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Mendocino County Today: Wed, Jan 14, 2015

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Boonville man goes to court to quiet vineyard fans

by Justine Frederiksen

January 10, 2015 — An Anderson Valley resident being kept awake by loud vineyard fans is turning to the court system in the hopes of getting “a decent night's sleep” during cold spring nights when grape growers are battling frost.

“It's not just a trivial inconvenience of a night or two,” said Mark Scaramella of five large fans owned by three of his neighbors in Boonville that typically get turned on for several hours beginning at midnight.

“Last year, there were 20 nights during April and May when the fans were on for hours at a time. They run continuously all night until after daylight, hour after hour, night after night, and it's absolutely impossible to sleep.”

Scaramella said he has not measured the decibel level of the sound that he says rivals a helicopter's landing and makes “the windows rattle,” but he guessed the noise the fans make reaches 70 to 80 decibels, well above the 40-decibel limit he said Mendocino County's noise ordinance allows at night.

“I just want some sleep, and I want the county to promise to enforce their laws,” he continued, explaining that he tried addressing the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors and Agricultural Commissioner Chuck Morse first, but was rebuffed. “That's why we filed.”

On Wednesday, Scaramella said he paid $2,000 to file a Petition for Writ of Mandate and Complaint for Declaratory or Injunctive Relief in Mendocino County Superior Court, asking to have the county's noise ordinance enforced.

“I'd like to avoid going to court, and I don't want to spend any more money on this,” he said. “But it's just an unlivable, major, all-night issue.”

Reached Friday for comment, Ag Commissioner Morse said he was unaware of the petition Scaramella filed, but he was certainly aware of his complaints. However, he said in this instance, the county's noise ordinance does not trump the county's Right to Farm law.

“The use of fans for frost protection is an accepted, ongoing practice, which exempts it from the noise ordinance,” said Morse, explaining that this response was basically what he and Mendocino County Counsel Doug Losak sent to Scaramella late last month, although now that the matter is considered “existing litigation,” he said he likely could not comment further.

Morse said that did not mean there would “never” be a case when an “accepted, ongoing” agricultural practice could violate the county's noise ordinance, but so far, the county has found that the five fans in question do not.

“It's an issue that needs to be dealt with and can't be ignored,” said Scaramella, recalling that at least one vineyard owner said last spring “that if it came down to his grapes or people's sleep, his grapes trumped our sleep.”

Scaramella said there are other ways to battle frost, even when water is in short supply, such as a sugar-based solution that acts as an anti-freeze when sprayed on the vines. The spray is not cheap, he said, but then neither are the large fans, which he said fill him with dread every time he looks at them.

“Basically, I want the county to treat these things like boomboxes,” he said. “If they're too loud, the county and the fan operators have to take whatever reasonable measures are necessary to comply with their own noise standards so we can sleep. We can't live with another spring like last year.”

(Courtesy, The Ukiah Daily Journal.)

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MARK SCARAMELLA NOTES: Neither I nor my attorney Rod Jones received any response from the County, contrary to Mr. Morse’s claim to Ms. Frederickson. Mr. Jones’ detailed letter asking the the county to enforce their noise ordinance and notifying them that we planned to go to court if the matter was not addressed was sent to the County in late November. We requested that we receive a response by December 5, 2014. (After all, the County says they’ve been working on it since last May.) Mr. Losak called Mr. Jones and said that the County needed another week to respond, on December 12. “That’s the plan,” Mr. Losak said. No letter was forthcoming, nor was there any explanation for the delay or the lack of response. That’s why we were forced to file our suit. Giving Mr. Morse the benefit of the doubt, he may have thought that a response from Mr. Losak was “sent to Scaramella.” But as with everything else associated with this very serious nuisance, all we get out of the County is an acknowledgement that there’s a problem, but no action or even a solid position taken other than the generic invocation of the County’s “Right To Farm” ordinance.

In that regard, here is the text of what is referred to as the “Right To Farm Ordinance”:

“AGRICULTURAL LAND. Shall mean those land areas of the County specifically classified and zoned as Agricultural, Rangeland, Forestland, or Timberland Preserve within which agricultural, timber growing and related activities are to be encouraged and protected.

“AGRICULTURAL OPERATION. Shall mean and include, but not be limited to, the cultivation and tillage of the soil, animal husbandry, the production, cultivation, growing, harvesting and processing of any agricultural commodity including horticulture, timber or apiculture, the raising of livestock, fish or poultry, and any acceptable cultural practices performed as incident to, or in conjunction with, such farming operations, including preparation for market, delivery to storage or market, or to carriers for transportation to market.

“FARM OPERATION. Shall mean those activities nor­mally conducted in the pursuit of agricultural opera­tions which includes the farming of trees for commercial purposes.

“Sec. 10A.13.020 Policy.

It is the declared policy of this County to conserve, protect and encourage intensive agricultural production. Where nonagricultural land uses extend into agricultural areas or exist side by side, agricultural operations have often become the subject of nuisance complaints. As a result, agricultural operations are sometimes forced to cease or curtail operation, and many others are discouraged from making investments in farm improvements. It is the purpose and intent of this section to reduce the loss to the County of its agricultural resources by limiting the circumstances under which agricultural operations may be considered a nuisance. This section is not to be construed as in any way modifying or abridging State law as set out in the California Civil Code, Health and Safety Code, Fish and Game Code, Food and Agricultural Code, or Division 7 of the Water Code, relative to nuisances, but rather is only to be utilized in the interpretation and enforcement of the provisions of this code and County regulations.

No existing or future agricultural operation or any of its appurtenances, conducted or maintained for commercial purposes, and in a manner consistent with proper and accepted customs and standards, shall become or be a nuisance, private or public, for adjacent land uses in or about the locality thereof after the same has been in operation for more than three (3) years, when such action was not a nuisance at the time it began; provided that the provisions of this subsection shall not apply whenever a nuisance results from the negligent or improper operation of any such agricultural operation or its appurtenances. (Emphasis added.)

“Sec. 10A.13.030 Findings.

“The Board of Supervisors of Mendocino County finds that it is in the public's interest to preserve and protect agricultural land and operations within the County of Mendocino and to specifically protect these lands for exclusive agricultural use. The Board of Supervisors of Mendocino County also finds that residential develop­ment adjacent to agricultural land and operations often leads to restrictions on farm operation to the detriment of the adjacent agricultural uses and economic viability of the County's agricultural industry as a whole. The pur­poses of this Chapter, therefore, are to promote the general health, safety and welfare of the County, to preserve and protect for exclusive agricultural use those lands zoned for agricultural use, to support and encourage continued agricultural operation in the County, and to forewarn prospective purchasers and residents of property adjacent to or near to agricultural operation of the inherent potential problems associated with such purchase of residence including, but not limited to, the sounds, odors, dust, and chemicals that may accompany agricultural operations.

“Sec. 10A.13.060 Precedence Clause.

“It is the finding of the Board of Supervisors that this Ordinance is to take precedence over all ordinances or parts of ordinance or resolutions or parts of resolutions in conflict herewith and same are hereby repealed to the extent of such conflict and no further.”

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And here is what Mr. Jones said to Mr. Morse and Mr. Losak on the subject of the right to farm ordinance in our late-November letter:

“We hope that this problem has not been pushed under the table using the Right-to-Farm rubric, as that seems to be largely a red herring in this situation. We recognize that Civil Code section 3482.5 (state ‘Right to Farm Act’) applies to a commercial agricultural activity conducted for more than three years consistent with accepted standards in the locality such that it is not deemed a nuisance due to any changed condition in the locality if the activity did not constitute a nuisance when it began. (See generally W&W El Camino Real, LLC v. Fowler (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 263 and Souza v. Lauppe (1997) 59 Cal.App.4th 865, 868; accord, Mendocino County Code 10A.13.010.)

