Buster Dozer

Buster Dozer
Buster and Dozer are each one of a kind.

"Look at me, look at me!"

"Look at me, look at me!"
The author of Mark's Work, standing back stage at Reggae on the River, 2016

Self-portait

Self-portait
Life is a balance...

Love is the greatest power.

Love is the greatest power.
Jah Sun, "Show the love."

Sunflower Punk Power

Sunflower Punk Power
Punk-rocking Sunflower

Annie is a Patients rights advocate.

Annie is a Patients rights advocate.
Annie is an inspiration to us all.

Bernie for President

Bernie for President
Dozer chairs the Bulldogs for Bernie chapter of Mendocino County.

Casey and Amber

Casey and Amber
Great successes!

The braids

The braids
My sister, JT, and I, back in the day..

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

markyboy1231@hotmail.com

Sunday, September 25, 2016

License and Registration, Please


In the hootch, Korea.

This is the fourth chapter in my nostalgic look back at a time period when we did not hesitate to ask favors of our siblings, because we knew they would come through. It was July of 1975, and we were
“Stranded” out on the tarmac of a Flying A service station, waiting for younger bro, Matt, to rescue us.

License and Registration, Please

“There’s something happening here,
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there,
Telling me I got to beware.

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look at what’s going down.

Paranoia strikes deep,
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you’re always afraid,
Step out of line the man come and take you away.”   Buffalo Springfield

I had awakened Matt in the middle of the night with an impossible request. Could he come from LA and tow us up to San Jose, in his four-cylinder Datsun truck, no less, WITH camper shell? With the little truck only six or so weeks into its tenure with him, it seemed like a lot to ask.

The request was indeed challenging, but he was up to the task. But before he could even begin, Matt had to round up a tow-bar and running lights, hopefully from Jack, and then head out of the LA Basin. He needed to drive up and over the mountains north of LA, via the Tejon Pass, and down into the Central Valley, and all the way to Bakersfield.

There he would find us patiently waiting in the balmy air of Bakersfield, cooled down from its 110 degree day temperature to a more manageable 85, an appreciative trio of wayfarers, if ever there were one.

“Far out! Gimme five!” was my greeting to Matchu, as we called him back in the day. He would have turned eighteen the previous February, though he had been functioning on his own for quite a while already.

He had busted loose of LA in September of ’74 and joined us at the house on War Admiral, and had attended San Jose State, full-time. I remember we shared a class in American fiction, taught by an old-school, chain-smoking professor, whose vocal cords resonated huskily from her forty-year association with unfiltered cigarettes. 

Dr. Macare would lean against the doorjamb of the classroom door, light one up, look around her and announce, "I know there are rules about smoking in the classroom, but I don't care." She would glare out at us, and no one said a word. As far as I was concerned, it was a good deal, because it helped mask the aromatic fragrance of my break-time doobie.
SJSU
The seminar met once a week, from seven to ten, and we would commute back and fourth together. It was a trip to be attending college classes with Matt, after I had been discharged from the military, because it was just as we had planned: move out of LA, go to school and look for land.

Matt had migrated back down to LA, temporarily in need of gainful employment, and Jack had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: “You wanna help me board up repossessed homes for Home Savings Bank?”

I mean, doesn’t everybody?

Ironically, around December of ’75, about five months after this escapade, Matt sold his little Datsun truck, and used the $600.00 as his share of a down payment on twenty acres of land, up on a ridge in northern Mendocino County, on Bell Springs Road.

Slapping my high five, he returned, “And solid! How’s it hangin’, my Mellow? Heard you were hung out to dry.”

“Bogus would be the operative word. The bug snapped its rubber band.” I returned. “I can’t even believe you’re here, Man. That is so gnarly!”

“Hey, don’t freak out. What was I supposed to do? Check you later?” 

“Heavy City. You are The Man.” I couldn’t put it any more succinctly.

“So, what do you think? Is my Datsun going to be able to tow your bug?” If this seemed like a funny time to be raising this question, it was only because of the nature of the fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants kind of operation.

“Hey, Dude… I can push the bug by myself, and have done so many times. Your Datsun has to be able to tow it-says so in the manual. The only place we are likely to have problems, is going over Highway 152, and we’ll just have to take it slow and easy.”

As if we had a choice.

The tow-bar was a simple device which was attached to the undercarriage of the bug and then affixed to the Datsun via a rudimentary trailer ball and hitch, which the little Datsun already had. The running lights, with their powerful magnets, simply went on either side of the rear of the bug. 

Matt had lucked out when he went to Jack’s, because he knew Jack had the tow bar, but not the lights. Jack didn’t have them, but he knew who did. Another midnight call, and Matt was set to go. All-in-all we were in good shape, for the shape we were in.

