Category Archives: City Life

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.

Remembering Charlie Mitchell: Comin’ atcha!

When I first met Charlie Mitchell, he seemed bigger than life. He was larger than life. He’d look people in the eye, size them up in a wink, extend his hand in friendship, find out how things were going. He drove a big truck with a shit-howdy smile and hat, and everyone in town knew who he was. Charlie, after suffering from a massive stroke several years ago, died at his home in Cayucos, Calif., March 17, 2016. He was born in San Luis Obispo in May 1931 and grew up in Gorda, Cambria, and Cayucos. Dell Franklin and I caught up with him in early 2006, and sat with him at his home to talk about his life. We ran his story as a Rogue of the Month feature in the February 2006 edition of The Rogue Voice. This is what he told us.

—Stacey Warde

A marvelously happy, unspoiled and uncomplicated man

Photo by Phil Klein

Photo by Phil Klein

by Dell Franklin

Charlie Mitchell, septuagenarian, in Western shirt, cowboy boots, and Levis®, has more ants in his pants than a row of teenagers in baggy pants and hooded sweatshirts lollygagging at the seawall in Cayucos. Old School? Not Charlie. Change is inevitable, he says, but he deals with it, like it or not, keeping his attitude, as always, positive, cheerful, exuberant, and youthful.

Charlie Mitchell is a rowdy, unapologetically profane, ass-kicking, barn-dancing, hay-bucking, pigskin-hauling kid in a 74-year-old body that has escaped eight close calls with death (he was nearly electrocuted), undergone a knee replacement, and owns a gizzard that finally, after sixty years of hell-fire social imbibing, has put a stop to his drinking.

“I started out when I was around twelve,” he says. “Haven’t had a drink in a month now. The old pancreas brought me to my knees, and the Doc said, no more. What the hell, if I can’t do it, I ain’t gonna miss it. No use letting it get me down. Nobody had more fun than I did. I can still go out to the bars and jaw with the boys and dance and flirt with the girls. Hell yes, I can!” he shouts, almost lunging at me, slamming me on the shoulder to make his point. “Hell yes!”

Charlie started out in a little shack with his family in Gorda on the Big Sur coastline. At six, they moved to Cambria, in those days no more than a cow town. At Coast Union High School, Charlie starred in all sports, stood out as a phenom in football, and ran a hundred-yard dash in 9.7 seconds. The world record at the time was 9.4.

Charlie Mitchell played football at Coast Union High School in Cambria and went on to bump heads with some future NFL great while in college.

Charlie Mitchell played football at Coast Union High School in Cambria and went on to bump heads with future NFL greats while playing at St. Mary’s College.

Charlie’s athletic prowess landed him at St. Mary’s College in Moraga. At that time, Bay Area colleges like USF, Santa Clara and Cal Berkeley were hotbeds for great football players. Charlie played with NFL legend John Henry Johnson, an All-Pro San Francisco 49er running back and one of the roughest characters on the field, and one of the wildest, most colorful off the field. Both men became fast friends.

“John Henry was a black man from Pittsburg. He liked to party—a fueler and a chaser, always wanted to take me to those black bars in Oakland, rough places. Well, hell, I wanted to go, but if Henry found a woman, which he was bound to do, and left me by myself, a white boy like me, in those days, I was liable to get my throat cut. So I stayed in. John Henry, he was about as mean as they came — you try and tackle him and he’d whack you good with forearm shiver, no straight arm. Helluva ball player.”

Charlie played against future Hall of Famers and NFL legends like Ollie Matson, Bob St. Clair (who ate two-pound steaks raw) and Ed Brown. He was offered pro tryouts, but declined.

“Pro ball wasn’t a big deal in those days. Hell, it wasn’t like now, with TV and all, where they were after you to turn pro. I just played to play. I quit St. Mary’s and played JC ball. I got married to Iona at twenty and went in the Navy and played some service ball before they sent me over to Korea on a destroyer escort.

