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

Friday, June 21, 2019

DMV 101

I arrived at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Garberville five minutes prior to my 10:40 appointment, Thursday morning. I had necessary documents accompanying me in my trusty backpack. Having been operating a motor vehicle without a valid California Driver’s License for about five months now, skulking The 101 apprehensively, I was here to rectify matters.

It had taken me three months to decide that the problem was not going to fix itself; it was up to me to do something. Unfortunately, the DMV in Garberville did not have any appointment available on the day I called, so I asked about the next day.

It was not until we got to June 20th that an opening, well, opened up. I accepted the assignment happily enough, figuring that another couple of months would not matter one way or another, and I was right enough.

It was the old lost wallet syndrome, miraculously the first time it has ever happened to me. The last place I remember having it was the Spaceway in Willits, where I not only unloaded a mammoth cartload of groceries onto the moving belt, but bagged them as well at the other end, into bags brought from home.

Somewhere in the chaos I also shelled out about a third of my monthly stipend to the cashier, and that was that. Exit, stage left.

I never missed that wallet with my driver’s license, my VA card and a couple hundred bones in it, until the next time I got ready to go to town, about two weeks later. When we contacted the bank, they informed us that no unauthorized transactions had taken place on our lone credit card, and that out debit card was equally unaffected. We went ahead and cancelled the two cards and had new ones issued. What happened to the wallet remains a mystery.

You’d think with the number-and depth-of the pockets on my cargo pants, it being January, I could have managed to slip that old San Francisco Giants wallet into one of them, but no, as many times as I checked those pockets, that wallet remains missing in action. The odd thing about the whole caper is that I am a much better driver without my wallet than with it.

A driver who is paranoid about attracting the attention of the CHP, is a safer driver by far.

Reggae on the River, 2017
Though I catastrophized about the upcoming journey north to Garberville for a week prior, my concern being the purported “slippage road repair” alluded to in Cal Trans’s highway report, our journey progressed uninterrupted. GlutenFreeMama and Ellie Mae, the rescue dog, had accompanied me. On our way we passed French’s Camp, known for hosting the annual Reggae on the River festival each August. 

Not. This. Year. High Times Magazine has announced that 2019’s festivities have been cancelled.

We pulled into Garberville’s somewhat congested DMV parking lot five minutes early. Grabbing my backpack, I entered the facility and noted the five individuals sitting to the left on the designated Group W bench, while I assessed what I needed to do. Over at the far wall, ahead of me, a man and his middle-school-aged kid were in front of one of four wall-mounted machines. Making my way past those sitting on the bench, I inquired of no one in particular, “Are we supposed to check in?” 

Got it. Go stand at the end of the white line and wait for someone to take pity on me. Well, there’s two windows going, so there’s that.

I did not wait long before the gal at the right window inquired of me, “May I help you?” while continuing to wait on the gentleman in front of her window.

“Yes, thanks. I have a ten-forty appointment to get a replacement driver’s license. Do you need my confirmation number?”

“No, I just need you to go over those machines on the far wall and check in. Then come back here and I’ll get you squared away.”

Cool. This should be a piece of cake. Far wall, machines, I see keyboards. I should be in good shape. Now what? I’m playing a tune on this keyboard and nothing is happening. I don’t see any instructions. Shoot, the kid next to me doesn’t seem to be having any problem, but I can’t just stare at him and his screen. Guess I’ll go back and seek guidance.

“Sir. Did you check in?” 

Is she talking to me? I felt like a sunflower out of soil.

“I’m unclear on what I’m supposed to do,” I responded lamely.

“You need to check in so that I can access your information up here at my desk. You do that at those machines on the far wall.”

“Yes, you mentioned that. I went over there and there are no instructions. I don’t know what to do.” 

She’s got to take pity on me. I know I would take pity on me.

“Oh. No problem. Just press the gray bar,” and she returned her attention to the gentleman in front of her. 

