Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Warning! Gusty Winds! (Newman, California)

The wind was howling. It was some freak wind coming in from Wyoming or somewhere out there, passing right through the greater Bay Area. Newman is in the San Joaquin valley -- as flat as the Mississippi Delta. With no hills, forests, mountains to block the wind, it just gusted through the little farm town, kicking up dust everywhere.

"I have a plan," announced Peahead. "You've just got to trust me."
Oh boy, here we go again.
"I'll stay here and get the Triumph running and then you won't have to tow it out of here on such a windy day. I'll drive it down to your ranch."
Good try, Peahead, but Big Dog wasn't going for it.
"Look, you go to the Triumph and at least get the steering wheel to turn. Then, get the other storage unit open. We'll see if there's anything in there we can use." Big Dog was stressed about the idea of towing the car when winds were this strong and he was all business this morning.

While Peahead was thus occupied, we managed to rent the tow dolly, hook it up to the truck, and get it to an auto service place so that they could wire it to the truck so that the turn signals on the tow dolly would sync with the truck. Then, we rattled into the storage place to get the Triumph.

Peahead had his other storage unit open, but it was also filled with junk no one would want.

"You can take anything you want," he says, but I can't see a single thing in there that I would want to drag out. "Let's just get the Triumph on the tow dolly."

The Triumph is a little too narrow for the tow dolly. It would be a trick to get it placed just right even if you were able to drive it onto the tow dolly, but absolutely miraculous that we're able to push it into place.

"Goodbye, little guy," Peahead talks to the car. He's wiping tears away.

"Okay, Peahead. This is it. I don't want to see you until you get your life together," Big Dog admonishes him, giving him $90 for bus fare back to Humboldt. I give him a big hug, but Big Dog is too broken hearted to touch Peahead. I know that for Big Dog, it's not about the money at all. He's heartbroken, seeing his old friend like this, self-destructing. the money I know it tears him up to see Pea like this, and that part of this whole exercise is to see if it won't shock him into shaping up. But Peahead seems oblivious to it all. He laughs and waves as we walk away.

"I'll be back! One day, I'll be at your door, going 'See? You were wrong about me!' Just wait!!"

I can't bear to look back and see poor Peahead. How is he going to even get to Modesto to get the bus? Will he stay in Newman tonight? Will he just go to the liquor store and use up his bus money? If I look back, I know I'll see an old man, with everything that means anything to him in his knapsack (NOT in those 2 storage units!), standing around in this deserted storage lot, wind blowing a few stray tumbleweeds around. I know it will be too much.

Big Dog can't look back, either. I think he's teary eyed behind his shades and it's not the dust that's making him so.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


An aside about lifestyles.

Peahead wasn't always destitute. He was really smart. A marine biology major who had a nice cush county job. (Guess where his monthly pay check comes from? OUR tax dollars! That's where! He no longer works for the county but still gets to collect all this money!!)

But bad decisions -- bad marriages, relationships, money management, spending habits -- all caught up with him a few years ago.

"J would manage your money," Big Dog suggested to Peahead last night. "Since you are incapable of managing your finances, you could give him power of attorney, have your checks sent to him and then he'd make all your payments and then give you the rest on the weekly basis. And I'm sure he's do it for only $100 a month."
"Yeah. I need someone like that. I'm thinking of this guy Larry, who my brother knew…"

Right. Someone you don't know. Someone who's not a certified CPA who's straighter than an arrow and more honest than Abe. Right, Peahead.

But Peahead and others in similar straits, just don't get it. Do without. It's not that hard. And don't talk about what you are "going to" do. Just do it. But none of them do. And while they are deep in debt and down and out, they are still buying new things. ("I really need this!") Or at least pining about what they don't have.

Why are people so addicted to THINGS? Are their lives so empty that they have to fill it with all this stuff? My god, the sheer volume of STUFF stuffed into Peahead's storage unit (he has TWO! We didn't even open the other one!) growing old, unused, obsolete, made me ill. One day, it will all go into some landfill.

