Freddie, the French Bulldog

Freddie, the French Bulldog
Lazing on a sunny afternoon

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
Beautiful Ellie Mae

Ollie Mac helps Papi

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother

Love is a many-splendored thing

Love is a many-splendored thing
Denise and Ollie Mac

Taco Tuesday

Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby

blue heron

blue heron
water colors

hollyhocks get a visitor

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Rookie

Graduates from the Class of 1970 cannot relive our high school days, without revisiting a time period that stood alone as a turning point in our culture: the late sixties.  With the winds of change swirling through the air, combined with the horror of an unwindable overseas conflict, our future was laced with question marks.

Within the hallowed halls of Bishop Amat, we may have been a bit more protected from these changes, but certain cultural norms flourished. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the National League Pennant in the fall of 1966 and faced the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. In those days I was still under the spell of Dodger Blue, a condition that existed until I relocated to the Bay Area, following my release from the Big Green Machine in 1974.


Having won the whole enchilada only one year earlier, in 1965, the prevailing logic was that the Dodgers would out-pitch Baltimore with their handy duo of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. What no one anticipated was that it would not matter how well the duo pitched if the Dodgers could not score any runs. 


Sandy and Don
LA became the first team ever to be shut out three consecutive games, scoring a grand total of two runs in the four-game sweep by the Orioles. Simultaneously, having been so vocal in my belief that the Dodgers would prevail, I had inadvertently set myself up for a record-setting fall. 

I was a rookie at this game called high school. I had attended St. Martha’s with the same crew of students from third through eighth grade, where we became almost like siblings. I got a rude awakening at Bishop Amat. I learned quickly that it was better to keep one’s pie hole shut, and have the other kids think you were a geek, than to open it and prove them correct. Only back then I would have been labeled a spaz. Methinks I overdid it by being a bit too cocky about the outcome of the series.


Even a seven-game, highly contested affair, would have gone far to protect me from ridicule. Instead, LA could not even muster one measly run in the final three games of the series, thus opening up the floor for comments from the peanut gallery. The final score in both Game 3 and Game 4 was 1-0, Baltimore.


"Hey, O’Neill! Your team can’t score any runs. Maybe it just can’t score at all." Ha, ha, ha.


"What happened, O’Neill? LA forget to eat its spinach?"


"Hey, O’Neill! Maybe Koufax and Drysdale better learn how to hit!"


"The Orioles swept the Dodgers? With what? Their tail feathers?"


Can you say, “Ba-dip, ba-dip?” Try it-nonstop-for say, a month.


As the dust was still swirling after the fall classic, chapter two of unclear-on-the-concept-Mark was just picking up steam. There was an initiative on the fall ballot to annex the area in which I lived and include it in the city of West Covina. 

It could not have made one iota of difference in my life one way or the other, but there were ramifications of this action that my parents did not care for. What these were remains murky, but it translated into my being-once again-far too vocal for my own good. Sigh.


Somehow my prattling on about the evils of being annexed by West Covina, transformed me and all those from that little neck of the woods, into being represented as The Little Rascals. We were portrayed as marching off to battle, complete with upside down buckets on our heads and go-carts. New to this game called sarcasm, I had no defense, except to once again point the finger inwards.


If only I could learn to follow the advice being so frequently sent my way, and shut up, I would be in much better shape for the shape I was in. You know? And I did. I learned to pretty much not say anything for the next three-and-a-half years because, truth be told, I still cared what people thought of me. 

I was a kid back then and I thought like a kid. I am 69 now and I can’t say categorically how I think, be it like a kid or like an old fart, but I can tell you this: The most valuable lesson I ever learned was to stop caring what others think about me-if they do at all. 


Bette Midler summed it all up quite nicely with her catchy phrase, “Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.” Whereas some might object to the earthy language, I might counter with a casual-


[Editor’s Note: STOP! You’ve made your point…]



 


 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

No Milk Today

 Lean to the left! Lean to the right!

Stand up! Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!


That’s what we chanted from the stands, right? I will tell you that it is a lesson worth heeding, not only on the gridiron, but in life, overall. And to think I was under the impression that I could just put our high school reunion away so handily. 


Hold the phone, please; I am still processing. Were I able to easily and efficiently file this event away, in the circular file that is my cottage cheese brain, then I could not help but feel that something were wrong. There are still just too many memories swirling around, a whirligig of emotions.


