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Off the Record 11/18/2009

AS STATE PARKS cut back access hours they're also closing many park restrooms as additional cost saving measures. I say privatize all public toilets! Of course the free enterpriser winning the contract would have to agree to attend to them during the hours the park was open. Wouldn't you pay a buck to relieve yourself in pleasant circumstances? The close proprietary care —uniforms optional — thus rendered would serve not only to keep the facilities cleaner, but might even offer the patron that dash of post-pissoir cologne, that freshly laundered hand towel common in haut bourgeoisie hotels, and would certainly bring the proprietor a nice daily cash bonus. The dark, dank, foreboding slabs of bunker-like concrete presently serving the Village of Mendocino would be greatly enhanced by on-site attendants who might also help keep the ablutions of transients to a civilized minimum. I’ve never quite gotten over a visit some years ago to the Mendo john where a great hairy beast, stripped to the waist, had rigged the water taps as a kind of horizontal shower that was more or less hitting him in the face and chest but also soaking down the walls and floor. Getting past him to the urinals was like walking through a garden sprinkler. Privatization of the County's terrible, even frightening public facilities, would greatly enhance the basic Mendo experience for many visitors.
CHRISTY WELLS is the omni-talented Albion singer perhaps best known for her vivid appearances with Frida’s Circus. Christy's also a heckuva painter whose faithful rendition of Boonville’s Octopus Mountain I can still remember. These days, the energetic Ms. Wells hand crafts guitars with her husband at their Albion home while she contemplates a run for 5th District supervisor. “I’m still not a hundred percent decided, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to run,” Christy said last Tuesday. “I’ve been going to a lot of meetings lately and I think I have a pretty good idea of what’s involved.” Christy would certainly torque up the energy level over the hill, and here’s hoping she will.

BILL PROVINES was born into a railroad family in Willits on July 4th, 1908. He died two weeks ago at his son’s home in Novato at age 101, lucid to the last. Provines’ dad worked for the Northwestern Pacific Railroad out of Willits which, for most of its long history, ran two trains a day between Sausalito and Eureka and, for about a time in the 1920's and 1930's, offered a daily connection to Fort Bragg. The line now sits abandoned and, in the Eel River Canyon, its tracks and tunnels have mostly collapsed beyond even the modest dream of partial conversion to rails to trails. Before he went back to school and got himself a degree in economics from Cal, Provines was a fireman on the “crookedest railroad in the world,” the little train that climbed Mount Tamalpais from Mill Valley from 1896 to 1929. There were 281 curves in the eight and a half miles from Mill Valley to the summit of Mount Tam and, as Provines was fond of pointing out, “more than 42 complete circles.” Provines was said to have a photographic memory, and it’s that memory that was tapped for a very interesting book on the old Mount Tam railroad by Fred Runner where we learn that Teddy Roosevelt, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and John Muir were once passengers, Muir traveling to Muir Woods, the eponymous remnant redwoods named after him.

FOUND MYSELF in a low intensity argument with a Fox News guy the other day. Not Hannitty or O’Reilly or Limbaugh or, that caponized fool Lou Dobbs, not them, of course, but one of their many local dupes. The tough talkers of the political right never appear in public outside a security phalanx, and when they do appear it's only in auditoriums full of morons who've paid a hundred dollars to get in. My local friend's world view is pretty much shaped by Rupert Murdoch and his talking heads who specialize in beating up on people who can't fight back. My friend's everyday conduct is at odds with his crypto-fascist political views. A lot of Americans are like that, schizophrenic almost, their terrifying political opinions contradicted by their fully functioning humanity on the personal level. This guy’s opposed to single-payer although he would benefit, a fact he can't grasp through the din of pure bullshit he absorbs every day from Limbaugh and the rest of them. I said I was for single payer, for free education through college, for guaranteed work at a competitive wage, for decent housing for all citizens, for a free range chicken in every pot. The rich will be delighted, I argued, to at last pay their fair share to make America a much happier, a much less violent, a comprehensively much less less crazed place. If Obama would bail out regular people instead of the bankocracy, you fool, we'd all be dancing in the streets! “How would we pay for all that?” he demanded. I said we wouldn't pay for it. They would pay for it, they defined as all those patriots making more than $250,000 a year. He said he didn’t want communism. I said I didn't want communism either because it would mean mandatory KZYX. But, old pal, in the meantime get yourself a Canadian phone book and call a number at random. Ask whoever picks up the phone if they want to trade health care systems with US. He said the Canadians were “brainwashed.” Are the Norwegians brainwashed? I asked? The French? The Japanese? The Swedes? How many of them are trying to sneak in here to get our medical system, our cool-o public housing, our food stamps and public schools and Lou Dobbs and Hannitty?