Tom and Nancy stretched out in the bed of the truck, inside the cover of the camper shell, and did their best to sleep, considering we were still more than three hours away from San Jose. Matt drove and I rode shotgun, and needless to say, we weren’t worried about falling asleep.

“This is such the bomb. I can’t even believe we are pulling this off,” Matt offered.

“Off the hook, Dude, you are rockin’. We have job security; just keep on truckin’ and we got this.”

Highway 5, for the most part, is just a flat ride for a couple hundred miles, and then eventually you have to go up and over 152 to drop into the Santa Clara Valley. The way I figured it, the worst that could happen is that we would not be able to drive at 55 MPH, like we could out on the Central Valley floor.

That being said, I thought we could do better than 30, but that’s what we were down to, at one point.

“For rizzle, Man. What’s the scene? We’re probably not having issues. What’s the haps?” I had been watching the speedometer, and we had gone from a steady fifty miles per hour, to thirty, in the past few minutes, as we made our way up the grade. 

I thought it was a tad bogus, because for the first stretch, it seemed as though the little Datsun were doing just fine. All of the sudden, I wasn’t so sure. 

“I’ve got the pedal to the metal,” Matt quipped, “but I’m not stoked that we are bogging down. It’s a good thing there is no traffic.”

No sooner had the words been spoken, when a pair of headlights bore down on us, and fastened themselves onto our little caravan. Matt would simply have pulled over, had there been convenient spot, but such was not the case.

“This dude is on my case,” Matt said. “What am I supposed to do?”

“Fuck him if he can’t take a joke,” I offered, remembering how the Divine Miss Bette Midler might have addressed the same question. “We’re doing the best we can. Besides, here comes a spot; you can pull over and let him pass.”
Don't you hate to see these pretty lights?
At that very instant, the sky lit up with brilliant red and blue lights, and we’re not talking Northern Lights, either.

“The fuzz?” I don’t know why that should come as any surprise. We had slowed to a crawl by highway standards.”

“Say good-night, John-Boy. 4-sho, this is a bummer.”

Matt eased over to the side and rolled to a stop. 

He got his license out of his wallet, while I fished out his registration out of the glove box, for the nice highway patrolman. 

“License and registration, please,” came the request.

The cop had played his flashlight beam over the interior of the cab when he first walked up, to assess the situation, and then had stepped back and asked, simply, “How long did you think you were going to be able to pull this stunt?”

Whatever we were expecting him to say, it wasn’t that.

“As long as we could get away with it, I guess,” was my weak attempt at humor. “Is there a problem, your Honor?” I figured it couldn’t hurt to butter him up.
The Man! The Man!

“Yes, there is problem. You can’t go on like this; I don’t know how you got this far as it is. If you need me to call a garage, I can arrange to do that.”

What? Something is happening here, but I don’t know what it is. 

Tomorrow: Tomatoes


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Up for Grabs


This is the third installment in a nostalgic look back at an era, when we asked the most outrageous of favors of our sibs, with the full expectation that the request would be granted. “Stranded” and sitting on the tarmac of the off-ramp to Bakersfield, in the middle of the night, in July of 1975, I contemplated the universe

Up for Grabs

I was already twenty-one months removed from getting out of the military, in October of 1973, and it was natural that I started ruminating on the fact that this was the same length of time that I had actually served. Funny how time differs in its passage, when you are doing something you hate, versus doing something you love.
Nancy

During the more recent stretch, I had gone back to Cal Poly Pomona for two quarters, and then Nancy, my first wife, and I had moved up to San Jose, lock, stock and barrel. Nancy was infinitely more adventurous than I; without her enthusiastic endorsement of the whole move-up-north-and-start-a-commune thing, I would never have stood a chance.

No, this hippie wouldn’t so much as moved across town, if left to his own devices, especially not after finally having escaped the clutches of the Big Green Machine. It frightens me at times, that had I not had Nancy’s unqualified support to move north, I might still be in LA.

Gross me out and gag me with a spoon.

But my sibs and I had planned together, we had exchanged letters and cassette tapes for 21 months, jammed with ideas, plans and big dreams, and now it was go-time. We had sprung ourselves from the trap that is the LA Basin.

In August of 1973, while I was still 7,000 miles away in Korea, I had written a lot of letters, and received many in return, from both friends and family. In this manner I was not only able to retain my sanity by communicating with loved ones, I was able to form plans. 

Older bro Noel had written me the following words: “I do hope that you and the Nancy are still planning on joining us at our community family up north. We hope to move up there in September, ’74 and we are tentatively planning on renting a home in San Francisco the first year, until we get established, and then move onto some land will be looking for. We have yet to work out the details, but there is no doubt about us going through with the whole plan, however.”
Letter from Big Al, aka Karen

My response? “We’ll need to go to school and take some classes in house designing,” I had opined. “I couldn’t build a house if my life depended on it. I need some learning,” I was known to have said, over and over. 

