Taking Note of a Few Things: The Going Back Home Edition

There has only been one place where I have lived that felt like home to me and oddly enough, I only spent four and a half years there. From August of 1979 to December of 1983, Chico, California was home for me. It is where I transferred after finishing my first two years of college and having lived at home for twenty-one years.

It took me about five minutes to realize I was a natural fit to life in Chico. I do not mean life as a college student at a school ranked by Playboy Magazine as the top party school in the nation. The people, the vibe of the community, the endless amount of nature, and the chance to chase my dreams all spoke to me. I cried the day I left and moved back home briefly before heading to a new life in Southern California.

Since 1984, all but four years of my life has been spent living in the southland. Most of that time was in the Inland Empire community of Hemet, a place where dreams go to die. Mine was to raise a family in or near the Chico area. The past seven years have been spent in Ventura County, the second nicest area I have lived in as an adult.

I never felt a connection with the Bay Area town I grew up in, Lafayette. It was a great place to grow up as a kid. Endless hours were spent playing with friends, running around in the safety of an nice affluent bedroom community. However, it was brought to my attention by my father on many occasions that I was most likely never going to be able to afford to live there, especially if I chose a career in teaching.

It did not matter;I belonged in Chico and knew I did almost as soon as my feet touched the ground there. However, as life would toss one obstacle after another at me, I put aside my dream of returning to the only place that felt like home.

I was a proud father when my daughter Hannah shocked me and said she changed her mind and wanted to attend Chico State instead of San Francisco State for her college education. Making the long drive from Hemet to Chico was never a big deal for me when my first wife and I went up for visits. It was also a chance to feel at home again.

This past year has tested me like no other year. My second wife and I were all set to move across the country to a retirement in Tennessee when my life went to hell and fell apart. I never saw the collapse of my marriage coming and when I returned to Ventura County, it was a survival move. Life kept throwing more shit at me and it all came to a head when I was given a cancer diagnosis. I was about to be crushed for good by the weight of life.

About two months ago, I decided I needed to find a way to buy a home and stop renting 450 square feet at nearly two grand a month. I figured this meant moving back to the Inland Empire and Hemet where there was some semblance of affordable housing. However, after two houses fell through because of bidding wars, including one that was less than 700 square feet, I began looking more seriously at homes in Chico.

Thanks to my refusal to allow life to stop me, and an amazing realtor, I have managed to enter escrow on a home in Chico. Best of all, it is near the downtown area I love so much and close to Bidwell Park, one of this country’s hidden treasures. If all goes well, I may get to celebrate the beginning of 2024 and a new life in the only place that has ever felt like home for me.

Now all I need to do is jump through hoops, pack up my belongings, and hope nothing pops up to get in the way. I will keep my fingers crossed.

I recently came across some Facebook meme, most likely created by some generation Z smartass, that reminded people like me who took typing lessons in high school that we no longer have to double space following a sentence. I guess doing this causes them great trouble so there is a need for them to mock those of us with a 50-year habit. Well, Skippy, Let me be the first to show you I can change my ways. I may just give up double spacing forever. In fact, hitting the spacebar until my next thought pops into my old and untrainable mind helps me think more clearly. I now realize the errors of my ways and the horrific harm they have caused the most perfect generation ever. Thank you for helping me grow as a person. Why don’t you solve another of life’s major problems like how we should use emojis or take selfies. I know I can use your help in these areas.

And while I am on the topic, I also carry cash on me.  That’s right, actual money. It has nothing to do with not wanting to keep up with the tech world as much as I am paying it backwards. I figure I spent enough of my life waiting on little old ladies who used a checkbook at the grocery store that today’s numb nuts can be made to tolerate a guy with a wad of twenties making someone like you do actual math to figure out the change I am due back. Of course, if the person behind me is my age, I make sure to use my credit card because like me, he’s done his time waiting in line.

I’m the sort of guy who loves to have all his tasks finished even though my deadline might be a ways off. I am liable to knock out of all my to dos for escrow three weeks before it closes and then anxiously wait for it to close. Inevitably, it runs past the deadline, and I am fit to be tied.

In the early 90s, I taught Social Studies and was known to dive right into my planning for the following year on the first day of summer vacation. One summer, I was in the staff workroom running off copies of worksheets, quizzes, and exams on the first Monday of summer. I filled box after box with my work and hauled them down to my classroom. I finished a month before the start of the new school year. When we returned to school, the staff was informed we were being given our own ID number to use to keep track of how much we ran off. We were capped at 10,000 copies for the year. I had already run off 20,000.

The following summer, I made sure to use my old ID number and ran off 10,000 copies. I then asked for my new number and ran off another 10,000. The following summer, I entered an ID number one digit different than mine and used up what was left on it before proceeding to go number by number until I had 10,000 copies. Then it was on to my new ID number and another 10,000. When I moved to Physical Education, I ran off very few copies and then used my leftovers to help out teachers who used up all of their own. They thought I was such a nice guy for helping them out. It was just my way of making sure our staff used up all their paper so the district office wouldn’t try and cut back our limit.

