Category Archives: City Life

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.

Slapping hats with Ted Hendricks

CULTURE.SLAP.hendrickshby Dell Franklin

I was sitting on a stool at the end of the bar at Brennan’s Irish Pub in Manhattan Beach, where I was employed as a bartender, and winding down from a two-day-plus binge celebrating my fortieth birthday, when, through the front swinging doors, Jim Plunkett entered, followed by Ted Hendricks, Dave Dalby, Bob Nelson, Steve Sylvester, and Matt Robinson, all of the Los Angeles Raiders, who had moved down here from Oakland and just broken camp in Oxnard and were experiencing their first sample of beach bar life.

It was a late Sunday afternoon toward the end of August, and beside me was Lita Colandrea, my most-of-the-time female companion who was trying to convince me to stop drinking before I killed myself, but I kept insisting on one more and the bartender, Donnie Sipka, continued to serve me beers and shots as he chuckled at my relentless mindlessness.

The Raider crew passed behind me and sat down five or six stools down, along the rectangular bar, facing the entrance. I told Sipka I had their first round and to welcome them to Brennan’s. After they were served beers, each new Raider raised his mug and nodded at me, thanked me, and after Sipka conversed with them for a few minutes, Ted Hendricks, all 6-feet-7 or 8 inches, stood and walked over to me and said, “I hear it’s your fortieth birthday.”

“That’s right,” I said

Hovering over me, he said, matter-of-factly, “Forty’s big.”

“Yes it is,” I agreed. “I’ve been at it for two days worth of big.”

He nodded. Then: “I like your hat.”

I was wearing my yellow cap with elongated bill, a very, very long duck bill. I had about ten other caps and goofy hats in front of me, as a person celebrating his fortieth needs a variety of headwear over the long haul.  

“Thanks,” I said.

Ted nodded toward my headwear. “I’m a hat man, too,” he explained.

“So I’ve heard. I have about thirty-some hats and caps, Ted.”

“I have around a hundred” he said, offering me his huge hand. “You know me, but I don’t know your name.”

“Dell, Ted. My name’s Dell.”

“Would you be too offended if I asked to try on your hat, Dell?” he asked. “I know I get irritated when people ask to try on my hats, but since we’re hat men, I thought it might be okay.”

“Sure,” I said. I handed him the cap. He tried it on, pulled it tight, and pointed to one of my many caps, which included a blue one with elongated bill but also with earflaps in red letters, “BULLSHIT PROTECTORS.” I often wore this cap when a woman was taking me to task, carping at me, and pulled down the flaps when they ranted, lifting them when I had my say. I explained this to Ted while I tried it on as Lita sighed and shook her head in a longsuffering manner and Ted nodded in complete understanding. Then Ted asked me to stand, if I was able, so we could slap bills. I stood, and big Ted leaned down and we slapped bills, bobbing our heads in rhythm, making a bit of a racket as his teammates looked on. When we finished slapping bills Ted motioned to Sipka and ordered two shots of wild cherry brandy and two shots of anisette. He turned to me. “For your fortieth.”CULTURE.SLAP HATS.DELL

“Ted,” I said. “I’m on my last legs, man.”

He issued me a look I’m sure terrified all offensive players in the NFL for almost 15 years and said, “Forty’s big,” and lifted his shot of wild cherry. I tinked his glass with my shot and we downed our shots, and repeated the process with the anisette. Then he took off my cap and handed it to me. I told him he looked good in it and could borrow it if he wanted to, as I was content with my earflap cap, but he said, ”No, I can’t because those guys over there and the guys in the locker room’ll destroy it. But thanks.”

“I understand completely, Ted,” I said. “Thanks for the shots.”

He wished me a happy birthday and returned to his teammates who, on the second round, sent me down a beer and a shot, and I pulled the earflaps tight and raised the shot and downed it while Lita tried to get Sipka to cut me off.

***

A week or so later,  Lita—a New Yorker and person without peer as a thrift store scavenger finding treasures—and I were in Santa Monica visiting old-world clothing stores. In one of these stores she discovered, among a batch of headwear, a ball cap with the exact elongated bill as my yellow one, only in black, with silver letters on the crown that read MADDEST HATTER. Silver and black were the Raider colors and I quickly purchased it and brought it to the bar and placed it in one of the cupboards.

By this time, Ted had found an old, very used limousine and hired a rumpled, usually out-of-work handyman local to serve as his chauffeur who parked it across the street from Brennan’s at the more upscale Pancho’s while Ted did his drinking in both bars. On an early Monday evening, this limo pulled up across the street and Ted got out, accompanied by a pretty lady, and started to go into Pancho’s. I bellowed out his name from my station behind the bar. He turned and spotted me through the open doorway and I motioned him over. He came across the street with his gal and when he arrived at the bar I placed the black cap before him.

“For you, Ted,” I said.

