City of trees

“Have we always been the City of Trees?” he asked.

“Yes and no,” I said.

“When the pioneers starated rolling in, Sacramento had trees everywhere. People valued the trees for the shade. Remember there weren’t swamp coolers or fans in those days. But they also needed trees to build and to use for fuel. A lot of people who got here didn’t have a place to live. They built fires against the trunks of the trees. That’s how big the trees were.”

“Then the trees fell over,” he said.

“I guess so,” I replied. “I guess property was damaged and people killed or injured when fires finally burnt enough of the trunk so trees fell, or were so weak when the rains and floods came they got knocked over.

“A lot of trees burned in the citywide fires of 1852 and 1854. Between the cutting and the burning, we weren’t the City of Trees we were when we started. The settlers though, needed trees for shade, even if they didn’t need to build anything else and they had a wagon to haul fuel in from somewhere. They started planting trees everywhere.

“I don’t know when we became the official City of Trees. We started getting famous for our trees in the 1880s. When C. K. McClatchy returned from Paris in 1911, he wanted to make us a city of trees like Paris.

“When I look at art from the 1800s that depicts Sacramento, the name I see is The City of the Plain. It’s a lithograph by George Baker done in 1857. The inscription under the lithograph reads:


The City of the Plain

“So he got his image from looking down from the mountains?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “There weren’t airplanes. Maybe there was a three story building he viewed the valley from.

“What amazes me is his detail. The lithograph depicts the trees in town to be part of an overall tribute to the precision of city planning and commerce on a flat wilderness. Baker has the space between Sacramento and the mountains all flat. More like geometry’s plane than grassland. He considered a plain to be boring, rather than teeming with life like Indians and John Muir did.

“He makes it look like a vast distance of flat to the mountains, but it’s only ten miles to where the hills start in Orangevale.

“It seems to me he never stepped from his office to see the area a few people marveled at. There’s another bird’s-eye view of Sacramento done in 1870. I don’t think Baker did it, but the same sense of emptiness between town and the mountains exist. The two lithographs captured the boredom of the rice fields in the next century, rather than the home of wildflowers and buzzing bees that Muir walked through and lusted over and slept in.

“I like a painting done in 1849 by George Cooper. It has a lot of trees towering above buildings. Through the trees are the mountains. The painting is exciting and mysterious. It makes me think of how neat it would have been to live here and be part of the adventure.

“The lithographs of 1857 and 1870 make me feel that Sacramento would have been a great place to watch the mountains but a boring place to live.”

“Or the sky,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Without any trees, the sky would have been more important,” he said. “People would have been forced to watch it.”

“There’s a guy who agrees with what you said,” I said.

“There is?”


“Go on,” he told me.

“He wrote an article in a local weekly paper in the 1980s. He said the old timers planted trees so they would not have to see the sky and be overwhelmed by God. I think he was saying that all the talk about God that the pioneers brought with them was put to the test after they destroyed the trees and had to look up and see God go up and out forever. It scared the shit out of them.”

“Kind of like you’re implying the grassland scared Baker,” he said.

“Right,” I said.

“So they planted trees to forget about their fear?”

“That’s what I think he was saying,” I said.

“What do you think?”

“What do I think?”


“I think people feared the plains and the sky. The fear they had from crossing the Great Plains and sailing on the ocean they brought with them here. I think they liked the sky at night, but the vast sky in the daytime was too much. It’s too bad. The Sioux saw the prairie as divine. The ancient Athenians loved to look at the vast sky and the ocean from their city. The ancient Irish saw spirits in trees. We didn’t see trees as divine when we cut them or when we planted them.

“We had it all going for us. Except for the fifteen years between 1855 and 1870, there were good sized trees. If you lost interest in looking at the trees, you could walk to the edge of town and climb one to look out at our great grassland and the mountains and peep through a space between branches to the sky. God was everywhere.

