Beach Tires

crissy fieldI’m very excited to see my story, “Beach Tires”, in Hippocampus Magazine. Ariela was very proud to be a trail docent in Golden Gate National Park. The photo in Hippocampus shows her trail at Crissy Field. Ariela’s painting on my website banner is a view from her trail.…/beach-tires-by-harrie…/

More than a Cookie

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It’s Girl Scout cookie time. I bought a couple of boxes a few days ago. The Scouts were in a prime spot, outside Lunardi’s Supermarket. Location is everything. I remember standing in front of Safeway with Ariela and her troop. She used her communication device to call out to customers, “Girl scouts cookies. Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?” Her digitized voice sounded like a girl’s version of Stephen Hawking. People stopped. Then another member of her troop would swoop in to close the sale. Continue reading

Puerto Rican Invitation

Last week, we joined my sister and brother-in-law for a vacation in Puerto Rico. We stayed at a resort in Dorado, a little coastal town, 40 minutes west of San Juan. Our days were filled with island adventures. Hiking in the El Yunque Rainforest. Kayaking under a canopy of mangrove trees to Laguna Grande Bioluminescent Bay. Swimming with a manatee in the Caribbean Sea. Snorkeling through coral reefs, home to thousands of magical living creatures. Traversing Isla Palominitos, a small island of soft, white sand. Listening to the chorus of coqui (tiny tree frogs).

At night, we ate fish and tostones and searched for Puerto Rican music. We owe our fascination with Latin music to Ariela. She took a class at SF City College. For a while, our house was filled with sounds from the Caribbean and Central and South America.

We combed the streets of old San Juan, but clubs were closed or had recorded music. We made several stops near the capital without much luck. On the last night, we had dinner in Dorado. Our waitress told us about a festival in the center of town. It was after 11pm, but she assured us that the music would go on at least until 2. Just down the road, we found a carnival scene with amusement park rides, booths with fried plantains, more booths selling drinks in long glasses, and a stage with a Latin band. Strings, percussion, and brass. Lots of brass. People of all ages were dancing. Changing partners. (The fellow in the center of the video is dancing with three women.) Everyone knew the steps, the moves, the rhythm, the turns, the swings. Salsa, merengue, rumba. I tried to follow the women who were dancing in front of me. One, two, three, then was it a kick or a side-step?

People sang along. A short Puerto Rican man tried to teach us the words. Another Puerto Rican with a head scarf grabbed my hand and directed Gary to dance with a young woman. I tried to follow, but I wasn’t very good. “You are beginners,” the man said. “Come back. We will teach you.” How can I refuse an invitation from people who truly know how to celebrate?

video by Lynn Brotman

A Question for Stephen Hawking

I just saw The Theory of Everything. I put off going, afraid to see things I didn’t want to see. And, yes there were scenes that felt similar to experiences with Ariela – the regression, the first wheelchair, the choking, the loss of speech. Then, Gary reminded me about the time Ariela met Stephen Hawking.

November, 1998: Thousands came to hear Hawking speak in San Jose. Preceding his lecture, he asked to meet with a much smaller group of students who used assistive technology for communication. Ariela’s teachers had briefed her on Stephen Hawking. She was excited to meet the celebrity scientist. We arrived early. Doormen at the Fairmont Hotel greeted her at the door. We rolled her down a long corridor with flocked wallpaper and crystal chandeliers. The pomp and grandeur of the place wasn’t wasted on Ariela. Dressed in a new outfit and patent leather Mary Janes, she felt like she was a celebrity, too. Questions for the professor had to be submitted in advance, and her question had been selected.

There must have been about one hundred students of all ages in the conference room that afternoon. Ariela was one of the youngest. When her name was called, Hawking rolled toward her. I had pre-programmed Ariela’s communication device with her question. All she had to do was hit her switch with her chin. She paused. I hoped she wouldn’t take too long. We all waited. Then, she hit her switch, and with her synthesized voice she asked, “When you were in the fifth grade, what was your favorite subject?”

It took Professor Hawking a few moments to respond. He had a small communication device mounted on his chair. It looked like he used one finger to scan through what must have been thousands of letters, words and phrases and another finger to select. “How old are you in the fifth grade in the U.S.? We have a different system in England.”

I suppose I was a bit awestruck by the man and the event. Forgetting that Ariela had a button on her device to say her age herself, I jumped in and answered for her. “She’s ten.” To this, Professor Hawking answered, “Science. That was my favorite.”

The movie is beautifully executed. His story is told without sentimentality. It portrays the man as the very real person he is – exceptional and flawed, as we all are.

“We are all different, but we share the same human spirit. Perhaps it’s human nature that we adapt and survive.” Stephen Hawking July 18, 2013.