He looked at the cap. He picked it up. He looked at me. He read the crown. He looked at his lady. He looked at me. He seemed unable to find words. Then: “You actually thought enough of me to buy me this great hat?”

“I saw it, and it said Ted Hendricks all over it,” I explained.

He tried it on. A perfect fit. He looked at his lady. She nodded her approval, smiling. He looked at me. “Thank you,” he said, pulling out some bills. “I’d like to pay you…”

“It’s on me, Ted. Us hat guys, we stick together.”

His lady caught my eye and issued me an understanding look that was somehow confidential. Ted said, “You still have that yellow hat around?”

I wore a variety of headwear at work on weekend band nights because all of us bartenders were clown acts and borderline comedians and chameleons, part of the scene at a very hot bar. So I retrieved the cap and put it on and Ted said, “Let’s slap bills.” I leaned forward and Ted leaned down and we slapped bills, renewing our perfect rhythm as we bobbed heads up and down while the crowd looked on. Then Ted placed a big bill on the bar and said, “Two wild cherry brandies and two anisettes.”

I poured out four shots. We tinked glasses twice and downed them all and then Ted very quickly turned and headed across the street toward Pancho’s, leaving the big bill. His very classy and pretty lady looked at me and said, “You have no idea how moved he is that you thought enough of him to buy him that beautiful hat. He loves it.”

I watched big Ted, known as “Kick ‘em in the head Ted,” and “The Mad Stork,” which he hated, enter Pancho’s, future Hall of Famer, rated as one of the two or three greatest outside linebackers in the history of the NFL, a man so notoriously hostile on the gridiron that he’d become a living legend.

“I thought he might cry,” I said.

“He’s that way,” she said, and walked across the street to meet him. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur. For more of his work, visit his website, dellfranklin.com, where this article first appeared.

Veterans Day observation

‘I’d never sign up for that’

Still, I felt guilty about leaving—until I got out to the road home on Highway 1 where the vistas of Estero Bay shimmering in the noon day sun opened before me in all their splendor. Photo illustration by Stacey Warde

I felt guilty about leaving work—until I got out to the road home on Highway 1 where the vistas of Estero Bay shimmering in the sun opened before me in all their splendor. Photo illustration by Stacey Warde

by Stacey Warde

I struggled to give myself permission to celebrate Veterans Day, even though I served and put my life on the line as an Army Ranger, jumping out of airplanes, traipsing through steamy jungles and frozen forests as part of my training for what was then known as the “Soviet Threat.”

Our mission, given there wasn’t an actual war, was to be in a constant state of readiness against all enemies—mostly supplied with Soviet weaponry, we were told—real and imagined, who might attack us at any moment. We were called on frequent alerts, awakened in the wee hours of the morning to pack gear and board planes before the sun came up and be on our way to an unknown destination.

Usually, we flew to the desert in California or to a mountain plateau in Colorado, and conducted operations in Europe, Canada, and Panama, all training sites where our mission was to jump out of those planes, rally ourselves on the ground and secure an airfield, rescue hostages, decommission a bomb or ambush supply convoys. In a few short hours, we received our warning order, plans of attack and contingencies, geared up for action, and set out for our targets, parachuting into our areas of operation under cover of darkness. We were always ready for action.

With a fool’s determination, I overrode my initial hunch to stay home to observe the holiday and shuffled off to work.

Fortunately, we never saw actual combat but were fully prepared for it. In the years since, the United States has engaged in several wars and many good service men and women have died or returned home with wounds that left some badly burned, blind, without limbs, sacrificing their bodies for cherished notions of freedom and security.

For some reason, on this occasion, a national holiday to honor those who served in uniform, I felt more compelled than ever to actually take the day off. Usually, as many Americans, I just power through my obligations—work and family life—giving the day and those to be honored little more than casual reflection. I might give a tip of the hat but only on my way to work.

With a fool’s determination, I overrode my initial hunch to stay home to observe the holiday and shuffled off to the orchard where I work, plugging holes drilled into the trees, which had been recently injected with nutrients. I started pulling out the injectors, then attempted to mold a small round of bees wax to fill the holes. My hands were shaky and my mind occupied only with veterans I’ve known and respected.

I thought about how poorly they are often treated, how one Vietnam veteran wearing a Screaming Eagles cap from the 101st Airborne Division, once took my hands in his, looked me in the eye, and urged me to get the health care I needed and, more importantly, deserved from the Veterans Health Administration when I couldn’t afford insurance coverage.

The wind was biting and the wax stayed hard in the cold and I couldn’t shape it to plug the holes. I tapped the little ball of wax with a metal tap into a hole and it squirted something, tree sap or residue from the injector, into my eye. I stumbled over fallen tree limbs and windblown young avocados on the ground. I paused. This isn’t going so well. I felt compelled to leave, drawn to a day of reflection.

I thought of other veterans who also put their lives on the line and wondered, would they be working today? Who actually gets the day off?

