“Sycamores are one of the prettiest trees in Sacramento,” he said.

“Most everybody feels the same way,” I told him. “The trees are all over Midtown, East Sac, Land Park and Curtis Park.”

“I think they come from London.”

“Some do. Some are native to California,” I said. “Sycamores grew along the banks of our rivers. They were here when Sutter came.”

“So they left the sycamores along the river and planted the trees from London in town?” he asked.

“Not really,” I said.

“Well what happened?”

“There were a lot of trees along the shores of the river where the people who came after Sutter settled. In 1847 a guy wrote in his diary that Sacramento was ‘a town in the woods, with the native trees still waving over its roofs.’

“But people cut trees for wood and built fires against the trunks of others. Finally in 1853, the last tree that was native to the plain came down. It was on oak.”

“Then they started planting more natives?” he asked.

“No,” I said. Actually they planted Calilfornia Sycamores in 1850, way out of town at Sutter’s Fort Burying Ground where Sutter Middle School is now on I and Alhambra.

“Sutter gave up ownership of the land in 1849 and 1850. Dr. R. H. McDonald bought the land. He named the cemetary New Helvitia Cemetery. New Helvitia means New Switzerland. Sutter came from Switzerland.”

“So Dr. McDonald planted the trees?”

“Nobody seems to know. But we know that the trees on the school’s lawn at the corner of Alhambra and I are the oldest in town. McDonald could have had them officially planted, or someone who had a loved one buried there could have planted them.

“There was a lot going on. A nursery owner named James Warren was selling non-native trees to replace the natives that had been cut or burned down in town. Over at the graveyard beyond Sutter’s Fort, the guy who bought the land from McDonald in 1857, J.W. Reeves, made a beautiful cemetery with trees and shrubs and flowers. The cemetery went all the way to H Street.

“Cemeteries were a big thing in those days. According to Gary Wills, they were considered parks where the living could go and commune with the dead, themselves and nature. Cemeteries were on the edge of town not just for health reasons, but as a symbolic meaning that death is the end of one world and the beginning of another. At the edge of town in the graveyard, the living were in a spot between both worlds looking out to the wilderness, wondering where their loved ones were and what their own death would bring.

“In 1875 the City gained ownership of the cemetery. From then on it was maintained less and less. After 1912 hardly anyone was buried.

“In 1908, the people who had moved out that way wanted to increase the value of their property. They eventually got the cemetery planted in grass so it would look better, and not so much like a cemetery.”

“And of course the sycamores kept growing?” he asked.

“Of course,” I said. “I find it interesting that somethng intended to be sacred could become an eyesore and a nuisance in just thirty years.

“While the property owners wanted walls, shrubbery and trees removed from the graveyard, people in Midtown between B and H and 21st and 23rd started planting London Sycamores. That was around 1910.

“The London Sycamores look better than the California ones. They grow taller and fuller. Nevertheless, next time you’re backed up on Alhambra waiting for the light on H or J to change, look to the trunks of the big California Sycamores on the corner of the lawn at I Street. They are beautiful. If traffic’s slow enough, you can sit through a couple of lights and really get an appreciation for the trunks subltleties.”

“So in spite of development, sycamores still stand above everything like they were planted to do?”

“A lot of them have been cut for skyscrapers,” I replied. “Even where they’ve been allowed to remain, it’s hard to notice them because the buildings are real tall.

“There is an intriguing one on the southeast side of the Wells Fargo Building. It leans way out into the street. It breaks up the orderly row of trees and the rigidity of the two tall buildings. I noticed it when I was walking from the parking lot. Even though I was going to be late for my meeting, I decided to sit on one of the benches and look at the tree.

“It got me thinking about the present – what a great city we have. It got me thinking about the future – how important it is to keep our old sycamores so we can enjoy them, and how important it is to plant new ones so they will be tall when the old ones come down.”

Copyright © 2023 by David Vaszko

Friday, March 2

Dear Jim,

March came in like a lion. It rained from midnight to 9 am yesterday and the wind blew like hell. When I woke up there was a puddle on the window sill and water on the floor.