Metaphorically, the brain is lined with a million hooks, upon which we hang these memories. Having stirred these memories recently, they are still jostling around up there, clamoring for my undivided attention. I can only assure you, I am a prisoner in chains to the combination of the memories themselves, being present in the same venue as the individuals who created them. I want to return to our freshman year and my old nemesis, Father Aidan. 

Because I have always felt that the grading system at Bishop Amat could be somewhat arbitrary, I was entranced by a story told to me by Ralph, who was in all of my classes freshman year, and who also had Father Aidan as a teacher. 


I was the kind of student who routinely earned grades for tests and assignments in math and science that were not passing, and yet I never got anything lower than the magical C- on a report card. 


This is not the kind of information that I was inclined to volunteer, when it came to explaining my poor showing to my parents. Any thought of giving me a ration of grief was tempered by the knowledge that my explanation for poor grades, was always tied into the thirty hours of work I put in, at Sunrize (sic) Market each week.


Have I mentioned that I only got to keep 25% of my earned income, the rest going into the family coffers? That did create a certain awkwardness with Mama, when it came to squawking about my poor grades. For me to work fewer hours, meant the household took it in the shorts. Oops! No Milk Today, as Herman’s Hermits sang to us back during our freshman year. 


I. Don’t. Think. So.


I was not about to complain to my parents about a grading system that cut me some slack, most likely because I did work hard and never gave the priests a ration. Essentially, to put it bluntly, I was rewarded for being a nice kid.


Not everyone fared as well as I did, as Ralph was to explain to me in an email that followed one of the posts I did last June, one that featured Father Aidan. Besides being impacted by the communique itself, I was struck by his message. He wrote,


“Aidan gave me a D on my Freshman English 1st semester report card…Dad was not happy and wanted an explanation from me…all I had was every returned assignment and test in a folder, which were all B’s & a few A’s and C’s. I couldn’t explain it to my Dad. Dad was a high school teacher also and figured something was up… so he took it upon himself to visit Aidan one late afternoon (cocktail hour had already started)…and had a lively discussion which resulted in my grade being changed to a B. Dad said…for me to keep all tests and assignments for the balance of the year.”


End of story?


Not quite. Ralph concluded by saying, “I had so much respect for my father after that incident-he stuck up for me and I was so proud of him. Of course Aidan gave me the stink eye for the rest of the year, but he never fucked with me again.”


I did not write this to crucify Father Aidan, as much as to emphasize how important it is to go after what is right. Ralph obviously felt that going to Father Aidan was pointless, but his father used his own experience as a teacher to demand an accounting.


Besides sticking up for his son, Ralph’s dad taught him to go after what was rightfully his. This is a lesson that we would all do well to emulate. The cosmos in its infinite wisdom often finds a way to reward integrity, and conversely, a way to acknowledge injustice. That would be the divine Ms Karma.


Ralph’s anecdote reminded me of my own grading injustice from San Jose State, my first semester working on a Masters in English. After completing a class invitingly entitled, “Methods and Materials of Literary Research.” (Er, pre-internet days), I was shocked to have received a B on my report card. 


I won’t bore you with the fine points, even if I could remember them, except to say that I worked hundreds of hours on this class. Partly because it was my first semester of Masters work, but also because I lived directly across the street from the San Jose State Library, I had thrown my body, heart and soul into this class. 


Specialist 4 O'Neill
(weekend pass)
And hey, sure, I was wearing my hair in “new location,” as George Carlin termed it, after getting out of the military, and I had a fine, brilliant red beard to go along with my relocated hair. I suppose it is remotely possible that I did not conform to the good professor’s idea, of what a graduate student attending the fine institution of high learning at which he taught, should look like. 


Nevertheless, though that B in M&MoLR knocked me for a loop, I shrugged my shoulders and let it go. Life in the Big Leagues, I said to myself. Coincidentally, I had just begun dating my late wife of forty years, Annie, and she immediately got in my face about just accepting what I thought was a mistake. 


“Go to his office and ask him about your grade,” Annie advised me. More to please Annie than because I thought it would do any good, I dutifully went to see this professor, who was also the head of the English Department.


I will never forget his demeanor, as he confidently whipped out that grade book with a flourish, and located my name. He trotted out his twelve-inch-ruler with polish, to place beneath the row of my grades and then just froze. The only movement was his forefinger, which kept flitting back and forth like my ancient Royal typewriter, being operated at full speed.


“Er, uh, ahem, I must say, I can’t explain this B on your report card. You have clearly earned an A.”