The Hamlet Motel (Newman, California)

We're on the road again, southbound, and I am trapped in a bad road movie.

Where to begin…
Big Dog loaned some money to an old friend, who we shall call Peahead, a while ago. Several years ago. It was at the beginning of his downward spiral which saw him go from a large home in Livermore, to a smaller, but still comfortable home in Newman, to his girlfriend's home in Arizona, to Humboldt where he brought his two kids 2 summers ago, wrecked his car (BD and I had to drive his two kids back to LA so they could get a plane back to their mother's home.) We hadn't been much in touch but found him last week, living out of his car, in some crackhead's yard.

It was heartbreaking to see him like that, looking much older than his 60 years. And the worst of it was that no one could help him but Peahead himself.

"If he had no income and was really destitute, I'd feel a whole lot sorrier for him, but I can't understand how he can get thousands each month and still have no money!" Peahead's plight was a giant mystery to me. As well as why he can't just set aside a hundred or so each month to pay back BD.

After 3 years or so, Big Dog is just tired of it and wants to end it somehow. So, in one last desperate move, he decided to drag Peahead to Newman, to get the Triumph Spitfire that Big Dog had as collateral.

The bad road movie actually started last night when Big Dog brought Peahead to our friend's house where we were staying so we could take him with us to get the Triumph.

No, actually, the bad road movie began when we found Peahead near Blue Lake in Humboldt. He limped up to us as we pulled up to his friend's (the crackhead's) place.

"What happened to your leg? It's not the thing you had before, is it?"
The last time I saw Peahead, he had a gruesome sore on his leg. He had mashed his shin with a hammer or something and it was horribly infected.
"No. I fell down a cliff."
"How did that happen?"
"I was walking down to town in the dark for cigarettes and I fell off a cliff."
"See, every one of your problems is self-inflicted," muttered Big Dog. Peahead just laughed.
"Hey, Big Dog, can you give me 20 bucks?"
"Why should I give you 20 bucks? You already owe me 3500!"
"I need to buy heart medicine."
"Yeah, when you stop smoking and drinking, I'll give you money for medicine."
"I'm going into rehab."
"Why aren't you there now?"
"My car won't start."
"You can take the bus."
"Well, there's a waiting list for the rehab center."
"And, how far down the list are you? Oh, wait, let me guess, you haven't gone there to register yet."
"But I will! So can I have the $20?"

I think the months of homelessness has really gotten to Peahead. Homelessness is not for the weak. If you are strong, emotionally or spiritually, not having a home is okay, but for someone who is used to spending all his money on stupid luxuries, I guess it does something to your head. When he showed up on Monday evening, his right lens on his glasses was missing. Instead of an empty space where the lens should be, he had taped in a picture cut out from a magazine. I think it was a surf scene. Nice.

This morning, in the car out of Humboldt, he was asking us for money so he could buy Sudafeds.

My seat was pulled way forward to give him leg room in the back seat of our truck and I was getting hot and claustrophobic. I just rolled my eyes at Big Dog.

It was a beautiful, sunny Indian Summer day and the scenery outside our window was spectacular. Green hills, autumn grasses waving at the edge of the bay, cows munching lazily, egrets eyeing something in the water philosophically…

"I think you should give me $10 or $20 so I won't have to bug you for stuff. Like a coke or cigarettes…"
"There's a jug of water there in the back," I sigh.

The farmlands turn into forests as we go further south. I love the dark brown grooves on the trunks of the redwoods, I love the sunlight coming through in splotches. I love the silence, but this time, Big Bog and Peahead argue about every 10 miles.

"I don't understand it! Bad Dog and I were talking about it last night! With $2500 a month, you could even live in Tokyo, the world's most expensive city! You won't be going out much, and you'd live in a tiny apartment and maybe get an old bike to get around, but you could still do it. I can't understand how you could have this income and still be homeless and penniless!!!"
"It's because I'm too nice!" Peahead protests. "I got rolled by a bunch of bums when I sold them my trailer."
"Yeah. I sold them the trailer and then they invited me for a drink. Next thing you know, I have no trailer, no money…"
"So that was one month. What about the other 23?"