“I see God everywhere like the Spaniards wanted to name something after the Blessed Sacrament. The Spaniards didn’t see nature as divine, but they loved God. They were on the right track when they gave us a sacred name. Of all our names – The City of the Plain, City of Trees, River City, Capitol City, Camellia City – Sacramento is our best. What we need to do is adopt a sacred outlook to go with our sacred name. We can pray to our rivers and use the grass under oak trees as places to make love and have a baby.”

“And look up to the sky together when we finish doing it to thank God for life,” he said.

“Yes,” I choked.

“It sounds great,” he said. “How will you get it to happen?”

“I won’t,” I said. “But think of this.”


“We can’t focus on rivers or trees because they are right here for us to touch and linger with. We don’t know how to touch or linger. We’re always reaching for the future. A view of the sky and the mountains symbolizes the future. The sky is limitless like the future. The mountains are monumental like we hope our future is.

“You can’t walk to the edge of town anymore to climb a tree to look to the mountains and all that sky between us and them. What you can do though is find a building with a view. If you work in a big office building you can walk out to the hall during break and look to the sky and mountains aching for your retirement. If you’re way up on one of the top floors where you can see the rivers and a few miles of trees too, you might feel magical, that life is really pretty good and your kids will be rich and famous like the mountains and all your grand kids will have a blast playing in our urban forest.

“We’re a city of everything. We always have been. That’s where our potential lies, in allowing everybody a view of what we have – our mountains, trees, rivers, the sky, the valley.

“We have the relatively new justice building. Supposedly the grand view is for the jurists, not reserved for the judges. Our next steps are to move the five floors of our library to the twenty-sixth to thirtieth floors of the newest skyscraper. Then we can have public parks on the roofs of future skyscrapers. Everybody who wanted a grand view could have one.”

“It sounds like you don’t get a view,” he said.

“The only view I’ve had was when I went to Sac State,” I said. “On my way to talk with my professors, I’d stand in the hall if it was winter and look to the mountains. It was beautiful.

“I didn’t think of my future though, of having a cabin in the mountains; a penthouse apartment; a private office with a view from the top. I thought of the past, when the air was clear and there were no suburbs and I could walk all over the valley and up into the Loomis Basin.

“Even in the old days,” I continued, “people didn’t focus on walking. They rode a horse, or on a wagon or buggy, a riverboat or train. Today we ride in cars. Our name the City of Trees would mean more if we walked. We could have a mystical passionate image of our city from walking and wondering, rather than a teenage lust to put Sacramento on the map that we have now.”

“But we don’t walk,” he said.

“No we don’t. It’s too bad because walking is one of the most important things if a city wants to be great or magical. With all our trees you’d think people would be walking around filled with wonder or excitement, but like you say, we aren’t.”

“So how do you get to see everything?” he asked.

“I don’t,” I said. “I take what I get. When I lived in Midtown I’d take the bus to see a friend off of 65th near Fruitridge. It was too far to walk, especially with all the cars and few trees.

“The ride through the old part of town and past Land Park is pretty with all the trees. Then you get to the end of the park and look south to all that sky. On clear days it’s great.

“I loved going out there in February and March when it’s clear and windy. I d get off the bus at 65th. As I crossed the street I’d look to my right and left – the Sierras looming bright white and the Coast Range a dreamy silhouette.

“When I got across the street I’d walk real slow past the cemetery to watch the spring grass blow. I’d stop and look. Then I’d start walking, turning to the sky to the south, then to the Sierras. When I got to the corner to turn off, I’d stop and gaze back to the Coast Range.”

“What about the rivers?” he asked.

“I get there when I can,” I said. “The bus ride through the trees, then out to all that sky and the views across the valley and to the mountains was and is beautiful. I feel lucky.”

Wednesday, May 23

Dear Jim,

Still more San Francisco weather. It was 58° at noon.

On Sunday afternoon I left the apartment at 3:00 pm to go down to the river. I wanted to take advantage of the cool weather.

When I got off the bus, I put my scarf on to walk the eight blocks to the water. Then at the river I stood in the sun for half an hour without getting warm. On the way back I walked all the way, alternating between my scarf and ski cap.

