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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Ellie Mae or May Not

Let’s get one thing established up front: Ellie Mae is a jewel of a dog and she has already claimed a chunk of our hearts. To continue the metaphor, more precisely, Ellie Mae is a diamond but like all diamonds, she has a few rough edges.

Allow me to introduce myself: I am the jeweler.

Speaking for Gluten-Free Mama and myself, we did not enter into this rescue-dog business lightly. Dogs end up in shelters for a multitude of reasons, and there is no way to definitively know a dog’s personal history. We were not expecting a perfect little fur-baby out of the deal; if that is what we were seeking, we would have just bought a stuffed animal, and propped it up on the bed.

No, we were thinking of the shelters, and the folks who volunteer for them, but mostly we were thinking about disposable dogs. I am not being mean. I know that to make the decision to give up a dog must be painful. It would be for anybody. However, circumstances sometimes dictate that for financial or logistical reasons, the extreme course of leaving a dog at a shelter, must be done for the good of the animal.

I am retired to the extent that I do not clock in, and have no boss. Of course I work on the farm as many hours as my old self can still manage, but my point is that I have the time and the inclination to take on a hobby, one that when done correctly can pay huge dividends.

We have said all along that we were not trying to replace Dozer, the bulldog. I kept insisting that we were merely folks who like to have dogs around, and that we were not particular as to what kind of dog. But I finally pinned it down yesterday, when I was reviewing progress with Ellie Mae: We are simply trying to fill a void.

I was happy when that phrase lodged in my cauliflower brain because Dozer was such an integral part of our lives, he dug his way into our minds and hearts. In leaving us, he left that hole. By definition Ellie Mae is destined to occupy a part of that void, and the more effort we put into her, and the longer we have her, the more that void starts to fill up.

[Editor’s note: long build-up…]

With that intro you may be gearing up for a tale about The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and nothing could be further from the truth. As I have steadfastly maintained, Ellie Mae is sweet, appreciative and so desperate to be good, it is tangible.

She has attached herself to me to the point that I cannot go out for a wheel-barrow of wood, or to let the chickens out, without her getting antsy at the front door. I took Dozer with me to do “sticks business” every time I ever went for wood. 

Throw the “stick” to Dozer-never see it again. 
We have a consultation with Skellydogs,
on December 10th, to get training started.
Meanwhile, we have our homework.

I want Ellie Mae to accompany when I go outside to work. Unfortunately, the first time I did that, the minute I got centered on stacking a load of wood, about two minutes, she disappeared. For ten minutes my heart was pounding, I was sweating in the 42 degree weather, and I was already trying to formulate an explanation for Maggie.

The lay of the land was such that it was impossible for me to consider going after her. Besides, what would I do if I actually caught up to her? So, because I could hear her down below, barking for a minute or two, I stood at the back fence and spoke in a normal voice, assuring her that she was a good dog, and she needed to come back.

So there I was facing out the bottom of my fenced yard, peering through oak trees for some trace of her, when she dashed up to me-from behind! She had come back into our “securely fenced” yard from somewhere out of my view, leaving me still uncertain of her mode of ingress and egress.

I mean, this fence is wild boar proof, and can keep Large Marge, SmallBoy’s sweetheart of a dog, inside. Emma the farm dog, however, is a different matter. Great Dane mixes tend to blaze their own trails.

Ellie Mae is skinny and wiry and is obviously an escape artist. Well, this may as well be Stalag Dreizehn (Stalag Thirteen), where the inmates come and go as they please. The thing about Ellie Mae is not that she wants to escape, because she is unhappy. No, she wants out because she wants to chase the deer, go after the rabbits and squirrels, and because, well, she has probably had a lot of experience roaming free.

She came to us with a warning sticker: This dog is a “born-free” kind of dog. 
Ellie Mae, lying beside GF Mama, as I type.

The great news is that she is at her best when we retire for bed in the evening, which you may think is me being sarcastic. As in, she is as good as gold when she is sleeping, and that is not where I am going. I just mean that when it’s lights out, she lies on the bed between GF Mama and me, and sleeps like an appreciative angel, especially since there are no sound effects. Dozer used to rock the 4 by 12 ceiling beams with his prodigious snoring. I am not exaggerating one bit.

Ellie Mae is quiet, does not drape herself over us, does not hog the blankets, and is content to just lie between us. If you are not a dog person, then you are obviously appalled; if you are a dog lover, then you know what a comfortable presence a cherished pet can be.

Next: Chew toys

Tuesday's "chew toy."

More appropriate chew toys, purchased Thursday in Ukiah.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Shooting Star

“John-Bryan loved and respected Pauline.” Brian James O’Neill

For 45 years I have thought of John-Bryan as my brother. Therefore, the fact that my brother loved and respected Pauline makes perfect sense. To know her was to love her. That being said, I was 7,000 miles away from Fellowship Street, in 1972, when John-Bryan arrived on the scene. 
Mama, on that trip to La Paz

Descriptions of events that occurred in La Puente, were conveyed to me while I was in the army through a finely-meshed filter, shielding me from the negative, while spotlighting the positive. Even if I were able to read through the lines of Mama’s bright, cheerful letters, I had too much on my own plate to fully comprehend, that 1972 was a particularly dreary year on Fellowship Street.

