When You’ve Got a Name Like Lick


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Having a last name like Lick can be a problem. Try looking up “Lick” on the Internet, and you’ll see what I mean. When I tried it the other morning, I was glad nobody else was looking. I hope my friends and relatives don’t look up “Aunt Sue” and get an eyeful of words that will send them to confession. I’m talking about words that would make my mild-mannered mother, may she rest in peace, throw my computer in the trash. If you’re going to search for me, just use Fagalde. It’s Basque for “little beech tree.”

When I married Fred, my stepdaughter Gretchen warned me. She had been teased her whole life for her last name and couldn’t wait to adopt her husband’s perfectly ordinary name, but I figured I was an adult and could handle it. After all, back in San Jose, where I grew up, the most common reaction to our name is to ask if we’re related to James Lick, the guy who build Lick Observatory. We’re not, but it’s an honorable connection.

Lick is a good name for a guitar player. My fellow musicians often tell me I have a perfect name, since a “lick” is a riff, a musical phrase. You can have hot licks, cool licks, groovy licks, country licks, jazz licks, etc. Plus if you put my first initial and last name together, you’ve got “slick.”

Of course, you have your basic salt licks, too, of which horses are fond.

And yes, licking is what we do to envelopes and ice cream cones—never at the same time.

It’s a very versatile word. Did you know a “lick” is a small body of water between the size of a rill and a stream? There’s a line of liquid supplements for dogs called “Licks.” You can slap on a lick of paint, get it done with a lick and a promise, be the guy who can “lick” everybody in the room, give the kid a few licks for misbehaving, or lick the frosting off the mixer blades (turned off, of course). The urban dictionary talks about a lick as a hustle where you come upon easy money.

What a word, eh?

But an alarming percentage of the population associates the word lick with one particular sexual act. For years, people got their giggles by finding our name in the phone book and making obscene calls, usually in the middle of the night. I haven’t gotten any of those calls lately. Maybe word has gotten around that I’m overweight and old. Or maybe I scared them by responding, “Sure, bring it on. Can you come over right now?”

One of the worst experiences of my life happened at an art and wine festival years ago. I was on stage singing my folk songs behind a red and white banner proclaiming my name. A group of young people waiting for the rock band due on after me apparently didn’t like my music. Fine. They didn’t have to listen. But gradually I heard a chant that grew in volume until I couldn’t ignore it. The teens had reversed my first and last names and were shouting “Lick Sue! Lick Sue!”

Trained that the show must go on, I finished my act, then left the stage in tears, never to return to that festival. I don’t why someone didn’t shut those guys up. What was the person in charge doing while I was dying on stage? Now every time I fill out a form that calls for last name first, I wonder if the person who reads that form will think . . . well, you know.

I’m not the only one with a problematic name. God knows this world is full of them. A friend named Gay has received harassing calls all her life. For the record, she isn’t. The Asian person whose name is Phuc gets no end of grief in the U.S. I’ve known men named Dick who switched to Richard because they were tired of the jokes. The jokes aren’t funny when it’s your name.

And it’s not just my name. Spokeo lists 24 women named Susan Lick. Average age 59, average income $59,000, 100 percent white, 60 percent married. Oh, and they list five arrests, including the traffic ticket I got 10 years ago for an “unlawful stop.” Another reason to add the Fagalde (And to stay away from Google while you’re working).

A name is just a collection of letters, but it is also a symbol of a family, a tribe, of roots that go back farther than we can trace. I’m proud of my family. That’s why I use my maiden name along with my married name. I have no intention of dropping either one. But it’s a shame some people have to turn it into something dirty. That ain’t worth a lick.

Do you have a troublesome name or know someone who has? Please share in the comments.

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Christmas invader was not even a mouse

The enemy that has besieged my house in Oregon’s coastal forest for three weeks is dead. Last night, my dog Annie and I slept the sweet sleep of peace, confident nothing was rustling around in the dark.

First there was the mysterious gray powder on the floor by my stove. I discovered holes in the baseboard. Strange. Is it falling apart? Is Annie trying to get at something?