I had emerged from 21 months of being around both highly educated individuals, the guys I hung out with, and those with not even a high school diploma, the majority of the rest, with an insatiable need for intellectual stimulation. 

I had spent sixteen months working in a personnel service company, filing shit. I got pretty good at that old alphabet-even earned an Army Commendation Medal for devising a new filing system, one which streamlined matters, and placed all of the responsibility on the shoulders of one dude-me.

Unfortunately, as jobs went, it was boring as ack.
The 199th

As it turned out, San Jose was the designated city, as opposed to San Francisco, and San Jose State the school, at least for me. We were a few months ahead of Noel’s schedule, having made the move on June 4th, 1974, to a four-bedroom house on War Admiral Avenue, on the very south end of San Jose. 

Noel and JT were to find Santa Clara University more to their liking, but we were all of the same bent of mind. “I need to get ed-duh-ka-ted!” I would say, and everyone would agree.

Even the manner in which we went about initiating our plan, had “success” written all over it. In one weekend in late May, Noel and his first wife, Sharon, along with Nancy and I, drove up from SoCal to San Jose, and rented the place on War Admiral. Additionally, we arranged to get the power and phone connected, and bought a refrigerator for fifty bucks. 

“How many of you will be living in the house?” asked our potential landlord, as he showed the four of us around.
Noel-It's the hair...

Noel did the talking because, well, because he was Noel. The dude made "Leave it to Beaver's Eddie Haskell look like a rabid Hell's Angels' Chapter President, by comparison. He could talk a rattlesnake out of its venom, if the need arose, not a bad skill to have in this neck of the woods. 

"The four of us, certainly, Sir, with the possible entry into our space of two other individuals, both also responsible adults, one gainfully employed and the other a student." 

I mean, Dave and JT had said all along that they also wanted to be part of our gig, but this was pretty sudden-like, so we weren’t sure about them yet. Noel had already explained our current status to the landlord in such glowing terms, that even I was dazzled by our potential as renters.

“And Islo, don’t forget Islo,” I chimed in. “He’s our puppy.” Pronounced Ease-Lo, he belonged to Noel and served as our guard-dog the entire fifteen months we lived in this rather rough neighborhood. His barking when the doorbell rang was music to our ears, because we knew the entire 'hood could also hear the tune.

The landlord did not seem fazed by my fiery red beard, or that we were just moving up from SoCal. The fact that we were going to school, and that I was a veteran, helped, but I also just think it was a tough place to rent, and he was thrilled to have some live ones on the hook.

There were a total of four bedrooms in this large, corner home that rented for $260.00 per month, plus utilities. I think the water bill was four dollars per month. With three couples, that would mean just over $85.00 a month for me and Nancy. My GI Bill money at this time was somewhere around 285.00 a month, I figured we were good to go.

Our primary goal was to acquire some land; that was uppermost in our scheme. Then, as we made payments on the property, we would go to school and get our degrees, so that we had the knowledge to follow through on our plans.

We used our place on War Admiral as a base of operations, while we scoured NorCal for potential land opportunities. I remember traveling in Noel’s VW Bus, Molly, up to a site in Brooktrails, after meeting the real estate dude at a local cafe.*  It was at least a four-hour drive.
Molly (Not really, but it looks like her)

We drove up to this impossibly situated parcel, one which went straight down into this gorge, and then right back up the other side. Was it beautiful? Oh, yes. Lush? Green? Yes, indeed! Both!

“Hey, Man, I hate to bug you, you know?” I inquired evenly. “But where in tarnation would we build a house? Or even a doghouse?” It seemed like the kind of question a potential buyer might ask.

He gestured enthusiastically with both arms. “You just have to get creative,” he explained. “There’s no reason why you can’t put a house right on the side of this hill; you just have to be willing to think outside the box.”

I might have agreed with him, were it not for the simple fact that the box was poised at the edge of a precipitously steep drop. We thanked the agent profusely, backing away with thoughtful, seriously interested expressions plastered on our faces, and sauntered back to Molly. As we drove away, there was little need to confer.

“I don’t know what he took us for,” Noel said. “A bunch of burnouts?”

Of course, in retrospect, I think he saw a group of hippies looking for a place to grow some reefer, even way back in the day. Hell, Bart was growing cannabis on the ridge in 1973, in long rows like corn, right out in the open. It’s not as though this real estate agent didn’t know what the haps were. 

I suggested, “There’s plenty of land up for grabs-we just have to keep looking.”

We checked out another parcel in Marin County, one which required that we pass through three locked gates, all three for which we had the combinations. We didn’t mind the gates because we liked the lay of the land; it was pretty flat.

We had a clear idea of where we were and what the boundaries were, and at first things were looking good. Then Nancy got quiet. She was the science major, and the one most likely to have a legitimate reason for saying “yea” or “nay.”