“Why am I doing this?” I finally blurted aloud.

I felt a fool to be working when so many others were given the day off to acknowledge veterans like myself. I fought the urge to fret over what the boss might think, but finally decided to leave early, just before lunchtime, and take the rest of the day off.

Still, I felt guilty about leaving—until I got out to the road home on Highway 1 where the vistas of Estero Bay shimmering in the noon day sun opened before me in all their splendor. I’d spend my day remembering, and enjoy this little bit of freedom.

***

Toward the end of my senior year in high school, my father, concerned about my future, since I’d done little to secure one, came into my room and handed me several recruiting brochures for all the armed forces. I looked at the brochures and handed them back.

“If you think I’m going to join, you’re crazy,” I said.

I grew up believing that with hard work and a commitment to the pursuit of happiness, one could enjoy the fruits of his labor and the freedoms and security guaranteed in a republic such as ours. I’d built a sense of patriotism on the idea that men and women were equal under the law, even though in reality they weren’t, and could pursue their dreams unmolested by their government. Besides, all through high school we were the bicentennial class of 1976, marking the 200th year of the American Revolution in which the colonists revolted against tyranny.

Toward the end of my senior year in high school, my father, concerned about my future, since I’d done little to secure one, came into my room and handed me several recruiting brochures for all the armed forces.

But what did I know? I was just a high school kid with an elementary understanding of government and history. Watergate played fresh on the minds of adults more attuned to the news and the workings of Capitol Hill than my young mind could handle, and President Richard Nixon had recently resigned his office in disgrace over his illegal attempt to sabotage the Democrats. He was a crook, even though he claimed he wasn’t, intent on undermining the democratic process. Revolution sounded like a good idea and I even mentioned it to the recruiter who had been working with me to gain entry into the Army.

“Good luck with that,” he said before suggesting the delayed entry program in the new all-volunteer Army that emerged from the ravages of the draft-intensive war machine in Vietnam. The people were tired of war. No more drafts, they said. The military responded with the all-volunteer model. “With delayed entry,” he continued, “you can sign now, and go active in six months but you’ll need your parents’ consent.” I was only 17, not old enough to sign on my own. My parents gave the consent I needed on the grounds that I was willing to defend my country.

***

Before leaving for work in the morning, I visited the Veterans Affairs website to see what events were scheduled. I could justify taking the day off, perhaps, by attending an observance. Nothing scheduled, not here in my neighborhood. As far as I could  tell, it was just another day. I scanned the list of mediocre food and coffee chain outlets offering free meals or coffee and doughnuts to vets. None, of course, were available where I live, nothing but mom and pop shops here, which is fine with me.

First stop after leaving the orchard, I decided, would be Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Cayucos where I could eat a salmon taco for lunch and figure out what to do with the rest of my day.

“What are you up to?” Adam said from behind the counter as I was about to order.

“I decided to take the rest of the day off,” I told him, feeling liberated. “I did my service. Why shouldn’t I take it off?”

“You’re right about that,” he said, informing me that lunch was on him. “Thanks for your service.”

Boy, this is great, I thought as I sat down to eat. What a glorious day! This is how it should be, true freedom!

The streets were unusually quiet, little of the hectic holiday and tourist and event traffic that seems to go year-round now, a perfect, quiet, peaceful day. I walked up the block to the coffee shop and ordered a cappuccino. This freedom to go where and order what I wanted felt great. Maybe I’d go home and read a book, go to my little mini-home castle in the sticks and retreat where no one could bother me.

At the coffee shop, a little boy, about 8, with a tablet or pad, I can never tell which, sat alone at the table by the window. A bench was open on the other side of the table and I sat down on it while waiting for my drink. The boy looked up and asked, pointing at a light fixture on the ceiling above us, “Do you think that’s a camera?”

A young couple at the table next to ours perked their ears, seemed interested in the question. “I don’t think so,” I said to the boy, “it looks like a light fixture to me but you never know these days, kid, cameras are everywhere. Do you worry about cameras?”

The barista gave a hearty laugh from her station at the espresso machine, “Oh, he does that,” she said, “he worries all right. I’m his mother. He’s a very smart little boy.”

I told the kid maybe he could develop a “camera-finding” app for his tablet, then he would know where the cameras were. He smiled, and the dude at the table next to us turned and piped, “You worried about cameras? What have you got to worry about? If you’re not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t have to worry about cameras.”

My mouth dropped open and I wanted to finger-snap his ear. First, he butted in on a pretty good conversation with the kid, which was none of his goddamn business. Second, I could feel the warm glow of this rare Veteran’s Day freedom swiftly turning cool.

“That’s a false argument,” I snapped. “I don’t want anyone in my business and I don’t like being watched. This is supposed to be a free country, right?”

“That’s right!” said the barista.

“That doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want,” the guy answered.

“I can if I’m not hurting anyone,” I said.

