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Op-Ed

Out with the old

January 3, 2022

The new year is time to start again and toss out — in my case stacks of it — the overload of the past. Going through unpublished stories, research notes and photographs, I found the story of “the bird” and a book I never came close to publishing.

Bill Girdner

By Bill Girdner

Editor of Courthouse News Service.

The start of another year is always a good time to get rid of the old stuff that clutters your place and begin again.

So in my case, both because of my profession but also my habit of saving stuff, there is quite a bit of writing, notes, stories that were never published, and photos.

The pictures are the most powerful and in a way disturbing. There is my old Danish girlfriend in a jean jacket I think at the zoo holding a couple soft-drink cups in front of her face. A young boy’s head has popped into the frame, who I think, based on other old pictures, is my nephew, now a practicing medical doctor.

(Photo courtesy Bill Girdner)

She represented a kind of fork in the road, like the sandy tracks in Baja, where one road angled off towards the coast and the other kept on inland, but you just had to know from memory which one to follow. One fork led to a life in Europe, the other led right back to here in Pasadena and Courthouse News.

And then there was a train trip with my niece and nephews from France to Germany to Czech Republic to Turkey, Greece, Italy and back to Germany. They were starting college and had bought all-you-can-travel train passes through Europe. I looked quite the dissipated uncle next to their young and lively faces.

There too there has been a kind of fork in the road over the pandemic and the precautions against it, two tracks that, like the roads in Baja, often rejoin the main track. But sometimes represent another road going somewhere else.

Like a split outside the town of Santa Catarina on the Pacific coast of Baja where my father, as his mind began to fail him, insisted that the sandy track on the left was the one to take. But I knew from our past experience on that road that it led inland and not down the coast and, at the wheel of the old, safari-green Land Rover, had to override my father’s decision.

I also found in the stacks — I lost count of the trash bags taken out to the dumpster — a line drawing of the U.S. Supreme Court building drawn by my oldest nephew after he had graduated from art school. He is now a gunsmith with his own business and loyal clientele. I have long wanted to find that drawing to illustrate our stories emanating from the court.

(Image courtesy Bill Girdner)

I sorted through a manila folder with notes and research for a story about ancient cave art around Santa Barbara that I covered with a French girlfriend along for the ride. In the folder was a pamphlet comparing the drawings to the magnificent depictions of bison and deer in the Lascaux caves of France.

The comparison was over-enthusiastic by a good bit. A curator from the local museum let me into one of the caves where the opening had been barred up. The modest drawings of celestial orbs were small and unfortunately had been added to recently by ganja smokers who came to sit in the cave and commune with the ancients — hence the bars and locked gate.

And there was a story, written with a typewriter on paper now turning light-brownish, about “bird brain,” the live chicken that played tic-tac-toe.  Here’s how it started.

“I saw a man who looked like a federal judge with an old, settled look and a three-piece suit, and his wife with a fur coat, walk into the arcade, probably after a fancy dinner on Cannery Row, and he started playing the bird.

“The arcade was mostly empty. My uncle and I watched from behind the horses of the carousel. Beat a second time, the judge whipped around with a red face and a grin, walked way, then quickly turned and came back to put more money against the bird.

“His wife stood a few steps off, wry and demure at the same time.”

And then in the stuff I was going through I found a kind of book I had written called “The Queen of Charades,” with fictional names but based on personal experience in Portland where I went to college and then lived for about eight years. Before leaving to come back to Los Angeles, oh, gosh, such a long time ago.  Completely forgot about it.

“Wayne thought about the soft-pink sweater — she knew she had the powers of mystique and beauty, but the urge to use her powers fought with the student rejectionist culture she clung to — the old blue jeans. She was beautiful and shining that night, hair cut fairly short in a traditional, simple, eastern school girl’s style. Sharp and enjoying herself, not drifting at all.”

The holidays, thank goodness, are over. The river barge of time past is almost out of sight. It’s time to begin again with the new year.

(Photo courtesy Bill Girdner)

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