The day after I put the presents under the Christmas tree, I found a box of chocolates on the floor, the wrapping chewed off and the box partially chewed. Annie! The day after that, I found a box of chocolates I had bought for myself chewed open and one of the chocolate truffles skinned. Annie!

A giant hole in the dog’s box of Milk-Bones followed. Wait a minute. How could Annie even get to it on the shelf and wouldn’t she have torn the whole box apart and eaten the contents? I taped that hole closed. The next morning, a new hole appeared in the other side. Then the outer wrapper on a loaf of bread I had left defrosting on the counter was torn. Annie? She’s almost 11 years old and has had surgery on both back knees. She can’t jump.

I secured all of my food, putting everything in glass or hard plastic containers. In response, the invader left tiny turds on the counters. Oh! I had a mouse. I bought humane mouse traps at the hardware store. I would lure the mouse in, trap it, and take it out to the woods. I tried cheese, dog treats, Christmas cookies and peanut butter. Facebook friends offered suggestions: gummy bears, sunflower seeds, raisins. Nothing worked.

Things got stranger. I found the soap and soap dish from my hall bathroom in the sink one morning. Must have knocked it down in a sleepy nighttime pit stop, I thought. The next day, my bathtub soap from the master bath had been lifted out of the dish and shoved across the floor into the bedroom. That’s some big-ass mouse, I thought. And way too close to where I sleep. Or tried to sleep. Every night, Annie woke me up, upset about the critter. Get it, I suggested. No, you get it, she whined. 

Yesterday things came to a head. I saw no new damage, but there were turds on the counter again. Ick. I bought a package of poisonous mouse traps at Fred Meyer. The idea is they go in, die, and you dispose of the whole box without ever having to touch or see the mouse.

But that’s not what happened.

The critter got too bold last night. While I was watching the Golden Globes on TV, it raced past me through the den. A few minutes later, I saw that the poisonous mouse box from the bathroom was in the hall, chewed on the outside but with no mouse inside. That’s not what’s supposed to happen. I put it back on the bathroom sink. Soon it was on the floor again, being pushed around by a rat. Not a mouse. A rat. It was so excited with its new toy that it forgot to run away until after I got a good look. Medium-sized but way bigger than a mouse. It didn’t get caught in my mouse traps because it didn’t fit.

As I approached, the rat raced into Fred’s old office, where I pay bills and keep my book inventory. I tossed the trap in after it and shut the door. Now what should I do? It was a rat, right across the hall from my bedroom. I couldn’t stomp it, didn’t have a gun to shoot it, couldn’t move fast enough to capture it.

I texted my friend. While I waited for her response, I queried Google. The websites all suggested I call an exterminator. Yes, but it was Sunday night and the rat was trapped in the office. My friend Pat S. said to call my neighbor, Pat W. I hate to be such a girly girl, but I called.

Pat loves to shoot stuff. He came over in his camo clothes, carrying his .22 rifle. Tiny pellets. It would just leave a little blood, he said. But the rat had gone into hiding. Can’t shoot what you can’t see. Pat went home and got a trap, baiting it with cheese. We left the trap in the office with the door closed.

Forty minutes later, sitting in the living room hugging Annie, I heard a loud snap. I tiptoed down the hall and opened the door a crack. The trap was upside down, the dead rat splayed beneath it, its neck caught. I saw blood and rat poo on the green shag carpet. 

I felt terrible. I don’t hate rats. The poor little guy was just looking for food and shelter. He didn’t even get to eat the cheese. I don’t like to kill things. But I can’t have a rat in my house, walking and shitting in the places where I cook, eat, bathe and sleep. I can’t have Annie waking me up every night in a dither because the rat is running around. I can’t have a rat chewing holes in my walls.

I’ve had rats before, but they were in the attic and under the house. I hired an exterminator because the rats were tearing out the insulation, and the noise was driving us crazy. But those rats weren’t IN the house leaving big bite marks on my lavender-scented soap.