Why did I receive a B, when I clearly had earned an A? Why did Ralph earn a D from Father Aidan, when he deserved a B? I have no definitive answer to either question, which is why we must always be ready to question matters of injustice.


My red beard grows out white these days, but injustice is still injustice. Having an advocate for you is a huge first step, but if you don’t have one handy, be your own advocate. Fight for what is right and demand an accounting of others’ stewardship because if everyone did this, the need would disappear.

This was taken on the DMZ,
dividing North and South
Korea. Did I submit the 
wrong photo to the Reunion 
Committee?









 

















Thursday, October 21, 2021

Because We Could

I am still reeling from my adventure in SoCal, attending my fifty + one high school reunion, a stranger in a strange land. I couldn’t decide if I were on the set of Mission Impossible or Bewitched: Mission Impossible because so many people came from so many places to be together once again, fifty-one years after we walked across the stage in May of 1970, and Bewitched because, I mean, who were these people?

Mark, Jerry, Tom, John and Glen
Fifty-one May 31st’s have come up on the wall calendar since that certain one back in 1970, and here we were, gathering together again, if for no other reason than the fact that we could. I must tell you there were many who could not. Too many, but all the more reason for those still here to gather once again.


I found the evening to be most enjoyable, if somewhat surreal. Objectively, it all computed: We had sprung from Bishop Amat fifty-one years ago; we had regrouped last Saturday night for a meal, some memories and some fun. Subjectively, every one of us was packing a story-hell, a novel-within us, and that fact just transformed my little pea brain into a pinball machine. How and what do you share with others, if you have to encapsulate the past fifty-one years in a two-minute convo, especially with music blaring in the background?


My sister JT asked me if anyone surprised me and all I could think was that everyone did, in any one of a hundred ways. Each of us is a warrior-a survivor. Each of us had to set aside our own disbelief that we were now 69 years old, not to mention our insecurities about how we would appear to others, to show up last Saturday night. Show up they did!  


Jeff and I were classmates at St. Martha’s, our third through eighth grade years. We were bff’s our eighth grade year and spent a fair amount of time at each other’s homes. I am reasonably certain that Jeff was a main reason why I debated as freshman. As these things are apt to go, Jeff soared in high school, while I maintained a more pedantic approach, working after school my sophomore year onward. 


They aren't heavy-they're my
brothers and sisters.
Hearing how Jeff spent his life protecting and supporting people who wanted to alert the public to wrongdoing or environmental hazards, warmed the cockles of my heart. Not bad for a kid who was one of maybe three third graders in our class who voted for Richard Nixon in the 1960 election. Conversely, I think my own existence off the grid, five miles up a dirt road, might just have stirred a bit of envy in Jeff. 


I got to connect with Nancy, Barbara and Jackie, who worked with my sweetie, Denise-and several others-to bring the whole production together. I am friends on social media with Nancy and Jackie already, so this evening served as a means of attaching a [current] image to a cyber friendship. Jackie keeps me in stitches every day, and through social media I learned that Nancy’s husband Fred had recently celebrated working forty years at Disneyland. Fred told me that February is the magic month for him to retire.


From behind the scenes, I have been able to view firsthand, just how much time and effort are required to create an event of this magnitude. It boggles the mind how many details have to be handled, how many phone calls and texts, how many emails and how many meetings had to take place. Big ups to all who were involved!  


Denise and I sat at the same table as Kathy and her husband Jim, who came from Colorado. We had fun because Kathy and I are already friends on face/book. She gives me big ups for my cooking and canning efforts and I have assured her that if she and Jim ever make it to HappyDayFarms, I will cook them up a storm.


At one point I was approached by Diana who said I might like to know that Rudi had been moved by a piece of writing I had done. This was the one entitled Check Point in which I had acquired a valuable fashion tip from Rudi, without having to pay the price of becoming the laughingstock of the popular crowd back at Amat.


Diana asked if I might not like to pop over because she thought what Rudi had to say might bring a smile to my face. Indeed, Rudi told me he was touched to be remembered in such a moving way. As he was saying this, he had reached over and picked up a soft tissue bag with something inside and handed it to me, saying as I withdrew this plaid tie, “If you are going to wear check on check, you may as well wear a plaid tie to top it off.”


I thought I was going to have an apoplexy from laughing so hard.