Retracing my footsteps, refusing to acknowledge the Group W bunch, I selected the machine on the far left, instinctively, and started searching for the gray bar. Again, I saw the keyboard, with a small black box to the right, and the monitor in front of me. Nary a gray bar in sight.

I returned to the check-in spot, now in a full-on tech meltdown, and awaited my fate.

“Sir. What seems to be the problem?”

“What seems to be the problem is that I can’t find the fucking gray bar!” I screeched at her.

“I’m sorry. I can’t find any gray bars,” I informed her, in a very small voice.

She stared at me uncomprehendingly, as though I were a monstrous Jerusalem beetle, obnoxiously waving my six feet long antennae around at her. 

She heaved a sigh of frustration, beckoned for me to return to the far wall and joined me a moment later, as I once again searched for the gray bar, in vain. Hell, I’d take any color bar at this point in time, preferably one that served Jameson.

She beckoned to the monitor, “Now do you see it?”

I’m supposed to be looking at the monitor?

Along the top right side of the monitor, was a dull gray bar. Now what?

I hit every button on the keyboard once again, to demonstrate to her that none of them did anything. 

Glaring at me, she leaned forward and pressed the gray bar on the monitor.

An application came into view on the screen. The woman turned on her heel and headed back to her station.

The cursor blinked off and on inside the box that said, “First name.”

I got this-I know my first name. Small victories count too.

I felt this-years-old...
“Mark,” I typed confidently, and then hit the space bar on the keyboard. I went to type Damien and glanced up to make sure all was copacetic. The cursor blinked unwaveringly from just after the k, in Mark, mocking me for my ineptitude.

Things were starting to spin out of control by now. I hit all the keys on the keyboard again, just for good measure. Depression set in.

I bet you Group W crowd is having a great time, watching the old hippie battling a machine that any first grader could handle. Well, laugh away. If you ever hit 66, then you’ll laugh out of the other side of you mouths.

Dejectedly, I went back to the check-in point for the fourth time, feeling more lost than ever. There was even a guy who was all done with his DMV business, hanging out to see if I ever get it all figured out. I should charge him admission. 

This time the look I got from the woman behind the counter, was laser material, delivered with a scowl that indicated she was looking around for the proverbial fork. As in done.

“What is the problem now?”

“I don’t know what to do,” I murmured, “and I’m afraid I’m going to be late for my 10:40 appointment.” I gave her such an abjectly miserable look, that her scowl disintegrated, and she looked at me closer. 

“You’re here. You can’t be late for your appointment. Let’s try this again.” Only she wasn’t mad any more; she spoke kindly. Once again stepped away from her spot, and escorted me to the far wall.

Her entire manner had changed; she no longer treated me like a miscreant; now she was clearly helping a “special needs” person, and an elderly one at that. It took about two minutes but we blasted through that application, she making the guy at the counter wait while she helped me out. 

Did I feel like a kindergartner? I did and I was OK with that. All I needed was that piece of paper that I had been lacking for five months, and I wouldn’t need to come back for a month of Sundays. 

Meanwhile, it was time for my graham cracker and milk. And a long nap.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

These Mofo's Work

I detest advertising because it portrays individuals endorsing products for a fee. There is no attempt to hide what is occurring; everyone accepts the premise that the actors doing the ads are, well, acting. Vast sums of money leap into many hands. An entire industry thrives on chicanery and attractive people, who would sell their grandmothers if they could get a decent price.

These are the "mofo's"
to which I refer.
I hope I have established my disdain for ads sufficiently enough, to make the following message resonate even more for the loyal reader of this space: I am not an actor, I do not represent the company that manufactures and markets Sweeney’s Solar-Powered Mole & Gopher Sonic Spikes, and I have something to say:

These mofo’s work.

Excuse my censored French, but I am not jerking you around here; I have no motivation to inflict whoppers upon an unsuspecting audience. No, I speak the naked truth, but I do so only after extensive and exhaustive experimentation. Believe me, I’m exhausted.

