90th Birthday

My Aunt Carol turned 90 last month. Before traveling to Santa Cruz to pay her a birthday visit, I called her and we talked politics.

We share a similar view overall, but we disagreed about the president.

I said I thought of Trump as an entertainer more than anything else.

She held a darker view. She compared him to Nixon.

I said that I thought of Nixon as a very different president, a serious figure. He did bring about an end to the Vietnam War, I said.

“I wonder,” she said. “How old were you when Nixon was president.”

I smiled at how sweetly the blade had gone in. She was challenging my credibility. But oh, so gently.

I knew I had already lost. But I said that I was in college, subject to the draft, and, with words carefully put, said that I was at the time fully capable of an informed opinion.

“I thought Nixon delayed the end of the war,” my aunt continued. “He said he wanted ‘peace with honor’.”

And I knew she was right. I had just read a piece on a new biography by John Farrell called “Richard Nixon: The Life.”

The biographer had included notes of a conversation with H.R. Haldeman, who would later become chief of staff. The notes reflected Nixon’s effort to “monkey wrench” an early peace initiative by President Lyndon Johnson.

So I promptly capitulated.

Acknowledging that she was right about Nixon also led to the idea that she might be right about Trump. She sees him as a dangerous and destructive leader who could get us into a war, just as Nixon kept us in one.

My remaining counter-argument, which I had successfully staked out in an earlier discussion, was that his two most important cabinet picks, State and Defense, were moderate figures that I thought were pretty good choices.

In particular, Mattis in Defense is, contrary to the president, an opponent of torture and a strong defender of the dignified treatment of prisoners.

I managed to sustain that argument, in that she did not agree but otherwise demurred. I think she said something like, “Uh-huhhh.”

So about a week later, we left Pasadena and drove north following Highway 101 along the coast, then inland at San Luis Obispo and up along the Salinas River until the city of Salinas, then back over to Highway 1 and north along the final stretch of coast to Santa Cruz, where my aunt has an apartment in a comfortable housing complex for the elderly. Supported by the city, the residents can pay based on a percentage of their income.

My girlfriend Sanae and I always stay at a hotel in Santa Cruz called the Paradox, which revolves around a forest theme with the reception desk made from one huge redwood log.

With the Silicon Valley on the other side of the mountains, the hotel is the frequent site of retreats and conferences for tech companies.  There is a definite nerdy vibe among those staying in the hotel.

An ample outdoor area includes a big saltwater pool that is moderately heated. Even with cold weather and a storm bearing down on the region, it was a relief to take a long swim as soon as we arrived.

We then drove over to my aunt’s place to take her out to dinner. She prefers an Italian restaurant nearby where we drink wine, have dinner and talk. In person, the conversation is much less political. We talk about family members, and catch up.

After dinner, we have a last glass of wine at her small apartment, and the conversation turns to sexuality and the gifts people are given by, in my aunt’s view, a divine providence.

She says that we all have some element of both sexes in ourselves, a thoroughly, thoroughly modern view of sexuality. And we agree that the members of our family have not always followed the gift that was bestowed on them, whether in music or in language.

The storm rolls in overnight, and in the morning I take a long swim in the pool with a light rain coming down. Afterwards, in the hotel’s casual bar-restaurant, a big cup of coffee and chilaquiles – a terrible mixture of fried tortillas with hot chorizo sauce and a fried egg on top – taste so good.

And then we are off chasing the storm south, passing through the front just below Salinas. At Gaviota State Park, I very briefly jump into a cold, stormy ocean, and then we head down through Santa Barbara, east on Route 126 through Fillmore and then south again on interstates 5 and 210, all the way into Pasadena.


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