OR, AS DOUG HENWOOD puts it in the Left Business Observer, “So we’ve got downward mobility for over 90% of the population, a level of inequality unseen in a century, scores of millions without health insurance — and little prospect for any of this improving in the conceivable future. Yet we have a president who seems more interested in courting Republicans and subsidizing Wall Street than in doing anything serious about social rot, and a polity that seems pretty much OK with that. In fact, about the only people in the streets are out to protest a creeping socialism that exists only in their peculiar minds. What a country.”

YES, SIR, what a country, the only one in the world, the only country ever that no matter what you say about it is true, and certainly the only country that could produce J. Andrew Scheubeck, Mayor of Mina, born August 2, 1914 died May 28, 2002, about whom I would have remained ignorant except I happened to see a classified ad in the Ukiah paper announcing that a kind of memoir about Scheubeck's life in the northeastern part of Mendocino County was available for $40. A little steep, but now that I’ve got the book I probably would have gone a hundred for it. The best book on early Mendocino County — the only book on early Mendocino County — “Genocide and Vendetta,” goes for about $300. If you can find a copy. G&V was litigated into silence after one printing because, it was successfully alleged, the authors had quoted from a pioneer diary they didn’t have legal permission to use. If it hadn't been for Genocide and Vendetta all we'd know about pioneer days would be the Grace Hudson Museum perspective — “Once upon a time there were happy brown people here who were real good at making baskets. Then they weren't here.” The Scheubeck book is no Genocide and Vendetta. The genocide was fully complete by 1880 although when The Life and Times of J. Andrew Scheubeck commenced in 1914 there were still people alive in Covelo and the wild country north of Covelo to Weaverville who’d either survived the genocide or served it. Land in that wild country of northeastern Mendocino County, southern Humboldt and much of Trinity County could still be homesteaded, typically in 160-acre parcels, as late as 1920, which is what Scheubeck’s immigrant German father had done, settling at Mina in about 1906. I always think of the Mina Road as a kind of alternate route to 101 to the west, a wilder route than 101 certainly, and probably wilder today than it’s been since the Indians were hunted down and murdered back in 1860 throughout the Eel River basin, and just as wild when old man White’s buckeroos burned out homesteaders and disappeared those homesteaders who refused to disappear. White, “The King of Round Valley,” as he was described in the newspapers of the 1880’s during his trials for murder and the attempted murder of one of his wives, is casually referenced in the Scheubeck book as “And there were herds of George White’s cattle, who had no respect for the homesteader’s fences.” The first Scheubecks remember that White “One year there were 300 mules put in” to “eat them out” of their grazing land, but the Scheubecks “had very few stock, so it didn’t bother us much.” These days the marijuana outlaws travel the Mina Road where, it is said, Bear Lincoln rode north on horseback to hippie hideouts the April 1995 night of the famous shootout. Andy Scheubeck, and his co-generational neighbors, were not outlaws. They were resourceful people who lived in the mountains of eastern Mendocino County to make an honest living out of honest work of the old fashioned sort, so far from the bright lights that you helped your far flung neighbors with everything from home births to one room schools, a grange hall or two for dances and picnics, and shelter on those nights you got caught out on the road in a snow storm, a way of life now gone. Scheubeck didn’t get his first look at the world beyond Lake Mountain, Covelo, Zenia, and Alderpoint until he was almost twenty. His life is a catalogue of ingenuity, most of which, unfortunately, is more implied than described in this book about him, but Scheubeck and his family, and his immigrant father and West Virginia mother, virtually independent of the outside economy, successfully lived on their homesteaded ranch at Mina for a hundred years. They put in orchards and gardens, ran sheep and cattle, built a sawmill, kept hogs, and dogs, and when they were too old to work they were able to leave a nice scholarship fund for the Covelo schools. “Money was rather scarce in those days,” Andy's sister recalls of their childhood, “but we were rich in other things. Like the beauty of nature, and the security of loving parents. Both my parents were very efficient and enterprising, and not afraid of hard work, and although my mother had very little to do with, she could literally make something out of nothing..... Also, she tried to teach us proper manners, respect for our elders and other people, honesty, high standards of ethics and morals, and never to use rough language.” It’s safe to say that few American children have since been thus instructed. Andy Scheubeck talked mostly about practical matters and, as a true son of the soil, always took careful note of the weather because he’d be working out in it. The east part of the County is still remote. Always will be, a vastness bisected by the Mina Road running north into Humboldt and Trinity counties out of Covelo’s east edge, and it’s surprising to read that there were so many people out there, all of them tough and independent, including, as we learn, “Herman Wahlgerten or “Old Herman, as he was sometimes referred to, spoke with a foreign accent, and to make matters worse, he had a speech defect, and he stammered so badly it was hard to understand him. He also had a habit of not wearing any clothes except his hat and shoes when he was at home on his place, and when the weather permitted. But he did put clothes on if he went to someone else’s house. He was a hard worker, but couldn’t make any money on his place so he worked out for wages. When he would get paid, he would go on a drunk, so then he would have to start all over.....” The Life and Times of Andrew Scheubeck also includes a careful enumeration of the pioneer families up to the people who lived in the area through World War Two and the 1950s, concluding with the arrival of the hippies in the early 1970s who presented Mr. Scheubeck with a belly dancer on one of his last birthdays, a sight I’m sure he never expected to see at Mina. Life and Times, $40 for a loose-leaf proof copy, is available from V. Field, Box 482, Covelo 95428.