As much as anything I was amazed at how many women came up to me to tell me they had been impacted by those dozen pieces of frippery I had posted from back in the day at Amat. The general theme was that it was pretty amazing to read what was going on over on the boys’ side of the school, because it was not much different from what went on on the girls’ side. I floated around that venue with my feet seemingly never touching the floor, I was that overwhelmed by their words of praise.


And, of course, we sat with John and Brenda, my lone unbroken connection with my tribe in SoCal, all of these years. From John and Brenda I learned of the passing of Steve Haskell and Doug Maloney, two of my posse-two unstoppable forces of my youth, now gone. John and Brenda had come up to visit on the farm, a few years back, and I had been proud to show them around. If memory serves me correctly, I put John to work.


It was also John who reached out a year ago September, when we faced mandatory evacuation from the mountain due to a wildfire. Specifically, he said to give him the word and he would be up on the next plane to help fight wildfires. One is not likely to forget that stuff.


I had known Glen was coming but seeing him for the first time in close to fifty years made my eyes blurry for a second there. He looked like a million dollars, and it took a nano-second to realize he was not wearing glasses. Most of these years he had been living in upper New York State, but had just moved this summer to Washington State. One of the five of us who had gone on the now infamous road trip after graduation, Glen was part of my posse too.


Of all the graduates I talked to on Saturday night, none seemed more tranquil and at peace with his life than Jesse. I remember Jesse as a quiet, funny guy who got along with everyone. He told me he had spent 38 yers working with babies born prematurely, holding two-pound babies with thighs the same thickness as one of his fingers. Just wow.


Irma had brought an eighth grade class picture from St. Martha’s and I thought that was genius. There were only four of us from St. Martha’s, but we at least had all the faces!


On Sunday morning at the brunch, I sat with Margie and her husband Tom, who like me, had moved out of SoCal and landed in the Sacramento area. Tom regaled me with tales of waging an unsuccessful campaign against the squirrels, and asked for advice. All I could do was to nod in sympathy at his plight; substitute gophers for squirrels and we could howl at the moon together, in two-part-harmony.


Sue, Joe, Mary, Ralph, Terry-all of you who took the time to say hey to me and rattle my cage for a minute-thank you! You are the reason I made the journey down to SoCal, and I could never have forgiven myself if I had stayed home. 


Two of us were in wheelchairs, a few of us looked the same as we did in 1970 and the rest were somewhere in between. There were also thirty last-minute cancellations from folks who wanted to be there but cited health concerns for the most part to explain their absence. There was no one to give them any grief. Each of us had to do what we felt worked best for all involved.  


We were punky kids back in 1970 and now we are old farts. In between we lived our lives, dreamed our dreams and stuck around long enough to tell tales about it all at our 51st reunion. We were together once again and I am a happier person for it. I think we all are. 


And any time you get a hankering for some homemade marinara and some down-home cooking or some fiery salsa, you just head up The 101 until you hit Bell Springs Road, and then you are only five miles up a dirt road from where I call home: HappyDayFarms.




Saturday, July 17, 2021

Culinary Arts, 101: Cooking Kohlrabi

 I feel introductions are in order: Everyone, I would like you to meet kohlrabi (ko-ROB-bee). Kohlrabi, everyone. Not grown underground like turnips or potatoes, kohlrabi is a member of the Brassica family, like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, collard greens and Savoy cabbage.

Though it can be eaten raw, I have been preparing it on top of the stove, in a multitude of different dishes. The reason I am writing about kohlrabi is because after cooking it occasionally over the past several summers, and feeling as though I were missing out, I have finally unlocked the secret to cooking kohlrabi successfully. It is out of this world.


Space alien or tasty veggie?
I had the right idea in the past, but after dicing it up into half-inch cubes and never really being all that impressed, I have changed the way I prep kohlrabi. Also known as the German turnip, kohlrabi has a double layered skin which must be peeled, and a tough core at its base which must be sliced off. 

I then cut it in half as though it were an orange and cut each of the halves into four equal pieces. I now slice those sections into thin slices, slightly bigger than an eighth inch. Even as thin as I slice them, I still must saute them for a good twenty minutes at low-to-medium heat on top of the stove before they soften up.


The flavor is everything that I find in a turnip or other root crop, and the versatility is welcome. Typically I start with some uncured diced bacon and add an onion, either diced or in rings. I want the bacon mostly cooked before I add the kohlrabi, and then I let it cook for a spell before I add baby turnips, or carrots/celery. I then continue to let them cook to taste before I add zucchini. I have found that you can't overcook kohlrabi, as you can zucchini, so I always put the zucchini in last. When the zucchini is done on the outside and still a tad crunchy on the inside,I call everything done.