“Everything you do has an impact on someone,” he responded, referring to the butterfly effect of quantum physics in which we are all like so many cells in a huge organism where every little movement, such as the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings, can stir up a storm.

“As a responsible human being,” I answered, my temper rising, “I will make amends wherever possible. That’s my moral obligation, right? But that doesn’t give you or anyone else the right to monitor my behavior.”

Eventually, the barista got upset and threw the interloper out. He complained that he wasn’t doing anything wrong and left.

The little boy looked up at the light again. “Are you sure that’s not a camera?”

“Pretty sure,” I said.

***

I’d never sign up for that, I thought on the drive home, where I’d break out my books, pop open a beer and watch the wild turkeys before they scramble clumsily into the air, beating wings, crash landing in the sycamore tree above me for their evening roost, their moral obligation to get free and clear of nocturnal predators already prowling the nearby hills. I’d never sign up for less freedom. §

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

Mecca of narcissism

After 40 minutes, her lovely face was still craned to within inches from the mirror, with pencil in hand, as she inspected herself.

After 40 minutes, her lovely face was still craned within inches from the mirror, with pencil in hand, as she inspected herself.

by Dell Franklin

I had an appointment today to get my hair cut by Toni, the wife of my tennis partner Fosdick, who is 18 years younger than I. She called early in the morning to remind me, no doubt figuring that, at 72, I am forgetful, especially when it comes to getting my hair cut, or, as she would put it, styled. I still have a full head of hair that is naturally wavy and partially grey. I usually get my hair cut every four months or so, when it becomes unmanageable and my sideburns sprout straight out an inch-and-a-half in grey and make me look like a stupid clown, according to Miranda, my woman of 26 years. Before my last haircut, I went nearly 20 months without doing anything to my hair and she became increasingly agitated at what she claimed was the ugliness of my being and claimed I looked like an old, old homeless bum and urged me in near hysterical terms to get a goddamn haircut, but the more she urged the more I resisted, until it finally came to the point where I gazed at my drivers license picture in horror and was sick of washing it and have it tangle up in my mouth and get caught in my teeth when I was sleeping, as well as watching people who did not know me cross the street when they saw me coming.

For years, I went to standard male barbers down south in Manhattan Beach and in San Luis Obispo when I moved up here in 1986. This one guy in San Luis did a very good job and I always tipped him well because I’ve been a bartender most of my life; but all this changed when Fosdick set me up with Toni, who is a “hair stylist” and known throughout the Morro Bay and Cayucos area and beyond as THE best. She has a large clientele of mostly women of all ages and styles and fussy men finicky about their hair.

‘That pretty young girl with the nice ass, is she O-C-D? She keeps doing the same thing over and over again and looking at herself and doing it over again. What’s wrong with her?’

I walked into the salon on time. Three young girls, all new stylists, and a slender kid around 22 named Aaron, who is flamboyantly gay but personable, stood or sat around between appointments. Toni, a petite woman who, like Fosdick, is a yoga fanatic and hiking zealot and looks 15 years younger than her age at 55, greeted me with the usual uneasiness most people do and washed my hair before seating me in a position where I did not have to look in the mirror and see my sagging, rumpled, withered puss that had once been called handsome by ladies of the very dark, very late nights.

Toni does not drink, eats primarily organic, and refuses to ingest anything even minutely unhealthy and coerces Fosdick to yoga retreats for only the most limber and non averse to torture.

Facing away from the mirror, I was pleased to have a perfect view of the cute and fetching young female stylists in their tight jeans and stylish blouses and accouterments, though none of them moved with the feminine flourish of Aaron, who wore skinny-type tight jeans and a sort of midriff blouse exposing his belly. Aaron is always stylish and friendly.

As Toni snipped, these girls and Aaron were all giggling and repeatedly glancing in mirrors and kibitzing, though one was studying and wiggling her fingers upon a flat object in total engrossment. I whispered, “Why aren’t those girls working? Are they bad hair stylists?”

“No,” Toni whispered back in a manner belying her embarrassment at me fingering her fellow associates. “Shhh!”

Just then a voluptuous woman around 40 approached Aaron’s chair directly across from me. He received her with a big warm hug and oozed sincere flattery and a fool could see the kid had real rapport with ladies. I recognized this woman as an employee at the gym in town I go to, and called out her name “Gwen!” loud enough to break up the clique of idle stylists.

She was now seated in Aaron’s chair and a bit stunned but then smiled and I said in a voice that I guess is too naturally loud and always embarrasses Miranda, “Hey, good lookin’. How yah doin’, Gwen?”

She could not help but grin. “Oh Dell, you are such a flirt.” She sized me up. “You look good.”

“Thanks, Gwen. I wish Miranda felt the same way.”

Aaron spun Gwen, who has no idea who Miranda is, around and put an apron on her and I asked Toni what Aaron was going to do with this woman and she whispered, “A dye job.”

