October 26, 2009


Filed under: Poetry and Haiku — Ann @ 3:46 pm

Green waits,

fresh as frost behind winter’s wall,

to spring up and cloak us in the tender light of March.

January is dazzling!

Crisp-brittle-clean, unyielding, geometric,

all sharp edges and brazen shapes,

But soon the earth will stretch and soften;

the hills will billow their fringed emerald skirts

and offer up daffodils for breakfast.

–Ann Clark, January 18, 1988

October 21, 2009

Sonoma Valley Hospital ER – 7 am

Filed under: Poetry and Haiku,The Neal Ordeal — Ann @ 8:05 am


Sleepless-sore eyes burn and water,
Cold gray tile reflecting back its compassionless marble stoniness;
Toneless heartbeat-hum — some unseen machine,
Sullen fluorescence casting gray shadows,
Sweet-stringent stench of alcohol.
Motionless form, husband, before me
lies in pain-punctured half-slumber.
Wall clock clicking off sick-seconds,
Marking misery,
Taking time,
Leeching life:
Hurry healing.

Written at Neal’s hospital bedside

October 17, 2009

“Hundreds Dead in Huge Quake” – Memories of the Loma Prieta Earthquake on the 20th Anniversary

Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays — Ann @ 5:43 pm

Tuesday, October 17, 1989, was a stunningly gorgeous autumn day in the San Francisco Bay Area. Blue skies, mild temperatures, and not a breath of wind. Sitting at my desk in a Kensington law office and typing Wills and Trusts all day, I watched the clock creep ever closer to 4:30 p.m., when I would be set free from estate-planning. I told my co-worker, “Neal and I are going to have a great evening!” I don’t think my now-husband Neal and I had any specific plans – other than to follow the score of the unprecedented SF Giants vs. Oakland Athletics World Series — but we’d only been boyfriend-girlfriend about a year at that point, and newly-bonded couples can make any night great.

At 4:30 I got in my truck and made the quick trip to Neal’s and my funky Berkeley apartment. Located in a lock-your-doors neighborhood a few blocks west of Martin Luther King Jr. Way, it was a two-storey wood-frame structure. I liked to say it had “character,” carefully omitting what it lacked. Neal’s and my apartment was on the ground floor; the stairs to the second floor were tacked to the outside of the building – whenever anyone went up, the entire staircase rattled and shook our apartment. It was a noise we got used to.

Once home, I got ready to go pick up Neal, who was working downtown at Berkeley Sauna. At 5:04 p.m. I was in our tiny bathroom, brushing my teeth, when I heard someone pounding up the staircase. The apartment shook. But something was different. A very big person was going up the staircase. A monster. What?! Oh my God – it’s an earthquake!

They say the shaking lasted just 15 seconds. In that time, I carefully made my way from bathroom to living room to front door by holding on to each door frame along the way, because walking was difficult. My goal – contrary to all expert advice – was to get the hell out of that building. I did not want to be inside when floor two became floor one.

Outside, people were streaming out of homes. Several blocks over, in downtown Berkeley, I saw columns of black smoke reaching skyward. My sole focus was getting to Neal. I parked and went into the Sauna; he and his co-workers were fine, if unnerved. An out-of-town customer asked him, “So does this happen often around here?” I was to discover in the days to come that there was a curious levity among the survivors – no doubt a manifestation of the great relief that, though bad, it hadn’t been worse.

Still, we emerged from that 15 seconds as changed people amidst an altered landscape. The smoke I had seen was coming from a nearby automotive shop which had erupted into flames during the shaking. At the Sauna, one of the massage therapists, a serene, centered, and gorgeous African-American woman, told me she guessed she’d go get on BART and head home to Oakland and, though I didn’t say anything, I was both horrified at and in awe of this woman who, after the biggest quake of our lifetimes, was voluntarily going down into the bowels of the earth in the face of certain aftershocks. She was unfazed; silently, I swore never to ride BART again. (I did, however, several weeks later. After the freeway collapses, BART became the best transportation option.)