My father’s oldest brother, Tom, died just before I went into the service. I remember because I did not want to attend the funeral-desperately-and I appealed to Mama, who exonerated me from any obligation. It was nothing against Uncle Tom; I was afraid of a panic attack.

My sister JT further recalls, “1972 was one of those rough years…It started off badly with you leaving [January 10th] and escalated with… Grandpa’s death a couple of weeks later [January 27th]. There was also someone from State Steel ** whose name I can’t recall now-someone who was a positive in Robert’s life-who died in that same timeframe.”

JT continues, “Death was hovering over the house and I know that affected both Robert and Pauline. I was 18 in January of 1972…I didn’t yet know that the death of someone you loved could decimate you. There was a darkness and a silence that winter/spring and I think into the summer-the house felt relatively empty.”

Of course the house seemed empty: Eric and I were in Korea, while Noel and Brian got the apartment on Manchester Blvd, and attended Loyola Marymount University. Afterwards, Brian went down to Mexico to learn to speak Spanish. 
Papa, on that same trip to Lower California

In June came the long-planned trip down to La Paz, in Baja, California. Mama, Papa, Noel and Matt spent three weeks in the new Chevy Blazer. where things, indeed, blazed. As JT put it, “That trip led to great unhappiness but you can’t put your finger on the root of that unhappiness. Sure, Noel was excited about political/social change and I know there were harsh words exchanged between Papa and Noel. But I also think Papa was depressed and change was all around and he longed for life the way it used to be.”

Additionally, JT described taking brother Kevin to his first day of kindergarten, instead of Mama. She writes, “…I think Mama was tired. That I would take Kevin to school that day might [must?] have been helpful to her. I wonder if it was also a sadness thing. After all, he was her last child going off to school. Perhaps she wanted to escape that sadness  whereas I felt like a grownup in that role.”

Into this bleak world came John-Bryan: flamboyant, colorful in both appearance and language, vibrant, witty, charming and on a mission from God to better the lives of all he encountered. That he brightened Mama’s life is evident. 

My brother Brian observed the other day that John-Bryan had an excellent command of the English language, and I agree. In his own words, in a letter written to me dated December 5th, 1972, John-Bryan wrote,  
Eric and John-Bryan, sitting in LA Intl. Airport,
January of 1973, as Eric and I prepared to return to Korea.
     “I went up to La Puente last Tuesday and returned this past Saturday afternoon. It was a good time. I spent most of it, as I always do, in talking with your mum. It’s incredible that relationship. No one would understand how a 25-year-old guy could feel so close to a 50-year-old woman. Amerikan (sic) * society doesn’t understand a lot of things; it doesn’t try to. 

This is one very real example of that. I can imagine how people would be totally disbelieving if they knew the hours upon hours that your mum and I talk, discuss, relate, communicate. On levels that others cannot even imagine. Knowing a fair bit of what this society of ours is about, they would immediately assume that your mum and I have some mad love affair going. 

Well, in a way we do but it isn’t the type of physical encountering that those voyeurs would be sniggering about. It is a love affair: of the mind, of the spirit, of the soul. It’s an incredible closeness which transcends and makes unimportant any consideration such as age, sex and background.

At first, I approached your mum as someone who was important to me because she was the mother of the best friend I have. But very quickly she became more than that. She became someone I valued in her own right, on her own, for herself. It’s a safe thing to say that she never met anyone like me before. And that she’s never had the type of relationship she has with me before. 
John-Bryan and my brother, Brian, at
Robert's memorial, October of 1996

I can relate with her as totally, as openly, as candidly as I do with Eric or Brian.  And that is an awesome thing to witness, a beautiful thing to live. So most of my time was spent in the sewing room, talking and sharing, listening and offering, receiving and internalizing.”

John-Bryan, closeted from the reality of his being a gay man in 1972, cherished the acceptance and affection heaped upon him, and returned it tenfold, relishing the opportunity to get to know our entire family. He provided more than just a ray of sunshine for our family in a dark period; he provided a meteor shower of appreciation over the next 45 years, dashing in and out of our lives like a shooting star.

John-Bryan’s passing was unexpected and the flow of memories continues unabated. He enriched my life and the lives of many others, with whom he came into contact, and I will love and miss him forever.

  • I do not think this is a spelling mistake or a typo. I think JBD intended to convey the same sort of derision that I do, when I prattle on about Corporate ‘Merica.

** State Steel became Standum Steel, at some point in this timeframe. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

He Hit a Touchdown!

“How do you begin to tell his story?” Brian James O’Neill on John-Bryan

John-Bryan was “one of the most brilliant people I ever met and also the wittiest. He had the best command of the English language of anyone I ever met. He befriended all of our family and was adopted as a full family member. I don’t think he ever lost a game of trivial pursuit…”

Thus my brother Brian described John-Bryan in part, the other day, on the initial post about JBD. ( Additionally, Brian added, “He never went anywhere without bringing a gift.” 

I wrote in “JBD” that before I had ever met John-Bryan, while I was in the military, he had taken pity on me and begun sending a steady stream of home-town comfort, in the form of newspaper clippings, comics, sports articles and news from home. Brian is correct when he writes that JBD “didn’t do sports and couldn’t tell you what sport involved a touchdown.”