Unfortunately for you, that will not prevent me from spewing. Put this in your pipe and smoke it:

Three summers ago, I lost 10 of 40 tomato plants in the orchard, for a whopping 25% loss rate, for those of you who love a scoreboard, and who doesn’t? I sputtered a lot about the viciousness of the little varmints, but as you have probably surmised by now, the gophers thumbed their collective noses at my sputtering, which is pretty good because gophers don’t have thumbs.

Two summers ago, I lost 16 of 160 tomato plants, for a much reduced 10% loss rate. I became the Great White Hunter, employing five gopher traps while wearing gloves, probing the earth for their tunnels, inserting the traps and then waiting, with the requisite bated breath. I moved those traps around all summer, dizzying the gophers-I am sure-with my efforts.

I struck out, unlike Ellie Mae, farm dog extraordinaire, who collared two of them, bringing each to me in the same manner as a cat. I am convinced it was her way of saying, “Yawn,” to the whole idea of catching gophers.

Say what?
Last summer, I lost 6 of 160 for a 4% loss rate, after installing one of
Sweeney’s Solar-Powered Mole & Gopher Sonic Spikes. I was outraged a day or two after I installed one of the gadgets out in the orchard, when the two tomato plants closest to the beeping device, keeled over dead. I took it as a sign from the gophers that they were not to be trifled with.

This summer, with 146 tomato plants in the orchard, I have lost none, after installing not one, but two of Sweeney’s Solar-Powered Mole & Gopher Sonic Spikes. I took a different approach this summer from last year, though, and read the fine print.

Sweeney’s Solar-Powered Mole & Gopher Sonic Spikes require one-two weeks before they begin to take effect.” Oh. It takes that long for the critters to get annoyed enough to leave the ‘hood. But it’s been nigh onto a month now and I am still batting a thousand.

My tomato plants look better than ever, convincing me that the gophers did even more damage in the past than I might have realized. Just because the plant survives a direct assault, does not mean that the plant has not suffered, probably missing a fair amount of its support system to the gophers’ dinner table.

I actually relocated one of the two Sweeney’s Solar-Powered Mole & Gopher Sonic Spikes, from the orchard to the spot behind my house where I have my cucumbers, along with another 99 tomato plants. The miscreants had changed 'hoods.

“Move along, lil doggies, move along…”
As of yesterday

Monday, June 10, 2019

Bjorn, the Thorn

I wrote about the one-and-three-sixteenths-inch splinter I removed from the palm of my right hand, via razor blade, in “The Hitchhiker” ( One-and-three-sixteenths of an inch is the same as the diameter of a fifty-cent-piece. Ironically, this is not the longest sliver I have extracted from my body. No, I removed a longer one once from my thigh, but it is hardly worth mentioning because I used a handy pair of needle-nose pliers, and it was out within two minutes.
[Practically] no harm-no foul.

We all agree that size that is unimportant, right? Small is beautiful. It ain’t the meat-it’s the motion. He may be short, but he’s got a tall brain. You’ve heard ‘em all, except this one: When it comes to foreign intruders in the body, small can be as deadly as big. I’m living proof.

My foreign intruder, we’ll call him Bjorn the thorn, entered my left index finger, unknown, unseen and unfelt, at some point Friday morning, May 31st. There were no papers to flash and no customs to go through. Bjorn slid in home free while I was up-planting Heinz tomato plants, in a little patch just behind the black Arkansas tree. Being a southpaw, my left hand is my dominant one.

Whereas I wear work gloves for all the usual fun things such as pitch-forking, muscling buckets of compost around and working with irrigation watering systems, I cannot wear gloves to plant. My ten digits serve as individual probes, seeking out rocks, sticks, roots and anything that will get in the way of new roots stretching out to feel for parameters.