She kept striding purposefully over to this one little outcropping over to the right, and then to that more significant one over on the left. Both areas had a greenish hue to them, one that did not bode well.
“Serpentine soil,” she muttered.
An example of serpentine soil...

“What’s that?” I asked, though it was obvious that the details were unnecessary. “Serpentine” had a decidedly sinister sound to it, so our interest in this particular piece of property evaporated accordingly. We drove away, at least mollified by the knowledge that we were on the right track, and that we were able to recognize, that which would not work for us.

The longer we were able to continue evaluating what was available, and the more parcels we looked at, the better position we would be in, to know that we had found the best fit for us. And that was exactly what happened.

Tomorrow: Bell Springs Road

* I want to say Mom’s Diner but I’m not sure that was the name. It is Ardella’s today.



Friday, September 23, 2016

25 Grams

This photo was taken the same month as the story, July of 1975.
I am in the backyard at War Admiral, tending our veggie garden.
This is the second in a nostalgic series, taking us back to July of 1975, to an era when we were still young enough to be able to ask the biggest favors of siblings, with complete expectations that the request would be granted. The setting is the Bakersfield turnoff, alongside Highway 5, out in the middle of nowhere.

25 Grams

"I'm looking for a hard-headed woman,
One who will take me for myself.
And if I find my hard-headed woman,
I won't need nobody else, no, no, no..." Cat Stevens

“What came down, do you think?” Tom asked, as we sat waiting for Bro Matt to make an appearance, having placed the call more than two hours earlier for a little bit of help. You know, wake the poor, unsuspecting dude, up in the middle of the night, and hit him up with an impossible proposition? 

“Judging from the sound of it, we probably didn't throw a rod,” I explained, meaning of course, the exact opposite. I had been working for United Auto Stores, in San Jose, for almost a year, at the time we had ventured back down to SoCal for a wedding, and had had ample time to start picking up some knowledge. It was July of 1975.

Our return trip had been interrupted when the poor little Beetle had sounded the alarm, turned its wheels upward in the air and refused to go any farther.

“Was it my blow-it, do you think?” he asked.

“Hey, Man. You were just cruising along and the motor freaked out. Frank Zappa sang all about it, ‘Who could imagine, that our little bug, would freak out-in Bakersfield…Bakersfield…Bakersfield…?’” I sang. 
This pic of my father, Robert, was taken down
in Baja, California, in June of 1972.

“Ain’t no biggie. This old jalopy’s got nothing but a bodacious rubber band propelling it. When I get back to San Jose, I’m going to yank this motor and stick a new-improved-rubber band in, and we’ll be set to go.”

I honestly thought that with more than 140,000 miles on the eleven-year-old, air-cooled engine, it was just overdue, and I told Tom that. The last thing I wanted was to have this kid think I had flipped my wig, pissed off that he had caused this problem.

 Later, after splitting the cases, on the kitchen table (!) at our apartment on San Fernando Street, it did not take long to see what had occurred. I worked at United Auto Stores, (three of the four establishments, anyway) for a total of almost eight years, and I never saw anything like it-before-or after. 

The crankshaft had simply snapped in two. 

The crankshaft is the central component of any engine, and the one to which the four connecting rods, are attached. What could possibly have gone wrong to make a two-and-a-half-inch thick piece of steel, snap into two chunks, as though it were a piece of balsa wood?

I posed the question to my colleagues at United Auto, including the machinist at the time, Don.

A quiet guy, Don examined the detritus of the engine with raised eyebrows, indeed. He pursed his lips, took the two chunks of the crankshaft in either hand, and then started looking closer at those four connecting rods.

“One of these does not match the other three,” he noted.

“Ha! Busted!” I cooled my jets. "It’s not as though they were in a fashion show,” I added sarcastically. “Uh, does it matter?”

“Could,” he responded, “if there is a difference in weight.”
Ah, how cute-flag in the background...

“Oh. How funkadelic is that?” I ran that information through my jellybrain, and it still did not compute. “Why does that matter?”

Patiently Don explained. “The engine is turning at three thousand revolutions per minute, which means the four connecting rods are propelling the pistons up and down, 3,000 times per minute. If there is a difference in weight among any of those components, the engine is going to be off-balance.” 

He continued on. “If you are driving around town or taking it easy on longer jaunts, then no problem. At some point, though, if a lot of torque gets put on the engine, after it is already tired, something like this is going to happen.”

I thought about Tom coming off the highway and down-shifting into third gear a bit too early, and that was all the stress the old engine needed to blow. 

Sure enough, there was twenty-five grams’ difference between the three that matched, and the one that was different. Huh. That’s only three grams shy of an ounce, though why I know that particular piece of information, I am at a loss to explain. 

[Editorial note to Mark: Juvenile attempts at humor are to be avoided, puh-lease…]

Don said that what had most likely happened, was that at some earlier point in time, the engine had blown, and when it was put back together, no care was taken to make sure that the replacement connecting rod matched the other three.