That being said, John-Bryan still knew that a headline involving the LA Dodgers or LA Lakers would always be welcome, just as one involving the cross-town Angels, would not. He made it his business to find these things out, because, well, that was the kind of person he was.

“He wore his heart on his sleeve” would describe John as well as anything. I concluded my initial piece by “revealing” that JBD was gay, but the reality is that no one cared. It was the biggest non-issue of its kind, in the history of the universe, at least from my perspective. 

In 1972 one could only imagine how thoroughly closeted John-Bryan might have tried to be, but he may as well have put on a Roman Gabriel jersey, and pretended to be the quarterback of the LA Rams, for all the good it did him. 

We accepted him unconditionally, each of us for different reasons, I am sure. Brother Brian added that there was mutual love and respect between John-Bryan and Pauline, and that long hours were spent together, conversing comfortably on a plethora of subjects. 

John-Bryan's brilliance meshing with Mama’s mind, weighing in with her IQ of 161, made for some lively dialogue. With or without his beverage of choice, gin, John-Bryan was fun to be around; once he started drinking, he became a riot.

With immense fondness I think back to Christmas of 1982, when HeadSodBuster was all of three months old. Gluten-Free Mama and I had taken him down to the great metropolitan arena of San Jose, to spend some time with the other grandparents, Tom and Beverly.

While there, we had prearranged with John-Bryan, to pick him up at the airport, and whisk him up to Bell Springs Road for the post-Christmas celebration. The night before we left San Jose, John-Bryan and I sat up late drinking gin and chatting, with GFMama bowing out early, and Beverly sitting in her chair, embroidering. 

Beverly seemed to enjoy it tremendously; JBD was at his finest. He had a captive audience, he was on his way up to one of his favorite hangouts, and he was in top form. He kept us in stitches; we kept him in gin. I drank also, but I knew far better than to try and keep pace with John-Bryan.

Not if I was going to be able to drive the following morning.

And drive I did, in the old ‘Lova machine, our ’72 Chevy Nova, with two-thirds of the “N” removed so that the back of the car read “‘lova.” We lov-ed that car but not as much that particular five-hour drive, because the heater was caput. 

Nonetheless, de ‘Lova Machine had a substantial trunk, so there was plenty of room inside the car for blankets, as we stuffed  everything in the trunk. As brother Brian mentioned, accompanying John-Bryan with his luggage, were numerous parcels and packages, gayly wrapped, of course. 

GF Mama rode in the back seat with HeadSodBuster in his car-seat, facing backwards, of course. JBD rode shotgun, all bundled up in blankets, and I drove. We stopped in ‘Rosa to eat breakfast and defrost, before we headed up to what turned out to be a snowy scene, unbelievably peaceful and beautiful.
HeadSodBuster and a new mama.

In reflecting on John-Bryan, GF Mama reminded me that he had come for dinner one evening long about the time HeadSodBuster turned nine months old. Make it late June of 1983. By chance his visit coincided with HSBuster taking his first steps. On his way over to our house, on foot, John-Bryan hurt his foot/ankle. I do not remember the specifics, except that in crossing the little creek bed at brother Noel’s spot, he had gone down hard.

Sallying bravely onward, and in this case, straight up a steep hill while in pain, he made it to our house. I am certain that we did your basic first-aid, with ice and all, but it did not stop the dinner party from progressing, including the inevitable gin. 

While there and sitting out on the front deck, little HeadSodBuster, in a burst of blazing glory, crossed the deck to John-Bryan, darn near at a trot. Tickled pink and a little pickled too, to see history in the making, John-Bryan just beamed.

As it turned out, his injury was ultimately properly diagnosed, and turned out to be more severe than we had hoped, magnifying John-Bryan’s ability to downplay his discomfort. I’m sure the gin helped and we would have driven him back to the big house, but still, he must have been in great pain.

In retrospect, John-Bryan’s logic would have been, since he wasn’t going to charge down to the emergency room at Howard Hospital in Willits, why should he spoil a good time for everyone? After all, he was generally still standing when all of the rest of us had long crashed, bad foot or not. 

When we had those extended family gatherings up on the mountain, Mama’s house always over-floweth, with bodies crashed all over the lower floor, the balcony and both upstairs bedrooms. One year on New Year’s Eve, when much of the family had gathered at the big house, midnight came and went with a small contingent of us still rocking a hearts game at the big oak table.

We got too obstreperous at one point, prompting an annoyed Brian to appear at the upstairs railing, inquiring acidly just exactly how long we were going to be “at it.” Apologizing profusely, while trying desperately to stifle the giggling that just would not be stifled, we assured him that we were “almost done.” Now if that had been the case with the gin, we would, indeed, have been almost done. 

Such was not the case, however; it never was with John-Bryan.

Friday, November 24, 2017


The email from oldest brother Eric was succinct: John-Bryan had passed away, quite unexpectedly. Both Eric and Brian had been in contact over the previous few weeks, and John-Bryan gave no indication that he was ill. John-Bryan’s friend, David, delivered the sad news to Eric via phone.
Eric on the left, and John-Bryan
I racked my tenuous mind for a memory of my first meeting with the dude with two first names, and came up with nothing. The reason for that would be that by the time I actually met him in the flesh, I had been corresponding with him on paper for four months, from Missouri at the outset, and New Jersey at the end. This would have taken place between February and May of 1972.

