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Mendocino County Today: May 20, 2012

SUMMER DOPE SEASON got off to a spectacular start Friday morning when a Humboldt County task force raided a 16,465-plant garden near Garberville. Locals, as they joked about how long it took the cops to count to 16,465, say the site was a Mexican grow, irrigated from a blue-line feeder stream on Barnum Timber Company land off Sprowel Creek Road. Four persons fled the scene which, police say, consisted of four separate camp sites.


22-YEAR-OLD Maricruz Alvarez-Carillo, of Fort Bragg, the mother of an infant present in her vehicle at the time of the mayhem, was sentenced Friday to four years in state prison for an ax attack last year on two persons during a gang fight near the CV Starr Community Center. During the January 28th, 2011 attack, Alvarez-Carillo had pursued 16-year-old Richie Olstad. Olstad eluded Alvarez-Carillo but the ax-wielding young mother attacked Alissa Colberg, Fort Bragg’s self-described “Dominant Female,” when Colberg ran up to help Olstad repel Alvarez-Carillo. The Dominant Female sustained deep cuts to her face and chest during the attack. In addition to two convictions for assault with a deadly weapon, Alvarez-Carillo picked up another felony conviction for witness intimidation in a separate incident, meaning she’s a three-striker who’s looking at 25-to-life if she commits another felony. Alvarez-Carillo is not a documented gang member but hangs out with Sureño gang members. Dominant Female and Olstad are members of a rival gang, a white subset of the Norteños, it seems.

RECOMMENDED READING, three Frisco books, two of the three recommendations accompanied by caveats: Jubilee Hitchiker: the Life and Times of Richard Brautigan by William Hjortsberg. Lots of interesting stuff in here, especially in its recreation of Brautigan’s austere early life in Eugene, Oregon, in a struggling working-class family whose matriarch married a series of marginal men. The book is also good at bringing back the San Francisco of the beatniks, just before everyone else got in on the act as hippies, the difference being that the beatniks were artists; the hippies more a reaction to the multiple suffocations of the suburbs. Brautigan lit out young for San Francisco and never looked back, breaking off what tenuous affection he seemed to have for his family. One of the most interesting passages is Hjortsberg’s encounters with Brautigan’s real father, at least by Brautigan’s mother’s say-so, who said she became pregnant by him and he fled at the accusation of paternity. A crusty old boy who always denied patrimony and hadn’t heard of his famous son when the relentess Hjortsberg tracked him down, makes a very strong case that the crusty retired laborer was indeed the author’s father, not that either the old guy or Brautigan ever seemed interested. Hjortsberg’s research is, as they say, exhaustive. It’s also exhausting. There are pages and pages of Brautigan’s encounters with unpleasant North Beach persons, all of them, of course, with artistic pretensions, among them many poets of dubious abilities who wrote in the minimalist style of Brautigan mostly, one suspects, because their trite observations, arranged vertically on the page, was all they had to say, and as soon as they said it they disappeared. This bio isn’t brief but should be. Whatever you think of Brautigan’s work, he got on and he got off. The book is very heavy, as in heavy weight. It is physically tiring to hold up from the prone position, which is how I do most of my reading. I know this is a silly complaint, but if you read lying down, bring a pillow to prop the thing up on your stomach or, I guess, substitute two hours with it for your daily push-ups. It could have been at least 300 pages shorter, and you wonder if Hjortsberg had an editor. I read it because I liked Brautigan’s Trout Fishing In America, and I liked a couple of his short stories very much. Off this biography I doubt if I would have cared much for the man himself.