Had they weighed them, and noted the difference, they could have done something about it, but that is pretty sophisticated stuff for the do-it-yourselfer. Hey, it’s pretty sophisticated stuff for most mechanics too. 
Me, in our apartment in Seoul, Korea, 1973.

I was lucky I worked in a foreign and domestic auto parts house, with a machinist who knew his stuff. Otherwise, I would have gone ahead and replaced the crankshaft without bothering to check the rods. Somewhere down the line…

I can still tell you, though, that a complete gasket set for my little VW, with a 40hp engine, is a 111-198-007. If it were a bus, it would be a 211-198-007, and a fastback? You got it: 311-198-007. Don’t ask me why these things stick, because I will just tell you it’s the same reason why so much does not stick.

Too much cannabis? If so, it’s an exchange rate, with which I can live.

I didn’t have any of this in-depth info at my fingertips, as we sat, alternately in the little bug or on the warm pavement of the Flying A Service Station parking lot, and waited for the cavalry. All I knew was that I was powerless to do anything other than wait.

It reminded me of the army: “Hurry up and wait…”

Tomorrow: The Plan


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Stranded

This is the first in a nostalgic series dealing with the untimely demise of our little VW Bug's engine, out on Highway 5, back in the mid-seventies. I have been writing this piece in my head for a while now, so here we go. 
Stranded

“I’m goin’ home
And when I want to go home
I’m going mobile
I can stop in any street
And talk with people that we meet
Goin mobile 
Keep me movin’

Keep me movin’
Over 50
Keep me groovin’
Just a hippie gypsy

Come on move now
Movin’
Keep me…”   The Who, Who’s Next

I was jerked awake from my seat in the back of our little ’64 VW, no mean feat after having been poured into the little Bug, a couple of hours earlier. We had been chilling at a wedding all afternoon, hanging amongst old high school chums, and had stayed longer than intended. 
Tom

The festivities had run into early and then late evening, and we had still not wanted to split. Younger bro Tom had volunteered to take the wheel, newly acquired driver’s license securely in place in his wallet, and I was told he did a bitchen job.

I was feeling no pain.

Everyone at the shindig thought I was dope, with my fiery red beard, its length matching the exact period of time from my having been released from my incarceration in the US Army, in October of 1973. 

I had been attending San Jose State since the move up north, working at an auto parts house pretty much full-time and receiving benefits in the form of the GI Bill, more-or-less $300 a month.

A couple of hours after splitting the scene, zooming down the off-ramp from Highway 5, at the Bakersfield turnoff, intending to switch drivers at the first gas station he encountered, Tom had down-shifted from fourth into third gear while we were still traveling a bit too fast and the old bug shot its wad. The result was a sound which defied explanation. 

It was as though we were being overtaken by a 747, a noise that exploded from the engine compartment with such violence, that when it stopped just as abruptly about fifteen seconds later, the ensuing silence was eerie.
The Bug

When we finally drifted to a standstill, we were only a football field or so away from a Flying A Service station, which we knew would have a phone. 

I know. Weird. Out in the middle of nowhere, there was a phone, which is a good thing because cellies had not yet been invented, back in July of  1975, and we were stranded a couple hundred miles from our home in south San Jose.

“Whoa, Nelly! Steady as she goes,” I mumbled to myself, as I staggered out of the back seat, and booked off in the direction of the phone booth. I had the remains of our life savings in the right front pocket of my jeans, about three bucks in quarters and loose change, having had enough bread to fill the gas tank before we left L.A.

Gas was $0.59 a gallon, which meant it cost just under six bones to fill ‘er up. Our little Beetle got 40 miles to the gallon, and could do the 400 miles with the ten gallon tank filled to capacity.

Just barely.
I’m older now, so I look back in amazement at some of the things we siblings asked of each other. I thought nothing, twice-upon-a-time, of placing a call to my younger brother, Matt, asking him first of all to wake up, and then to do me a minuscule favor. The conversation might have gone like this:

“Matchu? Heavy City, Dude. My bug is all bent out of shape. Can you dig it?” 

It probably wasn’t necessary for me to holler, but Bakersfield WAS pretty far away from Los Angeles. 

“Huh? Say WHAT? What time IS it?” I hoped he was feeling better than his voice indicated.

“Sorry about that. It’s 11:15. Were you crashed, Man?” 

No, he was just vegging on the couch, waiting for a call from his older brother, long since split from the scene because he bagged a new crib six hours’ drive north. Relocating from La Puente in the San Gabriel Valley, up to San Jose, at the southern edge of the Bay Area, meant for little communication in the days prior to the internet.

Matt hung loose just long enough to make his point before responding, “Don’t be a spaz! You didn’t wake me-I had to get up to answer the phone.”