A school year lasts 40 weeks. The first six weeks we are often told to keep in mind schedules are being worked on, staffing numbers are not yet known, and to keep in mind we are not quite sure what to expect. Once testing is finished in the spring, there are about six more weeks left in the year and it’s now time to suspend the turds, have fun with the good kids, and not worry about teaching to tests. That leaves another 28 weeks of school of which you can forget about a one week block around Thanksgiving due to family travel as well as the week before and after the winter break. We are now down to 25 weeks. If you want to know why our kids are not learning, it’s because schools fail to hit the year running and are too fast to wrap them up while parents can’t be bothered to send their kids to school because it interferes with their travel plans.

This was why I never had an interest in administration work. For a little more money a year, admins get to answer to school boards why kids are underachieving. It’s because the district office doesn’t think it’s all that important to start fast and finish strong and they lack the backbone to hold parents accountable for kids who take an extra week for vacations that are set in stone every year. Then they fire a principal to look like they accomplished something when it is the highest paying folks at the district level who should be canned.

My biggest mistake as a teacher was telling an assistant superintendent I talked with for the first time that he was a much bigger asshole than my colleagues described him as. For years, we had fun busting each other’s balls. Most teachers prefer to go an entire career without ever being known by the number two person in the district. I loved pointing out to him he was only number two and I had the emails he sent me to share with number one.

Needless to say, I’ve never been as impressed with authority as I am with leaders who do not feel the need to flaunt their position. The best lead by example and know how to communicate with their employees without making them feel inferior or insignificant.

I know one or two administrators who are reading this and who I am sure got a few gray hairs on my account. However, the best thing about them is they kept their sense of humor which made working for them much nicer than a few who probably wish they could have rung my neck.

Just to be clear, as a kid, I was pretty much the same way with teachers and administrators. I know more than a few who turned over in their graves when I went into teaching. However, you would too if I was the cause of your early departure from this planet.

Without a doubt, the most hyped sport that delivers the fewest surprises is NCAA Football. The reason for this is because the move toward Super Conferences has done the opposite of what was sold to the public. These conferences have been whittled down to two top tier programs that will always compete for a spot in the playoffs. The remainder of their conferences contain a few second tier programs that will almost always come up short and a bunch of crappy schools who should be playing community college ball. Next year, the playoffs expand from four to twelve teams which will result in more hype and a reminder why fewer is better.

The drop off from the number one seeded college basketball team to the final 68th seeded team in March Madness is much less than the drop off from the top ranked football team and the final 12th seed. All we get from such a match-up is to watch more young men destroy their brains in the name of colleges profiting.

Am I the only one who sees the hypocrisy in our schools of the highest learning being dependent on funding from the work of young men turning their brains into oatmeal?

The old guard is dying off. Rosalyn Carter, Henry Kissinger, and Sandra Day O’Connor all passed recently. However, the saddest thing for me was to see the photos of Jimmy Carter attending his wife’s funeral.

One of life’s biggest mysteries to me is what keeps some dinosaurs alive while the rest of their herd has died off long ago. It’s not all due to clean living. I am pretty sure Kissinger was never one to exercise or say no to a nice meal and cocktail. I don’t ever want to get to the point where you just need to prop me up and toss a blanket on me while the rest of the party goes on around me.

George Santos became the 21st member of congress to be expelled. I am not sure what is more shocking, Republicans giving him the boot or it taking them a year to do what should have been done five minutes into this year’s session.

Today I had business at my bank and when I arrived shortly after the doors opened, there were already half a dozen people ahead of me and two more being helped by tellers. By the time it was my turn, the line was twelve deep. When I left, it was outside the bank and out to the parking lot. I began to worry if we had just entered another Great Depression. Turns out, it was just the first of the month and payday.

I will be safer living in Chico. When I was in college there, they passed a law prohibiting the detonation of any kind of nuclear device within the city limits. I’m hoping they have updated their policy regarding mustard gas.

If my math is correct, when I factor in major life events that age a person, I hit it big this year with two major moves, a divorce, a cancer diagnosis, and the knowledge I’ll never be a professional dancer. It should put me at about 97 years old which means I am in a race with Jimmy Carter to the finish line.

A concrete jungle. That’s always been my view of Southern California. There is a constant desire to find more land to replace its natural habitat with more concrete, asphalt, and stucco. If you have ever seen photos or heard the stories of people who grew up here, they depict what was once a vast space with scattered communities. They talk of long gone citrus orchards and days spent riding their bikes all over what is now an indistinct land of one city bleeding into the next.

So far developers have failed to push the Marines out of Camp Pendleton so they can desecrate that stretch of sparsely developed land (Tim Forkes)

If developers have their way, there will be one gigantic megalopolis from Los Angeles south to San Diego that stretches all the way to Phoenix and Las Vegas. Why not? If China can hold 1.5 billion people in roughly the same amount of space as the United States, we should follow suit. I am thankful and yet worried for Ventura County. They have fought that urge, but more recently have begun to cave to developers and the riches they offer.

I am sure I will be surprised to see how much Chico has grown and yet will remind myself it is nothing compared to Southern California. I will support the forces who work to prevent the north state from becoming what the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas have become and hope to leave behind a place for the few remaining who want to leave behind a healthy alternative for those who prefer more elbow room. Sometimes, being an agent of change means reminding others if it ain’t broke, then why break it? Mostly, my hope is by returning to Chico, I will sleep better knowing for the first time in a long time, I am home.