The river wasn’t exciting, but it was good to see it and to see the cottonwoods. The cottonwoods were either at the very beginning or very end of their letting go of their cotton puffs.

When I came to town I’d always see the cotton puffs in Spring, even though they grow mainly along the shores of the two rivers. The flood plain was so big, that in the old days cottonwoods grew along creeks and sloughs a mile from the rivers. There were two great ones, two huge ones, at Sutter’s Fort that they cut down several years after I got here.

Remember you loved the row of poplars below Sis I’s property? They were stately like you were. Cottonwoods are sensuous like I am.

You were devastated when the poplars were cut down. I was pissed off when they removed the cottonwoods at Sutter’s Fort. At least the cottonwoods were very old and in bad shape. It was a crime they cut down your poplars.

There’s another walk I took last weekend to take advantage of the cool weather. I walked to the end of the neighborhood park like I always do, but instead of turning back, I left the park, walked up the overpass over the railroad tracks, then down to City College. As I passed City College there was a sign that said something like This is a smoke free, tobacco free, vaping free campus.

I couldn’t believe it. What horseshit! Someone 19 years old can’t smoke or chew tobacco. The rule probably exists mainly to protect non-smokers from other students’ nasty habit.

But it’s also a preachy paternal rule. We know what’s best for you. We are looking out for you.

It amazes me. This is an example of zero tolerance. Why can’t there be a smoking section on a roof of one of the buildings for Our students who enjoy tobacco and need a nice safe place?

It amazes me even more that students are told that smoking is evil, but if a student gets AIDS from having too much gay sex, or has a baby without having money or a husband, none of the administrators will say a word of criticism.

No administator would ever propose putting a sign on campus that says Having sex with every asshole in town is very dangerous, or Don’t have a baby unless you have the money to support it and a husband to be its’ father.

Once in a while somebody reeks of cigarettes. I get nostalgic and think that that’s what everybody used to smell like.

These last two weeks have been different at work. I have gone to another office while ours is being repainted and recarpeted.

I could have taken the two weeks off, but I didn’t want that much time on my hands. It turned out to be a good decision because between the cool Bay Area weather and the unusually bad allergy season, I haven’t wanted to spend a lot of hours outdoors.

I wanted to go to another office so that I could put mine in better perspective. I’ve had fun in the office, but I wouldn’t want to work there all the time because the lights are almost as bad as the lights in the seventies. I know even more than before how much I don’t like my job and need to get out of it.

One day when I was there a woman who I haven’t seen in several years came in. We used to talk a lot.

She worked for the company you worked for some of the years you were there. I was going to ask her a few years ago if she remembered Jim Vaszko, but since she doesn’t know my last name I decided against it. I feel like I deceived her, but I don’t want her telling everybody what happened.

Today I talked with dad. We are in a slump. He is frustrated because he isn’t free. I am frustrated because my struggle is immense. So our conversations have been awkward.

I didn’t feel like calling him today, but I said don’t be a baby. After we hung up I thought that it isn’t a matter of relieving dad’s loneliness or me not being selfish. It isn’t ”How can you do that to dad?” – not calling him because I don’t know what to say.

It’s a matter of ”How can I do that to us,” not staying in touch with my father and keeping him in touch with me his son? How can I say oh fuck it when he’s all I got and he might not be here tomorrow?

One good thing about this temporary location for work is that I can walk there. It takes seven minutes.

On one of the afternoons coming home I saw the same woman walking her dog who I had seen in the morning. We laughed. I’m surprised she remembered me.

Neat neighborly things like that hardly ever happen. How about this for a sign on campus: Smiling is contagious. Take the risk?

That’s it for now Jim,



Friday, April 27

Dear Jim,

I’m writing to you using one of my new pencils I bought at an art supply store. This one is a 3B. I also bought a 2B.

I got tired of having to sharpen my cheap shit pencils from the discount store all the time. I’d sharpen them and the lead would keep falling out. Then the sharpener would get dull and a piece of lead would break off and stick against the blade so I could not use the sharpener anymore.

