- Weekend Weather
- Little Dog
- Ray Pinoli
- Animal Orphanage
- Editorial Experience
- Public Lands
- Boonville ATM
- Yesterday's Catch
- White Radicals
- Diminishing Returns
- Gorbachev Impostor
- My Story
WEEKEND WEATHER NOTES: The Navarro River surpassed flood stage (23 feet) at 3pm Sunday, peaking at midnight at 30.98 feet. Weekend precipitation totals: Yorkville 6.4 inches; Boonville 5.71 inches.
FROM MENDOCINO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT:
No School Monday, January 9
Due to weather related conditions, school is cancelled for all MUSD sites.
School will resume on Tuesday, January 10.
Enjoy the day off and stay safe and dry!
HIGHWAY 128 was closed a little after 3pm Sunday when the Navarro spilled its banks. As of Sunday night, it was expected rise to “moderate” flooding before receding Monday, then rising to “minor” flooding again with the next round of lighter rain on Tuesday.
The Greenwood Road closed about 4pm with a report that power lines were down on the road. CalTrans and County crews have done a first-rate job keeping roads open except, of course, 128, closed at Flynn Creek from flooding. In general, neighborhood power has been quickly restored by PG&E crews.
So far several inches of rain have fallen in the area, more on the Coast and in the hills. Boonville probably got two or three inches on Sunday dropping off in the afternoon. More rain is expected on Monday and Tuesday, tapering off into Wednesday with another three or four inches. Unsettled but not so wet weather will continue for the rest of the week, staying above 40 on rainy nights (into the 30s on clear nights) and rising to the mid-50s during the day.
LITTLE DOG SAYS, “My great-grand-dad always said, 'Little Dog, these storms ain't nothin'. 1964 was the storm to remember. That one took out whole towns in Humboldt County’.”
HOW MANY COUNTRIES can you live in without leaving Mendocino County? If you were Ray Pinoli, born in 1925, dead at the very end of 2016, I'd six countries, and Ray only left Philo to fight in the Pacific as a Marine during World War Two. (Which could count as seven countries, but that experience was on another planet entirely.)
AS A KID in the Anderson Valley, Ray lived through the Depression. He would have remembered a WPA crew building the bridge over Con Creek in 1933, the original bridge on Anderson Valley Way we drive over today.
HAVING SURVIVED the War, Ray would have enjoyed, maybe, the tranquil, prosperous, optimistic 1950s and, here in Mendocino County, the great logging boom when there were more than twenty lumber mills from Yorkville to Navarro, and sea-going ships hauled lumber out of Noyo Harbor. Everybody had a job, everybody made enough money to live on, everybody was pretty much on the same page, socially and politically. (Same page, definition of: Aberrant behavior was strictly an indoors affair. You voted Republican or Democrat because both parties stood for defined principles. Drunks and crazy people did not live on the streets, and even bums wore tattered suits and ties. America was still recognizable on the historical continuum with ethnic minorities were represented by Amos and Andy, Charlie Chan, Tonto, the Cisco Kid and Pancho.)
AT THE END of the 1960s, Ray would have been startled, perhaps perplexed, probably amused by the hippies who began buying up logged-over land in the hills to carve out non-urban lives, developing the marijuana industry to pay modest mortgages. Among them was a new crop of veterans produced by Vietnam.
BY 1980, the wine pioneers — Darren Edmeades, Tony Husch, Jed Steele, and Steve Tylicki (“We're built out; there will never be vineyards in the hills”) were here, and Ray sold part of his prosperous holdings to the Roederer family of France, and the Roederers soon erected the first fully industrialized wine plant in the Anderson Valley, Scharffenberger second.
WITH THE WINE INDUSTRY came immigrant Mexicans who made the industry prosperous.
AND BY THE TIME Ray died two weeks ago, Anderson Valley was a bilingual community whose primary income derived from wine, marijuana, tourism, government jobs, and, you might say, mystery money people with vague pedigrees.
RAY lived in six countries without leaving home — seven, if you count the Marine expeditionary force in the Pacific.
I DON'T PRETEND to be an expert on the County Animal Shelter in Ukiah. The one time I visited the place last summer it looked clean and tidy and generally well-run. Lots of people live in worse circumstances.
THESE PLACES used to be called "pounds." But that was before the anthromorphs took animals in completely unrealistic directions. Was it Walt Disney who did it, cutesified animals into infantilized versions of human children?
THE UKIAH POUND, er "Shelter" was impressive, doubly impressive considering its small staff was caring for something like 400 dogs and cats. (I think I also caught a glimpse of rabbits, or maybe the rabbits were small, raggedy goats.)
THE PEOPLE presently besieging the Shelter with daily volleys of errant criticism aren't helping the Animal Shelter. They put out hysterical bulletins on the anthromorph hotline that "25 pitbulls will be killed tomorrow unless we act."
THE TRUTH is only un-adoptable or sick animals are put down. And why is it surprising that some of the healthy dogs, stacked up for months in small cages, get sick when there's a constant stream of sick dogs walking through the door?
AND what do you expect from a "No Kill" facility? No Kill essentially means the County is running a dog and cat orphanage. That's the long and short of it. The animals pile up because there aren't enough people willing to adopt them, and many of these animals are feral, having been abandoned by people unable to effectively care for themselves, let alone a pet.
I THINK the new boss at the Shelter is doing the best he can in an impossible situation made even more difficult by people always ripping the management of place but have no ideas about how to make it better short of privatizing it or putting themselves in charge. A privatized Shelter could adopt out all those pit bulls that dope crooks simply left up in the hills?
THE SHERIFF used to assign inmates to help care for the animals. Maybe that program could be re-instituted. (You'd get a lot of pitbull expertise out of the Jail population.)
IN FACT, the Animal Shelter should be put under the management of the Sheriff’s Department. It works fine that way in Humboldt County. Sheriff Allman has said he'd happily accept it. Animal Control is already part of the Sheriff’s Department and female inmates are already assigned to help out at the Shelter on a limited basis. I'm confident the Sheriff and the new boss, Molinari, could work out ways that would relieve the critics, assuming the critics aren't beyond rational discussion.
MAYBE more anthropomorphically inclined people could be encouraged to volunteer, not that volunteers are likely to keep volunteering if they have to listen to a lot of whining during their volunteer hours.