I knew it was going to rain after I got to work, so I put a rug and thick towel on the floor beneath the sill. Then I put some buckets to catch the water below the leaking points. Then I took a heavy classy new bath towel that Sis II gave me and that I hadn’t used yet on the sill to absorb the water.

That was a brilliant move. When I got home from work there was no water in the buckets or on the towels on the floor, but the towel on the window sill was soaked.

It’s been a stressful week, more because of the weather than anything else. It’s been very cold and windy. I itched like crazy, but I was pretty good about not scratching. The rain has made me itch less.

This morning I went downtown to a quarterly staff meeting. It was boring. The organization is so full of positive horseshit it makes me ill. I felt like retiring.

Downtown is as ugly and lifeless as ever. I used to think beautiful architecture made cities great, but I don’t think so any more.

A city is great when there are lots of people walking who are too busy to be afraid, or when people are not afraid and so they come out to walk leisurely. Sacramento could build buildings and design neighborhoods to my aesthetic satisfaction, but people would continue to be afraid and lifeless and Sacramento would continue to be soulless.

The other night I listened to a Bishop Sheen program from World War II. I stumbled across his rebroadcasts a few years ago on Catholic Radio.

Mom and aunty always listened to him. Dad remembers him. Do you? Did you listen to him? At the seminary did they make you guys listen to him?

I was impressed by his sense of authority. He definitely was not positive. The current pope is, but I wish he spoke with authority about what is wrong with the West.

Bishop Sheen wasn’t cool. The current pope is. I liked Benedict because he wasn’t cool and didn’t try to be. He was full of love and respect for others, even those he felt were destroying the West.

What I like about the current pope is he loves the great poet from his homeland – José Hernández. Hernández wrote an epic poem through the eyes of the narrator, Martin Fierro. I read the first book in Spanish as best I could. It was incredible.

Fierro is a cowboy on the pampas – Argentina’s Great Plains. He talks of his struggles there, the land, the Indians. Someday I will buy the book, and the Spanish equivalent of the OED, then take my time to gain a better understanding of it.

Anyway. Sheen was speaking about godless modern man. Sheen said that man wants Eternal Life, Truth, and Eternal Love and seeks these as God; therefore God is man’s ultimate end.

He said that the reason ”Christianity does not speak to modern man is because modern man is only part man, a disconnected man.” I agree. People today want to live forever and expect to live until they are ninety. but they are not interested in a transcendent God to live with when they die.

People don’t want Truth to guide them through life. They want facts to build a career, get the prize, and become rich. People want to be able to fuck into their eighties, but they don’t want to feel or cultivate God’s eternal love or eternal mercy.

Sheen is intense. I’ll try to listen to one broadcast a week, but I don’t know if I will be able to. Nobody talks like that anymore.

Or I should say, Catholics don’t talk like that anymore. A lot of times when I am tired of listening to Radio Católica or the Mexican station from The City, I turn the FM dial all the way to the left than back to the right to tune in to public stations.

Every time, the first station I get is a fundamentalist Christian station from Oakland. I’ve always hated the pompous tone of the guy either reading from The Bible or giving a lecture. I’ve said, ”Oh please!” or ”Fuck you asshole!”, then changed the station.

But last week the narrator sounded authoritative to me, not pompous. I listened. He read from Malachi. Here’s the quote I like: ”The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel.”

Yes. Truth is a burden. Honoring God is a burden. Obeying the Ten Commandments is a burden. Loving God every second of every day is a burden, especially nowadays when God is hated every second of every day.

Listening to that guy read in an authoritative tone fit the authoritative tone of The Bible. If a positive reader read that passage, the listener would not feel the seriousness of God’s message and would not feel the heaviness and fear that Jews felt when they heard the word of the Lord to them, God’s chosen and burdened people. Now I understand what professors meant when they said you have to read the classics from the point of view of the Jews, Greeks, or whatever.