Cooked greens such as kale, chard, beet tops, turnip tops, kohlrabi tops, arugula, cabbage, et al, also work superbly in conjunction with kohlrabi and the rest. Balsamic vinegar is a must along with any combination of fresh rosemary, sage and thyme. I will also occasionally splash in some honey or maple syrup for a honey-glazed approach. I also add cooked kohlrabi to my stews and soups; unlike potatoes which turn mushy if cooked too long, kohlrabi holds up.

So for those of you receiving kohlrabi in your CSA packets, or for those of you looking to expand your horizons, get ye to kohlrabi!







Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Po Po

What chronicle of high school dayz would be complete without at least one zany story of teenage hijinks, which resulted in facing the Long Arm of The Law? We didn’t call cops po-po back in 1970; no, it was The Man, as in, “The Man! The MAN! THE MAN!”

My first car, a '64 Chevy Nova
There were five of us in my red Chevy Nova as I pulled away from the party raging at Molly's home, just in time to be lit up like the 4th of July. Though that couldn’t have been right since it was now mid-July, the brilliant red light spun dizzily in my rear view mirror anyway. There were party-goers scattering, sprinting in every direction and man, was that flashing light blinding me. 

We had returned form our odyssey up north a few weeks before and life had resumed as normal. Three of us had jobs that required we look clean-cut, and the other two just looked clean-cut also, in spite of efforts to the contrary. It was easy to spot us as Amat students from a block away. I mention that because there was no reason from a legal point of view for us to be on the wrong side of a policeman’s spotlight.


“What do you think I should do?” I inquired of no one in particular.


Sammy’s voice came from the back seat, the calm voice of reason, “You should pull over.” Sammy had been at work when we picked him up earlier, so he was still sporting a yellow dress shirt, tie and dress slacks. He was also the only one of us wearing shoes.


Pulling over and presenting my license and registration was not the problem. That would be the plastic bag with some of Mexico’s finest stems and seeds sitting in plain sight on the front seat, between me and the guy riding shotgun. That was probably Paul, but it could have been Ron or Ben. It made no difference. The reefer was mine.


I did as Sammy suggested and pulled over, opening up the Chilton’s Manual that was on the front seat, and stashing the little plastic bag inside the front cover. The hard cover bulged up a bit, so I flipped the manual over and it looked better. It had taken me all of three seconds to take care of business, before I was bailing out of the car. There were two policemen; one was in my face and the other was around by the side of the passenger door. 

The nice policeman was bellowing at us, his face beet red.

“Get out of the car! Get out of the car-NOW! I’ll look at your license in a minute but right now, you all line up against that vehicle over there,” directing us to the nearest car, about twenty feet from my Nova.


“While I check your licenses, my partner is going to search your car.” He was so matter-of-fact about it.


“You can’t do that!” I practically shouted, the words of the indomitable Mrs. Felps flashing on the neon marquee in my mind from senior civics class. 


“Don’t give me any bull-stuff about not being able to search your car. I can do anything I want,” he snapped at me, and I shut my trap. I was not intimidated by the uniform, but I was  terrified of this man in front of me. I was expecting the worst and decided discretion was the better part of valor. Besides, a minute later the other nice police ossifer was back and some unspoken message passed between them.


The first nice policeman turned to me, and handed me back my license. “The reason I pulled you over is because that man is dirty; he was making furtive movements in the back seat of your car.” To my shock the dude was pointing at Sammy.


I was so stunned I spit out, “What the heck were you doing back there, Sam?” only I started cracking up and so did everyone else. Point the finger at me, or point it at any of the others, but Sammy?


It was ludicrous but so was the fact that I should have been sitting in the back of the squad car, relinquishing the keys to Ron. And I clearly was not. The searching policeman either did not find my paltry stash, or else he found it and decided it wasn’t worth all of the paperwork. I always thought the latter because I don’t see how he could have missed it.

We decided the only thing to do was go immediately to Bob’s Big Boy and celebrate my good fortune. I ordered a combo of cheeseburger and fries with a BLTA thrown in. 


Poor Sammy. Furtive movements? We got more mileage out of poking fun at Sammy than we ever did out of that little bag of Mexican dirt. And it didn’t cost us ten bucks, either.