We were beyond just casual acquaintances by the time we first came face-to-face; we were good friends. Though I had never met him, John-Bryan quickly had his finger on the pulse of what made me tick, in order to get through the nightmare known as Military Madness: home-town comics, home-town sports trivia and home-town news. 

Red-haired, gregarious and conscientious, JBD, as he was often referred to, liked to drink gin. In point of fact, he consumed more gin than anyone I ever met, though he held his liquor well. The more he drank, the funnier he got, and he had this way of always keeping one’s drink “refreshed.”

Before I ever met him, he sent care packages containing items that were hard to get on post, featuring chocolate and snacks, especially appreciated later on when I was  overseas. Those were days when parcels routinely went astray, taking three weeks or more to make the journey. Meanwhile, letters from home teased me by asking how I liked the most recent package.

The question arises: Exactly who was JBD and how did he and I hook up? He entered the fabric of our family through Eric, who had recently signed up for the Peace Corps, and was in New Jersey, receiving training, in the fall of 1971. Specifically, Eric was to take up residence in The Republic of South Korea, for the purpose of teaching English at the university level.

John-Bryan had also been admitted to the Peace Corps program, and had similarly been trained in New Jersey, where he and Eric became friends. The time-frame is irrelevant, except to say that JBD’s experience in South Korea was challenging and brief, and he returned to his home in San Diego while I was enduring first basic training in Missouri, and then Advanced Individual Training, in New Jersey.

Dated December 5th, 1972, a typical note
from John-Bryan, filled with upbeat news from
home, and tales of his travels around town.
Through Eric and my brother Brian, John-Bryan learned of my being drafted/bummed out, and being a compassionate soul, he began a personal campaign of support. Who was I to argue? I took his kindness at face value, a byproduct of his pleasure at not only being accepted by my family, but embraced.

Hailing from San Diego, John-Bryan took to making the two-hour commute up to La Puente on a regular basis; he rapidly became friends with the entire household. In March of 1972, everyone in the family who was on hand, except Mama and Kevin, spent a few days down in Baja, Mexico, at the old travel trailer that we kept ensconced at a local campground. It cost Papa a paltry fee of $35.00 per year.

I heard from every member of that entourage, about the antics of this goofy, warm-hearted individual, who was back from a noble effort to acclimate himself to a most challenging culture. At one point when I visited Eric in Kwangju, where he was stationed, I was informed that he was one of six Americans living in Kwangju at that time, a city of 500,000 people. John-Bryan had just been unable to adapt.
I had the mustache;
therefore I was older than Eric,
who was 26 years old, to my 19.

As Eric and I walked through the city streets, at one point in time, we were surrounded by a small group of urchins, all laughing, pointing and chanting, “You look like a monkey.” Eric informed me that Koreans who encountered us, would assume that I was the older of the two siblings, because I wore a mustache. In the Korean culture, only the oldest was allowed facial hair, until maybe sixty years old.

I mention this primarily to convey the sense of homesickness John-Bryan might have experienced, would not have been helped by this sort of unwitting treatment, by those he was purportedly assisting. I think his inability to adjust to life in Korea, made him double his efforts to provide support for me.

John-Bryan was an educated man, cultured and refined, with a natural flare for style and fashion. He was meticulous, even fussy, and he was infinitely polite. His sense of humor was exquisite, and could either be bitingly sarcastic, or subtly suggestive.

A most complex individual, there was one other minor detail that I immediately picked up on, the first time I actually met him, that had never  cropped up before: John-Bryan was gay.

Next: Travels with John-Bryan

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Those Left Behind

The meme reads something like this, “Why pay $2,500.00 for a dog, when you can go to an animal shelter and get one for a fraction of that amount?” Of course, there is an English bulldog in the photo, because, well, that’s about what they retail for, unless you have an in to a bulldog breeder.
When Thanksgiving Day arrives this Thursday, it will have been seven Thursdays since we lost our Dozer, a time of quiet sadness as we let go of a companion, who kept us in smiles at some of the hardest times, without ever complaining.

Not even three weeks passed before Gluten-Free Mama and I put our heads together, and decided that enough time had elapsed, and we should start looking for a new four-legged companion, to join us here on our farm.

Note that I was careful not to say that it was time to replace the Doze; No critter on this or any other planet could ever replace Dozer. That being said, we have an infinite capacity for love of dogs, and are confident that a new arrival would waste no time wending her way into our hearts.

Among those friends who extended sympathy to us at the loss of our Dozer, was Maggie, who is a volunteer at the Humane Society for Inland Mendocino County. Needless to say, with all of the devastation in recent times, there is a huge need for volunteers at this and every other animal shelter.

There are vast numbers of dogs and cats seeking new homes.

So I messaged Maggie on face/book, explaining that GF Mama had been seeing a lot of photos featuring Vern, a mixed breed dog with the most amazing smile. Was it possible that Vern was still looking for a home?