GIVE THE NEW GUY, Rich Molinari, some time to get acclimated, to fully adjust to the unique reality we have going in Mendocino County.
WITH THE PARVO outbreak, shelter staff are trying to deal with a very tough situation not of their making. I understand that they’re testing dogs all day, every day, to contain the outbreak. This all-out effort, of course, is piled on top of their other duties.
THE EDITORIAL EXPERIENCE
MARCO McCLEAN WRITES: When I was making my paper [Memo] I tried to print everything the way people sent it, but that's like the speed of light; you can get close but never reach it. And some things are just impossible. A man in Redwood Valley used to mail me folders of microscopic handwriting going in all directions and filling the pages edge to edge, and diagrams and sketches with arrows and explanations of explanations in nests of parentheses, all about his geometrical flying saucer childhood-acid experience and consequent messages he was receiving from the aliens via wind and lightning, random sounds, overheard strangers' conversations, and the Christian radio show of someone named Brother Camping. Today you can just photograph that sort of art and put it on the web, but then, in the stone age of media, I'd put the text in whatever order seemed reasonable, typeset as much of it as filled a standard column, crossing off what I'd used so far, and call it done. He never complained.
The complaints and anger and venom and stalking came mostly from people who objected to my having printed something by their personal enemy/opponent. Once, a man called me on the phone early in the morning to say that the police and fire people were there because his friend had tried to cut his own tongue out with a steak knife, and that was somehow my fault because my paper was the conduit between him and his other friend, his codependent poet-rival. All three of them are dead now, two by suicide, one by cancer, I think.
And the titles: I'd make up a title for things, and generally that was appreciated (My Saucer Friends; Dear Aunt Phoebe, America's Sweetheart; Sex In Space; etc., but every once in awhile even that was the end of the world, apparently. A man wrote something that reminded me of the song Horse Latitudes by the Doors, so I titled it Mute Nostril Agony for obvious reasons, and when the paper came out he told me off good and proper and never wrote for Memo again, and that was too bad because he was a good writer.
One man stopped me in the Safeway parking lot at night and, smiling creepily the whole time, helpfully informed me that I'm too much of a pussy to have a gun but I should get a riot spray thing or a shock prod and always keep it with me, uh, to protect against people like him.
And then there are the people who vandalize your office door and your car, and who honk their horn outside your radio station and peel away, and so on. It's all part of the divine comedy.
MAKE PUBLIC LANDS A PRIORITY
To the Editor:
In my life, I’ve served four different terms on the Round Valley Tribal Council and worked for years as a K-12 teacher. I believe in the need to care for all our land and waters. I am an educator at heart, and that’s why it means a lot to me to teach people of all backgrounds — and especially children — about our public lands and how we can protect and restore these special places for future generations to enjoy.
That’s why I was delighted to learn that school children have gone on field trips over the past months to explore places like the Black Butte River in Mendocino County and other places in the region. The Round Valley Indian Tribes helped lead elementary and middle school students on streamside hikes so they could learn about the area’s geology and aquatic biology. I’ve had the honor of talking to several classes afterwards about the geography, the history, traditional fishing, and natural cycles of weather and geology of the rivers they visited. What an opportunity to inspire and teach young people about the importance of our rivers!
These trips were organized to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act, which was signed into law in 2006. Congressman Thompson championed this effort, along with Senators Boxer and Feinstein.
This landmark legislation protected public lands and water in Northern California, including 273,000 acres of wilderness and 21 miles of the Black Butte Wild & Scenic River. The Black Butte provides some of the best habitat for Chinook salmon and steelhead trout in the entire Middle Fork Eel River watershed.
This is particularly important to me as a member of the Wylaki Tribe. Our Round Valley reservation is right in the heart of the entire Eel River watershed. My ancestors learned to fish in a back eddy of the Eel River, like many others native to this region. The area’s tribes once thrived on its abundant salmon, a traditional source of food for the Round Valley Tribes and other First Americans. The salmon have been sacred to us since we were the only human inhabitants of this beautiful, outstanding watershed.
The habitat of our salmon has since been critically damaged over time, after others moved into the area to extract resources. There are natural things that happen that change the flow of water, but there are unnatural things like farming practices, livestock management, and timber industry practices that have changed the watershed for the worse. Devastating logging processes and battles over sheep and cattle grazing have caused terrible erosion to our sacred lands.
Legislation like the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act is essential when it comes to restoring our river and fisheries back to health. We’re already seeing major progress just 10 years later. Stream restoration has made a major impact, since preserving even part of a stream moves the needle for the entire river system. We’re seeing more Chinook salmon, we’re seeing steelhead coming in earlier, lamprey eels in abundance, and we’re even seeing schools of green sturgeon — once all but wiped out due to years and years of pollution and overfishing greed.
I’ve even seen a difference in the creek that runs by my house. I’ve watched that creek for over 70 years, and how it meanders around creating pools at the bends where salmon and steelhead stay to spawn and rest. My community, the Round Valley Tribes, has been restoring this stream for several years. Seeing our sacred fish come in earlier and earlier each year lets me know we’re headed in the right direction.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, and continuing to protect our public lands and the rivers that run through these places is at the top of my list. The 10th anniversary of the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act is the perfect time for us to come together and reflect on what we can do to heading into the next decade and century. The consciousness of the human world is changing. We need to think cosmically about saving the world then act locally, close to our homes.
I urge our community leaders to continue making the protection and funding of our public lands and rivers a priority. And I encourage all of us to find ways to educate our children about the importance of these places. After all, they will be the next generation to enjoy, experience, and steward these special places.
Ernie Merrifield, Covelo
(Elder of the Round Valley Indian Tribe and four-time tribal councilmember)
A FULL SERVICE ATM IN AV? WHAT A CONCEPT
There is a move underway in Anderson Valley to persuade Redwood Credit Union to install a full service ATM in downtown Boonville.
Signup sheets have been circulating from Yorkville to Navarro, and nearly 100 people who are already RCU members, including business accounts and multiple memberships, have signed. So have 30 people who would potentially become members if an ATM were accessible.
A meeting with RCU executives will take place in early February to discuss a possible site, the numbers of new and existing members that would be required to influence their decision in favor of an AV ATM, and a potential installation date if the project is approved.
The number of potential new members will weigh heavily toward an executive decision in favor of the ATM.
If you would like to add your name to the list, leave a message at (415) 513-0292 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and provide the following information:
- Name (please spell if leaving a phone message)
- Are you already a Redwood Credit Union member?
- If you are not a member, might you become one if AV had an ATM?
- Number of RCU members or potential members in your household
- Number of RCU accounts or potential accounts in your household
Calls/emails should be made before the end of January.
CATCH OF THE DAY, January 8, 2017
HANNAH ALCORN, Potter Valley. DUI.
PAUL BAUGHMAN, Ukiah. Drunk in public.
PATRICK HANOVER, Covelo. Protective order violation.
VANCE MADSON*, Boulder, Colorado/Ukiah. Burglary. (Photo not available Sunday night.)
FARON MORENO, Laytonville. Failure to appear.
JAQUELIN MUNIZ, Ukiah. Domestic assault.
MICHAEL PELKEY, Fort Bragg. Failure to appear.
BRANDON STONE, Fort Bragg. County parole violation.
ROBERT VARGAS JR., Fort Bragg. Meth possession, paraphernalia, ex-felon with firearm, ammo possession by prohibited person, probation revocation.
JONATHAN ZACK, Potter Valley. DUI.
* * *
*On January 2nd at about 1:28 pm, UPD officers were dispatched to the Ukiah High School 1000 Low Gap Road, on a report that someone had made entry into the gymnasium and burglarized the snack shack. During the subsequent investigation officers found that forced entry had been made into the snack shack and miscellaneous food items, appliances, utensils and paper dish supplies had been taken. While working with school officials, officers were able to access the surveillance video of the theft. From the video, officers discovered that two male subjects were involved. At about 5:45 pm, an officer was canvassing the surrounding area for possible suspects, when he located a male subject near the Ukiah Players Theater. The male subject was identified as Vance Madson age 19, a local transient. Officers were able to link Madson to the school burglary and he was placed under arrest.
The follow-up investigation led officers to a storage shed behind Orr Creek School, on Low Gap Road. Inside the shed officers located the second suspect, who was identified as Marcus Ledgerwood age 30, a local transient. Ledgerwood was also placed under arrest for burglary. Most of the stolen property from the snack shack was recovered from inside the shed. Madson was booked, cited and released for burglary, while Ledgerwood was booked into county jail.
There was more than enough racism in the theater lobby to go around. A stoop-shouldered white cat flipped the bill of his baseball cap over his right ear, and then slung his arm around Hominy, bussed him on the cheek, and exchanged skin. The two did everything but call each other Tambo and Bones.
“I just want to say, all those rappers running off at the mouth about being ‘last of the real niggers,’ don’t have jack shit on you, because you, my man, are more than the last Little Rascal, you’re the last real nigger. And I mean ‘nigger’ with a hard r.”
“Why, thank you, white man.”
“And do you know why there aren’t any more niggers?”
“No, sir. I don’t.”
“Because white people are the new niggers. We’re just too full of ourselves to realize it.”
“The ‘new niggers,’ you say?”
“That’s right, both me and you — niggers to the last. Disenfranchised equals ready to fight back against the motherfucking system.”
“Except that you’ll get half the jail time.”
—Paul Beatty, “Sellout”
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
I’m barely into my 40s, and I can remember as a pre-teen bringing my nickles and dimes, and maybe if I were lucky – an odd quarter, to our downtown of the small town I grew up. 30 years ago, I could use those coins to purchase candy and smaller sundry items. Maybe a can of pop. Now, none of those same businesses exist. The “dollar store” has replaced the “nickle & dime” and I think that’s a real indicator as to where the US has gone is a very short time. It used to be these types of changes in the economy generally took a much longer time into fruition – certainly not within living memory of so many younger people. In this same time period, there has been a very real and noticeable change in the quality of goods. What used to be made out of steel is now made out of plastics, and for much more money. So, I think we are definitely in this era of diminishing returns which you’ve written so eloquently about. It’s very difficult to see the quandary people are in when they are so deeply involved in a problem. I think we are collectively in a type of new Great Depression period (or perhaps right on the cusp of one), and most people can’t recognize it, because it would be like trying to explain water to a fish. It surrounds us so completely & we are so immersed in it.
So anyway, a few thoughts there. Thanks again, and Happy New Year! Life is anything if not interesting.
TRUMP FOOLED BY GORBACHEV IMPOSTOR
by Tom Cahill, former long-time resident of Ten Mile presently living in France.
San Antonio Rose
Deep within my heart lies a melody,
A song of old San Antone.
Where in dreams I live with a memory,
Beneath the stars all alone.
It was there I found beside the Alamo,
Enchantment strange as the blue up above.
A moonlit pass only she would know.
Still hears my broken song of love.
Moon in all your splendour, know only my heart.
Call back my Rose, Rose of San Antone.
Lips so sweet and tender like petals falling apart.
Speak once again of my love, my own.
Broken song, empty words I know,
Still live in my heart all alone,
For that moonlit pass down beside the Alamo,
And Rose, my Rose of San Antone.
An old cowboy favourite
by Bob Wills, 1938.
and after a time,
I shall miss,
From a poem by Peter McWilliams
A Song Of Old San Antone
I like women. I like their quiet strength, coordinated colors, their spirituality, fresh cut flowers and candlelight, nurturing bosoms, their generosity and chocolate delights, toothpaste kisses, pillow talk, their healing power, and of course satin with just a little lace.
Yeh, yeh, I know how a woman can mind-fuck a guy. But what else can she do when her adversary is a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier and has the church, state, and the entire patriarchy behind him? Like society is soft on criminally-insane politicians and businessmen, I'm soft on women. I'll take a lot more abuse from a woman than I will from a man. And I'm not pussy-whipped like my cousin claims I am. Just take my word for it. I know me pretty well.
For a woman, I was never a catch. Tall, dark and funny-looking, I speak through my node and as a kid on the baseball field, I was called "the strike-out king" because of my myopia. I've always been a prospective mother-in-law's worst horror after breast cancer. And I know of at least one prospective father-in-law who spoke of me to a Sicilian friend of his.
It's not that I'm a bad person. It's just that I'm inept, lackluster, malcontent, a dreamer, a neatness freak, irreverent and have had, at times, bad breath.
On my flip side, I'm a neatness freak; fairly honest, trustworthy and loyal; I revere nature; savor quiet and harmony; and can dress myself and tie my own shoelaces.
All these attributes, of course, mean nothing when my bank account is usually hovering on zero. So when Celina cut me loose in deep, dark outer space on April Fool's Day 1968, I understood.
Celina required that her Mr. Right be a decent provider, a good Catholic, and many, many other things, only a meagre few of which I scored in the fair to midlin' range. This, of course, was a few years before Gloria Steinham and Bella Abzug and Germain Greer and some of my other heroes got into full stride, lifting the consciousness of some women as well as men.
Celina was twenty when we met in December '65. I was twenty-eight. She had just graduated college and was teaching students only a few years younger than herself. Her family was traditional, middleclass, Hispanic Catholic, but not the kind who actually knew their parish priest and are missed at church when they are sick or out-of-town.
I had been divorced three years and had just quit a job on a magazine in Austin and was campaigning for a seat in the Texas Legislature. That's how young and out-of-it we both were.
The evening we met at her cousin's home, I didn't hear a word she said for quite a while. My only sense functioning then was visual. A couple years later, after we broke up, friends of mine who knew her would tell me she really wasn't that good looking. But I suspected they said this in an attempt to help me heal--loyally downgrading the cause of my unhappiness. But I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen even in the movies.
And when I did start picking her up on audio, her voice was the second thing that enchanted me. Her diction was a bit affected like one might expect from an English teacher fresh out of college and Hispanic to boot. But the tone, the lilt, the resonance of her voice was, well, heavenly. A few months later I heard her sing for the first time and it was no surprise what a beautiful and strong voice she had. It was at the San Antonio Zoo, in the Penguin House that had particularly fine acoustics, that she began softly singing some aria. We were alone and I kept encouraging her to sing louder as I made my way slowly to the entrance to keep a lookout so she wouldn't be embarrassed by a passerby. She was good, really good, and I told her so afterward as I hugged this woman with whom I already knew I was deeply in love.
Her name was the third thing that fascinated me. Wouldn't you know, her parents had discovered it in some opera when they were courting. I never called her "Nina" like her family though. I liked her full name and never used anything else not even a pet name.
These attributes would have been just a momentary delight had she not had a fine mind. I like brainy woman who don't hide their intellect. At the time, I liked tits ‘n' ass too, just like most young, male apes. But with me it was always brains first.
Celina had a beautiful mind, but not entirely her own at twenty. Not that she was a doormat, oh, no. But she was devoted to her family, of which all the mature women considered me Woolworths when they really wanted I. Magnum for the most eligible princess of the clan. Nieman Marcus would have been even better, but they weren't greedy.
All these years later I'm Goodwill mostly and sometimes Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul. I made my greatest find about 1970--a pair of eighty dollar hiking boots I got for six bucks. I'm sure they were donated by the parents of some guy who didn't return from Vietnam.
Had we met just a year earlier, when Celina was a senior at the University of Texas in Austin and I was working on a magazine there, we might have married. From a poor start, I was making my way up The Ladder quite nicely thank you. The editorship of a reasonably influential and large circulation statewide publication was well within my reach. I had a cozy cottage on Town Lake, a sail boat, and a beautifully-restored, classic Jaguar Mark V drop-head coupe that looked like a mid-Thirties Rolls Royce Phantom. I had a wardrobe to go with the car and was into mimicking Sean Connery's early James Bond.
But by 1965, the country was starting to come apart at the seams. The job became a bore; the Jaguar, an embarrassment. I was running for a seat in the Texas Legislature and trying to sell the car which wasn't good for my image, although Congressman Adam Clayton Powel of New York had one just like it which seemed to help his image among his Black constituents.
When Celina and I met, I still had enough trappings of the American Dream and, more important, absolutely no competition. Celina had been without a guy for some time, so when I came along, a bit nasal but sophisticated and broke but obviously with expensive taste and ambition, her reaction was, "Oh, my, what kind of car is that?"
* * *
Celina never loved me. Of that I am absolutely certain and it should be a comfort to her husband now. But I loved her so much that I got some of it back on the inhale, causing her to think she liked me more than she really did. She was a bit narcissistic, and I was her adoring Mirror on the Wall.
Celina was a virgin when we met, and she was a virgin when we parted two years later. Oh, no, she was no cold fish. Uh, uh! And she wasn't a tease. She was the most passionate woman I ever knew but we pleasured each other without intercourse. I could have popped her Holy Catholic cherry a dozen times but I knew what it meant to her and, deep down, I knew it wasn't meant for me. And after all these years, I'm so glad I didn't steal her virginity from her.
But we had our adolescent trysts; long hours of undisturbed lovemaking, the kind poets try to tell us about but usually fail, except for those like Bagwan Shree Rajneech.
Lovers have sometimes known what Saints have not known
Lovers have sometimes touched that center which Yogis have missed
I was a gentle lover and must have pleased her, for I worshipped her more than I made love to her and I would never kiss her or run my cheek across her back without a fresh shave. And when we were finished for a time, I would clean her with a damp wash cloth, always warm.
Celina was nicely proportioned at twenty-one and sweet-tasting, and I delighted in kissing her everywhere. Her natural perfume was so heady, I became addicted to her and, years later, had to see analysts and therapists and even an astrologer to help me get over my obsession with her. For years afterward, I felt trapped in a bubble with her and believed if ever I met her husband, I could only like him and that would finally pop me back to reality. But all my shrinks disagreed with me.
Most weekends, throughout 1966, in the golden glow of my studio apartment on De Chantle in San Antonio, we kissed and touched and only lived for the present while Rod McKuen serenaded us with songs of Stanyon Street in San Francisco and his other sorrows.*
And we ate simple meals by the light of thick candles perfumed with bay. Throughout the meal, Celina would occasionally reach across the table and spear one of my carrots or a piece of potato or chicken in that odd, intimate Texas custom that I grew to love and missed for a long time afterward. She would never finish her own meal and would scrape choice tidbits onto my plate.
Cleaning-up afterward was always exciting because the kitchen was so small, like the galley on a thirty-foot sailboat. Between putting away food and washing dishes, there was usually a lot of fondling. When I'd tell her I wanted her for desert, she'd smile, “Oh you,” and push me away.
"Just a taste," I'd beg. "Just a taste." It would usually take awhile, but I'd get my way later on the bed with the golden canopy, at the head of which was a framed print of the Grand Canal in Venice.
* * *
If ever I annoyed Celina, she never showed it, she was so good-natured. I can't recall ever fighting, which I realize now probably wasn't healthy for a relationship. But one time I made a political crack about her and she started tearing up, and had I a pair of scissors, I would have snipped off my Goddamn tongue.
She forgave me, she said, quickly, and the kiss that followed was warm and sweet and long and it felt like she forgave me, but I've always wondered if she
didn't hide away the hurt--along with other little pains I caused her, in some secret ventricle in her heart and when she counted them up one day, it helped her decide maybe her mother and aunts were right and maybe I would never amount to anything.
Early, very early, in our relationship, I asked her to marry me, and she quickly responded with a yes. But a few days later, when we spoke on the phone, I could tell she was deeply disturbed about something, so I sped through a famous San Antonio downpour to see her. I had to draw it out of her; she was good at hiding her feelings. But I'm equally good at getting people to open up to me.
"Yes, I've been dreading talking to you about it," said Celina. "I guess I was too hasty."
"Its okay, Its okay," I told her. "The proposal was just a way of telling you how much I love you, " I tried to soothe her, kissing the mole on her right hand. I wasn't surprised and I immediately backed away from her physically to give her the space I knew she needed.
* Stanyon Street and Other Sorrows, album by Rod McKuen, 1966
And neither was I surprised about a month later when she told me she couldn't see me anymore because of my first marriage. My daughter, Kelly, had visited me in San
Antonio for a week, and Celina seemed to like her as she got to know the five-year-old. The three of us tripped around Breckenridge Park and did lots of five-year-old fun things. We played pretend on the narrow gauge train and compared the animals in the Zoo to people we knew and Kelly and I showed Celina all our silly, little tricks and Celina and I showed Kelly some of our silly, little tricks and we giggled a lot those few days.
But soon after Kelly returned home, Celina broke down and told me Kelly was too much of a reminder of my first marriage. Not that she was jealous of a woman she had never known; it was The Church.
I didn't think she was jealous, but I didn't think The Church was that big a factor either. I think Celina and her mother and aunts had taken inventory of me and I had come out with too many deficits.
I was working on an international agri-business magazine and was already at the top as editor. The only person above me was the publisher and I couldn't possibly have his job. He owned the magazine.
I took the split well, was an absolute gentleman about it, which Celina kept telling me she appreciated so much. It was an odd breakup, with the two of us telling each other how the other was so wonderful.
I felt a great sense of loss and sadness, but not hurt. The ego was intact, only a chunk of the heart was missing in action. I felt like crying for days, but never did. And soon I busied myself with something and started forcing myself to at least look at some other women who would hang out at the pool of the apartment house on De Chantle.
I never called Celina. I never wrote to her. And perhaps that's why she called me about a week later. I had just been too much of a good sport. Maybe the inventory was incomplete, she might have thought. Maybe I had some strength of character that might add up to something someday. She told me that once again she had been hasty and she was so sorry to be such a fickle Libra but she did miss me and could she see me real soon?
It’s sad partings that make reunions so sweet, of course. And this one was delicious with lots of flowers and butterflies and bunny rabbits and cotton candy and colored ribbons and everything so Venusian like a Disney flick and what a mess I made on her about five times in the hour we were alone that night.
It was just lovely on weekends when we were together, but during the week I could get melancholy and restless like I knew I was investing too much of my emotions into a doomed relationship. My job was a total bore, putting out a magazine promoting the international seed-producing industry. I wrote two exciting articles that I can recall; one about farming in the future and the other about an area beautification project in a Black section of Philadelphia. Especially with the last one, I just went wild and the prose came out so purple, it was later embarrassing.
It was about this time, I started tuning into Martin Luther King Jr. and SNCC and the boycotts and it excited me and I wished I was Black so I could participate in the glorious struggle as an insider.
And the weekends were beautiful, but the weeknights were not after I hung up the phone after chatting with Celina. So I started writing letters-to-the-editors of the two local newspapers about real liberal stuff like hands off Madalyn Murray and did Oswald really act alone and in support of the Rio Grand Valley Farm Workers.
“Support The Farm Workers?”
Hell, you'd think I stepped on my boss' latest corn he got from playing too much golf. Ever see a grown man get hysterical? It can be awful. And this guy was a WW II hero.
"Well, Mr. Skarien, you've been writing editorials in your magazine putting down the farm workers' requests," I told the publisher. "And you wouldn't give me equal time in your magazine, would you?"
So I started attending meetings of Mexican-American and Black groups but I wasn't much interested in what the Northside anglo liberals were up to. I wanted to be with people who weren't afraid to show their emotions and you should have heard me shout, " Viva la huelga! Viva la justicia!," still about the limit of my Spanish.
Suddenly it was near the end of January 1967 and I was fed up with Seedsmans' Digest. There were people out there in the barrios and the ghettos who appreciated my experience as a journalist and editor and photographer a lot more than this gringo honky I was working for. Yeh, and I was hanging out with a rough crowd and so what about what I do on my own time.
Celina was warm and loving and supportive of me and my work with Reverend Clifton Byrd's United Council for Civic Action which I joined to campaign for a guaranteed minimum wage for all those in San Antonio not covered by the federal law. And I was getting more and more scared that I was getting more and more dependent on Celina and this may or may not have had a bearing on the grandstand stunt that would be my debut into full-time political activism.
Looking back, I suspect the demonstration was in part a kind of small suicide like a divorce is sometimes called a small death by some marriage counsellors. I didn't have the heart to just say, "See here, Celina, let's be truthful. You'll never marry me and I'm at a dead end here in San Antonio. We're not doing each other any favor. I'm just blocking your way from finding Mr. Right, and you're anchoring my balloon."
All resolution would fly the minute I pressed my lips to her's, so I never even attempted an emancipation proclamation.
One night a group of us--I was the only gringo as usual--were planning a small demo to protest Archbishop Robert Lucey's token support for the farm workers. Lucey, with his heavy liberal credentials, had been talking much but coming across with very little in the way of the real support we knew he could muster if he wanted to. The small demonstration turned into a hunger march as the cervesa flowed--I was the only non-drinker-- in the cantina and six of us pledged we would make the entire walk of about eighty miles from San Antonio to the State Capitol in Austin without support., without food, and sleeping in the fields, if necessary. The weather was cold and rainy, but we were determined.
The February issue of Seedsman's Digest was almost finished and that was the only thing I asked of the group; that they wait for me to put the magazine to bed because I would be walking off my job as part of the protest.
It was a small suicide, so long in the process. And I was burning an economic bridge as well. I was jumping into the fray with all my colors and war paint.
(WW II U.S. paratrooper war cry when jumping out of a C-47.)
Pretty quickly, the other five backed out but I went anyway wearing an army rain poncho and a black beret with some kind of Christian medallion my sister—a Catholic nun--had given me pinned to it like a regimental badge. And I carried a large farm worker’s flag with the black thunderbird of Cesar Chavez' warriors. I was so proud to be allowed to carry the flag, it didn't bother me in the least I would be alone for a week with no food or tent or sleeping bag.
I didn't say goodbye to Celina. I figured she'd hear about my stunt and I would just never see her again. And along the way for the first couple days, every time I'd stop to rest and play on my harmonica, Farewell Angelina, the tears would flow into the reeds and the tune would sound all blurbly.
What am I doing? What am I doing? I belong in a mental hospital in a straight jacket, I harassed myself.
Then I'd set my beret at the same rakish angle King George's Commandos had worn theirs into Dieppe in 1942--every boy needs a war--and I'd pick up my flag and I was off, over hill and dale, staying as far away from the roaring, splashing traffic as I could--a half-assed, romantic idealist making one hell of a fool of himself and who the hell gave a damn anyway.
Fr. Sherrill Smith, the activist priest, cared. He found me on the highway and admired my black beret. He told me it would look great with his outfit and that I was nuts but that he loved me and wished he could join me. But these days he was spreading himself too thin; he had to be more selective about his fights,
and I was doing just fine on my own, he told me. He gave me a blessing and a hug and was gone. And I wanted to go with him, I was so cold and hungry and tired. But I did a smart right turn and marched off with tears streaming down my already rain-soaked face; the farm worker flag hanging wet and limp over my shoulder.
And Mary Lou Miller, liberal gadfly for every cause from the ACLU to the campesinos, visited me and insisted I drink some broth she brought.
"But Mary Lou, I'm fasting," I said. "You know, like Dick Gregory."
"Well, a little broth isn't cheating," she squawked so loud and insistent like an irate schoolmarm, I drank the stuff which was delicious. I was never so excited about broth before or since.
"And here's your orange juice and your vitamins," she twinkled, like she was putting one over on a favorite pupil. "You can carry it with you."
I didn't know then she was one of those health food nuts, you know, cottage cheese, rabbit food and yeast. Yuk! After all these years, I'm still not into cottage cheese, but greens and yeast and fresh, organic carrot juice are staples for me.
I took the orange juice and the vitamins and thanked her warmly because I really did appreciate her concern. And after all these years, she's one of few people of that bittersweet time in San Antonio with whom I've stayed in touch. But when her car was out of sight, I left the orange juice on a picnic table in a roadside park. At the time I didn't know Dick Gregory often drank juice when fasting, and man, that Dick Gregory was a quite a guy. More than just a stand-up comedian, he remains a stand-up guy—the highest compliment I can pay anyone. A political, social and spiritual activist, he came of age in the Sixties and today is still going strong for peace with justice for all. He remains the
worst kind of terrorist—like Gandhi, a non-violent one—the kind government forces have trouble dealing with and try to provoke into violence which they then can handle.
Another visitor was one of the Mejicanos who vowed to march to Austin that night in the cantina. His attitude was real strange though and I had trouble understanding him, not that his English was poor.
"I've been sent to bring you back, Tom," he said with a sinister gaze straight into my eyes.
"Really?" I answered. "Who sent you?"
"I can't tell you that. But I have to bring you back one way or another," said the man who was a little shorter than me but more stocky.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. This guy I thought was a friend was telling me he had been a Golden Gloves champ and he was threatening to beat hell out of me and dump me into his car. If I went peacefully, he would take me to a resort or retreat for priests by a lake somewhere and he said Celina would be brought to me there. I didn't even know he knew her.
"You can work me over but I tell you this; as soon as I'm released from the hospital, I'll come right back to this spot," I told him, looking him steadily in the eyes.
He said he was sorry he couldn't talk sense into me but he believed it would do no good to bang me around. So with a wave and a good luck, he left me feeling quite weird.
I was now at least two-thirds of the way to Austin when a car I recognized from a distance, pulled alongside. It was Celina and she got out quickly and rushed up to me with a teary smile.
"Oh, baby, I want to hold you so bad," she said, turning to glance at her mother who was sitting behind the steering wheel of the Falcon, staring disgustedly at me.
"I want to hold you, too," I said weakly, not daring to make a move toward her because of her mother.
The heat was really on at home, of course, and her mother insisted on coming with her. But Celina's feelings were the same for me and she approved--kinda --of what I was doing and reminded me of a film we had seen about this Englishman who wanted to be an Arab so bad that his Arab friends gave him this Arab outfit and told him, okay, so you're an Arab now. And Celina called me her Lawrence and gave me a quick peck and rushed back to the car.
More than a year and a half later, in October 1968, what happened to T.E. Lawrence in captivity at the hands of the Turks happened to me when I was raped while jailed for civil disobedience in San Antonio. It wasn't until about 1984 that I learned this about Lawrence of Arabia when I was beginning to do research on prisoner rape after I took over an organization trying to stop this barbarism. I also read in a biography by Geoffrey Ashe that Mahatma Gandhi may have been raped or at least threatened with it while jailed in Pretoria in 1909.
The media was ignoring me. I had just been threatened obviously by someone with clout. For days I had been sleeping under picnic tables and bridges. None of that mattered except my small suicide had failed and I was more in love with Celina than ever. I wanted to scream for joy, then drop dead of starvation. How could God do this to me? Why does my life have to be so complicated? Here I am standing in the pouring rain with an erection. Somebody lock me up. Please, somebody lock me up so I don't hurt myself anymore.
When I got to the Legislature in Austin, the delegation of organized labor that was supposed to greet me with the press, was nowhere to be seen. Big surprise! I may be crazy but I'm not stupid. Early on I learned in politics--expect the unexpected. I checked in with some receptionist in the Capitol building like I was touching the curb in a street game of home free. Then I executed a smart about face and was off to find my Celina. Fuck politics and all politicians!
I hopped a bus and returned to my studio apartment on De Chantle. I scrapped off a week's growth of whiskers and grime, called Celina, and met her at a wedding reception for one of her friends.
You'd have thought we were the newlyweds; we damn near stole the show. What an evening! I rarely dance--it's the dyslexia, y'know--but that evening I faked it real good especially the waltzes. For some reason I can handle waltzes. My feet cooperate with waltzes for some strange reason. And I stuffed myself with all kinds of wedding reception goodies (read junk food). Celina kept teasing me about making a piggy of myself, but when I wasn't stuffing food into my mouth, she was stuffing food into my mouth. And she kept calling me “my Lawrence.” And when she'd say that, I wanted to put my face between her luscious breasts and cry, I was feeling so happy we were still a couple and the week's ordeal was over. And, God Almighty, I was so tired.
Of course I had to vacate my fashionable little studio pretty quick. Another lesson I learned early in life was that money doesn't grow on trees. I still haven't found out where it does grow but I've long known it doesn't grow on trees. Maybe it grows closer to the ground or underground like truffles. But I've always had more important things to do than learn where to harvest money.
I moved in with a gay friend, Gary Brantley, who I made very nervous with all my new political jargon especially Spanish words like chicano. And soon I was editing a tiny Black newspaper called Snap on the eastside of San Antonio. Gene Coleman paid me in burgers and fries from a fast food stand he also owned, but the job only lasted a month or so. Of course I was blasting city hall and the courthouse until someone pressed Coleman to leash me. We had a friendly parting. Coleman was sorry to see me go, he admitted, since his circulation had increased substantially. We parted on friendly terms with Gene offering me free hamburgers, fries and milk shakes for life.
“Its okay, Gene. I understand," I told my Black friend. "As the rednecks say, “Fuck with the bull, you get the horn,'" I smiled at him. "And I just got the horn again but not from you, my friend."
The very next day or perhaps even that night, a new paper was born on the opposite side of town, in the barrios, and I was back in business. I was totally against the name Inferno and could have vetoed it since the backers--Mexican American civil service workers--elected me publisher as well as editor and swore they would never, ever interfere with anything I printed as long as I supported civil rights at least for Mejicanos. But the name in English was so close to the Spanish, I agreed and in no time I grew to like the name and with the very first issue, I made the paper live up to its flaming flag and its mission, "Conscience of the Community." All these years later, I blush at my chutzpah back then. Jesus!
Soon after the first issue, I pulled another grandstander, again not telling Celina. To publicize the grievances of a new labor union that was about to call off a year-long strike, I smashed two closed-circuit television cameras that were aimed inside a restroom and were one of the main reasons for the strike. Management claimed workers were using the toilet for union organizing on work time. And they probably were.
I fasted another week in Bexar County Jail. It was the second of many more fasts to come. And only after one fast of two months in 1984 did I figure out why I liked fasting--it induces mania, a free and legal drug. But this time Celina didn't visit me behind bars.
This time it wasn't a small suicide. I was really caught up in the theater of radical politics. Again, I didn't know it till years later but I am an excitement junky. More than one shrink has told me so and I concur.
I'd never see Celina again, I thought for sure, but it was okay. Politics was a poor substitute but it was a substitute. This time I was more relieved than sad. At least I had a cause to replace the love of my life.
It was over, finally, the long, slow death. Even when we were making love in the closet in which I slept in the vacant, dilapidated barbershop where I put out Inferno, I was weeping spiritually. I knew I was being greedy, wanting the bliss to last forever and not being satisfied with the here and now.
Bail had been set at $3,000 then quickly reduced to my own recognizance when the local papers kept playing up the cameras on the restroom at Steves Sash and Door Company on the front pages and the nut was still in jail, fasting no less. After just about seven days, Fr. Smith, who had visited me along with Tom Flower (another local activist), came to me again, telling me the strike was over. The union had won a big victory, well big for San Antonio. I signed my way out of jail and Fr. Smith took me out to eat, then drove me “home” to the barbershop on Frio City Road.
My mail was stacked up and I was just finishing a letter from my sister, a nun and medical missionary in Guatemala, when the phone rang.
"Tom, can we meet somewhere private?" It was Celina.
I tried to tell her it wasn't necessary to meet. I understood. It was okay.
"I still love you madly but I know I'm not right for you,” I told her.
She still wanted to see me and I suggested a pancake house since I was still hungry after a big Mexican dinner Fr. Smith treated me to just an hour or two earlier. No emotional stress or sadness or horror has ever affected my appetite. Even when I was in the Air Force in Germany about to be discharged and a buddy told me there had been a serious incident on the Demilitarized Zone in Korea and that sabres were rattling on both sides.
"How can you pig-out at a time like this when we're FIGMO," he screamed at me in the chow hall at our base in Zweibrucken, that bitter cold, January afternoon in 1958.
(FIGMO: Fuckit I Got My Orders” for discharge and return home.)
At the restaurant, I ate my pancakes and Celina's too as she listed all the reasons in detail two or three times each why she couldn't see me anymore. Then she went back to the first time we broke up and pulled out all the wonderful things she had said about me two or three times each. Then she returned to the current reasons she wasn't going to see me anymore.
All the while, between mouthfulls and through mouthfulls, I was saying;
"You're right, Celina."
"I totally understand, Celina."
"I really, do understand, Celina."
"Yes, you're right, Celina."
Then she walked out to her car with me waddling behind clutching my belly. What a way to break a fast. Dick Gregory would have been disgusted with this honky.
At her suggestion, we sat in Celina's car and talked some more. She was going over the reasons we shouldn't see each other any more as if she missed something and she looked so damn beautiful sitting there.
I wasn't saying anything now, just nodding in agreement. I had audio off and was just recording her visually for posterity that was mere minutes away like a film of an execution about to take place. She was quite calm, just going on like she was lecturing a class, giving them an overwhelmingly convincing argument that Shakespeare really did his own writing.
And she looked so lovely sitting there and I was trying real hard to be good and do the right thing, but my left hand wasn't cooperating. Neither was
her right hand, with the tiny mole on it, behaving sensibly. When the two hands touched there was a spark. Yeh, static electricity, sure. And in a flash we were in each other's arms, caressing and weeping, and, as she was still going on about not seeing me anymore, I was still nodding.
I don't know how we got there but soon we were in Breckenridge Park, lying on a mass of wildflowers on the bank of a steam, the sun filtering through the trees and the scent
of honeysuckle in the crisp spring air. (This is true. This is true. I swear.) We chatted and giggled and she called me “her Lawrence” and I was lifted bodily into heaven by my beautiful San Antonio rose.
The scene is vividly etched in my mind's eye forever. No hallucinogen in later years or my two-month fast of ’84, or my wonderful manic episode of October 1992 ever took me higher than that afternoon in Breckenridge Park. I've never been to heaven before or since but knowing it’s there is such a comfort in my encroaching old age.
"You better not come around the house for awhile," she said, lying there on my jacket, an expression of total bliss on her face, as I removed my hand from under her skirt.
"I’ll redecorate our closet in the barbershop," I told her. “I still have that Canaletto print of the Grand Canal. Someday I’ll take you there.”
“Where?” she asked, looking puzzled.
“To Venice,” I answered.
"Oh, you," she grinned.
In May 1980, I spent an incredible month on the canals and lagoon of Venice in my own collapsible sailing canoe . . . but alone.
And for a long time we didn't say anything; we just looked at each other, Celina lying on her back and me with my head propped on my elbow. We'd look into each other's eyes, then shyly look away. We kept repeating this like we had just met and were getting acquainted for the first time.
Once, when we were looking into each other's eyes, I felt that she almost loved me.
During the next year, we often worked together in the barbershop or in her home when her mother wasn't there--Celina on her schoolwork and me on Inferno. Sometimes when she caught up, she'd do some typesetting for me. I never seemed to be caught up because I never recall helping her correct tests. I hope I at least offered to help her.
We were pretty tight. Celina even went with me once to see my lawyer to tell him she agreed with me about not pleading temporary insanity for smashing the cameras. She didn't like the thought of me in prison for three years since it was a felony. But neither of us liked the idea of a cop-out.
Christmas, 1967, she gave me a beautiful green, corduroy sports coat. I gave Celina a green velvet cape with hood, mostly paid for with a loan from her. We went to midnight mass where she had to keep poking me to stay awake. I hadn't been a practicing Catholic for years and even the Unitarian Church bored me. My spirituality was more of deeds than words. And I never really got into ritual till years later when I was a hippy and participated in Native American-type drum circles like the ones that drive liberals nuts today in the Occupy movement.
It was a long mass and when I finally woke up, I got terribly horny sitting next to Celina who was wearing a modest but form-hugging dress that emphasized her lovely, girdled derriere. I kept squirming in the pew because I had an erection and it was bent painfully in my trousers, and Celina kept poking me and trying to suppress a smile.I got even with her in the car when I put my hand up her dress and made her do some squirming for awhile, but we were both too tired, so we drove home. She invited me in for awhile and we fell asleep in each other's arms. It was okay because we woke early and I slipped out, having parked my red MGB up the street a ways.
* * *
1968 started off with a roar not only with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. Some money I was hoping for didn't materialize; my supporters were getting increasingly upset with me as I turned up the heat on Lyndon Johnson's War. Almost all of them worked at one or another of the four major Air Force bases, three major Army bases, and a major Army hospital in the environs of the city of Saint Anthony. San Antonio then as well as now must be America’s most fascist city. The Inferno bunch would often gather in the barbershop after work, talking politics and drinking cervasa. They freaked-out when I tacked up a poster, “War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things,” printed in 1967 by an organization called “Another Mother For Peace.”
When I tried to tell Celina the bad news on the telephone, that the promise of a bunch of money for Inferno had been withdrawn, I broke down and wept. Poor diet, lack of exercise, stress of politics, a three-year prison term hanging over me, all finally got to me. I was soul-tired.
We had been slowly gaining on the gangsters in government. But I had been in the front lines so long, I couldn't see our victories. As tired and depressed as I was, I launched a new and hotter attack on The War. I had been meeting vets recently returned from Vietnam, their emotional scars more obvious than their physical ones. I didn't like what I was seeing and hearing. Fuck Johnson and McNamarra and those rotten bastards in the Pentagon. Of course I didn't use that language back then, only after I moved to San Francisco.
By March, I was out of the barbershop and living with Raul Rodriguez, Inferno's associate editor. The paper was still aflame, but published much less frequently due to lack of funds, of course. All the civil service workers had withdrawn support for the paper and the owner of the barbershop apologetically asked me to leave. Like Gene Coleman, Martin Sada was taking heat, he told me.
On the last Friday evening of the month, I called Celina but she wasn't home. That night I saw the film, Elvira Madigan, the classic Swedish love story with the unhappy ending. And I knew it was more than a movie; it was a message from the ether.
All the little time bombs I had set in the past were about to go off when I was most vulnerable. All my small suicides were totalling up to one big explosion of the heart threatening to take my mind along with it.
I couldn't get Celina on the phone all day Saturday and Sunday, so early Monday morning I drove to her home and just parked out front. It was gray and drizzly, a perfect morning for a Hollywood funeral. In a half hour or so, Celina pulled out of the driveway, spotted me, parked her car and slowly walked over to my car.
I rolled my window down as she approached but just sat there. Celina placed her hands on the door, bracing herself as she bent over the low sports car. I couldn't look at her. I felt her words rather than heard them and as she started to pull away, I grabbed her right hand, kissed the mole and let her go. As I watched her in my rearview mirror drive away, I thought, so this is how a broken heart feels. I sat there for awhile and as I took off through what was now heavy rain, I switched on the windshield wipers. Then I turned on the radio to distract myself enough to drive safely.
Damn! It was Rod McKuen.
If you go away
As I know you must
There is nothing left
In this world to trust
Just an empty room
Full of empty space
Like the empty look
I see on your face
But if you stay
I’ll make you a night
Like no other night has been
Or will be again
We’ll sail on the moon
We’ll ride on the rain
I’ll talk to your eyes
That I loved so much
If you go away
As I know you will
You must tell the world
To stop turning ‘till
You return again
If you ever do
For what good is love
Without loving you?
Can I tell you now
As you turn to go
I’ll be dying slowly
‘till the next hello
But if you go
I won’t cry
Just leave me enough love
To hold in my hand
If You Go Away—by Jacques Brel and Rod McKuen, 1959. Best sung by Rod McKuen.