For three days I listened to that station and went to its’ website. On the website is a list of songs sung on the station. One of the titles caught me: When I Survey This Wondrous Cross.

It got me thinking of the cross and the crucifix. Which is better? When the Protestants broke from the Catholics, did they reject the crucifix? Is the crucifix too negative, too bloody?

I think with the crucifix the focus is on Jesus’ suffering. With the cross things are more abstract. We are at a crossroads. We have a burden to carry. There is hope. What exactly does one focus on?

So I got to thinking about the cross as something to see from a distance – sitting in the parking lot looking at the cross on the steeple. Or being on a hill in San Francisco seeing the cross on top of a church far away.

The cross is a beacon, a symbol of God’s suffering and our redemption. A crucifix makes Jesus’ suffering real. What did he go through for us?

Remember Mt. Davidson? I wonder how many people have surveyed that wondrous cross. I know liberals hate it. Maybe Catholics hate it too.

I like it. I’ve never meditated on it. But I’m glad it is there saying fuck you to all the godless juvenile artists. The left never sees the cross as a symbol of God’s infinite mercy, but only Western arrogance.

I don’t think you liked it, but we never discussed it. Maybe you thought I didn’t like it, which I didn’t until twenty years ago. I wonder if an artist or progressive ever buys a home because of it’s view of Mt. Davidson.

It’s funny that in a city that so many people come to with so much hope, the great symbol of hope is far removed from the neighborhoods they move to. They think it’s BS anyway.

That’s it for now Jim.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko


Dear Jim,

I´m sitting at the Sacramento River listening to the freeway and watching the water. It´s overcast but not cold, so I will be able to stay out for at least three hours.

Every time I come down to watch the water there are slobs. It´s creepy. Between the homeless, the freeway, the ugly skyline behind me and just plain rude people, it usually is not enjoyable.

But once in a while I need to see the river, especially on cloudy days like today and when the river is high in winter. I like to watch logs float down after the rain. One time there were birds standing on a log pecking at it as it floated.

When I got here today there were two slobs with their pit bull sitting where I wanted to sit. I walked until I saw a nice spot to lean on the rail to watch the water.

Just as I got comfortable putting on my ski cap and head phones, three 20 year olds passed on their bicycles. As they rode by, one of the guys patted me on my (a woman just rode by with her husband and yelled, ¨Happy Thanksgiving!¨ I turned. We waved as we looked at each other. I said, ¨Happy Thanksgiving!¨ She made me feel good) butt where my wallet was. He said something that ended in ´ay´. I don´t know if he was saying have a nice day or perceived me to be gay.

My first thought was ¨That asshole.¨ My second thought was ¨My wallet!¨, but it was there. Then I took it out to put in my front pocket. The nerve of the bastard.

I don´t know what I would have done if they wanted to beat me up or hassle me for money. I tell myself to be careful. I say stay calm and breath deep. But something like that! If they had stopped I would not have known what to do, even if I had been breathing deep.

Something like this happened on light rail four years ago. I was sitting in an aisle seat wearing my sun hat when a black kid tapped my brim – he flicked his fingers up from underneath it. I almost got up to punch him, but the light rail company probably would have blamed me.

I´ve been gone from home an hour forty-five minutes and I still do not have to pee. I was peeing all day Tuesday and yesterday.

You know the song Yesterday by The Beatles? 3,000 singers recorded it. That´s amazing.

I´ve been reading a lot. I´m still reading biographies for children in Spanish. Tuesday I read about The Beatles. Yesterday I read about Neil Armstrong – the guy who walked on the moon.

It´s good for me to read about people whose field does not interest me – Walt Disney, Einstein, Steve Jobs, Neil Armstrong. It makes me face the fact that I hate these times while they thrived on them.

Jobs, Armstrong, Disney help me put my youth in perspective. I will never like movies, but I wish something could have happened in the eighties to get me interested in computers. How much more confident and happy I would be. How much more money I would have.