THE SECOND RECOMMENDED reading is David Talbot’s Season of the Witch — Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love. As a veteran of that turbulent time and place, I can say Talbot’s book, like the Brautigan bio, is very good at helping us remember what an intoxicating sea change in American consciousness took place at ground zero in the heady months of 1966 and ‘67 before the great fall induced by drugs and murder. A very large number of talented people had appeared in one smallish place at one time — writers and musicians and artists and a solid population of people who appreciated it all. Even the Chronicle was still a lively read, and in magazine journalism there was Hunter Thompson and Warren Hinckle. (I’ve recently re-visited Hinckle’s prescient deconstruction of the hippie movement, and I can still remember the huge discontent it caused, among the libs especially. ( Then as now the stoners tended not to read anything. But read it yourself and tell me if Hinckle was wrong.) When hard drugs arrived at street level — accompanied by long debates on whether or not cocaine was a hard drug with the consensus opinion being that it wasn’t until it was obvious it was — and Jim Jones cooked a Frisco mayoral election then took off for Guyana to murder his parish, and Moscone and Milk were assassinated, and the Zebra killers were randomly murdering white people to create slaves in the next world, and Zodiac was doing the same thing, and a lot of hippies took off for Garberville — the City of Love suffered a serious shortage of affection. The SFPD was viewed by large sectors of the population as a kind of badged criminal gang itself. My own interfaces with the lawless Tac Squad at political demonstrations certainly got me sprinting the hell out of the way of them. Talbot says that cabals of cops were plotting to kill their own chief, Charles Gain, whom they viewed simply as one more city official expediting the wholesale conversion of San Francisco into a kind of national weirdo center. That eternal local punching bag, Tim Stoen, is obliquely fingered by Talbot as the guy who engineered the electoral fraud that elected the liberal Moscone mayor over a Sunset District conservative named Barbagelata, whom I recall as sputtering with unhinged rage at what he also insisted was the takeover of the city by hippies, gays and an assortment of radicals allied in a kind of grand conspiracy of degenerates, one of whom attempted to fire bomb Barbagelata’s house. Caveat: Talbot thinks a combination of the steadying maternal hand of Diane Feinstein as mayor succeeding Moscone, and the great 49er football teams of Bill Walsh, were pivotal in pulling the city out of its death spiral. I think it was more the improvement in the national economy combined with the influx of wealthy people, wealthy gays especially, that brought a sedating calm and the artistic blanding to the city that prevails to this day, that and the tardy realization by the forces of reaction that hippies and gays weren’t any more politically radical than Barbagelata was.

THIRD RECOMMENDATION: The Final Leap — Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge by John Bateson. I defy anyone to read this book and still oppose a suicide barrier. I’m ashamed to say I’d been instinctively, unthinkingly opposed to a barrier because (1) I assumed it would destroy the Bridge’s aesthetic. Yes, I thought, a few annual jumpers did not justify structural modifications certain to change the visual splendor that the genius span presents, a callously ignorant assumption most famously stated by William Faulkner when he said, “….If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.” Depends on the old lady, I’d say. I doubt if I’d be tempted to commit matricide even for that poem. Shakespeare’s collected works? Well, if that was the trade-off the old girls might have to go. This kind of thinking is easy in the abstract, but when you learn, as we do in The Final Leap, that survivors of the last jump, with one exception who did finally end her life, say they would never attempt suicide again, and that people seem to be jumping with more frequency, and you listen to the friends and relatives of jumpers, it’s time for a net or a much higher rail, both of which, we learn, can be accomplished with no aesthetic harm.

AS IT IS, going over the side is simply a matter of climbing over a four foot fence and pushing off. Four seconds later and….. Well, the physical consequences are found in this most interesting and persuasive little book which manages, in 250 pages, to thoroughly cover all aspects of the subject, including a roster of the 1200 people known to have died by jumping off the Bridge. There is, of course, a larger number of people suspected of dying in death leaps but their remains simply disappeared, either carried off by the ferocious tides almost three hundred feet down or, their chest cavities ripped open on impact to admit a rush of water that sinks them unseen and irretrievably to the bottom. Why do people commit suicide? According to Bernard Mayes, founder of San Francisco’s suicide hot line, the first suicide hot line in the country, “They have no one to talk to.” Mayes tells this story of a visit he made to the apartment of a recent jumper. “The guy was in his 30s and lived alone. Pretty bare apartment. He’d written a note and left it on his bureau. It said, ‘I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I won’t jump’.” Apparently, no one smiled and he jumped. And that statement contains just about all you need to know about the psychic state of our form of social organization, another subject for sure, but suicide in this unwell country is more prevalent than any other place in the world. Jerome Motto, a psychiatrist who works with suicidal patients at UC San Francisco, also gets right to the point. “If people started hanging themselves from the tree in my front yard, I’d have a moral obligation to prevent that from happening….. If an instrument that’s being used to bring about tragic deaths is under your control, you are morally compelled to prevent its misuse.” The instrument most alluring to many suicidal people, and not only suicidal people from the Bay Area but everywhere in the United States and abroad, is the Golden Gate Bridge. It comes with its own built-in fatal attraction. So, why does the Bridge Authority resist? A combination of ignorance and moral callousness, it seems, perhaps best summed up by Mendocino County’s very own Jim Eddie of Potter Valley, a former County supervisor and a long-time Bridge trustee. “In October 2008, when the board voted 14-1 in favor of a safety net, the only ‘no’ vote was cast by James Eddie, the family rancher representing Mendocino County….. Eddie said that the people in his district didn’t think a barrier was needed.” I don’t recall Eddie doing any polls on the subject but he’s probably right. Bridge safety is not a day-to-day Mendo concern. But it should be of concern to everyone given that someone jumps every ten days off an international treasure we all own. Also recommend is the affecting 2006 documentary film by Eric Steel, The Bridge (available via Netflix). Design proposals are being considered (, but the Bridge Authority keeps on dragging its obtuse feet.

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