Category Archives: City Life

RIP: Smoker Jim Ruddell

‘Us smokers, we’re a different breed, we’re like a circle of crusty old women with recipes everybody wants, but we don’t give up nothing.‘ —Smoker Jim Ruddell

While attending a burial at sea for my uncle, I got the sad notice from a friend that Jim Ruddell had died.

“Smoker Jim Ruddell,” the notice said, “got his angel wings, Friday Feb. 16 at 6:40 a.m., surrounded by family. His passing was peaceful.”

Jim fought valiantly, as he was wont to do, for nearly six months while recovering in the hospital from medical complications. It was an up- and downhill battle but he never gave up.

It’s “sad to have him leave us,” the note continued, “he will be greatly missed by everyone from family to community. He was a larger-than-life presence wherever he went…and I’m sure he will continue wherever he goes. Peace, love, and our deepest sympathies to the Ruddell family.”

Jim, whose tiny corner Smokehouse in Cayucos has made a huge impact on the community and beyond, garnering kudos from publications like Sunset Magazine, was a big supporter of The Rogue Voice, and advertised with us from the beginning.

A staunch conservative, he seldom winced at our liberal bent on issues and was always ready with a sound defense of his own political views, which were so different from our own. But he never got into nasty debates with us as is the tendency among so many in today’s divisive political atmosphere. He was a gentleman and a true friend.

“I don’t always like what you guys say or print but I support your right to publish what you want,” he’d often say as he handed us payment for his advertisement.

He was a real patriot, defending the First Amendment, and believing that we all, liberal and conservative, have a stake in making our communities a better place to live. He gave generously, and became a father figure to many who worked for and with him.

He leaves a giant hole in the community and we will miss him, but he also leaves us a legacy of giving, and making the world a better place.

Jim had his share of struggles but, like so many of us, he kept battling, keeping his eye on the greater good for his family and community. He was a true warrior.

In 2006, we featured Jim as a “Rogue of the Month” in our magazine. We are grateful and better off for having known him. Below, is Dell Franklin’s interview with Jim, which ran in the December, 2006, edition.

—Stacey Warde

 

A rogue for the ages

By Dell Franklin

There used to be smokehouses up and down the coast, on every pier in every little beach burg from San Diego to San Francisco and points north. Weathered shacks similar in size to tiny bait shops, manned by fish-smelly, aproned, be-capped, grimy faced eccentrics, an obscure breed dishing out smoked salmon, yellowtail, albacore, oysters, and sometimes pork or poultry and a little jerky.

Jim Ruddell, who learned the rudiments of smoking from his Louisiana father and uncles, grew up and lived in the Santa Monica area for 30 years, working as an auto mechanic. He was driving home from work on the freeway shortly after the verdict of the Rodney King trial precipitated the L.A. riots. He looked around and realized he was the ONLY car on the freeway. Gunshots rang out and crackled like a Vietnam firefight. All around him the city seemed to be burning. He felt as if he were driving through Dante’s Inferno. He’d been meaning to get out of L.A. for years, but now he had an epiphany: “I’m gettin’ the hell outta here!” When he arrived home to his wife Kathy and two-day-old daughter, he said: “We’re outta here.”

It took him more than a year to make contacts among friends and relatives on the Central Coast. He had a full-time job at Toyota, running the maintenance department. People came up to him with mechanically plagued cars, expecting the worst, to get gouged. It was not pleasant work, even for a sunny extrovert like Jim Ruddell, who never liked wearing a uniform and name tag.

Ruddell’s Smokehouse is smaller than a rich man’s bathroom.

“It’s like going to the dentist to these people,” he says. “I always tried to be understanding and helpful and honest and give them the best deal I could. I’m a people person, somebody who wants to make you feel good. Not being able to do that made this a pretty high-stress job: Everybody in a hurry to get their cars fixed and get out; everybody in the garage in a hurry to get your car fixed and get started on a new one. A rat race. I was fed up with it. I had this dream: Go up to the Central Coast, where there weren’t many people, take at least a 50-percent pay loss at the same job, and in the meantime start up a smokehouse.”

“But the odds aren’t good, are they?” I asked. “Starting an obsolete business, pretty much, and being…an anachronism…”

“A dinosaur. I started out by taking an old used pizza oven and turning it into a smoker in the backyard of our home in Morro Bay. My wife thought I was nuts. But I started smoking in the backyard for a few friends. I smoked turkeys for them. Every year about this time I do a turkey smoke. Believe it or not, smoking a turkey is a lot healthier than barbecuing; there’s no carcinogens.”

Ruddell kept working at the car dealership in San Luis Obispo at less than half of what he made down south, and then he built a new smoker in a pole barn on the ranch of a friend in Cayucos. He got to some serious smoking.

He had an old pickup. Without a business license, he found little spots along the highways all over San Luis Obispo County, from Highway 1 to Nacimiento Road out by Chimney Rock to Old Creek Road. He pulled over in spots and put out his sign: “SMOKED FISH.”

“I hung out on Highway 1 a mile north of Cayucos for almost nine months. The cops would stop and hassle me about a license, and finally I’d move on. I started doing it on weekends and then during the week, and twice I had to go back to work at the dealership to keep the money coming in.”

Was it crazy, giving up a career to sell smoked fish out in the middle of nowhere? You bet.

But Ruddell’s a rogue, who doesn’t listen to reason. Like most rogues, he’s inclined to fight the odds and go against the grain. He believes in his dream and is not afraid to follow it, or fail.

Ruddell, who partied and raised hell with the best of them, and does not regret any of it, but is now off the booze, opened his tiny smokehouse in Cayucos in the fall of 2001, about 10 yards from the sea wall and a block from the old pier.

He loves his new milieu. People aren’t going to the dentist when they come into his shop these days. They can have a good time hanging out, listening to jam sessions outside his store on Sundays, and he can watch with pride and gratification as his customers eat his smoked products. He’s got his own music going during the week—‘60s and ‘70s stuff—and he’s looking at the beach, soaking up the funky atmosphere. No uniform, just shorts, a T-shirt, and a ballcap. And he’s his own boss.

“What about the booze? Why’d you quit?”