“But the operation of these fans does not easily come within the scope of ‘accepted standards’ nor is it clear that they have been used for more than three years. My understanding is that, next to smudge pots or literally burning fires in the vineyards, the most common method of frost control has been sprinkling vines with waters or ‘microsprayer frost protection.’ More importantly, however, is that my client is not objecting to any use of frost fans, but merely asserting that this technology needs to be used responsibly, with the need of neighbors (most of whom have lived in the valley long before the wine boom), and in compliance with noise standards. Exactly how that gets done is something for the vineyard owners and operators to figure out. My client and others simply want their right to get a restful night’s sleep.”

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THE COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD has refused to grant outgoing County School Superintendent Paul Tichinin a retroactive raise. Trustee Camille Schraeder seemed torn. “There is a real, live burden of responsibility (for the superintendent) that's worth some increased amount of compensation. The teachers would not be able to teach without someone worrying about the budget. There is a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes that helps support the teachers.”

AND THERE IT IS, the fatal assumption that our “educational leader” should get lots and lots of scarce edu-dollars for “worrying” with no mention of specific functions the worrier might perform. Of which there are none, in this case. Ms. Schraeder, you won't be surprised to learn, is herself a handsomely rewarded administrator with Redwood Children's Services, also funded out of public money. She and Tichinin could probably switch “jobs” with neither agency knowing there'd been one.

I'VE OFTEN told this story. One day, finding myself in Ukiah with a few hours to kill, just for the hell of it I dropped in on the late Superintendent of County Schools, Lou Delsol. I had an array of beefs I wanted to air but assumed the boss man, then located in modest quarters on Low Gap Road, would be too busy for the likes of a Boonville bellyacher wandering in off the street without an appointment.

BUT NO SOONER had I walked through the door when Delsol himself bustled out of his office with a big smile on his face and an outstretched hand for me to shake. At subsequent meetings Delsol's enthusiasm for me had, shall we say, waned. I always kinda liked the guy, and I appreciated his candor. One day, encountering the old boy in the hall during a heated school board meeting, he said to me with a sigh, “Jesus, I'm tired of your bullshit, Bruce.” I've laughed for years about that one because, in living fact, I did a stalker-quality number on him and his crew of crooks and slackers for a solid year, and when I couldn't get to a meeting I dispatched my nephew, then a brash (very brash) high school sophomore to ask questions like, “My uncle says you people are a bunch of thieves. Are you?” (School boards are especially disgusting when an actual kid appears. Everyone falls all over themselves, beaming back out at the little idiot no matter how wacky or dumb his remarks are. My nephew tested that indulgence to the max.)

GETTING BACK to my first unannounced meeting with Delsol, he spent a solid two hours with me, during which time his phone never rang, no harried secretary stuck her head in the door to say, “Mr. Delsol, you have a meeting scheduled in two minutes.” I realized I was in the presence of a man with no duties, a man who made a lot of money for doing absolutely nothing! And if the boss didn't do anything, what did his subordinate administrators do?

I DO REMEMBER a woman in that office who checked credentials and shuffled budget numbers around. Her name was Williams, I think. But apart from her, my general impression was of middle age men, mostly, and a few women, wandering around with coffee cups.


THING IS, I was correct. The County Office of Education was a featherbedding apparatus heavy on criminal conduct and a couple of verifiable crooks who went to jail. One of them, a fellow named Hal Titen, then Tichinin's boss, took “educational” video equipment to the back room of a bar he owned on North State Street where he made pornographic films starring underage girls. That particular educational enterprise got Titen a couple of years in the state pen, but it was the cops and the DA who busted him, not his colleagues or the County School Board.

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ONE DOESN’T NEED VIOLENT CONSPIRACY THEORIES to understand where the most pernicious attacks on freedom of expression come from in the West. They come from a system of powerful corporate advertiser-funded journalism that prevents real issues of life and death from ever reaching the consciousness of ordinary people in Western Europe. It was the great French revolution that set the scene. For all its benefits, the worst wars in the history of civilisation have been secular and driven by values embedded in perversions of the European enlightenment – not in religion. It has been the search for resource exploitation and profit that has killed more than any ten-year old girl strapped into a suicide vest by Boko Haram. — Afshin Rattansi

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by Jeff Costello

No stocks or bonds, no savings account, no credit cards.  Essentially I am an economic non-person, living on the cheap. The upside of this is no debt, the downside is few luxuries, at least of the type that the mythical "average American" takes for granted.  Typical aspirations or ambitions of the so-called middle class are things, for whatever reason, with which I was never burdened.  One does not get rich like this.

Like many of my fellow baby-boomers, in the 60's I took psychedelic drugs and was exposed to ways of thinking - and perceiving things - that were in direct contradiction to everything that was taught in high school.  These experiences also clashed badly with the assumptions of life in the  (lower middle class) suburbs.  Work ethic, religion, the nuclear families in lookalike boxes, the dads commuting to the city every day, the moms trapped in the little boxes with the kids, democrats and republicans...I sensed that something was wrong with all this.  So I became a "bad" kid in high school, and it came to a point where the principal called my two best friends into the office and told them I was a bad influence, and to stop hanging around with me.  They bought it, and the very next day I received nothing but blank stares from both of them.

After successfully dodging the draft in summer of '64 (barely a month after high school graduation, I got the letter from Uncle Sam), I began marshalling whatever forces I could muster up to get out of the oppressive little New England town.  I made two halfhearted attempts to get a regular job, only  to see that they were basically slavery and could eat up one's life in a struggle to maintain an illusion of "security."  By the late 60's I was no longer a juvenile delinquent, but a "hippie."  Beatniks, delinquents, hippies - these were my people.  The hippies were a bit different, though.  They were taking weird drugs and exploring things like eastern mysticism, zen, yoga, witchcraft and so on, all vaguely for the purpose of trying to figure out the nature of and reason for existence. Such ideas had not been flying around in the little boxes of the suburbs.

It didn't take long before the hippie thing degenerated into a fashion trend and a way for some men to hustle young girls.  But for me the question remained - what is existence, and why?  Religions pretended to have an answer for this:  "Because God said so."

Wall St. had another answer: profit.  The purpose of life was to make money, by means of buying and selling stocks and shares of big business operations.  This was indicated in something called the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  The Dow. Wow.   People accumulated wealth trading, essentially nothing.  Pieces of paper that said one owned a piece of something like Colgate-Palmolive, makers of toothpaste and dish soap.  And this was their religion.

Sometime in the hippie era I heard about something called the Tao, meaning "the Way."  About a way to live, I supposed. The Tao said things like this:

Inflexible soldiers cannot win (a victory).

And the hardest trees are readiest for an axe to chop them down

Tough guys sink to the bottom, while

Flexible people rise to the top.

I doubt that "the top" here refers to fame or financial success.  Whenever I hear a news report and they come to the Dow (and they always do, assuming that everyone listening is fretting about their investments), I think of the Tao and the irony of the similar pronunciation.  Depending on the mood, I either laugh or get irritated.  I am, after all, flexible.

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Congress quietly ends federal government's ban on medical marijuana

By Evan Halper

Tucked deep inside the 1,603-page federal spending measure is a provision that effectively ends the federal government's prohibition on medical marijuana and signals a major shift in drug policy. The bill's passage over the weekend marks the first time Congress has approved nationally significant legislation backed by legalization advocates. It brings almost to a close two decades of tension between the states and Washington over medical use of marijuana. Under the provision, states where medical pot is legal would no longer need to worry about federal drug agents raiding retail operations. Agents would be prohibited from doing so. The Obama administration has largely followed that rule since last year as a matter of policy. But the measure approved as part of the spending bill, which President Obama plans to sign this week, will codify it as a matter of law.

(Courtesy, the LA Times)

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And this, last week, from Jim Hightower, who referenced the above article:

Also, Congress included a provision in its December federal spending bill to stop the DEA and Department of Justice from going after states that legalize medical marijuana. They can no longer raid licensed marijuana outlets that service patients who use marijuana to treat everything from the side effects of cancer treatments to epileptic seizures. Marijuana farmers are now safe to cultivate the plant, and the patients themselves are now safe from prosecution for possessing it.

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CATCH OF THE DAY, Jan 13, 2015

(No bookings posted for Jan 13, 2015)

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GARLAND DOES GERSHWIN: from Girl Crazy (1943)

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The Money Scene

by Clancy Sigal

My son and I argue movies all the time.  He thinks that the Academy and other film industry prizes are well deserved while I can’t recall a Golden Globe or Oscar for a movie I truly enjoyed.   He says I’m “biased”.  Of course, I am.  Prejudiced, blind, narrow-minded, nostalgic and inconsistent like most movie lovers.

What film is “good” or “bad” – in reality, what’s up or down – has zip to do with the shows which are always a glittering and dismal  PR bash.  As I write this the Foreign Press Association’s scam called the Golden Globes is on, messing up local traffic in my neighborhood.

For years legitimate critics and fans laughed at the FPA as a bunch of freeloading dumdums whose cinema IQ was zero.  But now look: the Golden Globes is up there with the Oscars, respectable and all.  What next, Bernie Madoff as director of the International Monetary Fund?  Or have you forgotten how the billionaire husband of Pia Zadora (who?) literally bought her the Golden Globe award as “new star of the year”.

Of course the mighty Oscar is above such cynical dodges.  Academy nominees don’t actually buy their way in – unless they’re rich enough to afford avalanches of publicity (see, Aniston, “Cake”), their hands out for expensive swag-bags (gifts up to $16,000), and buy “word of mouth” via rent-a-quote “critics”.   The Weinstein Brothers, bless them, are geniuses at maneuvering prizes for their smaller-audience movies.  And why not?

I’m years behind catching up with current contenders like “Boyhood” and “Gone Girl” partly because I have a bad back and no patience to sit through 2- and 3-hour movies.  Who has the time?  When I was a kid great directors like Wellman, Ford and Curtiz could do the job in 87 minutes.  Casablanca?  About 100.  “Public Enemy”?  83.

Every movie, no matter how “good” or “bad”, is a miracle.  Especially for independents it’s near-to-impossible to scrounge the money, snag a cast, squabble over script rewrites and soothe clashing temperaments.  So what is up there on the screen, no matter how boring and witless, deserves some kind of salute.

For a long time I was a professional movie critic, one of the New Yorker critic Pauline Kael’s “Paulettes”, although she and I often furiously disagreed.  (Say, over Clint Eastwood and “Bonnie & Clyde”.)  These days I’m embarrassed to realize I may now like a movie I once trashed or burn with shame about a clunker I praised to the skies.  It changes, year to year, maybe even day to day, which probably means I have no real critical principles.

Due to my disabilities – aching back and diminished endurance – I’ve fallen into the habit of not watching whole movies but just wait for the “money scene”.  In porno movies the money shot is when the guy ejaculates.  (See “Boogie Nights”.)  My idea of a money scene is so strictly personal I doubt if anyone else would want to share it.  For me it’s when the story comes together emotionally.

To take older examples, in “Good Will Hunting” in a college bar unsung prodigy Matt Damon rescues his buddy Ben Affleck from humiliation by a snotty Harvard boy by intervening to loudly list all the academic citations the snob is plagiarizing from.  In “Broadcast News” Holly Hunter as an emotionally raw TV producer explosively and surprisingly sobs as part of her early morning routine even though we’ve seen how competent she is at work.  In a really, really long movie (almost 3 hours) like “Best Years of Our Lives” it’s when army veteran Sgt. Frederic March after a long wartime absence comes home to surprise his wife Myrna Loy and for just a few seconds the camera fixes on her astonishment; a wonderful shot that will inform the whole of this story.  In “The Godfather” it’s when young Vito Corleone/De Niro jumps down from Little Italy’s rooftops to murder the local extortionist Fanucci.

In the 2-hour long “Network” it’s any closeup of the aging William Holden helpless in his doomed affair with Faye Dunaway.  And, same picture, if you have the patience for Paddy Chayevsky’s long speeches, which I do – when Ned Beatty as the TV network’s boss hauls half crazed maverick correspondent Peter Finch into his office to lecture him about how capitalism works. “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it, is that clear?!”  In David O. Russell’s amazing “The Fighter” the great scenes are not so much with Mark Wahlberg and his fictional brother Christian Bale but focused on the pushy, malevolent, prideful family harpies like Melissa Leo & her female cohort.

These often short scenes and quick flashes are what “glues” a picture together.

Contradictorily, being a passionate fan, sometimes a film comes along that you HAVE to sit through.  Did you see Amy  Adams and Ben McKenzie in a movie nobody saw “Junebug” (106 mins.), an unlikely story about a Chicago art gallery owner (Embeth Davidtz) who visits her husband’s Deep South family?  It’s incredibly rare to see a movie that gets its down-home southerners just right without condescension.

You’ll have your own personal money scene, of course.  Unless you’re a hardier specimen than me and can sit through all three hours of Russell Crowe in “Gladiator”.

Oh, one other thing. There’s a type of really, really bad movie that is so compelling you can’t keep your eyes off the screen.  Or haven’t you seen “free spirited” single mother Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton as an agonized adulterous priest and Charles Bronson (as, wait for it, a fine arts painter) in the hilariously awful “The Sandpiper” (co-scripted, wouldn’t you know it, by leftwing formerly blacklisted writers Dalton Trumbo and Michael Wilson)?

(Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives. Sigal and Doris Lessing lived together in London for several years.)

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by Bruce Anderson

January 1, 2000 — I set out from Haight Street for a night’s walkabout anticipating end-of-the-world spectacles. It was New Year’s Eve, end of an even thousand years if you calculate things by Anglo ways of reckoning, the last night of high tech dot com bliss and the prosperity American ingenuity brings about two thirds of its citizens. Up at home base, the hill muffins were hunkered down on the ridgetops, a year’s worth of rice and beans buried out by the pot patch in waterproof containers. The muffs had their generators gassed up and their AK-47’s on lock and load. The old lady had perimeter duty while old man muff checked out fields of fire. At the more excitable and apocalyptic-oriented venues like KZYX and the Mendocino Environment Center where linear thought processes were long ago traded in for intuition and non-print input, the libs had been positively giddy at the prospect of world’s end for a solid year.

I kinda like the world myself and, like most old commies, have great respect for the resilience of capitalism. I knew in my bones that the boys with all the booty weren’t about to let the counting house fall down just because a gaggle of techno-nerds had forgotten to adjust the computer clocks.

But just in case the four horsemen rode in on January One, what better place to watch them do their thing than San Francisco?

But nothing happened.

I’ve never seen The City emptier or quieter. It was so quiet it was eerie. I started out from Haight and Ashbury, these days a fashion center for young people with stores selling $200 pairs of rubber shoes with two-foot heels — I’ve lived long enough to watch the area do five sociological flip-flops — up Ashbury, down 17th Street, right on past a deserted Castro, down Market to the Embarcadero where a sedate crowd had gathered to listen to singers I’d never heard of. And I felt nothing resembling deprivation at my ignorance.

There were cops of various kinds all the way down Market posted at each intersection. Critical Mass, at least 30,000 bicyclists short of achieving it, pedaled sedately up Market about a thousand strong. A phalanx of motorcycle cops followed them while a police helicopter rotor-whipped the night air above. At Van Ness and Market, Critical Mass stopped for the red light as the police saw them through to the other side as if they were grandmas on three-wheelers. At 9th and Market a couple of cops confiscated two cans of beer from two hat backwards oafs. (It’s one thing to be a moron, but why try to look like one too? Kids these days…) “But dude…” one of the hat backwards complained as the cop plucked the beer from his hand. “Sorry,” the cop said, “This is no alcohol night.”

At the Embarcadero a group of Chinese kids stood laughing and taking pictures of one another as each posed from behind a pair of oversized glasses. Of the dozen of them, about half wore their hair short and dyed in day-glo colors. An old guy said to another old guy, “Al, did you ever think you’d see a Jap with green hair?” Al replied, “Maybe, but I never thought I’d see two of ‘em.” The old guys chuckled.

I seemed to be the third oldest guy in the throng. Huge speakers pounded out the painfully loud rhythms of sexual intercourse and ya-ya lyrics. Young people danced as cops plucked beers out of startled but unresisting hands. I didn’t see any fights or even anything that resembled the usual free-floating hostility present in mob scenes. There were a few groups of tough guys who looked like they wanted to fight, but nobody seemed inclined to rumble.

There was no point — celebratory or otherwise — standing around listening to music played so loud I couldn’t listen in on conversations so I walked back up Market, then up Taylor for a bolito bowl at Original Joe’s. The waiter told me that “the Mayor wrecked the whole weekend for everybody. The no drinking rule, all the baloney about how the cops were going to crack down on people. The Y2K bullshit from the hippies. That’s why nobody’s out there.”

Lots of stores on Market were boarded up, lots weren’t. Old Navy and The Gap store windows were covered with three-quarter inch plywood. Between the cracks, I could see fat guys in rent-a-cop unis standing round. Some of them wore sidearms. Would they die for ten bucks an hour when the wealth redistributors hurtled through the plywood?

I walked on up to Union Square where some kind of mega-millennial ecumenical prayer and music event was supposed to come off at $10 a pop. The believers had stayed away in droves. Union Square is a lot more crowded on Christmas Day than it was End Of The World Night.

There was nothing else to do so I stopped to listen to an unaffiliated evangelical do his thing at the corner of Geary and Stockton. He was a stocky guy about 40 who resembled a squat Elvis Presley, black hair swept back like fenders on a ‘55 Buick. Elvis the God Guy was dressed in a black leather-like, head-to-toe zippered jump suit with an American flag sewed into its chest. God Guy wore a ten gallon cowboy hat festooned with flag medallions and alternating “Praise God!” decals. Nike running shoes rounded out the millennial attire. If Elvis was wafted away, raptured right off the corner, he might have a tough time getting past the security check at Heaven’s Gate in this get-up, but none of us knows for sure if there’s a dress code on the other side till we get there.

Elvis was bellowing apocalyptic warnings through a small bullhorn. He put on a lot better show than anything happening at the Embarcadero. Bill Graham Presents and Willy Brown should have hired him to liven things up. “God is not pleased with the Pope,” Elvis hollered at me as I settled in for the show. “Pope rhymes with dope. There’s no hope with the Pope.” That vein of alliterative gold quickly exhausted, Elvis brought his bullhorn inches from my face. “You ask me how I was brought up?” he bellered as if I’d asked. “Doesn’t really matter; it’s where I’m going that counts.” With that do-it-yourself exchange completed, Elvis pivoted to shout anti-Clinton insults skyward. “Bill Clinton is a filthy, stinking sinner. Will I pray for this stinking, rotten, evil man? Why should I? He’s pro-queer, pro-abortion.”

It wasn’t hard to understand why the preacher was reduced to an open air Post Street pulpit. His wasn’t exactly a Frisco-friendly message, although Elvis did toss out a few sops to the libs, whether or not out of concern for Frisco sensibilities or out of mental illness could not be determined with any certainty. “All weapons should be buried. They are evil. Praise God.” All he drew was chuckles from me and a few fish eyes from the few passersby who even seemed aware of him.

A young Chinese guy soon appeared, a mischievous grin on his face and a violin case under his arm. I got the feeling the preacher and the violinist were old antagonists. The kid took out a small amplifier and plugged an electric string instrument into it and began sawing unmusically away a few feet from the rambunctious representative of the Prince of Peace. “The devil won’t drive me out!” the preacher shouted at the kid who promptly turned up the volume on his violin for a round of Waltzing Matilda. As I walked up Post, the preacher and the electrified violinist were a foot apart, the kid laughing and hacking away with his bow at his amplified strings, the preacher screaming, “The devil hisself is knocking at my door but he sure is wrong if he thinks God will let him in!”

At the rear door of the St. Francis hotel a bunch of cops were assembled to launch a mini-motorcade. The very sight of big black cars and motorcades makes me yearn for hand grenades, but I lingered, joining 50 or so other gawkers. I wanted to see who gets tax-funded escorts these days. The last time I checked, we were paying for the cops to whisk senior sluts from the US Senate out to SFO as the peons pulled over to the side to let the leadership pass. A guy asked me, “Who’s here?” Al Gore, I replied. The guy turned to the lady with him and said authoritatively, “Al Gore. Wonder what he’s doing here? Let’s stick around.”

“Al Gore Al Gore Al Gore”s ripple excitedly through the crowd, passed from one person to the next like a beer at a ball game. The crowd waiting for Al Gore grows larger. I lament my little treachery until I remind myself that anybody who’d wait outside a hotel door for a glimpse of Al Gore on the last day of a thousand years or any other day deserves whomever eventually appears and I hope it’s the third secretary of Independent Yakataka or Dianne Feinstein.

At the Civic Center another music festival of some sort was tuning up, but it seemed lightly attended too. I think it was a second whoop de doo sponsored by The City. I walked on up a deserted Polk Street until I got to Sacramento where I hopped a free bus. The Muni is never entirely free, broadly considered to include the emotional toll it often takes, but it was free to riders on this, The Last Night.

The bus was empty except for four Mexicans just getting off work. Early in the morning, late at night, the Muni is a mobile Third World, ferrying the legions of underpaid people who do the real work of our latest economic miracle, the SUV-Dot Com decade where the dollars go up but fewer and fewer come down.

I get off at California and Masonic to catch the 33 back to the Haight. Two middle-aged women, one black one white and nicely done up and how good it is to see women looking after themselves again after the long visual drought years of no paint and no pain over appearances join me at the bus stop. The area is deserted. “Do you mind if we stand near you?” one asks. “It’s creepy out here.” Yes, I’m the only one, I say. They laugh. I don’t know if I should be insulted at their menace-free assumption or elated that I seem capable of serving as armor against the urban night.

The 33 eventually appears. My wards and I are the only passengers until Hayes Street where an odd guy in white bucks trips and sprawls onto the bus, lying on the steps like he’s dead drunk or has just dropped dead from the exertion of climbing onto the 33. But he’s neither, just clumsy. “Are you going to ask me if I’m alright, driver?” Mr. Prat Fall asks. No, the driver says without even looking at the guy as he pulls out into a uniquely vehicle-free Masonic. “How about you folks? Are you going to ask me if I’m alright?” Mr. Prat Fall ask us. Are you alright?, I and my two wards chorus. “Yes, I am, thank you,” PF says and, apparently gratified at our mannerly response to his inquiry, sits down without saying another word.

The Muni is endlessly fascinating. San Francisco is endlessly fascinating. The libs are lamenting The City’s alleged loss of its “diversity,” but I’ve never seen it more diverse, and I’ve been living there and going there for 55 years.

At Haight and Masonic I alight. One of the two ladies I was selflessly accompanying point to point or at least until a visible threat materialized, wished me happy new year as the other said, “Thank you for guarding us.”

Shucks, ma’am, happy to put your mind to ease.

Haight Street was deserted. Ben and Jerry’s was the only place open. Even the bums, and the winos and the tax-funded dopers had disappeared. Excuse me. Even the homeless seem to have packed it in for the night. Maybe the people who refuse to consider the revival of the state hospital system took them home to welcome in the new year or the end of all years, whichever came first, but nobody was out anywhere in San Francisco. Only a few thousand suburbanites were massed at the Embarcadero, gaping at the Ferry Building and massing at rows of PortaPotties for easily the most chaste New Year’s Eve in the history of the Golden Gate.

The next day the paper said that there were fewer police and fire calls on New Year’s Eve than there are on any Friday night of the year. People stayed home for the end of the world, but it didn’t end anywhere, even the places where it was supposed to.

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