When I read about Armstrong, I was fascinated by the simple diagrams of the trip to the moon. They showed the orbits and the separation of the different parts of the rocket and the rejoining of them for the return to earth. When they got to the moon Armstrong had to use his training to search for a place to land because where they expected to land was not flat.

What do you think of this? Armstrong had a speech prepared to deliver to us when he landed on the moon. He was going to say, ¨A small step for a man, but a giant leap for all mankind.¨ However, his words got garbled and what was recorded was, ¨A small step for man, a giant leap for all mankind.¨

Reading about Armstrong got me interested in flying, so I ordered a short adult book about the Wright Brothers.

My butt´s getting sore. I´ll write you when I get to another spot.

My Coffee Shop

I walked most of the way from the river to here. Boy is Sacramento eerie. It´s one thing to have weird people at the river or in parks, but it´s another to have so many one and two story ugly piece of shit concrete office buildings across from a row of beautiful old houses, and then another thing to have a ton of sterile new condos and apartments that nobody who is already here can afford.

Downtown, Midtown – it is stifling, soul-killing, phony. Remember the saying Are we having fun yet? Well, Sacramento is trying desperately to be a big city and a cultural center. Are we world class yet? Do we have soul now?

Even with all our trees we are nothing. A movie came out about the time you died – Edward Scissorhands. At the beginning was a panorama of an unbelievably sterile suburb with unreal trees. It terrified me. That´s how I feel about Sacramento. It´s unbelievably sterile.

I´m terrified of being old here. The beautiful trees in this ugly town make my bitterness worse. What happened to America?

I was reading a travel book about Russia. There was a lot of history in it. One of the things the book said was that Russia looks upon itself as female – Mother Russia.

That got me thinking about America. I can´t imagine referring to America as the motherland or the fatherland. There is no deep unfathomable American soul that I want to go down to the river on a sultry night to revel in as the water of my ancestors passes.

Wouldn´t it be nice if America had a connection to the earth and a connection to the great beyond?

We´re nothin´.

Happy Thanksgiving.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, November 10

Dear Jim,

It´s been an incredibly beautiful day. More like March than November.

I walked over to my barber. I was there for an hour and a half. When I walked in he laughed. He often says my wild look reminds him of Paul Newman in his first movie. Newman played a professional artist. Since he mentions it so often, I´m going to have to watch it.

I love going to him. He´s one of the few people I can express my political opinions to. We feel free to cut loose to each other. At work I would get fired if I said a lot of the things I say to him. He and I are not politically correct.

Today I went to Midtown, the politically correct haven, to look at apartment buildings. An acquaintance of mine lives in one building. Another acquaintance owns the other. I might have to move so I want to have some leads.

In each building you have to enter through a main entrance, then close the door and walk to your apartment. I don´t like that. I like coming through a gate and feeling the air in the courtyard as I walk to my unit.

It´s boring in Midtown – so lifeless. There´s a contradiction between Midtown trying to be a neighborhood where artists live and promote politically correct ideas, and the banners on J Street light poles promoting the Kings, who stayed in town because of a $360,000,000 bond issued by the City. That $360,000,000 could have funded a lot of affordable housing and a lot of $5,000 loans to college students or artists. The new downtown arena that was funded through the bonds has increased property values Downtown and in Midtown and ran a lot of people and artists out.

Why subsidize a team whose owner is a billionaire? It doesn´t make sense. The City Council members are eager to favor these bastards.

I think $360,000,000 in bonds would be great for housing and job training. But all these artists who want to rock the boat, who think they are shit disturbers, who hate Big Business and Capitalism, grovel to get a grant from the City. They should be ashamed of themselves.

What was great about graffiti artists in the 80´s and first half of the 90´s was that they were shit disturbers. They did not want a grant. They risked getting arrested, getting shot by a property owner, getting shot by a rival tagger, getting run over by a train, or falling off of a roof or a ladder. And their work was far more creative and skilled than what most artists do.

Midtown doesn´t have that daring do anymore. There are a lot of murals – some are really good, but most of them are fashion statements – a phony blend of sci-fi, comic books and Aztec art. Graffiti, whether you liked it or not, and whether it scared you or inspired you, was not contrived. It was art. It had conviction and meaning.