Weeping, I put on gloves, removed the rat from the trap, and placed it in a plastic tub left over from Annie’s arthritis pills. I took the rat out beyond the fence into the woods. Its body was still warm. Maybe some creature would have a midnight mouse snack, carrying on what my English lit teacher called the Great Chain of Being.

I scrubbed and vacuumed the floor. Annie, terrified of the vacuum cleaner, went outside and barked. I have more cleaning to do today. That rat was everywhere.

My friend Pat S. suggested I say an Act of Contrition, something Catholics do when they go to confession. I did. Sorry, God. Sorry, Mr. Rat. If you hadn’t gotten cocky and shown yourself in the light, you’d still be chewing your way through the house.

I live in the woods. I know creatures will get in. Have I told you about the time I found a live garter snake in the laundry room? Or the dead barn swallow in the woodstove? Or the family of mice that moved into the potholder drawer in the motorhome? We humans don’t have as much power to separate our space from nature as we’d like to think.

I just hope the rat didn’t have a family ready to follow in his footsteps.

So that’s my rat story. Feel free to share your tales of critter invasions in the comments.

A Gift That Helps More Than Charity

So this is the last day of 2018. I’m okay with that. 2018 has been a beast, but I’m full of hope for 2019.

As the year ends, my email inbox is loaded with pleas for money from charities and literary organizations. Last chance! Match these funds! Help us meet our goal! We can’t survive without you! I know that most literary magazines and writers’ organizations survive on volunteers and pin money, but I can’t give to everybody. They all make me feel guilty and uncaring. If the literary magazine goes under, it’s my fault. If the podcast goes silent, it’s on me. Know what I mean?

By the time I finish writing this page, I will have received five more emails asking for money. They all imply that if they don’t get it by midnight, something dreadful will happen. No. We’ll all be just as poor in the morning.

I get requests for money in the mail, too. This morning I threw away a plea from the local hospital and from the National Parks Conservation Association. I want the hospital to thrive. I love our national parks (And I hate that they are suffering under the current ridiculous government shutdown). I have tossed out pleas from the blind and the paralyzed, from veterans and Native Americans. Some of these agencies send me “gifts:” calendars, return address labels, greeting cards, tote bags, and more. Then they send me bills, asking whether I have gotten around to paying for those “gifts” yet. I don’t want them, I didn’t ask for them, and I don’t have to pay for them, but oh the guilt.

A year or so ago, I resolved to stop trying to give to everyone and focus my charitable giving on my church, feeding the hungry, and Alzheimer’s Disease, the cruel malady that took my husband. Once in a while, if I know the people involved and they really need help, I will contribute to a GoFundMe campaign. But I have to be stingy there, too. I might chip in for cancer treatment, but I’m not going to fund someone’s new house or trip to Europe.

Have you noticed the new Facebook practice of linking people’s birthdays to charity giving? It’s no longer enough to offer a loving “Happy birthday!” Now I have to give to their charity, too? Stop! Let me love you without getting out my credit card.

I sound like such a Grinch. But I’m not a mean person. I just feel that spreading my limited funds in a million directions doesn’t really help anyone.

Besides, there are lots of needs that don’t involve money. My aunt put it well the other night when we were talking about my dad. At 96, living alone, chained to a walker and unable to drive, he needs lots of help these days. Paid caregivers do things like cook meals, clean the house, and take him to the grocery store, the bank, or the pharmacy. But what he needs most of all, she said, is company. He needs someone to sit and listen to his stories, to make him feel not alone. That’s all. Just spend time with him.

Honestly, I need that too sometimes. The world is full of lonely people who just need someone to make them feel less alone, to show that someone cares. I will continue to delete and shred most of the pleas for money that come my way, but I want to reach out more, especially to those who are alone.

I have been working on writing something about people like me who are going through life as a party of one. But you don’t have to be a writer to notice the old man eating at the Pig n Pancake by himself, the woman with just a few items in her shopping cart at Fred Meyer, or the person who sits in church alone every week. If nothing else, smile, offer a hand, strike up a conversation. That’s worth more than all the free calendars in the world.

