grandparents’ house where my Aunt Jenny grew up, the house where she never returned. It’s for sale. A low white fa├žade with spiral columns faces the street. Beveled windows leaded with a floral pattern have been installed on the street side of the house, the side away from the view. Their effect is to obscure what’s inside. At the end of the cul-de-sac, we turn around and head up the hill on Mountain again. I’m trying to find a road that will take us up and out, but each one I turn down ends in an asphalt bulbout. The top of Mountain dead-ends at a trail head that leads into dry scrub on this hot October day. NO PARKING ANY TIME warns of…


Pistons pumping, a lawn-mower pulse and wheeze. She looks over her shoulder to see the VW coming up fast: dull black in the flat November light. Thumbs hooked under leather backpack straps, hands numb, Rose walks backward keeping her gaze straight and sober toward the driver. Gravel rasps under her boots. He passes her and pulls over a few paces ahead. The driver pushes the passenger door open in front of her like a gate, so that even if she wants to keep going, she can’t. She doesn’t want to keep going.


In high school, Rose drove a white American land shark that her father left in the garage when he was away on business. Once she drove up the coast with Tom and she didn’t feel fat, didn’t feel stupid, didn’t feel like a drag. They played the radio in the convertible but she couldn’t hear it with the wind off the ocean blowing her hair all around. She had a picnic basket and they had a picnic with Gallo wine, there by the cliffs at Refugio. She had a green Mexican blanket in the back seat, a little scratchy when they lay down on it. She never got cold. They drove back through Santa Barbara, past the palm avenue through Hope Ranch and along the white sand. When she drove around and around the dolphin fountain Tom was laughing, and he hardly ever laughed. She could make people laugh and she could make them cry: she realized this power when she was seventeen. Sex helped. Sex could close people or it could open them, and when they were open you could live your whole life with them in a c…


They returned to California in the rainy season. Over the Santa Cruz mountains the heavy clouds brought their load of rain to the slopes above the bay, loosing the water over oak woodland, over evergreen forest, over the long reservoirs that slaked the city’s thirst, over the mansions of the very rich and the houses of the less rich. The old streams filled and where they ran aboveground cut a little into the banks of their courses; where they ran belowground they set a faster pace through concrete culverts to the bay, but they could not pick up any more of the water than they already carried. The little optimistic houses built on floodplains and bay mud, the houses that sat over the culverts behind their yards of lemon trees and pansies and hydrangea—all still fruiting and blooming through the wet—now sat in a swamp. Sump pumps burbled the water out into the street, but once the street filled up the water had nowhere to go. The sewers were full and below tideline. The little yards we…

Nobody's Property Chapter 1 a Free PDF

You can now download a PDF of the first chapter of my book Nobody's Property: Living on the Remains of a Life in California for FREE. View Chapter 1 PDF in Google Docs.