“Bring a large piece of uncooked meat with you when you come,” said the gruff voice on the phone. I thought it a rather odd and nonspecific request for a luncheon date but acceded, thinking perhaps it was to be some kind of open-fire male-bonding paleo ritual. I picked up a joint of mutton at the specialty butcher’s and headed over to Tom Hines’s house — Tommy Wayne Kramer is the nom de plume/guerre under which he needles the soft-shelled crabs of Mendocino County — and straightaway discovered that the meat was not for our consumption but to distract the crocodiles patrolling the moat. I chunked the leg as far as I could and hoofed it across the low footbridge to the checkpoint beneath the gun emplacements, where after biometric scanning and a very polite yet thorough strip/cavity search, I was permitted entry into the sanctum santorum of one of the county’s most notoriously irascible aristarchs and a man who generates more negative ink than a tankful of angry squid.
TWK appears regularly in the Ukiah Daily Journal, a vestigial organ and nearly completely useless, save for their (probably accidental) wisdom in featuring his column and excellent fish-wrapping and puppy-training qualities. Tommy has a long history of telling the world exactly how he feels about a lot of things (spoiler alert — he’s not usually pleased), and he does it with caustic, colorful humor and pointed savagery, deflating and disemboweling shibboleths and sacred cows gleefully and without regard for “correctness,” political or otherwise. In doing so he generates a lot of hurt feelers and has garnered such epithets as “reactionary,” “thug,” “Nazi,” and “monster.”
Actually, Tom’s home, and my reception there, was warm and welcoming. When I arrived the door was open in the manner of a trusting community member expecting company as he bustled about in the kitchen preparing our repast of grilled sausages, veggie burgers, and an absolutely ambrosial potato salad accented with capers and bacon. We chewed the fat out on the deck as we waited for the third member of our party, Bruce Anderson — infamous rogue of local journalism and the HMFWIC of this very sheet.
Bruce has been conducting the business of the AVA since 1984 where he has acted as the conscience of Mendocino County and a burr under the blanket of local government, public radio, the judiciary, the legal system, cops, crooks, and anyone else who falls within range of his gimlet eye. He fearlessly and without prejudice points out waste, idiocy, and incompetence, and, like Tom, whips up much controversy and negative blowback, on which he thrives. I asked them both how they felt about all the skin they get under and I honestly can’t remember ever witnessing such a pair of eloquent, definitive shrugs.
So what, you may wonder, was I doing there, the odd man out? After all, not only did I spend a lot of years as a participant in the sort of destructive social pathology regularly addressed by these two, but people seem to like me. I haven’t generated any hate mail that I’m aware of and when people do address me and my work it’s appreciative and laudatory. Not that Tom and Bruce don’t receive their share of plaudits, but they are well-tempered by regular shitstorms of venom and outrage. But the editor thought it would be fun, and it was.
We discussed a lot of things, we three towering figures of local journalism, including politics both local and national, the judiciary and legal community of Mendocino County, the homeless problem, pet murder cases (Tom being a longtime investigator for the public defender’s office, among others, and Bruce an at-large defender of truth and justice), and Covelo’s wildly disproportionate degree of mayhem and mischief. Turned out we agreed on quite a lot, though there was one subject on which I had to bite my tongue in the interest of harmony and brotherhood.
It’s no secret that I’m an Obama man through and through, and I contend that not only did Barack hang the moon but shit the very stars from his well-rounded butt. I believe that his election and administration was the high-water mark of American political history and the fact that the electorate voted in not only a man of color but one of intelligence, wit, strength, competence, and substance is one of the indicators that this country’s head is not always shoved firmly up its own butt, which sometimes seems the case. I will generally defend this position warmly and vigorously when confronted with detractors, but this time opted for polite silence as Bruce summed him up with “meh” and Tom with slightly stronger language. I also wisely remained mum regarding my position on Hilary Clinton, who I believe would’ve made a fine president and is completely undeserving of all the slanderous vitriol that gets dumped on her. I might feel safe expressing that opinion at the Co-op or Ukiah Brewing Company, but not in the presence of a fierce libertarian and an incendiary conservative.
I believe you can tell a lot about a person by the president they most respect and identify with, and my guess that Anderson would be a Roosevelt man and Hine, Eisenhower, proved right on target, which I found reassuring as I consider both men in the top five of my Presidential Hit Parade (Obama, Clinton, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Lincoln, with T.R. and Jimmy Carter getting honorable mention).
Here a few of the other things we discussed and agreed upon.
1. Linda Thompson is a blight on the landscape and the legal profession and steps need to be taken to develop a vaccine preventing her. She has done more to contribute to prison overcrowding than crack cocaine, which might be understandable if she was with the prosecution but she’s supposed to be defending people, for cripe’s sake, not tossing them under busses and then shipping them on those very busses down to the penitentiary. The public defender’s office of this county needs a housecleaning and retooling so the occasional bright spots like Keith Faulder will stick around for awhile instead of moving on to bigger and better things, but you can’t blame him for not wanting to be tarred with the brush of incompetence and tomfoolery that colors the denizens of that nest of bush-leaguers.
2. The idea of a journalism school producing a journalist is about as likely as an infantry school churning out infants. You become a journalist by doing journalism, period.
3. Something needs to be done about the fragrant teeming horde out there infesting the streets and byways. There’s nary a sheltered spot that some unfortunate hasn’t claimed as his domicile and few outdoor public spaces unsullied by their leavings. At work, a policy has been instituted stating no one is to make a trash run alone, for (a realistic) fear of attacks from people posted up in the dumpster pen, where they go to have sex and shoot dope and God knows what else. That enclosure is about as filthy and smelly a place as you can imagine, which gives you an idea of just how much these people do not give AF. That, I think, is the root of our distinction, the divide between Us and Them—they’re beyond caring about anything, be it themselves or their environment. Those of us who do have difficulty grasping the idea, but I think we’re all agreed that something needs to be done. Bruce feels reinstituting the state hospitals is the answer, and I agree that would go a long way toward solving the problem. The old county farm system was discussed, for those who are capable of working and maintaining in a communal social atmosphere. Tom suggested the old-school method of simply driving them to the county line and bidding them farewell with a well-placed boot to the ass, but sheer numbers and constant turnover would render that a Sisyphean endeavor. I feel that whatever is done should be done with compassion and recognition that these people are in fact human beings and not just a “problem,” but one thing we all agreed on is that throwing money at ineffective, bloated agencies whose services do nothing to address the issue beyond temporary amelioration of situational difficulties is not the answer.
4. Journalism in general has come to a pretty pass and it’s only firebrands and iconoclasts like us that give it any flavor and appeal at all.
There was more and I thought I was recording the whole thing, but I either hit the wrong button or accidentally erased it.