I whispered back. “Aaron does a lot of the ladies working at the gym and when he walks around shaking his ass all the old latents on their workout machines make mean faces to give themselves away.”

“Shhhh!”

Toni snipped for a while and I began to really notice one of the young stylists as she groomed herself in the mirror of her station. She did this for about five minutes and I whispered to Toni, “Why are these girls idle—because they’re bad stylists?”

“No!” she whispered harshly. “They’re young, just building up clientele. They’re doing fine. They have their regulars.”

“But not like you.”

“No…but, I’ve been here a while.”

I knew this was false modesty but let it go. Another five minutes passed and the girl, very pretty, with a short haircut like Aaron’s, continued primping her hair, shaking it out by whinnying, then combed it and looked at it and whinnied. Then she began applying eyeliner. She stepped back, gazed at herself, applied more, gazed at herself, picked up another instrument and continued grooming her face. At the 20-minute mark, as Toni snipped, I whispered, “That pretty young girl with the nice ass, is she O-C-D? She keeps doing the same thing over and over again and looking at herself and doing it over again. What’s wrong with her? I mean, nobody can look perfect.”

“All the young girls do that,” she whispered back. “Now stop it, Dell.”

I found this mild chastisement a bit hypocritical being that Fosdick, at our after-tennis bull sessions at the coffee house, relates a lot of the juicy, delicious gossip Toni collects from these women whose hair she cuts. Toni’s no angel in my book. These clients tell her everything, even deeply personal, totally bizarre stuff, according to Fosdick’s reports.

Into the 30-minute mark, while Aaron conferred amiably with the gym lady, the young girl continued her process of grooming. She now had bowls of powder out and swished them around with a brush; all this after applying several instruments to her face and doing the identical same thing to her hair over and over again and reappraising her face. Soon she was indulging in some intense powdering of cheeks, chin and forehead.

I whispered to Toni, who was closing in on my new image. “I have never seen anybody do what that pretty young thing is doing in the mirror that long, Toni. In my book, it’s a record.”

“Shhhh!”

“She’s so pretty,” I said, not in a whisper, but loud enough for everybody to hear. “She doesn’t need all that make up.”

Only the girl did not react to my outburst, so obsessed was she with applying and reapplying powder to her face and then whinnying and roughing her hair and gazing with disappointment at her image and re-powdering.

Toni called out to her, “Kyla!” Kyla turned around, licking at her enameled lips, eyes far away, not exactly vacant. “Dell here thinks you’re so beautiful you don’t need to use make-up.”

Kyla turned and seemed to be looking at me, but maybe she wasn’t. “The way it is,” she said sassily. “Live with it.” She turned back to the mirror and continued her grooming.

That ended by inquisition in this mecca of narcissism. Toni finished, swiveled me around so I could look at my improved image. “Excellent,” I said.

Nobody else said anything.

“Let’s trim your eye brows and nose hairs,” Toni suggested in a manner indicating I needed help.

“No!”

As I walked to the counter up front, the young stylist, at the 40-minute mark, was bent over, lovely face craned to within inches from the mirror with pencil in hand as she inspected herself, her blessed little ass jutted out just ripe enough for me to want to goose it. But all I did was look, even after passing her and paying at the desk as an older lady with white hair immediately sat down in Toni’s chair. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur. He’s the author of The Ball Player’s Son, a memoir about his father, Murray Franklin, and the early days of big league baseball. Visit his website: dellfranklin.com

Godzilla, wingnuts and water

CITY LIFE.GODZILLA.TROUGH COW

I take a long draught from the bottle of well water I carry with me in the field. Like all the other critters, I’m thirsty. I’m lucky to drink from a well that still runs. photos by stacey warde

by Stacey Warde

We get lots of European and Asian travelers this time of year, when summer morphs into fall and rain-starved Californians look expectantly to the season’s first downpour.

The tourists cruise excruciatingly slow along winding spectacular Highway 1, the coastal route through Big Sur; hordes of them park along viewpoints, at the cliff’s edge, laughing, taking pictures, peering down into the vast sun-burnished Pacific, then hop into their rental cars and RVs to hog the road again.

If you happen to be on the road at the same time it’s an agonizing slog behind a train of tourists who have no clue about pulling over to let others pass, or how bad is our drought or the state of the union.

Invariably, they pass through Cayucos, our little hamlet by the sea. I meet a Japanese man at a coffee shop in town who stops for the sights. “What is, ‘Wingnut’?” he asks, pointing at a “we have the right to refuse service” sign behind the counter.

I spin my index finger around my ear, “Crazy.” I show him how a wingnut works, spinning an imaginary one around my finger. “They’re spun tight.”

He laughs as though he gets my drift, and nods repeatedly, “Ok, ok, ok,” he says, heading quickly for the exit, “thank you!”

“I might have given him a few more examples,” I say to the barista, thinking of a few politicians, gun kooks, mass shooters and deniers of climate change, “but I don’t know if he would appreciate them.”

