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Pear Brandy

Back in the late seventies I went down to Hopland with a couple guys to load up a truck with fallen fruit to make pear brandy. Don Fi knew the orchard manager and made the brandy, Paul McSweeney had the old Chevy truck from the forties or fifties, and I went along for the ride and to help load the pears. 

Paul was my neighbor down the hill, on parole and trying to behave as his probation officer had a no-warrant search clause. Don Fi lived at nearby Whiskey Hill and had been home brewing brandy, wine, and beer for years, some pretty good bootleg firewater.

We loaded the pickup with bruised pears (most of those orchards have been converted to wine grapes by now), I lost my wire rims out there somewhere, and we drove halfway to the coast to the village of Yorkville in the Anderson Valley where Don Fi knew a vineyard we could crash in.

Up behind the store near where we were going to camp out we found a very friendly guy tending a beautiful budding marijuana plant. I did a double take and realized I recognized him: it was Karl Kinsel, a guy I knew back at Burris elementary school in Muncie, Indiana. Well, Don Fi had some pounds of weed he wanted to sell and Karl said he could do that for him.

Don Fi fronted the three pounds to Karl which he wanted $2800 for, never got paid, and gave me shit for a few years about that deal gone bad. (When I reconnected with Karl's sister Karen this year she told me the sad news that both her brothers, Mark and Karl, had died way too early.)

Paul McSweeney showed up in the Gulch when I was living up on Jack Glick's land rent-free in the cabin with the amazing ocean view where I watched the beautiful fog roll in and out all year. Paul had just gotten out of prison, moved to the Gulch as his sister Lynn lived nearby, and pulled a trailer to a little flat spot in the woods below me. He seemed like a nice guy, I never asked what he had been in for, and we became friends. Danny brought him some of “Danny's Finest,” some very tasty smoke, and he gave me a few buds of that.

Paul set himself up as a mechanic, with the imprimatur of his sister, and he proceeded to charge reasonable rates without actually fixing anything. VW Bugs were his “specialty” and I started hearing about people getting burned. Maybe I was too desperate for a friend, living out in the woods by myself, but I resisted believing what other people were saying about him, he hadn't ripped me off, right? (He had a big pistol and he took me out Usal Road a few miles to shoot it and man, that was a memorably powerful explosion in my hand.)

The next year I bought my place down the Yellow Dirt Road and one day Paul said he was going to stop by. When I went home to wait for him I saw a huge boulder, two to three feet in diameter, had rolled off the steep mountain and settled just to the side of the road in the ditch.

When I saw Paul later I asked, “Why didn't you come by?”

“I did!” he said.

“Did you see the boulder?” I asked.

“Boulder? Huh?” he said.

Then I knew he was a liar and a thief. A little while later he left me a hit of acid on the table in his little trailer but I forgot to get it. His probation officer came by for a surprise visit, found the drug, and Paul was hauled back to jail. 

A few years later in the early '80's he got out and with a couple of ex-convict buddies arm-robbed some hippies out in Ettersburg at harvest time. This time he was caught, convicted, sent back to prison, and probably didn't get out alive.

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