I may write about Altadena, but I’m not there this weekend. We are up in Mendocino/Fort Bragg enjoying some real time off. I loved Bill Geist’s Sunday Morning piece on the “staycation,” the energy conserving alternative to a vacation. But it seems this year we won’t be taking one of those.

It’s my pal Liz’s 50th birthday, so we hopped on a 7 am plane to Oakland at Bob Hope Airport, rented a car and took a leisurely drive the rest of the way. We stopped for breakfast in Healdsburg, which is a really happening town with fabulous restaurants, galleries and one of my favorite stores, Rainsong Shoes. I picked up one unassuming but beautiful shoe on display, turned it over and saw that it had been inspired by Paul Simon as it sported a “diamond” in its sole. Or maybe that should be soul. Diamonds in the sole of her shoes. Lovely. And it was placed between the heel and the sole to protect it. I coveted the lovely thing, but didn’t buy it. What control I tell you. Then, with photography in my blood, we entered a photo gallery called Capture and viewed some of the most spectacular photo work I’ve ever seen. Fantastic fantasy pieces, blending faces and trees, perilous holes in the ocean off New York, bridges full of cars driving through a gallery. I am sorry to say I can’t recall the artist’s name. I remember his last name is five letters, two syllables, and starts with a B. Do you recall things in certain ways? This subject fascinates me. I will recall the number of letters and syllables and often the first letters. I see the name or word visually and “feel” its structure. As a kid I had a “photographic” memory. I see it, I remember it.

That ability hasn’t remained exactly the same over the years, and I think there’s more to it than just the visual. It’s rhythm, too. My first phone number was 347-3343. I loved the rhythm of that number, and the math. All the numbers could be added to make seven, or subtracted from seven to get the other number. Our second house’s address was 23836. I loved that rhythm, too. I love numbers in a weird way. I see I’m on a completely unintended subject now, but what the hell, I’m on vacation. Numbers. I loved math as a kid. I would do extra math homework, buy the workbooks in the grocery store and ravage them at home. I loved the feeling of accomplishment. In 7th grade, my algebra teacher wanted me to become a math teacher. By then I was over the joy of math and into the transition to junior high and all the social insanity that goes with that, but honored that he thought I could teach. I fantasize about what that might have been like, especially now that I work at Caltech, known for many things wonderful, including the TV show Numbers. Those brilliant number guys change the world with their theories, ideas and proofs. And, of course, all mathematicians say the same thing about the world: it’s all math. But to the me in 7th grade, it was all just too boring.

There’s so much about numbers. Lucky numbers. Seemingly magical numbers. Numbers that seem to repeat in our lives to tell us something. Remind us of something. Clue us in about something. We pick dates that are meaningful. Bet lottery tickets based on birthdays, anniversaries, our own “lucky” numbers. Our lives are run by numbers. In fact, 40+ years ago my dad created his own comic strip called “By the Numbers.” No one had any names, just numbers, except the boss, who had the initials JB. My father was convinced the world was going to hell and would become unbearable to live in. He was an Ayn Rand aetheist and couldn’t bear to see independence crushed by the inept. Which sounds all noble and fine, but I think he could not bear being hemmed in by anything and Rand’s philosophy hit him where he lived.

A number is the reason we’re here in Mendocino. A significant birthday. The 50th. A half-century. A milestone. An achievement to be celebrated. For my friend it truly is, as she’s faced more health battles than I could list. Her medical records would probably stretch around the world. Let me tell you that lupus is one insidious, crappy disease that attacks on all fronts without regard to anything. And the treatments, like steroids, are equally horrid in their side effects. It may be the first signs of it showed up in my friend on her honeymoon nearly 30 years ago. After a beautiful wedding on the east coast, they boarded the QEII for Europe. She ended up seeing the country by wheelchair. So now it’s good times, slow times, up and down times, but talk about a birthday bash! A fine collection of 22 women gathered to celebrate the day with wine and song, dancing and laughter, gifts and gab, tribute and tears.

So here’s to numbers, and the magic, mystery, knowledge, significance, milestones and possibilities they represent. As for my husband and I, we’re in room 210, with a deck, a jacuzzi tub and view over the Noyo Harbor and ocean, anticipating another number — time for lunch!