I hope and pray our new year is full of good things. After a couple weeks of storms, the sun is shining in South Beach this morning. I’m hopeful.

MY GIFT TO YOU: Email me at suelick.bluehydrangea@gmail.com by Jan. 31 and mention that you read this blog post, and I will send you a free paperback copy of Shoes Full of Sand or Unleashed in Oregon. Free. See my book page for details on the books.

Happy New Year to one and all.

Remembering a very special Dec. 17

So I’m lolling in the pink bathtub browsing through the antique store in my brain when I hit upon the fact that it’s Dec. 17. Oh! I say, my eyes popping wide open. Oh.

It’s the 35th anniversary of my first date with Fred Lick, who changed my life. We met at a Christmas party at my brother’s house. I was divorced, my latest relationship come to a disastrous ending. I had quit my newspaper job to sing with this country music show that was supposed to travel the country and make us all rich, but we only got as far as Redding, California before it went bankrupt. I was doing temporary secretary work, singing a few gigs with an accordion-playing friend, and living with my parents again. Everyone else seemed to be coupled and happily employed, and I felt like a 31 ½ year old loser sitting by the Christmas tree with my parents.

I went to the kitchen to get a drink. There was Fred, sipping wine by the refrigerator. He had been my brother’s boss in the San Jose Recreation Department—back before Mike became a hotshot lawyer and judge—and now they were friends. I had met him once before, but he was with his wife then and seemed so very married. Now, his marriage of 25 years had fallen apart. We started talking. It felt easy and right. He asked if he could call me. Suddenly everything looked bright and shiny.

On our date, Fred took me to Mirassou Winery to pick up wine he had ordered for Christmas—who buys that much wine, I thought—to dinner at a Chinese restaurant, and then to a video store to pick up a couple VHS tapes to watch at his cozy rented house in Willow Glen. One thing led to another and . . . we didn’t see the end of the second movie. Gasp. Should I tell you that?

That was the beginning. We knew right away that this was it.We were married in May 1985 in the amphitheater at Evergreen Community College by a Methodist minister. Yes, Catholic friends, it wasn’t in a church, but I know God was there. I’m sure God brought us together. The men wore Mexican wedding shirts, I wore an embroidered dress imported from Mexico and a garland of baby’s breath flowers in my curly hair. The music for the wedding came from a mix tape we made of our favorite songs. We held the reception in the backyard of the house we were renting on Ardis Avenue, using tables and chairs borrowed from the recreation department. Our friend Pat Silva cooked a Portuguese feast. Our favorite piano bar player Scotty Wright played my piano in the patio. It was wonderful.

Fred was the best. As most readers know, he died of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease in 2011 after nine years of that rotten condition. To the end, he loved me probably more than I deserved. And he gave me so much. I miss him all the time, especially during the holidays. But I am grateful.

Now, in my pink bathtub, I think about all he gave me, including this oversized house and enough money to keep living here, where I can loll in my pink bathtub with the big dog just outside the door and my office in the next room. But it’s not just tangible things. He gave me a love like I had never felt, and he taught me to love life. Life is good. People are good, he always said.

Where would I be without him? Still living in the one-bedroom apartment two blocks from my parents that I rented shortly after I met him, the one where ants kept invading and my elderly neighbor Vicki Schultz covered my counters with bay leaves? Or maybe I’d be far from there, having had to follow the newspaper jobs wherever I could find one. And what would I have done when the newspaper business started laying people off by the hundreds? I fell victim to several layoffs over the years, including the one at the Hayward Daily Review shortly after Fred and I were married. But thanks to Fred, I didn’t need a full-time job anymore. I could work part-time and write the books I’d dreamed of writing. And sing. Fred was always my biggest fan, happy to be my roadie and attend every performance.

Shoot, without Fred, I couldn’t even afford a microwave. I was lucky to have a car that worked some of the time. Ooh, flash back to that horrible temp job in Sunnyvale where my dad came to tow my dead, dented, primered VW bug with me in it behind his truck down Lawrence Expressway—oh my God. Fred, thank you for saving me.