Back at the apartment, Neal and I started assessing damage. Embarrassingly, our worst “damage” was that our cable went out. We still had phone service and shortly after we returned I got a call from my then-16-year-old son, Wayne, who was living with friends in Vallejo. He was alone in the house when the shaking began; it was the first time I’d heard him sounding scared and vulnerable since he’d taken a header off his bike as a preteen and had ended up in the ER. After mutual assurances that we were all okay and checking with other family members and friends around the Bay (every post-quake phone call ended in “I love you!”), I hung up and went outside again.

Our young neighbor, Kirsten, lived in the corner apartment and was freaking out. She was 20; I was 36 – her terror gave me purpose because I could at least play the Poised Adult and calm her down. She still had cable and we gathered in her doorway – no one wanted to be inside a building – to watch in silent disbelief as the first images of the Cypress freeway and Bay Bridge collapse were televised. As we stood there, an aftershock hit – strong, but not damage-inducing.

While I comforted Kirsten, Neal turned off the gas to both our apartment building and to the house belonging to two women next door – only to turn it back on again when PG&E started warning that gas shouldn’t be turned off unless we actually smelled it.

I will never forget the urgent, uncomfortable feeling which was almost a craving – a desire to Do Something. To make things better. As the evening progressed we kept updated as to the Cypress, the Bay Bridge collapse, the Marina fires, and the twin horrors in Santa Cruz and Watsonville. My dear friend Bonita was living in Santa Cruz at the time – I don’t even remember how or when I found out that she was okay. We also followed news of the aborted World Series game – later I heard the difficult story of how a former boss who’d been at Candlestick that day had to make his way home without bridge access. What would have been a 1/2 hour trip expanded into four, five, six hours. As awful as it sounded, it paled in comparison to the story I read of a woman who walked home, barefoot, from the Financial District to Marin County. There were many such stories.

Friends who still had power kept checking in – this predated Internet access and cell phone usage so we were all relying on Ma Bell. Later in the evening, Neal’s buddy John called us and made me smile when he signed off by urging Neal to “keep Ann safely underneath you.” That night I slept – not very soundly – wearing my jeans and boots. I was terrified of aftershocks. In the morning, Neal and I decided to walk around Berkeley because, again – there was a constant sense of needing and wanting to move. A chronic nervous tension prevailed – within self, within cities, all over the Bay Area.

Passing a news stand, we saw the paper which the San Francisco Chronicle managed to eke out, despite that there was no power at their Fifth and Mission offices and they had to print off-site. The top of the paper, in all-capitals, read “EXRA EXTRA EXTRA,” and the headline was grim: “HUNDREDS DEAD IN HUGE QUAKE.”

We bought the paper and it’s currently stashed in a box in our closet. This morning I discovered that the entire 16-page edition of that Chronicle can now be purchased on eBay for $4.99. Since “only” 67 people died in the Loma Prieta quake, the headline is right up there with “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Slowly, routine found its way back to our lives. I stopped sleeping in my clothes. The World Series went forward and nobody cared. In the days following Loma Prieta, many of us wanted to classify it as the “Big One” that we’d been awaiting for decades, wanting to believe that, finally, it was over, and we could relax. But experts almost immediately dispelled us of that notion, reminding us that it was only a taste. The legendary Herb Caen perfectly captured their prediction by calling Loma Prieta “The Pretty Big One.”

I’d hate to see bigger. On October 27, 1989, the Chronicle ran this headline: “WE ARE THE NEW SURVIVORS,” which underscores the truth that San Francisco Bay Area residents – echoing the spirit of the Wild West – are a sturdy lot. We know our future may hold another day of rising smoke and falling bridges. And we know that, meanwhile, life goes on.

Dedicated to the 67 men, women and children who lost their lives in the Loma Prieta Earthquake. May their memories be for a blessing.

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