“Ha ha,” [I think.] “Far out! Listen, Man, I know this is hairy, and I promise to repay you, but do you think maybe you could split your scene and turn me on to a tow? Something’s not jiving with the Bug. We’re stuck.”

“Bummer, Man. But I can totally book up and bag you guys. Do you think my lil Datsun truck can handle the situation? It’s only a four-banger.” Matt had only just acquired this little truck, and ironically, when he sold it in December of that same yer, he took the 600 clams he got, and used it on a down payment on twenty acres of land, up on our ridge in Mendocino County.

All I could say, is what I had heard so many times before from our father, “If it doesn’t, we’ll always think it should have.” 

With these philosophical words hanging in the air, defying any coherent definition, I added, “But we gotta keep the fuzz off our tails. Can you rustle up the tow-bar (We owned one outright, because we'd had to) and boogie over to Jack’s and put the grab a set of running lights?”

Continuing on, I said, “Now, here’s where it gets gnarly, Man. You gotta head up Highway 5, to the Bakersfield turnoff. That’s way out on the desert, Man. Are you down with that?”

“I’m solid. Where are you, again? Bakersfield?” I mean, it’s not as though we could text him every fifteen minutes to keep track of his progress. Once he hung up the phone, we were on our own, sitting in the darkness with the highway traffic flowing past, waiting.

“You can’t avoid it. It’s the only sign of humanity for twenty miles in either direction. The sign says, “Bakersfield.” Do you catch my drift?”

“Out-a-sight! Seize you in a few hours!”

Sitting out on the desert, the temperature in the mid-eighties, was a surreal experience. There had really been no choice. We had no money, no towing insurance and no one else to turn to. Seriously, if Matt could not have come through, we may have ended up sitting alongside that curb, up to and including the present moment.

Tomorrow: War Admiral
Matt








Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Business Is Hopping!


Be still my beating heart...

Business Is Hopping!

I do not equate patriotism with flag-waving. The analogy that works best for me is that of the church-goer: Because one goes to church once a week for services, does not make one a good person, just as standing for the “Star-Spangled Banner,” does not make one a patriot.

People criticizing pro athletes for refusing to stand for the National Anthem, are unclear on the concept of what it means to be an American. In my book blindly following along with patriotic protocol, even if you find it distasteful, is tantamount to living in North Korea, where patriotism is mandatory.

Stand up for the flag or take a bullet.
The freedom to express disapproval of social injustice, by sitting or kneeling during the playing of the state song, is what distinguishes this country from that of a totalitarian regime. The hard part for me, is that once upon a time, I too felt a genuine love for this country, and all for which it stood.

That feeling is gone, gone a long time ago.

I did not understand what “trickle down” economics meant, when Ronnie Ray-Gun implemented it, way back in the seventies. I may have thought I did, but who pays any attention to “breaking economic trends?” Not this school-going veteran, barely staying out of the soup kitchens.

What it meant was that rich folks paid less into the national coffers, and more into overseas bank accounts, and lawyers controlled it all. Over the next several decades, we saw a shift from the middle class controlling the bulk of the money, to an elite set of ten percent of the population, controlling ninety percent of the wealth.

This is not a good fit for the current fifty million Americans, at or below the poverty level, because they have no advocates. More and more, the poor are being subjugated into their tiny little existences, with ongoing controversy swirling as to whether or not they should be tossed a bone, in the form of a raise in the minimum wage.

How exciting would that be?

Oops, there goes $38 billion to Israel, last week, in military aid.

Imagine the difference that money could have made with the problem of poverty in this country, if it were not in the national “best interest” to keep that lucrative weapons thingie going. That way war criminals such as Dick Cheney and his crony, Halliburton Corporation, can continue to reap $39 billion windfalls, as they did from the Iraqi “conflict.”

There is a certain poetic symmetry to Cheney having ripped off-sorry, earned-$39 billion, and then having the country turn around and give ANOTHER $38 billion in aid, to its good buddy over there in the Middle East.

Heavens to Murgatroid, but business is hopping!

Not only that, but the Republican Party, behind The Donald, is primed to keep these unfair economic practices in place, to the further dismay of the poor. I think THAT is pretty damn unpatriotic.

Who else is going to stand up for this huge mass of people? Those fifty million folks are not just adults, or those in the prime of their lives; no, they include children, and a huge percentage of the elderly. 

In other words, they are those least able to stand up for themselves. Again, I ask, who is going to show support for these people if Colin does not? He is as American as Paul Revere was, and I refuse to be dissuaded. It takes courage to stand up for one’s principles, especially when it comes to symbols such as the flag.

If you are upset at what you perceive to be unpatriotic action on the part of Colin Kaepernick, then why are you not upset at what our government is systematically doing to the poverty-stricken in this country?

Please? Can you address this question for me? 