Now I’m happy. I’ll use the erasers on the pencils I used to write with, then throw the pencils away. Buying the new ones was a great idea. It’s funny how long it takes to do something I should have done a long time ago.

Today was a great day. It was sunny, cold, and breezy with a few clouds when I got up. It reminded me of the East Bay in Spring or Candlestick in the evening before the fog rolled in.

Then I took a bus to the South Area. It wasn’t as sunny as my neighborhood and there were a lot of high clouds. It reminded me of the Midwest. I kept looking out the window of the bus at the clouds.

When I got to the strip mall I felt as if I was in another world as I took the long walk from the bus stop across the parking lot gawking at the sky. It was so cool and windy I had to put my ski cap on.

All day I had the hee bee gee beez. I wanted to spend a few hours outside sitting, writing to you, and reading, but I would not have been able to write in the wind and I was worried that I would catch a cold.

I took advantage of the cool day to clean the shower and refrigerator. I hadn’t planned to use the computer, but since the weather was so cool, I knew I didn’t have to worry about the computer making the apartment warmer. So I turned it on.

What gave me the hee bee gee beez was that I kept thinking of San Francisco: North Beach on a Summer evening, the tulip gardens at the windmills in Golden Gate Park, being in our cool room downstairs looking out at the trees blowing in the wind.

It’s the magical San Francisco light that shook me up today. I wasn’t physically able to immerse myself in it – to really enjoy myself. I wasn’t socially able to glory in it because I have few friends and am not in a good frame of mind.

It would have been great to stand in the wind talking with someone I like. Even if they were oblivious to the light , I would have been chomping at the bit lusting for more light and magic.

When I wrote to you about the beauty of San Francisco and all the drinking there, I said that San Franciscans drank too much because their marriage and career weren’t close to having the beauty San Francisco has. It’s a double whammy. Their marriage and career didn’t have the magic that San Francisco’s light has.

All those beautiful views. All that magical light. All those broken hearts. Bartender!

What troubled me today was thinking of memories people have of each other on a day with magical light. They recall their spouse or their kid or their grandparent or brother. ”It was a day like today. I was so happy for him.” Then his life went to hell.

I thought of the look on mom’s and dad’s faces when my life fell apart. My magic and beauty were gone and after all they went through with you.

On magical days with beautiful views, it must have killed mom and dad to be with me.

That’s it for now Jim.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, February 23

Dear Jim,

It’s been the most exciting winter of my life. There have never been this many cold and invigorating days. Even though the wind is exhausting, I hope it lasts until April.

Yesterday during lunch I took a great walk into the wind. It was like March. All these big clouds of various shades of dark gray with a few white ones blowing along. I could have walked all day.

I’m trying to let myself get excited, be carried along and away with beautiful days, especially cold clear windy ones. Whenever I tell people I just had a great walk, they are usually amused. It’s always too cold or too windy or too hot for people to get off their ass to go outside.

Last weekend I read a graphic novel. It’s about a girl in Japan who is going to apprentice as a witch when she turns thirteen. Her mom is a witch.

On the night of her big day, all the relatives and neighbors gather outside of her house to wish her luck as she flies away on her broom with her cat, trusting in the universe that she will find a place to learn and a mentor to teach her.

They’re having a ball flying around trying to figure out the wind patterns. Suddenly a storm comes up. They get soaked.

As she is trying to figure out what to do, she spots a freight train. So she flies down to it. When she sees an open hatch on top of a rail car, she guides them in and they land in a huge pile of hay.

What luck! She takes off her wet clothes then snuggles into the hay.

I loved it. There are three more books in the series, so I’ll read one book each of the next three months. It’s nice to be excited about something.

Did you hear about the killings in Florida last week or whenever it was? I’ve tried to avoid it, but today at the coffee shop I read an article about it. I didn’t know the FBI received a tip about the murder, but failed to act on it. There was a local cop who answered the call about the killer, but did not go into the school when he got there. He stayed outside until it was over.