There's roadwork being done on 101. They are re-surfacing the roads and where they are working, there's a 45 mph speed limit. It slows us down and this makes BD irritable.

"Loan me $20, so I won't have to bother you for soda or beer or anything during the trip," Peahead pleads.
"Sorry. Not loaning you any more money."
"Jesus! You have to! I swear I will pay you back!"
"Not going to do it, Peahead."
"Let's wait and see how this Triumph thing goes, Peahead," I say.

The suburban slog begins just north of Santa Rosa. Instead of taking the Golden Gate Bridge, we turn east, going around the north end of the Bay and then south. It's a wildlife refuge here and it's great bird watching, but we have no time to dally -- we must get to Newman before the Storage People's office closes.

The bigger suburban slog comes at the Altamont Pass on the other side of the Bay. Every so often, Big Dog and Peahead get into another heated discussion about the $20 that P needs and BD won't give him. Will it never end? It's like traveling with a demented uncle or an unruly child.

"Big Dog, you shit. You gotta stop soon or I'm going to crap in my pants."

Oh, great. But we were near our destination. Newman, in the San Joaquin Valley. Newman, where Peahead's storage unit was. Where we were going to get it all straight, he would pay us back with the Triumph and we'd be at Tabula Rasa again for a fresh new start.

Big Dog talked the Storage People into at least liberating the Triumph. Turns out they had contacted Peahead about removing the car from the storage site anyway.

"Yeah, someone had a car in his unit and it caught on fire. We didn't know Peahead had a car in there but when he didn't pay for a few months, we opened the unit and saw he had a car in there. It HAS to be removed!"

They had already double locked his unit so they wouldn't be burned the missed payments. Both Big Dog and I were hoping that there would be something (other than the convertible) of any value that we could take in exchange for all of our extra expenses, but once the doors came up, I knew that wasn't happening.

"Oh, god."
The storage unit was stuffed with JUNK. Broken drawers, boxes and boxes of old books and school papers, boxes filled with broken stuff… Christmas decorations, swim fins, boxes of mystery memorabilia, more broken drawers were piled on top of the Triumph. We managed to pull them all out, but Peahead had lost the keys to his car so the car wasn't starting.

"Oh, and there's no battery either," he says a moment later, after opening the hood.

We had already been at the U-Haul place across the street. They didn't recommend the tow dolly we had on hold because the Triumph wouldn't have enough clearance. And the tow trailer seemed too heavy for our wimp truck. Well, no matter what the towing situation, we weren't about to continue our trip. We'd stay over night and then figure out a plan for the next day.

We pushed the Triumph back into the storage unit, and as much of the other junk as we could and stood around our truck.

"Listen. You gotta loan me the $20. I need a beer and cigarettes." Peahead pleads again.
It was once too many. Big Dog starts going off on a tirade about all he's done for Peahead and how Peahead is still asking for more.
"I'm going through withdrawal, man!" and to make it more emphatic, he waves his shaky hand in front of Big Dog's face.
Big Dog harangues him some more.
"Screw you! I'm getting out!" Peahead yells and makes a motion to get out.
"Look, Bad Dog and I both would like a beer, too. But we're not going to drop everything now so you can get drunk…"
"All I'm asking for is a LOAN of $20! You've got to trust me!"
"Sorry. Too late for that. You piss away $2500 every month. How can we trust that you'll change your ways…"
"The bums…"
"Yeah, yeah. And the month before that? And the month before that? You're hopeless, Peahead…"
"Stop it! Will you stop belittling me all the time?"
And then Peahead starts sobbing. Jesus.

The sun was setting and casting a lovely pink veil on the western horizon. And up the road, there was a motel. Aptly named The Hamlet Motel. To be, or not to be. That's where Big Dog gave Peahead $10.