***

I spend most of my days alone, working in the orchard, a quiet working retreat away from the flow of tourists and the brutish world of American politics and wingnuts.

A lone hawk screeches in the gray distance overhead, obscured by the canopy of avocado trees under which I labor. A large dark avocado, a late ripener, drops heavily, clunking through the leaves and branches above until it plops to the ground with a thud. I’m glad it doesn’t drop on my head. It’s plump and weighty and I know how much it hurts to get bonked by one.

The only sound besides the hawk, is the breeze sweeping dry leaves along the ground, and brushing back green leaves in the trees. I stop to listen. The harvest ended several weeks ago, only a few ripe stragglers remain, like the one that just fell, hidden from view from a flush of new growth.

The leaves tremble in succession from one tree to the next, as warm air whooshes through the orchard like a twirling, invisible dancer. More fruit falls in its path. Plop, plop, plop. The season has turned ghostly. It’s fall in California, even though most days it still feels hot, dry and summer-hardened.

An abundance of lime-green bulbs, about the shape and size of small pears, grows on the trees, the promise of a new crop, next season’s harvest, food for avocado lovers, provided all goes well, no frosts, wind storms, or pestilence, and a winter full of rain.

Another winter without rain, however, will turn this semi-arid region of extreme drought into a desert with devastating crop losses, catastrophic fires, and panic for nearly 40 million residents competing with their straws for less and less of the less-than-half-full glass that remains of the state’s water.

Days like this, without the shortening and lengthening of shadows, time stands still; it’s hard to worry about shortages, difficult people, and lumbering RVs in the bleak white blanket of a thick marine layer, harder still to imagine this place without water, the only way these trees will survive or produce more fruit.

This morning’s cloud cover, the first heavy bit of moisture we’ve had in weeks, will soon give way to blue sky and sun. Until recently, however, there’s been little to no marine layer, unusual for coastal weather, the hot dry easterlies prevail, blowing like a furnace down the mountain passes and through the valleys, raising temperatures to record levels.

“This feels really unnatural. When’s it going to finally rain?” I hear people ask.

“Soon, I hope.”

Tourists—and some residents—seem to have no clue how dire things are.

Late October, and it’s still ungodly hot. Whether it’s unnatural I can’t say but the ongoing heat and sun have sucked whatever moisture was left in this drought-stricken land a long time ago, leaving plant and animal parched for precious water. Sightings of coyotes and mountain lions have become more common as they come down from the hills to search for food and water. Dried up reservoirs give the best visual of how bad it is.

Signs posted along rural roads in Paso Robles wine country tell another story, “DRY WELL.”

In some places, we’re drawing water from the Pleistocene era. Yet, we still must contend with billionaire water smugglers buying up properties in the north county so they can suck up, bottle and ship elsewhere what little of our water is left so they can get rich. I take a long draught from the bottle of well water I carry with me in the field. Like all the other critters, I’m thirsty. I’m lucky to drink from a well that still runs. I refuse to buy FIJI Water.

The sun’s intensity frightens rather than warms with its penetrating rays. I’ve already felt the knife to remove three melanomas, a skin cancer that will kill if left untreated. And these were borne from days of exposure when the sun felt—and probably was—much less intense.

Now, the sun itself cuts, its rays slashing through fiber and filament, making it unpleasant to bear more than a few minutes of exposure, as if the sun might actually make an incision and draw blood. I’m lucky to be working in the shadows of an avocado canopy that spreads out over several acres for which, thankfully, there’s still enough water to irrigate, and cover enough to stay sheltered from the direct sun.

As we head into the rainy season, all the prognosticators point to a potentially record winter with wetter-than-normal rainfall, fueled by what has been billed as a “Godzilla” El Niño. The above-normal temperatures of the Pacific  Ocean will pack our winter storms with a powerful punch, driving a flow of moisture and rain like a machine, dumping buckets as they go, forecasters say. We need the water and the snowpack to lessen the dire state of its lack in the region’s worst drought in 1,200 years, according to those who have studied the phenomenon. But even Noah’s flood, apparently, won’t fix the drought.

Farmers fret as water shortages threaten to destroy field crops and fruit-bearing trees, and land sinks from an overdraft of groundwater in the Central Valley, while rich celebrities sitting pretty in LA and the Bay Area pour tens of thousands of gallons of water on their estate lawns and gardens.

The rationale, presumably, is that they will pay the fines and rate hikes, no big deal, they’ve got plenty of money. But what happens when there’s no more water? What good will their money do then? It’s a mindset that never ceases to amaze me, the “la-de-fucking-da” attitude toward precious resources like water.

Before the West’s major water projects, many driven by greed, land values in California, where there wasn’t any water, were cheap, even beachfront property. But land grabbers like William Mulholland fixed that, securing millions for himself and his friends in one of the state’s most ambitious and notoriously crooked water projects to develop the San Fernando Valley and LA basin. Water wars are nothing new here.