Alas and alack! Vern had been adopted only the day before, but maybe Maggie could interest us in a different pooch? Would we like to give her an idea of what kind of pal we were looking for? Chihuahua? Great Dane? Something in the middle?

After minimal consultation between the two of us, GF Mama and I formulated a picture of what our ideal dog would look like: We decided after two males in a row, Clancy, aka Mr. Digglesworth, and Dozer, we would like to go with a girl.

Dozer slept on our bed. Rather, he occupied it and we dealt with the reverberations. Despite the challenges inherent in having a dog pinning the blankets beneath it, while one shivers in the cold during the upcoming winter, we want our new dog to also have access, should that appeal to her.

Dozer weighed in at 52 pounds for most of his life, so we put “medium-sized,” between 40 and 50 pounds on our “application.” We said it did not matter whether the dog was short-haired or long. Since it is I who does the sweeping/mopping of the floors in this establishment, I am the only one who need be consulted.

We said the new doggie must get along with cats.They don’t have to love one another; they just can’t want to kill each other.

The only thing, we said, that would be a deal-breaker, is a barker. The barking does not bother us, but we do have that one neighbor, who goes bipolar when anything in the ‘hood is amiss, when it comes to noise. Even if Ellie will spend most of her time indoors, she still can’t be a chatty-Cathy outside.

Finally, I said it was OK if the dog was needy; so am I.

At one point, early on, Maggie asked me if we were down for a puppy. “Hell, yes!” was my immediate response, because I have had much practice training puppies in recent years. My hours are so extreme that I am always on hand to escort said puppies out to the accommodations which awaited them, in the great outdoors.

I have an infinite amount of patience with pups, just as I am content not to rush the process of acquiring a new roommate. The ebb and flow of my communiques with Maggie, feels good to both GF Mama and me. Haste has no place in trying to find a match that works for all involved, especially for the four-legged buddy.

And now Ellie has materialized: around forty pounds, a year-and-a-half old, mixed breed (beagle/lab), a little skinny and a little needy. Ellie was dropped off at a shelter in Covelo, with no explanation, and has been seeking a new home since.

She passed the cat test, but has a case of Lyme’s, which is being treated even as we speak. We would have to start by getting an appointment with that nice Dr. Jacobs, at the Willits Animal Hospital, to have Ellie looked at, so that we can get the heart-worm medicine and any other incidentals that are needed.

I am grateful to Maggie for being allowed to follow this process of selecting our next buddy, because I could never have simply walked into the shelter and chosen one-not while there were others in the same facility who would be left behind. I am just that fragile when it comes to these matters.

Were I to ask Maggie what could be done, if one were of a mind, I am sure she would say that there is a huge need for volunteers to walk dogs, and to spend time with them. Additionally, Maggie would say that the shelter needs money to keep the process going.

As it is, the Humane Society of Inland Mendocino, operates on a shoestring, and could use any and all donations you feel you could make. They did not even hold their annual fund-raising dinner this year, because it seemed awkward: How do you ask for money from a community, which has been devastated by recent fires?

I know of friends, as do we all, who lost it all. How can I think about dogs and cats when friends lost it all? That’s a tough one but I will say simply that those who lost all, can do something about it, as can their friends and family. 

Four-legged critters do not have that luxury and are dependent on those who care, to do enough. How much is enough?

Maggie told us the fees for everything involving Ellie’s adoption were $175.00. I told her the fees were cheap at twice the price, and told her we would bring $300.00. That’s not quite double the fees, but it’s only the first installment.

The way GF Mama and I see it, we could have spent the twenty-five hundred in a vain attempt to “replace” the Doze, or we could spend the same amount at the Humane Society of Inland Mendocino County, you know, spread out over time in monthly installments. 

The Doze would approve.
See? Smiling away...

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Up Shite Creek

We all end up there in some form or other, at various times in our lives: Shite Creek, that is. I mean, gambling the rent away, can deposit you up that creek, as would that poor decision to rent the mobile home and transport all that marijuana across the border. But, hey! At least you did something to end up in your predicament(s).
Greetings...and you all have a nice day!!
What happens if you get cancer, receive treatment in the form of chemotherapy, and are too sick to work full-time? Allow me to enlighten you: You end up being ineligible for disability, once you hit Stage-IV, and are no longer employable.

That’s called being up Shite Creek.

What happens if you are too sick to work, you are only 60 and you have no source of income? Because of corruption in government, your health-care premiums have just rocketed from one hundred and forty dollars per month, to one thousand, two hundred dollars, monthly, not including out-of-pocket costs, and all that is Stage-IV cancer. And oh yeah, the brain tumor in your head no longer allows you to drive; your license has been revoked.

That’s called being up Shite Creek.

This is precisely where Gluten-Free Mama is, as we found out yesterday, when we were down in Ukiah at the Social Security complex. Our original appointment was actually for me to apply for the benefits that accompany turning the lofty age of 65, which I did in September, with no effort whatsoever.

Everything comes to him who waits, especially old age, as the adage goes.

While we were at the Social Security spot, however, GF Mama thought she would try yet one more time, to see if there was not some survival crumbs that could be tossed her way, but all that nice Martha could do, was shake her head in sympathy. 

