Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
About those fireworks...

Ellie Mae or may not...

Ellie Mae or may not...
In through the out gate...

Rattler relocation

Rattler relocation
Snakes are beautiful critters.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
"Let us bee happy in our work..."


Nothing says summer like zinnias.

Pink Yarrow and carnations

Pink Yarrow and carnations
Life on the farm

HappyDay Farms grows it better.

HappyDay Farms grows it better.
Home-grown by HeadSodBuster

Where the living is easy

Where the living is easy
Garlic drying, with our newly painted water tank in the background

July magic

July magic
Artichoke-strictly for ornamental purposes

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Far Out and Solid

This is the sixth segment of a nostalgic look back at a time period when we felt comfortable asking favors of our siblings, secure in the knowledge that no request was too outrageous. I had awakened Bro Matt in the middle of the night, and asked him to drive from LA to Bakersfield, so that he could then tow me in my dead beetle, up to San Jose. The funny thing is that he never hesitated.

Far Out and Solid

“Tell us, Bob, what have you been doing with all those degrees?
I notice you had a PhD, an MA and that you are a BMF besides.
What have you been doing with all that knowledge?”

“Making candles, Man.”

“Making candles, well, that sounds creative, Bob. 
What kind of candles are they?”

“Oh, they’re really neat table candles, you know?”

“Table candles?”

“Yeah. You pour wax on a table…”

“Uh, huh.”

“…and you set it on fire, Man.”

“Well, that sounds like a hot item, Bob.”
                                                                   Cheech and Chong
Though these look nothing like ours, they are '70's candles.

“My analyst told me
That I was right out of my head.
The way he described it
He said I’d be better off dead than live.
I didn’t listen to his jive;
I knew all along
That he was wrong.
And I knew that he thought
I was crazy but I’m not.
Oh no.”
                   Joni Mitchell

As extraordinary as the circumstances were, being stranded in the middle of the Central Valley, it required a fair amount of ingenuity and perseverance to pull the whole rescue off. Had I not been certain that Matt could accomplish it, I would never have put him on the spot in the first place.

That being said, I had learned a whole lot more about Matt, as an innovative thinker and doer, the previous fall and winter. He had moved up from SoCal to join us at the War Admiral house, just as San Jose State University commenced for the fall semester, 1974.

In September of 1974, Matt would have still been seventeen, a reasonably tender age by most standards. But being an O’Neill, and having four older brothers from whom he could pick up pointers, Matt had led a very busy and entrepreneurial existence.

His endeavors included running his own mini-business when he was in junior high, acquiring bikes that were in disrepair, and refurbishing them for resale. He had also swept the parking lot at Sunrize (sic) Market with me for a spell every morning in the pre-dawn, prior to my assent to the lofty position of box-boy. He then assumed full responsibility of the cleaning of the parking lot and alley behind the store, with the help of Bro Tom. He would have been ten years old at the time.

There were other successes, plenty of them, but the one that stands out was his affiliation with Jack, Nancy’s older brother, from whom he learned the candle business. Jack and a buddy had worked together to create the ultimate in sand candles, the mushroom candle, and with the times being what they were, the candle was a hot item.
These are not at all what ours looked like.

We used a paraffin-based wax back in those days, which we bought in bulk from Tap Plastics, up close to San Francisco on the 101. I was in on one of the wax-runs, in which we crammed a half-ton of wax into a VW Bus, and let me tell you, the ride back down to San Jose got pretty hairy.

The process also involved traveling up to the mountains to acquire bark from dead trees, primarily pine, because the bark was thick and reasonably obtainable. We would break the bark up into whatever sizes and shapes we could make, fill the bus up with as much as we could jam in, and head back to San Jose. 

I remember one such jaunt, when we got back on the road for home, the warmth from the heater woke up a colony of ants that was lodged inside one of the chunks of bark, and we had to pull off the highway and jettison our load, long enough for the ants to vacate the premises, before reloading it and resuming our trek home. 

Wherever they ended up, it wasn’t in the bark we were transporting.

With wax we made the mushroom bases, by pouring melted wax into pre-formed molds made in a sand box. Taking the plain mushrooms, we would then attach them to the bark. A small piece of bark would require one mushroom, a slightly bigger one, two, and so on, up to as many as five.

So on a low surface about the size of a pool table, we would lay out as many varying sized pieces of bark as would fit. Next we would fasten the pre-made mushrooms to the bark using a turkey baster and melted, extremely hot wax.