Pretty please?

Otherwise, admit that symbols and flag-waving are good enough for you, and then, when your parents are forced out onto the streets because they lost their home, you can all stand together and salute the flag. While doing so, you can listen to not only the Star Spangled Banner, but a version of "God Bless America" for good measure!

Gotta love this great country of yours, or not.






Friday, September 16, 2016

Sand-Surfing




 Sand-Surfing

I climbed Blue Rock yesterday with several visiting friends, and could not help but notice that the experience comes under the category of timeless. Whether it’s trekking up in the middle of the day, or perching on the top and watching the sun go down, or even viewing a complete lunar eclipse, there is no better set of bleachers than The Rock.

I said “climbing” because it makes me feel as though I am still a badass to be able to nonchalantly impart that, “Yes indeed, at my lofty age I can still climb that mofo.”

Let’s be clear about one thing: You actually encounter only one spot where you need a steadying hand-on-rock experience, to “climb” to the summit. It the way is too steep here, just slide twenty feet to one side, and the slope is bound to be gentler.

Otherwise, it’s a mellow “stroll” to the top, albeit you are still heading vertically at a prodigiously quick rate. When you get to the pinnacle, there is plenty of flat area from which to comfortably examine one’s surroundings.

To the north is Garberville, 35 miles from our home via dirt roads, a distance that Annie and I were contemplating walking a couple of years ago, when we were more actively involved in fund-raising events combatting cancer. It was one of those pledge-per-mile things, and she was confident that she could line up enough mountain folk to back her, to make it all worthwhile. 

Unfortunately-or otherwise-she deemed it too taxing on her limited available energy, and decided to abandon the idea. We have walked as far up Bell Springs Road as the 12-mile-marker in the past, a roundtrip distance of 14 miles, so that will have to suffice.

When I peer out to the west out toward the coast, I marvel that it is only twenty miles over a couple of sets of mountains, as the raven flies. You can see the ocean clearly in three spots as you walk the twenty minutes up the Bell to the base of Blue Rock, as the coastal ranges rise and dip along their course. 

I know for certain where the three spots are because I have seen the lights from ocean-going vessels in these three dips. Whether in SoCal, the Bay Area or up on the mountain, I have never lived farther way from the ocean than 75 minutes’ drive.

I’ll never forget meeting two “chicks” from Minnesota, as we referred to the gentler gender when I was a punky-La-ZAR-us (Annie’s term), while body-surfing at Newport Beach. Neither of these fair damsels had ever laid eyes on the Pacific Ocean before that day, and I simply had no frame of reference.

They’d never “bagged rays” while baking in the sun after coming out of the surf? They’d never seen the sun set over the water? They never been plunged face-first into the sand, when the wave they were trying to “catch,” taught them a thing or two about being caught?

If having to apply soothing cream to your stomach to ease the burning of sand-surfing, seems like a steep price to pay for body-surfing, imagine having to smear it all over your face-for the same reason?
Yesterday, when we gazed off to the east, we saw the Yolla Bolly Mountains, the same ones we use all winter as a barometer to gauge the snow level in outlying areas from us. At 3,300 feet of elevation, we are high enough to get those three-footers dumped on us, sometimes more than once a winter.

In the early days we thrived on them, reveling in what it was like to eat, drink and breathe snow. “There’s no business like snow business,” I used to sing to the boys, who were willing enough accomplices. There was always the ever-present hope that the school district would shut its doors. Drat! 

Now? That’s easy: Snow is the guest who overstays her welcome.

Finally off to the south, we see the ranch complex, with its mammoth barn on the west side of the Bell, and the house itself on the east side. I remember in December of 1974, a VW busload of us ventured up to our ridge for maybe the second time, after picking up my father from the San Francisco airport on the way past.

Literally, “Beep! Beep! Over here, Papa! Climb in! We’ll make room.”

We traveled up The 101 in a gentle rain storm, that transformed into hurricane-force winds up on the ridge. Resolutely, we trooped up and down the rolling hills, clueless as to which of the three parcels we were on at any given time, ending up at the ranch house with Jerry-invited there by the rancher himself-who would have been the same age as my father at that time, 52. 

He never changed in my mind’s eye, but down the line I was to marvel that this square-faced, white-haired rancher, weather-beaten with a distinct drawl, was only 52. Playing poker with him, and hearing him recite poetry that he memorized while serving in the war in Korea in the early fifties, made him seem older than his years.

He’d memorized it by reading it over and over, attempting to use the light from these words, to overcome the darkness of his experiences overseas.

Now, as we huddled around the wood stove, steam rising off our sodden clothes, a few of us sipping on a shot of Jim Beam, we gushed our enthusiasm for everything we had been seeing.

“So much to see. Water everywhere! Some of those rivers are white water wonders!” were some of the observations.