TOMORROW, Thursday, November 19, at 2pm is the next meeting of the Mendocino Art Center's self- beleaguered board of directors. Freshly unresigned board member and now Board President Tom Becker has directed the following plea to the Art Center's membership and to the general public: “Our jewel of an Art Center needs some serious rehabilitation, inside and out, and we need your help in its restoration.” The people who think that the rehab the Art Center ought to begin with is a new Executive Director who will build on the Center's core programs not destroy the whole show. Dissidents plan to demand that newly appointed boss Karen Ely must go if the Center has any chance to regain its grip on itself.

THERE'S A VERY FUNNY account on-line youtube video by Doc Ellis and a cartoonist describing the no-hitter he threw while under the influence of LSD, an achievement which would seem to be impossible, especially at the major league level where Ellis somehow managed to do it. Doc's story is made even funnier by the brilliant illustrations accompanying it, and a funnier four minutes you won't see. I asked the AVA's resident expert on states of altered consciousness, Pebbles Trippet, for comment on Ellis's unprecedented feat. Pebs replied, “That is absolutely believable because your ability to concentrate and maintain stamina improves on LSD, if it doesn't disorient. I once ran for a mile from someone who was hassling me on a bus in Boston, which would have tired me out had I not been on acid. I have other stories that prove its ability to increase and focus what you can normally do.”

SPEAKING OF BALL GAMES, and this is an eyes-only item for old jocks, I went to see my alma mater, Cal Poly, play USF last Friday night in the historic old gym at USF, the gym where the national champs of Bill Russell and K.C. Jones once romped, not to mention the late, great Phil Smith. My late, great brother Ken started at a small forward for Cal Poly for three years back in the early sixties. He and I also played baseball in San Luis Obispo where, ahem, I, a pitcher, once defeated UCLA at UCLA. It's the only game I can remember because, by the time I got to college-level sports, I'd lost interest in ball games. In my dotage I'm interested again. Prior to the USF-Poly game last week I hadn't watched a college basketball game in five years, not since I'd sat in on the Oregon Ducks at Eugene's Mac Court, another ancient beaut of an old gym left over from the days before the college game became a big money maker and the bulletheads of academe demanded huge arenas with electronic scoreboards fatter than their booster clubs. Good basketball in an old gym is a transporting experience for those of us who can remember what it was like. But the game the other night wasn't very good basketball. I'm pretty sure my brother's teams of 1960 through 1962, biggest guy about 6'7,” would have beaten the 2009 USF Dons, a division one team, by about twenty. Bro's teams could shoot, and they were fundamentally sound. The USF and Cal Poly kids were very large, very strong, very quick, very fast. But they played like what used to be called “6th period gym,” throwing up all kinds of low percentage shots, not boxing out, making bad passes, setting no screens or picks, engaging in no real team work. A well organized team, a team that played a good zone to force outside shots, would embarrass these five-man mobs. My brother's teams always had three, sometimes four guys, who could shoot from outside. They'd have feasted on the three-point rule, and why would a college pay a coach a half-million dollars a year to play a man-to-man against a team with no outside shooters? USF and Cal Poly, that's who. Oregon, too, now that I think back on Ernie Kent's teams. Yo! Coach! Why do you think the NBA banned the zone? I came away from the USF-Poly game thinking that basketball these days is a lot like America, bigger and dumber but a lot worse than it was.

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