Artists always complain that the City should fund programs for the arts and give grants to artists, but they are not talking about introducing teenagers to Gregorian Chant, or teaching kids ancient Greek so kids can read The Iliad, The Bible, and Plato in that language when they are older. Artists want Native American programs and rectal intercourse programs and voices of jailbirds programs, anything that isn´t Western and anything that will make them look open-minded.

What they never talk about is funding to study the role of beauty in art or funding for a class on how to create beautiful art for our ugly times. Our times are incredibly ugly. I think artists have done a lot to make our world ugly.

I don´t mean graffiti. It´s scary. Graffiti was America´s chance to look our ugly cities in the eye, but we pussed out. We got rid of graffiti, but continued to build ugly buildings. The buildings are even uglier with cameras.

Maybe one of the reasons so many artists hate sports is because sports are filled with beauty. The beauty and violence, the tension between them, is something artists should be attracted to – ¨What a beautiful catch!¨ Crunch!

Sports are inspiring and scary. Wouldn´t I love to be able to be a pro athlete, but the career can end at any time.

That´s what I liked about graffiti. Though it was not beautiful, it was inspiring. It was also scary. Why are these kids so pissed off? But also, how come I am not on fire like they are? How come I do not take risks like they do? How come I am so afraid of these smooth-flowing bright letters?

Graffiti was a step away from beauty. Artists respected graffiti, but they would probably be afraid to say it now. They might lose their grant.

If an artist applied for a grant to paint pictures of heaven, he would be laughed out of town or hounded out of town.

But I want to keep going with beauty. Even though most people follow sports for excitement and for something to motivate them, artists should follow sports for the beautiful things the players do with their magnificent bodies. A light should be going off in an artist´s head when he sees sports – ¨Even the worst professional athlete is far more talented at what he does than we are at what we do. We should practice more. We should try to inspire people with our skill, our courage, and how much we practice.¨

Artists just don´t get it. Even though sports tickets are too expensive and pro players make too much money, the public doesn´t want to pay for a book of poems almost anybody can write. Going to a game is a better buy.

I lose either way in Midtown. I don´t care about the Kings. I would if the owner built his own arena. I would love to love the Kings, to watch them do godlike things.

I love to hate artists. They are full of bullshit. I know you hated graffiti, but I grew to love it in the middle nineties, just before the City cracked down on it.

One of my biggest heartbreaks was the murder of graffiti.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, September 1

Dear Jim,

It´s 8:00 pm in the hot, smoky, dusty River City. It was 107°. In San Francisco it was 106°. I told dad I would rather be in Sacto than in S. F. when it´s that hot. Dad agreed. San Francisco is humid.

One good thing about the smoke is that it blocks the sun so I don´t have to worry much about sunburn.

I had a chiropractic appointment at 11:30. I didn´t want to stay home all morning so I went to the neighborhood park and read for an hour, then walked to her office.

I love going there. Every two months I go. I started going because I thought that since
I´m getting older, It would be a good idea to keep myself loose and to catch any problems at an early stage.

She´s good for me – a real old school character. She´s a few years older than I am so I hope she stays strong. She gets physical.

How are you? It´s September. You loved September and October. You used to go to the beach during Indian Summer and run, following the patterns of the water as it came to shore. I was afraid to take my shoes off at the beach because of the broken glass.

When I was in the 6th – 8th grade and you were in college, the city started to get dirty with broken bottles, pull tops, fast food packages, and dog shit.

The dog shit was incredible. Remember the time I stepped in some and you made me take my shoe off and put it in the trunk?

Our sisters were with us. It was a night in Indian Summer. We were at an ice cream parlor.

In the 80´s I was with some people on Irving Street. You remember all the shit – when a woman slipped and fell real hard. She was pissed off. I would be too.