I can’t remove all impediments but I can try to give the roots of new seedlings the length of my hands. After that, they are on their own. Wearing gloves of any kind limits my ability to evaluate what’s going on beneath the surface of the soil. Because all of my prep work involves a pitchfork, and I know how to properly handle one of these critters, I rarely encounter anything but loose soil and countless numbers of unwanted small objects in the soil.

If your thumb looks like this, you might just be a farmer.
If my hands look as though they have done serious dirt time, it's because I have taken my 247 tomato plants from trays, to four-inch pots, to the ground outside. I have done the same with my trays of zinnias, sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, coleus, alyssum, snap-dragons, cosmos, bachelor buttons, and bells of Ireland. 

Gloves and dirt go together like Jameson and milk.

I do wash my hands religiously every time I come in from outside, and apply salve, but what can I say? Religion and I parted company more than fifty years ago. If you make it as long as I have, there are bound to be similar discards along the way: bell bottoms, vinyl, posters, incense and- 

[Editor’s note: Snap out of it…]

Despite photographic evidence, I am unclear specifically what Bjorn is/was. He emerged in little pieces, over the course of nine days, with me working three to four hours each day, in the wee hours. By working I mean soaking the finger in hot water, supplementing it every few minutes with water from a simmering tea kettle on the stove.

How something of this nature could enter my body without my knowing it, is explained by the fact that I am habitually finding new and creative ways to rip, scrape, cut, puncture, stab or otherwise mutilate my body. What I lack in productivity I make up for in intensity; as a result, I often do not become aware that calamity has befallen me, until I have picked myself back up off the ground. 

In this case it was sometime Friday when the persistent discomfort in my finger informed me that I had a marauder. I prefer the term “discomfort” to that of pain. As long as something is not causing pain, I am good to go. Don’t knock it-it works with weed-eating, processing tomatoes and pitch forking… 

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't.
My biggest mistake was attacking Bjorn with a sterilized needle the first day, as though holding the tip above the flame on the stove somehow gave me the magical skills of a surgeon.

“Attack! Attack! They love it when I draw blood, which is not hard with a needle.”

Unsuccessful, after abusing that poor finger unmercifully, I now had Bjorn and an open sore to contend with. Oh, and an agenda which required that I continue to work the soil, a-not-so-unreasonable request on a farm. For nine days I worked as a farmer during the day and as a surgeon at night, a surgeon who flunked out of med school after the first semester, because I couldn’t stand the sight of blood.

Why didn’t I just take myself to the VA clinic? Because last year when I had that infection-in the same finger-I went to the VA only to be told that the computers were down, and that it wold be several hours. I left, after thanking the nice receptionist. No big deal-ferris wheel, though I did eventually lose most of the fingernail. I wrote about it in “Redlining it” (

I do not blame the clinic. I just can’t do waiting rooms, no matter the length of time. It’s why I always make appointments for the time the facility opens. There are still no guarantees, but it provides the best chance for success. The other factor is that I kept telling myself, this can’t go on forever.

After all, we’re not talking about the Giants’ Brandon Belt and his 23-pitch at-bat last season. We’re talking about some dinky piece of something in my finger. Every morning when I wrapped medical matters up, I would declare confidently, “Well, maybe it will just work its way out today.”

Is it a thorn? Is is it a sliver? Is it an alien?
When I finally succeeded in getting the biggest chunk to pop, it came after inserting my finger in a vise-grip and tightening it until the tip broke into the light. The vise-grip consisted of my two thumbs opposed to two fingers playing anaconda, and crushing the end of my finger. The scalding water dulled the pain to a low roar and the cannabis salve was quite soothing afterwards, the lollipop that the doctor gives you after your shot.

Enough of the tip stuck out that I was able to finally employ the tweezers, on-call and salty about it for nine consecutive days. It took another couple of days for straggling chunks to make their way out, but it happened and I am now pain-free. Will I change to using gloves while working the soil? Do you want a pleasant distortion of reality or the bitter truth? 

Line up accordingly, and I will hook you up.