And Martha was nice; I mean that in all sincerity. She felt mortified that a woman, mas o menos the same age as her, could find herself in such dire straits. Martha asked questions, she typed into her computer, but all she could do was shake her head, no.

There’s a lot of that head-shaking, and saying of no these days, in high places, when it comes to help for any citizens who don’t happen to be billionaires, but I don’t write about it anymore. 

GF Mama and I rely, instead, on the help, support and love from family and friends, from which there has been an inexhaustible supply.

However, if I write a piece about a beloved community member’s passing, I get 3,000 page-views; if I do a hit piece on Number 45, I get 30. Both represent bad news, but one is bad news which has gotten old and stale. Yawn.

The newspaper article may as well have read, “Robbers struck once again, this time taking $1.5 trillion from those in need. An investigation is underway, but there is little chance of anything actually happening to those accountable, due to I-don’t-know-why.”

If I write a piece about a dog dying, I get 500 page-views; if I write a hit piece about Mitch McConnell, or that other hypocrite extraordinaire, Paul Ryan, I get 30 page-views. 

Since the only way I can make money on my blog is to insert ads, like most links you go to, and I would/could never do that, you might glean that I am not in this writing gig for the loot. 

Yes, it’s the adulation of the masses that propels me. Well, that and the fire-engine-red limo that whisks me around. You should see that baby on The Bell.

In light of GF Mama’s plight, however, I have decided to forego my limo, and get the ’91 ‘Yoda truck back on-line, after a few years of being genuinely “off-road.” The old dog has been parked within spitting distance of my front gate for three years.

The old ‘Yoda does, however, happen to be fire-engine-red.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Pork or Beans for Dinner?

We will see Pork or Beans on the menu all winter long, here at HappyDay Farms, available at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Bacon for breakfast, pulled pork sandwiches for lunch or pork chops for dinner, we will be reaping the benefit of our two pigs, Mr. Pork and Ms. Beans, as a result of yesterday’s industry.

I was not a party to the final curtain call, as HeadSodBuster, SmallBoy, Tim and a fellow who came up to help out, handled the proceedings. Tim is the farmhand who choreographed Pork and Bean’s dance of life, here on-farm, providing them with care at least twice a day, if not more.
Honored dinner guest...

Whether setting aside appropriate remnants from the produce grown on-farm, or out gathering acorns for his rotund charges, Tim orchestrated their care the way a maestro conducts the Philharmonic Symphony, with enthusiasm and dedication.

Yesterday, Gluten-Free Mama and I collaborated on breakfast first, before the chore had been started, and then later, lunch. We set out a feast for the crew comprised of slow-roasted pulled pork, from SmallBoy’s last pig.

There was a circle of continuity in this meal that felt satisfying and rewarding at the same time. The hard work the goes into the process of raising pigs, is reinforced every time you gain nourishment, strength and enjoyment from that which you are producing. 

When asked if he was sure he wanted to be there for the final act, because the job could have been done by three, Tim had responded that he was indeed, certain. 

Maybe he felt he owed it to his two summer sidekicks to be there, as though abandoning them to their fate without him, were some sort of additional punishment, not to be allowed.

I never did the 4-H thing, but plenty of my middle school students did, and I knew what kind of intestinal fortitude it required, to go from beginning to end. I knew that it was part of the rural culture, just as hunting and dogs were a part of the rural culture.

Raising pigs is also part of the farm culture, a huge part.
...and guest

I can’t help but compare the act of going to the meat counter at Long Valley Market, and selecting some Farmer John bacon, to that of going to our freezer and pulling out a white, paper-wrapped package of Pork or Beans.

Yesterday, the gloom of the rain plus the day’s agenda, had brought on the “feels,” as HeadSodBuster so eloquently put it. The knowledge that our short-lived quadrupeds, with their own unique personalities, were soon to be packed away in the freezer, was sobering.

That was the one end of the spectrum; the other is the purpose and motivation for taking up residence on a mountain in the first place, 35 years ago: to become self-sufficient. Well, that and all that ground pork, ready to be made into sausage, the kind that does not contain any poisons.

To not experience emotion at the processing of the two pigs, would be contradictory to human nature. Just as the 4-H kids experienced the pain of separation, so did we all here on-farm. But it all comes back to that point of origin of your breakfast bacon: corporate America, with its association with questionable practices, or Pork and Beans, raised with care and devotion, and a sizable chunk of love.
If you're a pig, there are worse places to be raised.
Yeah, I know, that’s corny. Maybe it’s because I have been watching “Lonesome Dove,” yet again, as I work my jigsaw puzzles. That darn Gus brought those two pigs from Lonesome Dove, on the trail to Wyoming, becoming in Gus’s words, the first two pigs to walk from Texas to Wyoming.

Those two pigs made me smile all the way through the series, but the truth is, they were nothing but a product of Larry McMurtry’s active imagination; they did not really exist. Pork and Beans existed, they continue to exist, and we will celebrate their lives every time we sit down to a meal which includes some meat provided for us, by them.

And if that isn’t reason enough to make me smile, I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


“On one thing, tho, all agree, if anyone can keep his head together, Mark can.” 