"Spend it whatever way you want. Drink it all, smoke it all, get some food. We don't care. But I don't want to hear from you til morning."

Friday, October 20, 2006

Arcata is where... are men and so are the women
...unsalted french fries are the norm
...the dreadlocked kids on the plaza are way more conservative than the aging boomers with undyed hair
...there are more dreadlocks than anywhere outside of Jamaica...
and if you only count blond dreads, Arcata takes the prize
...hundreds of people will gather in a public park on a rainy afternoon to smoke pot together on April 20th are a capitalist pig if you own property
...everyone is political

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Highway 101 (California)

Yesterday we left The Ranch and drove 9 hours up the coast to Humboldt County. This is where Big Dog went to University, became an adult, had adventures, made a documentary, started buying real estate, formed a corporation… In other words, roots spread deep and wide.

The last two summers, we worked here, renovating a 120 year old Victorian house. In between it, I had to travel to Japan for both business and family issues, as well as LA and the Virgin Islands, so in addition to the flights across oceans, there was a good deal of driving up and down the entire state.

I know all the north-south highways in California like the back of my hand now and have also become a damn good co-pilot/cheap gas spotter. Our faithful Tiki Truck, while not the world's biggest gas-guzzler, has, unfortunately, gone through gallons and gallons of Saudi's finest. My little notebook in the glove compartment lists all the cheap gas stops on all major N-S routes. (Todd Road south of Santa Rosa usually offers the best prices at any of their 4 gas stations. Right now, Humboldt gas prices are about 50 cents more than anything in the Bay Area.)

Though Interstate 5 has many attractions (not the least of which is the amazing feedlot in Coalinga which I will have to tell you about some day), my favorite route is the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) and Highway 101. From The Ranch, Highway 101 is probably the most direct route, so that was our choice for this trip.

Rolling hills, vineyards, oaks and cattle. That's pretty much the scenery from The Ranch to South Monterey County. Then, the land flattens out into a giant agrarian vista. It's fun to try to guess what's growing out there. Lots of lettuce this time of year. Some tomatoes, beans… and, of course, at Gilroy it's garlic, garlic, garlic. The AIR smells like garlic. They don't call it the Garlic Capital of the World for nothing!

And as you're daydreaming about Steinbeck's Salinas Valley, all too soon you approach the Bay Area. These days, the Bay Area is everything from Santa Rosa in the north to San Jose in the south and it's mostly a blur of fast driving, agitated drivers, agile maneuvering. Every time we make this trip, I am astounded and a bit heartbroken at the development. New lanes keep appearing on the highway, as if somehow putting in another lane will ease the congestion -- they're barely keeping up with the paving of the entire state!

But then, the last strip mall falls behind you and you are back in Rural California. Shopping centers are replaced by rolling hills covered in grapes; pretty little farmhouses take the place of ugly McMansions.

For me, Northern California begins with the first tie-dye village of Hopland, home of Real Goods, the solar people. Hopland is also home of Solar Fest every summer and we keep promising to come back for that (tho we never have, yet.) It gets a bit woodier and it is gorgeous this time of year. The deciduous trees are turning color, giving the ever-greens a nice splash of bling-bling gold.

Willits is "Gateway to the Redwoods" according to the big sign that greets visitors traveling north, or "Heart of Mendocino County" if you are traveling south. They are 2 sides of the same sign that spans Route 101. From here north is my favorite part of 101. There's Richardson's Grove and the Standey-Hickey State Park with its giant redwoods. And you can't forget the roadside attractions, either. Confusion Hill (Is Seeing Believing?), the One Tree House, carved inside a read tree (Believe it or not!), the One Log House, the Drive Thru Tree, the Bigfoot souvenir shop.

You don't see it when traveling north, but if southbound, you can't miss the sign just outside of Laytonville (another tie-dye village) on a wooden shack of a welding shop. A cryptic, but somehow profound, "Don't Forget The Magic." No, I won't, I always say in my heart and groove on the trees.