Only the promise and supply of water can keep us alive, let alone wealthy, and from cutting one another’s throats.

***

For sure, as I might have informed my Japanese friend, we have our share of wingnuts in this country and, like the rest of the world, they’re either politicians or religious or angry young men intent on killing, or scientifically challenged, many with their own radio shows, unable to fathom the potential devastation—extremes in weather, for example—from climate change, and who for no other reason than lack of an educated and critical mind don’t know the difference between civil law and religious superstition.

I wonder how so many seemingly intelligent people, Americans especially, since we presumably value a good education, can be so easily fooled by the crooked and the small-minded, giving precious time, energy and money to mean and vicious people and causes.

The GOP, for example, is in disarray, hobbled by the mean and nasty, ultra-right wing rabble, mostly members of the so-called Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, attempting to hijack the government, threatening at every turn to shut it down. I don’t understand or like this kind of thinking—if you can call it that—from hijackers and so-called “freedom” fighters. Yet, I encounter them nearly every day—not only in the news but in the coffee shops, bars and workplaces here at home.

“How come you have to be such a fucking liberal?” a local farmer and freedom fighter once asked me during a political talk. Not long after that, he cut off my water supply to a field I was tending on his farm. I begged him for water as the heat of summer intensified and the plants began to wilt and fruit was forming but going bad. He refused, the ripening fruit fell off, and we lost our harvest and all of the income from our hard  labor.

I’d rather be a liberal than someone who sabotages another’s labor or livelihood on the basis of politics and grudges, unless of course I want to start a revolution, or recklessly meddle in other people’s affairs, or become a hater and a fool, of whom we already have plenty. Only the wicked, as I  understand, seek to destroy what another has built to provide for himself and his family. Only a fool will try usurp what is not his to own or possess.

***

CITY LIFE.GODZILLA.COW IN FIELDIn many ways, I live and work like a hermit, mostly alone with plenty of—maybe too much—time to think. I like being physically active. It gets my mind off things, and that’s a saving grace out here. Still, the mind will play tricks. Maybe the world isn’t all quite as bad as I imagine, not as long as the sentient and wise prevail, who nonetheless appear to have been purged from the planet.

The only reliable witnesses to truth in this era are the modern court jesters—Steven Colbert, Jon Stewart, Matt and Trey and now Trevor Noah—the wise clowns and fools on network television, who aren’t afraid to mock and laugh at the pretenses and posturing of those who wish to put on a show and wear the emperor’s new clothes and get promoted by real fools.

Meanwhile, I’m feeling beat up from my labors, lower back complaints, hips, feet, neck and shoulders and try not to be too discouraged. But an even deeper hurt speaks to me: Where do I belong? Where’s my home? What happened to my country?

A lone plane passes overhead and the wind brushes through the leaves again. Two hawks soar silently above the southeastern hills, taking updrafts, diving, circling back, climbing, climbing, and circling closer and closer until they clip wings as they swing past each other in the late afternoon breeze, an aerial dance all predicated on food and water.

Through the long rows of trees, in the tunnel of green they form, I try to follow a light path but seem to carry a heavy burden. Imagine living fully present, I think, fully engaged. How would that look? What worries then? What difference would it make? It’s all I’ve got, really, to keep from falling into a pit of despair thinking of how far we’ve fallen as a “free” nation, where people will as quickly piss in their water as drink it.

I enjoy seeing my hometown through the eyes of tourists who pass through and look with wonder upon the beaches and ocean that surround us, who are curious and wonder, “What is, ‘Wingnut’?” They keep it fresh and real.

For the first time since late last winter, I hear the sound of a tree frog in the orchard. They’ve been so quiet in the dried up creek at home. Last winter they were so loud one had to raise a voice to be heard. If and when they return, the roads will be slick and wet and the road to Big Sur much less traveled, and Godzilla will be pouring down his fury upon us. §

Stacey Warde is a farmhand and publisher of TheRogueVoice.com. He can be reached at roguewarde@gmail.com.

Lulu’s and Wilbur’s shenanigans

CITY LIFE.WILBUR & LULU

Wilbur, as he appears when he’s not chasing after Lulu or peeing on the neighbor’s house. Photo by Stacey Warde

by Dell Franklin

Lulu is a black boxer/Labrador mix who lives around the corner two blocks down and sometimes gets out and prowls our street and ignores me when I call out her name from my deck. I surmise she’s not quite sure I’m the guy who used to live one door over and across the street before I moved here a few years back, but I feel she should at least acknowledge Wilbur because when we walk past her fence on her street she goes to the gate and barks at him like she means business, and Wilbur immediately pulls me to this gate so they can indulge in a heated, vicious, tail-wagging bark-off before I can pull Wilbur, who outweighs Lulu by a good 40 pounds, away.

When Lulu sniffs out our street, never moving closer than two doors down from my deck, she totally ignores Wilbur barking at her in a manner indicating he wants to rip her apart limb from limb.

On a morning some time ago, I was walking Wilbur down the street where we caught hell for my allowing Wilbur to pee on a row of new plants in front of a recently built house by a newcomer to our neighborhood. As Wilbur lifted his leg and watered several of these plants, which are actually little trees, a blind went up and we were chastised like criminals caught in the wrong back yard. Since then I have tried to pull Wilbur’s 90 pounds of powerful bulk away from those plants on a bad knee with some success, because I know this man and his wife are on a constant lookout for our violations of their shrubbery.

On this street I keep Wilbur leashed, which I don’t like to do because his walks are the highlights of his days and he treasures these nuggets of playful and agenda-driven freedom. Of late I’ve taken Wilbur to the bluffs north of town where he can run loose and sniff and pee and shit as he pleases on anything he wants, as long as he doesn’t chase skunks.

Anyway, the other Saturday night, around ten, I walked Wilbur past the home where we’d gotten severely chastised, feeling that at night the owner would not be anticipating dogs peeing on his plants, and when I peered into the open window, to my surprise, the man and wife and a young couple I took for a daughter and son in law, sat at a table facing each other and holding hands and praying, the good book in the hands of the father, the room dimly lit by a single candle, and no sign of the usual TV one saw in almost every house in town this time of night.

I felt this was as good a time as any to encourage Wilbur to pee on the plants, and he did, with gusto, while I lurked behind a parked car to view the new neighbors continue their prayer meeting. I have no problem with this. I felt their humble lowering of heads while the father read was perhaps something miscreants like Wilbur and myself might at some point in our existences need, just for the hell of it, as our intentions were surely not benevolent or respectful or godly, especially when compared to these fine, family oriented people attempting to do the right thing and become good neighbors—except for their intolerance of my dog.

Anyway, the following Sunday morning the father was out tending to the shrubbery when I came down the same street with Wilbur on his leash. The family live on the corner, a couple houses down and across the street from where I once lived, and on this morning Lulu was out, standing in the middle of the street, staring at us, bristling to become engaged with Wilbur. Wilbur became so excited at the prospect of playing grab-ass with Lulu that he pulled hard and cried. I felt it would be unfair to deprive him of one of his favorite pastimes and unleashed him, and the two dogs immediately began moving in a circle of sniffing each others asses, and then Lulu lay on her back in a submissive posture while Wilbur pounced on her and began doing what male dogs do when they feel it is their right to deliver rough affection to a female.

I peered up and saw the man stiffen at such outlandishness. I nodded toward him in a friendly manner but he did not nod back, seemed clearly worried as Lulu nipped Wilbur on the neck, jumped up, and took off on a dead run toward the man holding a spade. Wilbur lumbered after her. Just as Lulu neared the man, and he began to move back, she took a sharp turn and headed into an empty field across the street, and Wilbur continued to give chase. At this point I limped after them on my bad knee and made a pretense of corralling them, which I knew was futile as Lulu tore across the street and led Wilbur on a series of quick starts and stops and broken-field running, again tearing past the man.

He grew increasingly nervous, even rattled, as I apologized profusely for losing control of my pet and igniting this chaos. As Lulu led Wilbur toward the man again, he jumped back, sort of hurried after them as they headed for the row of plants beside his new house, and then he yelled, as if stabbed by a huge sharp knife, and indeed looked wounded, “They peed on my house! They peed on my house!” I scurried over just as they finished and continued their chase, past the man, who turned red, and I yelled at Wilbur, calling him a bad dog and tried to chase down the two animals, but there was no use as I spotted the wife at the window, not happy.

The dogs continued their chase, but this time, to my credit, as they began again heading toward the man’s house, I headed them off and sort of herded them up the street toward where Lulu lives with Dennis and his wife, four doors down. Dennis, my old neighbor and some time drinking companion at Schooner’s Wharf, is a landscaper and as easy going a person as exists in this laid-back small beach town, and when Wilbur chased Lulu into his yard I explained with some guilt the shenanigans Wilbur and Lulu had just perpetrated against our new neighbor.

Dennis, who was loading equipment onto his work truck, just chuckled, for in the past, when his gate was open, Wilbur has chased Lulu into the house, where he is not above peeing on potted plants and furniture. His wife quickly closed the door and I managed to get hold of Wilbur in the yard and leash him, and it was no easy feat pulling him up the street in his state of excitement as he repeatedly turned to look back, where Lulu stood at the gate, totally calm, as if nothing untoward had happened in our quiet neighborhood on a perfect Sunday morning.

Since then, taking the high road, I have changed Wilbur’s morning circuit to completely avoid these new members of our neighborhood, as there are plenty of places to pee without causing a disturbance. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur. He’s the author of The Ball Player’s Son, a memoir about his father, Murray Franklin, and the early days of big league baseball. Visit his website: dellfranklin.com