Everybody is saying we’ve got to ban guns, or not sell machine guns, or run more extensive background checks, or raise the age of gun purchase to twenty-one, or arm teachers so nut cases will fear to enter schools.

But these are not going to solve the problem of mentally ill men, angry frustrated men, and alienated men. We need to have forums: ”What Happened to the Confident American Male?”, ”Why Do You Feel So Small Guys?”

Of course most of the people who showed up would be women wondering what’s wrong with their husbands, sons, brothers. Men don’t know we have a confidence problem. But women do.

One thing to do is not tell boys they are potential rapists. Another thing to do is don’t call a father with no money, car, property, or job a deadbeat dad unless you are calling an unwed mother with no money, car, job, or property a selfish bitch who has abused her feminine intuition.

When I see billboards encouraging men to embrace fatherhood, I cringe. It’s like women have designed these billboards of feminine men being gentle with their kids. Just like mom.

Mothers should be the nurturers. Fathers should be the inspirers. I would love to see a billboard of a father looking sternly at his son. The billboard would say, ”I don’t give a fuck if the other boys steal. Don’t you do it. It’s not right.”

A billboard like that would not be allowed. Comedians can say it every other word. Rappers can say it in every song. Writers can title their books ____ the Boss and ____ Courtesy. But to say it in such an important situation as I just mentioned would offend the people who make family law and lead discussions about the family.

These people are less offended by a man who says fuck you to his wife or calls his son a dumb fuck because in each case the man is weak. Hearing a father judiciously and threateningly use it to his son shows a strong confident proud dad who loves his son and wants him to be good and do good.

The other night my neighbor and I went to a chain Chinese restaurant. We like it because it is close to home. We also like it because it is clean. I got sick of going to the Vietnamese place in the South Area. It was filthy. When you went to pay your bill, you saw huge streaks of black footprints coming from the kitchen.

We always receive a fortune cookie. I never eat mine. I open it, split the cookie, then give it to my friend. He reads the fortune, gives it to me, then eats the cookie.

Last time he handed it to me with a ”Take a look at this.” expression on his face. I laughed when I read it. It said Your confidence will lead you to success.

I stuck it in my pocket. When I got home I taped it to my lamp. I crack up every time I see it.

That’s it for now.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, January 26

Dear Jim,

What a peaceful day. Everything has gone right.

I had an invigorating walk up the alley this morning. I wanted to go to the store before it got crowded and I wanted to erase something off of my to do list.

When I got back I called dad. We talked for twenty minutes. That’s the second time in a row we talked for that long. He didn’t disconnect the phone by accident like he did last week. Maybe the ladies who take care of him explained how to use it, or got an easier one to use.

The other day Sis I and II visited him for an early birthday celebration. Dad said it was great.

He’s going to be 96. That’s incredible. I wonder if you were here, if you would have let dad be put in a rest home, or if you would have taken care of him.

You should see the people on the street who need to be taken care of. Last night when I got home there was a crazy bastard screaming under the carport. He was still screaming when I went to bed.

Usually when I hear or see somebody under the carport, I look at them to scare them. I was afraid to look at that bastard. It’s incredible how much time and energy I put into thinking and complaining about these guys.

Dad sounded really good. He’s been sounding strong. I could tell he was low today, but he still sounded strong. He said he’s been feeling good.

He said the days drag by and that they must drag by for me too. I said my days go by fast, it’s just that I have a lot of bad days. He said yeah or something to acknowledge that he knew what I was talking about.

The other day I walked to the river. I knew it wouldn’t be high because there has not been a lot of rain. But I needed to see water, the movement of the river. I needed a destination. I needed to walk without carrying my crap.

It’s usually windier at the river. I wanted to stay a while to watch the current and patterns on the water, but I was sweating. The wind chilled me. I said, ”You better get outta here.” But at least I saw it.

On the way back my knees started to hurt. I was smart. I didn’t push it.

I waited for a bus and took it the rest of the long way home. Remember when your feet started to hurt from walking all those hills in The City?

Dad’s lucky. His legs held up until he was 89. I compliment him on his great body all the time.