I would not be in this house on the Oregon coast, where I can hear the storm-tossed ocean churning nearby. I probably would have stayed in California. I could have wound up in Paradise, the town that just burned in the massive Camp Fire. I interviewed for a job at the paper there ages ago. One of those destroyed homes could have been mine.

By the time I met Fred, I was sure I’d be alone forever, but I might have married someone else. I might have had children and grandchildren instead of just dogs. But surely we couldn’t love each other as much as Fred and I did. I have never met anyone as kind and smart and funny as he was. He wasn’t perfect, but that’s okay. We traveled, we sang, we laughed, we made love, we held each other when we cried. We were blessed.

Yes, we had a good first date. We used to celebrate two anniversaries, Dec. 17 and May 18. And now Dec. 17th has come again. It’s too early in the day for wine, so I’ll drink an orange juice toast and wish Fred a merry Christmas in heaven.

Now let’s buckle up. They say the storm coming later today is going to be a whopper.

***

Hey, you know what’s good to do during a storm? Read! If you want to read more about Fred and me, check out my books, particularly Shoes Full of Sand and Unleashed in Oregon

Why Dogs are More Fun Than Children

As I write this, I have been sitting with Annie up against my thigh for so long that my legs have gone numb, but I have no intention of moving. We are symbiotic creatures, attached to each other. I pause with my pen above the page. She’s having a dream. Her lips quivering, she bares her teeth and paddles her feet as if she’s running. I pet her long, tan flank. “It’s okay,” I whisper. After a minute, she opens her eyes, sees my reassuring face, sighs, and goes back to sleep. I go back to writing.

If Annie were a 10-year-old human, I guarantee she would not be snuggling with me here on the love seat. She would be squirming to get free, complaining that she’s bored, or asking for food. She might very well tell me that I look awful with no makeup and should not still be in my fuzzy bathrobe at 10 o’clock in the morning. Dogs just don’t do that.

Here are a few other reasons raising dogs is easier than raising children.

  • They love you unconditionally, even if you’re an idiot.
  • Dogs never get too old for snuggling.
  • You’re never too old to have a dog.
  • If you accidentally step on their toes or eat a whole piece of chicken without sharing, they forget about it in a minute. Dogs do not hold grudges.
  • Dogs never say, “I hate you.”
  • When you need some “me time,” you can shove them out the back door and they entertain themselves.
  • It’s perfectly fine to put a dog on a leash.
  • Dogs never need school clothes or new shoes.
  • Dogs don’t expect presents for Christmas or their birthdays. In fact, they don’t understand why we make such a fuss over certain days when ordinary days are the best.
  • Dogs won’t spend your money. They might eat it, but they won’t spend it, and they definitely won’t use your credit cards.
  • Dogs are much less fussy about their food. They’ll eat poop if you let them.
  • Dogs are always up for a race or a game of fetch.
  • Dogs never complain about your driving; they’re just happy to be in the car.
  • Anyone who has taken a child to the doctor, can testify that it’s a lot more fun to visit the vet’s office, where you can get an appointment right away, the waiting room is full of dogs, and there’s a cookie jar on the counter.
  • Dogs don’t enjoy wearing Christmas ribbons or reindeer antlers, but they will if it makes you happy.
  • While it’s a pain to take little kids out to eat, most restaurants won’t even let your pooch in the door. They don’t get it. When a toddler finishes eating, there’s food all over the floor. When a dog finishes, the floor is spotless, and the plates are so shiny you don’t even need to wash them. 🙂

So that’s my offering for today. Please share your own suggestions for why dogs are superior. And parents, don’t get in a snit. I love children and wish I had some, but I love being a dog mom.

Also, get yourself a copy of Pick of the Litter’s 2019 calendar. It’s full of wonderful pet pictures, much better than the usual dog and cat calendars. My Annie is the gorgeous tan dog in one of the small photos on the August page. Visit one of the local stores listed or order online by scrolling to the bottom of the page. It’s only $10. All the money raised supports the Lincoln County Animal Shelter.

Christmas is in two weeks. Ack! Happy holidays to one and all.