Route 101 goes through, or by, other tie-dye town as it snakes along with the Eel River. Garberville, Redway… then the Pacific Lumber Company town of Scotia. Everyone who lives there works for The Company, or services those who do.

As the redwoods open up, there are fields and wetlands and green, green pastures where mom and kid cows munch, lounge and frolic. You can't help but believe that California cheese ad about happy cows. These have GOT to be the happiest cows around,

Then, finally Eureka/Arcata which is circled by the tallest redwoods, teensy slivers of sandbars, and breathtaking wetlands

Most of the journey, we ride in silence. Big Dog and I are not a chatty duo. We don't feel the need to bury every bit of silence in conversation, or even music. We'll drive for hours in silence, during which I am lost in thought. I try to remember minute details from my past. I think about why my father died so young. I ponder the universe, questions about the existence of god, new designs for clever tools or just cool clothes, modern-day reliquaries I can make as soon as I get my own studio space.

An example of one thing that I thought about intently, maybe somewhere between Paso Robles and Salinas, was the idea of the "tree" design that mirrors itself in so many different ways in nature. The human artery-vein system. Just like a tree. Fat trunk and branches, diminishing in size to teeny twigs. Rivers -- branching out from the main river to creeks and streams. And I start wondering if we were to "see" our aura, our energy force, it would be more like that -- energy coming out of us, first in wide, thick lines, branching out into wispy lines, sort of like a flash of lightning, except emanating from all around. Or would it be more like a cloud, a blob of light?
There goes that hour.

When we DO talk, we talk intently. It could be about politics, or the state of the world, or about business, but it is rarely about mundane things like "Honey, did you know that Hanna from my department is pregnant and the father is Mr. Leiberman, you know, that doof in accounting?" No, what might happen is we'd start talking about all the cheap motels we've stayed in and why do you think every one is owned and run by Indians? Not American Indians, or Native Americans as we would say today, but India Indians. From the subcontinent. And that would in turn lead to a conversation about an imaginary screenplay, or maybe a cartoon series, about the Curious Couple who notice these things too but then go and investigate, only to find out that there is an Indian Motel Cartel and the Indians all come from the same isolated village in India.

Are you getting tired of reading? This entry has gotten as long as our drive!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday The Thirteenth!

I love it when the 13th falls on Friday. It brings fond memories of my favorite engineer at the Radio Station where I worked an eternity. It was a Big Important Radio Station and not only were there Big Important Engineers to work the boards, but Big Important Producers, Big Important Directors, Not-so-big-but-important-in-their-own-mind Assistant Directors, Not-at-all-big-and-made-to-feel-pretty-small GoFors and, depending on the show, writers, researchers, music selectors, idea givers, mood enhancers… Anyway, my favorite engineer and I had a strange telepathy. Or so we wanted to think. She would change my voice depending on what and how I was speaking and on Friday the 13th, every time I would say "Jusan-nichi no Kinyo---bi" in a spooky voice, she would switch on the Spooky Echo. But she never knew when I would say it, so would be totally focused on what I was saying, how I was looking at her and 99% of the time, she would be spot on. But once in a while, I'd pretend to be about to say it in my spooky voice and then at the last minute just give a bland "jusan-nichi no kinyobi" but she would have pushed the button and given my a Spooky Voice without my spooky deliver. I'd crack up on air and tell everyone how I got the better of Miss O.

As you can tell, I am in much better spirits. I survived the trip across the ocean, survived a weekend with Big Dog and his High School Reunion (meeting John "Drumbo" French of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band fame!) and made it back to Little Eden in one piece.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Yes, you can…

…leave comments without being a Blogspot member, now. It was just something I had to program. Or de-program. I'm finding out about these things very slowly.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


After decades of being an on-air person, of always having to be "positive" in front of other people, it's hard for me to make my negativity public. I keep it mostly bottled up inside, only sharing a small sprinkling with close friends now and then. When there is only an intake valve, I'm afraid there is only one way to go, eventually. Either explode, or implode. Sometimes I picture all that repressed negativity turning into a tumorous growth.