“I was always a drinker, but I never had the freedom to drink like I did when I got my own place. You couldn’t drink at my past jobs, and I didn’t want to, but here I was, alone, with all this freedom, and it got out of hand. I was beginning to feel like a wreck, the hangovers were killing me, and I felt bad about what I was doing to myself. I was jeopardizing my business, my marriage, family, and realized I was needing a drink instead of wanting one. I was headed for disaster, and so I went to AA and I go every morning and I’m much happier. Everybody’s happier. It worked out.”

Ruddell says he owns the only HACCP inspected (hazard analysis of critical control points) retail smokehouse in the state. How’s business? He ships his smoked products all over the country. When I visited him, he was getting ready to ship some to Washington, D.C. He’s on the internet (www.smokerjim.com). He’s been written about in the New York Times, which is probably why East Coast tourists traveling up and down the Big Sur coastline stop off at his place for a sample of something unique at the last outpost.

Ruddell’s Smokehouse is smaller than a rich man’s bathroom and Donald Trump’s clothes closet. He’s got a deli case, upright, bathtub-sized smoker, stove, cutting board, some equipment stuffed in back, and his dream—that’s it. But he’s thriving, and in the summer he cranks.

The nearest smokehouse?

“I think they do some smoking on the Avila Beach pier, and there’s a smokehouse somewhere around Santa Barbara, and there’s one at Moss Landing, north of Monterey. Us smokers, and I know most of them, we’re a different breed, we’re like a circle of crusty old women with recipes everybody wants, but we don’t give up nothing.”

Not that he’s got to worry. He’s got the secret, and nobody’s going to open a smokehouse anywhere around here in the distant future, and nobody’s about to make a smoker out of an old discarded pizza oven, much less a pole barn. §

 Dell Franklin is a writer who lives in Cayucos, Calif. He can be reached through his website:dellfranklin.com.

Drain the swamp?

In February, Trump ordered major federal agencies to set up deregulation teams, to fulfill a campaign promise to cut red tape for businesses, including major players in the production of pesticides.

Pesticide lobbyists find welcome mat at USDA under Trump

by Robert Faturechi, ProPublica, and Danielle Ivory, The New York Times

At a private meeting in September, congressional aides asked Rebeckah Adcock, a top official at the Department of Agriculture, to reveal the identities of the people serving on the deregulation team she leads at the agency.

Teams like Adcock’s, created under an executive order by President Trump, had been taking heat from Democratic lawmakers over their secrecy. What little was publicly known suggested that some of the groups’ members had deep ties to the industries being regulated.

Adcock, a former pesticide industry executive, brushed off the request, according to House aides familiar with the exchange, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. Making the names public, they recalled her saying, would trigger a deluge of lobbyists.

In fact, interviews and visitor logs at the Agriculture Department showed that Adcock had already been meeting with lobbyists, including those from her former employer, the pesticide industry’s main trade group, CropLife America, and its members. CropLife pushes the agenda of pesticide makers in Washington, including easing rules related to safety standards and clean water.

Adcock, who left the trade group in April, maintained contact with her former industry allies despite a signed ethics agreement promising to avoid for one year issues involving CropLife as well as matters that she had lobbied about in the two years before joining the government.

In one meeting, Adcock discussed issues banned by the ethics agreement with an executive who had been her lobbying partner weeks earlier at CropLife, according to the accounts of participants and the visitor logs, obtained through a public records request by The New York Times and ProPublica.

Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the USDA who also spoke on behalf of Adcock, said she had not violated her ethics agreement by meeting with her former industry allies. He also denied that Adcock had discussed issues related to her previous lobbying at the meeting, or that she had suggested that her deregulation team would be swamped by lobbyists if names of its members were released.

“The career ethics officers at USDA agree that this is not a violation of the ethics agreement that Rebeckah Adcock signed,” said Murtaugh, citing a 2009 memo by the Office of Government Ethics.

Others dispute that interpretation of the memo; the ethics office declined to say whether the memo applied to the meeting, citing its policy not to discuss individual cases.

Adcock was scheduled to appear Tuesday before subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is tracking Trump’s deregulation effort. In announcing the hearing, the committee, led by Republicans, applauded the deregulation teams for making an “unprecedented reduction in the federal regulatory footprint.”

Republican members of the committee declined to comment about Adcock’s activities. Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, said that if Adcock had violated her ethics agreement, it contributed “to a troubling pattern of President Trump’s failure to ‘drain the swamp.”

In February, Trump ordered major federal agencies to set up the deregulation teams, to fulfill a campaign promise to cut red tape for businesses. Corporations and industry groups quickly hired lawyers, lobbyists and economists to help them influence the process with billions of dollars at stake. The regulations under review cover a range of subjects, including the cleanliness of drinking water and the safety of highways.

The Trump administration has declined to make public the names of many members of the teams. It has also generally not provided records related to the teams’ calendars and correspondence.

A joint investigation published in July by The Times and ProPublica found that the teams included former employees of industry-financed organizations that oppose environmental regulations; lawyers who have represented companies in cases against federal regulators; and staff members of so-called political dark-money groups. Some are reviewing rules that their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit personally if certain regulations are undone. In all, the two news organizations have identified 112 current and former team members, including 41 with potential conflicts.

At the meeting on Capitol Hill in September, Adcock lamented the scrutiny that her team was under, a House aide familiar with the exchange said. Adcock cited, in particular, public records requests for calendars and emails.

The Times and ProPublica asked for those records this year and have received only a few. Most other federal agencies have been similarly unresponsive. The visitor logs that have been obtained are often handwritten sign-in sheets. They appear to show only a fraction of meetings, and many are illegible. It is not known from the logs, for example, if Adcock or her team had met with environmental or science groups in addition to the industry representatives.

In response to questions from reporters about possible conflicts of interest, agency officials across the government have said the deregulation teams are abiding by strict ethical standards, including rules that bar them from working on issues directly affecting recent employers.

Records received through a Freedom of Information Act request show that Adcock entered such an agreement on April 26, pledging that she would “not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which I know CropLife America is a party or represents a party” for a year.

But in May, Kellie Bray, a lobbyist for CropLife, arrived for a meeting with Adcock, according to the visitor logs.

The two knew each other well. From 2010 to early this year, Adcock and Bray lobbied together for CropLife, which represents Syngenta and Monsanto, among other pesticide makers.

Disclosure records show that during those years the two advocated for the industry’s agenda at agencies, including the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency, and in Congress. They pushed CropLife’s interests on bills and regulations relating to the impact of pesticides on water and human health.

Adcock’s departure from CropLife left the trade association short a seasoned lobbyist, but gave it a valuable contact in the top ranks of the USDA.

Bray said in an interview that in May, Adcock had met with her and the Southern Crop Production Association, a CropLife affiliate. Bray said she had sat in on the meeting but hadn’t talked.

“I facilitated the introduction,” she said. “That is all.”

After the meeting, the Southern Crop Production Association, which represents pesticide manufacturers, formulators and distributors across the South, said on its website that “Rebeckah has an exceptional understanding regarding the many issues facing agriculture due, in large part, to her previous position with CLA,” using the acronym for CropLife America.

Among the topics discussed, according to the trade group’s website, were the tests that pesticides must undergo to prove they are safe and rules governing their use near water sources. The trade group did not respond to requests for comment. Bray confirmed that the group had discussed regulations about the use of pesticides near water.

Discussing policy related to the impact of pesticides on water is deemed off limits under Adcock’s ethics agreement. Murtaugh, the USDA spokesman, said Adcock disputed that she had discussed any off-limits subject.

“If any participant declared concern regarding any issue precluded by Adcock’s agreement, she politely and firmly instructed them it was not a matter she could discuss or assist with,” he said.

He also said Adcock had instructed Bray not to participate in the meeting and did not recall her being in the room.

Murtaugh said a provision in the memorandum from the Office of Government Ethics allowed an appointee like Adcock to attend meetings with a former employer or client so long as five or more other stakeholders participated. In the May meeting, he said, four of the Southern Crop Production Association representatives were affiliated with individual companies: Syngenta, Albaugh, Triangle Chemical and Crop Production Services.

However, three of those companies are also members of the CropLife trade group, Adcock’s former employer. And they were attending in their capacity as the executive committee of the Southern Crop Production Association, according to the association’s website, not as individual company executives.

Walter M. Shaub Jr., who headed the Office of Government Ethics under President Barack Obama and during the early months of the Trump administration, said the provision cited by the USDA did not apply to the ethics regulation in Adcock’s agreement. Even if it did apply, he said, the meeting lacked a necessary diversity because the participants were all affiliated with one trade group. He also said it was irrelevant that Bray hadn’t spoken.

“If she brought them there, signed into the sign-in log, attended the meeting that she may or may not have set up, it definitely counts as a meeting with her,” said Shaub, who has been critical of the Trump administration.

Before Adcock worked at CropLife, she served as a lobbyist for the farming industry at the American Farm Bureau Federation. Among its donors is Farm Credit, a lending institution. In July, Adcock met with a delegation from Farm Credit, according to a participant.

One of the executives who attended — Jeremy Brown, president of Broadview Agriculture, a Texas cotton producer — said in an interview that he knew Adcock from the Farm Bureau. For those who did not know her, Adcock explained her past lobbying on behalf of the farming industry, and she asked for recommendations on regulatory changes, he said.

“Any time you have people already familiar with the industry, it helps,” Brown said. “They can hopefully get their feet on the ground and get the work in.”

He said he had pushed Adcock to get cottonseed reclassified as an oil seed crop so cotton producers could be eligible again for certain government subsidies if revenue dropped. He also discussed what he termed overreach on clean-water rules.

“She was taking notes, being really receptive,” Brown said.

Another highlight, he said, was the access the group enjoyed. Never before had he attended a meeting in the private gathering room just outside the office of the secretary of agriculture.

“I’ve been to the USDA a couple other times,” Brown said, “and this was the first time I’ve been able to go to what they call the Cage.” §

Robert Faturechi is a reporter at ProPublica covering money in politics. Danielle Ivory is a New York Times reporter covering the intersection of business and government, including contracts and regulation.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for its newsletter. This story was co-published with The New York Times, and is published here with permission.

Trump’s Troubled Mental State

Psychiatrists warn of president’s alarming behavior

Association sacks Goldwater Gag Rule preventing analysis of POTUS

by SHARON BEGLEY @sxbegle

A leading psychiatry group has told its members they should not feel bound by a longstanding rule against commenting publicly on the mental state of public figures — even the president.

The statement, an email this month from the executive committee of the American Psychoanalytic Association to its 3,500 members, represents the first significant crack in the profession’s decades-old united front aimed at preventing experts from discussing the psychiatric aspects of politicians’ behavior. It will likely make many of its members feel more comfortable speaking openly about President Trump’s mental health.

The impetus for the email was “belief in the value of psychoanalytic knowledge in explaining human behavior,” said psychoanalytic association past president Dr. Prudence Gourguechon, a psychiatrist in Chicago. “We don’t want to prohibit our members from using their knowledge responsibly.”

That responsibility is especially great today, she told STAT, “since Trump’s behavior is so different from anything we’ve seen before” in a commander in chief.

An increasing number of psychologists and psychiatrists have denounced the restriction as a “gag rule” and flouted it, with some arguing they have a “duty to warn” the public about what they see as Trump’s narcissism, impulsivity, poor attention span, paranoia, and other traits that, they believe, impair his ability to lead.

Reporters, pundits, and government officials “have been stumbling around trying to explain Trump’s unusual behavior,” from his seemingly compulsive tweeting to his grandiosity, said Dr. Leonard Glass, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. The rule against psychiatrists offering their analysis of the emotions, thought patterns, and beliefs underlying such behaviors, Glass said, robs the public “of our professional judgment and prevents us from communicating our understanding” of the president’s mental state.

Last week, in an essay in Psychiatric Times, Glass called the prohibition on such communication “an unacceptable infringement on my right and duty” to discuss issues “where the perspective of psychiatrists could be very relevant and enlightening.” He ended the essay by announcing his resignation from the American Psychiatric Association, which adopted the rule in 1973. He had been a member for 41 years.

Called the “Goldwater rule,” the prohibition on offering opinions about the mental state of public figures was adopted after some psychiatrists answered a 1964 survey on whether Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential candidate that year, was mentally fit for the Oval Office. The rule states that it is unethical to offer a professional opinion about a public figure’s mental health, including the presence or absence of a disorder, without that person’s consent and without doing a standard examination. In March, the psychiatric association reaffirmed the rule.

The group acted despite growing criticism that the Goldwater rule is outdated and even unethical for preventing psychiatrists from pointing out behaviors that raise questions about a government official’s mental state. No other medical specialty has such a rule; cardiologists are not prohibited from offering their views of an official’s fainting spell, for instance, as long as they make clear that they have not examined the person.

Although opposition to the Goldwater rule has existed for years, it intensified with Trump’s candidacy and then election. In October, a book titled “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President” will be published.

“When the book comes out, there will be renewed furor about the Goldwater rule, since it is precisely about what is wrong with him,” said psychiatrist Dr. Lance Dodes, a retired professor at Harvard Medical School who is now in private practice in Los Angeles.

A number of psychologists have spoken to reporters about what Trump’s statements and actions might reveal about his emotional and cognitive state. Although the American Psychological Association “prefers” that its members not offer opinions on the psychology of someone they have not examined, it does not have a Goldwater rule and is not considering implementing one, an official told STAT.

The psychoanalytic association went further. In its July 6 email, it explicitly stated for the first time that the organization does not subscribe to the rule. That position had been implicit for years, but the association’s “leadership has been extremely reluctant to make a statement and publicly challenge the American Psychiatric Association,” said one psychoanalytic association member who asked not to be publicly identified criticizing the other group.

One stated rationale for the Goldwater rule is that psychiatrists need to examine patients in order to properly evaluate them. In fact, for decades the State Department and other federal agencies have asked psychiatrists to offer their views on the psychological state of foreign leaders, Glass pointed out, evidence that government officials believe it is possible to make informed inferences about mental states based on public behavior and speech.

“In the case of Donald Trump, there is an extraordinary abundance of speech and behavior on which one could form a judgment,” Glass said. “It’s not definitive, it’s an informed hypothesis, and one we should be able to offer rather than the stunning silence demanded by the Goldwater rule.”

The Goldwater rule has long been odd in that violating it carries no penalties. In principle the psychiatric association could file a complaint with a member’s state medical board. That has apparently never happened. Nor has the association ejected a member for violating the Goldwater rule. That is something it, as a private association, would be legally permitted to do.

A state agency, however, is subject to the U.S. Constitution, civil liberties experts say, and penalizing psychiatrists for speaking out would likely be a violation of their First Amendment rights. §

Sharon Begley, senior science writer, covers genetics, cancer, neuroscience, and other fields of basic biomedical research. This article is posted with the permission of STAT, where it originally appeared.

EXTREME JURY DUTY HATRED

Jury Box in a new court room

A retiree’s view on how to shirk civic responsibility

by Dell Franklin

When I received another letter in the mail ordering me to jury duty in a month, I immediately began fretting and was transformed into a different person, a much worse person, a morose, moody miserable person who felt persecuted and fulminated with rage at being picked for this service just about every year, over and over again, as if I was the only person in the county eligible for jury duty because I am retired and basically have no life outside of walking my dog three times a day and night, going to yoga and playing tennis on alternate mornings, penning the occasional diatribe, and looking forward to long periods, day in and day out, of doing absolutely nothing while dressed in rags.

Since I have no job or official functions, I get to wear rags all the time, and I took issue when the jury duty guideline informed me I could not wear shorts or T-shirts or flip-flops, but had to don appropriate attire—long pants, collared shirt, real shoes. I suppose I would be held in contempt of court if I showed up in my usual rags, but truth is, I no longer own a pair of long pants that fit me, just one pair I wore six years ago at my nephew’s wedding, and these pants—cotton Dockers bought at a thrift store for three dollars—have lost their button and will not zip more than a third of the way up, so I have the excuse that I officially have no long pants and felt I should write this down on the form you can fill out in an attempt to get excused from jury duty: “Dear Jury Duty Officials, I have no pants that will not disgrace me and repel fellow jurists, lawyers and judges, only shorts, and own but one badly frayed 45-year-old Hawaiian shirt that is appropriate to wear in public, usually when some friend wants to buy me dinner at a nice restaurant for my birthday or holidays. I have no intention of going to a thrift store to buy new long pants when there’s no need for them and I cannot afford them as I am a poor retiree living like a mole in a dump on social security.”

Well, of course, one can only fantasize about writing such a note to the authorities whom I feel are torturing me for being an old useless retiree. The second I got my summons I called my lady companion, Miranda, in a bit of a panic, and she told me not to worry, that they’d never, on sight, ever put me on a jury, and that if they did consider questioning me they would immediately disqualify me the minute I opened my mouth.

“Yeh, well,” I told her, “I don’t want to go down there.” I repeated this refrain to other associates who’d been forced to go to jury duty, all disclosing horror stories. “Who’s going to walk my dog? I walk him three times a day. He’ll go nuts without me hanging around. How the hell am I gonna get up at the crack of dawn and drive thirty miles to a hell hole like Paso Robles if I’m called there? Or San Luis? Or Arroyo Grande? They’ll jail me for being late and ill clad.”

Miranda accused me of being an unreasonable big baby and hung up. I called a retired school teacher friend down south, who told me I had no worries, that no jury would have me, but just to make sure, he told me to be myself, which meant I would tell any lawyer or judge I wanted all drugs legalized, including heroin, I believed in the death penalty and felt all guns should be banned, and as a white person hated almost all white people.

The real truth is, though, since retiring in 2008, a refusal to do anything I do not want to do or that impositions me in even the slightest has set in and taken hold of me with an iron hand, almost to the point where if one tiny part of my daily agenda is impinged upon, say, a doctor’s appointment, I go into a blind tizzy. It has come to the point where I just want to be left alone! When I’m reading my LA Times with a muffin and two cups of coffee on my deck after yoga or tennis, I want no interruptions! My entire nonsensical days are like this, and jury duty comes as a shock and a threat so overwhelming that a month’s anticipation of the week of jury service ruins this month and causes me much anxiety and dread and a gnawing trepidation.

The fact that during the seven or eight times I have been summoned, I have always been placed on stand-by and never called in has nothing to do with it, because every evening when I had to call in to find out if indeed I was going to be ordered in, my stomach moiled with stress, just as it had all day, and I took a big gulp of air for relief, only to hear that I had to call in the next evening, an ongoing process that spanned an entire week—one which has just mercifully passed, thank you.

During the month leading to my potential service, I did consider writing down that I had prostate surgery from cancer and because my plumbing has been rerouted I have to pee every half hour; have suffered occasional vertigo that had me careening about and crashing into walls; suffer from severe arthritis in the hip, knee, shoulder and neck from past contact sports; have nearly fainted and run amok from panic attacks, but when I tried to get a-hold of my urologist, ENT, orthopedic surgeon and primary care physician to write notes that would exclude me from jury duty, none of their receptionists returned my calls, obviously wanting nothing to do with me unless I was truly sick.

Well, next time I’m going to write down all these maladies along with the names of my doctors, and the jury tyrants can call the receptionists and deal with them, try and get a little information out of them, try and bust through the miasma of red tape when dealing with the medical profession, and even though none of these maladies in all honesty are truly enough to keep me off a jury, maybe the aggravation will deter the tyrants to leave me alone and realize that some of us are not professional grownups by anyone’s imagination, and do not belong on anything as important as a jury, and that as a lifetime slacker and shirker, I feel I deserve exclusion from such a responsibility and am guiltless about this, and because I am a three-year Army veteran, feel I have done enough as a responsible American citizen.

I live in fear of my next summons. §

Dell Franklin lives and writes in Cayucos, Calif. More of his work can be viewed at dellfranklin.com.

30 YEARS RUNNING

Remembering New Times’ Steve Moss

CITY LIFE.STEVE MOSS

Before his death in 2005, Steve Moss turned the scrappy alternative weekly he started with Alex Zuniga and Beverly Johnson in 1986 into a viable and trusted source of news and information throughout SLO County.

by Stacey Warde

I worked at New Times as managing editor at the turn of the century, not long after 9/11, when the alternative weekly wasn’t yet 20 years old. Recently, I received an email from a past reader and contributor:

“Did New Times contact you about contributing to their 30th anniversary issue? I was really disappointed this morning when it didn’t include an article written by you. You should have been a part of it. I do think, however, that Jeff McMahon wrote one of the best pieces that New Times has ever published.”

At first, I felt a bit slighted; I would like to have been included in the anniversary edition. I worked at the newspaper when founding publisher Steve Moss revived himself, came back to life, after a long depression. He never really got over his depression but his spark came back as we worked together.

I picked up a copy of the issue in question and read Jeff’s tribute to Steve, who died from an epileptic seizure in 2005 while he was in his garden. Indeed, as my colleague points out, Jeff’s portrait—in which he emphasizes Steve’s reverence for a good story that was humane, backed with solid data, and free from ideology—rises to the top.

It’s a fine portrait.

There’s not much to add to Jeff’s depiction of Steve’s genius for news and storytelling, but I’d like to give a partial view of my own experience with the man, who hugely influenced my approach to telling stories that matter, stories that leave a lasting impact.

Before his death, Steve had turned the scrappy alternative weekly he started with Alex Zuniga and Beverly Johnson in 1986 into a viable and trusted source of news and information throughout SLO County.

Steve was a mentor who constantly raised the bar for us, sometimes to the point of madness, to do better; he challenged our assumptions and cherished notions about life, and countered with questions we hadn’t yet fully answered as reporters and storytellers. By the time a story got placed on the newspage, it had been turned over and over until the kinks had been shaken out of it and would stand on its own.

Steve took complete confidence in what he offered San Luis Obispo County in his newspaper and never saw reason to apologize for it, even when some readers threatened to burn down the building because they didn’t like what he printed.

Not long after he hired me, for example, we started hearing rumors that KSBY producer and TV personality Kevin Graves had been caught masturbating at a public sporting event.

The Tribune had recently run a glowing article about Mr. Graves’ wife, Sharon, a much-beloved weather forecaster, also at KSBY, who had just announced her decision to move out of state to be closer with family. Her announcement came as a shock to her many loyal viewers. She was an integral and active part of the community.

Meanwhile, several anonymous callers began informing us that the “real reason she decided to leave” was because her husband couldn’t keep his hands out of his pants, and he got busted for it. She had to leave to avoid any further embarrassment.

There was no mention of her husband’s behavior in the Tribune story about her departure.

Steve and I went into his office to discuss the matter. He sat down on his swivel chair where he wrote his Shredder columns and turned to face me for the first challenging news decision I had to make with him.

“Do you think we should run this story, if it turns out to be true, that her husband got busted for beating off in public?” Steve was always blunt and kept his humor whenever he was confronted with a news challenge. Steve made telling the news fun, even when it was difficult.

“Unless they come right out and say it,” I responded, “we can’t really prove that they’re leaving town because her husband’s a jerk off.” Steve looked back at me knowingly, with a mischievous grin. In that moment, we connected as news men, and I knew we’d make a good team, come what may.

“At the very least,” I continued, “we should look into it and, if necessary, set the record straight.” It wasn’t an easy decision, but we both agreed the community had a right to know, if the facts confirmed rumors of lewd conduct by a local celebrity. Neither us wanted to besmirch Sharon’s fine career. It was her husband, we decided, who chose that course.

There was a gleam in Steve’s eyes. He hadn’t been well, I’d been told, battling depression and, in some ways, slipping, flattening, his passion for the news waning, and it showed in the pages of the newspaper, which in recent years had seemed dull and lifeless, not the scrappy little upstart it had been in the beginning. Steve’s much-tested instincts began to stir again.

We asked senior reporter Dan Blackburn to run down to the courthouse to see what he could find. An hour later he returned to the office with a file containing the court’s record of Mr. Graves’ “no contest” plea to accusations of lewd conduct. The newsroom stirred and tittered as we pored over the details.

“Banner headline!” someone shouted. “This is a BIG story!”

“NO!” I responded. “We’re not running a banner headline. The content in the court record is caustic enough. We’ll run it as a ‘What’s News’ item.”

Thankfully, Steve agreed with me. We basically rewrote the content of the court document into a small four-graf news brief, buried among other briefs in the “What’s News” page. We attempted to reach the Graves numerous times for comment before going to press. Our calls were never returned, and by morning the Graves had abruptly left town. They were gone.

When that week’s newspaper hit the stands the next morning, the calls—and threats, including one who claimed he would burn the place down—started rolling in. “How dare you!” one lady shouted at me when I picked up the phone to take her call. “How dare you shame a community treasure!”

“Ma’am, you’re talking to the wrong guy,” I said, “you need to talk to Kevin Graves.” And on it went, all day long. That night KSBY brass went on the air to lament Sharon’s premature departure. Steve and I watched the sad undertaking on tv while sharing a beer at Spike’s, and I noticed a spark in his eye.

***

Until then, I had worked for New Times as a freelancer, penning commentary and cover stories, including one for the “Bridal Issue” about gay marriage in SLO County before it became popular to talk about such things. The annual supplement, as all other supplements, like the “Best of SLO County,” is a big boon for the paper because it brings in much-needed advertising dollars. The focus is not news so much as entertainment and frills to attract advertisers and their money.

News staff were responsible for generating copy for these supplements, and consequently, despite attempts to make them appealing to advertisers, these stories more often reflected news value rather than the marketing and promotional purposes of the advertising manager, who cared little for the dicier, juicier, and meatier stuff that is the spice of life in an alternative weekly.

Advertisers went apoplectic over my bridal story, which presented the personal views of half a dozen gay couples in the area, including some who were raising children, while the gay community received the story well and were happy to be represented in the county’s only major weekly. The advertisers were pissed, I was told, because my story “made a mockery of marriage.”

“Advertisers are having a shit-fit about your story,” then-managing editor Marla Pugh told me when it came out, “but don’t worry, it’s a good story and Steve really liked it.”

He had my back, Marla said, knowing full well that without good content, even in an advertising supplement, a publication wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on, and if advertisers wanted to complain, let them. They were buying genuine real estate in his publication because its pages held real value, content with teeth, not the fluff that’s so common today.

***

Steve and I were a good match. We worked well together. He was the consummate newspaperman with a Libertarian view, suspicious of government overreach, always on the watch for a great story, and unafraid to turn over the apple cart as long it served the higher purpose of a well-informed readership.

Steve subscribed to an ideal I had learned from one of my previous mentors: “Report the news without fear or favor.” He respected and cherished his readers. Without readers, he’d say, you’ve got nothing. Give them what they need, and then some.

Barely two days after the firestorm of protests erupted over our news brief on Kevin Graves, Steve walked breathlessly and excitedly into the office. “I’ve got an idea,” he exclaimed as he swept into the newsroom, “I’ve got an idea! We’re going to run a cover story, ‘Should we have done it?’”

“Should we have done what, Steve?” I asked.

“Should we have run the story!” he fired back. He’d heard enough complaints about our news brief to put the question before experts in the field. He wanted to contact publishers throughout the state to see how they might have handled the story. Then, we would report their findings in the next edition.

“Are you crazy, Steve?” I responded, wearied from the onslaught of angry calls. “Isn’t that just adding more fuel to the fire?”

“No!” he countered. “Are you kidding me?” It would be a great way to educate the community on the standards and values of news. I was afraid it would give readers more reason to hate our guts. We had already done our job, I told him, and that was to tell the news without fear or favor.

We went back and forth, arguing the point, bringing staff into the conversation until finally we agreed to lobby respected experts to see what they’d say. The whole newsroom got into the action, querying the state’s most respected editors and reporting their answers in the subsequent edition.

We had done the right thing, the respondents told us, hard as it might have been. The role of setting the record straight, keeping the community as fully informed as possible, eliminating destructive rumor with truth, is vital to the health of the community.

Soon, we were being flooded with calls again. This time callers were congratulating us for having the guts to tell the truth. “I’m so glad you guys are here. I know you take a lot of shit for what you do, but keep doing it, and thank you!” Suddenly, the dialog shifted into a more nuanced conversation about a community’s right to know.

Steve was right all along. That was his genius: To open a dialog, unpleasant as it might be, about the nature of our surroundings and community. We worked together for about two more years, helping to put a few crooks in jail, putting the spotlight on law enforcement overreach, and  gave readers unique insights into their community that they’d find nowhere else.

I miss Steve Moss, and I think of him often, and wish he were still with us. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at roguewarde@gmail.com.

Obsolescence and doing business

CITY LIFE.CAYUCOS SUPERMARKET*

 

by Stacey Warde

I run my life off a tired Apple computer, a MacBook Pro, that’s 10 years old, which has been a fine and dependable workhorse. I use it as an entertainment center for radio, news and tv. I write articles, run this magazine and my business on it. It’s my connection to the world.

It’s so old, however, the company that made it refuses to service it any more. “Um, yeah, that machine is obsolete,” an Apple techie said recently when I asked for help with a fan that had gone bad.

I watched a YouTube video on my cell phone to figure out how to fix it myself. Not long after that, I noticed the thin protective panel on the computer’s removable battery starting to peel off.

I made a quick run into town to pick up some super glue. Living in a small town, there’s only one store, the Cayucos Supermarket, which in its own peculiar way—with its leaky open cold storage, occasional cruddy fly strips hanging from the ceiling, and chipped, stinky deteriorating floors—is also obsolete.

I’ve often thought this place could use its own sprucing up, a much-needed upgrade and paint job and repairs, so the owner, for example, wouldn’t need to put towels down on the floor to soak up water leaking from the ancient cold storage; and maybe improve the selection by including some produce from the many nearby farms to give it a touch of fresh and local. But, when you’re on a budget like me, which I’m guessing is the problem here, you make do with what you’ve got.

I found my way to a corner of the store where knick knacks such as can openers, spatulas and other forgotten or missing kitchen essentials and fix-it items like super glue hang on the wall. It’s the quick-fix corner for the summer flood of tourists and vacationers who come to town and are likely to need missing items from their vacation homes or travel packs.

The fix-it corner sits at the end of the produce display at the south side of the store. The produce section features an incomplete and sad selection of limp and tired fruits and vegetables, where flies and gnats buzz the air, and where shoppers aren’t likely to get too inspired for their meal plans. The prices vary but verge on the high side; you don’t really get what you pay for here, but shoppers like me patronize the store anyhow, for the convenience mostly. It’s the only show in town.

As I stood there gazing at the wall, searching for super glue, I heard someone spraying down the produce. “How nice,” I thought without looking, “someone’s spritzing the fruits and vegetables.” Then, I smelled the distinct chemical odor of bug spray.

I turned to see who was spritzing the produce and got caught in a stinky cloudy chemical mist. The store owner, who apparently didn’t know I was standing there, seemed surprised to see me and waved his hand to brush away the mist. “Oops! Didn’t mean to get you too,” he said, waving a green can with thick black lettering, what appeared to be a can of RAID in his hand before he turned and quickly walked away.

“Did I just see what I think I saw?”

It was an embarrassing moment for both of us. I just wanted to get some super glue to patch my tired old computer without being exposed to bug poison; he just wanted to get rid of those pesky bugs bombing the produce without making a display of it, or accidentally dousing a customer with pesticide.

I didn’t know what to think: “I’ll never buy produce from this place again,” was my first thought, then, “how much of the bug killer got into my lungs? How much of that crap have I ingested over the years buying produce here? Should I call the health department? Will I ever come back to this store? Where’s that damn super glue?”

Finally, I spotted the package with the tiny little squeeze tube, which was hanging from a hook near the can openers, and pulled it off the wall. “This will work,” I decided, eager to get out of the store.

Before making my way toward the front of the store again, where the cash registers are, to pay for my glue, I made one quick glance at the bugless produce display. “Yuck,” I thought. I didn’t say anything to the cashier, mostly grousing to myself, eager to get home so I could fix the loose battery panel on the back of my old computer.

“I get it,” I thought, back at home, meticulously patching the super glue onto the loose panel, “you make do with what you’ve got, sopping wet floors with old towels, and hanging fly strips from the ceiling, just like I’m doing here, patching up this battery, wondering how much longer this tired machine is going to last.” §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at roguewarde@gmail.com.

Raped in her own backyard

Don’t let this incident rob you of your self-worth. You fought for your life, and you’re here, and you won. It took a lot of guts to fight that guy off.

Don’t let this incident rob you of your self-worth. You fought for your life, and you’re here, and you won. It took a lot of guts to fight that guy off.

by Dell Franklin

I just get to work at 4 in the afternoon and I’m sent downtown to wait for a lawyer to lead somebody to my cab from the courthouse across the street from the old art deco Fremont Theater. I park in front of the Fremont. There’s activity here: lawyers in double-breasted suits carrying brief cases and talking on cell phones; secretaries in fetching outfits talking on cell phones; a flow going in and out of the coffee house beside the Fremont and the Italian eatery and rib joint on the corner—San Luis Obispo’s beehive.

I keep my eyes on the city hall building. I wait 5 minutes. I do not like to wait. I do not like lawyers. I get out and pace, malevolently eyeing the bee hive. Finally, a short fire-plug of a man, around 35, who fills out a beautiful suit like a weightlifter, scampers across Monterey Street from the courthouse and signals me. We meet on the sidewalk beside my cab.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” he says right off, taking in my sneakers, thrift store shorts and faded Harvard Business School T-shirt. He offers a hand, introducing himself as Larry. “It’s just that I have a hysterical client. Somebody tried to rape her in Los Osos. She was at the police station. I’m her family lawyer. She’s still in the courthouse. Be patient, please. I’ll take good care of you.”

Please be kind to this lady, ey? She’s been through hell. Right now the police are trying to find the bastard who attacked her. She’s in a lot of distress. She’s very fragile.

I say okay and he hustles back across the street, obviously a one-time high school football fullback. I’ll usually run the meter when I have to wait for somebody, demanding the fare pay for my time, but I’m not going to press a rape victim. Five minutes later he leads her across the street, an attractive but ragged-looking thirty-something woman with long mussed honey-colored hair, dressed in work shorts, and a man’s baggy T-shirt.

The lawyer introduces her to me as Gail. She is still in an extreme state of agitation and perhaps shock and does not look at me as the lawyer helps her into the shotgun seat and continues counseling her. I wait for him on the sidewalk. When he is finished comforting the woman, he hands me his card.

“I don’t have any cash on me right now. Can you come to my office up the street when you get back to town?” Los Osos is 12 miles away.

“Well, we’re not supposed to go out of town without collecting first. And I don’t like coming across town when I can be at the airport. But I also don’t like conducting myself like an asshole, so I guess I have to trust you. If I can’t, maybe I can hire you to sue yourself.”

He chuckles, but he’s not quite sure of me. Still, he says, “I can go down the street to the ATM if you want.”

“Nah, I’ve decided you’re a good lawyer, a very extinct breed.”

“Thanks, pal. Please be kind to this lady, ey? She’s been through hell. Right now the police are trying to find the bastard who attacked her. She’s in a lot of distress. She’s very fragile.”

“I’ll take good care of her. That’s a promise.”

“Thanks.” We shake hands. I get back in the cab. I plow through the beginning of rush-hour traffic, headed for the highway leading to Los Osos. I decide not to initiate conversation with the sniffling figure beside me, who is curled into the side of the door, as if trying to make herself smaller. I fiddle with the radio, find NPR. Once on the highway, we ooze into a 50 mph flow of traffic. I glance at her, offer a reassuring smile, as if saying: “I know it’s tough, but you’ll live through it.”

“Thanks for taking me home,” she says in a wee voice. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without my lawyer. He’s such a great guy.”

“I liked him right off.” She sits up a trifle. “So, you live in Los Osos…you like it?”

“Well, I do…I mean, I’ve lived there a while. I guess I like it, but after today, I don’t know.”

“You look familiar. I used to tend bar at Happy Jack’s in Morro Bay. You ever in there?”

“Uh-huh. I used to go there to dance before I met my husband. I don’t go to bars anymore. My husband doesn’t like them.”

“That’s probably where I saw you.”

She sits up a little and replaces her handkerchief in her purse. “Somebody tried to rape me,” she says. “I was out in the back yard tending to my gardens. I have a really nice yard and garden. I grow tomatoes and peppers and we have an avocado tree and a lemon tree. I love working in the yard. My husband really likes the way I keep things so beautiful and tidy. I was watering my plants, and out of nowhere this guy jumped the fence and threw me down and put his hand over my mouth and tried to rape me! He slapped me and punched me and said he’d kill me if I screamed. Oh God…”

“What did you do?”

Her voice cracks with a slight sob. “I fought him. I fought for my life. I kicked him. I bit him. I scratched his face. I fought and fought. He ripped my clothes off. I punched and scratched at him and I screamed…I didn’t care if he killed me. There was nobody around, everybody at work. I was crying so hard, and fighting so hard, and screaming so loud, he just took off.”

I glance at the scratches and bruises on her face and the discoloring from bruises on her arms and legs. She starts to cry again, quietly, holding her face.

“Go ahead and cry,” I tell her. “It’s good for you. You need to cry it out.”

We are cutting through the bucolic serenity of green farm and ranch land with shadowed foothills on either side, homes and barns nestled into crevices under trees.

“I’m so worried about my husband.” She sobs louder, looking out the window away from me.

“Why?”

“What if he doesn’t believe me?” She’s looking at me, near hysterical.

“What do you mean—doesn’t believe you? There’s a police report, right? You went to the hospital. Look at your bruises and scratches.”

“I know, but maybe he’ll think, well, that I…invited it.”

“Why would he think that?”

“I don’t know. He might, though, think I ASKED for it.”

“No way. What kind of man is he?”

“He’s real macho. He’s a contractor. I’m just so ashamed, so worried he won’t believe me.”

“Look, what you do is you don’t try and convince him of anything. You direct him straight to your lawyer and the police.”

“He’s already talked to my lawyer by phone.”

“Have you talked to your husband?”

She nods, sniffles. “On the phone. I don’t think he believes me. I don’t know what to do.”

I was watering my plants, and out of nowhere this guy jumped the fence and threw me down and put his hand over my mouth.

We approach Los Osos, a swale adjoining Morro Bay Estuary. Big generic shopping center on our right. No main drag. A notoriously scrumptious bakery emitting hellacious aromas every morning to counter the miasma of a thousand septic tanks and sumps. At one time Los Osos was a low-rent encampment of biker types and plenty of meth, but since real estate went crazy in the ‘90s it’s become somewhat gentrified, with a scattering of holdouts intimidating Cal Poly professors and suburban retirees tooling its rutted curb-less side-streets and driving to San Luis Obispo for trendy shops, Trader Joe’s and Costco.

“What you need is a drink,” I say.

“Yes, I think so. I’m not much of a drinker these days.”

“Just get a half pint, enough to take off the edge, and relax you a little. What do you usually drink when you do drink?”

“Bourbon, I guess.”

“What do you like to mix with it?”

“Seven-Up, or Coke.”

“Okay, we’ll find a liquor store. You get a half pint of bourbon and a Seven-Up. Go into your living room, lock up the house, turn on the TV, and have a quiet drink or two, and wait for your husband.”

“If he doesn’t believe me I don’t know what I’ll do,” she wails.

“If he doesn’t believe you, leave him,” I say. “I know it’s none of my business, but how the hell can you have a relationship if your husband doesn’t trust you and he’s not even here after what you’ve been through?”

“I’m so screwed up,” she admits, as we pull into a liquor store parking lot. She sniffles. “I just wanna die.”

“Listen,” I say. “You’ve just been through a traumatic ordeal and you’re not thinking clearly. You’ve been violated and humiliated and made to feel dirty…by some animal, a criminal. It is NOT your fault. Don’t let this incident rob you of your self-worth. You fought for your life, and you’re here, and you won. It took a lot of guts to fight that guy off. You’re a victim. Your husband will understand. Now go in there and get yourself a bottle to calm your nerves and don’t worry about your husband. Everything’ll be okay. I’m positive.”

Still shaky, she enters the liquor store. A few minutes later she returns with a package. I drive through neighborhoods to her modest house. The front yard is tidy with rows of flowers in full bloom and hedges edged sharp as razors.

“I wish I had money to tip you,” she says.

”You owe me nothing. Go on in there and relax. You didn’t invite this. You’re a nice gal. Have faith in yourself. It’s been a bad, nasty day, and things’ll be rough for a week or two, but then you’ll be thankful to be alive and have good days. Hang in there. Good luck. Now go in there, and make your first drink the biggest one.”

She starts to leave. “Look at my yard…isn’t it beautiful?”

“Very much so.”

She looks at me, her red-rimmed eyes well up and register utter despair, almost terror. “I won’t be able to go out there anymore! My back yard, it’s my favorite place in all the world…and I’m afraid to go out there now!”

“Listen, that was a one-shot deal. He’ll never come back. All this will pass.”

She faces me, trembling, leans toward me, ever so slightly, and I take both her hands in mine, give them a little squeeze. Her shapely knees are grass-stained and scratched raw. “Hang tough, kid—sometimes that’s all we can do. It’s not the end of the world. That’s what my mother always tells me, and it’s true.”

I let go of her hands. She gets out of the cab and opens the gate of the short, white picket fence and walks past a cat and up to the porch and front door, opens it, shivers, turns and waves at me, then disappears into the house, the cat right behind her. The door slams shut.

When I get back into town I pull up to her lawyer’s office and get out of my cab. I hear somebody shout, turn to look out onto Marsh Street and see the lawyer, who is encased in a white baggy outfit of the kind of plastic material a vermin exterminator or astronaut might wear. He is heading toward me on a skateboard, sneakers having replaced his Oxfords, his knotted tie the only trace of his former attire. He pulls up to me in a sideway skid and grins. He hands me three twenties for a $36 fare and tells me to keep the change.

“This is therapy, man,” he explains. “How’d it go?”

“I got her to do some talking. She’s still in a panicky state.”

He nods. “Thanks for your trouble. I appreciate it.”

“Well, I hope she’ll be okay.”

He shrugs, rolling his eyes in a helpless manner. “We do the best we can, man.” Then he smiles and we shake hands and he zooms off on his skateboard, expertly gauging traffic on the street, like a teenager. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur, a very needy chocolate lab. He writes of his years as a cabbie, bartender and athelte on his website, dellfranklin.com.