Cities are cleaner today. Bottles are recycled. There hasn´t been pull tops for Lord knows how long. People put their hamburger wrappings in the garbage now. There isn´t a lot of dog shit on the street or in parks because people scoop their dog´s shit into a plastic bag, then put it in a garbage can.

What´s funny, and I have been saying this for twenty years, women don´t walk barefoot anymore. When we were young, women walked barefoot all the time, even with all the glass and dog shit.

Now there isn´t a lot of glass or poop, but only a few people walk barefoot. Being barefoot was a woman´s thing – their connection to the earth, their trust in the universe, their willingness to cut loose.

Maybe being barefoot makes them feel vulnerable in this age of terror. They are afraid of being raped or having their purse snatched. Being barefoot and carefree will make them more of a target.

I also think women don´t want to walk barefoot because the world is fast and furious. Women want the power that comes with wearing shoes, or at least to be taken seriously when they aren´t barefoot.

And last, the world has become so male in all the bad uses of the term, that women have become like the old time men, hard driving and afraid to be vulnerable.

If my feet weren´t deformed, I would walk barefoot all the time. I don´t want anyone to laugh at them or ask me about them.

When I went to a custom shoe guy for inserts 17 years ago, he told me that I have everything you do not want in a foot – real wide spread of toes, real narrow heal, high arch, high instep, and the index toe much longer than the big toe. Remember you used to laugh at my index toe protruding through the tip of my sock?

My chiropractor and I talk a lot. I made her laugh one day when I said, ¨I love my feet.¨

They have been through club feet and a major operation. If they had been normal, I would have been a little better in sports. I did so much with them – all my wanderings through Golden Gate Park and along the beach; my nine years as a gardener; all the boogieing; all the wandering in Sacramento; the time I walked along the railroad tracks from Chico to Marysville – that was a great trip.

In the last week I needed to be barefoot. Twice when I went to the park I took off my shoes and socks to walk on the dry lawn. My feet got dusty and I loved the touch of the dryness.

I would love to be barefoot all the time. It´s good for your soul.

Wednesday was the end of my 37th year in Sacto. I wish I could say Sacramento is a great city. But it isn´t. It has nice weather. The City has great views. But weather and vistas have nothing to do with whether a city has soul or whether the citizens trust each other.

I wish I could say I am happy and feel free here, but I can´t. I remember moving to the old part of town when I got here. I loved it because of the trees and the old houses, but I felt the people were phony. They thought they were cool like the people at 9th and Irving thought they were cool and the people on Carl Street thought they were cool and the people at City Lights thought they were cool.

Now the phony bohemians are priced out of Midtown and we have the Yuppies from the Bay Area. I still love the trees and old houses.

Well Jim, I´m trying to free myself and love the times I live in and love my fellow Americans who I do not like. I want you and mom to pray for me.

I´ve been reading Octavio Paz – The Labyrinth of Solitude – in Spanish. He wrote it in 1950. Did you read it?

It´s great. He talks about the inferiority complex Mexicans have. He said the macho attitude of Mexicans is the way Mexicans, male and female, deal with the pain they feel from being torn from their connection to nature, their Aztec past.

He says Mexicans have tremendous passion that is pent up from not being able to be the type of person and the type of nation they want to be. They have all these holidays where they get drunk, scream ¡Viva Mexico!, and knife each other. But those things don´t heal the ¨rupture¨ from nature or get them on the track to ¨transcending their isolation.¨

I´m trying to heal my rupture and transcend my isolation. I´ve already drank and yelled. I never had the ability to fight.

If Mexicans never heal themselves, they can still scream ¡Viva Mexico! and ¡Viva Maria!.

I better heal myself, because there´s nothing for me, as an American or a Catholic, to shout about.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Upper X

I wonder if slobs ever leave the dankness of their concrete jungle,
Walk down the street.
Stand in the sun watching cars on the freeway,
Palms in the landscape.
Wishing they had somewhere to go,
Could sleep under a tree,
Lie in weeds.
If they do, I never see them.
I’m lucky to be a dreamer,
A block and a half from Paradise,
A few steps from my darkness.