On Wednesday he went for a haircut. I asked how it went. He said, “It’s a real good one.” I said, ”Do you look like you’re 70?” He laughed.

I feel 70.

I told the MD that I feel punchy a lot, that sometimes it’s hard for me to speak. I asked for a brain scan, then he sent me for a CT. There was nothing wrong. No tumors. No bleeding. No Alzheimer’s.

One time he said I know the lights at work drive you crazy and that the stress makes you think there is something wrong with your brain, but we have no studies or tests that we can point to and give you for your particular problem.

What would solve most of my problem would be to have the money to retire. I would go outside more. I would not be overstimulated by the shitty lights and stressful job.

It’s amazing dad and mom looked so good for so long, especially dad.

That’s it for now.

I hope we get a lot of rain so the rivers get high.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, December 15

Dear Jim,

It´s a hazy day in Sacto, like a day South of Market in San Francisco, only there is no wind. I feel like going to The City, but I don´t know what I would do. I can´t walk like I used to.

Walking in The City always gave me hope. All the great views inspiring me for the future. I thrived on hope. Everything will work out I thought.

Six years ago dad and I took a walking tour. Actually we did two. The first was along the Barbary Coast, up to the park on the edge of Chinatown, then down to the Trans America building.

We rested at the park in Chinatown. There was a great view of Coit Tower. I thought of what the view would have been like when Montgomery Street was the shoreline.

There was no view of the bay from the park because of all the buildings, but in the old days the view would have been beautiful, or at least soothing. I read that a skyscraper is planned that will block the view of Coit Tower from the park. That´s what made the park magical, somewhere to go to contemplate a landmark and to dream.

When we got to the park it was very crowded with Chinese. It was orderly and safe. There was not a lot of noise. It was the way I wish cities and neighborhoods were all the time. It reminded me of the time you and I were outside the de Young.

A Chinese child was sitting on the ledge around the pond. He was looking at the fish or something. His mother was keeping an eye on him, but not being bossy. You marveled at how well-behaved he was.

The other walk dad and I took was in the Mission where you lived when you were born. It was a Sunday, a yucky day like today. It wasn´t in the real sunny part of the Mission like Florida Street. It reminded me of the Avenues. Boring.

But dad liked it. After the official walk we went into the business next door to where you guys lived. Dad told the clerk, ¨I lived next door when I first got married in 1945. Is there still …?¨ So the guy led us out back then left. Dad looked around reminiscing and marveling.

Then we walked to one of the bars dad used to go to. I didn´t like being there. Bars scare me. You never know what can happen. Dad had a beer and I had orange juice. I didn´t like the crowd, but dad was thrilled to be there.

It was a great day for dad. He loved San Francisco back then. He loved mom and the people he met there.

It was a bummer for me. I don´t have great memories. I never loved San Francisco. I´ve met great individuals, but I have never loved a group of people or a neighborhood.

One time I did a tour before I went home to Sacto from mom´s and dad´s. It was of Market Street near the hotel mom and dad stayed in on their honeymoon.

I was cutting it close and carrying all my crap. I got to the group just as it was beginning the walk. As I hurried up, the guide said something like, ¨Look who just blew in.¨ He was laughing. I wanted to say, ¨Fuck you asshole. You don´t look so good either.¨

It ruined the walk. What he should have said was, ¨Welcome. Glad you could make it. Love to have you.¨

It was a great example of San Francisco snobbery: We´re superior to L. A.; People in L. A. are phony; People in San Jose are rubes; We´re sophisticated here in The City.

The guy thought he was hot shit. He had worked for years in one of the famous buildings we walked by. Oh boy! You´re so cool!

Remember the girl from San Jose I dated after high school? She was beautiful. Everyone I met through her had class. They weren´t at all like the rowdies I hung out with, or like the snobs from North Beach or the Marina.

It was a great experience. The rubes in San Jose made me look my San Francisco snobbery in the eyeball. But I couldn´t get beyond being less of a snob to being warmer.

Some things just ain´t gonna happen.

I wish I had your personality.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko