Monthly Archives: March 2014

Down from the mountain

pith.down-from-the-mountain.She comes down
from the mountain state

and enters the bar
through a flow

of happy salutations

from people she
doesn’t even know.

She’s plump, juicy, ripe
for something

finds an empty barstool
introduces herself

orders, drinks her beer
warms to her new companion

says she likes to be spanked.

She winks, coaxes, cajoles
works her charms

until finally she says
Would you like to help

me make a baby? My clock
is ticking. I need a man.

Sure, he says, amused
and warns, I’m quite

a bit older than you. She
sizes him up and says

You’re right. Forget it!
I wouldn’t want to wipe

your ass too. She holds
out her hand, a leveling tool,

lowers it and says,

That’s how much
you’ve fallen, and moves on.

—Stacey Warde

Chaos in the check-out line

by Dell Franklin

city-life.Rite_AidI’m in Rite Aid, with a single purchase, a tooth brush I should have bought at the Dollar Store, and at this busy hour there’s only one checker and a long line. There seems no other employee in sight to open up the other registers. There’s nine or 10 people before me and a young plump girl is struggling to wait on them. I think she’s new. I haven’t seen her here before. I should put this tooth brush back and go to the Dollar Store like a person with some sense, but even though I am poor I make sure to use a good tooth brush as well as other hygienic products.

A couple of fossils wait in line toting Preparation H, Metamucil, etc. A girl with green-streaked hair and a ring in her nose issues massive sighs. There’s a couple of middle-aged sloths with belly and dour expressions. There’s a tall, gangly guy with a close-neck-shaved hairdo, a long neck with bulging Adam’s apple, and a forehead that takes up two thirds of his face and mushes up what’s left. In the middle of the line is a local high-profile homosexual man who’s quite flamboyant and enjoys being observed wherever he goes. He’s around 30, wears bright yellow tight jeans and has bleached blond hair.

The line moves very slowly. A fossil at the register is having trouble completing the credit card process with quivering fingers. The halfwit employee is trying to guide him. Everybody’s restless and peering around for help. The geek, with his spindly arms in a short-sleeve shirt, holds three plaster grey-white, nondescript ducks, and I’m wondering what he’s going to do with them. They’re ugly ducks, to me, with no purpose. Is he going to place these ghastly ducks on a mantle to decorate his hovel? I’ve seen him around in the local Morro Bay market, herky-jerky, a stickler at the check-out counter as he prices the ribbon on the register, usually paying with cash and exact change squeezed from the coin purse in his wallet, then studying his receipt as we wait for the prick.

I have no idea what this guy does for a living, but the gay man is glancing at him with arctic distaste. This queen is one person up from me, behind the green hair, in front of a quivering fossil. He repeatedly sighs and rolls his eyes at any one of us, expressing his unhappiness with the situation.

A couple more people have lined up behind me, one a woman with tons of shit in a cart. She wants to know where all the employees are. Playing the long-suffering expert on such predicaments, I tell her my guess is they’re on a break, because it’s past lunch time. I go on to explain that their union contracts force them to take breaks at assigned hours, whether there’s 50 people in the store or not. Somebody else bitches that they’re always understaffed.

Dispirited, they shake their heads and grumble as the geek arrives at the register, and immediately he’s squabbling with the checker, insisting his fucking ducks are on sale for 99 cents. I can think of no item in this or any store except the Dollar Store that sells for 99 cents. In fact, I have no idea how any person of authority could arrive at a decision to manufacture these ducks, much less sell them to a conglomerate like Rite Aid and expect their marketing department to find a target to purchase them—save an idiot like this geek.

The checker is getting rattled. She tells the geek over and over again that the ducks are $1.49 a piece. When she runs them along the machine, $1.49 pops up on the register. The geek is having none of it. He demands the manager. The poor fat girl sighs as two people behind me leave the line. She picks up the little phone and over the intercom  running throughout the cavernous store, pages the manager to come to register number one.

The green hair asks her why none of the other registers are open when they’re so busy. The checker confesses she doesn’t know why. The geek is jangling around like he’s got some kind of twitching syndrome.

“Give ‘im the goddamn ducks!” cries a fossil behind me. “I got things t’ do!”

The manager, a plain, portly man with mustache, pens in shirt pocket, copious keys hanging from belt, plastic badge on chest saying he is LARRY, arrives. Larry explains to the geek that the ducks from hell are $1.49. The geek maintains they are “on sale” for 99 cents. The manager feels that he, the geek, got the price of the ducks mixed up with an item beside them, though he maintains nothing in the store is on sale for 99 cents. The geek hems and haws while we all wait. Finally, he goes to his wallet pays with exact change, has his ducks bagged, and minces out springing up on his tippy-toes.

Everybody is relieved when the manager announces he’s opening up register number two, and those in front of the line can be waited there first. There is a mad stampede of about 15 people scurrying for position. There are still around eight people in each line. The homosexual is next in our line, but here out of nowhere comes a woman in spike heels, skinny jeans, silk blouse, hair coiffed, very pretty, but somewhat pinched. In a huff, she announces she has a “huge” appointment, is already late, bustles past all of us, including the gay man, and plunks down her basket of purchases. She offers no apologies or thanks for cutting in, indicating her comings and goings hold far more importance than ours, so deal with it.

She’s got her credit card at the ready and is also on her cell phone, which she snared from a side holster when it went “meow,” and is visibly impatient as the fat girl plods along, not noticing the homosexual furtively slither his hand into her basket and filch her Kotex and drop it in his basket. He turns toward me, meeting my gaze and haughtily lifting his nose in a manner indicating he is perfectly justified in stealing this bitch’s Kotex. I nod my approval.

Everybody witnesses his thievery. The bitch quickly collects her bag of purchases and, phone held to ear, makes a staccato of her heels as she marches out, while the gay man informs the checker he has no idea how this goddam Kotex ended up in his basket. §

Dell Franklin is founding publisher of and a regular contributor The Rogue Voice . He recently began his own blog, The Ball Player’s Son, where he will post accounts of his memoir about his father.



Fast Times from Cayucos-By-The-Sea: THE CONVERSATION KILLERS

by Dell Franklin

Photo by Stacey Warde

Photo by Stacey Warde

I’m wondering about these three men in pleated shorts, polo shirts and high-end thongs sitting together at the small bar in Schooner’s Wharf. It’s about 4 of a Saturday afternoon. There’s plenty to see of surf and sky and interesting dog and human activity on the beach just off the pier, including surfers riding curlers. Inside, there’s a variety of local characters, including Crozier, the “Pirate,” who holds court on the other side of these three men on a stool with his name on it on a brass plate. I’m talking to a local on my right about baseball, but the three guys to my left, all around 30, haven’t said one word to each other, haven’t looked at anybody, haven’t even gazed at the view beyond the window, but have instead for at least 20 minutes straight poked at little phone contraptions without looking up.

I take it hard when somebody sitting beside me in a bar ignores my nods or subtle signals that I might want to meet him or her, for these venues are not just for visiting regular drinking pals, but meeting new ones, and also fulfilling what my mother always considered the most valuable asset a person could have—observing the human condition and engaging.

“You’ll never be bored checking out people,” she told me.

Finally the guy on my left paused to sip from what had become a stale designer beer (all three drank pints of dark, so they looked like clones) and I said, “What’s so fascinating about that contraption you keep poking? Are you playing some kind of game?”

He was too shocked and confused to answer right off. “What?”

“Are you playing blackjack or something?” His friends kept poking.

“My wife and me are emailing,” he said tightly and turned away.

“Are your friends emailing their wives, too?” I asked.

He was back to poking, but said, “Yes!”

“What are you all emailing about?” I persisted.

His two friends finally peered over. They were not the types to take issue with somebody who looked and acted like me when none of them would go through life looking like they needed a haircut. I felt resentful at their taking up stools that could be occupied by people eager to engage me in drunken palaver, no matter how aimless and stupid it is.

I said, “The other day I saw two people in this bar emailing each other from 10 feet away. What’s that all about?” I pictured him and a gym-trim woman emailing each other from across a room in their townhouse.

He had no answer. He didn’t like me. I wear beach hand-me-downs and haven’t had a haircut in a year and haven’t really combed it in weeks because it doesn’t do any good, but I have money on the bar and just a minute ago bought the pirate and my fellow baseball expert a drink and I’d probably buy this trio a round if they gave me any indication they weren’t robots.

“Don’t you think the art of conversation is being impaired if not out-rightly killed by the kinds of gadgets you and your bar mates are poking?”

He turned completely away from me, like one of the hundreds of bar flies have over the years when my approach went afoul, though I did succeed about some of the time. He whispered to his mates, like a woman scheming to go to the john together for security reasons. Oh, please don’t leave me alone without my contraption! They got up and left, leaving half their stale beers and meager tips, and in a split second 3 very cute Latina girls around 21 took their places.

They were smiling and happy and the tiny one beside me smiled when I nodded at her and I asked her where she was from, and she said Fresno, and that she and her friends were all graduating from Fresno State, and I asked them their majors, and they told me what they were and I asked them what they were going into in their lives, and they told me, and I accused the one beside me of being beautiful, which she was, and she thanked me in a humble but excited way and when I asked her if she was 100 percent Mexican she told me she was half Philippine and I told her one of my tennis partner was a Philippine lady who kicked my ass and I bought her and her friends drinks and she squeezed my hand and looked into my eyes with genuine gratitude and said I was “sweet” and…. §

Dell Franklin is founding publisher of The Rogue Voice, has ceased going to the barber and regularly visits the local watering hole for conversation.


by Stacey Warde

As a farmhand, I spend a lot of time in the orchards that border cougar country in rural coastal central California, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Cougar_closeupThere are frequent sightings, from ranchers and people who live out in the wild, which surrounds our little beach village, Cayucos, “the little town that time forgot,” and, although I’ve had the good fortune, so far, of avoiding direct contact with one of these mountain lions, I’ve met far worse predators in the hills they roam.

A recent posting of a photo on Facebook from a neighboring farm showed the clear M-shaped padding of a California mountain lion’s paw.

“Holy shit!” I commented.

That’s so close, I thought, in cougar time, just minutes away. That beast could pounce and I’d never know it.

It happened not long ago in Orange County. A competitive and sponsored cyclist hunched over a broken bicycle chain in the Whiting Ranch wilderness area took a crushing bite to the back of his neck, as is the habit of cougars on the prowl for easy prey, and was dragged off the path and into the brush. He got eaten.

Not long after that, the same lion, apparently, dragged a woman cyclist by her head into the brush, but an alert friend grabbed the woman’s leg, fended off the lion, and saved her friend from certain death.

Authorities found the previous cyclist’s body partially buried nearby after tending the traumatized woman, and discovered a healthy 2-year-old male lion, weighing 115 pounds, lurking in the shadows, standing guard over his earlier quarry. Sheriff’s deputies shot and killed the lion.

The proximity of the cougar’s print to my workplace made me reflect on the many days I’ve spent alone in the middle of the avocado and orange groves, out of shouting range, hunched over, concentrating, as the cyclist, on the task at hand, oblivious to predators. And believe me, they’re out here.

I’m an easy target for a hungry lion.

Lately, I’ve spent most of my work hours in and between the rows, in the deep dark middle of a forest of green avocado trees, pruning, trimming suckers and deadwood, tending irrigation lines that provide water and nutrients, enjoying the fresh air and serenity of the outdoors.

It’s quiet steady work and I like it. It keeps me fit and no one bothers me, I go at my own pace. I’m alone. No office politics or subterfuge, no irritating phone calls and needless interruptions. I just go, and occasionally pause to observe the leavings and scat and rustlings of previous visitors from the surrounding wild.

I have the run of the orchard, which plays host to a myriad of beasts small and large. Wild boars, piglets, skunks, turkeys, deer, quail, coyotes, bobcats, squirrels, rats and quite possibly mountain lions.

I’ve seen all the creatures in both orchards, with the exception of mountain lions and wild boars, which is fine with me.

“Yeah, well, they’re out there,” says the ranch boss, stating the obvious, when I mention the image of tracks posted on Facebook, “but they’re mostly looking for deer or…” he hesitates, “…sheep.”

Sheep means domestic, which means close to home, next to the orchards. And there are plenty of deer in the orange grove, which means plenty of food for mountain lions. I see deer lounging in the shade between rows of large leafy green trees, tails twitching, ears alert, keeping watch, bolting into the brush when they see me.

The boss’s remark only slightly assures me.

“They’re mostly nocturnal,” he adds of the big cat. Small comfort, I think.

Now, throughout the day I keep close watch over my shoulders, frequently peering up and down and between the trees, searching for signs of life other than my own.

I’m somewhat clueless about the otherworldly stealth and elusiveness of these incredible creatures that cover huge swaths of ground in a day. Generally, they tend to shy away from encounters with humans. As development creeps into their range, however, encounters become more likely.

I imagine that I could fend one off with my long-handled cultivator, which has sharp heavy metal tines at one end and give the effect of a claw. I carry it with me during my treks through the orchards, twirling and spinning it like the wood staff I learned to wield as a weapon through years of aikido training.

I’d throw myself into the combat with that or with a much longer, extended pruning saw that I also carry and which cuts sharp.

Experts advise those who may find themselves face-to-face with a mountain lion to make themselves big, throw up their arms and yell and make lots of noise, the opposite of what we might want to do instinctively, which is to run.

My landlord, no chicken-hearted individual, a rancher known for his daring, who pioneered big wave surfing with his friend Jerry Lopez on the North Shore of Oahu, told me of an encounter with a cougar during the night that had him crawling under his vehicle for protection.

He had pulled up to a watering station on his ranch, just a few canyons down the highway from the orchards where I work. It was dark out and he did not see the animal. As he was about to adjust the valves, he heard a blood-curdling scream from the beast not 10 yards away.

“I’ve never been so terrified in my life,” he said, explaining why he crawled under the four-wheeler instead of bolting. “I was shaking in my boots.” After slipping away, he returned the next day to find the lion’s kill on the other side of the tree where he’d been standing.

I stretch with my long-handled cultivator and breathe and feel the earth beneath my boots and know that I’d last about two seconds in such an encounter. My only consolation, I tell myself, and believe as much as possible: At least I won’t go down without a fight.

Still, I strive to be vigilant and know that sooner or later, if it’s not the mountain lion, something else is going to get me. It’s going to get us all, whatever you’re afraid of, it’s going to get you. I’ve accepted that, even if daily I protest loudly against it. Being alone, mindful of the risks, ever watchful, I’m constantly reminded of my mortality and the shortness of life. Against the odds, I plow forward, lunging against the rocks and hardness of clay, which will eventually pull me down, while I scream: “I have a right to be here!”

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but it’s end is the way of death.”

I read that the other day as I was thinking about the mountain lion prowling the fields nearby, wondering about its range and whether it might ever come into the orchard, and why was I still laboring as a farmhand. I read it on the marque of the community church downtown, a quaint, Third Street edifice that gives food to the poor on Wednesdays and serves a community dinner at Thanksgiving. The quote is from the book of Proverbs in the bible, calling into question our ability to choose aptly, calling out our need for guidance and protection. Whatever way one chooses, no matter how right it may seem at the time, it’s end is determined by forces beyond our control.

You may think you’re wise and doing right, but God—and the harsh determinist nature of the universe—is the final judge of that.

The sign irritated me at first but I kept thinking about it: Am I on the right path? Do I belong here in the orchards? In this town? What guides me through these uncertain days where there are predators in the field? Am I making wise choices? What is the end of “my” way? What is the end of “anyone’s” way? What’s next?

It doesn’t look too hopeful, at least not from here, not yet. I’ve been working in these hills and fields since 2008, when the economy drew near collapse, altering countless lives, including mine, putting millions on notice that nothing is secure, not your job, not your life, not institutions you trusted with your hard-earned savings, not your investment in real estate, nothing. I found farm labor one of the few viable options. Everything that I’d known until that point had been completely altered, or disappeared entirely, jobs, opportunities, the future….

I gave up publishing, one of the hardest hit industries during the near-collapse brought on mostly by Wall Street bankers who traded in and got filthy rich off of bad loans, and took to the local farm, exposing myself to an entirely different way of life, one that is full of unique hardships: dust, molds, chemicals, heat, exposure. It’s wild and wonderful out here but it doesn’t pay well, barely a living wage, and there are plenty of risks. I live from one paycheck to the next. I chose this path because it was the only one available at the time. So far, I like it yet keep wondering, where’s the beef? Where’s the real money, the real security?

Now, five years later, entering into my “golden” years, as so many millions of other hapless boomers, I wonder how my choices will play out: This is the way that has seemed right to me, staying here, building ties, getting grounded, hoping for a better future, even if my budget allows me to take only one day at a time.

Another day whips by, I keep watch over my health, critters in the wild and ill-tempered men, and wonder: What are my options and opportunities? With no retirement, no savings? What’s next? “Hi, I’m Stacey! Welcome to Wal-Mart”? That option certainly seems like death to me. But what real options are there for the millions of Americans like me displaced forever through the greed of Wall Street bankers selling fraudulent loans?

I could get eaten by a mountain lion. It might be better than alternatives like poverty, cancer, a head-on collision on Highway 1, or worse, encounters with some local ranchers, bullies at the corporate office, or men in suits. Every day I think about the shortness of life, about possibilities and how I might live more wakefully. The cougar has helped me with that.

I seek the companionship of those who have been touched in an honest way, who’ve been broken and humbled, rather than jaded and embittered, by their experiences, who know their limits and yet keep aiming beyond what they know, without losing their sense of what is possible and humane. Life is short, as we’ve heard so often, and so, between the mountain lion and choosing a path, I’ve been thinking a lot about how quickly time passes. At 55, I’m not so young any more.

“I’m an old man!” I’d yell at the mountain lion. “You don’t want to eat me! I’d taste like shit!”

Turkey vultures and red tailed hawks, a golden eagle, circle above, lifted by updrafts from the surrounding hills, which are barren and rocky. The trees, thankfully, are merely green with leaves, buds and new fruit, and nothing lurks in them.

I scan the ridge lines and arroyos, searching for movement in the dry weeds and grasses common to the coastal sage region after years of drought.

About a year ago, the ranch lost a sheep to a mountain lion.

I was drinking coffee with the boss, going over the day’s work plan for my solo duties in the orchard, when he blurted, “Oh yeah, and watch out for the big cat!”

It took me a moment to register the “big cat” part of his comment. I was heading out the door when I realized what he meant. I turned to face the boss, “You mean, mountain lion?”

“Yeah, got one of our sheep last night.”

“Should I be carrying a gun?” I offered.

“You can if it’ll make you feel better but you’ll be all right.”

I spent that entire day creeped out by the possibility of crossing paths with that nocturnal sheep rustler.

I encountered a mountain lion once in the wild of coastal northern California while camping on a sandbar on a creek between towering redwoods.

I had just tucked into my sleeping bag next to my wife, who was already sleeping. We rested beneath a tarp I had rigged into a lean-to so we could look up at the stars and stay protected from the moisture of nightfall.

The coals were still burning hot on the campfire I’d built in the sand at the opening to our shelter, keeping us warm. A full stack of deadwood I’d gathered in the forest stood ready to stir the fire again in the morning chill.

I had dozed off when I was awakened by the quick flip-flapping sound—splish, splash, splish—of a duck’s webbed feet, scooting along the creek just below the sand bar.

I thought nothing of it until, seconds later, I heard the slow deliberate steps of a man walking up river. My watch showed just past 1 a.m.

Who would be walking upstream at this hour?

I grabbed my flashlight and shined it on the creek below where I’d heard the steps, and saw the unmistakable sleek shape and brown coloring of a mountain lion not 30 yards away. It stood frozen in the unnatural light, its legs stuck like posts in middle of the dark creek.

The duck had long ago disappeared. Dinner escaped into the forest night. For whatever reason, call it a fool’s curiosity, a death wish, the need to hail the beast, I whistled at it like a bird.

The animal turned to face me and began to walk across the creek.

“Oh fuck!” I yelled.

[For every “Oh fuck!” I’ve blurted, I wonder how different my life would be if I had shouted, “Oh yeah!”]

Fortunately, perhaps it was instinct, I had already jumped out of my bag before turning on the flashlight. I was on my feet, standing next to the pile of dead wood I’d stacked for the morning fire. I tossed several large pieces of the dry wood onto the hot coals and they burst into flame with a suddenness that startled even me. I shouted loudly through the fire, “Yeah!”

The cougar turned quickly away and ran back into the forest across the creek.

“What’s going on?” my wife asked sleepily.

I told her what had happened.

“Sometimes you’re not so bright,” she said, turning to go back to sleep. I sat by the fire for as long as possible, restless and unsettled, feeling stupid.

Now, as the shadows grow long, I’m keenly alert to any signs of intruders in the orchard. I watch for tracks, scat, and anything that would warn of the presence of a mountain lion.

The boss’s “Well, yeah, they’re out there” keeps playing through my mind. I spend less time crouched beneath the trees and more time looking over my shoulders, listening for crackling leaves and twigs, basically any sign of life in the darkening grove.

I’ve attuned my ears to the presence of raptors winging overhead in search of prey, the whoosh of air from their wings swooping like a phantom past the tops of avocado trees. I’ve developed an eye for signs of coyotes chewing on irrigation lines and pigs pushing up leaves in search of food.


I tracked this bobcat in the avocado orchard for about 200 yards before it finally turned to face off with me. Photo by Stacey Warde

I’ve spotted deer and bobcats, wild turkeys and the remains of skunks shredded by predators, perhaps a great horned owl or coyote.

The orchards teem with wildlife.

Experts advise against solo ventures into the wild. A good way to protect oneself from harm is to travel with a companion. I don’t have that option and rather like working alone in the orchards.

It feels right most days. Still, I often wonder what I’m doing here, thinking that I might do better for myself, and long for the editor’s chair and wish for another chance to publish a magazine (where lions of another sort can be confronted, even tamed).

In the five long years since the so-called Great Recession, I’ve worked in the fields, picked up side jobs in landscaping and window cleaning, pushing wheelbarrows and climbing ladders. I’ve been mostly a laborer and work hard for my money. At my age, that’s no easy feat.

The lion doesn’t frighten me half as much, however, as the vultures on Wall Street, who were mostly responsible for the crash of 2008, and some of the people I’ve met here, who have their own predatory habits, which are more insidious, I think, than the much-maligned cougar.

I’ve witnessed beauty here that few ever get to see, and I’m grateful for that. There’s blight out here too, but mostly it’s fresh and clean, the air swept cool from coastal breezes, the land tended and watched, scrubbed by sun and drought.

Water is a precious resource in this dry, semi-arid climate but there seems to be plenty of it in this part of the country. It can vary from one canyon to the next, though, and not far from here farmers are hauling truckloads of water and paying lots for it to keep their trees alive.

We haven’t had that problem in this canyon yet and hope that we never will. But if the drought continues, the worst on record, as it has for these many years, it could get ugly.

I’ve seen ugly when a farmer gets stingy with water. I suffered the loss of a full season’s harvest of blueberries because we were refused water from our supplier, a long-time farmer.

Green berries about to turn color, promising a well-deserved bounty, fell off the plants by the buckets full. The plants went dry and we lost our harvest, and possibly thousands of dollars.

I pleaded for water long before it got so bad. “You of all people, a farmer, must know how important it is for me to harvest those berries and get them to market,” I argued.

“Well, get yourself a water tank,” he said after a moment.

“Just let us have some water to get through the harvest,” I said, “and then we’ll get out of here.” He did not want us there.

I don’t know to this day what we did to turn him on us. Once, he said: “How come you have to be a fucking liberal?” Maybe it was political as much as it was personal. I thought he was a good guy, a good Christian who attends the church whose marque warns of the perils of the paths we choose.

“Oh yeah, he’s a straight up guy,” a person I admire, a local businessman, once said of him. I thought so too until he put me out of business. Now, he refuses to acknowledge me. There are worse predators in this town than mountain lions, people who call themselves Christians, people who love to hate, people who refuse to give you water when you need it.

The way of death really belongs to them. Frankly, I’d rather be eaten by a mountain lion than make friends with someone who is more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing and goes to church. That’s the choice I want to make, the path that seems right to me: Steer clear of predators, hypocrites and trouble.

I heard a story once about a hunter who was tracking a mountain lion in the hills not far from here. He found himself going in a circle after a while and then got a creepy feeling. He turned on instinct and not 15 yards behind him was the very lion he had been tracking.

Maybe it’s a true story, maybe it’s not. But it shows that we are never far from trouble if we go looking for it.

For now, as I say, I like working alone and keeping vigilant watch in cougar country. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice. This article is adapted from an earlier version that appeared on his blog.


by Dell Franklin

“Cayucos Brad” Heizenrader, or the unofficial mayor and four decades resident of Cayucos, former Rogue of the Month in the former monthly Rogue Voice, observed over the years driving a variety of dilapidated pick-ups with orange cone in the bed used primarily to stake out territory when opportunity arises, and also stakes out territory in Schooner’s Wharf come Friday Happy Hours (a veritable Who’s Who in Cayucos of those who count), will stake out fresh territory as Maitre ‘D under the new management in Hoppe’s Bistro, a gourmand’s destination for decades.


Now appearing at Hoppe’s Bistro: Cayucos Brad Heizenrader. Photo courtesy of Brad Heizenrader

Cayucos Brad, whose occupations over the years have been bartender at the Tavern and Schooner’s, caterer with Bill Shea’s Sea Shanty, in-demand maestro of ceremonies for various club functions and drawings at the vet’s hall on the pier, promoter of entertainment in said hall, and general handyman whose motto is “I make bad things disappear,” will now try and make bad things disappear at Hoppe’s while creating good things to come with his inner SAVOIR FAIRE so evident to locals.

“I’m ready for this new gig,” says Mr. Cayucos, exuding calm on a raucus Friday evening in Schooner’s preceding the Sea Glass Festival. “I’m into wines and cuisine, big time. I’m ready for a change. I’m excited!”

A dandy, Mr. Cayucos appropriates most of his wardrobe from a few select thrift shops, but will not lower himself below Calvin Klein, Armani, Ralph Lauren Polo, Generra, Van Heusen, etc..”I’m gonna mix it up, nothing too extravagant, don’t wanna detract from the venue,” says Mr. Cayucos, a natural blond who once wore his hair shoulder-length but is now more debonair and dons a simple bracelet and chain and prefers gold or silver cuff links with pink or canary yellow Van Heusen or Armani shirts, designer jeans and red Converse All Star high-tops.

“No tuxedos or formal wear?”

“Oh no. Not yet, anyway. I’ll keep it simple, but elegant.”

“Do you intend to glide about in sartorial splendor, there when needed, but unobtrusive, spreading a relaxing good cheer with the potential of great times for all?”

Mr. Cayucos spreads his arms expansively, a trademark gesture. “Hoppe’s has been a great restaurant, with a great tradition for special occasions and signature cuisine. But it is subdued.” He gestures emphatically with expanded hands. “We want it more festive, like, well, a French bistro in Paris.”

So, citizens of Cayucos by the sea, and those throughout the county who have frequented Hoppe’s over the years, be prepared to be greeted by the charmingly engaging and when needed flamboyantly entertaining Mr. Cayucos, branding his unique charisma on a county institution. §

Dell Franklin is founding publisher and a regular contributor to The Rogue Voice. He writes from his home in Cayucos, where he lives with his rescue dog Wilbur.


I’m a little more careful now when I hear someone claim this as paradise. Photos by Stacey Warde

I’m a little more careful now when I hear someone claim this as paradise.

by Stacey Warde

I walked head first into a tree limb at work this week. It threw me back hard, flat on my ass, and stunned me. Shaken, embarrassed, flattened, rolling on the ground, a huge gas blower strapped to my back, blasting leaves every which way as I tried to shake it off, I thought: “I don’t want to do this any more. I don’t want to be a middle-aged gardener sucking gas, eating dirt and picking up other people’s dog shit.”

I like garden work and much of what I do, at the farm and with the landscape outfit, but some days events like this can put things in a different light. It can set you on a downward spiral if you get too much of it. Or, you find some humor.

Nonetheless, I need to be working smarter, not harder, as my dad used to say, doing more of the things I like to do, like this magazine.

I’d flooded the customer’s back yard. I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the water. I had just patched a water line, which was easy enough. Then, I had to test the patch, run the water,  and check for leaks. The line was fine but it took me 20 frustrating minutes to turn the damned sprinklers off. By then, there was a nice pond forming under some trees and in the grass.

After shutting off the sprinklers, I threw the blower on my back, flustered, and began blowing back excess water from the tile patio so no one would slip or fall. I started on the leaves and they scattered everywhere. I couldn’t get the leaves to go where I wanted. They went up, they went back but never where I wanted.

I hate blowers. They’re a nuisance and they stink and they scatter dust. I wear good ear protection, the kind that look like headphones. They can be awkward at times, they feel clunky and heavy, especially when worn over a ball cap but they do a great job of keeping out the noise.

I put my head down and went at it, ears covered, eyes blind to low-lying tree limbs, feeling badly about the high-pitched whine of the blower and flooding of our client’s back yard. Soon, I made a trip around the perimeter of the yard going between rose bushes, shrubs—and trees—blowing leaves until I walked headlong into that one limb. It snapped my neck back and left a big red gouge in my forehead. My neck, shoulders and back still hurt.

“Maybe you need your eyes checked,” said Ray, my workmate. It’s the second time I’ve heard that. Not long ago, when I started washing windows for the Dutch Window Cleaning Artist, he chided me: “You must be going blind! Look at that!” He pointed at a window that I had cleaned that had a large smudge line running down the side.

“In a different  light,” I said, tilting my head as if looking at a painting , “you can really see it.”

Indeed, in the past year my eyes have been more faulty than ever. I probably need to wear glasses more often. It might also help to pay better attention to events as they unfold, like aging, retirement and working smarter.

The previous week, while tricking out a client’s garden, I got bit in the ass—twice. First, by the client, then by her skittish dog, a medium-sized mutt that had it in for me. Dogs like me. The only dogs that don’t like me are the ones that shouldn’t be outside. I might have seen it coming, had I been paying better attention. The lady was mad and rightly so, I thought. The boss had been avoiding her calls.

“I’m not mad at you guys, I’m justing venting…” she said tensely, and right about then I saw a flash of black out of the far corner of my troubled, middle-aged eye and before I could react, I felt the sting of a dog’s bite on the back of my thigh.

“Gawd!” I yelped, grabbing my lower right butt cheek, which had been punctured by the sharp point of that mid-sized mutt’s lower canine.

My workmate guffawed and the lady failed to hide her sadistic enjoyment of her dog biting my ass. She didn’t put the dog away and I grabbed fast hold of a rake and shovel. The dog eyed me from its owner’s side. I set the rake like a spear on the ground between me and the dog.

“Don’t think I’m going to let you do it again,” I said to the mutt, “I’ve got my eyes on you now.”

When I got home, I took tweezers and pulled the black fabric of my work pants, dried blood and skin out of the puncture wound. I cleaned it out the best I could and called the doctor the next day. He ordered a five-day regimen of antibiotics.

“This prescription can give you a bad case of diarrhea,” he said, “so be sure to eat lots of yogurt.”

Between running into a tree, stepping in dog shit, and getting bit, I’ve been thinking a lot about what else I might do for a living. I want to publish, run a magazine, write stories, shake things up again, just the way I did when The Rogue Voice was a monthly print journal. I want to grow my own garden, one that doesn’t have to be trimmed, mowed and blown in 30 minutes. I want to open a brewery and grow my own weed.

So I started this online magazine. The Rogue Voice 2.0. The Rogue Voice on steroids. The Rogue Voice online. Finally. Now, if I step into a pile of dog shit while working, I’ve got something to look forward to at the end of the day, something to cheer my spirits.

Not everyone’s happy about it. Readers might not like what they see here, but our content will always be relevant. In less than two weeks, we received nearly 1,000 views, about half of which, including a few complaints, were directed at a poem titled, “Small Town Gossip in Paradise” by Ibrahim Ahmed. The poem puts a different spin on a refrain we hear often in these parts: “We live in paradise, don’t we?” “We sure do!” Which would be mostly true were it not for a few people who live here, and for a recent murder, several suicides and a handful of drug-related deaths.

Photos by Stacey Warde

Photos by Stacey Warde

You could say, there’s trouble in paradise. Troubles that go beyond getting bit by dogs and running into trees. Suicide, murder, and drug overdoses—in a town of less than 5,000 people, living otherwise peaceably and happily between the wide open spaces of green hills and the vast blue Pacific ocean, where there’s presumably hardly ever a care or worry, no traffic, noise or big-city mayhem. Still,”the little town that time forgot,” despite claims to the contrary, appears to suffer from many of the modern-day plagues and problems of LA and San Francisco that people come here to escape.

I’m a little more careful now when I hear someone claim this as paradise. I’m not sure what they mean beyond the weather and spectacular scenery, none of which has to do with the people who live here. The food can be heavenly at times and there’s plenty of it, lots of farms, produce, fish. And the people, mostly, are great. They work hard and like to celebrate. Some are givers. Others are snakes. Still, others are deeply disturbed.

“It’s people,” I’ve been reminded more than once, “who make or ruin ‘paradise.’” It’s not the place, friends have said, it’s the people. They’re the ones who create the problems and the misery. Maybe these big-city problems like murder and suicide are not that uncommon for small communities around the country. They sure make for some interesting conversation, some of which is featured in Ibrahim’s poem:

“Did you hear
about the guy who hung himself from the pier?

At the crack of dawn there
he was hanging from a rope

dangling between the
pile ons like a shadow

above the ocean where
the pigeons leave their droppings.

Did you hear the lady
from Fresno who, after

several drinks shouted,
‘You guys are so lucky; you live in paradise!’?”

I’ve never been able to confirm whether anyone actually hung himself from the pier, although several residents have assured me that it’s true. Since then, there have been other suicides, and overdoses.IMG_4091

“Killing yourself is pretty fucking selfish, if you ask me,” said a fellow laborer at Schooner’s Wharf, which overlooks the same pier, a kind of icon for our little paradise, as we drank a beer and discussed the passing of Brad Marz, a local contractor, whom I considered a friend, who would have loved that poem and was a frequent commenter, not always favorable, on the content of The Rogue Voice. By most reliable accounts, he put a nail gun to his head and ended his career. Hardly a week later, a young man named Jesse put handgun to his head. “You gotta suck it up,” my bar mate continued, lifting his glass, “or get some goddamned help.”

I wouldn’t be so quick to pass such judgment and was too ashamed to admit that I’ve been so demoralized at times in my life that thoughts of suicide have erupted in my mind too.

“The only people it hurts,” he added with finality, “are the people left behind.”

He’s right about that. I’m one of those people. Brad’s decision to take his own life floored me, as it did others. It got me thinking about what I’m doing and why. If nothing else, his death is a reminder that for all of the dog bites, piles of shit that I’ve stepped in, and tree limbs I’ve run into,  there will always be trouble in paradise, which is more reason to do what I love, be with the people I love, and work smarter. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.


“You want blueberry, you tell me what is blueberry.”

“You want blueberry, you tell me what is blueberry.” Photo by Stacey Warde

by Isaac Levy

I’m trying not to be like most everybody else in this country since 9/11 and control myself when I feel like strangling this Arab who works at the gas station/store/deli/bakery on the corner downtown, just off the pier. At one time this establishment was owned by a greed-monger from New York City who was married to an even more aggressive greed-monger, who has moved out of the area after selling out to Arabs, who, if humanly possible, are hated even more than the greed-mongers from NYC, especially after they bought our only two liquor stores from long-standing white owners who were not hated or jacked up prices and fired all the long-established white townies who were barely competent yet at least pleasant and replaced them with morose, unsmiling, downright rude relatives from the homeland.

I don’t go to the liquor stores, but the blueberry muffins are so delicious and reasonably priced, I visit the bakery at the gas station mornings to purchase my lone muffin, which is about as much money as I want to contribute to these bloodsuckers, and especially the swarthy, lean-faced, surly young guy who works the register at the front counter from opening at 6 in the morning until closing at 9 in the evening. He’s usually on his cell phone conversing in Arabic, looking worried and solemn, and he’ll wait on you when he pleases without making eye contact or saying thank you, making a show of taking his time, appearing oblivious to the forming of a line of restless, impatient customers, many of whom need him to go behind the glassed-in counter across the room about 10 feet away to fetch muffins or donuts or croissants or pastries prepared in the wee hours along with breakfast burritos by a Mexican woman who seems exhausted but remains friendly and used to stay until 10 in the morning to wait on people and say thank you with a smile when we dropped change or a dollar into the glass jar with the TIPS sign on it.

But I guess the new owner, who comes in a couple times a day to empty the register for a deposit without looking at or saying anything to anybody, cut the Mexican woman’s hours and has no new landsman to help out his current standoffish uncommunicative relative.

Before the hated New Yorker sold the place he employed a local brother/sister act who baked and cooked and their pastries were voted best in the county in the county alternative paper but the Arabs kicked them out and replaced them with the Mexican. The Arab who works seven days a week does not like to come out from behind the counter and always expresses irritation with me I suppose because I never buy coffee or anything else but a lone muffin. He reluctantly goes behind the glass counter of gleaming goodies and stands there looking crucified, with a little open bag and asks which is the blueberry when I suspect he knows which is the blueberry and especially so since all I ever order is the blueberry muffin. “You have to know the blueberry,” he tells me.

“YOU have to know which one is the blueberry,” I tell him for the hundredth time. “They must be labeled and priced.”

He says, “What do you want?”

I remain polite because I try to see things from his perspective, a Muslim propagandized by voodoo gibberish and marooned in this rich country rife with hedonistic degenerates on every social level, obsessed with garish consumerism, kinky sex, narcissism, exhibitionism, reality programs full of obscenely wealthy women with fake boobs and bulbous lips and mousy husbands and tiny pampered dogs and empty-eyed offspring, repellant jingoism combined with money-sucking Christian TV evangelists and their chanting trance-like minions—an endless tapestry peopled by a diet-crazed fat farm of feeble, drug-addicted hypochondriacs complaining about free health care and Obama. Is there any end to it? So I can see why this wretch is disenchanted with us, but still, he’s taking our money with a sneer and nobody bothers to take that sneer off his face.

“I want a blueberry muffin,” I repeat, raising my voice.

A couple file in behind me. “I don’t know what is blueberry,” he insists, holding his bag. “You tell me blueberry.”

“How am I supposed to know blueberry when I don’t make them?”

His mouth narrows, his eyes flash. “You want blueberry, you tell me what is blueberry.”

A couple framers, in a hurry, dusty trucks running outside, walk in. “I don’t know which one is blueberry! Last time I came here you had me pick one out and it wasn’t blueberry, it was chocolate chip! I don’t want chocolate chip. I want blueberry. A couple days ago I was in here and you were stacking candy behind the counter. You made me wait six minutes while you very slowly finished, knowing I was waiting, and then you did me a big favor asking me what I wanted when you know I come in here at least five mornings a week for a blueberry muffin, and you act like I’m sending you to the fucking gas chamber when I ask you to go back there and get me a fucking blueberry muffin. Is that the way you treat people back home? Huh? Answer me!”

He throws up his hands in frustration, as if dealing with an impossibly stupid person, yet remains cool as a few people in coats and ties trickle in. “You want the blueberry? I don’t know what is the blueberry.” He points to the muffins, so neatly arranged. “You tell me what is the blueberry.”


A small, retired, white-haired lawyer who walks two Schnauzers and knows me by my dog, says, “Isaac, I’m not sure, but I think those ones in the third row are blueberry.”

“How can YOU tell?”

“Well, they look kind of purple on top.”

“Twice I picked up purple on top and they were chocolate chip.”

“I see your point.”

“Why doesn’t Mohammad here have labels?”

“My name is not Mohammad,” snaps the Arab, aggrieved.

“Fuck you, Mohammad, you piece of shit.”

Mohammad walks out from behind the glass counter and stands behind the register to take money for coffee from a framer. Several people are behind me, addicted to the delicious pastries facing us. My teeth are clacking. I walk over to a rack of chew and candy beside the register and pummel it, knocking items to the floor. “Why are you here, motherfucker? Everybody hates your guts.” I point a finger. “I’ve put up with you for a year now, because you have the best blueberry muffins in the county, even if they’re not as good as the ones before you wrecked this place, but as of now, I will never come in here and buy another motherfucking blueberry muffin, you sonofabitch, because half the time I get a chocolate muffin or an orange muffin, or a goddam raisin muffin, which I detest….”

The lawyer has me by the elbow. “Isaac…”

“I’m not finished yet.”

“Come on, Isaac, you’ve made your point.”

Mohammad goes back behind the glass to wait on trade. It’s early and none of these still half-asleep people want to be shocked at this hour, want only their muffins and pastries and coffee.

A woman says, “I’d like a lemon poppy muffin, please.”

“What is the lemon poppy?”

“You don’t know?” The lawyer and a few others try to help. Mohammad crosses his arms, appears bored. I walk out. I will now have to frequent the Coffee Den on the main drag, where the blueberry muffins fall apart in dry crumbs and don’t taste as good and cost more but at least everybody treats me like a prized citizen even if I don’t buy their coffee.

At night, when I walk my dog downtown, I will still see Mohammad standing outside by the pumps either smoking or on his l phone, and I will no longer feel sorry for him because he seems so alone and miserable in this country people risk their lives emigrating to. §

Isaac Levy is former Mossad and hates jihadists, not Muslims or Arabs. He lives alone in a small town where no one knows his real identity.