Monday, February 29, 2016

As It Was Then, So It Is Now

This year, February gets a bonus day, so I'll close the month with one bonus memory.

Coincidentally, after posting about Blacklist Mailorder yesterday, I listened to Jello Biafra's "High Priest of Harmful Matter" spoken word album. I say "coincidentally" because I've just been listening to my records alphabetically in a concerted effort to re-listen to things that have been gathering dust on my shelves. Decades-old spoken word albums aren't something I would put on as a first choice.

Jello Biafra, of course, used to sing for the Dead Kennedys, and is also the label boss of Alternative Tentacles records, which shared office/warehouse space with Blacklist. We used to run into him when we were there volunteering, and would invariably talk about music. I still see him at a lot of shows too. Listening to the record reminded me of the time he spoke at San Jose State. I can't remember exactly what was included in that particular talk, although it was probably much the same as the material on "High Priest of Harmful Matter", which is about censorship and the infamous Dead Kennedys trial. What I remember clearly though, is the shirt worn by Jello that evening. He had somehow managed to find a yellow and red striped shirt that exactly matched the obnoxious carpet pattern in the SJSU student union building.

At the end of the talk, he brandished one of his shoes and said, "this is my shoe!", which effectively got our attention as we started to file out. He then exhorted us to put donation money in the shoe - probably to help with trial expenses.

Listening to the record now is more of a history lesson. It also makes me realize that, like many people, I have a tendency to view history through the so-called "rose colored filter" of the intervening years. The record reminds me that the right wing religious nuts were just as irritating back then as they are now. The only difference is that perhaps they were a bit more subtle then. As is the case with pretty much every aspect of modern popular culture, the new right is a brash, ignorant, dumbed-down version of what it was (It's like they're in a race to see how low they can sink - a tea party where they throw themselves overboard?).

For March, my goal is to spend much less time on the internet. I plan to allow myself a set amount of time just to clear e-mail, reply to messages, and of course, post updates here, but I've come to the conclusion that I could really be getting a lot of other things done if I limit my time online, so I'm going to spend a month tracking my progress and my withdrawal symptoms. Will I be successful? We'll see...

Sunday, February 28, 2016


I often say that my first volunteer job was at Hidden Villa, but it really was at Blacklist Mailorder, which shared a space with Alternative Tentacles on Shipley St. in San Francisco.

My reason for volunteering was selfish. Volunteers packed orders, which involved getting records from shelves, addressing boxes and envelopes, and other similar tasks. While getting records from shelves, I'd be silently amassing a pile of things that I wanted to buy. So yeah, I volunteered so I could get first crack at the records. I discovered a lot of good music while volunteering there.

Come to think of it, my mom volunteered at the Cupertino library for much the same reason. Great minds think alike, I guess.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Youthful Folly

When I was in high school, I used to ride my bike up to the hills with my friends. We would sometimes push our bikes up the ranger roads in order to turn around and go flying down them again. Injuries sometimes occurred. We would catch snakes and other creatures too. The first rattlesnake we ever caught was sheltering under a smashed beer can on the dam at Steven's Creek Reservoir. Over the years, we caught a few more.

One day, at the bottom of the steep driveway leading into Steven's Creek County Park, my bike slid on gravel, which led to my knees sliding on gravel when I suddenly found myself underneath my bike. Using what we had on hand, I bound my injury with one of my socks (which slipped off unnoticed later in the day) and we continued our adventure. We caught a rattlesnake that day, and brought it home in a bag of some kind.

My parents took one look at my knee and told me that I needed stitches. I disagreed, not that it did me any good. I ended up getting 13 or 14 stitches.

The rattlesnake ended up living under a couple of tires in the backyard, with a board thrown on top so it couldn't get out. I only kept it for a week before giving it to a guy I'd met at BAARS (that's Bay Area Amphibian & Reptile Society). I didn't want to chance it getting loose in the backyard. I could just see my parents' faces when I told them there was a dangerous reptile loose on the property. I ended up telling my mom about it something like a decade after the fact, and even then she wasn't pleased.

Shortly thereafter, I ripped out all of my stitches while attempting to kick over an empty garbage can while riding my bike. I'd obviously forgotten which day the garbage truck came.

The can wasn't empty.

It was like kicking a bag of cement, and I spun to the ground to the tune of my stitches popping out. Instant karma.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Attack of the Ultra Dinner Guests II

One final Stanford Sierra Camp memory, and then I'll be done.

I can't remember what year this happened, but it was probably during the very early eighties. The dining area was similar to the one at my current job, with a good number of people seated together at each table, meaning that there would often be two or more families eating together. At one meal, we found ourselves seated next to a couple named Roger and Julie. My parents had no idea who they were, but I did. I think Greg did too, although I can't remember for sure. He was still pretty young.

Their last name was Corman, if that helps. If not, click on the links above.

Greg spent a lot of time hanging out with the Cormans, but he has always been more social than I am. I would usually find at least one like-minded kid my own age and go exploring out on the lake in a plastic kayak (called "playaks") or hike up to the lower falls to catch garter snakes.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


Willow becomes a teenager today! Happy birthday, Willow!

I don't remember my 13th birthday. I guess it's an arbitrary kind of milestone. Junior High doesn't hold a lot of fond memories for me. Being a teenager is so awkward.

I was around 13 when our family started going to Stanford Sierra Camp (see previous post), and those trips created some of my best memories from that time. I got to play on a ropes course for the first time, tried sailboarding (I was fine until I tried to change directions), water skiing, sail boating (we managed to turn a small sailboat completely upside down in the near freezing waters of Fallen Leaf lake), backpacking (overnight in Desolation Wilderness - it was great except for the fondue one of the leaders made one night, which was so bad that it became an in-joke), and many other things that make better memories than stories.

One afternoon, my friend Jody (I think that was his name) and I decided to go on a hike by ourselves. Being ambitious and not very realistic in our thinking, we headed up the side of Mt. Cathedral, which looms behind the camp. Our journey involved a lot of bushwhacking, scrambling, and sudden revelations that we weren't as near the summit as we thought we were. We finally made it, and almost fell off a cliff when the boulder we were standing on started sliding over the edge. Then we noticed it was getting dark, so we headed back toward camp. I remember scrambling down dry washes, dislodging large rocks on top of each other, and generally having the time of our lives, despite our excitement gradually becoming overshadowed with worry that it was going to get too dark to find our way back.

We tiredly walked into camp just as a search party was being organized. Looking back, I'm glad that we didn't become a statistic that day.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Who Chooses the Music?

Today, I was contemplating writing about the first (and last) time I ever got drunk, but instead decided to write about something entirely different. When I picked up Willow from her mom's house earlier, she walked out to the car with a CD. I'm usually pretty selfish when it comes to who gets to play music while I'm driving (as in, "the driver always gets to choose"), but today, in honor of it being the day before her birthday, I relented and we listened to One Direction all the way home.

This spurred a memory of a long-ago family vacation at Stanford Sierra Camp (does it even still exist? - let me check - yes! It does!). On the way there, as we navigated the narrow road around Fallen Leaf Lake, it was my turn to pick the music and I was, naturally, listening to Celtic Frost's "Morbid Tales", which would indicate that the year was probably 1984. My dad, not even remotely a fan of Celtic Frost, threw a mini dad-tantrum about it. I'm not sure why this sticks in my memory, but I was actually laughing about it as I inserted the One Direction CD into the CD player today. Willow asked why I was laughing, so I told her the above story.

I guess it is the sacred duty of the child to find music that the parents don't like. The torch has been passed.

I have many fond memories of Stanford Sierra Camp, and might share some of them before the month ends. To keep this post somewhat thematically consistent, I'll close with another memory of my dad at camp. If memory serves, he often seemed more interested in heading over to nearby Reno to gamble This may have been an early indication that all was not well in marriage-land. It was, after all, only a couple of years after this that my dad moved out.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Seventies Hi-jinks

I was contemplating a third day of Tower memories, but instead I think I'll take a detour.

When I was a kid, my friends and I spent most of our time playing outside. I quickly became adept at finding wildlife, mostly toads, around the neighborhood, which would prove to be the seeds of a lifelong obsession with wildlife. Cupertino during the seventies was a mixture of suburbs, orchards, and vacant lots. In other words, perfect for outdoor play. I feel kind of sorry for kids who are growing up there now, since the open spaces have all had condominiums and shopping centers cemented down on top of them, sealing away the dirt and life forever.

We would wander into fields and orchards to catch lizards, dig holes, climb trees, and more generally, just explore. There was a boy who lived in a big house attached to the orchard behind 7-ll (which is now a Q-mart), and I remember that on our first meeting he brandished a knife. He was one of the only African-American kids in the whole neighborhood, with the remainder being almost entirely Caucasian (a big contrast to the Cupertino of today, which is almost entirely Asian). I think his name was Malcom. I don't remember ever going into his house, but he had a great tree house high up in the huge Oak tree that spread into the sky in front of the house. That was much more interesting to us than his house anyway.

There was another vacant lot abutting Steven's Creek Boulevard which at one point had a bunch of metal stakes driven into the ground across its expanse, maybe for a Christmas tree lot or something similar. One day, when a bunch of us were playing there, a man walked by and said he'd pay us if we bent them all down. Excited at the prospect of easy money for a fun task, we naively got to work. Shortly, a police car pulled up and a nonplussed cop wandered over and asked us what we were doing. We told him, and when asked, provided a description of the man who promised us money. The cop drove away, and in no time at all, was back with the man in the back of the car. We positively identified him, and away they went.

Here is a picture from around that time.

That's me on the right, wearing a Lord of the Rings shirt. The boy brandishing a skateboard in the back is Jeff. He was a little younger than the rest of us, and was treated accordingly. He continued his interest in skating as he grew older, but I lost touch with him and have no idea what eventually became of him. The boy on the left is Joe, and this picture was taken in his driveway, I think. I did run into him at least once as an adult. At the time, he was a salesman for Bose (if I remember correctly). That was years ago though, and I have no idea what he's doing these days. The short kid in the middle was perhaps my best friend during my elementary school years. His name was Steve. As he grew older, he got into drugs, and was eventually killed in some sort of drug-related frame job. His murderers were caught trying to burn pieces of his body (or so I've been told). By that time, I hadn't seen him in years and years, and didn't know him any more, so it wasn't quite as shocking as it would have been had we still been close friends. It was still plenty shocking though.

Monday, February 22, 2016

More Tower Memories

There was a man named Elmer who worked at Tower Books, and he worked circles around everybody else. This was either despite, or because of, the fact that he was in his seventies. He came from a generation with a serious work ethic. Because he'd lost his son (to cancer, if I remember right), he treated the rest of us like his kids. He was a wonderful man.

One day, when the power went out, I had to climb the bookshelves at the back of the store, remove a panel in the ceiling, and crawl up and over the wall dividing the store from the back room. One would think there would be a better way to circumvent the keypad allowing access to the back room in the event of a power outage, but no.

There was a homeless guy named Mike who made a living washing car windows out in the parking lot (at least in part - there were rumors that he was also a drug dealer), and when I talked to him about how much money he made, discovered that he was making more than me. One day, he pulled into the parking lot in an old camper, complete with prostitute and a jumble of old super 8 films. Looking back, I guess he was kind of a sketchy character. None of us were interested in the prostitute, but we took some of the films, along with the projector he had, and watched some of them in the count-out room in the back of the store. The room was tiny, but had the advantage of being windowless, which made it perfect for watching films. Of course, most of the films were erotica. One was even a bestiality film. I won't divulge which co-worker kept that one, other than to say it definitely wasn't me. There were also a few home movies and other similarly innocuous films. I think we ended up using one of these films for an performance some years later. I ran into Mike much later on, in Berkeley, near the building where my brother works. He saw me and asked jokingly, "what are you doing in my city?".

There was another time when one of my coworkers initiated a conversation about sex by asking me which of my coworkers I'd have sex with. She shared her list as well. We were on each others lists. Of course, she had the bad judgement to start the conversation during a register shift, and I had the bad judgement to continue it. Or maybe we just didn't care. While we were talking, a customer walked up and asked, "is there an admission fee to this conversation?". I can't remember our reply. It's a good thing that customers seemed to expect that kind of thing at Tower.

We would dress up for Halloween, and sometimes when it wasn't Halloween. In the picture above, I have an entire roll of toilet paper wrapped around my head. There was another guy, Allan, who would periodically show up in a dress. He wasn't a cross dresser in the normal sense of the word, but more of a surrealist. He liked to mess with people. When our instore cassette player died, he went to a thrift store and bought an 8-track player to replace it. This inspired the rest of us to do the rounds of all the thrift shops in the area so we could buy 8-track tapes to play in it. We had some good ones, including 8-tracks by Can, Black Sabbath, and other bands that I still listen to today. Sometimes when we were bored, we'd cut up the inferior 8 track tapes and splice bits of tape in backwards, making strange sonic art, which we of course then played for customers. I would also buy CDs next door and often my first listen would be during a register shift. This sometimes backfired due to the occasional massively inappropriate song lurking within. Nick Cave's "Stagger Lee" is the one I remember most.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Yesterday, I had intended to take a picture of the building once occupied by Tower Records/Books/Video, but I ended up staying late at Kelly's baby shower, so by the time I left, the sky was already darkening and I decided to get home so Jeanine and I could go see The Witch (which was excellent, by the way).

As mentioned a few posts ago, I lived with Kelly and her mom at the apartment on Church Street. I hadn't paid much attention to the address where the baby shower was being held until yesterday, but when I did, it seemed familiar. As it turned out, it was at her grandma's house. It was nice to see her again. The shower was organized by one of Kelly's old friends, and she went all out to make it fun. There were games (including a baby food tasting & flavor identification one), a gender reveal cake (it's a girl, much to the excitement of Kelly's son), and lots of food. I don't usually do too well at events like this, but it was fun and relaxing.

My earliest memories of Kelly were from my time working at Tower. She was in elementary school then, and spent lots of time rampaging through the store. There was a woman named Ruby who worked there and also had a kid, but I barely remember them. Most of us were way too young and insolvent to have kids.

For most of my time at Tower, I was a shift manager, but despite my job title having the word "manager" in it, by the time I quit in the late nineties, I was only making around $7.50 an hour. This meager paycheck was somewhat mitigated by the employee discount, which meant being able to buy books and music at very reasonable prices, not to mention free video rentals. It was during this time that my musical tastes expanded in all directions, thanks in part to being able to read music magazines on the job, and thanks in part to being able to take chances on CDs due to the discounted prices.

I always joked that Tower was the last resort of scoundrels. If a person couldn't manage to get hired elsewhere (either due to personal appearance or otherwise), Tower would usually be the last option. My coworkers were often drunks, potheads, nerds, outcasts, twentysomethings looking for meaning, and just about every other kind of non-optimal employee imaginable. One guy would read books at the register, and wouldn't help customers until he came to a good stopping point. This same person was caught hiding in the loft and reading too. I imagine that he applied there for one of the same reasons I did. He liked books, not people. Another employee quit in shame when he took some porno magazines (we sold quite a selection) into the bathroom for some alone time, and then didn't lock the door, with predictable results. His friend, who was always stoned, lasted a bit longer. I remember that he spent an entire shift one day doing nothing besides working on his car in the parking lot. Sometime later, there was a day when he showed up to work without getting stoned first, and this led to the sudden revelation that his job sucked. He quit soon after.

There was a homeless guy named Kerry who used to hang out in the store, talking to whoever was running the register. I would sometimes let him sleep in the loft in our back room, especially if it was freezing outside. I would have to kick him out before closing time at midnight though. He was a strange one - an MIT graduate who wouldn't take any charity. Customers, seeing him with his overly-laden shopping cart, would sometimes hand him money, which he would hand right back. I once took him to the recycling center with the cans and bottles he'd gathered from dumpsters, and he got somewhere around $300.00 in return. He could read all of the codes on food items, so when employees at Long's drugs would throw expired items away, he'd be there waiting for them. We got lots of free candy that way. Sometimes we would engage in candy wars, throwing them at each other while "working". Once, while opening up a register to replace a spool of receipt paper, I found a peanut butter cup wedged inside.

More Tower memories to follow...

Saturday, February 20, 2016

In the Walls of Junior High

This is my junior high school today. It has a different name now, and looks like it has had an extensive makeover as well.

Most of my memories of this school aren't fond ones, but I was fortunate enough to have a literature class in which we were introduced to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. We also got to watch Soylent Green in science class. I'm willing to bet that the kids who attend this school now aren't exposed to anything nearly as cool.

Friday, February 19, 2016

First Fight?

My old elementary school now has the name of my old junior high school. Somewhere along the way, the seventies architecture was updated, so the school I attended is no longer there in either name or appearance.

The memory that bubbles up from the long-term memory vaults today is one of sudden violence. I was standing on the field during recess (or lunch), when a sudden shove sent me to the ground. Without thinking, I stood up and punched the offender in the face(or maybe the stomach because, for most of my early school career, hitting people in the face was taboo by general agreement). Mission accomplished, I wandered away. When I turned around to look back, a pair of teachers were kneeling by the crying kid, trying to figure out what had happened.

That's when I noticed that there was a soccer game being played on the field. I had inadvertently wandered into the middle of the game, and had gotten shoved for my obliviousness. I remember feeling sorry for the crying kid, but proud that I'd made an older kid cry.

I never got in trouble for it either.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Another Good Field Ruined

This is a recent picture of the field near my old high school. I liked it much better as a field.

When I was attending San Jose State University, getting my Environmental Studies degree, I took an Environmental Impact Report class which involved generating an actual EIR based on a real site. Our group was assigned this one. It seemed like this parcel of land, which then boasted a rundown old house and an aesthetically appealing dead oak tree, has been perpetually slated for development, and our professor handed us what I remember to be an actual development proposal.

I spent some time out in that field, taking pictures and making notes. I remember that it looked like good Burrowing Owl habitat and recommended that anybody looking to develop that parcel would need to mitigate. There is also a creek nearby, which would also need to be taken into consideration.

I think we got a pretty good grade on our report. I don't have a copy of it now, and I kind of wish I did. It was an interesting process. I wonder how closely our report mirrored the one that was generated in advance of the actual development.

If I had actually landed a job writing EIRs, I would most likely have dedicated my existence to thwarting development. I'm biased. I like fields and trees, and I'm less than fond of condos and malls.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

High School

When compared to the school I attended in the eighties, Cupertino High School looks almost entirely different now. Cupertino itself has become quite exclusive, as in "we're going to exclude you if you don't have lots of money", so the high school looks like it has gotten a rather extensive makeover. I recently watched an impressive video tour of the campus, which made it look very enticing indeed. When I drove by with Willow last weekend, she was amazed.

I attended school there from the Fall of 1982 through Spring, 1986. I could fill pages with memories, but for now, I'll just relate a few.

I remember riding my bike to school, especially in the Winter of my freshman year. It was an extremely wet rainy season, and at one point, nearby Steven's Creek Boulevard flooded when the creek backed up. I was pedaling my bike through at least two feet of water to get to school that day, but I was the kind of kid who didn't mind showing up soaking wet. Sometimes I'd go out of my way to do so, standing in the rain and failing to detour around puddles.

I made some friends who are still in my life today, including Wayne, Cristie, and Sylvia, although Sylvia didn't actually go to the same school. I met Cristie one morning when she came into take the attendance to the office. She was wearing a Metallica shirt, back before anybody really knew who they were, so I was intrigued enough to step out of my usual shell and become friends with her. Many of my lasting friendships had their genesis in similar musical tastes.

I can't remember my first meeting with Wayne. He's a couple of years older than me, and I remember him being surprised when the yearbooks came out and my picture was in the freshman section. He hadn't realized I was so much younger (two years was more of a big deal back then).

At one point, somebody stole a scale from one of the science classes, and I was blamed, for no other reason than I always wore a black trench coat and sat by the door. I think that trench coat was a gift from Sylvia, if memory serves. One science teacher was so sure that I'd done it that he burst into one of my classes and confronted me in front of everyone. I also got called to the principal's office, where the vice principal, a supercilious man named Mr. Dexter, not only accused me of stealing it, but stated that he had witnesses. I called him a liar, and eventually brought my parents in to get him to stop harassing me. The parental intervention worked, but I was still irritated that somebody in a position of authority would lie to my face about something. How naive I was.

Of course, I knew who had stolen the scale, but due to the teenage code of not ratting people out, I kept my silence. This was probably the first time I was profiled. I looked suspicious, therefore I must have done the crime. To be fair, I cultivated that look. I still kind of do. I like to confuse people.

Here are my high school ASB cards. I don't look particularly happy in them, except perhaps in the last one. Maybe I was anticipating being done with high school forever.

When I graduated, I showed up in sneakers, which was apparently unacceptable. I had to trade shoes with my dad, meaning that he had to hobble around in tight sneakers while I flopped around in overly large dress shoes. Under my robe, I wore a spiked belt and a Celtic Frost shirt. Sylvia, Cristie, and other friends showed up as well. In the picture, my brother Greg, who wasn't even in junior high yet, is wearing a Bloom County shirt and flipping off the camera.

Here are a couple of recent shots (taken by Wayne) of me and Sylvia, alongside our mutual friend, Devon.

And here are a couple of shots from 2009,with Wayne and Cristie, taken at a memorial for a guy named Sam Kress.

I got a record in the mail from Cristie last month, and it's really good. Get your copy here. I don't see Cristie, Wayne, or Sylvia very often, but we were good enough friends that years can go by and we just slip right back into the groove as if we'd just spoken yesterday. Here's to friendship.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Alden Way

I didn't live in this apartment very long. No more than a few months, in fact. After I met Jen and decided to continue that relationship, it became time for me to move out of Laura's apartment and find a new place. I spent a month or two sleeping at my mom's house. I slept on the couch so I wouldn't get too comfortable there. I didn't want it to feel like I'd actually moved back in.

Jen let me know that the apartment across the driveway from hers was vacant, but the rent was more than I could afford on my own, so I cast about for a housemate and found a guy named Dan, who used to live with my friend, Matt. As it turned out, by the time I left this apartment, Dan still hadn't moved in. He paid rent because he'd agreed to do so, but in the end, still owed me money (for the deposit, if I remember correctly) that he never paid back.

Other than my developing relationship with Jen, the only event of real note that took place while I lived here came one morning in September. I'd gotten back from delivering papers and was in bed asleep when Jen knocked on my window. She looked frantic about something, which jolted me into immediate alertness. She said that there had been some sort of attack on the country, so I rushed next door with her and we turned on the TV, which was broadcasting the unfolding story of the 9/11 attacks. Jen had gotten a call from her stepmother, who had done a good job of blowing the event all out of proportion, which when one considers the gravity of the actual event, is saying something. Alex, who was not quite five years old, sleepily wandered into the room at one point, but Jen quickly ushered him back to bed. We were riveted to the TV for hours, or so I remember. Eventually, I went next door to go back to sleep, but sleep obviously didn't come easily. At that point, nobody knew how extensive the terrorist attacks would be. There was fear that there would be more, which is of course exactly what the terrorists were hoping for. That's why they call them terrorists.

This was Jen's apartment (slightly blurry because, like the other photos, I took it from the window of a moving car):

Sophie was born on the couch there in June of that year. She is now 14 years old.

Monday, February 15, 2016

An Arm and Two Legs

I remember breaking my arm when I was young. I think I was around 5 years old at the time. A neighbor named Tommy was giving "rocket rides" on another neighbor's lawn. This involved him lying on his back and bending his knees so the "rider" would have a seat on the soles of his feet. He would then swiftly kicked with both feet, sending the hapless rider into the air. It was fun until I came down on my arm and broke it. I don't remember any real pain, but I remember freaking out at the startlingly new shape of my arm. My dad yelled at Tommy, and I came to his defense, saying it wasn't really his fault. I'm not sure if I did this because it was true, or if I didn't want to rock the boat as far as the neighborhood pecking order went. Tommy was an older kid, after all. Both motivations probably came into play.

I had a plaster cast which was soon befouled with grime and signatures. It's hard to suddenly become less mobile, especially when one is young.

Later on, I would lose one of my pet snakes in that same lawn. It was a Ringneck snake and was, if memory serves, one of the first snakes I'd ever caught. Being not much bigger than a worm, it managed to wiggle its way into the lawn and disappear.

That lawn was bad luck.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Of Love

It's Valentine's Day today, and the fourth anniversary of me proposing to Jeanine. On today's agenda, we're going to clean the chicken coop together and later on, watch the mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead. Maybe somewhere in between we'll do something more in keeping with the holiday.

Other than what I've mentioned above, I don't have any Valentine's Day memories that I consider interesting or unusual enough to share here. For the most part, it's a holiday engineered to move vast quantities of stuffed bears, red flowers, and boxes of chocolate from merchants to people who want to reassure significant others that yes, they are loved.

My parents stayed married until the end, but didn't live together for a large chunk of that time. I was between high school and college when my dad announced that he'd be moving out. I don't remember being too surprised, so I must have subconsciously known that my parents' relationship was headed in that direction. I can remember my dad being stressed out a lot of the time, and he often stayed at work late. My mom called him a "workaholic". I'm not sure exactly what the breaking point was, although I imagine it was a lot of little things rather than one big one. My teenage self was self-absorbed enough to simply take it in stride, and my brother seemed likewise unaffected. We just carried on with our lives while our dad got an apartment nearby.

Up until the end, even after our dad moved up to Citrus Heights near Sacramento, we continued to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas together, with my dad making the long trip down to join us. My parents also kept in touch during the year, checking in with each other. I'm not sure how often they talked, but I know they did. I seem to remember my dad having a brief fling with a woman that he worked with, not that he ever brought it up (I don't think this started before he moved out though - that would be troubling). It was more of a case of reading between the lines. Both of my parents were relatively private individuals, and despite all of my writing here, so am I. Most of the time, I feel like I'm typing into the void here. I know a few people who either regularly or irregularly read this blog, but I don't go out of my way to send people in this direction. This writing continues to be more for me than anybody else, although lately I feel like I'm chronicling my life here more for the benefit of those who come after. Someday, after I'm gone, Willow might be interested in digging through these posts. History, even family history, isn't for the young though. Right now, she is firmly rooted in the present. Someday that will probably change.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Old Homestead

Today I took Willow on a trip through time. We visited the house I grew up in, my elementary school, my junior high school, and my high school. I hadn't been by my parents' house in several years. After my mom died and we'd rescued everything we thought needed rescuing (space allowing - both Greg and I lived in apartments, and as it was, we had to rent a storage space which we promptly filled to the brim), my dad sold the house for $600,000.00. The realtor bought it himself, saying that he was going to live in it with his family. Out of curiosity, my cousin Peter recently looked up the house online and discovered that it had been sold again, to the tune of $1.5 million or so. Sure, a lot of work had been done on it between sales, but still... that's quite a mark-up!

Here's the house as it looked in the late sixties, shortly after my mom and dad bought it. I still fondly remember the Volkswagen in the driveway because coins would always end up getting stuck between and under the seats, so it was like a goldmine for me. Once, I even found a copy of Playboy (or some similar magazine) in the back somewhere. Eventually, we had two Volkswagens, this one and a newer, yellow one. The newer one wasn't as fun. Maybe this is where I developed my appreciation for decrepit machinery.

I had a lot of toy Volkswagens too. I can still recall pitching a major fit one day when my mom brought me home a Volkswagen that I already had. She said something like, "but the new one works better!", to which I replied, "no it doesn't" as I furiously demonstrated that this was so. What an ungrateful little jerk I was.

Another memorable moment in Volkswagen fandom came when it was revealed that there was a really old Volkswagen at the rear of a garage where my dad was getting some work done on one of our cars. He had probably mentioned to the mechanic (or the owner) that I liked Volkswagens, so we were taken back into a dark corner of the garage to gaze in wonder upon a Volkswagen so old that the rear window was divided in half. Here's a photo I found after a quick online image search:

And here's the same house today (literally - we just got back from our little photo tour).

This is very much in keeping with the trend of places looking nicer now than they did when I lived in them.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Journal Entry From 21 Years Ago

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned taking a road trip with my friend, Chad. Casting about for something to write about today, I found my one journal entry written while on that trip. I did about 99% of the driving because at the time, Chad didn't have a license. He only drove one day when I couldn't keep my eyes open after driving for nearly 23 hours straight. That was a long haul.

Most of my journal entries involve various sorts of self-improvement strategies and reflections on my shortcomings, or agonizing over failed relationships. This makes them kind of tedious and grating to my current self. I might pick and choose a few other tidbits to share here, or maybe not.

"Today is Wednesday - we've been on the road since Friday and this is the first night we've slept in a motel. We spent three nights in the car and one in a friend of a friend of a friend's basement. In Idaho. Land of the hick.

Animals we've seen: I almost ran over a skunk in CA. The skunk is supposed to be one of my guide animals, along with the otter. Skunks command respect. It's interesting that I've seen two skunks in the wild since I've found this out (never seen a wild skunk before this). Both times I've been in a car with a friend. Something to do with friendship & respect?

Other than that, we've seen deer, buffalo, rabbits, a mouse, possibly an owl, lots of crows, and various chipmunks. A couple of deer got really close. A buck licked my hand but left when no food was forthcoming. While driving through Yellowstone, we had our car surrounded by a herd of buffalo. It was snowing gently as these ancient-looking animals made their unhurried way down the road. The whole scene was beautiful and somewhat surreal - also a little bit sad. it made me think of the past and what was done to the buffalo - hunted almost to extinction.

The crows also interest me. Wherever we turn, we see them hopping or flying away from the sides of roads. One flew in front of us in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. What do they symbolize? More later... wish I could write in the car like Chad does, but I have to drive. Oh well..."

During this point in my life, I'd become interested in the symbolism of the natural world. The bit about skunks and otters being my guide animals was inspired by a Native American tarot reading done by Laura. The crows which seemed to appear at every corner led to me getting one tattooed on my arm when Chad and I reached Flint, Michigan (where his mom and stepdad lived). One of Chad's friends owned a tattoo parlor, so my crow tattoo was heavily discounted. This tattoo would later inspire the camp name I chose when I got hired at my current job.

Other noteworthy moments included following some unpaved roads to the site of the Wounded Knee massacre. This was quite a solemn undertaking, and the bleakness of the monument and the tiny cemetery nearby has stuck with me all of these years.

In Michigan, we went river rafting down a tiny river. We went tubing behind a speedboat too, and I remember cartwheeling across the water after the poorly inflated tube spun out from under me. Here's me, Chad, and a couple of Chad's friends.

On the way back, we stopped at Mesa Verde after spending some time in Colorado Springs. I've been wanting to go back there ever since. We also drove through St. Charles, MO, which is where I was born. This was the first (and so far, only) time I've been back there. We looked at cute hedgehogs in a pet store and checked out some record stores. I bought a Saint Vitus CD from a guy who was a member of a band called the Strangulated Beatoffs. It's funny how I can still remember some of these details.

We briefly stopped at the Grand Canyon too, as well as Four Corners. At some point, we found ourselves following Satan's Freeway.

Revisiting these photos (all taken by Chad, except the one from the rafting trip, of course) confirms that I had a really crappy scanner back when I scanned them. There are other pictures from this trip in a photo album in the attic, and someday I might revisit those too. It's funny to think about how many photos I would take if I took such a trip now. Probably hundreds. There's something to be said for just experience life, instead of constantly recording it. Photos tend to narrow the focus of our memories down to the recorded images, leaving the rest of the experiencing in some unattainable mental archive.

A Pleasant Present Interlude

Amidst all of this reminiscing, the present continues to eat up the future and quickly digest it, leaving only the past behind. I'm nearing the end of yet another week of working nights, although I'm quickly approaching the time when I'll be switching back to days.

The eruption of frog song this week is nearly overwhelming in its intensity. Our pool has been neglected for awhile now, and resembles a murky, green pond. Yesterday evening, I managed to capture three different amphibian species there: several chorus frogs, a small toad, and an equally diminutive newt.

On Tuesday, I went with Jeanine and Eva to see Black Sabbath, getting to work a bit late. This is balanced out by the fact that I've been staying later than I'm supposed to in the mornings due to some ongoing schedule snafus.

The sunrises have been nice too, especially this morning.

The kids this week have been perfect sleepers. I haven't seen a single one of them during the overnight hours. I did see a Gray Fox rooting around in an overturned compost bucket on Monday night, and actually had to intervene when the fox spotted our fluffy little feral cat nearby. The fox suddenly got very interested in the cat, and its whole demeanor changed. I got in between them and scared the fox away. I'm not sure if it would have attacked the cat, but I have a soft spot for cats, so I didn't let things escalate.

I'm always impressed by how alive wild animals are. They always seem to be quivering with potential, their senses straining to perceive the slightest changes in their surroundings. The fox moved so quickly that it seemed like a ghost, teleporting from shadow to shadow and then finally vanishing back into the woods. People are never this alive. Maybe we should take inspiration from this fox and its kin. I've been thinking about this all week.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Church St.

That's my old window in the upper left hand corner of this rather dull looking building. Looking at it now reminds me of the time when the roof was replaced. Due to the fact that I worked nights, there was a period of several weeks where I was awakened every day by the sound of hammers directly above my head.

This cookie cutter apartment complex squatted dolefully at the end of Church St where it abuts Highway 237. I moved into a two bedroom, upstairs apartment with Laura and her daughter, Kelly, who I think was then around 12 or 13 years old. Before we moved in together, they had previously lived across the complex in a one room apartment. Also living with us was their cat, BJ, who was one of the smartest cats I’ve ever known. He was constantly trying to get outside, so opening the front door always had to involve a quick motion with a leg to block his inevitable attempt to dart between the doorjamb and the opening door. Years later, after moving out, I had to break myself of the habit of swiftly inserting my foot into the widening space as I opened the front door of my new residence.

Laura worked at Tower with me, she in receiving and me out on the floor as shift manager. Our relationship was the only workplace romance I’ve ever attempted, and as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it was an on again/off again affair. Our differences in age, personality, and life experience were profound, with her being 14 years older and having a background that can only be described as harrowing. She was also in chronic pain, and had bad days where it was all she could do to get out of bed and sit in her chair.

Kelly was a strong-willed and intelligent child. In a way, she was like my first stepdaughter. Not that Laura and I were married, or even in that kind of relationship most of the time. I helped teach Kelly to drive (she reminded me of this last year, when spent an afternoon together with our kids), and was generally there for her when needed.

My friend, Ellen, who had also briefly worked at Tower, moved into an apartment in the complex for awhile, and so did at least one other Tower employee, if I remember correctly. Jeff, my housemate from the first couple of houses in this ongoing series, lived in an apartment complex on the next street, accessible by a gate between our complexes.

Living with Laura was rewarding, awkward, frustrating, occasionally profound, and provided me with multiple opportunities for growth, some of which I took, and others which I didn’t. She was a woman for whom the words “I love you” were easier to utter than the words “I trust you.” I was a relative innocent. She was anything but. More than once, she said aloud that she wished that she could have what came so easily for “normal people”, but while we were living together, she never quite managed it, and I didn’t know how to make it work either.

During the “off again” moments of our time together, I saw other women, whose names all began with the letter D. I met D#1 through Ellen. She was a good deal younger than me and would eventually, long after our brief fling, become the co-owner of the Bal Theatre in San Leandro. D#2 was another Tower employee, and her claim to fame was that she had once been a model for Frank Frazetta. D#3 was somebody who I met through Jennie (yes, an ex-girlfriend, playing matchmaker). I might have taken this last relationship farther, but I was still emotionally confused about my non-relationship with Laura, and Laura, sensing that I was drawing away, turned on the heat, drawing me back in. She often admitted that she had a “come here/go away” problem in her relationships, both wanting and not wanting one at the same time. All of these brief “relationships” were overshadowed by the fact that I had unresolved feelings about Laura and my living situation.

There is a strange addendum to the story of D#3. My inspiration for starting this blog came from my first wife, Jen, way back in 2002. Jen became fascinated by the art of blogging, both reading and writing them. To this day, she makes a living working for a company called Blogher, so she managed to turn this fascination into something sustaining. Back when we were married, I happened to notice that one of the author photos attached to a blog she was regularly reading looked really familiar. Sure enough, it was D#3, who had become a Unitarian minister down in Texas. Being amazed at this coincidence, I briefly contacted her, which given Jen’s jealous nature, probably wasn’t a good idea. In retrospect, I think this might have been one of the first wedges inserted between us. I’m not sure if Jen continued reading that blog afterward, or if it exists. Maybe I’ll poke around and see.

I also did the majority of my international traveling while living on Church St., going to France and England several times. I also went to New York a couple of times during this period, and Texas as well. It was a busy time. I was young(ish), and between my two jobs, I could afford to travel, as long as I did it as cheaply as possible.

Laura eventually quit Tower, and was jobless for awhile, making me the sole provider. She eventually got a job at a paint store, and then one at Trader Joe’s. I quit Tower as well, and after my friend Matt mentioned that he had a friend who worked at the Children’s Discovery Museum and that I would be a good fit there, I got a job at the museum.
While working at the museum, I met Jen one day in the early childhood center. Remembering Laura’s tendency to pull the “come here/go away” card, I resolved that this time I wasn’t going to hold back from exploring the possibility of a new relationship which, as things developed, led to me moving out.

Later this month, I’ll be attending Kelly’s baby shower, held in expectation of the arrival of her second child. She’s in her mid-thirties now, which makes me feel elderly.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Reed St.

I can't remember how I ended up on Reed street. I think that the impetus was my aversion to living in a studio apartment. It might also been yet another move inspired by a break-up, because this was around the time that Jennie and I called it quits. I had a number of housemates in this house, including Chad who, while we were living there together, was my companion on an epic, 8000 mile road trip. Chad, with his band, The Earles of Newtown, ended up singing at our wedding when Jeanine and I got married a few years ago.

Another housemate, who shall go unnamed, tried to overdose on pills and ended up moving out. Yet another housemate, who I think was named Sheila, came home one day with two black eyes, looking like she'd been attacked. When I asked her what happened, she said she'd fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed into a bus.

We had a small garden in the front yard, but every time something started to ripen, it got stolen.

The house had two bedrooms, although we ended up converting the front room into an additional bedroom. That's where Jesse lived. Jesse collected hub caps and was a bit of an artist, if I remember right. He also liked having barbeques on the front porch,which was okay as long as uninvited people didn't show up, like this crazy homeless guy known as Mundo. I seem to remember Mundo leaving some graffiti behind.

I'm pretty sure that one of our neighbors was a prostitute, if her mode of dress was anything to go by. She would emerge in the evening wearing shiny, short, skin-tight skirts and wander up the street.

There were illegal aliens living in an old airstream trailer out back. They made a living picking fruit, and would sometimes share the bags of fruit that they brought home. Somebody ended up calling the cops on them, and our landlord suspected it had been one of us. Our response was something like, "no! They give us fruit!"

There was also a converted garage at the back of the property where some other people lived, but I don't think any of us ever had any interaction with them.

When we lived there in the mid nineties, the rent for the whole house was $800.00, which won't even cover a studio apartment these days.

While I lived there I was going to San Jose State (for the second time) to get my Environmental Studies degree. I also still worked at Tower, where I was on again/off again (mostly off again) romantically involved with a coworker named Laura. I could walk to school, but the commute to work was much longer. I was still delivering papers at night too.

We briefly had a housemate named Stacia, who had just moved away from her parents' house. Often, the only indication that she was living there was the pile of empty bottles of alcohol that built up in the kitchen. Once, she came home drunk and passed out in the front yard, where she slept all night. She was lucky. It wasn't the kind of neighborhood where a young, attractive woman stood a good chance of emerging unmolested from such a judgmental error. She sure liked her alcohol.

Next door, looming over our driveway, there was a building that looked like it was about to fall over. I remember once getting blocked in my the mail truck, and having to drive down the sidewalk in front of our house to the next driveway so I wouldn't be late for work.

Like all of my other similar living arrangements, this one eventually fell apart due to the nomadic nature of twenty somethings. People moved out and moved on. I was the last one to go. When we vacated the premises, we left our couch (which we had bought for $15.00 from the neighbors) on the front porch. We naively thought that whoever moved in next might want it. I can't remember how much of our deposit we got back. Probably not much.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Villa St.

This building, yet another casualty of population growth, was at some point subdivided into studio apartments. The window on the right was the one I peered out from while living there with Shoggoth the cat and an assortment of reptiles. The reptile cages took up most of the space in the living area.

The apartment consisted of two similarly sized rooms, one being the living/sleeping area and the other being the kitchen. There was a bathroom abutting the kitchen, but I can't picture it in my head now.

Shoggoth was an illegal tenant, and I used to sneak him outside when the property manager wasn't around, just so he could touch a tree or smell the grass. The property manager breathed through a hole in his throat and spoke with the aid of technology, making him sound like Darth Vader.

My friend Josh, who was a co-worker at Tower Books, briefly lived in the apartment across the hallway, but soon vacated it because part of his room was under the stairs. I lived there long enough to have several upstairs neighbors, all of them annoying in their own ways. One neighbor made noises that sounded like he had a typewriter on the floor, with which he frantically composed letters during the nocturnal hours. The worst upstairs neighbors were a pair of roommates who fought (I once distinctly heard, "Ow! You didn't have to cut me!". Plus, they had a car with an uncommonly sensitive alarm. It went off every time a truck went down the street.

One day, while I was standing out near the curb (putting something into my trunk, I think), a large sedan whipped around the corner and a hand holding a baseball bat shot out the passenger side window just long enough for the bat to swing into the rearview mirror of the alarm car. The mirror was a home run, bouncing away down the street. The guy upstairs popped his head out of the window and asked what happened, and I had to refrain from laughing while I told him. It seems I wasn't the only one who hated that alarm.

Once, I decided to defrost my freezer at a late hour. It was well and truly iced over, and I attacked it with a hammer and screwdriver. The next day, the property manager told me that there had been complaints, and asked if I'd heard anything. I innocently shook my head and said, "no, because I wasn't home." He immediately concluded that my upstairs neighbors must be the culprits, since they were habitually loud to begin with. This was admittedly a passive-aggressive way of getting back at them, but it worked.

I wouldn't live in a studio apartment again until after my divorce, and my experience living in a small space with a bunch of reptiles inspired me to find a different solution the second time around.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Up the Creek

Today, I'm taking a detour from writing about places I used to live so I can reminisce about the creek near my parents' home in Cupertino. I still have to go and take a current photo of that house. I haven't seen it in a few years, and it has changed ownership again since my dad sold it.

Near the house, behind Wilson park, is a creek. I can't remember exactly what the creek is officially called because we always just called it "the creek". Like many children who grew up in the seventies, we often played outside until the streetlights came on. The creek served as a porthole to adventure. We caught toads, found interesting trash, and generally had a fine old time. I remember once seeing a Tiger salamander in the creek, which is still the only time I've ever seen one in the wild. Strangely enough, we didn't catch it and bring it home, as I did with so many other creatures we found. I remember once catching so many toads that I had to take off my socks to carry them in. At my current job as a naturalist, I discourage kids from exhibiting this kind of behavior because it's a sure way to depopulate the wild. I can understand the impulse though. I loved the creatures I found and had no conception of the potential harm that catching them and keeping them could cause. This early fascination with wildlife eventually led to the job I have now.

I remember my best friend Steve accidentally dropping a nail-studded board on my head. Blinded by blood, I did my best to take revenge, but my mom (I think it was my mom) stopped me.

I remember our excursions upstream toward the beckoning hills, through tunnels and around half submerged shopping carts, up embankments and over boulders, ever onward. I think we only made it all the way to the hills once or twice. We were still pretty young. I remember stopping at the railroad tracks to lay down coins on the rails. Once, we even put a good sized log on the rails, which the train made short work of, turning it to kindling in an explosion of wood.

Once, I almost drowned when I jumped into a rain swollen creek and nearly got swept into a long tunnel with water filling nearly the entire space. Lesson learned.

Another time, during the dry season, we decided to walk through one of the long tunnels but didn't have flashlights. One of us had a lighter though, so we fashioned crude torches by wrapping some old clothes we found around two or three stout branches. It actually worked.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Mariposa St.

After our Clark St. living arrangement became deranged, Jeff and I ended up moving to nearby Mariposa St., along with Jennie and Jennie's friend Paul. The house on Mariposa St. was built in 1903, making it the oldest house in Mountain View, or so we were told (although the picture above was taken last weekend). This meant that it has survived both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes. Jeff's friend, whose name I've forgotten, was the property manager, in return for which he either got free rent or a deal on rent in one of the apartments out back (which originally housed the "help", back when the house was the only one in the area). This friend also filled us in on the fact that a previous tenant (or perhaps the original one, as details are now hazy) blew her brains out inside one of the upstairs walk-in closets (the one in the room that Jennie and I ended up living in). The woman reportedly left a note downstairs warning her kids not to go upstairs, but they did, of course. Several people who stayed the night in the house said that it had creepy vibes, and that they had weird dreams. I never noticed anything like that myself, but then again I never do.

Jeff took over the master bedroom, and Paul lived downstairs. During our time there, a succession of other housemates came and went, many of them Tower employees (Josh and Tigger, at least). Paul ended up losing his job (he was the biggest procrastinator I've ever met) and stopped paying rent. Jennie dumped all of his stuff out front. The last time I saw Paul, he was on well on his way to becoming a woman, and now answers to "Pam".

I remember a girl getting assaulted in our front yard. We called 911, but by the time we got out into the yard, the perpetrator had vanished. The girl didn't really speak English, but fortunately one of the responding police officers spoke Spanish.

Here's what our room looked like. The pictures behind me were painted for an art class at SJSU.

A bookshelf and posters:

Inside the suicide closet:

I remember one of the neighbors calling the cops on Jeff because he was using one of the trees in the yard for crossbow target practice. She might have called because of all of the people coming and going as well. Once, Jeff invited a bunch of deadheads over, and when Jennie and I got home late one night, we stepped on several of them, perhaps harder than was warranted. The whole downstairs smelled of patchouli.

We had a couple of cats, Lolapaloozakersplat (Lola for short), and Shoggoth. We also adopted a poor crippled cat (one leg stood out at right angles to its body), but we had to return it when it started terrorizing Lola.

At some point, after Jennie and Jeff butted heads one time too many, Jeff moved out and my friend Wayne moved in, as did Stefany. Jeff's friend Danette also lived there for awhile. Jennie ended up getting into it with Wayne and Stefany as well, which by that time I'd realized was her pattern. They ended up moving out too. Since Jennie was planning on going to UC Berkeley, that left me as the only person remaining, which meant that I ended up having to clean out all of the crap left behind in the root cellar, which was a kind of out-of-sight-out-of-mind storage space. I seem to remember moving back in with my mom for a month or two until I'd sorted out a new place to live.

This was a great house, except for the fact that it was horribly hard to heat. I was almost as if there was no insulation. It might also been because the rooms were so large. The street was (and still is) a real mixture of nice homes and seedy apartment complexes. It was close to downtown, and not too far from Tower either. I think the rent for the entire house was around $1275.00, although my share of it was sometimes as low as $150.00 (Jennie and I split a $300.00 room).

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Clark Street

This is the house I briefly lived in at the end of the eighties/beginning of the nineties. The impetus for moving out of my parents' house was the end of my first real relationship. I'm most likely to make big life changes when I'm feeling upset about things, and being dumped is pretty high on the list of things that upset me. It ends up being a time of reflection and forward progress. I wish I did this kind of thing when I was happy, but the motivation just isn't there. If things are working, why change them? Or so I tell myself.

I moved in with my friend Jeff and a woman named Dela. Dela lived in the garage, which she had converted into a bedroom. She had a dog named Dave who liked eating my socks and escaping. The neighbors who continually brought him back weren't so fond of this second habit. I wasn't so fond of the first one. Dela also had a cute Canadian friend named Val who, while visiting, helped me feel better about being newly single, although that didn't last very long since she was, after all, a resident of a different country and jumping right into any kind of relationship wasn't what I needed to be doing at that moment in time. There was a third bedroom inside too, but I can't remember who lived in it. Dela built a skateboard ramp in the backyard, or had one built. I can't remember where exactly she got it. She didn't skate, but liked skater boys, or so I remember.

Before I moved out, I had started a new relationship with Jennie, who worked at Tower Records. I soon got a job next door at Tower Books, which was a good thing because my other job, delivering the Wall Street Journal at night, barely paid enough to cover my rent, let alone buy groceries or pay bills. Speaking of paying bills, there was another house down the street populated by Tower employees that everyone referred to as "The Cave" because nobody ever payed the electricity bill.

It was during this time that Jennie almost died in a car accident after she got hit on the freeway by a Coca Cola truck (the first paramedics on the scene actually thought she was dead). Her car was a rattletrap with its hood held down by a bungee cord, and I seem to remember it was the steering wheel suddenly no longer working that caused her to spin into the path of the truck. She spent some time in the hospital, and emerged from the other end of the experience with a case of post-traumatic stress which gradually led to her reevaluating her whole life. She went on to become a lawyer, going to UC Berkeley and then Harvard. Again, bad experiences often result in good changes. I'm still friends with her (at least via Facebook). The last time I saw her was when she came to my wedding.

This living arrangement fell apart when Dela and Jeff had a falling out. I can't remember exactly what caused it, but it ended up being Dela against the rest of us (including Jennie, who didn't technically live there, but loved a good fight). We ended up all moving out, leaving Dela there by herself.

Friday, February 05, 2016


One more music-related memory, and then I'll move on to something else, at least for awhile. Music was and continues to be necessary part of my life. We all have ways of emotionally navigating the fearsome maze of modern culture, and music is the foremost among mine. Getting the hell out of the city and into the woods is another. This is how I draw some sort of spiritual sustenance into a psyche bleached by contact with the hostile non-environment of concrete, greed, and the general rat-in-a-cage strangeness of city and suburban life.

Of course, being infected with modern culture, lately I've taken my music consumption levels too far, so this year one of my goals is to stick to a budget. So far, I've succeeded, but it is only February. My willpower will be tested.

As I mentioned in the last post, I spent much of the late eighties at Gilman St., aka the Gilman Street Project, in Berkeley. It was basically a youth club where like-minded individuals would regularly gather and experience wave after wave of punk and hardcore bands. Most of the bands that played regularly enough to almost be considered "house bands" were of the humorous variety. Once, the singer from an out of town band, Slapshot, complained that the crowd was like "Romper Room". He didn't get it. Punk is often viewed as being somewhat macho and edgy, so we tipped that perception on its head and acted like a bunch of sugar-addled little kids. Most of the time, anyway.

Here's a photo of the crowd at an Isocracy show, probably from 1987. Isocracy's schtick was to raid dumpsters before their performances, and then rain trash down on the heads of the audience. This was huge fun. We also sometimes had leap-frog pits, rode bigwheels, and in general subverted the public perception of what punk was supposed to be about. For us, it was about rebellion, fun, and served to help develop a social consciousness that I still retain today.

I'm the one with the backwards hat. I think veteran punk photographer Murray Bowles took this. I could be wrong though. Like the photo in the last post, I grabbed this photo from Facebook. This one was posted by my friend Devon, who was my friend back in the eighties, and is still my friend today.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Musical Eighties

Starting in 1983, I started going to a lot of metal shows in small venues, and about a year later, discovered punk. Currently, I thoroughly document my musical obsessions, but back then, I was just soaking it all in and throwing myself around in a never ending series of pits (I've always hated the word "mosh", used to describe this singular form of dancing - why is it that I'm always reluctant to use new words?). Some of my friends from that time regularly cough up detritus from the past on Facebook, which leads me to believe that they were a lot more organized that I was, or at least a lot more obsessed with the past.

I was going to write about something entirely different today, but my old friend Wayne, who was pretty much my constant companion in those days, pointed out my presence in the following photo, posted on Facebook by local guru Ron Quintana (editor of the infamous Metal Mania 'zine, among other things).

That's me in the upper left, wearing a D.I.Y. Exodus shirt and facing away from the camera. I think I silkscreened that in a high school art class, although I might have done it at home. I made a few shirts this way, and this was far from the best. I think the Celtic Frost and Acid shirts I made were much better. The Celtic Frost shirt is now part of a quilt I had made a year or two ago.

I'm not even sure what show this was. Our usual haunts were The Stone, Ruthie's Inn, The Farm, New Method, On Broadway, Mabuhay Gardens, and a few others. In the latter half of the eighties, Gilman St. eclipsed the other venues. I could write endlessly about those days, but I'll save that for another time and my other blog.

Let it suffice to say that these were my people during my formative years. In a lot of ways, they still are.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Your Freudian Slip Is Showing

And then there was the time at an elementary school assembly when the third grade teacher, Miss Campbell, mispronounced the name of the fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Schmidt.

Yes, like that.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Middle School Present and Past

Eva's ex-middle school is up at camp this week, with predictable results. For multiple reasons, middle school students always present more behavior problems than elementary school kids, and for some reason, the kids from Eva's old school are more prone to misbehavior than most. To add another layer of difficulty, we didn't have enough cabin leaders to cover the cabins, so three cabins were leaderless overnight.

One boy was reported to be sitting up in bed after bedtime, and not responding to requests to lie down. A boy nearby accused him of trying to scare people. His teacher and I pulled him out of the room and questioned him about it. He said that he felt "weird" and that he thought he might be possessed.

Okay then...

In the end, we decided that he was just feeling anxious about being away from home (he told us he feels that way every time he goes camping), and took him back to bed. That's when he discovered that he didn't have a sleeping bag or pillow. A boy nearby had an extra pillow, and another boy had an extra postage stamp-sized blanket. The teachers this week brought their own supply of extra blankets, so we added a bigger, warmer blanket to the bunk.

In the morning, the boy's sleeping bag turned up in the hands of one of my co-workers. I'm not sure where she found it. Maybe it was in the lost and found. Some kids just seem checked out of reality.

The other overnight issues were more pedestrian, and mostly involved people not shutting up and allowing their classmates to sleep.

This morning, since Scooby, who usually tells stories, is sick, I told the kids a story before breakfast. It was raining, and our usual rainy day spot is slated for demolition and inaccessible, so I told it inside the dining hall amidst the clattering of plates and silverware and tables were set up. It wasn't quite as distracting as I thought it was going to be.

Since we're on the subject of middle school, I guess I'll share a memory of when I was in middle school. The one that pops first into my mind is the time that our universally disliked vice principal, Mr. Boothe, had to put out a locker fire with fire extinguisher. I have no idea who started the fire, but it was grand entertainment watching our unhappy vice principal grimly applying the foam to the flaming textbooks and papers.

My train of thought has arrived at another memory involving Mr. Boothe. A friend and I were called into the office to talk to a couple of policemen who were investigating a nearby residential burglary. We were suspects because we had a paper route in the area (I can't remember now if it was my route or my friend's), and their line of questioning was pretty brainless. It consisted, in part, of showing us items of jewelry and asking if we'd seen them before, as if we'd actually say "yes" if we had. Of course, neither of us were guilty, so we honestly said that we hadn't. Mr. Boothe, jaded drone that he was, acted as if we'd already been tried and convicted, often admonishing us with statements like, "you had better tell the truth now!"

There seems to be a theme to my memories so far. I tended to get into minor trouble a lot, although for some reason school authorities often seemed to think I was a major criminal.

That said, I'm glad that I don't have to supervise a middle school like mine. By my adult standards, we were pretty out of control. At the time, we didn't think twice about how we behaved, and we got away with a lot. There were a lot of drugs and alcohol on campus, not to mention fighting. Perhaps some of those stories will appear here another time.

I have half a mind to drive by my old school, just to see what it looks like today. I'm not sure what the site is used for now.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Memory Month

The sky is blue, and I'm being attacked by a kitten as I try to type. Lately, I've been playing with a free app called Dreamscope, which turns phone photos into "works of art" by running them through various filters. Here's an alternate Brian.

I'm glad I'm not actually being attacked by a kitten who looks like this. That would be horrifying.

AS I mentioned in the previous post, each day this month I'm going to wind back the clock and share a memory. For the most part, it will be whatever memory pops into my head on the given day. Today, I'm remembering the first time I got sent to the principal's office at school. I was in the first grade. I remember waiting in line at the drinking fountain, and getting impatient that the guy in front of me, a redheaded boy named Doug, was taking too long to finish drinking. My solution to this problem was to bite him. We both got dragged to the principal's office. Doug was crying, and I seem to remember being somewhat unrepentant. The principal yelled at both of us for some reason, or that's how I remember anyway. He even mentioned rabies, as if rabies was commonly spread from human to human through bites. This made Doug cry harder.

Looking back on this now, I have to wonder what in the hell the principal was thinking. When a kid is crying because he has just been bitten by some asshole classmate at the drinking fountain, it's not a good idea to scare that kid into thinking that he might also now have rabies. That said, I don't think I broke the skin, so even if I had been foaming at the mouth, Doug would have been safe. I don't remember anything else about the principal, but based on this one memory, it's pretty obvious to me that he wasn't a very good one.

I just looked Doug up online. It seems he lives in Melbourne now. I wonder if he remembers this incident.