Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the month “February, 2023”

A Piece of My Mind: Neighborhood

Fundraiser for Andra Young by Fiona Friedland : Devastating House Fire (

“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” 

When Fred Rogers sang about his neighborhood, he meant more than just “the people living near one another” as Merriam-Webster defines it.  In fact, the online dictionary gives circular definitions of the word – “A neighborly relationship”, and “the quality or state of being neighbors” , dancing around the meaning without coming close. 

But I know it when I see it.

I was visiting my son and his family, who live in the Lower Haight district of San Francisco.  Their front bay window looks out on the street, and as I watched I saw a hook-and-ladder fire truck zoom past, siren screaming.  My daughter-in-law returned from an errand and let us know that there was a fire just down the street and around the corner. “Lots of smoke, three or four fire trucks. I don’t think it’s anyone we know on Carmelita.”

My son checked the street.  “The fire trucks are still there.  Street’s closed.  No point in going to take a look; the firemen have enough to do.”

By the time we were preparing dinner, we knew that a “cute Victorian” several houses in on the alley was severely damaged, and the neighboring houses had some smoke damage but nothing serious.  No one had been injured, but the owner had lost her two cats, and she and her renter would need to find new shelter.

The next morning I spent time at my grand-daughter’s kindergarten, and then the three adults went for lunch at a neighborhood café where the owner greeted my son by name.  As we waited at our table several other people said hello, and the woman who lives in the downstairs flat came up to exchange news about the fire.

“The house is probably a total loss.  Too bad, all their stuff, and the rent from the lodger was probably the owner’s main income.  But there’s a GoFundMe started to help them out.  And someone has offered a two-bedroom apartment rental that’s just come vacant in the neighborhood, so they have a place to stay.”

My son checked the GoFundMe.  “It’s already up to $35,000!” he announced.   This was less than twenty-four hours after the fire had been extinguished.  As of the next Monday afternoon, almost five hundred people had chipped in to help with donations adding up to over $70,000.

Now that’s a neighborhood.


My novel Fox Spirit is being published episodically on my sister site , starting February 27. You’re not too late to catch up!

Coming February 27th to my sister site: Fox Spirit – A Tale of Two Cultures

Here’s a sneak preview of my novel Fox Spirit, which I will be publishing chapter by chapter on my sister site, with new episodes every Monday and Thursday until the thrilling conclusion.

When Sara Miller’s husband dies and the inquest is inconclusive, Sara impulsively accepts an offer to work in Beijing, away from gossiping neighbors and a resentful daughter-in-law. In Beijing she finds a new set of challenges, as she navigates culture clashes, political minefields, and a perilous possibility of new love.

Here’s the first few pages:

Fox Spirit

Huli jing (Mandarin Chinese): Fox spirit. Literally, “exquisite fox.” Also a modern colloquial term for a dangerous seductress.

你做过了一万里的路  来完成我的等待

为此停滞的夜 升起了繁星

            – 陈立强

You traveled a ten thousand mile road

To fulfill my long waiting.

Hence from the stagnant night

Burst forth a million stars

            -Chen Li Qiang (1998)


August 1997

            “I thought sure the corpse would be bleedin’.”

            Sara was certain she was meant to overhear the half-whispered remark. She stiffened her back, sitting as straight as possible, and willed herself not to turn her head. She could feel the tell-tale flush rising, knew her cheeks would be splotched with red, but if she didn’t turn her head, they would not see.

The mortuary chapel was quiet for the moments between the soft organ music and when her brother Jasper would step forward and begin the memorial service. She was the widow, she was not expected to speak, she would not have to face the whisperer. At the end of the service she would be in a receiving line with her son Mark, his wife Rennie, Jasper and his wife Carol. Everyone would walk past and take her hand. She would not try to identify the whisperer, not look for shifty eyes, ironic voice tones. They would be there, in more than one face, more than one voice.

            If she had known the consequences, would she have acted differently?


If you would like to follow Sara’s adventures and misadventures in China at the turn of the 21st century, hop over to my sister site and look for a new episode every Monday and Thursday.

A Piece of my Mind: Brain Transplant

I drowned it!  It’s dead!

Stupid. Plain stupid.

If it hadn’t been   Christmas, I wouldn’t have moved my “office” from the corner of the living room to the kitchen table.   That corner is where the Christmas tree always goes, so I did this every year. 

If our housekeeper hadn’t been ill, I wouldn’t have vacuumed the living room carpet and noticed how dirty it had become.

If we hadn’t decided to have the dining room carpet cleaned too, I would have eaten my lunch at the dining room table as usual.

But it was, and she was, and we did, and so I had my sandwich and a glass of water on the kitchen table next to my computer, and when I reached for a napkin I bumped the glass and…

Drowned my laptop. The screen flickered bravely for a moment as I froze in horror. I reached to turn the computer off, too late. The screen went black, and it was dead.  Not even a snap, crackle, or pop. I took the battery out and turned the corpse upside down on a towel in the bathroom. It streamed water as though I had cut an artery.  I aimed my small space heater at the keyboard.  The next day there were still no signs of life, so I was off to the Geek Squad. 

The Geek on duty managed to look doubtful, even behind the face mask.  Eyebrows are amazingly expressive.

“We don’t handle water damage here.  We send it out, and it will be 3-4 weeks before we get it back, IF they can repair it.  But it’s long odds.”

Armed with a list of laptop ratings from Consumer Reports, I browsed past dozens of glowing screens and stopped at the sleek silver entity CR liked best – “Special Sale 30% off!” How seductive! I picked it up – so light! A sales Geek materialized at my elbow.  “Do you have any questions?”

“Where are the USB ports?”

“You mean, USB-A ports? Oh, almost no one uses USB-A ports anymore.  They’ve all gone to C.”  She showed me the tiny slit on the side of the computer.

“But my external hard drive!  My multiple thumb drives! My mouse!  How do they attach?”

The sales Geek managed to look amused and condescending, even behind the face mask.  Eyebrows are so expressive.

“It’s all in the cloud.  Backup to the cloud.  Access anywhere through the cloud.  You still use a mouse? You’ve got a touchpad and touchscreen. But you can buy an adapter that lets you use your USB-A stuff.”

Back to the Geek Squad station.  The Head Geek offered to check to see whether my hard drive had survived, if I would allow him to open the case.  I felt as though I was ok’ing an autopsy on the corpse.  OK.  Fifteen minutes later, he came back, smiling.  Eyebrows are amazingly expressive.

Next steps: Buy the silver sylph of a computer, give it to the Head Geek, along with the rescued hard drive, and in a few days I reclaim my old computer’s brain transplanted to a slimmer, more powerful, more flexible chassis.

The new computer takes some getting used to.  That cloud thing – I don’t trust it, but that’s where the Sylph wants to put all my files.  On the entry screen and in the cloud I am “Allyson”, but to access files on the hard drive the Sylph only answers to “Owner.” Worse, it keeps offering to complete my sentences for me (even more irritating from a computer than it is from a friend or spouse.)

I will wrestle it into submission.  After all, I am the live person in control.  But I remember that Dr. Frankenstein had some trouble with his brain transplant project also.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: