Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Christmas Box: Entry # 3: Styrofoam!

The Christmas Box 
Entry # 3:
The following excerpt is found on a storage box, used to house Christmas ornaments, a bedraggled cardboard arrangement, upon which I began scrawling an annual message, careful to affix the date each year.  Some of the messages are filled with hope and whimsy; others, with dark forebodings of dire straits.  Still others contain a blending of the two, a more accurate description of life up here on the mountain, on Bell Springs Road, and possibly where you live, also.
Christmas, 1986
January 9th, 1987
Christmas comes but once a year
and never is it late; 
That gives us almost a year
To think of ’88.
If we still are poor as mice
When next year rolls around,
I guess we’ll all agree it’s best
And not be getting down.

I can’t think of a period when times were harder, except for when I was student teaching.  I was working primarily for Amaka, before she went off the deep end, and we were getting by on a string.  I was working simultaneously for Michael, taking care of some logistical work, mostly on weekends, or late in the afternoons, after I had left Amaka’s.  It was work that I had begun while I was still doing carpentry for him.  At some point during this period, we also built the barn for Michael, one of the last projects that Tom worked on, before he and Reiko moved to Hawaii. 
Yet, even in the face of difficulty, here I was talking about making the best of it, and not getting down.  There was always a strong sense of community up here on the mountain during the Holiday Season.  We made  Christmas cards, and sent them out early enough to get responses.  We took advantage of the vast amounts of mistletoe hanging everywhere in the oak trees, occasionally low enough to the ground to be able to access without a ladder.  
We were no longer interested in selling red ribbon-wrapped mistletoe in front of Sav-on Drug Stores for fifteen cents a bunch, but it was still nice to see a sprig up under the arch, between the kitchen and the pool room.  We always got out the red and green candles that Pauline had given us back when we had first moved up, that we had kept to bring out each year at Christmas.  And we got together a lot over the Holidays and partied.
Ann, the boys and I had a tradition of stopping in at Robert and Pauline’s every Friday afternoon/evening, on our way home from the school.  There was always that sense of exhilaration that Fridays brought to us who taught in the school system.  Everything would be just fine, if we could only make it to Friday.  It didn’t even matter that I went home on the weekends and spent the whole time catching up.  At least I was doing so in my kitchen at home, without thirty of my best friends accompanying me.  
In the early years, of which this was one, I used to spend one of the two weekend days in my classroom, because I was big into the bulletin boards, and because I could grade in the classroom, more efficiently than I could at home.  I could use the tables at school upon which I would spread out the assignments to be graded.  I suppose I could have reduced my workload, by reducing the number of assignments I gave students, but that never seemed to occur to me; it occurred to the students, and they were kind enough to point that fact out to me, but I did not want to short-change their education, so the beat went on.
The Holidays presented opportunities for entertainment, that otherwise were less likely to occur, like the bridge games.  Casey was not quite at the stage where he could sit with the adults yet, but Annie had enthusiastically taken up the game, so Robert, Pauline, Ann and I could play whenever we wanted. And there was the Holiday poker game, usually slated for New Years Day, but also likely to take place any time we had a quorum of six players.    These games were, by definition, a lot tamer than the games we played with Jerry Drewry, where Rex, Bear, and any of the old-timers might have joined us.  Those games began around seven in the evening and would go until the wee hours, when Jerry would be well into his ritualistic rendition of the poetry that he had learned while soldiering in Korea.
There were several gatherings of the clan during the early years, when Eric through Laura had small people accompanying them, and everyone mingled together to open gifts, eat meals, and play with one another.  On one memorable Christmas gift-opening session, we were gathered around the living room at the big house, with extended family spread out, all over tarnation, the hum of activity at a screech level, with Ann and I trying to orchestrate the distribution of gifts to all three boys smoothly.
Upon presenting one particular gift to Lito, who was maybe four at the time, we watched as he predictably ripped the colorful paper from the box and tore off the lid.  He reached in and grabbed a handful of something from the box and thrust it happily into the air.  “Styrofoam!” he squealed with delight, as Ann reached over to indicate that he might dig a little deeper in the box to see if there wasn’t something with a little more substance than styrofoam.  Meanwhile I was already thinking of how easy it would be to shop for a kid who was pleased as punch to open up a box of styrofoam.  How about a box of crumpled up Christmas wrapping, or maybe some corn flakes?  This should be easy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Christmas Box: Entry # 2: Are We Having Fun Yet?

The Christmas Box 
Entry # 2:
AreWe Having Fun Yet?
The following excerpt is found on a storage box, used to house Christmas ornaments, a bedraggled cardboard arrangement, upon which I began scrawling an annual message, careful to affix the date each year.  Some of the messages are filled with hope and whimsy; others, with dark forebodings of dire straits.  Still others contain a blending of the two, a more accurate description of life up here on the mountain, on Bell Springs Road, and possibly where you live, also.
January 15, 2,000
New Millennium and everything
Let’s see: question, question, who’s got a question?
Where will Little Buddy end up,
Pennsylvania or Transylvania?
How about Doll Face?
WorkAbility or AmeriCorps?
Will our taxes get paid? 
Will our car run for more than six weeks?
Are we having fun yet?  We’re ready for action; we’re ready for danger. “
Blink your eyes, and Casey is no longer in my backpack, riding on my back, but he is in college, having graduated from Laytonville High, co-valedictorian of his class.  He had taken a trip back to the East Coast, in the summer of 1999, prior to the start of his senior year in high school.  He had been invited to accompany his Aunt Beth, and cousin Tim, back to look at some of the possible candidates that existed on the other side of the country.  Casey was particularly interested in Franklin and Marshall, located in Pennsylvania, and while we supported any choice he made, I figured to myself that if he ended up there, we would only see him in the summers.
As it was, he chose Pacific University, up about twenty-five miles west of Portland.  The commute was still between eight and ten hours, depending on whether Casey or I was driving, and I’ll let you figure out which time period belonged to which driver.
What I did not know was that Casey and I were to begin a unique [to us] means of correspondence, utilizing the computer and email.  Since we did not have internet at home, I had to communicate from school.  So often I would find that as I was rising that morning, around three-thirty or so, Case was going to bed. He would sit down each night/morning, before he crashed, and dash me off the events of the day.  It was a comfortable way to stay in touch, and we managed to communicate all through the week, giving it a rest on the weekends.  Now, when I talk to parents of kids who are traipsing off to college, I have encouraging words to give them about the benefits of improved communication.  
AmeriCorps and Annie had a tumultuous relationship at best, and a disastrous one at worst.  Things had come to the proverbial head this Christmas, because the Powers That Be at AmeriCorps had decreed that Annie would work the two weeks that fell during Christmas, even though there were no classes.  Her role was to operate the school garden, through Binet’s science class, and she worked with kids every day.  She was on salary, so AmeriCorps officials determined that she should work.  Well, in the finest of Robert moments, I threw a real hissy fit, as in, “When Papa goes on vacation, everyone goes on vacation," only this was, “When the family takes off school for Christmas break, Annie has to be there too.” 
One final event occurred shortly thereafter, when Annie refused to travel over icy, snowy highways, to a meeting on the coast.  The meetings were pointless, and they served to further alienate Ann from their program.  Then WorkAbility came along, and everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief.  
"Will our taxes get paid?"  Mendocino County requires that taxes be paid in two installments, one in December, and the second in April.  So every December 10th, we have to juggle the finances, already strained because of the Season, in order to accommodate this bill.  It’s not as though we weren’t expecting it, but we still had to do the soft-shoe, to come up with the payment.
As far as our Trooper was concerned, it had been nothing but a, well, a trooper, and kept us in the ballgame for eight years.  Now Casey had done a valve job, and we were afraid that the transmission was getting shaky, so we were just preparing ourselves for reality.
Besides, the windows had been broken out while Casey was at the Chevron Station, working the night of the Millennium.  It seemed so strange to have him leave at 11:30 in order to get to work by midnight.  If I had to go to work on New Years night, at midnight, I would just slit my throat.
Still, I asked the question, “Are we having fun yet?”  We managed to keep our heads above water, and we were still two years away from disastrous 2002, when I had to take the state-mandated CLAD course, (not to mention losing to the "rally-monkey" team in the Series) which cut so drastically into my professional and personal time.  That course was the final straw for me, as I rode out the course, struggling to stay on board the school district, until I turned fifty-five.  I fell short by one year, but made do with my accrued sick leave.  The next time the state wants me to take a CLAD course, I will tell them that I would like to help them out, but I have to re-primer the jeep.  And then I will go do it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Response to JT's "Swinging Through the Trees"

A Response to “Swinging Through the Trees”
a Tour of the Back Yard at Fellowship Street
“When we still had access to the water company lot, Papa had a (in my mind) large vegetable garden there.  I remember hanging around him as he prepared the soil and watered things.  I don’t know if this was an annual occurrence or I am only imaging it but, once the lot was no longer ours to use, I don’t really remember a veggie garden.  Am I forgetting the obvious?  Or did things get in the way?  Or was it a one or two year thing and then he moved on to something else?  I do remember that you had sweet peas along side the garage, facing the clotheslines, and maybe, just maybe, there were some veggies growing in that spot?”  J.T.O’Neill  AKA Dollywawg from Swinging through the Trees
  Also, “Towards the middle (near the persimmon trees) there were grapes as well.  Were those the grapes Papa used to make the wine for my wedding?”
OK, JT, here we go: Of course Pa had a large veggie garden on the lot next door, which would eventually become the Pohls’ homestead, but only before the cement storage tank was razed.  The garden included the staple of tomatoes, always the big beefsteaks, beets, radishes, and lots of cucumbers.  I remember the cucumbers well, because I was weeding them one time, while Pa was out there watering, when one of those nasty critters we called yellow jackets, with the dangly legs, came out from beneath a huge cucumber leaf, and stung me right in my armpit.  Owiee.
I felt dumb, for some reason, because the next day we were off to Arcadia Park, for one of those Herculean one-day reunions, that certainly celebrated this event or that.  All it meant for us was to see Walt’s girls, who came down maybe every other year on the average, during the sixties.  Anyway, the area under my arm was aggravated by my running around, and I felt self-conscious with a band-aid on.  At least it wasn’t as bad as the time I was running through that area you referred to as the grotto, when I was hollering something, and again, one of those yellow nasties flew into my mouth, and stung me on the inside of my upper lip. 
From the way I was screaming as I entered the house, I am sure Ma thought I was dying.  More likely, she shrugged her shoulders, and said, “What now?  Let’s go into the bathroom and take a look at it.  You’re not going to die.”  Well, that was a relief.

When the lot next door was no longer available, the veggie garden moved to the area which would eventually become the swimming pool area.  Do you remember Pa using old automotive tires, stacked on top of each other, into which he would plant tomato plants.  What needs to be included with your “Swinging Through the Trees” is a description of the evolution of the front yard, bordering Tranbargers’ lot, from the street, back to the lemon tree faucet.  
IN THE BEGINNING, there were two rows of rose bushes, one running parallel to the street, and the second running along Tranbagers’ yard.  I know, because I weeded them.  The area bordered by those rose bushes, was a scruffy lawn, that was loosely maintained and even watered in the summer by our habitual water play, when the faucet could be turned on full blast after lunch, and be allowed to flow all afternoon.   At least in later years, the water was flowing into the pool.
The lawn extended back towards the garage area, where it died a natural death due to the presence of the swing set.  I sat on that swing one Easter Eve Saturday (a redundancy, if ever one existed) and sang one hundred times consecutively, the following ditty:
“Here comes Peter Cottontail,
Hopping down the bunny trail.
Hippity, hoppity,
Easter’s on its way.”
And I was not especially amused, when one of our domestic rabbits got out of his cage on the same afternoon, and bolted for the lot which would become the Waltons’ place.  I spotted that little critter, just as it ducked into some sort of pipe, small culvert arrangement.  “Ah ha.  Now I got you Rabbit.”  I hunkered down next to that pipe, got my eyes right down to the action, and got two eyeballs filled with scorching-hot sand (or so it seemed) when that rabbit took off into the interior of the pipe, kicking back about ten pounds of sand into my eyes.
“What now?  Let’s go into the bathroom and take a look at it.  You’re not going to die.”  Sigh.
Let’s venture back to the swings, or just behind them, there was a row of those  gorgeous Amaryllis flowers, Pink Ladies, or Naked Ladies if you will.  The scent from those flowers was so intoxicatingly sweet.  Breath-taking.  Immediately behind the Naked Ladies, was the clothes line.  After the cement slab was put in, the was always a section of bamboo fence, between the edge of the garage and Tranbargers’ house, but not earlier.  The clothesline(s) ran parallel to Tranbargers’ back to the discussed fig tree, also marking the spot where the berry bushes began.
There couldn’t have been veggies under the clotheslines, nor where the sweet peas grew, just your aforementioned car/truck/tractor digging complex, under the “small” apricot tree (which out-produced the big apricot tree in later years, all of those thousands of apricots, resting comfortably on the garage roof for the July 4th harvest and pitting extravaganza.)
The grapes Pa probably used to make the wine served at your wedding, were the ones that grew along the base of the tank, mammoth deep purple ones, that were sweet as sugar, only they had seeds.  The others that you referred to, were the size of peas, rather than the size of small plums.  I remember Pa taking those bottles of wine, from beneath the front of the house, where the gigantic, red, Christmassy flowers grew.  They grew just outside the front porch, on the driveway side of the house.  Ah.  Poinsettias.  Pa would inspect the wine, and lick his lips.  
And did we really weed the berry gardens?  Hell, yes, for a nickel an hour, but as I pointed out once, two nickels still meant three items of great interest at Sav-on Drug Store.
In later years, after the cement slab was put in, and the swimming pool functioning, after cars were being stockpiled across the street, or in Mrs. Downen’s driveway, we finally paved that front part of the yard, in front of the bamboo fence, which concealed the pool from the street. Now there was the pool, and then that little back section of fence, behind which were the clothesline.  
Not to be forgotten, the area immediately behind that fence was where we stored the trash cans, that left the premises every Thursday.  When we finally contracted with the trash company, to furnish us with the “big red ship, which sails on Thursdays,” we were happy campers.  Speaking for myself, “Small minds, small pleasures.”

The Christmas Box: Entry # 1: The Puzzle Hog

The Christmas Box 
Entry # 1:
 The Puzzle Hog
The following excerpt is found on a storage box, used to house Christmas ornaments, a bedraggled cardboard arrangement, upon which I began scrawling an annual message, careful to affix the date each year.  Some of the messages are filled with hope and whimsy; others, with dark forebodings of dire straits.  Still others contain a blending of the two, a more accurate description of life up here on the mountain, on Bell Springs Road, and possibly where you live, also.
Christmas, 1992
It snowed a lot this year;
The witch is still around here.
Boy, some things never change.
At least some of those things are 
good-like working jig-saw puzzles,
doing work that is enjoyable,
hanging out with the boys and playing
in the snow.  In parting, I only 
hope that as the years tumble past
one another in a frenzy of speed,
that we appreciate the life we lead,
up here on Bell Springs Road.
Hasta proximo ano.
Don Marcos
Christmas, 1992, represented the third Christmas that I taught, so we were already into the groove that all teachers find themselves in, when it comes to survival mode.  Though I was still bringing school work home with me, I dealt with it in the wee hours of the morning, so as not to give off the notion to anyone else, that this was any other time than Christmas.  
The boys were used to seeing me at the table, with neatly distributed piles of grading stacked all over the kitchen table, overflowing onto the pool table, if necessary.  However, during Christmas break, I kept that noise volume down as I scrambled to try and compensate for my frantic agenda the rest of the year.  The boys knew that for sixteen days, I was going to be available for a list of diversions which began with the pool table we were just talking about.  It was always sixteen days, because it was three weekends, sandwiched around two full school weeks off, amounting to sixteen days.
We had gotten the pool table from Eric, back when Kevin was still a resident on the mountain, so that should date it to the mid-eighties.  It was not a fancy model, but for that reason, I was always willing to allow the boys to play on it.  In bringing it into the house originally, we had managed to allow the felt to brush for an instant, up against the deck railing, as we brought it into the pool room.  The result was an isosceles triangle in the center of the table, that was a reminder from the beginning, that the felt was fragile.  To this day they, nor any of their friends, have ever inflicted a single mar on that table.
Meanwhile, it was one playing field where brute strength and brilliant intellect meant nothing, as geometry and coordination meant everything.
We saved the brute strength for malling up manzanita wood, and the brilliant intellect for the bridge table.  In 1992, Casey would have been ten, so by then we had the bridge gig going full speed.  Of course, in those days, “full speed” meant about four hands at the max, before words and insults would fly, and just short of fisticuffs, we’d call it a game. The concept of “civilized” within the context of the bridge arena, was what I was aiming at, and it did not come easily, nor overnight.
Speaking of uncivilized, Maxine Grace Shins was obviously still terrorizing the neighborhood.  Enough said, when you think that we routinely referred to her amongst ourselves as the Witch.  Sad.
In 1992, playing in the snow would not have included snow boards as of yet, so it still meant getting out the wooden toboggan, and going up and down the hill, between our place and Matt’s cement tank.  For years I used to say that the only time I did not mind snow, was the sixteen-day-break at Christmas.  Let it snow.  That stretch of hillside above Matt’s tank is free of manzanita, and the angle is pretty decent.  At least it meant tobogganing for the boys. 
Christmas, 1992, was one year after I tore the ACL on my left knee, and still two years before my Christmas, 1994, reconstructive surgery.  No tobogganing for this old cowboy after Friday, December 13th, 1991.  I got over that, but I never got over not being able to play baseball.  I don’t even dare pitch, because I rely too much on my reflexes, and they would get me into trouble by the bottom of the first inning.  Someone would either hit a screamer to my left or my right, and I would instinctively dive for it, or a little pop fly would hover, lingeringly off to my right, so I would be shoving off with my left-ouch, there it goes, and there I am on the sidelines with the ice pack and the bong. What’s you gonna do?
I will tell you what I did.  I got out a jig-saw puzzle and commenced to turning all of the pieces face up, while separating the edge-pieces for someone who likes to do that part of the puzzle. I do them last, if I do them at all.  I like to start in the inside, and work my way out.  All of the boys have done puzzles at different times in the past, some more than others.  As you might imagine, Casey finds it hard to sit for very long periods of time, so he would flit in and out of the action.  Ben could like one puzzle, but skip the next, and Lito would work them if he was around, always perched to swoop down down at the last moment, and puzzle hog the last little bit.  We would return to finish off our labors, and Lito would have been one step in front of us.  Better one step in front of us on the puzzle table, rather than the dinner table.

Next Time I'll Know You

Next Time I’ll Know You
I walked up to the table with all of the jars of honey on it, and figured I would introduce myself to the new guys on the block.  We were up at the farmers market, on Bell springs Road, last September, and this was the first time I had seen this booth.  Extending my hand, I shook hands with the first three guys, before tuning to the fourth.  He had his head tilted slightly to one side, but his neatly trimmed beard was not helping much, until he spoke.  “I know you,” was all he said.

Of course, as soon as he spoke, I recognized Eric’s voice, and withdrew my hand, and gave him a bear hug instead.  I was happy to see him, and make the connection.  He told me he had spent a couple of years at San Jose State University, and that delighted me, it being my Alma Mater.  And the honey was superior.

I saw Matt and Erin too at this farmers market, and having spent the lion’s share of my summer, working on a construction crew building their home, our encounter was a warm one.  I had told them before we started the project, that it would proceed as smoothly as they could possibly imagine, and such was the case.  I derived a tremendous amount of satisfaction out of building a home for someone who had once been a student of mine.

Of course I see the mountain kids all the time.  I see Oni and Hannah, along with an occasional Hart sighting.  I ran across Sky one time last summer, and Casey pointed out O.T. one Wednesday night, when the farmers market crowd had gone home, but the supporting cast of thousands had remained behind to enjoy a balmy September night.

I see Silent Steve at the building supply place, and I see April in Geiger’s.  I promised I would know her the next time I saw her, after having to be reintroduced.  Sigh.
Jeremy always says Hey, when I’m in shopping, and I spoke with Shane when I was out at the tire and auto center a couple of weeks ago.

I was delighted to be introduced to Roger Junior, after running into his dad at Tibi’s one afternoon, while Lito and I were picking up some take-away.  I never saw a more pronounced change between a student in the sixth grade, and the same student as a seventh grader.  What a transformation.

Sixth grade had not been easy for Roger, and he tended to hang on the fringes.  When he returned in the seventh grade, the shy guy had disappeared, and “The Ambassador” had replaced him.  Mr. Poulton and I used to watch with amazement as Roger would work a classroom, on his way to the pencil sharpener, right at the door to the quad.  

He did not leave anyone out, on his way to and from the social center of every classroom, there not being drinking fountains inside.  He remembered all too well the teasing he got as an introverted sixth grader, so he included those shy guys in his travels.  He had found basketball, and it did wonders for his growth as a person.  Carbz was the one who always used to argue so vehemently, that the technology was not invented that could measure the difference sports made in the lives of certain kids, not all kids, just certain ones. The dilemma was that no one could tell on the outside who these kids were, so we needed to make sure that all kids had access to the world of athletics.

I was quite startled to walk into Howard Hospital a few years ago, and there was Manette, ready to draw my blood.  If ever there was someone, with whom I felt comfortable, it was Manette.  Blood always used to make me queasy, so I could tell her that.  She regaled me with this anecdote, and that quip, until I realized we were done.  What I remember most was the trip Mr. Poulton and I took down to San Francisco, after school one day, with school again the next, to take schoolwork to Manette, while she was in the seventh grade.  She had gotten sick, and was in Children’s Hospital in San Francisco.

Though she was probably bummed to get the schoolwork, she could also appreciate that we had made the trip.  After all, we couldn’t very well let one of our school fish wriggle off the homework hook that easily.  Otherwise all of the seventh graders would be wanting to get sick and stuck in a hospital in San Francisco.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Great Guppie *

The Great Guppie
I get out more now than I used to, making my way around Laytonville, taking care of a litany of tasks, and thus I encounter more of its populace than I once did.  Amongst those I chance upon, are many former students, who once had the dubious distinction of being in my language class.  If you were in my language class, then you were also in my reading class, and probably social studies as well.  And you are still having nightmares about diagraming sentences.  Either that, or you are saying, “What’s diagraming sentences?”

Though my former students all seem to recognize me, especially if I’m flapping my jaws, I do not necessarily recognize them.  Maybe it is something about the beard he is wearing, or the child she is balancing on her hip, as she reaches across the cart to grab a jar of pickles at Geiger’s.
They mostly have the advantage over me.

Sometimes I am lucky, and have the opportunity to run the image I now see, through the razor sharp regions of my cottage cheese brain, and come up with a name.  Michael.  Up here on Bell Springs, displaying his loaves of freshly baked bread at the farmers market.  He bakes in a wood-burning oven that he constructed.  I am here to tell you the bread is vastly surpassing excellent.

I ran across Shayla recently when she handed me a menu, and placed a glass of iced water in front of me.  I knew I recognized her, but could not retrieve a name, so I fell back on my old guy routine.  “Hi, I’m Mark and I know I knew you in another lifetime, but...”  As soon as she heard my voice, she saw past the facial decoration and she gave me a dazzling smile.  I had this image of summer time and the enrichment program at the middle school.  She was there every day, along with her siblings, probably not thrilled to be, but making the most of it. She was also a backstage director for one of our drama productions.

Because I see Lindsay all the time (I have her to thank for guiding me in setting up my blog) I frequently see her friends.  Henry is up here a lot, joining us upon occasion at the market, and not too long ago I saw Brett,  I didn’t recognize him soon enough to say hi, of course, but I will the next time.

Of course, when I saw Guthrie at Vidal’s Memorial, I was flummoxed to learn that the he is now an assistant principal at a high school in the Bay Area.  The “Great Guppie?”  When he mentioned that one of his most vivid memories was earning his fourth lunchtime detention, thus making him ineligible for the field trip to Yosemite, I said to him, “Well, gosh, you must think of me fondly then.”

He laughed and said, “Hey, I was in eighth grade.  You and Mr. Poulton made it clear that if we couldn’t keep it together in the classroom, we were not going to be allowed to go to Yosemite.  I knew the rule and I knew the consequences.  So the only person I was mad at was myself.  And then the same thing happened to Nick and you gave us the opportunity to come on a Saturday and pull weeds to earn back the right to go.”  

Well, that’s a relief.  At least he hasn’t spent the last twenty years tossing darts at my unrecognizable picture.

And of course there is Nate-Dawg, always grinning behind the counter at the “Ron.”  He and Lito have been friends since preschool, though I best remember when they were in the fifth grade, arguing with Mrs. Longcrier bout the merits of Troy Aikman versus Joe Montana.  They were in on the caper where we got [name omitted to protect the innocent] to open her classsroom door, and tape a poster of Joe Montana over that of Emmet Smith.  I only wish I could have been there as the kids stated to first smile, then chuckle, then chortle, and then just burst out laughing.  The only problem was, Mrs. Longcrier was not as amused.

“Hey, what happened to the Giants, this year?” he asked me recently.
“Oh, I think any Giants fan knows the answer to that one.  When Buster went down, so did our crown.  But in the immortal words of Yogi, “We couldn’t have won it without him, so we didn’t.”

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Don't Call Me Matt

Don’t Call Me Matt
Not long ago, I was sitting out on the veranda at Tibi’s, having come in directly from the job site, to grab a late afternoon meal.   I had debated whether or not to venture into town, because my clothes were covered with sawdust and grime, but was persuaded because it was between meals, and there would not likely be a lot of patrons.

A young woman came out to take our order, and I flashed on a kindergarten child, a delicate little girl, accompanied by her younger brother and mom, as she was dropped off at the classroom.  My brain said “former student,” but my mouth said nothing, until our waitperson had swept back into the restaurant, taking our food requests to the kitchen.  Then Casey said, without even realizing it, I think, “That would be Jessica, but you already know that.”

I was up on my feet in an instant, traipsing on through the establishment, until I saw her coming back out from behind the front counter.  Now when she saw the expression on my face, and came around the counter, it was quick-hug time and a twenty-second period of time to say howdy.  Jessica was Juliet in the second of three Romeo and Juliet productions, and I still remember how she and Tai Jai did the balcony scene through the wailing of an unhappy infant.  How a parent could remain in our classroom “theater” while her/his child was raising such a ruckus, was beyond comprehension, but my two student stars stayed the course, and completed the scene as though they were seasoned veterans.

I see Dan all of the time, though on the very first occasion, I drew his momentary wrath by calling him by his brother’s name, Matt.  I hope I never make that mistake again.  Of course I see Heather all of the time at Pour Girl’s, along with Heidi and Jaime, and Jessica, when she is back from culinary school. 

I was sitting recently in Gravier’s Tire and Auto, when I saw a young man with a beard enter and approach the counter.  Sure that I knew him, but unable to place the no-longer-fresh-faced eighth grader, I had to wait to hear his voice before I was transported, once again, back to theater days.  I was hearing the voice of Count Orsino, from Twelfth Night and knew that it was Tyler.  I had barely had time to give him a handshake and a nod, when in strolled Adam, who now towers over me.  That never surprises me, only that he seemed genuinely pleased to see me. 

As he shook my hand, he said he didn’t know if he would have recognized me because I have a rather prominent mustache.  I told him that was OK, that he had changed more than I had.  My hair color (including my mustache) may be turning a little frost-tinted, and I might be covered in sawdust, but I think I am easier for them to identify, than they are for me to recognize.  

A couple of Saturdays ago, I had a field day at Ben’s wedding, looking around at a collection of twenty-something former students, who had come to celebrate the wedding.  There were Lito’s roommates, Kevin and Travis, and there was Dan.  There was also a young woman who came over to give me a congratulatory hug, who I recognized as my back-stage director for one of the productions, Leslie, there with her husband, who works with Lito for Cal Fire.  Additionally, there was Trayton, and there was Chris, who was a sixth grader in 1991, a member of one of the two classes of kids, who came out to Camp Wente (the venue for the wedding) when Mrs. Wade and I took two classes of students here in 1991.

Finally there were Amber and Vanessa, who seemed genuinely happy to see me.  I don’t know; I can’t help thinking your old middle school language arts teacher would be the last person on the face of the earth that you would want to encounter, your worst nightmare.

However, if that is not the case, and you happen to see this old guy  tottering around one of the local businesses, who seems vaguely familiar, and you approach him, just know he would be delighted to see you.  You will probably have to help him out with a name, because he is advanced in age, but it will still bring a smile to his face.  If you are lucky, he will give you a break, and not ask you to diagram any sentences today.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

United Auto Stores # 15: Right Down the Block

Right Down the Block
Jimmy was old school San Jose, if ever I met someone who was.  He grew up on the east side, in a large family with blue collar values and a hard work ethic.  He was working at United Auto Stores, Story Road, when I first met him, and he was very knowledgable behind the counter.
He had hair that looked as though it were pressed by an iron every day before he went out the door, it was that straight.  He wore dungarees and long sleeved plaid shirts, that he would roll the cuffs up on, making me wonder why he just didn’t wear short sleeved ones in the first place.  He had the original Don Johnson look, with the stubble of beard seemingly permanently a part of his style.   Jimmy was married to Sue, and she was just the nicest gal in the world.  He was so steady and dependable at the lofty age of maybe twenty-five. 

As you may have guessed, Jimmy attended San Jose State University.  One of the first things I found out about him was that at one point he had lived down on Tenth Street, only a couple of blocks from the school, and that he used to live right down the street from one of the members of the Doobie Brothers, a 70’s rock band with origins in San Jose.  The band played regularly a few doors down the street.  How is that for being in on the ground floor of a rising rock and roll band?  This fact was enough to impress me, and Jimmy was pretty nonchalant about it, as though most kids got to experience seeing friend go from nothing to rock icons.
Jimmy was a guy who knew a lot, but he was not always willing to share.  If he was in a good frame of mind, he was patient and willing to go the distance.  If he was in one of those black Irish funks, then you kept your distance, because he was really not very patient.
I liked Jimmy a lot, but I was also not one hundred percent comfortable around him.  I liked his younger brother Clancy though, an excitable guy who had the usual sibling rivalry going on with Jim.  Clancy used to like to play the guitar, and he had the market on “Free Bird.”  I must have heard him play that song twenty times.  That was OK though, because I sure couldn’t play it.
Interestingly, Jimmy and I followed parallel courses for a while there.     First of all, in December of 1975, I bought twenty acres of land up on a ridge in Mendocino County, for eight thousand dollars.  It meant a payment of sixty-seven dollars a month.  Within a crowd of guys, for whom a car payment was a stretch, to have one in your midst who was spending sixty-seven dollars monthly on twenty acres of land was unheard of.  There were a lot of guys at United who were envious.  I may have had a head of long hair and a blazing red beard, but I was also a landowner, up in Mendocino County no less.
Jimmy went home and told his mother all about the land, and Mrs. Hogan started to investigate, and before we knew it, she had bought the parcel next door to ours, up here on the ridge.  Who would ever have guessed it?  Many years later, when Mrs. Hogan gave up her dream of ever moving up here, my family got together and bought that parcel from her, and that severed the tenuous string that still attached me and Jimmy.
After Jimmy had stopped working for United, but while we still saw each other occasionally, we got together and decided to move into a four-bedroom house on Jeffrey Street in San Jose, where we split the rent.  Later, Laura would come and live there, and still later, various other members of the family, or close friends, like Paul Holloway.  He came for a weekend, and stayed for a year and a half.
The house venture worked out well enough, but better for me in the long run than for Jimmy.  Though I was going to school full time, and working twenty to thirty hours for United Auto, I was still very much into my stereo that I had brought back from Korea.  Jimmy liked it too, only not as loud as I liked it.  There were some evenings when I think we may have been better off in different locales.
We parted ways amicably enough, and went back to seeing each other at the occasional party, everyone expected loud music, and no one was disappointed or upset.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

United Auto Stores # 14: Bottle of Wine

Bottle of Wine
Of all the employees of United Auto Stores, with whom I worked from the mid-seventies to the early eighties, none stands out more than Stephen, if I wanted to single out someone who was always on target, so direct.  Whereas Doug could be arrogant, Stephen was just the opposite.  He gave the new guys a helping hand, so that if they failed to catch on, he could be sure it was not his fault.
Being either assistant manager, or manager the whole time I knew him, he was always approachable, either behind the counter, or off of work.   Though many counter-workers spoke Spanish, he was not one of them. Stephen was as likely to speak Spanish as I was to speak Japanese.  Stephen is Japanese American, and he began one of the most delightful customs I ever heard of. He and his brother Ronald used to throw a party every December 7th, regardless of what day of the week it fell on, to celebrate the fact that no bombs had fallen out of the sky on that particular December Seventh, unlike one so many years ago.
Stephen clarified once for me the origins of the parties. I had asked him if kids teased him when he was small, and he just laughed.
“No, it’s nothing like that.  We just figure that if you know your history, then there’s a lot of bad karma circulating about on December 7th, and we’re trying to do our part to square it all away.”
Clutching my strawberry daiquiri, all I could do was laud his fine intentions.
Stephen drove a Mercury Capri, back when they first came out, and it was a sporty little number for its time.  Of course, I drove a ’62 VW Bus, that was three different shades of primer paint, so I was not one to judge others’ rides.  I was able to go to Stephen for technical support, as I was with almost all of the old-timers at United. However, the reason he was good at VW’s had nothing to do with necessity, but rather because his girlfriend drove one, and Stephen was too much of a gentleman, not to take care of his lady’s car.
He was also great for whipping up enthusiasm for the excursions we used to go on.  I talked about the Yuba River run, but there were the water skiing trips up to Lake Berryessa also.  One of the real old-timers, a fellow named Ray McNasty (well, that’s close enough, anyway; everyone got assigned a nickname.  Stephen’s nickname was Stephen Ka-botz-vagon) and his wife Pat used to own a motorboat, which they would drive up to Lake Berryessa to take in the water skiing.  Those were the only two times I ever indulged, and it was a lot of fun.  
I contented myself with getting up on two skis, after trying with one ski one time.  Though I am sure it made for entertainment of the first degree, it made for pain for me.  I was so thrilled that I was actually able to manage the two, that I never gave the other any thought.  Stephen was very encouraging, even though I was a total newcomer to the sport.  I had never even been snow skiing (I still haven’t).
Another excursion we used to go on, of a Sunday afternoon, was to head south of San Jose and sample wine along Highway 152, and other rural byways of the area.  Invariably, while sipping on wine inside of local tasting rooms, the owner would be the one pouring the wine, and they were the most engaging servers imaginable.  
It was a mutually beneficial arrangement; wine was served to patrons, who then used the samples to determine their purchase list.  If you bought a case, then you got an additional ten-twenty percent off.  It was one of the true Sunday afternoon adventures that could never fail to hit pay dirt.
Just as we would start to realize that we were famished, and quite some distance from home, Stephen would whip out a loaf of uncut sourdough bread, a thick slab of sharp cheddar cheese, and a knife to take care of the logistics.  He would even bring a tablecloth to set out on the grass, so that we could lounge around, as though we were at Santa Cruz.  
One of the last times I remember seeing Stephen was when Ann and I went back down to San Jose in the closing days of 1982, when Casey was just three months old.  We left Casey with Tom and Beverly, while we went out to dinner at Tao Tao Restaurant in Sunnyvale with Stephen, Richard and KC.  we had to fight our way across the Santa Clara Valley, because the power was out, thus relegating signals useless.  We had a good time.
Stephen was always ready for action; he was always ready for danger.  He didn’t get mad and he didn’t get even.  He just knew how to be a good boss and a good friend.

Military Madness: Ft. Dix # 9: They'll Let Us Know

They'll Let Us Know

As he was walking away, no longer able to see us, I was extending my arms out to both sides of me, palms upward, giving Turkey the “What’s up with that?” look.  I had a tendency to think of Roy as Turkey now and again, instead of Turvey.
Placatingly, he put one hand out, palm facing me, as if to say, “Hold on their, Big Guy, I’ve got the situation under control.
By the time I felt that Officer Meane had moved out of of earshot, I had begun to see the light.  Roy made sure the spotlight was brilliant, by giving me time to think it through.  He just kept nodding and rotating that extended hand in the gesture that means, “Keep thinking, Son, you’ll figure it out.”  And then I got it.  I broke out into a colossal smile and said, “We’re going to the meeting, but we’re not really interested.”
“That’s partly right,” he said, his smile matching mine in intensity.  “To make it perfect, adjust it to the point where we are highly interested, as long as we can keep getting out of class.  As soon as the well runs dry, we abandon ship like a couple of rats-make that foxes-and retire to our den for some fresh chicken.”  He was positively chortling.  It all made sense, because the army knew that in order to survive, it had to stay ahead of the game by supplying a steady stream of capable personnel in leadership positions. 
These personnel did not have to be smart (an observation too frequently observed to be ignored) but it sure helped.  So many of the recruits coming through the system, did not take the tests seriously.  Even the college grads, recently snatched up the minute their deferments became moot, did not begin to understand the ramifications of succeeding on these basic skills tests.  They were the method that the army used, in order to be able to sort and classify each recruit.
Some were Eleven Bravos, right out the shoot, that being the number assigned the inglorious infantryman.  Others were assigned a seventy-one MOS, which covered all of the clerical personnel, whether it was clerking in an orderly room, working for a chaplain or being assigned to a personnel service company, such as the 199th in Seoul, Korea.
As each company of recruits filed through the system, the brass would comb the records for potential grist for the leadership mill.  Roy and I both qualified.  Having established this, the next step was to find out if there was any interest on both ends.  Just because a recruit was qualified, did not make him or her a desirable candidate.  Conversely, just because the army was interested in the test scores, did not mean that the recruit reciprocated the feeling.  Hence, a series of meetings was conducted, with some dropping out of the race the minute the ante climbed from a two-year commitment to one of three years.
We attended the first of these meetings dutifully, appearing at the prescribed time, and listening attentively.  Roy had a steady stream of questions.  I couldn’t help thinking about Eddie Haskell, of Leave it to Beaver
“So how long would it be before we were flying planes?”  He directed his question at Chief Warrant Officer Tom, a man who had obviously tired of having people try to pronounce Wojojlowitzchy (Woe-yo-lo-wit-ski), the name they saw above his breast pocket, and instructed us to call him by his rank and his first name.   
“That is a good question,” said Officer Tom, “and I’m glad you asked it.  We have several levels of participation on the warrant officer level, and we try to channel each individual’s talents in the most productive manner.”   I thought to myself that he used a bunch of words to not answer the question.  I couldn’t believe that warrant officers would ever be allowed to fly planes; conventional army officers outrank them by definition.  All warrant officers would ever do, is lend technical support.  That was the definition of of the rank.   Roy, however, did not care.
“Is the flight school training open to women as well as men?”  Roy’s question drew immediate interest from the rest of the group, around twenty or so other guys, all in uniform, all of them ranked private.
Officer Tom leaped at the question.  “Hell yes!  This man’s army is certainly open to women.”
Roy pressed on.  “Do you have uni-sex barracks, like the dorm rooms in college?”  Interest was sky high.
“Well, er, um, that is a good, er, um, an interesting question, but I would say that different army bases have different policies.”  Again, I thought, sure they do, but none includes a policy which allows fraternizing amongst men and women, within the confines of an army barracks filled with recruits.  It wasn’t going to happen in this lifetime or the next.  
Roy, however, did not care.  “Are we going to get leave between AIT and assignment to flight school?” 
Officer Tom got cautious.  “Well that will depend on what you and Uncle Sugar have going on.  I have no control over those logistics.”  He shrugged apologetically.  Roy, however, did not care.
“What about our rate of pay?”  There was no slowing him down; there was no dampening of his enthusiasm.  He never did pose the question about the length of service, because someone else did, when Roy finally let someone get a question in edgewise.
We did not want to spend all afternoon at the meeting, but we did want to spend all afternoon away from the classroom.  When the meting broke up at 3:00, we did not go back to school, choosing instead to pay an early visit to the gym for some leisurely laps in the pool.  Two days late, when the next meeting was scheduled, no one so much as blinked when we told the instructor that we would not be thee after lunch.  Only this time we did not bother to go the the meeting.  Why bother?
However, we were still able to hitch one more ride on the warrant officer gravy train, when they announced that orientation for warrant officer school was to take place the following morning at Battalion Headquarters.  When we were asked back in the barracks if we had been chosen for the training program, we just shrugged our shoulders disgustedly, and said, “Yeah right.  Like they’re going to let us in on their plans.  We just have to go with the flow, and they’ll let us know.”  Roy seemed pleased with his poetry.