After the mushrooms were securely fastened, one person would commence to “basting” the mushrooms with the hot wax, over and over again, ranging over the entire table and hitting each cap, repetitively, until stalactites began to form and extend down from the caps.
Cheech and Chong

Once the stalactites approached the base of the mushrooms, the candles would be deemed finished, and the colored dyes would be applied. This was done by sprinkling the powdered dye onto the cap, and then GENTLY torching it.

I know-it sounds like a hot item and it was. The dyes would bubble for an instant under the gentle ministrations of the torch, and suddenly melt and spread out over the surface of the mushroom cap, and down the sides of the stalactites. The result was a brilliant psychedelic splaying out of the colors, enhanced by a lacquer that was sprayed onto the finished surface.

Can you say far out and solid? Try it. I know you can.

I googled mushroom candles from the seventies, and examined hundreds of images, without finding one that even remotely approached what ours looked like, mute testimony to the originality of what we were producing.

At 22 years of age myself at the time, I was flummoxed that Matt was willing to invest so much time, money and energy into an unknown commodity. Suppose we made all these candles, and then got stuck, holding the bag, I catastrophised?

I was working at United Auto Stores, Nancy was working for Sears, in the catalogue department, taking phone orders, and we were both going to school full-time at SJSU. And now we were also involved in the candle-making business.

In the beginning Matt made the candles almost exclusively, building up some stock and getting them into a few key arts/crafts stores, just before the Holiday season began. Then as we got into November, the rest of us in the house began to hit the flea market every Sunday, slanging our mushroom candles in one of the most effective venues possible.

The candles were cheap, beginning at $2.50 for a single mushroom, $4.00 for a double, $5.50 for a triple, and so on. At the flea market the candles were an unqualified success.

The highlight of the season was the art fair in the Student Union at San Jose State. For a week, we occupied a spot on the third floor of the wide-open structure, and enveloped ourselves in the culture of the college, selling our candles to an incredibly appreciative clientele.

Even if they didn’t buy one, everyone stopped to admire them.

When the overhead was paid and we saw what had occurred, 
we were five thousand clams richer, and that’s the honest word.

Five thousand dollars in December of 1974, would be like fifty thousand clams today. It was a fortune that was divided six ways, the sixth member of our household being Steve, Sharon’s younger brother, who was a sophomore in high school. At six feet six, Steve was a remarkably mellow kid, up with us simply because his folks felt he would do well in the company of a whole bunch of college students.

He was happy to do his share, in the hope of being able to net a little income; he was not disappointed. We were all completely blown away.
San Jose State Student Union

My perception of Matt as a mover and a shaker, reinforced by this successful candle-making venture, was the basis for my decision to roust him in the middle of the night,to come to our rescue, confident that he could handle the assignment.

Needless to say, he didn’t let me down. When we resolved that final impediment to the successful rescue mission, the flat tire on the bug, we completed the journey home without incident, arriving as the sun was making its appearance in the eastern sky.

It was a new day dawning, just as I was about to embark on my new profession, VW engine repair specialist.

I gained a lot of experience in this field, I am sad to say, because VW’s are high-maintenance vehicles. Funny I should happen to mention this, because it leads me right into Part Two of “Stranded.”

Tomorrow: Old Paint
Old Paint


  1. Yes, I remember those candles. I spent many an afternoon sitting out in front of Save On Drugstore selling those darn things!

    1. When you weren't selling raffle tickets, giving away Piero's puppies or World's Finest Chocolate. I wishI had one photo of a mushroom candle.

  2. We need to look through those boxes of loose photos that are now stored back in the big house. I bet we could find a photo among those several thousand photos...
    Once again, I was somewhere else during the candle era. Certainly I was aware of the production and sale of those candles. As a matter of fact, I think I might have been working in the bookstore at SJSU when you were selling them at the third floor craft fair. I had completely forgotten that the whole candle thing originated with Jack but I do remember the operation in the garage on Fellowship and then there was a shop space somewhere in San Jose? I will admit that they were not my favorite and I preferred waitressing and working in General Supplies to even thinking about making and selling psychedelic mushroom candles. Surely that does not surprise you....
    Thanks for more of the story. I admire your memory and your writing skills. xo

    1. Yes, the shop space in SJ came later, when we went big-time, with less than big-time results...Thanks for the feedback!