Jerry grimaced, which was quite a feat because his facial features never moved. It was more of a body-grimace, as though an electric current had touched down for a nano-second, sending a little ripple through every fiber of his body.
Maybe I imagined it.

“Now hold on a second there,” he began slowly, his face remaining implacably still, “Let’s not make too much of a little rain,” he warned, just as another in a series of brilliant flashes lit up the dimly lit space. “Come July, the same cricks you’re lookin’ at now, will be bone dry.” Of course he was right. 

I’m not sure when his place was built, but I do know Jerry was born in that same house, so he’d been seeing these rains his entire life. He came out onto the road one Saturday afternoon, as Annie and I made our way back down from our daily walk in the middle of a rain squall.

Rubbing his jaw furiously, which was his way of conveying the seriousness of the situation, he didn’t even wait to exchange greetings. “Y’all ought not to be walking when there’s lightning. Turn you right into bacon, faster’n it’d take for me to pick off another coyote.”

Jerry hung all the pelts from the coyotes he’d shot, on the gate down to the Camp, his second residence, this one on the west side and down from the Bell.

Annie and I were genuinely alarmed, this not being the first time we had walked in the rain. Heck, if we waited for no rain, some winters, we’d never have walked. As teachers, we both relied on our daily walk to keep the stress down, a hopelessly impossible task.  

My experience with rain while growing up, was the twelve inches we got annually in the San Gabriel Valley in SoCal, the equivalent of a hardy Pineapple Express South-Pacific blower, here in northern Mendo County.

One year in the late eighties, we got 137 inches of rain on the ridge.

Just now, overwhelmed by the comfort and warmth emanating forth from the stolid, ancient wood stove, we listened to Jerry, but really paid no heed to his words.

After all, as I had explained yesterday on the walk up, the $400.00 per acre had amounted to a $67.00-per-month land payment, beginning when I was 23-years-old, and going for the next thirteen years. My land payment was less than my friends’ car payments.

I figured my twenty acres would withstand the march of twenty years’ time, better than their Fords and Chevys.

With or without rain.





Thursday, September 15, 2016

Play Ball!



Play Ball!


There is a baseball tournament this weekend in Laytonville, which will draw hundreds of community members to Harwood Park for the festivities. People come from all directions to play, watch and dialogue. 

The ‘Ville does not necessarily resemble the typical small community, in that it is the center of a wide geographical area that is pretty rugged, and folks are spread out in all directions. Whether you are a mountain person, a townie, live on the rez, driving in from Branscomb or Dos Rios Roads or coming up from south of town, you are enjoying baseball together, thus promoting community.

Let’s face it, “unity” is seldom found as successfully imbedded in “community,” as it is in Laytonville. What has been created by the Co-ed Softball League, now in its second year, is incalculably rich by small town standards. What may seem at surface to be an understatement, hardly worth mentioning for being so obvious, warrants a little closer look.


A town farther up the highway, like Scotia, has a central focus and almost everyone is involved in that focus, in this case the mill. When we gather in the ‘Ville, we represent so many different cultural factions, it defies comprehension. 

Because many participants went to school together, played little league and/or high school sports together, and work together out in the community, there is a sense of camaraderie that supersedes any competitive machismo that might otherwise get in the way.

I haven’t seen more than a half-dozen games, but I have yet to see an argument. The umpires are doing a job that I personally would/could never do, and frequently come from the ranks, so everyone goes along with the calls.

Besides, we don’t have instant replay yet.


Players converse on the field, fans dialogue in the stands, friends greet each other coming and going, and the living is easy. National politics, the San Francisco Giants’ post-All Star collapse, the new football season, cannabis regulation, school and a hundred other topics all occupy our attention.

Additionally, because the league is formed with specific requirements for gender balance, we get to see women playing alongside the dudes, and appreciate how well the players on the teams work together to achieve success.

I think that whereas the adults are the immediate winners, it is the kids who will ultimately reap the greatest of benefits. Not only do they get to see their moms, uncles, dads, aunts and cousins, all on the diamond together, they will eventually be able to play.

We used to play ball up here on Bell Springs Road, all through the eighties, and then Casey revived that tradition a few years back, again way up here in our own little neck of the woods. Now we have the Co-ed Softball League down in the ‘Ville.

It’s the greatest of successes, especially if you couple the trip into town with a visit to Mendo Sun, a salad from Gravier’s, a stop at Sho Nuf’s or dinner at the Big Chief. 


And please, please remember, if you see me, probably pretending to take photos with-of all things-an actual camera as opposed to a phone, please say hi. I probably won’t recognize you, and you’ll know it because my glazed eyes will be as round as donuts, so take pity on me.

Tell me your name. Then prepare to be properly greeted. If you had the misfortune to sit in one of my classrooms, I will want to give you a hug. No hard feelings for that History Day Project, I required of you twenty years ago? Great success!

Play Ball!