I went around Tokyo in a terrible funk yesterday. Far from being the "oh it's so good to be back in Tokyo" trip that I was looking forward to, this short visit feels like the final nail in the Tokyo Coffin.

Maybe it's the grey skies. No sunshine since I arrived Tuesday evening. Maybe it was stepping outside my mom's house on Wednesday and, smelling fragrant kinmokusei (I had to look up the English word -- orange osmanthus or "sweet tea"), thinking how nice it was to be here during the couple of weeks that the entire city smells so candy sweet only to go into a coughing fit as soon as I hit the street. The air here is worse than ever. Maybe it's my having made a terrible, terrible mistake in taking on a job that I really shouldn't have. (NOT the job that brought me here. That was fine, though I was sooo disappointed when the client gave me a Napster-ready MP3 player and free trial code only to find out I need a Windows OS to hook it up. I won't go to the Dark Side! Even if I CAN listen to 1.9 million tracks free!)

During the last 3 years of gypsying around, I always felt like Tokyo was still my spiritual home. Every time I came here, I thought of it as "going back" to Tokyo. But yesterday, walking around the too-dense city, the steel and concrete felt unbearably oppressive. I longed for the open space of Rancho Kuma, the animals that give you unconditional love, the sage-and-wild fennel air, the deep and lovely silence…

Even my eat-a-thon backfired on me. My favorite soba franchise had a shop in Kyobashi where I needed to be but when I got there, it was gone. Typical. Nothing stays the same. Disappointed but determined to have a soba lunch anyway, I went into a shop in the basement of an office building and ordered a "ten-don soba set." The tempura on my ten-don was THE worst I had ever eaten. The tempura part was all hard and crusty and it gave me indigestion.

And the worst was that everyone I passed on the streets looked as unhappy as I felt. My sister-in-law was stressed out over something yesterday morning and kept shouting at poor Pupster. My mother's been complaining "why are you only here for 2 days?" since I got here. My brother came home late last night and I think my mom (or maybe his wife?) harassed him and I could hear them arguing downstairs.

This morning, I got up at 4:30 again. While doing some internet research (being back on broadband IS nice after weeks of Stone Age dial-up baud rates!) I cruised some of my favorite blogs and got directed to this. Thank you!

It's helped me peek out from under my Blanket of Gloom. And I will be flying out of here today. Back "home."

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Great Tokyo Eat-a-thon Challenge

I am on the move again. Drove from Central Cal to LA yesterday afternoon and am now in the United Airlines Red Carpet Club, waiting for my flight to Tokyo.

A sudden request to MC an event (Napster is launching in Japan) has allowed me to make a quickie trip to The Big Mikan and visit my family. My nephew, The Pupster, is turning 4 on Tuesday, so it will be nice to be able to join the party, too.

But most of all, I am looking forward to feasting on Japanese food!!! Ohhhh, all the things I cannot get anywhere else! I am making lists in my mind… Starting with a traditional Japanese breakfast. This is not for the squeamish! I am dreaming of dried grilled aji (horse mackerel) with hot white rice, a raw egg yolk, organic natto (fermented soybeans -- smells like sweaty gym socks; has a sticky, tacky, stringy goo around the beans!) dark red miso with shijimi clams, grated daikon, spicy cod roe…

In the truck yesterday, I kept chanting out all the things I'll eat in Tokyo.
"Cod fish semen! Sea urchin! Sea cucumber in a yuzu sauce! Natto! Squid guts! Soba with fat chunks of kelp!"
"Go and eat every disgusting thing you can put in your mouth," grimaced Big Dog.
"I will!! The first few weeks that I was there in the spring, I was eating 4 meals a day. Breakfast, early lunch, late lunch and dinner. Do you think I could possibly work in 5?"

Normally I have a meal and a half each day. I believe our bodies don't need as much food as we are used to giving it. Thus, eating even 3 meals a day is a challenge, but we'll see how many I can cram into the next 3 days.