For the past year or so, Los Gatos resident, John Shepardson, has been harping about the amount of money that Los Gatos taxpayers are spending on our local police department.
Personally, I have paid lots of attention about the operations of the San Jose Police Department and the Santa Clara County Sheriff and I’ve formed my own perspective regarding law enforcement entities. However, different from John’s approach of contacting town staff and requesting information from the official records and reports about the operation of the Los Gatos/Monte Sereno Police Department, I base my view of such operations on a very personal and reality based source of information, my personal experience with such entities.
Back in 1974, I was diagnosed with agoraphobia/panic disorder and I managed my way around it for the many years that I was living in Los Gatos. I was able to lead a rather ordinary and normal life living here, with only a few accommodating friends needing to know of my affliction which limited my range of travel to the west side of Santa Clara Valley. However, in the early 1990s my parents became avid RV nuts and spent most of the year traveling around the country. They decided to get a house sitter to look after the family homestead as they were gallivanting all about the country with their troop of elderly RV buddies.
My parent’s Almaden residence was less than seven miles away from Los Gatos, a fairly leisurely drive over Shannon Road, so I took up the task of house sitting my childhood abode. At this time, though, it was in the middle of suburban Silicon Valley and not in the farmlands I grew up in. I hated the new neighborhood, but I loved not having to pay rent.
I used to drive down the mountain everyday to get into L.G., so now I commuted to town from the suburbs. I knew lots of other people that came further than seven miles to be in town everyday.
I’d never lived in the suburbs before and this environment just didn’t suit me in any way, shape or form. There was nothing like the Broken Egg omelet house to start the day, being amongst several dozen old friends all drinking coffee and teasing the sparky waitresses. There was no Carry Nations or Mountain Charleys or C.B. Hannegans to hang out in until bedtime. Actually, there was just about no place to go in the Almaden environs. And, I didn’t want to be driving those seven miles with any alcohol on my breath. This was the era of the adamant and overzealous Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers (better known as the MADD phenomenon).
The longer I stayed in Almaden, the more and more isolated I became. The nasty panic disorder that I had so well managed in Los Gatos, started rearing it’s ugly head and I’d sometimes find myself on the edge of panic attacks. Having no doctor to prescribe me any of my familiar anti-anxiety medications, I’d self-medicate with very cheap vodka. I made a list of the suicide help lines and I’d call them when I started feeling shaky, not that I was suicidal, but they usually understood the phobia to some extent and would talk to me until I got past the worst part of the attacks, the disorienting hyperventilation.
Unfortunately for me, one of the suicide lines on my list was a phone number for “EPS,” Santa Clara County’s Emergency Psychiatric Services, something I’d never heard of. It is the “Psych Ward” at the county hospital (Valley Medical Center) on Bascom Avenue. Unlike the help lines, EPS wouldn’t speak with you on the phone and help you calm down. Nope, they’d tell you that they would send someone out to help you. Well, I thought to myself, that was very accommodating at 2:00 or 3:00 o’clock in the morning! Much to my surprise, they sent out a couple of black and whites from the San Jose Police Department to haul me in for what is known as a “5150” in the criminal justice system; 5150 referring to general situations in which an individual is a “threat” to himself or someone else. Now, instead of fearing an anxiety situation, I was actually in one, being in handcuffs and shackles, I was taken to the county’s psych ward.
Thus, I was inducted into the criminal justice system here in Santa Clara County, without being a criminal. Being an graying, aging hippy in the middle of the tricycles, skateboards and Mercedes station wagons of the up-scale suburbs in Almaden Valley, made me an easy and obvious victim of uneasy neighbors and ill tempered cops patrolling these neighborhoods. My connection to Los Gatos and all of my great resources there, became more and more distant. Of course, now that I was officially on the books of the San Jose cops as some sort of unstable drug addict/drunken mental case, just set me on an even more precarious footing in this uncomfortable neighborhood.
(Bye the way, anyone who knows me at all, is aware that while I do like my Wild Turkey, I’ve never used the illegal drugs so often associated with hip people, once I was diagnosed with the phobia.)
In the fifteen years before I was finally able to move back to Los Gatos, the San Jose Police Department hauled me in to the EPS or the county jail over two dozen times on a variety of minor charges or in the name of the arbitrary 5150 situation, the cops not able to differentiate between the onset of a panic attack and a suicide attempt. Be it known, I was never, ever convicted of anything more serious than one misdemeanor disturbing the peace, and even that charge was bogus, in that I admitted to it simply to get out of jail. It’s referred to as “copping a plea,” or, plainly, admitting to something you actually didn’t do but you were in jail for, anyway, illegally, by anyone’s standards.
But my criminal history is not the topic of this posting. Frankly, it is not something I like to make public, even as innocent as I am. Most people of my generation, suffer the shame and humiliation of being incarcerated, no matter how innocent you are. However, lately I find myself constantly being reminded of my “criminal history” for two reasons: the first is how, repeatedly and all too often, police and jail personnel are finding themselves in the news media lately, finally revealing a side of the criminal justice system that I, personally, have long been aware of. And, secondly, I simply want to justify why, for all these years, I’ve paid such close attention to the operations and misdeeds of the criminal justice community, locally and nationally.
I’m not going to call myself a criminal justice expert, not by any means, but I have formed some very strong opinions and I have thousands of news clippings and a collection of professional literature in several banker’s boxes to justify and legitimize my well tempered opinions and conclusions.
John and I are coming from very different places, but we come to some very similar conclusions.
Not long after moving back to the Almaden Valley, I saw on the local evening news that several women joggers on the Almaden jogging trail had been groped by some mysterious male who hid himself in the bushes, waiting for potential female victims. The victims described the guy as around six feet tall, medium brown hair, shaggy but shorn. Me, I’m 5’4” with dark brown hair nearly to my waist and I have a prominent, full beard. Several times, while riding my bike around the neighborhood or walking to the local 7-11, I was stopped by patrolling cops, they noting that I fit the description of the groper. Well, guess what, I didn’t fit the description at all, and I self righteously noted, I was a VERY long time resident of the neighborhood, having grown up here long before any of these tract people ever heard of the place, when there were deer paths in the hills, not upper class jogging trails. No one was sure how to deal with my indignation. I’d sometimes tell them that I plowed the dirt underneath these asphalt roads and ticky-tacky buildings.
During one of these stops, in the parking lot of the strip center nearest my house, several cop cars pulled into the parking lot as the cop who stopped me asked me a series of questions. I asked him why all these three or four other cop cars were pulling up into the parking lot. He told me that the Almaden neighborhood was so quiet and calm when it came to crime, that whenever anything happened in Almaden, all the cops, in their Hi-Tech cruisers, would check it out, having nothing more interesting to do.
What did my memory flash to? My memory flashed to how the cops and the sheriff were so perennially under funded and lacking in manpower and resources for all the crime in our county. If that was so, why were they wasting these ever-ready, but never needed cops in Almaden where crime was, apparently, non-existent? And why in the hell did they hassle me? Why in the hell did they hassle me with multiple cars? I used to plow this land? Why would I want to desecrate it anymore than they have already done with petty and indecent crimes leading to nothing?
I really didn’t understand their paranoia.
That incident happened about 20 or 25 years ago. However, just in the last year, a friend was driving me across the area around the northern campus of San Jose State, we were in the neighborhood of San Fernando and Tenth Street, when some crazy person planted himself on the little roof of a Victorian window bay in an old house on the edge of the street. Apparently, this guy wasn’t doing anything super crazy, but maybe threatening to kill himself, a 5150. Traffic here was all clogged up and we asked a resident who was watching the mega-media event in the middle of the street, what in the hell was going on? He told us he was a next door neighbor to this house where the crazy guy was hanging out, it was a halfway house for nut cases. But he told us that he never saw anything like this before when these neighbor guys went a little nuts. He had counted like twelve or thirteen cop cars parked all over the place causing the traffic congestion because this one, single nut case was sitting on the shingles of the bay window roof and doing nothing but rambling on, with no mention of weapons, no threats, no anything, just unintelligible rambling. The “criminal” was sitting cross legged, with his arms folded. He was threatening no one. He was rambling.
Why are there a dozen cop cars required in such a non-violent situation?
In the last four or five years, I watched as the Los Gatos cops handcuffed a black teenager on a skateboard near the corner of Blossomhill Road and Santa Cruz Avenue, the kid sitting on the curb with his arms clenched behind him. Within ten minutes, two more cop cars pulled up to do whatever they had to do. Why are three cop cars and their personnel needed to haul in a teenaged skate boarder?
Why aren’t these two other cop cars, and the dozen other cop cars at San Jose State, or the half dozen cops in Almaden out catching gang killers and psychopaths doing their dirty deeds? Why are they simply watching their fellow cops do their duty? I don’t see this as police work. I see it as cops simply wasting their time in their boring jobs, wearing dark clothes, silver badges and killer hand pistols, waiting for some excuse to use their tools.
I have numerous documented attacks on my own person by these dark suited, silver badged personnel who are the only people who have ever harmed me. While I have been threatened by civilians in my day, I’ve never been in a fight or been hit or harmed by un-uniformed people. But, as I said before, this is not about my history, it is about what I base my opinions and conclusions on.
As I am hyper sensitive to police activity, I pay lots of attention to how many cop cars and policemen are at a “crime scene” and I wonder if all the “man hours” being spent are really necessary for the amount of crime that has occurred.
I have managed large restaurant operations, I’ve managed multi-state computer installations, I’ve managed graphic arts studios (such as newspapers and ad agencies) and let’s simply say I have a fairly keen management perspective. I work hard to trim overhead to a minimum to get the job done in a satisfactory manner. As I watch these police operations now-a-days, in an admittedly casual and unofficial manner, I can’t help but find that there is nearly always a surplus of police personnel for a given situation. There could be some hidden factors in any given situation warranting so much manpower, but, usually, that is not the case. Why are three cop cars necessary to arrest and subdue a teenage skateboarder dressed in shorts and a tee shirt, who weighs maybe 90 pounds? Always, the police make a case for their need for “back-up” should things go awry, which is understandable, but I don’t see there being any big surprises requiring back-up for the skate board teenager handcuffed, sitting on the curb.
Simply, isn’t that nothing but overkill?
John Shepardson requests documentation from the Los Gatos governmental staff and gets cryptic and specialized reports based on the town official’s own bureaucratic terms. Upon reviewing that documentation, I find that it seems to justify the current state of affairs, and yet, it doesn’t really answer my basic question about “local law enforcement,” is it only as trim as it needs to be or is it in a state of overkill? This official documentation doesn’t answer the question about overkill in the case of the skateboarder.
My question is is this “overkill” on just a one time basis, or is it the prevalent methodology of the local law enforcement agencies. Frankly, whenever I see a police involved situation, it nearly always appears to me to be an overkill situation. Overkill is the norm, not the unique situation. The official documentation provided to Mr. Shepardson doesn’t address this perspective.
There is a fundamental economic concept called the “law of diminishing returns.” Wikipedia provides the following definition of this term:
The law of diminishing returns states that in all productive processes, adding more of one factor of production, while holding all others constant (“ceteris paribus“), will at some point yield lower incremental per-unit returns. The law of diminishing returns does not imply that adding more of a factor will decrease the total production, a condition known as negative returns, though in fact this is common.
In the terms of this police discussion we’ve embarked on, there comes a point where by adding more policemen doesn’t yield too much more protection and service (“protect and serve”) for the community. The amount of “protection and service” provided by additional police personnel, at some point, becomes non-productive, and even, at some point, counter productive. And, I further suggest that, having too many cops, too much overkill, leads to bored cops to become overzealous and overly anxious cops leading to the sort of unwarranted police brutality, which I, personally, have experienced many times over. Let me add, however, handcuffed to a plastic chair in the booking room at the county jail for twelve hours at a time and spending too many nights in jail for doing nothing wrong, I’ve heard way too many believable stories of victims of these overzealous cops just way too similar to my own.
For you nice, middle class folks, so comfortable in your suburban neighborhoods who immediately flash on such reports as I’m providing here, that I must have done something wrong to suffer the cop’s wrath, well, you are just way too naive. There are good cops and there are bad cops, bad cops who are sadistic bullies who make every “suspect” a criminal right on the spot. They are the judge and jury, and providing the punishment by beating the shit out of you right on the spot. Of course, none of this ever appears on the police report submitted to their bureaucratic superiors.
When you have to deal with a bad cop, there is no way you can win. No matter what you say or do. This cop is going to bust you, and he’s going to get his malicious and sadistic satisfaction. The favorite phrase of these spoiled eggs is “ah, so you are giving me attitude?” With such a perspective, no matter what you do, you are giving him attitude and he is justified in beating and hauling you in.
The criminal justice system is a verdant and accommodating landscape for sadistic bullys and tortured souls. While well meaning law enforcement people look to jobs in this landscape, as well, so do the more ill-natured of our society. In the past few years, cell phone video and surveillance video have been exposing the excesses of these ill-natured police people in the popular, dinner time news media. However, as for my own, personal interest in such activities, I have dozens of videos collected over the last number of years of similar beatings and over reactions by overzealous and sadistic uniformed officers meting out punishment way before the alleged criminal ever reaches a court room.
Such treatment is nothing but an appalling and unjustifiable distortion of the entire concept of a “criminal justice system.” In such instances, simply and honestly, it is a system utilized and sanctioned by criminals themselves, in dark uniforms with silver badges and deadly side arms, having no respect for any law, whatsoever.
These are the cops that put innocent people in jail for no good reason. They do exist and they do victimize old hippies like me, as well as blacks, Latinos and whoever else they don’t like. Until I was personally victimized by these nasty sorts of cops, I also believed that you were only arrested and went to jail when you did something wrong. But after living in the Almaden suburbs, I discovered that you could be handcuffed and hauled in for just about nothing, for just being in the way of some self-righteous, uniformed personage with a bad attitude and ill suited intentions.
Once again, we are interested here in police economics, not my personal history. These ugly, unsavory cops cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, when their misdeeds are caught, documented and brought to court. Every year, in Santa Clara County, millions of undisclosed dollars are paid to those victims of the worst side of the policing community. How does one’s management perspective distribute out these shameful costs of the worst side of a well-meaning law enforcement discipline? I have no idea on how to do that. Though not having a bookkeeping method of distributing these costs on a spread sheet, these costs do exist and burden the system and society, none the less.
Thus, considering these observations, why shouldn’t we examine the possibility of revising the Los Gatos/Monte Sereno Police Department so as to have it become an entity which is a lean and mean policing machine in simple and explainable management terms? Is it providing it’s most effective effect with the least amount of expenditures?
With our streets falling apart, with our inadequate downtown parking, with our schools getting overcrowded and under funded, with our allowing of huge commercial developments to increase the town’s financial coffers, a methodology wholly wrong for our town, why should we support a police department whose existence is based on overkill and inherent inefficiencies?
Why are there three cop cars to take in a teenaged skateboarder already in handcuffs?
The record of response time is of absolutely no relevance to this question. What is the relevance of a three minute response by ten officers to one call regarding a teen aged skateboarder. It’s nothing but muddled and irrelevant information, but information that makes the excessive and over kill cop response seeming to be a good thing. It’s not a good thing, it’s a wasteful and excessive overkill thing, wasting dollars that could be used to help repair our streets, to repair and rebuild the crumbling bridges and dams that our fathers built generations before and we have not maintained. Isn’t it shameful that we haven’t maintained their heritage left to us for the sake of modern hubris, its toys, cuteness and inefficiencies?
The most basic and essential question I ask is shouldn’t we be more responsible to the existing infrastructure of our lives, to keep such an infrastructure solid and reliable, rather than letting it rot and decay under our feet for the sake of technological and political expediencies? The Roman aqueducts are still standing after nearly twenty centuries but we can’t maintain our street for a simple hundred years. Why not?
Simply and grossly put, fuck technology: fix the roads, the bridges and the ancient natural gas main lines. The cops are necessary but they are not so necessary as to devolve our streets and sewers in such desperate need of repair. All the video cameras on the stop light structures all over downtown are cute and impressive, but how really beneficial are they, really when it comes to reducing real crime in the town of Los Gatos?
There are privately funded groups in Los Gatos that provide the Los Gatos/Monte Sereno Police Department with the most modern and sophisticated technology to read a hundred license plates in just several hi-tech, micro-second video sweeps, but to what end? Most of the Los Gatos residents and visitors are very law abiding individuals. Couldn’t the money spent on such hi-tech toys be spent on things a lot more basic and essential like fixing the streets or keeping the gas lines from expoding?
Let’s get real!
In terms of crime prevention, if you already have four cops at an intersection where you really only NEED one cop in the first place, you are suffering from the law of diminishing returns. And you know what, adding one more cop to an already inefficient situation only mucks up the works so as to make it, ultimately, unmanageable?
Within this well endowed and well settled community, why won’t the town staff and the town elected officials earnestly and conscientiously provide an earnest and honest review of the primary cost of the most prominent of the town’s expenditures, the police department?
Are the residence and taxpayers of Los Gatos victims of police overkill or not? With our crumbling streets and over wrought schools, our overwhelming traffic and parking, don’t we residents deserve some sort of accountability from the single most expensive department in the town.
I have to ask, in this town, in modern day Los Gatos, should we be spending so much of our money for policing rather than maintaining and developing our good culture? Indeed, shouldn’t we be spending such monies on keeping the ground under our feet solid and secure before we invest in exotic and excessive policing practices?
Let’s take a good look at such issues and not rely on simple knee jerk responses from faulty, outdated and unrealistic prejudices. Are we really going to introduce self driving cars onto roads that are falling apart? What are our priorities?
We may not have to be austere, but let us, at least, be reasonable.
I’m writing this at about noon time on the day called “Super Tuesday, 2016,” the Tuesday just after the oddball day of the leap year, the 29th of February. Long ago, I repudiated American two party politics and I’ve ignored all of that bi-partisan bull shit with the greatest of vehemence for most of my adulthood, it demonstrating such a gross, unlogical and ill conceived bunch of mechanisms which attempt to achieve some twisted sort of the greatly heralded “democracy” sought by the ancient Greeks such as Socrates, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes.
Our absurd “Electoral College” has long been weakly sustained over several centuries as some sort of “realistic” but totally illogical presentation of the will of the people in this country. Tradition counts for something, but how long does it count for such irrational and ridiculous procedures and processes? And, to consider such a system as valid when the country which uses it, is the planetary leader in might and technological righteousness during the current day, after two wold wars and one very scary cold war, all in the first half of the last century? Let’s get our shit together!!!!!
On this March 1, of 2016, why am I so hesitant, so afraid, so cautious to let the world know how I hate and despise the lunatic ramblings of a self indulgent hypocrite who is, at once, a well known billionaire, his billions built on millions provided by his greedy heritage, something not available to any of the rest of us, while at the same time, he finds himself a self-glorified hero of the uneducated and ill-endowed victims of the American experience. What could be a more contrary reality in an election year? And yet, the ill mannered and ill educated fascists of the current day endear this modern devil of the retards and ugly weaklings of the society as their savior.
And now, these modern “brown shirts,” so similar to their book burning brethren of the German Nazi of the 1920s and early 1930s grin and glitz at their success, here, in a country that once fought those brethren to the end of their existence.
And yet, here they are again, on a distorted election day . . .
But, what’s worse, is why are the educated and more intellectually endowed of us, letting this buffoon scare us off, and leave us silent, still, looking over our shoulders, unsure as to eradicate such a villain. Doesn’t the past teach us anything?
Are we really going to allow the brown shirts, the Nazi criminals and the followers of another Hitler to move forward, once again, with down turned eyes?
When do we learn our lessons? Are we to fight WWII all over again, but now on our own territory?
OK, now I’ve said it. Now, what’s going to happen to me? Why does this nut case and his followers shame you into a “politically correct” unsureness and silence?
To hell with correctness, let sanity be the reality.
So, I’ve been in my new cottage for the last six months, and I’m getting very comfortable in it. It’s a great little place, not too big and not to little, for a single guy like me. It’s on a comfortable street in a quiet and old, well established neighborhood, here in Los Gatos. Slowly, surely, I’ve been getting all the little accouterments that are needed for daily life in the old fashioned way that I’m used to.
However, over the last week, I’ve been experiencing one of those not-so-groovy aspects of housekeeping that you like not to remember, the visit from some nasty little pests, specifically, ants. This troublesome problem started just over a week ago, with the appearance of one stray black ant, a nasty little fellow that was a bit larger than the ants that stream over a dead bird or mouse on the edge of the sidewalk. But at least, this guy was solo, all by himself.
When I was a kid on the rustic and traditional farms of my youth, the elderly ladies who ran all the local households, called these larger, solitary insects “explorer ants.” The Matrons of the day told us that these guys were out looking for new sources of nourishment for the ant colony that was their home base. I remembered that we were told to squish or throw these little buggers into the drains of the nearby sinks or flush them down the toilets. So, last week, I’d grab little wads of toilet paper, wet them, and flush the trespassers into oblivion. I went through my new, little house and very thoroughly removed all of any organic material that the ants might be attracted to. I scrubbed everything on top of my shelves and inside of my shelves to avoid attracting the pesky little bugs.
But, after a few days of scrubbing and rubbing everything down, these stray individual ants kept showing up each morning. Of course, this was very frustrating.
So, while grudgingly accepting the fact that I’m a reluctant participant of this new twenty first century mentality, so full of social media, self driving cars, and hugely destructive governmental invasion of a person’s privacy, I checked out the internet to learn about the newest and most politically correct methods of dealing with potential ant infestations. Let’s just get past all of the old wives tales I’d been relying on. Let us get effective.
So I looked at dozens of web sites all saying about the same thing, all of them concerned with the natural and most ecologically correct methods of ant eradication. These informational sites seemed to revolve around two specific factors, the reliance of the ant population’s on pheromones (smell functions) and false food. I’m not going to rehash all of this information, but after following of the recommendations on these sites, I re-cleaned the kitchen as per the instructions of these web sites.
Well, for the last few mornings, those pesky “explorer” ants are still showing up on my kitchen counters. Now, I’m getting obsessed with eradicating these little buggers. I’m starting to think about buying a case of “RAID” spray cans that get so much advertisement on the TV. To hell with being ecologically correct and so socially cool. I want these ants out of here.
But, fighting my more basic and brutal instincts, I went back to Google, and sought out more intense and more profound methods of ant eradication using the nonpoisonous and super groovy methodologies. I MUST have been missing something. But, now, after trying all of the very cool and stylish methods, I used a bit more of a critical eye when I examined these more sophisticated remedies.
While I rewashed everything once more, now with the addition of vinegar, bleach and a special witches brew, there was a sprinkling of rain, to chase the ants out of their nests, and finally I awoke with the worst sprinkling of these explorer ants racing across my counter tops than ever before. Now I was simply furious. Nothing really seemed to work to get rid of them. Perhaps I should be invoking some prayers from the hidden, reference pages at the back of the I-Ching. What to do? Something had to be effective, we never lived with ants all of the time. They were an occasional nuisance, but we got rid of them for a vast majority of the time? By now, I was wondering if I’d ever get rid of these new friends of mine which I had absolutely no good regard for.
Now I reverted back to some of my own old resources, I called a few of my friends and asked them if they ever had to deal with ants. Finally, one of my friends called me back and I told him of all of my futile efforts suggested by the “oh, so correct and up to date” internet web sites.
One friend listened to me for just a few seconds, the he bluntly said that all the internet, socially correct stuff was bull shit. Buy some of the old fashioned ant stakes that you put around the house’s foundation and just kill the little bastards. They grab the stuff inside of the bait sticks and carry their poison back to the nest and kill the whole lot of them. Forget about being ecologically correct. Just kill the little bastards.
I listened to him gratefully, and asked him, “Nuke the bastards?”
My earpiece reiterated the question as an emphatic answer, “Yeah, nuke the little bastards, and be done with them!”
So, thusly forward I go . . .
When my dad was a young teenager, it was discovered that he contracted some special kind of arthritis that was effecting the development of his legs. On the recommendation of the family doctor, he accompanied one of his aunts and her husband to the ship yards in the cities of Oakland and Alameda, in California. The couple were seeking employment in the shipyards being built in these towns. It was thought that the warmer climates there, would benefit the efforts to treat my dad’s oncoming arthritic condition. For sure, remaining in the often frozen Midwest climate of the family’s home, Chicago, Illinois (notoriously known as the “Windy City”), would only hasten the development of the arthritis.
While he was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Pop watched the building of both the Golden Gate and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges. Utilizing bikes, buses, and a little later, inexpensive jalopies, and making frequent use of the several ferries traversing the Bay prior to the completion of the bridges, Pop explored the farmlands, the woodlands and the mountains all around the San Francisco Bay.
Pop’s father, an immigrant from Italy, was the meek and mild parish gardener in a modest neighborhood in a Chicago suburb. My dad was the second to the last in a family with five kids. On his return to Chicago, with the healthiest of legs, he rebelled against the strong family ties to the church and he rebelled against
the closed-in, over-run and congested urban lifestyle in the city scape of Chicago. He married a young girl from a rich, farm family in the great flat-lands of Indiana. Within a year of the birth of their second child (my
sister), Pop moved his little family to his beloved San Francisco Bay Area. He rented an old farm house in the sparsely populated “truck farm” community in the Almaden Valley, several miles south of the small city of San Jose.
Before I attended kindergarten classes at the Almaden Elementary School, I had my own farm companion, a smallish mutt we adopted from the Humane Society in Santa Clara. My mom named the pup “Trixie” which I shortened to “Trix,” as I didn’t want to have my sidekick to have a “girly” sounding name, even if she was a female. And, still before starting kindergarten, I was earning some wages pasting labels on the ends of tomato packing crates, making a penny per label.
The well established farmer/landowner we rented our little house from, made sure, through all of my growing up, that I had plenty of work to do, on this, our extended family’s 20 acre plot. As well, our farmer/landlord managed several other ranches every harvest season. Our house and his more modern, low slung, “ranch style” house sat within 100 yards of each other, on the edges of the 20 acres.
When I was about ten years old, our landlord/farmer and my parents came up with an interesting scheme. On the western edge of our 20 acre plot, there ran a creek across the entire border of the place. We called these sometimes waterways “storm ditches,” as they only contained water when there was enough rain to make for some substantial run off from the surrounding mountains and hillsides. When there was enough run off, these dry, steep sided ditches were filled to overflowing with ugly, nasty, fast moving brown and frothing storm water. We kids were filled with frightening stories of how these furious waterways would sweep cattle off their feet and carry them down to the Bay at speeds that even our fastest cars couldn’t keep up with. We were rightfully scared as hell of these rushing, water filled channels. Indeed, they were very dangerous.
But this danger only occurred for only a few weeks, and then, only every few years. Basically, we had a pretty arid climate, and such rains were infrequent. While dry, these ditches were never considered much more than unchangeable scars in the land. However, the ditches were never tampered with, for when the torrents were set upon us, these fast running ditches kept our rich, black land topsoil from being flooded and stripped away.
The storm ditch on the west side of our property had a course that zig-zagged through the western most acre of our farm. It was lined with a series of black walnut trees on either bank, each being about a hundred feet from its neighbors. In the summer they were lush and verdant, full of the rich, dense black walnuts, so difficult to break open. In the winter, they were bare skeletons of themselves, just minimal stick figures of themselves, against the gray, Russian winter-like skies.
The scheme that my elders had cooked up was to survey out the western acre of the property, for the zig-zagging of the creek, this acre was untillable, useless to the functions of the farm, and officially sell this newly measured parcel to my parents. On the front of the acre, my parents could erect their own, more modern house and have some stray land in the back for animals, sheds, whatever. The meandering creek broke the land up but that was only on the tail end of the acre. I remember, to my childish mind, this acre was 72 feet wide and a million feet long.
As the willy-nilly, insanely frantic development of the Santa Clara Valley was only beginning in earnest, at this time, the conservative, old farmers of our neighborhood were feeling fat and sassy about their place in the world. This sub-urban development was taking place near Moffet Field and in San Jose, so many, many miles away. We were generations away from it effecting us. The center of San Jose was just about ten miles away. Such a distance was a very satisfactory buffer against the money crazy city slickers that were looking to ruin the county with their tract houses and commercial developments. Little did these farmers know, that by the end of the decade, the 1960s, when the astronauts first landed on the moon, little did they know that the rich flat lands of the Almaden Valley would be covered in asphalt streets, concrete sidewalks and curbs, all to service the mild variety of cookie-cutter tract homes, all looking so very bland, very efficient, so very much like each other.
However, back in the first year of that decade, my parents got the title to the narrow acre with the creek running through it, all 72 feet by a million feet of it.
I remember so many lengthy and curious conversations by my parents and the farmer and his wife, about how to best prepare the land for our new landholder status. These conversations taking place in the old house that the farmer had grown up in, and that we had been renting for the last several years, an old, worn out farmhouse coming near to the end of its usefulness. Listening to the adults, all excited and wishful, we kids (two by my parents, two by the farmer and his wife) had visions of castles and casbahs, with swimming pools surrounded by opulent and lush gardens, sparkling in our eyes.
Rather than build a casbah from scratch, on our 72 foot wide acre, the adults finally decided to purchase a very sound and substantial residence which had been condemned by the city of Santa Clara, it being in the path of one of President Eisenhower’s Autobahn-like freeways to be built. This 30 year old structure was of a rather well heeled and architecturally sophisticated nature. Once plopped down on our acre in Almaden, it would be an instant architectural landmark in the neighborhood for its distinctly different appearance.
Our new house was to be severed from its foundation, carefully jacked up and then carefully lowered onto a collection of strategically placed house moving dollies. Once it was ready to roll, the house would be pulled by a great, big Mack truck, at a very slow rate, along a very specifically determined route, which afforded the minimal number of light stanchions to be removed and trees to be cut down to accommodate this hugely oversized load. The moving company had to get special house moving permits from several municipalities that this load would traverse, on its passage from Santa Clara to Almaden. Personally, I was tickled pink for all the details and governmental red tape that our house required to really become ours. Seldom did the city governments do anything for us farmers but hassle us. Now, the bureaucrats and their silly rules and regulations were enforced for OUR benefit, not theirs.
If I remember correctly, it was supposed to have taken about three or four days to roll our new house from Santa Clara to Almaden, a distance of about fifteen miles. However, after all
was said and done, this trip actually took about two weeks. Why, you ask? Well, what we first heard was that tires on the moving dollies were blowing out. They must be using old and faulty tires on these devices holding our house up above the road bed. New tires were put on the dollies, but they still burst. The house was blocking traffic and it was way off of its schedule. Finally, someone discovered the real problem. It wasn’t the tires, it was the house itself.
Here, in Los Gatos, most all of us have seen the old style construction technique of using “lathe and plaster” to cover the walls of the skeleton of older stud frame houses. For those who don’t know what lathe and plaster is, it’s where rough cut redwood lathes are nailed to the studs of the house frame covering all of the walls. About a quarter of an inch of space is left between the lathes to allow the wet, muddy plaster to seep into these openings between the lathes, to hold the plaster in place as it dries. It’s an old, and very tried and true, method of securing plaster to vertical walls and ceilings of all sorts of structures.
The problem with moving our Santa Clara house, and all of the popping tires, was that who ever designed and specified how this house was to be built, wanted this house to be a very, very well insulated building. Lathe and plaster was to be applied both to interior and exterior walls of the house. However, more than this, to even further insulate this structure, whoever specified the building of this place, required that a second layer of lathe and plaster be applied to both the interior and exterior walls.
Essentially, the house weighed about twice as much as everyone estimated. None of the engineers or the construction specialists who estimated the costs of this moving project bothered to check out the thickness of the walls. These “experts” assumed the building was made of normal, classic single layer lathe and plaster construction. All of us farm boys laughed with great satisfaction, these moving guys were moving a rolling cave. It was a big house built with a whole lot of cement, just about twice as much cement as anyone realized (cement being our “little kid,” simple word for plaster). And it took them a week of popped tires to figure that out.
As it turns out, when the adult professionals finally discovered the real problem, the double lathe and plaster, both interior and exterior, the house moving company placed a whole bunch of additional house moving dollies under the building. After they got the house moving again, the San Jose Mercury put an article on the front page of the daily newspaper detailed the problems with the journey of our house. For about a week or so, I was a celebrity at our elementary school.
Finally, one day, after I came home after my classes, I looked across the fields from our old house to our vacant acre to the west on the edge of our property, and here was the light green Santa Clara house standing high on the moving dollies, right in place on our family’s acre. I spent the next two days doing back flips, checking out our new residence. I watched them lower the structure down onto the cement foundation which my dad had contracted to be built some weeks before. The house lowered down onto this foundation perfectly. That was great, we were all concerned that there would be measurement discrepancies that would cause the new foundation to be broken up and adjusted to fit the reality of the actual house. Such adjustments would be very expensive, and luckily, none were needed.
They cemented the house to its new foundation. Not much could be done to the structure until this seal was completely cured. While we waited, a back hoe was brought in and a hole and drain field were dug for the septic tank. More than a hundred yards out in the back lot, where the meandering creek cut across the land, the well diggers were busy drilling down into the earth and pumping up tons of mud for our own water well. Things were moving right along. This bare acre was quickly becoming a free standing and self contained homestead for us.
By now, I was eleven or even twelve years old. With all of this industrious activity teaming all around me, I was simply an electric fuzz ball of excitable energy, sticking my nose into every nook and cranny of the well dig, the completion of the drain field, the hooking up of the electrical wiring to the new phone pole at the road. Wowie-Zowee, this was just all too very cool to be a part of. Of course, the construction workers didn’t want me to become part of it, but I was as stubborn and persistent as I could be. Seldom were my parents hanging around to call me off. Tom Sawyer, himself, could not have been more of a pain-in-the-ass, nosy little kid than I was in this period when the new house was being put into working order. Needless to say, I was having a gas.
And so, it came to be that our little family from the vague and distant haunts of the American Mid-West became legitimate land holders in the Almaden Valley, if only first generation landholders. This newly acquired status took a lot of pressure off me. At school and in my ‘same-aged’ social circles, all of my buddies took great pride in their heritage, all of them able to provide chapter and verse as to how their family had arrived in Almaden, so very long ago, each family developing each of their own special holdings. During such discussions, of course, I was silent and humbled, I had no such background to boast about and, certainly, no one wanted to hear about the city . . . Chicago. And, frankly, I really didn’t have any stories about the city, as we left it before I had any memories.
Now I was legitimate, if only on a single acre scale. I could tell the tales of our septic tank and its drain field, how the well diggers broke boring shafts every hundred feet or so. Now I had all sorts of stories to tell about how our place had developed, if only in the last few months. I was becoming a more comfortable citizen of this special, little Almaden society.
When our house had been occupying its original site, it was sprawled out over a very large lot in Santa Clara. There was the main house with its three bedrooms and very large living room and separate dining room, each of these common rooms having coved ceilings and simple plaster relief designs overhead. Adjoining the house proper was a breeze way leading to a large, two and half car garage, which also had two small offices and a bathroom built into its rear wall. This was no tract house, let me tell you. The problem was, our lot was only 72 feet wide and there was no way to get the house to be set on it, in its original configuration. The garage and its ante rooms, were cut from the house. The separated garage was to be set down on the new lot about twenty feet from the back of the main house. There would be a patio, to be installed at some future time, to connect the two separate buildings. In order to bring the main house into a realistic dimensions to be pulled down the public roads, the bedroom which I was to occupy, was cut from the original structure. In fact, when the house was moved, it was actually a small train of three separate buildings, trundling down the highways and byways of the Santa Clara Valley. For a pre-teen, such as myself, such a procession was a very big deal to be part of. And it even made it into the newspapers.
For about the only time in my life, I was very proud to be a little kid celebrity. Though we didn’t have the heritage of history, we did have the heritage of spectacle. After the guys at school saw the pictures of our house blocking traffic as a result of the blown out tires in the local newspaper, I was the center of attention for a few days, without having to say a word to anyone. Without having to brag about anything, for this little while, I was a silent and modest hero at the school. Our family was the one that made the the headlines with the “rolling cave house.”
In my early days, when I was like six or seven years old, my dad would take me with him to the site of some torn down old cottage or barn, soon to be cleared out by its owner, to be plowed over and turned into tillable land. Pop would go to these demolition sites and salvage as much of the building materials as he could. I was his disinterested and frustrated assistant. Pop would put a hammer into my hands, or sometimes a set of pliers, to remove nails from the long strips of wooden siding, or the ancient and broken “2 X 4” studs that were strewn about the demolition site. I always found this to be a fruitless and frustrating occupation for us, as what were we supposed to do with this salvaged wood.
And then, even more cryptic to my young mind, we went to several nests of old brick walls where I was now taught how to turn over the head of a claw hammer so that the claw end of the hammer was now the prime tool of the day. In this setting, Pop taught me to knock the old mortar off of the body of the the bricks themselves.
Pop would load the newly stripped bricks into the trunk of our old cars and haul them to a back corner around our old water tower, which sat not too far from the back door of our old farm house.
I came to hate these piles of salvaged wood and chipped out bricks. All they meant to me was a whole bunch of tedious and empty efforts to clean them up for some unknown reason.
However, of course, with the coming of the new house, as we came to call the newly arrived residence, all of these nasty bricks and the used lumber all came into play (I used to refer to them as “sticks and stones” that broke my bones). Several yards of cement were mixed and poured by my dad and me, to provide the patio floor between the house and the garage. This done some years after the house arrived. The bricks were used in a series of planter boxes which surrounded the house. Pop installed a back lawn behind the huge garage (it was so big, some of the old locals called it a “barn,” the sort of out building they were used to). And having a rear lawn at an Almaden residence was actually kind of a luxury, as most of the residence’s rear walls faced the farm yard, full of barns, sheds, tractors and trucks. Pop fenced in this lawn with the reclaimed lumber painted white. When we eventually built a shed to house the electric pump that provided the water from our well, this shed designed to be big enough to house an old strawberry tractor that Pop bought from a neighbor, the pile of used lumber was just about depleted.
I guess there was a reason that Pop had me chip the mortar off the bricks, and straighten out the old, rusty nails, so they could be removed from the old wood. I guess there was a reason, but, grudgingly, I refused to acknowledge it. The memories of that grumpy little kid stuck with me.
My intention was to put a Google Maps picture of the house here. However, upon seeing it in its current state, I decided not to use the pic.
Whoever currently owns the place tore out all of the brick planters. A huge magnolia tree grew in the middle of the front yard. A monstrous, flaming red bougainvillea bush stretched out high over the front door. Low, crawling junipers lined the walks and the front deck. A smooth barked lemon tree shaded the eastern edge of the front lawn and a camellia shrub grew up past the top of the roof in front of the kitchen window.
All of that is gone now. The front of the house has been denuded. It was heartbreaking. What I saw on the google street view was a bare front yard with several, small plants in pots and on the front porch there was a purple overstuffed chair loafing about. It looked like the house frontage you might see in a neighborhood near the Eastridge shopping mall.
I decided not to post a picture like that.
After being bed ridden for several years, my mom died in 1999. My dad sold the “new house,” married a realty lady in Sacramento, and within a year, he died of a stoke. Without my mom to do the family business, my Pop, who didn’t do business, never had a will. Pop was the benefactor to his second wife.
In the early 1970s, I installed myself in a small, little, rambling cottage on Loma Alta Avenue in Los Gatos. The lot the cottage sat on was narrow and long, sloping up from the street and the house was set at the very back of the property, on the high ground. The front yard had a long, lush lawn and was draped overhead with a variety of old, very tall trees, some deciduous, some not. On both sides of the property were huge, unkempt hedges that I unceremoniously trimmed, now and then. It took me about two years to get these thick hedges, probably seven or eight feet tall, to present themselves in a halfway civilized manner. Needless to say, when you walked through the yard from the street, and when you looked from the wall of glass at the front of the house, it felt like you were in the middle of a rich, verdant forest, so richly green, never seeing too much sun, always cool and quiet. I loved this place.
The heart of the house was a small, ancient cabin that was well over a hundred years old. I’d been told it was one of the first residences in the neighborhood. It was very basic. There was just one fairly large room, with a small bathroom and kitchen off to one side. In the front, there was a porch that extended across the entire front of the house but it had been closed in with panned glass and it was now considered to be a bedroom. At the back of the cabin were three small, nearly ramshackle rooms that, very obviously, had been added spontaneously over the history of the place, as some necessity had dictated, like perhaps a new addition to the resident family.
While in college, attending San Jose State in downtown San Jose, I had lived in several old Victorian structures that would contain two or three student apartments. Often times, these apartments would be arranged in a manner where the rooms were only accessible from their adjoining rooms, there being no hallway connecting the different rooms. For the casual, herd mentality of the students, this intrusive layout was acceptable though affording no privacy, whatsoever. These apartments were commonly referred to as “railroad apartments,” as, just like in a railroad train, to get from one car to another, you simply walked through each room to get where you wanted to be. The person who occupied the room next to the bath room had the busiest room in the house.
With this perspective, I always considered the Loma Alta house to be a “railroad house.” Though the train of “cars” bent 90 degrees at the kitchen into the three rear rooms, you had to go down the middle of them to get from one to the other. I made my bedroom in the caboose. At different times, I’d rent out the porch bedroom to help pay for the rent. However, for the most part, I lived in the place solo, for nearly ten years, using the porch as my workshop/studio.
When my landlord was ready to get rid of this “investment property,” I moved on to other environs in greater Los Gatos. When they tore down the old, ramshackle cottage, I got about a million phone calls from friends who wondered what the deal was with my old place. I really didn’t know much, but I was OK, sitting fat and sassy, somewhere else.
These alarmed inquires, regarding the Loma Alta place, sort of made me chuckle. What my friends were probably not aware of, is that the place was on the verge of tumbling down, all on its own, even when I first moved in. I was constantly patching the place up, the landlord not wanting to spend any more money on it. I cut some redwood lumber remnants from one of my construction jobs to replace the rotted foundation piers under the bathtub. Before that, when you got the tub just half full, the floor would sag and the tub would start to lean out towards the exterior wall, opening up a gaping gash between the floor and wall. To make the front stairs safe and secure, I rebuilt the little structure in a manner I learned from my recent construction jobs, designed and engineered so that my friends wouldn’t bust through the steps when they came to visit. There were so many repairs there, I couldn’t possible remember them all.
And, then, there were my own personal enhancements. At the foot of the front stairs, I installed a stone patio floor with a stone planter wall. I brought the sand stone blocks over from an abandon quarry in Almaden. When this quarry was filled with water, we kids would go there and shoot the big, old frogs living in it and sell the frog legs to the old, Mediterranean neighbors who still savored such things.
Surely, this little cottage had no garage, for as small and basic as it was. In fact, it only had one area off the sidewalk that was big enough to park one car or a pickup truck. Eventually, and in various stages, I had finally built a low, decorative fence across the yard and erected a rustic gate with a thickly shingled, overhead cross member, all of this in the old, traditional Japanese style. The entire affair was made of very old, weathered redwood and its deep, dark rust coloring fit in so comfortably with the shadowy, quiet yard. Man, how I loved this place.
Long before the Loma Prieta Earthquake, and more than ten years before the infamous Lexington Forest Fire, about two or three years after I moved into the Loma Alta cottage, the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas fell victim to a long, dreary winter of nearly constant rain. Parts of Los Gatos experienced significant flooding at this time. In that my place was located on the shoulder of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the house sat on the highest spot in the immediate neighborhood, I didn’t have much more concern about all this rain except to make sure that I always had my yellow slicker with me. The endless rains of that season just ran down the hill, around the house and only collected and got bothersome in the lower areas of town. We were OK on our street.
This winter, though thoroughly saturating Los Gatos, was not a “bench mark” sort of year. There are no mentions of the “Flood of 197X (I’m not real clear as to exactly what year this occurred),” that the towns people refer to, but to me at least, it was very memorable. It rained so consistently that the ground all over town was soggy, not able to absorb any more of the rains. The runoff from the hills and the mountains would converge and tumble into town on a scale that I had never seen before. One dramatic thing I do remember during this winter, is that I drove up Main Street to get onto Santa Cruz Avenue and was stunned. As I took the bend on Main Street to get across the Main Street Bridge over Highway 17, I couldn’t see the pavement of Main Street at the other end of the bridge. A huge cascade of water was roaring down from the Town Plaza and Santa Cruz Avenue. The churning, frothy, dirty- brown water covered both the curbs and the sidewalks, lapping at the buildings on either side of
this torrent. The water was angrily rushing down the grade at an incredible speed and as it came to the bridge, the torrent turned away from it’s street bed and spewed off the bridge onto the freeway below. If you hadn’t known this to be a street, you surely might think it really was a raging river running through town. It was an awesome and spectacular sight, but it only lasted a few hours, and never to be of the violent extreme as when I first saw it.
However, there was one thing about these constant storms of wind and water that did effect our Loma Alta neighborhood — the power outages. During this period of so much rain and wind, PG&E trucks were to be found all over town, almost constantly, with the helmeted linemen up in their tented, “cherry picker” cranes, fixing this power line on this pole or up on the wall of that building. The wind tortured trees would come down or lose their limbs to the nasty, whipping winds, severing power phone lines as the strained trees, or their broken parts, fell to the ground. The power and communications lines hanging from the phone poles, once covered in thick dust, the dust was now turned into slimy, finely seeping mud by the constant storming. This mud would seek out the imperfections in the cables, and their insulators on the arms of the poles, to foul and befuddle these electrical workings of men. The power would go out, and it would go out again. The PG&E workers were busier than a hive of bees.
Just like everyone else during these several weeks, the Loma Alta cottage lost power several times. The same PG&E crew came to the house each time, and we chatted back and forth about the storms and entertained ourselves with simple, dumb jokes and silly family stories. During the second visit of this crew, I provided the guys with hot coffee and lots of buttered toast, to warm up their fingers and the pit of their bellies. After the same crew came back a few more times, we were familiar with each other. As they had several repairs to make all within a few houses of mine, they asked if was OK to leave their vehicles in front of my place and simply walk to the nearby repair sites, so they wouldn’t have to be packing and unpacking their gear. I had no problems with such an arrangement. In fact, I offered them to come in for some more coffee and use the john if need be. For the ill weather, I wasn’t working at my construction sites so I was “rained in,” as you might say. I was glad to help them out.
Hell, I was glad to have something more to do than watch TV, especially when there no power to drive the television set.
It turns out that this situation between the PG&E crew and me developed into something more than simply parking at the curb in front of my place. As our chat got a bit more involved than simply quipping back and forth, I discovered that, despite the blustery weather conditions, these young fellows were really pretty excited about their work situation during these storms. After the first eight hours on a shift, the guys were paid double time. After so many more hours, they were paid triple time. These guys loved it. They were all making a fortune from the nasty weather. They were young and hearty and relished in the powerful atmosphere around them. This sort of information caught me by surprise, as I usually always worked for friends, not corporations. And, of course, I had no union to further my interests. As far as their corporate bureaucracy was concerned, it had these guys working 24 hours a day.
Having not ever worked in such a structured context, I couldn’t figure out how they took their meals or got any sleep. Surely they didn’t work 24 hours a day, for days on end, with no sleep. I found that they got sufficient sleep, but in fits and clutches. They’d zip up their well insulated jackets and just stretch out on the bench seats in the cab of their trucks and get their 20 winks when ever they had a few minutes between assignments. These young guys were strong and ambitious. They were happy as clams.
All of the guys in the crew had young families, with kids and apprehensively protective wives. This PG&E crew saw this financially advantageous situation as a way to feather their nests. While the wives might complain about the guys not being at home that much, they sure couldn’t complain about the extra bucks.
During this stretch of storms, my relationship with this crew of utility repairmen quickly evolved. I had yet to build my Japanese gate and fence, so the large lawn was very accessible to the street through the single parking spot next to the lawn. It came to be that me and the members of the crew negotiated a casual agreement whereby the guys could park their trucks on my front lawn whenever they wanted, to sleep or whatever, and I’d provide hot coffee and access to the restroom for a pretty substantial “campground fee” which they offered me. As well (modern cell phone technology was a good 15 to 20 years in the future), the guys were allowed to use my phone for short conversations with their families.
Why not agree to this? I didn’t have any work until things dried out, so there was no skin off my nose. The PG&E crew was making so many big bucks, it was no skin off of theirs, either. As I wasn’t making any money with the construction work, it was, truly, a mutually beneficial arrangement. I’d be able to pay my rent on time, next month, even though I didn’t have any work. This wasn’t such a bad deal.
After a week or two, the storms relented, the wind and rain subsided and things were returning to normal. The repair crew packed up and secured their equipment onto their trucks. They made an intentional effort to go all about my yard to get things back to the condition it was in before the “camp out” took place. When they were done, we gathered together, shook hands, made a few parting jokes and guffaws and went on our separate ways.
Though we talked about getting together when things settled down and have a reunion sort of thing, at Pedro’s Mexican Restaurant, or perhaps Mountain Charlies, I never saw any of them again. We had been ships passing in a stormy night and we helped each other out, through the storms. Having the memories was good enough. We were young and growing and had many things yet to do. But, when I think back on this time, I remember it as a really good, relaxed time. Every few nights I’d invite the guys up into my living room to watch some good movie that had come on the TV, and we’d sip beer, lounging around, and keep each other chuckling with our rude comments and half-witted jokes.
It wasn’t a supremely profound time, just a comfortable and memorable time, that came and went, just as it should.
Years later, when the Lexington Fire did scorch the mountains all around us, and even later, when the the earth beneath our feet betrayed our faith in the its permanence and dependability, I watched the entire town extend out a helping hand to those emergency workers who had come from other places to protect our town from these natural disasters. Living in the midst of so many like minded people really proved that Los Gatos was my home town.
During the attempt to control the Lexington Fire of 1985, mountain residents and Los Gatos towns people contrived all sorts of signs along the mountain highways and in the windows of the town residences and businesses, to demonstrate their appreciation of the firefighters presence and efforts.
The other night, the TV had been left on as I fell into after-dinner nap.
I woke up to an HBO comedy special. On the tube was Ellen Degeneres,
doing one of her stand-up comedy routines. This one was titled “Here
and Now.” It’s basic theme was how our lives have become too fast,
too over-booked, with modern technology fueling this obsession with
racing to do WHAT?
While I don’t have much love for Ellen’s daily TV show, I found her stand-up
material to be as hilarious and relevant as it always was. She really is a first
rate comedian and she uses no foul language to spice up her routines. She is
funnier than most with just the most common of words.
“Here and Now” doesn’t simply question technology, but also exposes our
most private and unspoken responses to the technology. We believe these
responses to be so uniquely personal and silent, but Ellen reveals that though
they may come from within our own heads, they are not so unique, indeed,
she reveals them to nearly universal, much to the embarrassing surprise of
her venue’s audience, and HBO viewer as well.
Trust me, this is well worth the nearly 60 minutes out of your ever-too-busy
schedule, to sit down, lean back and take it all in. All of your belly laughs will
shake all of the tension out of your uptight neck and shoulders. It really is
quite good and I highly recommend it’s viewing.
Here is my take on the same subject, which I published in this blog
about three years ago, not nearly so funny.
It’s Just One Big Peril after Another, don’t cha’ know?
I’ve been around cutting edge technology all through my life. However, I’ve also never been too far away from doing things for myself and living close to the land. I prefer to have my body fat burnt off by productive labors rather than contrived calisthenics, exercise performed purely for their own sake, providing no useful byproducts. Having grown up on our small vegetable farms of the Almaden Valley, we grew crops to sell, but our crops kept us alive as well. Every farm yard had a small vegetable garden near to the house to grow some specialty foods, and the flower gardens surrounding the skirts of the house would contain all the spices, like rosemary and thyme, that the climate and soil could bear. Many of the farms raised a head of beef each year for slaughter, the meat kept in freezers until needed.
Later on, to enhance this tradition of self sufficiency, I took to the building trades up in the Santa Cruz mountains to learn more about carpentry than the shed building farmers could ever teach me. Farmers might hack out a rabbit hutch or two, but believe me, they never used squares or plumb bobs. When farmers did carpentry, or car repair, or electrical wiring, it was always out of necessity and there never was any professionalism or polish in their efforts. They would use bailing wire and Elmer’s glue to pull things together just to get to operate through the end of the harvest, because once the harvest started, it didn’t stop until there was no more fruit to pick or vegetables to gather. There was no stopping so broken equipment was simply slapped back together and forced to run until all the ripening fruit and vegetables had been picked and processed right up until there was no more. That’s when you stopped, when there wasn’t any more, and you didn’t stop while there was some little bit more. It all got used up
Nope, I wanted to learn to build buildings with a little more knowledge and substantialness than the farmers allowed for. I wanted to feel sure that I could actually live in a house that I had built with my own hands. Farmers built makeshift hutches and sheds to last through the harvest. I wanted to know how to build stuff that would last through the end of my life. Recently I shared one of my favorite films with a lady friend of mine. This DVD is called “Alone in the Wilderness.” Back in the early 1960s this American naturalist moved to a remote lakeside location and took a small movie camera with him. He built a rough cabin for himself then, year after year, with just the simple materials the forest and lake yielded to him, he just kept upgrading the cabin, and he filmed the process. He made the hinges and locks for his front door from the materials at hand. His chimney, his cookware and his furniture were all made from the same nearby materials by his own hand. For me, this is the epitome of self-sufficiency. However, after sharing this with my lady friend, I found even more satisfaction with the film when she was so supportive of this same self sufficiency and rustic stubbornness. I’d expect most Los Gatos women to want all of the modern conveniences and reject this ingenious but rough hewn life style, but, no, not this one. Like me, she found all of this ingenuity very intriguing and satisfying. It’s great when you encounter people of a genuinely like mind in regards to such an unpopular advocacy.
On the other extreme of such self sufficiency, however, is the situation in which we find ourselves in this day and age. Recently there was a news story about the Golden Gate Bridge getting rid of its toll takers for some totally robotic, full automated system of taking money from bridge users. Hearing of this, I just shook my head in disdain and incredulity. What, they are taking more jobs off the grid? And if works on the Golden Gate, they’ll implement it on other Bay Area bridges. . . even more jobs gone. And what about these automated garbage trucks which lift up the garbage bins with a robotic arm, or the auto assembly lines with banks of disembodied robotic arms doing our fathers’ work more efficiently than our fathers ever could? OK, here’s one I simply love; we have highly efficient mail sorting machines to sort our physical mail going through the U.S. Postal Service. It is estimated that the more than a half the load in each mailman’s bag is usually low cost, junk mail which most people don’t even open up. So, in reality, we are making super fast robots to more efficiently deliver stuff that people don’t even look at. And this bulk mailing stuff that clogs up the system gets the cheaper, more attractive rates. Where is the reality here? We have bar codes on everything so clerks don’t have to touch their key pads and, slowly but surely, these “useless” clerks are being replaced with automated tellers, checkers, and now, even bank clerks, as all you need to deposit a check is to simply take a picture of it with your 4-G cell phone. You don’t even have to GO to the bank, let alone deal with a teller.
One might point out that such devices frees us up to do more important things, and I have to ask, like what? Perhaps spending your time on some other device where you use this “freed up time” to do social networking on Face book or Linked In? Hmmm? Or maybe watch one of reality television programs or even the pointless, culturally demeaning programs like Maury Povich and his many imitators? And I suppose this new, freed up time could be used to go to one more spectator sport or concert in a huge, automated, modern stadium. Is the purpose of life simply to be a consumer?
From my perspective, as an archaic and non-urbane observer of society, the freeing up of more time for people whose numbers are also becoming more and more, we just aren’t going to have enough things for people to do to burn off all of this freed up human energy. Too much energy usually ends up with some kind of an explosion, or rather, in more inane terms, a release of pressure or energy. From my simplistic, archaic and non-urbane perspective, I see no reason to do something simply because you can. Everything need not be robotized simply because everything CAN be robotized. Let there be garbage men. Let there be grocery clerks. Let there be toll takers. Let there be assembly line workers, and especially here, in this country, here, in this county. In the end, give people something productive, real and energy consuming to do rather than have them sitting around in hoards, trying to figure out what to do, like rats in some nasty experimental cage to see when the rats go nuts from useless overcrowding and eat each other up. And let there also be family planners, ’cause, really, who doesn’t agree that we must curb our exponential population growth.
I reiterate, simply because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should do it. I’m from the generation where we could have impaled ourselves on the saber of nuclear holocaust but we decided that, even though we could do it, we wouldn’t do it, at least not today, anyway. My generation’s little bit of sanity gave us the chance to create too many robots and unavoidable population explosions, new perils.
Hi Folks, my holiday sabbatical is at an end.
I’m resuscitating the Los Gatos Art Bridge Blog. Here’s the first posting for 2016.
While I didn’t write much in the last few months, I did spend a lot of time
cataloging and indexing all of the postings that make up this blog. As a result
of that effort, this posting has lots of references to previous postings so you can
read a more comprehensive review of the different topics in the “List.” While,
at first, this may seem liking a rather daunting presentation, my intention is for
it to be more like an anthology that you can refer to and read in bits and pieces,
perhaps, like a mini-Reader’s Digest . . . ?
What do you guys think about it?
As usual, have fun,
I’ve never thought of myself to be really good at anything except for being an artist, specifically, a reluctant author.
As my dad was growing up in Chicago, the son of Italian immigrants, he showed great artistic talent from the very start. His five siblings and his parents were so very proud of his natural born skill. During the Great Depression, Pop worked in several different big time night clubs as a waiter to put himself through art school. It was in these places that he became a knowledgeable and nearly fanatical fan of the “Big Band” legends of the era, serving the rich folks who could afford these high class dinners and drinks. At these fancy dinner houses, there might be one of the Dorsey brother’s bands playing or Glenn Miller’s, making the great sounds that the patrons and staff all loved.
Pop met my mom, the youngest daughter of a rich but very Germanic farming family in rural Indiana. They got married. I came along, and then my sister, three years later. It wasn’t soon after that our little family moved across the country to the Bay Area town of Santa Clara, where one of my mom’s elder sisters was living. We were among lead families in the western migration to California.
However, unlike the other migrants of the day, my dad didn’t want a job in the aviation factories or the new and booming shipyards. Nope, Pop wanted to de-urbanize himself; he loved the mountains and the untouched beaches. He was constantly wandering and exploring all that nature had to offer, he having the perfect job for such endeavors. He worked for an industrial laundry service that provided service stations with the hand towels and fender covers for the use of mechanics as they worked on the nice clean cars that their customer’s owned.
My dad was encouraged by his employer to expand and widen his truck route, to increase the income of both himself and the company as well. This was just perfect for him. Soon, his expansive territory stretched from Almaden Valley, south of San Jose, over to Santa Cruz, past Monterey and Carmel to Big Sur. It went inland, down to King City, up to the Pinnacles State Park, through Tres Pinos and Paicinces, over to Los Banos and Gustine. Let me tell you, this one hell of a big chunk of central California for one little Chicago scamp in an overworked and ill maintained Chevy van. Pop loved it.
He’d get up, get dressed and head out before sun up, and usually wouldn’t get home til it was dark again. Often times, once home, he’d don one of his many tuxedos and work a shift at some high end, local restaurant. He had the energy and ambition to keep up this hectic schedule for many, many years. And he provided well for his family.
On the other hand, my mom was a farm girl who wanted to escape that history and become the 1950’s suburban housewife, with all the new electrical appliances, wall-to-wall carpeting and modern conveniences that were sprouting up on the TV advertisements each new year. As we searched for a permanent dwelling for me and my sister’s “growing up years,” Ma lost the vote on that one. We moved into a funky, well used farm house out in the center of a small valley south of San Jose, the Almaden Valley.
This little, old house sat under the shade of three ancient Redwood trees lofting up, so very high, surrounded by a gnarly, barely groomed hedge. The house and the Redwoods sat on a twenty acre plot between the two lane Almaden Road and a storm creek which ran parallel to the road, about a third of a mile to the west. This little farmstead was located on the flat, rich bottom-lands of the Almaden Valley. While the hillsides of the Valley were groomed with endless acres of apricot and prune orchards and church-owned wine vineyards, the bottom-lands were held in the open each year, to be furrowed and irrigated, ready for everything from tall bean poles and corn stalks, to low lying cucumbers and strawberries. While the hillsides were covered in fruit orchards and vineyards, some being as much as a hundred years old, the flat lands were tilled over at the end of every harvest. The rich soil of these fields were allowed to rest for the winter and get rehabilitated, to be ready for the next spring’s tilling and turning over, being prepared for whatever the farmer decided would be the profitable crop in this field for the next growing season.
The old farm house and its Redwood trees, and the associated barn and outbuildings, were all huddled together in the center of this twenty acres of rich Almaden “black dirt” farmlands. This farm was owned by a fourth or fifth generation native Almadenian named Al, he and his wife also of Italian extraction. On his return from the overseas during World War II, he and his wife, Clara, took advantage of the very reasonable terms of a Veterans Administration mortgage and built a sprawling “ranch style” house on the Almaden Road edge of the property. They had two children, they both, one year younger than me and my sister. Our family and their family grew up together, sometimes, nearly as one. If we weren’t as one family, we, certainly, were closer than most cousins.
Our family moved into Al’s old farm house, the one he grew up in, when I still wasn’t even five years old. His daughter, the eldest of his kids, was a year younger than me, and of the fairer sex. From the start, this proud local groomed me as a “rancher’s son,” to learn all the ways, workings, and family secrets of this farm, this neighborhood and woodland crafts of the higher mountain sides.
When I graduated from high school, lots of the folks in the neighborhood still knew me to have Al’s last name, not having ever heard of my father’s surname. By this time, though I didn’t have the legal heritage, I did have all the experience and knowledge necessary to successfully run our farm as well as the several hillside orchards that we were contracted to operate for other of the Almaden families who didn’t have the background or desire to maintain their extensive, well producing orchards.
As for my dad’s art, it was squelched and snuffed out by my mom. Her concerns were for security and success. For her, it was all about hard work, keep your nose to the grindstone, make sure we will never be poor. Art was a waste of time. Art was frivolous and foolish. But sometimes, when Pop would get inspired, he’d grab our old chalk board and our colored chalk sticks and render an absolutely stunning sunset or hillside landscape. Of course, Ma would get all giddy over his best work, mount the chalk board over the dinner table and invite all the neighbors to come over and check it out. To my simple, young mind, this always seemed very two-faced to me, as when Pop tried to do other art projects, Ma would chastise him and put up a real big fuss about him wasting his time. He should go out and make money with that time, not spoil it away with painting and carving. Though Pop was a very hard worker, he wasn’t much of a fighter, his strength was as a charmer. Eventually he gave it all up and worked his butt off, just as my mom wanted. Ma was real good at being constant and persistent about things she didn’t approve of. She could wear down the best of them, when she tuned in her “evil eye,” as my Italian grandmother called it. In the end, landscaping our house was just about Pa’s only artistic outlet.
Despite my mom’s constant and tenacious efforts, both me and my sister endeavored to become artists. Like my dad, from the start, my sister was impressively proficient with the visual arts. She could draw, and later, paint just about anything she wanted. In the end, she got several college degrees in art. Through all of my life, I hated school and though I started at college, I quit in the middle of my third semester. I still hated school.
Then there was me. While my sister was an artist, blatantly, audaciously and vehemently, defying my mom at every turn, I was phobic about conflict, and avoided it any sort of conflict at every turn. I was never very comfortable with the visual arts, my stokes and lines too tentative and unsure to be even a mediocre renderer. My thing was literature. I read all sorts of books, constantly and endlessly. At first I read the books that I could borrow from the school libraries and the San Jose public library. It didn’t take me long to get frustrated with the borrowed book situation, though. I would want to refer back to something I’d read weeks or months before, but the book wouldn’t be available. It didn’t take me long to establish a policy of only reading books that I had purchased and kept on my own bookshelves in my bedroom. By the time I graduated from high school, I had a pretty impressive library of literature, including Greek plays, Roman historians through the European classics of the 19th century. I never got real involved in current literature of the modern day, but I did have a legitimate amount of that stuff, as well. I wasn’t as passionate about modern literature as I was with the older stuff, but I felt that to be a conscientious critic of modern literature, I should at least be familiar with it. It’s in my nature to always try to be fair.
As I never had very much money, I’d often have to save up before I could buy the books I wanted to read. Now and then, this budgetary deficiency would leave me with nothing to read. The year that I was born, my parents bought a huge Webster’s dictionary, about ten inches thick with little, red indented tabs for each letter. I don’t know how much it weighed, but it weighed a lot. When I had nothing to read, I’d lug this big dictionary to the breakfast table, and as I slurped down my Frosted Flakes, I just open up this big, old dictionary at random and read the definition of all the words on the two facing pages until I felt pretty comfortable with most of them. This drove my mom nuts; why did I always have to be reading something? Well, sure as hell, I didn’t know. It’s just what I did.
Different from my sister, I wasn’t audacious and defiant in the practice of my art. I’d read my books in the privacy of my bedroom and keep quiet about them. I’d find a classical music station on my little radio and read to my heart’s delight. My sister would draw and paint and paste her work all over the house and at school. Indeed, at school, she was constantly winning awards for her art, and a lot of notoriety around the Valley.
While I didn’t advertise my reading, absolutely no one knew about my writing.
As well, as reading, I was writing during most of this time, in pencil, on cheap, three ring, binder paper. Just as a fledgling falcon, high up in a private and protected nest, I was honing my skills. I wrote about this and that, experimenting with all sorts of different styles and themes. I was testing the waters, being very critical of my own work. Just as I insisted on buying my own books and keeping them on my own bookshelves, I also kept and stored all of my writing in cardboard boxes in the back of my closet. I’d strew comic books over top of the binder-paper/pencil works. I was hiding this work from prying, disapproving eyes, unlike my sister who brandished her work all about.
As we were growing up, my mom and my sister would battle like a couple of banshees, arguing and screaming just about nearly everything. I wanted nothing to do with such confrontations and I kept my efforts and intentions to myself, discreetly, quietly and “underground.”
My sister’s bedroom was a storm of clothes never kept in drawers or on hangers, paint tubes and raw canvas tossed all about, any sort of order was completely out of question. My bedroom, on the other hand, was a classic example of the anally ordered personality, full of books, knick-knacks and educational aids (globes, engineer’s drawing tools, jeweler’s scales, so on and so forth) and models of the newest rocket planes and the newly emerging cars coming out of Detroit. Every Saturday morning, I’d remove all of this stuff and relocate each of the items onto my bed as I then dusted off all the empty shelves in my room and the tops of my dressers. Then, one by one, I’d rub the dust off of each article as I replaced it to its designated place on the different shelves and dresser tops. I did this every Saturday morning until I left my parent’s house.
How uptight and anal can one be? I loved and cherished these little icons. They were my own private, little world. And I had my books and my hidden binder papers in the back of my closet covered up with the comic books. While my sister was all about flamboyance and defiance, I was all about order and keeping the peace.
Lucky for me, I was able to manifest my strengths and confidence in my working of the farms and the orchards. Here, I was very confident and knowing that me and my efforts were very productive and valid. My writing might be exploratory and unsure, but my farming was of the first order. Slowly, incoherently, I eventually became aware that my sister was jealous of this quiet and private confidence of mine. I had been raised as an orchardist and woodsman, and, being of the gentler persuasion, she had no idea of what I knew or what I could or couldn’t do.
So, on the one hand, we have the ambitious, urbane female artist, striving to get to the fancy galleries in the various metropoli of the world to show off her works and wares. Then, on the other hand, we have the wholly unexposed writer who won’t show anything of his work to anyone, so fearful of criticism. He has no idea if his work is worthwhile or not, as no one has ever seen it. As well, no one is a good judge of their own work. But, he feels himself to be a good farmer and naturalist. This not so paranoid private and hidden.
Though brother and sister had a huge bunch of differentials in their goals and desires, there was one big thing that both had in common, much to the consternation of their mother, neither one was much concerned with making money. Neither one wanted to have a career as a doctor, lawyer or Indian Chief.
Upon graduation from high school, the sister moved into a tiny studio in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco to begin her trek to the Guggenheim and “The Great White Way” in New York.
The brother, upon graduation, moved to the heart of the Redwood, landing in Felton, California. It was here, up in the mountains, that I found support and comradeship with other artists with the same ilk as me; in order to deal with the world, one didn’t need that much money, one could thrive with the use use of his skill, talent and intelligence. I didn’t need a bunch of money to buy a house if I could build one. I didn’t need a bunch of money to hire a mechanic to fix my car if I could repair it myself. I didn’t need a bunch of money to feed myself if I knew how to grow my own food.
Well, of course, this “ilk” fit me really well, as it was just an extension of the way I grew up, on the small, cash poor, self-reliant “truck farms” of the Almaden Valley. Never had big money been a huge priority of mine, nor any of my neighbors, and here, up in the mountains, I found lots of folks who had the same perspective. This got to feel real comfortable.
Back in Almaden, the farms themselves had been plowed under and covered with miles and miles of tract homes. These cookie cutter, corporate inspired neighborhoods were filled with people whose only priority was their nine to five job in some plastic cubicle in some windowless tilt-up, high-tech building. These plastic people went to their plastic jobs in plastic cars and had nothing more than plastic dreams (as I thought back then). Of course, I wasn’t prejudiced or anything. I’d just call it the way I saw it, and I’m always fair.
As the Santa Clara Valley moved, more and more, from being the agricultural Eden, regaled as the “Valley of the Heart’s Delight” to the new, “up and coming,” hi-tech Silicon Valley, I was successfully finding so many hip, mountain folks of my independent and self-reliant “ilk.”
Rather than re-telling old stories, I’ve put together a list of my writings, some blog, some private, of these mountain friends and the encounters with them, that demonstrate this peculiarly artistic penchant for self reliance, independence and non-conformity. However, let me note, there are artists who do finish their schooling and are satisfied to operate and create in the commercial and conforming world. I hold nothing against them, I have lots of artist friends from this manner of things, it’s just that I can’t do that same thing, very comfortably. My style is different but not unfamiliar.
– The List —
(Ignore the reference numbers after each link, in parentheses.
They are for the me, when using the WordPress web site)
My First Car —
Starting around age 13, I corralled an old, broken down truck, dead, next to our “Back 40” creek lands and I pulled its
essential parts into one of our far-afield sheds and started rebuilding a 1929 Ford, Model A coupe. I salvaged a motor and one axle and a variety of smaller parts, but my old wreck was far from complete. For the next few years, me and my friends scrounged all sorts of Model A parts until, when I finally got old enough to get a driver’s license, I did have, an actually complete and well running 1929 Model A Coupe, that needed a paint job and a new upholstery.
I built a very real and workable car from parts, and to this very day, I’m very proud of that.
The Way of Life for a Non-Commercial Artist, My First Mentor —
After quitting San Jose State College, I moved to the small village of Felton, California in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. While living in the mountains, I met a great variety of hip people, but few really committed artists. When I was about nineteen, I was taken under the wing of a well known, highly regarded painter (of art, not houses) in the coastal town of Santa Cruz. This guy was of a truly unique character and style. His roguish ways and full bellied laughter, and the twinkle in his eye, left me full of awe and envy. I never knew anyone quite like this guy. He became a very good friend.
(Click here to read this blog posting) (SMR: Eduations)
The Start of My Sign Making Career–
While we truck farmers of the San Francisco Bay Area were really good at tending the orchards and tilling the flat land fields, we weren’t pro’s at much else. When the leaking barn’s roof needed a patch, we’d figure out a way to fix it. When a truck or tractor broke down, we’d crawl all over and under them to get the machine fixed, with just a minimal knowledge of tractor mechanics.
We were professional farmers. We were good at farming but, being farmers, we were land rich and dollar poor. While the crops were growing rich, with each Spring month, promising some monetary wealth for the year, we didn’t have much cash. If a car or tractor or truck broke down, we didn’t have the bucks to have a mechanic fix the problem. We learned all sorts of amatuerisic fixes for the maintenance of our properties and equipment to avoid the expense of professional carpenters, mechanics, plumbers, so on and so forth.
Me, my big dream was to design and build my own house up in the mountains. And, the big part of the dream, is that I’d build so much of it myself, to my specifications, not those of some governmental agencies. Once I really committed to this dream, I quit college, moved to the mountains and started lo
oking for entry level construction jobs.
Over the years, I learned these construction disciplines to a pretty good extent, later, often being hired as a crew foreman for lots of different jobs.
However, while my contractor friends were taking on bigger and broader sorts of work, some of their now expanding commercial construction projects demanded something they never had to deal with before while building residential projects – signage. Lucky for me, they all watched me grab certain pieces of our lumber scraps and start whittling them with my pocket knife. Some of this stuff came off pretty good. Eventually, when the guys needed fancy signs, they come to me and ask if I could provide them. I could and I did.
Now, with these signs, I was making really good money for my time, I didn’t have to commute up into the mountains and I wasn’t at the beck and call of a boss. This suited me just fine. While I still continued to frame up houses, because I liked doing it, I now had an avocation where people came to me for the work, I didn’t have to beat the bushes to find work.
Even when I finally established myself as a high tech guru, I still made signs on the side. After all, I am an artist, and unlike my dad, I found an artistic outlet that did make money. Thus, the evil eye of my mom never came under her scrutiny.
The Golden Screw –
This is the simple tale of how I got so engaged in one sign’s completion and how I completely blew off a friend who really needed some time with me.
In an Effort to Not Spend Money, I Got Us Into a Very Sticky Situation –
During my early twenties, I tried my hand at a variety of different trades, determined that, besides being an obvious high tech genius, I wanted to live the simpler life of a tradesman or artisan, not wanting to have to endure the commutes and plastic, corporate based life styles of the other computer guys.
Though I finally settled into the comfortable role of an all around wood worker, I attempted several other ventures prior to the settling, including one that was that of an artistic landscaper. My dad’s boss, at one of the restaurants he worked, had bought a new, big, tract house in the hills of Saratoga. It sat on a bare, sloping lot. Pop made the pitch for me to landscape the place.
To reduce the presence of a down sloping view into a bushy creek side at the bottom edge of the property, I designed a huge, two tiered, redwood planter near the back of the yard. In a large circle between this planter and the patio, at the back of the house, would be a lawn. Encircling the lawn, I opted for it to be outlined with redwood rounds, to provide a visually pleasing, but an organically oriented pathway to the back of the yard.
Upon researching the price of these redwood wood rounds at a variety of wholesale gardening supply houses, I determined that they were just way too expensive for being such simple paving material. I got the idea that my artist friend in Santa Cruz, Jeri Predika, could help me devise a way to come up with the redwood rounds at a much reduced cost. I mean, hell, the Santa Cruz mountains were nothing but millions of acres of redwood trees. There had to be a way.
Sure as hell, Jerry, a long time Santa Cruz resident and highly regarded artist in residence, came up with a solution. One of his businessmen friends had just bought some substantial acreage a few miles up Trout Gulch road, above the town of Aptos. Coincidentally, just this last winter, the face of one of his hills had a huge landslide and all of its Redwood trees had been brought down with the slide. Here was several acres of old redwood trees lying on their sides, not needing to be felled. They were already down. All we had to do is get a chain saw and cut them up. Ha, Redwood rounds abounding for free. I knew there’d be a way.
I hired a friend with a pick up truck, rented a chain saw and up we went to the redwoods lying flat near Trout Gulch road. When we got up to the slide, what we found wasn’t what I so naively expected, a nice neat bunch of tree trunks stacked similar to cord wood. Nope, not so lucky. When we parked the truck and got out and looked at our work site, all we saw was a nearly endless vista of monstrous, deep green and dark umber “pick up sticks.” As I should have realistically expected, this demolished piece of forest was a nasty and insecure tangle of timber and branches and wildly strewn mud.
We little ants, with our microscopic, gasoline powered tool, were going to venture onto, and stride amongst, these wildly entwined and nastily interlaced, huge tree trunks and attack them. Oh yeah, that’s just what we were going to do, all right. Whew!
The view of reality took our breath away.
My History of Printing and Publishing –
One Christmas when I was seven or eight, and all ready reading a lot, my parents got me a very unexpected but very interesting gift, a “Cub” miniature printing press from the Superior Marking Equipment Company (SEMCO) of Chicago, Illinois. Boy, did my parents hit the jackpot with this one. I endeavored to put out a little newsletter about happenings in the little Almaden Valley and I spent a million silent and intense hours trying to write, then set type and then turn the small sheets of paper through the funky little machine. Now, this was one activity that my parents greatly encouraged, where, though I might get myself covered in ink, I’d sit in one spot for hours on end, never bothering anyone. It made me the perfect toddler, cute but quiet.
As I was writing this, I got onto Google to see if their might be some about this little printer contraption. What I found sent my heart all a pitter/patter. Here are links that tell you much more about this wonderful little printing “system” than my words ever could. Check them out, these sites are really interesting even if you have no background in printing.
The first link shows a silent, quick demonstration of how the rubber type elements are mounted onto metal slides then fixed to the printer itself and, finally, it shows how the paper is fed through the press. The press used in this demo is a bit bigger that the Cub size press that I had. Click on the following:
The second link is a compilation of material about the Cub printer and shows all of it’s various components and applications. Some of this material is dated 1951. I probably got mine around 1955. Click on the following:
While spending so much time in my little make-believe print shop, an uncle from Chicago came to our house for a visit. As it turns out, he was a real, live printer who worked on one of the Chicago newspapers. Man-O-Man, did he pay a lot of attention to me and my little efforts. He taught me more about printing than I could ever comprehend. I do remember looking through his printers magnifying glass (called a loupe) at the comics in the Sunday paper, he showing me how the different colored dots made up all of the pictures. I didn’t really get what he was talking about, back then, but later, I got to understand these little dots all too well.
In my college and hippy days, I toyed around with silk screen printing but never really took it too seriously.
Then, one day when I was about 23 or 24, just after leaving an integrated circuit company that was laying us off after it got acquired, I drove past a nondescript, barely identified doorway in a nondescript, tilt-up commercial building on a side street in Campbell. I slammed on the brakes and backed up, I had an idea. The place that caught my eye was a print shop. Isn’t all literature printed? Aren’t all of my art history books printed? Hells bells, printing might just be a way be around art all the time and make a living while doing it. What a great idea!
I walked into the print shop front office, a very mundane and nondescript place, it could have been the front office to a janitorial supply house, or the office of an air conditioning contractor or one of so many simply functional front office settings in so many businesses around the Santa Clara Valley, very mundane and nondescript. Where were samples of all the art I was bound to be around? Behind the counter was an older version of Beaver Cleaver’s mom. And she asked what I wanted. I told her I wanted to learn how to be a printer, so bare faced and naive. She yelled into the open, nondescript door of an adjacent office and told me to wait for the owner, who, as it turns out, was also her husband.
In a few seconds, a shiny headed, very broad man came through the adjacent door. He was a jowly man with an absolutely impassive face. He reminded me of a cartoon of a middle aged fat man. Imperceptibly, just as a whiff of a familiar but un-specific smell might half get your attention, a feeling skittered along the edge of my consciousness; maybe my idea of what a print shop did wasn’t so very accurate.
The owner of the shop was a man named Mel and I told him that I wanted to learn how to be a printer. I was willing to start at the very bottom, if necessary, if it meant just sweeping the floors. For what ever reasons he had, this ill willed and nasty, old red neck actually hired me, the long haired, freaky hippy that was wearing expensive cowboy boots. Essentially, after asking me a few question, he handed me a broom and told me to go for it. He then told his wife to get my social security number for tax purposes. He blighthely sauntered back into the adjacent office where he once again, hid himself away.
What transpired for the next year in Mel’s print shop is for the telling of in another blog posting. But, let it be said, while Mel was, in terms of his social manner, an absolute despot and ignoramus, but in regards of his ability to fill his shop with the best tradesmen in the industry, he truly was a genius. In short order, I learned the essentials of the printing trade from the most highly skilled craftsmen the trade would ever encounter.
However, after a year of Mel’s abusive and tyrannical treatment, the lowest man on the shop’s totem pole, namely me, could take no more of Mel’s slanders and conniption fits and I left the job and the place with the greatest sense of relief.
It was here, in Mel’s print shop, that I finally became very aware of those little dots that my printer uncle from Chicago revealed to me in the Sunday paper comic strips. Now, I had my own loupe magnifying glass.
With my newly acquired skills, I quickly got a new job as the production manager at the tiny but well regarded newspaper servicing the greater Los Gatos community, the Los Gatos Times-Observer. We employees, called it the “T.O.”
At this time, around 1974, the T.O. was the last small town newspaper in the western states of the U.S. That was both published and printed at the same site. George Kane was the irascible and outspoken owner and publisher of the paper. His office and that of the editor and her staff of writers were located on one side of a large room in a building that George owned on Royce Street, in the center of downtown Los Gatos. Separated from the editorial side of the room by dusted glass panels, was the production department of the T.O., where the type was set, the pages were laid out and the plates for the printing press were prepared.
On the west side of this large room was an even larger space, more like a huge garage with a cement floor. This was the press room. This high ceilinged, rough and ready space featured bare studs and ceiling joists which housed the old web printing press that took the paper from being a bunch of ideas and gossip to something you could hold in your hand and read. Web printing was all about presses that put their ink onto a huge, endless spools (usually called “rolls”) of newsprint paper (Mel’s shop, where I worked earlier, was a “sheet fed” shop, where the presses would put their images onto individual sheets of paper, one at a time). The newsprint rolls were about four feet in diameter and weighed around two tons. There were always two or three rolls mounted on the back end of the press and there might be a half dozen or so rolls stacked behind the press, to be used as the mounted rolls got used up. To handle these massive paper rolls, we had a specially modified fork lift.
Let it be said, in the gentlest terms, that George Kane was a frugal man. While regarding him as a penny-pincher would still be being kind to him. Most of the equipment in the T.O.’s building was held together with bailing wire and bubble gum, having been purchased and installed by the previous owner, George’s father. George only paid salaries that would just barely keep the staff from seeking work outside of town. The entire staff lived in Los Gatos, most were of families well established in the town, they working at the paper out of loyalty to the community, rather than to make a living.
There is much to say about my days working at the Times-Observer, and I’ve got a few blog postings discussing some of those days and those people.
During the 1960s and 70s, Santa Clara Valley was transitioning from being an agriculturally based place to being a “high tech” heartland. Many of the old ways and old institutions could bear the momentum of the change. Like so many others, stubborn, old George Kane couldn’t sustain the Times-Observer in the way it had always been. He ended up selling the paper to some young whipper-snappers from the Santa Cruz campus of the University of California. We production people were no longer needed. Once again I was without a job.
This time, however, I did have a bee up my bonnet, I had an idea.
The feint, irksome flash that I had on my first day at Mel’s “sheet-fed” printing shop had become all too real, blatant and supremely obvious within just a few hours of starting that job. During the one year that I worked at that place, I would have to guess that probably less than .001% of the work had anything to do with any sort of art. What the work was all about wasn’t art, but it was all about business cards, employment forms, commercial newsletters, rental applications, mortgage disclosures, so on and so on and so forth.
At the Times-Observer, I have to admit, the work on the newspaper was quite a bit more varied, but facing a daily deadline meant everything had to be done “slap-dash,” quick and dirty.
With the acquisition of the T-O, I was without “9 to 5” employment. By this time, however, I had made enough connections in Los Gatos and up in the hills above the town, so that now, I could make a living with my newly developed carpentry and sign making skills.
This new living situation opened a door into what seemed to be a potential artist’s heaven. I could pay the rent and buy food in a manner much more suited to me than the dark, stinky haunts of press rooms and print shops. While at the same time, I, now, had the freedom and independence to pursue some of my own endeavors.
It took me a little while to formulate a goal but after just a few months, I came up with a plan; I’d start a private, small time cottage-industry type of business that published art work of all sorts, with a high quality, sophisticated and very tangible product, exclusively presenting only the artists of the geographical regions ranging around the San Francisco Bay through the Monterey Bay, my own home territory, and that of the hips. This was a delightful and quirky twist in my life. I was about 25 years old at this point. I was finally “feeling my oats!” Maybe I was finally getting into my own groove, perhaps, rather than be a writer, I should be a publisher, putting other artist’s work out there in the world?
So I tried my hand at this publishing thing, what we potential and neonate publishers called the “special sickness.” This special sickness was an obsession to ferret out and present to the world, the art of our very own, super special locale, and to do it in a high end and very professional manner using thick, glossy paper and specially intense inks.
Wow, what a dream!
Though we touched on the dream, we didn’t achieve it. Read about the comings and goings of these first efforts of my own special sickness, the seeking of becoming a publisher. Click on the following:
After these failed attempts at publishing art work, I did keep my hand in work that had a good deal of inclusion with the artistic disciplines. I was a production manager at the largest ad agency between San Francisco and Los Angeles (not including agencies in those big cities). For a while I ran my own one-man marketing company, doing ads and brochures, usually for my two very divergent money making interests, the high tech market and, then, the construction trades. Very few people had been able to resolve the confluence of these two disciplines into one guy, me. Well, all I can say is that’s the way I am. After all, nobody is perfect.
Click on the following if you want to get some of the details about my “high technology” background, as I was growing up in the prune and apricot orchards of Almaden:
So, on and on we go, me trying to make a living, but not risking any of my own artistic attempts, but by promoting other artists work. I was still being too much without confidence enough to send my endless writings to a big time publisher. The one positive thing I can say about my non-existent submissions, is that I never received any rejection letters. How many writers can say that?
After much prodding and poking, I finally included myself into my good friend’s social enigma, the Los Gatos Social Club (good friend = Peter Cater). While I’ve never been much of a party guy, after a few year’s exposure to the LG Social Club, I’d made a whole bunch of new friends, all professional, all lively, and, lucky for me, nearly all, being very supportive. At Peter’s insistence, I started sending some of my tall tales to the email addresses on Peter’s Social Club email list.
Amazing to me, this light weight, public exposure to my writings, was nothing but positive.
My family discouraged my writing.
These folks encouraged it.
Whoa! What does this mean?
In the fall of 2011, people around me were starting to prepare for the upcoming holidays. Not having much money, as normal, to provide Christmas gifts for all of my new, and my older friends, I wondered how I could show my appreciation for all the support I was now enjoying. Then it hit me, I could self-publish a collection of my current writings in the form of a book.
Right near the end of 2011, I was presenting my new book, Small Mountain Rambles, to my friends. Not only did I write the contents of this book, but, as a result of my frustration with all the new hi-tech, web based, self publishing schemes, I printed and bound the book in a borrowed real estate office over the Christmas holidays. Finally, I was using all of the techniques and skills I had learned in all of my years in the dingy print shops for my own artistic presentation. At the age of 63, I was finally getting my writings published, to be viewed by the real world. What a long haul this was.
Considering that we were well in to the twenty-first century, I was continually being told that, in order to support the success of the book, I should start a blog. What’s this? Though I had heard the term “blog,” I had never looked at one, let alone even read one. Surely, on my own, I had never even thought of starting such a thing, whatever these things were.
Needless to say, I caved in to the constant suggestions; I did the homework necessary to get me into the modern times, and I’ve been maintaining this blog for the last four years. Finally, I guess, I’m scratching that itch that the “special sickness” of wanting to be a publisher, gives you.
In the late 1970s There Were “Pyramid Parties” to Promote Financial Pyramid Schemes, But You Didn’t Find Many Artists at These Parties.
Like most of my artist friends, when you don’t use your intelligence and creativity to make a million bucks, where money is not your highest priority, the money that we do get, we keep as a very dear commodity. I don’t know of many artists who gamble to any great extent. Thus, when the “Pyramid Party Schemes” were running rampant through out the Bay Area, and no less in our little, one-horse town, Los Gatos, you didn’t find many of our artists partaking of these “fabulous opportunities.” None of us could afford to loose the little money that we had earned for the sale of our arts.
However, not to anyone’s surprise, my good friend, Rick Tharp, a world class graphic designer and an irrepressibly event creator, organized a one day Pyramid Party where he only invited his other artist friends. We had to pay something like two dollars at the door to this Sunday morning brunch at Rick’s suburban rental house. For the two bucks, you got some forgotten amount of play money, designed and printed by Rick, and a t-shirt commemorating the event. Obviously, from the outset, Rick was losing his own money on this effort.
Using the same techniques and rules as at the real and big time Pyramid Parties taking place all over town, Rick held this Pyramid Party in his backyard, charging each of us about two dollars for a stash of play money and a t-shirt commemorating the event. Rick, however, was imposing certain restrictions on these financial deals utilizing only the play money he had printed up and provided to us at the gate, and as well, all dealings had to be completed by 6:00 p.m. This was a micro-Pyramid Party. He had it all figured out; the big time winner could make no more than an actual, real money winning of twelve dollars, or so. None of the participants would lose more than one dollar, so on and so forth. He had it all figured out.
This was a single day Pyramid Scheme, start to finish, and no one would lose very much. This was a perfect Pyramid Party for artists.
The Mad Cap Camper Builder —
As I’m now aware that I can be really compulsive when it comes to my work, whether it makes me money or not, I now set up projects that are very physical, practical and very different from what ever the current work I’m being compulsive about. In the simplest terms, I come up these carpentry projects where, on the weekends, I don’t do anything but the carpentry projects, not touching any sort of cerebral work at all, during the weekend days. Let’s consider these to be mini-vacations, or “de-compression” sessions from my “making a living” efforts.
One of these projects was the building of a camper for my trusty old pick-up truck, the Chevrolet C-100 that I called “Grey.” As is my usual wont, a simple project got all wrapped up in my dalliances and went from being a small pickup truck “camper shell” to something more like a collapsible motel room.
In the course of these 18 months in the late 1980s, on the weekends, I went from wanting an adaptable covering for the bed area of my trusty old pickup, something I could make, myself, that would cost me a tenth of what a commercially available unit would cost. As is my wont, that little project turned into a monstrosity of a super complex and very extravagant piece of rolling real estate. By the end of the 18 months, I had built a two story, traveling, fold-up abode for the most demanding of us bunch of artists.
The Gopher Fence –
In my life long effort to keep myself as independent and self reliant as possible, I arranged to rent a small farm house, with a very large and empty lot, on the north-west corner of Los Gatos. This little house along Blossomhill Road was the perfect set up for one hell of a great vegetable garden. This was the potential for an old farm boy, now constricted to the narrow bounds of late 20th century suburban rental efforts, to show off his food growing expertise. This fellow wasn’t in need of money to make a living, all I needed was a good bit of dirt.
However, once I cleared and tilled the dirt, a black, rich earth all about this property, I found a built-in nemesis to this place: way too many gophers, living on the property and in all sorts of directions all around the new place. With their presence, any sort of new vegetable garden was absolutely out of the question.
Now, of course, I was in a supreme quandary, I had a perfect gardening place, but with the equally perfect garden spoilers, an over abundance of gophers. What to do?
I went to the library and got books on gopher eradication, and I went back to Almaden and talked to the old farmers about ways to deal with the nasty, little rascals. All of my research came up with one disappointing conclusion; there was no easy way to get rid of gophers, not all the down through the world’s history.
During all of this, I was working at a store that was selling the first few generations of personal computers, right near the intersection of Bascom Avenue and Hamilton Avenue in Campbell. I was in my early 50s, a veteran of the early days of computers, familiar with IBM punch cards and refrigerator sized disk and tape drives. My work mates at the Campbell store were all 20 year old marketing students at San Jose State College.
Unlike me, these kids were into fraternity parties and Apple 2c computers. They had absolutely no idea or any interest in the realities of the computer sciences and computer production. Listening to them was usually very tedious and urbane to me. But then, me in the midst of my gopher dilemma, I had an idea; let’s use the interests of these still studying students to our benefit?
All of my gopher experts agreed that putting small diameter, chicken wire fencing between my garden and the local gopher population was probably a good resolution to my problem. However, the big problem was how to put the steel wire fencing down into the ground all around my big but still nonexistent garden?
Then a plan came to me. I offered the young fraternity brothers at my computer store several cases of premium beer and a whole lot of bar-b-qued hamburgers, for their assistance in digging a three foot trench around my garden area. I’d drop a continuous length of small diameter chicken wire into this trench, leaving about six inches of this chicken wire above the ground so that the nasty, little gophers couldn’t , in some crazy way, jump over the top of this “gopher fence.”
My goal for 2016 is to expand the exposure of the Art Bridge Blog to more people than simply my friends and acquaintances. If you might know of some people or, even, groups or businesses, who might be interested in this blog, please have them contact me so I can add to our email list.
Thanks for continued support of our efforts. One interesting thing we discovered over the duration of this last sabbatical, is that there is sustained interest in this blog, even when we aren’t presenting new material. The WordPress web site has a facility that displays statistics regarding the blog’s activity. From this, we’ve seen that, consistently through these last holidays, adding nothing new, the blog is being viewed an average of eight to ten times every day. That sort of sustained interest is surprising and very heartening.
Let’s get on the pony and ride on even further, and higher.
I haven’t been publishing my blog posts for the past several weeks as the move into my house over the summer is taking up more energy than I expected. But I do feel like sharing a few odds and ends about Los Gatos stuff as we move into the holidays.
NUMU History Level Opening – Saturday, November 7, 2015
Of course, this activity one close to my own interests. This initial display is about the various theme parks in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties that we grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s. History Curator Amy Long and her crew, have been working long and hard on this project, and I suggest everyone take a gander at it over the weeks. It includes displays from Frontier Village, Santa’s Village, Lost World and the special connection between our own Billy Jones Railroad and the Walt Disney’s early park efforts.
. . . . . . . . . . . . Click here for link to NUMU’s web site.
Los Gatos Holiday Events
Los Gatos Coffee Roasting, Annual Holiday Open House – November 20, 2015
Another year of coffee, wine, munchies and, hopefully, chestnuts, a big favorite of locals.
Christmas Tree Lighting – Friday, December 4, 2015
The annual Tree Light Ceremony starts around 5:00 in the Town Plaza.
Annual Christmas Parade – Saturday, December 5, 2015
I’m not sure if this is still true, but for many years this was promoted as the biggest Christmas Parade west of the Mississippi.
Some of my Favorite Rants, taken up by Ellen DeGeneres –
Anyone who reads me, knows I not a big fan over our over-urbanized, over-amped, overly speedy culture. And, along with that, I’m not to hip about way too much technology.
I stumbled on an HBO Comedy Special by Ellen DeGeneres. While I’m not a big fan of her afternoon television show, I do love her stand up comedy. I consider her a genius at this stuff. In this particular special, titled “Here and Now,” she deals, at some length, with these favorite bitches of mine.
Her comedy is so well honed, so perfectly timed and phrased, she is truly an aficionado in her art. And, pointedly, she does have to use any of the foul language that so many modern comics seem to need to take over top.
On a Personal Note:
Don’t expect to be seeing too much more activity on this blog until after the first of the year. For the last handful of years, during the holiday season, I wrap myself up in a blanket of inert dullness. I have no family. My fixed income barely allows none but the most essential necessities, and most of my friends have moved on, either geographically or into complicated and committed family lives. As I can’t move around too much, I’ve done neither.
Experience has taught me that, just about from Halloween through the first of the year, my friends get so involved with local and distant relatives and old relations, that, for me, they become unapproachable. Professional type relationships wither, for their proper holidays and taking extra days off, as well. The libraries and post offices close and governmental connections become spotty.
I’m not complaining, this is just how it is, a lousy combination of factors. I don’t need any charity, but, I do have some newer and very helpful, generous friends. I want them to understand why I go into hibernation for these couple of months.
The glittering, metallic garlands, huge paper snowflakes, the shiny, tinted globes and colored lights strung all about, just keep reminding you of how you can’t fit in, participate. Such a life is just too austere and spare. I can’t afford to buy Christmas cards, let alone decorations, gifts or evenings of partying with big groups of my friends in really nice clubs or fancy houses demanding snappy clothes. The ringing bells in the TV commercials and the incessant carols, in just about every store you enter, just drum more of this separateness into your consciousness..
Like so many other folks in similar situations, I choose not to suffer and get depressed, as I did when it first got like this. By hibernating and being dull, you avoid it all, being insulated by torpidity. Thus you don’t feel the separation and isolation. You live through it, year after year, with the resources you have at hand.
Please understand that, now, this has become normal and bearable. Please don’t make me feel like a charity case, that makes me feel separate and non-belonging, just as much.
Back in August, I published a posting about the bad condition of the streets and roads, here, in Los Gatos (click here for a link to this post). In this post, I included several pictures of the really sorry condition of the Saratoga Avenue Overpass which carries traffic over Highway 17. As I understand it, this overpass was built, and is maintained by the California highway agency, CALTRANS.
Last night, I was watching KTVU news (Local Channel 2) and I saw a hundred foot long stretch of an overpass railing, and its cyclone fencing, tore off of this CALTRANS overpass up in Oakland (click here for a link to a KTVU segment regarding this overpass).
Once more, I shake my head in frustration and resignation. Here we are, reading headlines about the conflicts regarding a potential California bullet train. We hear about towns fighting to get support for downtown networks for Wifi. We need to bring BART to San Jose, now, which we should have done when BART was first built more than 50 years ago. Are the silly, freeway signs telling us how long it’s going to take to get from one place to another, are such signs really so necessary? Where is the sense of reality, of true purpose, of such bureaucracies like CALTRANS? Are all of these new bells and whistles really so necessary, so important, that we use limited resources for their proliferation while the basic and essential infrastructure of roads and bridges for which CALTRANS is responsible, are held together with the bigger scale of a farmer’s bailing wire and tar patch repairs.
I don’t feel like saying much more about this. It’s just all too obvious, it’s all too real. Priorities are just very screwed up now-a-days. We can order a fast food pizza and have it delivered to our front door with just one or two touches on a modern, cell phone “app.” Who cares about the conditions of our roads and bridges. After all, pretty soon, our “one touch” pizza’s will be delivered not using the dilapidated roads and freeways, but delivered by the newest technology fad, drones. Who needs roads?
This is all so ridiculous. We worship technology, ignoring the infrastructure upon which it is built. Pretty soon, the entire house of cards must come crashing down, so falsely and unrealistically prioritized. I’m glad I’m old, and not young, having to live through the surely-coming crumbling of this unrealistic and extravagantly, non-austere reality. This world is becoming a very flimsy place, ignoring and disdaining its very own foundations.
When I was a kid, I had this horrible habit that drove my family crazy; when a new Bob Dylan Judy Collins or Joni Mitchell album came out, I’d play it on the family stereo over and over again, learning all the lyrics, all the musical intonations as soon as I could. This, of course, would drive my family crazy. But, being who I was, I insisted on this exposure. I’m an artist, after all.
A few days ago, a friend brought over a three old styled, dilapidated vinyl era turntable, thinking maybe my exposer to them might be helpful to make them work. He’s been hearing than despite the new technology, the old vinyl systems were on a resurgence, as the vinyl and it’s older, analog amplifications systems were so much warmer and true to the original sounds. I told him I’d give it a try, after all, it’s been a long time.
Being 40 years and a lot of catastrophes from the old vinyl days, when I thousands of albums, I had none now, to test my friend’s turntables which I might repair. To make my repairs at all worthwhile, on these turntables, my buddy provided me with a few vinyl albums he’s been lately collecting, he being a long time convert to analog audio, rather the various digital recording systems of the current digital day. He also, being a generation younger than me, but an appreciator of great music.
Ironically, one of the old, cardboard vinyl covered albums my friend provided me, was one of my old favorites, and I was stunned, and I had to take a breath. This album cover was burned into my brain, I liked it so much. But the artist never went very far, so there were only a couple of album covers I remember. The cover I remembered so well was that of Phoebe Snow, a rock, jazz female singer of absolutely incredible capabilities. The deal was, she had a disabled child, and she chose her child’s welfare over an obviously incredible career. Her child always came first, at least, that is what I came to know. I also came to believe it, as for all of her talent, her virtuosity, she never came to the fore. Not that many people ever heard her great music.
I’ve fixed the turntables that my friend has brought over to me. But, guess what, I’ve been listing to the Phoebe Snow album over and over again, just as when I was a teenager. Luckily, I guess, I have no one to drive crazy, like when I listened to Dylan and the rest.
On this great old, restored analog stereo system in my house, I’m listing to Phoebe Snow over and over again, hoping I’m not driving my neighbors crazy, like I did my dad, but this music is so good.
I’m indulging myself.
Great music, great themes, great voice; give Phoebe a listen:
Poetry Man: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLsSSfqTWXE
Harpo’s Blues: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SESmndcKI0&list=RDc7QhKmi_fBc&index=3
But more, check out her history on the web (like Wikipedia). She was a very special artist who deserves more attention that she gets. I’m so sorry I can’t present more of her work, or her story.
I’m so glad I’ve got this old stereo system I’ve just repaired. It’s going over and over again. The neighbors will just have to deal with it for a few days. Not just Phoebe Snow, with several other vinyl records, I’m in hog heaven, as far as music goes.
I hate to add that she died in 2011, deserving much more fame she achieved, but achieving what she wanted.