Wildfires teach us all a frightening lesson

On my way home from my Thanksgiving trip to California last week, I was paying my bill for lunch at the Black Bear Diner in Willows when I heard the woman behind me tell someone she was heading back to Paradise, the town that had just suffered the worst wildfire in California history.

I had to ask. “How did you make out?”

“Oh, we lost everything,” she said.

What do you say to that? “I’m so sorry?” Do you just reach into your wallet and give them all of your cash? Do you buy them a stuffed bear from the gift shop for comfort? I think I just shook my head and said, “Oh wow.”

The woman and her husband looked like any other couple having lunch. Who would guess that whatever they had in their car was all they had left? No one. But there they were, heading home to a pile of ashes.

They just have each other, along with the friends and family who survived, standing here on planet Earth asking, “Now what?”

The Camp Fire, as it was called, killed 88 people, destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings, most of them homes, and burned 153,336 acres.

I drove 1-5 to the Bay Area. The Camp Fire, still burning, was farther west, but its smoke spread throughout the state and was thick near that restaurant in Willows. I didn’t see the damage from that fire, but I did see some of the damage from the fires that happened earlier this year near Mt. Shasta and Redding. Like the Camp Fire, they burned thousands of acres. I passed miles of blackened ground and forests of burnt trees, their trunks black, their leaves and needles an odd shade of orange. It was frightening to see.

Fires have raged throughout California and done quite a number on its neighboring states, including Oregon. Look at this list of fires just this year, just from California.

At the same time the Camp Fire raged in Northern California, the Woolsey Fire tore through Southern California. Thank God the rain finally started, but the trouble is not over. A major blessing for the firefighters trying to contain the massive blazes, the storms also made recovery more difficult. Now, with nothing to hold the ground in place, people worry about flooding and mudslides.

I heard on 60 Minutes that the Camp Fire was growing at the rate of an acre a second. How do you prepare your home and possessions for that? You can’t. Some of the people who died were in their cars trying to get away. And some of them couldn’t stop to collect their pets. They just opened the doors and let them go.

For the most part, the newscasters have already moved on, but the damage remains. People who lived in Paradise are still seeking shelter, still waiting for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to bring trailers, still wondering how to remake their lives, which have been changed forever. They are mourning lost friends and family, lost pets and livestock, and a whole way of life. At this point, many don’t even have a mailing address.

As I drove home, I found myself looking at every house, every barn, every business that didn’t burn up, and feeling grateful. Eucalyptus trees, olive trees, pine trees. Mt. Shasta still standing. Klamath River still there. I returned to my dog and my home just as I left them. God, I’m so lucky.

My friends, while we make ourselves crazy buying gifts and doing all the things we tell ourselves are necessary this holiday season, let’s stop and think about how it might all disappear in a heartbeat.

Right now the sun has turned the tops of my trees golden against a blue sky. It looks safe, especially with all the moisture around here, but fire officials warn that fire could roar through here, too. Or we could have that tsunami we keep hearing about. Anything can happen at any time. Have you seen the pictures from the Alaska earthquake?

At Thanksgiving a year ago, my brother drove my dad and me around the areas that burned very close to his home near Yosemite. The fire came right to the gate of his housing development. When his family returned after evacuating for a week, his house was unscathed except for the smoke and the food that rotted in the refrigerator, but they have not forgotten the fear. This Thanksgiving, Mike showed me around his property. He has cut all the weeds to the ground and has been working his way through the trees, cutting away the low-hanging branches most likely to catch fire. He also showed where his creek flooded last winter, remaking the landscape. The rushing water left burnt logs from the fire on his land. He is trying to be ready when another fire comes.

The fire victims still need help. You can donate to the California Community Foundation Wildfire Relief Fund or the American Red Cross.

For more about the fires, read the Chico News and Review or the Paradise Post. Kudos to small-town journalists still putting out their newspapers in spite of everything.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed with everything there is to do, stop and look around. In the end, your only job is to stay alive, count your blessings, and be good to each other. The rest doesn’t matter that much.