I heard this so much from my older brother Brian, that I actually started to believe it. Now, as I pour over the pile of letters, news clippings and photographs, I continue to be amazed at the level and volume of support for me, when I was caught up in the military.

From the day I left for Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, on January 10th, 1972, until I returned home for good in October of 1973, Brian was one of my staunchest supporters. Except for Mama and my girl, Nancy, no one wrote more letters to me than Bro Brian.

He was 24 when I was drafted, and going to school full-time out at Loyola University, in Los Angeles. He had an apartment out in Manchester, with Noel, that was about six blocks from L.A. International Airport. Unlike the time that he had spent at Cal Poly, Pomona, majoring in business, his time at Loyola was completely the opposite, with his interests including studies in philosophy and theology.

He expanded his circle of friends, and from my perspective, his mind, during his time at Loyola. His language had blossomed into that of a hip radical, and I loved it. Gone was his focus on work and his white shirts and ties; in their place were classes of interest, a determination to improve communication, and a genuine distress at my plight.

He sent me Los Angeles Lakers clippings while I was at Fort Leonard Wood, during that magical season when they won 33 consecutive games, and the title. He sent me spring training clippings of the Dodgers while I was at Fort Dix, and then regular season clippings all summer long (not a baseball season to be remembered by the fans for very long).  

His letters were a combination of news from Manchester Avenue, and one subject that frequently came up, was that of our commune, even then in the planning. He hosted many gatherings where my plight was discussed and I always got an infusion of correspondence out of these gatherings. At one point he wrote,

“Your letter, received yesterday, was so fantastically outasite!  Picture the typical situation, if you will (this is a Wednesday at the apartment that I'm referring to): Brian comes straggling in from school and nearly everyone is here: Noel and Sharon, Nancy, Janet (just arrived on the scene), Joanie, and John Bryan from San Diego. What is everyone standing around doing? They are all reading letters from Markie, and saying, 'Hurry up and open your letter, we haven't got all day!...Wait a shake, Jack, hold on...What IS this? Gimme a chance.'

Outasite.  Later, Dave, Jean and Matt showed up...By the way we are anxious to get preparations underway for the all-time most classic party of them all when Markie gets back.”   

Wow. For a guy unaccustomed to getting attention, by virtue of my placement dead center in the family structure, this was good stuff.  

Brian had to go to court more than once to settle little logistical challenges for me, but he took up the gauntlet and appealed to the judge for justice for me, who was “defending his [beloved] country while on hostile shores.” He wrote me all of the sordid details, including a copy of the transcript of the dialogue in the courtroom, which he recreated from memory.   

In the end it added up to a brilliant defense by Brian, and a dismissing of the case of the judge. Prior to departure, I had been cited by the CHP for a smog violation on my '64 Nova, and Brian had gotten the whole thing tossed out, including the fifty to five hundred dollar fine that accompanied the citation. Now that's what I call support.

During my time in the service, Brian ended up down in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he was doing pre-med work. He wrote of his experiences, as he explored the possibility of going into medicine. Frankly, I was not surprised.

All through my time in the army, Brian kept me up-to-date on the scene back home. Early on, when I experienced a momentary breakdown of resolve, and had sent home an SOS, declaring that I could not handle it any more, Brian sent reassurance, along with Noel, who told me, “Do not touch any guns.”

These were my big brothers, having my back, along with my oldest brother Eric, who was also in South Korea at the time, in the Peace Corps, if you can dig the irony of that. Noel communicated with me more on the astro-plane, than with actual words, but Brian always had time in the middle of a German class, or while listening to the Lakers, to scribble-or type-a few words to me.
Our friend, Joannie, sent me this.

I have those letters, still, Brian having saved them and returned them to me at some point in time, and I am astonished to this day, at the emotion and passion he was able to express. His willingness to do so, for me while I was so down, has always blown my mind, to use the vernacular of the period.

His confidence in me to “handle the situation” further amazed me, lending me much of the strength I needed, to make it through without doing anything rash. Because there was a window of fragility there in Missouri, about two weeks in, through which I almost threw a brick.

I simply wanted to go home. On one particular occasion, one morning when I had KP, an eighteen-hour-long stint, I awaited the arrival of my company, thinking I would josh around, and make with the palaver. I kept an eye on the entrance, as I went about my tasks.

When they appeared, I was overwhelmed at how much they resembled robots. No one was allowed to talk, you had to keep your eyes fastened to the back of the head of the guy in front of you, as you went through the chow line, and therefore, no one knew I existed.

Then I realized that I was the same as the rest of them, every morning, and I almost barfed.

I had a full-blown panic attack, right there in the expansive mess hall, and had to pull it together, before I drew the attention of the salty sergeant-major, who liked nothing more than to make trainees’ lives more miserable. 
Letter from Guadalajara...

He was quite adept at the task, and I did not want to be one of the two poor bastards, who had to spend the day outside, in freezing weather, doing whatever it was that the mess hall needed to have done in the way of deliveries, garbage, et all. 

The net result was that I fired off a letter to Noel and Brian, telling them I was considering bailing out. Both were immensely supportive, and wasted no time letting me know that they were there for me. I did, indeed, survive.

One reason was that steady flow of communication from the world. Included was an article about Vin Scully, the revered broadcaster of the Dodgers, who retired just last year, and just exactly why it was that he was switching over to the Angels, to be their new broadcaster. 