“No big deal. I was no hero. I was just like a lotta guys. But those escorts, they really got bounced around. The seas got pretty rough and if you didn’t have a strong stomach you were in big trouble. Some of them boys were sick all the time. I didn’t like the service, but it didn’t hurt me, either. I’m glad I served.”

From working odd jobs all over the county, and for his dad, mostly on farms and ranches around Cayucos and Cambria, Charlie earned the reputation as a kick-ass worker. Later, he honed his skills as a heavy equipment operator/engineer, running loaders, scrapers, blades, etc. He worked for Madonna and various companies and helped build most of the county roads. He ran heavy equipment for 40 years.

In between this time, in the hurly-burly days when Morro Bay was a major fishing harbor and a sort of last outpost secluded from civilized society in San Luis Obispo, Charlie bought the notorious Happy Jack’s Saloon, known by fishermen and roughnecks up and down the coast and throughout the Valley as a place to raise holy hell and engage in intense fisticuffs,

Having worked Happy Jack’s myself for eight years, I was interested in comparing notes with Charlie.

“Yeah, I had a few fights. Hell, you had to,” he says, shoulders straightening, eyes suddenly agleam, and he paces like a seasoned panther in his kitchen. “I had to park a few guys who got too fueled up and challenged me. I never looked for fights. But when you own a bar and work it, guys are gonna come after you just for the hell of it. Sooner or later you had to go outside with ‘em. That’s the way we did it—go outside and settle things. Well, this one guy, I think he was from the Valley, he kept pestering me, wanting to fight, and so we went outside, and I parked him pretty good, went back in the bar to wait on trade and have a drink, and he comes back in, not satisfied, so we went back out and this time I really parked him good, and he didn’t come back in, and one of his friends told everybody in the bar that you better not mess with ol’ Charlie. After that they pretty much left me alone. I loved that bar. Had more fun. Now my wife, Iona, she pretty much ran the bar. Did the bookkeepin’. Took care of everything. There wasn’t much she couldn’t do. Run a home. Run a business. Great wife and mother. Clear out a bar…”

“Kind of a pioneer woman, Charlie?”

He lunges at me, pounds my shoulder. “Damn right! Married fifty years to Iona. What a woman!”

“What was the lowest point in your life?”

“Losing Iona four years ago. A tough time. Hell, I miss her yet.”

“What was the highest point in your life?”

“Marryin’ Iona in 1952. She was my high school sweetheart. I think about her every day. But you gotta go on. I got a family and a ranch. I keep busy. We got forty, fifty cattle. I know a lotta people. You gotta keep living, and I aim to do so.”

“You’re known as a guy who likes to spice up his conversation with a little cussing…”

“Goddamn right! Now, when Iona was alive, she didn’t mind my cussing, but there were a couple words she wouldn’t let me say, and I tried not to say ‘em.”

“Local legend is, you could stand next to a bar and, with no run, leap up and land on the bar — a four-feet standing jump.”

“Goddamn right!” he smacks my shoulder. “I made more goddamn money jumping on bars. I made other people money. People from the coast and the Valley, they’d put up money that I couldn’t do it. I did it about ten years ago but I had to cheat a little, grabbing the bar. These days I can’t jump much more than a foot. That’s still a pretty good jump, considering I’ve had a knee replacement.”

He shrugs. “At this stage of the game, I gotta admit I can’t do things like I could. I can’t go parking a guy if he’s outta line. No more fueling. But I can still have a damn good time. I had a good time New Year’s Eve drinking straight soda.”

“Anything you missed out on in life?”

“Hell no!”

Charlie Mitchell roars through town in a shiny big pickup, wearing a cowboy hat, and a big smile. Lots of guys these days do the same, but most of it is show. Charlie’s the real thing, no drugstore cowboy. He is testimony to the kind of man who grew up with very little and made more than a lot out of his life. Though born into the Great Depression, he never considers it a big deal, just something that everybody dealt with. He thinks Cayucos and Cambria are too big these days and can’t stand driving to SLO. He was happiest when fishing and hunting in this area as a kid, when there was nothing, not even a freeway to link Cayucos with civilization. He was grateful for work, worked hard, and the hard work developed his already indestructible constitution and transformed him into a man’s man: a marvelously happy, unspoiled and uncomplicated man, who is possibly cagier than he puts on.

When you run into Charlie around town, he always shakes your hand right off, and if you’re not prepared, he might, without meaning to, break your hand with a grip that indicates inner adrenalin strength few men can match, whether they lift barbells or not.

“You a meat-eater, Charlie?”

“Goddamn right!”

“What if the Doc says no more meat?”

“Bullshit! He can go straight to hell. I eat meat every day. I LOVE meat. I’m goin’ down swingin’.” §

Graveside services were held for Charlie on Monday, March 21, at the Cayucos Cemetery. Dell Franklin continues to write from his home in Cayucos and posts original content at dellfranklin.com. Stacey Warde is publisher of TheRogueVoice.com

A happy death?

Mental illness and threats of suicide

CITY LIFE.KEVIN LAWRENCEBy Stacey Warde

“If one of these dogs dies I’m going to make an art project out of this ceiling by blowing my fucking brains out,” Kevin said.

He waved his hand with a flourish, like a painter, above and around the living room where he kept a double-sized mattress on the floor behind a couch facing a big flat screen on the wall where he watched the news and endless rounds of music documentaries and concerts.

He slept on the floor, he said, because it was easier for him, the dogs, and the women who ventured to sleep with him, to crash there rather than climb into bed in another room. And the big screen was always turned on.

We had just finished smoking a joint in this living room in a house he rented in Cayucos, and began trimming some of the marijuana he hauled out from a back room dedicated to an indoor grow operation, a typical set-up with lights and pop-up grow tent for up to 12 plants.

CITY LIFE.KEVIN LAWRENCE mugHe grew pot, he said, to bring in a little extra cash flow. His disability payments weren’t enough to cover his expenses, which consisted mostly of caring for his dogs, dining out and women he met on the internet. He grew decent weed and I helped him on a number of occasions, trimming, getting his product ready for market.

Jeesus! You’re slow,” he said. “That’s the best you can trim? I could hire a retard who’s faster than that.”

“Dude, I’m a bit older than you. These fingers don’t work so well anymore.” Invariably, one of his three dogs would come around the coffee table upon which we worked to get some attention. He brushed up against one of the big 32-gallon bags of finished trim on the floor and put his head on my lap.

“He’s the sweetest, dog,” Kevin said, snipping away. “Always looking for love. Watch out he doesn’t jump up on the couch behind you!” And sure enough, the dog climbed up and squeezed himself between me and the couch, nuzzling his head into my back.

His dogs were his best friends, like beloved foster kids he’d raised, and had been for many years, through the best and worst years, through the prosperous porn years when, he claimed, he made millions and owned a lakefront home where he and the dogs could swim and play all day; and through the devastating loss of everything he ever owned—except the dogs—through a bitter divorce, which jaded him.

“My ex is a fucking bitch, dude. I gave her everything she could ever want and she just turned around and fucked me in the ass with it.”

He had a medical with one of his dogs, trained as a service dog and companion, who wore a vest indicating to all concerned Kevin’s most serious health issue—a mental illness that he freely admitted.

“I’m fucking crazy, dude, and this place is only making it worse.”

Kevin’s not the first Cayucos resident with a mental illness. There have been several. He was refreshingly honest about his, even though at times it got unbearable to hear him talk about how fucked up his life had become, how he’d gladly kill himself, and eventually would if he didn’t get out of this town quick. The only thing that stopped him, he said, were his dogs.

“I’ve gotta stick around and take care of these knuckleheads.”

He talked of moving back, with some desperation, to Santa Monica, where he had “true” friends and the world felt more familiar and real, less parochial and small and elitist and phony than Cayucos.

“This town’s so fucking small, dude,” he’d say, followed by a litany of complaints about the weakness of some men here, and the eagerness of some women, including their wives, who would come to his door in the middle of the night to fuck.

“If you don’t like it so much,” I said, “move! Go someplace where you can be happy!”

“As soon as I get enough money, I will. I’m fucking outta here.”

He loved the macabre, and the deep-felt poetry of the outcast and the malcontent and proudly displayed his parrot-sized tattoo of Charles Bukowski’s grizzled face on his shoulder and arm. He’d share it with anyone who showed an interest in the author.

“You like Bukowski?” he’d ask, rolling up his sleeve. “Here, check this out.”

He scanned the internet for possible hookups with women half his age. Periodically, he’d start an online “relationship” with one of these various exotic and sexy women who sent nude photos, and long, heart-felt notes of endearment, and eventually requests for money. He showed me the Facebook account of one of his twenty-something lady friends.

“Check her out! She’s gorgeous, fucking beautiful,” he said, pointing at his computer screen. “Can you believe it? I can’t believe a girl like that would be interested in a guy like me, my age, fucked up as I am. She’s asked me to pick her up in LA next week. All I gotta do is send her five-hundred bucks.”

Each one, of course, was a scam. He’d lost hundreds of dollars sending money to fake Facebook accounts claiming to be women who said they couldn’t wait to meet him in person. I tried to warn him, “Be careful,” I’d say, “save your money.”

I never quite knew what to believe from Kevin, who kept busy with a variety of schemes, always looking for an angle to make some extra money, or score a fuck-buddy, or even a steady soul mate. He never quit, although he regularly threatened to end it all by blowing his brains out.

He had a generous spirit, offered to help when he could. “I’ve got a route of about four or five mow-and-blow accounts,” he told me once, when I needed to earn some quick cash. “They’re shitty accounts and I hate fucking doing them. They’re yours, if you want them.”

We used to meet at Top Dog coffee shop in Cayucos for occasional conversation. He’d spend hours there sitting at the bar, eating a bagel, talking to the baristas, always pushing the limits of propriety with come-ons and sexual innuendos, never doubtful for a moment that one day one of them would come home with him.

Eventually, the owners built a barrier at the bar, making it impossible for whoever sat there to converse with the baristas. “What’s up with the wall?” I asked one day.

“The owners put it there so that guy, Kevin, won’t harass the baristas anymore.”

I helped him compose a letter to Bukowski’s widow, asking her to consider collaborating with him as a promoter, and website facilitator, of her late husband’s work. He’d developed other sites, he told her, including a dating website aimed at locals, which he hoped would go national, and a porn site.

He had the contacts too to make it happen, he said, and if he could just land this gig with Bukowski’s widow, he’d be set. “If she’d agree to something like fifty-thousand a year, I’d be just fine.”

He delivered the letter through an attorney, a lifelong and dear friend in LA. We never heard back from Bukowski’s widow. The attorney, whom Kevin considered one of his closest pals and confidants, who frequently visited Cayucos to commiserate with Kevin, committed suicide in February, 2014.

“That fucker! I was supposed to be the one who killed himself.”

It was a devastating blow and he appeared to decline even faster. I saw him less and less, and we talked less frequently as he became embittered and morbid, and angry at everyone in town, including me, just another Cayucos phony.

Sooner or later, Kevin figured, one of his schemes would take, and get him out of the month-to-month doldrums of collecting disability checks. He couldn’t wait to relocate, and all his energy went into moving back to LA, where at least he could tell the true colors of his neighbors.

I felt bad for him, didn’t know what to say and wished him well, not quite able to decipher truth from fiction any more. Kevin’s world, it seemed, had turned into a dark and morbid nightmare.

CITY LIFE.KEVIN.Rapidfire

Rapidfire band members: Bill Bailey (Axl Rose™), Kevin Lawrence, Mike Hamernik, Chuck Gordon.

His most recent project, before moving away from Cayucos, was his lawsuit against Bill Bailey, later known as Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses fame. They had performed together in a band called Rapidfire, Kevin claimed, before Bailey made it big.

He had filed suit to make public some unreleased recordings, an EP, Ready to Rumble,  that he and Axl made together. His plan was to turn a mint selling the new releases of Axl’s early, pre-Guns ‘N Roses career. He guessed millions, if only Axl would let them go.

“Axl’s being an asshole about it,” he claimed, “won’t release the tapes, so I’m suing the fucker.”

I listened with half interest, not knowing whether any of it was true, but wanting something good to happen for Kevin. HIs much-heralded Cayucos conquests, frequent online disappointments, and braggadocio over and scorn for the community, jaded me.

“That’s great, Kevin. I hope you it works out for you.”

Meanwhile, he pursued his usual routine, mostly sleeping in late, grabbing coffee mid-afternoon, growing pot and taking his dogs to the pool for exercise. Occasionally, he’d swing down to the Tavern or the Old Creek Ale House and inform anyone who would listen about his early days playing lead guitar for Axl, and how fans would be blown away by the quality of the tracks.

“They’re gonna shit, dude. When they hear this stuff, they’re gonna shit their pants. Axl’s early work, never heard before. Do you have any idea how much that shit’s gonna be worth?”

Toward the end, he seldom washed, his hair dirty and matted, pugnacious face grimy and oiled, but claimed he was regularly getting laid at all hours of the day, nearly every day of the week.

Eventually, he went back to Southern California, where he hoped to connect with old friends, perhaps with Bukowski’s widow to offer his services. Not long after he left Cayucos, however, in January, Kevin Lawrence died from heart failure and pneumonia. He was 51.

I learned of his death through an online heavy metal magazine, Metal Sludge, that confirmed, in fact, Kevin’s claim to fame, that he’d cut an unreleased album with Axl Rose.

At first, word of his death came as a shock only because he’d convinced me that one day he’d kill himself. It was just a matter of time. After one of his dogs died and he hadn’t taken his own life, he said: “I’ve got these two other guys to look after. But I guarantee you that when they go, I go.”

Death by pneumonia seemed the most artless way to go, at least for a guy who wanted to exit with a bang, for someone who wasn’t ashamed to admit his mental illness, and had a plan for how he was going to end his days.

I still have the book he loaned me, “A Happy Death,” by Albert Camus. I never finished the book. I doubt that death through pneumonia is a happy death. I wish his had been a happy death, but who ever heard of a happy death?

I would rather he had taken his life in the dramatic way that he first described, even though it made me sick to hear him say it. I can’t bear to think the real suffering of slowly, painfully losing your breath and drowning in your own fluids as the world closes in and turns dark. He deserved better, even if he suffered, as he freely admitted, from a serious mental illness. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice. Comments, inquiries and contributions are always welcome. He can be reached at roguewarde@gmail.com.

Central Coast assholes

A day in the life of a retired cab driver

CITY LIFE.crazy_old_man

This area, slow and tranquil as it is, can be deceiving. There are pockets of hermits, social outcasts, borderline outlaws, and anarchists living in sheds, motor homes and old dilapidated ranch cabins a few miles inland from the beach.

by Dell Franklin

I was cruising along the frontage road in north Morro Bay, bordering Highway 1, around 10 in the morning, having just hit the tennis ball for over an hour with a friend, and headed toward Spencer’s Supermarket, on my way home to Cayucos, when a very big Army green military-type van was suddenly coming up fast on me, and hugged my tail with an over-sized, rather menacing looking bumper. Driving a 13-year-old Toyota, I glimpsed in my rearview mirror at the driver, who owned a large, bulbous face and wild grey hair sprouting in various directions, like a nest of snakes. He was so close I feared he was going to ram me, and I was driving close to the speed limit—40mph.

He seemed pissed off, and I figured it was my KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD and GREENPEACE bumper stickers that had him riled. I’m pretty sure he saw me eyeing him in my rearview mirror, and he was kind of snarling, his mouth crooked, teeth flashing like some sort of carnivorous feral animal on the prowl. I guessed him to be around 55 or 60.

I kept my eye on him all the way down the road, slowing to 35 the last quarter mile, because I was not about to be intimidated by a bully, and he stayed right on my ass as I turned right into Spencer’s massive parking lot beside Taco Temple Restaurant and tooled slowly toward some parking spots while the van veered past me and then cut in front of me and wove between gaps of parked cars and halted in a spot. I took my time and parked a row over and sat and watched him get out of his car and head in long strides toward the market, eyeing me the whole time as I sat in my car with an extremely malignant, nodding, knowing glower. He wore black Army boots like those we wore in the 1960s, cut-off cargo pants with multi pockets, and a tank-top. He looked work strong, probably three inches taller and 25 pounds heavier and 10 years younger than me, and he was still twisting his big head of shoulder-length snakes in my direction as he ducked into the market.

There were big canisters on his vehicle, meaning he was probably some kind of survivalist living in the hills, growing crops and weed and sitting on a porch with a vicious guard dog and a rifle, and shooting anything that moved when he wasn’t hunting wild pigs to barbecue and share with his beast. This area, slow and tranquil as it is, can be deceiving. There are pockets of hermits, social outcasts, borderline outlaws, and anarchists living in sheds, motor homes and old dilapidated ranch cabins a few miles inland from the beach, who come in every week or so for provisions.

I walked toward the market, holding a biscuit for a dog named Cinnamon who sat mornings with a bunch of ancient military veterans wearing ball caps signifying their outfits when they were in wars and gave the biscuit to the dog before entering. Inside, I headed straight to the bakery to secure a muffin to have with my coffee and LA Times when I got home to my dog, Wilbur. After securing my muffin, I wandered toward the deli section, looking for something special in case I wasn’t in the mood to cook, and ran into Cloyd, an old pal who used to frequent Happy Jack’s Saloon, where I tended bar for eight years back in the 1990s.

Pudgy and grey, Cloyd has clerked in a Morro Bay liquor store for 25 years at least, lives frugally in a mobile home, takes a walk on the beach every other day, and otherwise lives a life of quiet, cautious contentedness. We exchanged greetings and questions as to our health, and he was telling me how it’s cheaper to get his blood pressure medicine through the VA than Medicare when the driver of the Army-mobile was suddenly directly in my face, inches away, as Cloyd, not a swift-reacting person, quickly moved away to a safe position.

The snake-head held a small basket for his purchases, while I held my cloth grocery bag. Up close, as he gazed into my eyes, I recognized crazed hostility. He tilted his head this way and that, as if to further appraise me. Cloyd peered at me in a manner questioning what was going on between us. Shoppers skirted us, aroused, concerned.

The guy’s eyes seemed to glitter and scoured every pore in my face, and then, shaking his head sadly, as if dealing with a hopeless idiot, he said, loud enough for Cloyd and everybody in the vicinity to hear, “You cut me off.” Before I could retort, he said, “You’re an asshole.” He flashed me one last look of disgust and contempt and walked off in those long strides.

Cloyd stepped over. “What was THAT all about?

“Hell if I know.”

I headed for the meat section. He was down there, too, looking over the burger meat. When he finished, I got my burger meat and some American cheese and frozen French fries. I spotted him heading to the check-out line. I was done, but I waited until he was out the door, then checked my stuff and walked toward my car, saw him standing arms-folded against his dusty, dirt-encrusted Army-mobile, waiting, watching me.

I got in my car. I took my time. He stared at me—ugly person out of an Appalachian horror movie. I started up. I drove slowly, in a crawl, turned down the lane where he stood against his Army-mobile, watched him straighten up as I approached. I slowed almost to a stop, rolled down my window, and issued him the finger, making sure to thrust it at him with conviction and hold it a few seconds to make my point, and rolled slowly away at a snail’s pace.

He came unglued, shook his fists and cursed me violently, spittle flying from his trap. He challenged me to get out and fight, ran after me in an awkward, unathletic gait as I cruised away staying just ahead of him while he foamed at the mouth and threatened my life. I pulled away very slowly, my finger still out the window, gazing at him in my side mirror as he finally halted, obviously winded.

He was waving his arms at me and delivering the finger like a madman as I turned onto the frontage road, my finger still out the window. Soon as I was out of view, I hit the gas. §

Dell Franklin also puts his fingers to good use as a writer, blogger and commentator from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog Wilbur. For more of Dell’s original writing, visit his website, dellfranklin.com, where this article first appeared.