Wow. I had completely “forgotten” all about that. It seems Vinny did it for the money.

Not until you get to the bottom of the article, do you think to check the date of the yellowed newspaper clipping: April 1, 1972.

Got it.

Unfortunately, it took me another eighteen months to extricate myself from the April Fools joke that was the military.

Thanks for the help, Bro Brian-I haven’t forgotten it.

Nancy and Mama with me in 1972

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Brian Check, Please!"

I started off early in life, conjoined to my older brother Brian, via glove: baseball glove, that is. In our baseball-ready family of nine kids, Brian and I were the two southpaws, or lefties. Not too far into life, we would be able to align ourselves with the great Sandy Koufax, one of the most dominant southpaws of his era and-gasp-a Los Angeles Dodger.

This would have occurred back in my unenlightened days. Nonetheless, here was an athlete who retired at the remarkable age of thirty, so as not to risk permanent damage to his left arm, in the pre-Tommy John days of long ago, at the top of his game.

The glove we shared, of course, belonged to Brian, the idea of actually acquiring my own never seeming to crop up on the radar. Therefore, by definition, Brian and I were always on opposite teams: We had to be in order to share the glove.

The glove was not mine by right; it was mine only by the grace of Brian’s good will. Possessing it came with certain stipulations, an infraction against any one of which, was enough to lose the privilege. The cardinal rule was to never let the mitt touch the ground. Tossing it to Brian as I raced off the field was a no-no: Handing it to him directly was the proper protocol.

I did try my best to remember this rule. Alas and alack! What can I say?

The second rule was connected to the third one: Do not mess with the laces and KEEP THE GLOVE OUT OF MY MOUTH. I mean, what else was there to do out there by the concrete water tank in right field, while waiting for some action?

We played ball all summer long, either on the vacant lot next door, or across the street, on another vacant lot. The two venues weren’t perfect, but then, they didn’t have to be. We were extremely good at innovation, in an age where electronics consisted of transistor radios and hand-held calculators, the latter making the slide rule obsolete. 

With so many kids in the family, luxuries were few and far between, and thus all the more cherished. Playing baseball with neighboring kids, and being able to keep it going all day if we wanted, if Mama’s chore lists were taken care of, was priceless.

Not too far into life, Brian and I became attached in another way because we both worked for Augie, I mean, Sunrize Market. Augustus Ramirez was the manager and Brian’s mentor, and he groomed Brian to be a polished grocery man. Brian, in turn, groomed me.

We both came to work in tennis shoes, and hustling from the back of the store to the front, when the announcements, “Brian check, please! Mark box, please!” boomed out, was not only encouraged, it was expected. We would holler from the back of the store, "Coming up!"
The uniform: dress slacks, white shirt
 and tie.

Augie was on record as saying, "If it's a Kennedy, vote for him; if it's an O'Neill, hire him. There were five O'Neill boys employed under Sunrize Market's domain one summer, counting Noel woking in the meat department, and Matt and Tom serving as bottle boys and alley-sweepers. We all hustled.

That’s how I clawed my way up, on the time schedule, to head box-boy: by hustling. Head box-boys got any choice hours that were to be had, and never had to mop or clean the bathrooms, unless there were no other peons around. 

Brian and I team-tagged Sundays, where every week with a skeleton crew, we would manage to condense all of the remaining merchandise in the backroom, to make ready for Monday morning’s delivery of reinforcements.

I lost my head box-boy status at one point to Jimmy Richardson, because I came back from a three-week jaunt to NorCal and Oregon, with three weeks’ worth of fiery red beard. I’m not sure what I was thinking-or expecting-when I showed up to work with sideburns down to my navel and a ‘stache.

Earth to Mark: Seriously? Augie was not impressed.

After I became an apprentice, and learned to use the cash register in the pre-computer days, when you had to enter each price “by hand,” there were Sundays when the only time I left the cash register was to enjoy one of Carl’s Sunday feasts.

Carl worked in the meat department, and when he was in the house, he was certain to hook us up with something tasty. If Carl wasn’t there, then you had Dale, one of the box-boys, sticking TV dinners in the oven for his lunch.

When spotted once by visiting brass putting four of the Banquet specials into the oven, Dale was asked, “Putting lunch on for the crew?” He stifled a smirk and responded, “Actually, this is my lunch,” and strolled past without looking back.
"One large combo pizza and a meat ball sandwich,
please." "Is there someone joining you, Sir?" "Uh, no.
I'm just hungry..."
For me one of the coolest connections with Brian was Pompeii Pizza, right around the corner, where Augie had his own table. Here he held court and those of us in the inner circle had a standing invitation to join him. You achieved entry into the inner circle in one way only: by dint of hard work. Brian and I had lifetime membership cards.

Once there, I was never allowed to pay for anything. 

Somewhere in the fall of 1971, I chose to ignore a generic notice from the admissions office at Cal Poly, Pomona, warning me that I had neglected to swing by the infirmary and get the mandatory chest x-ray, required of all students.

I think it was part of a bigger plan, but nonetheless, it was enough to cost me my school deferment from the draft.

Next: Military Madness and Brian’s connection