Tag Archives: Cayucos

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

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

Wilbur and The Pirate

city life.wilbur&pirateby Dell Franklin

Randy Crozier, or “The Crow,” or “The Pirate,” does 98 percent of his drinking in Schooner’s Wharf, a restaurant bar overlooking the beach and pier in downtown Cayucos, population approximately 2,500. Crozier is short and round as he is tall, sturdy legged, bushy-bearded, neon-eyed, red-cheeked, hair straggling out from under sweat-stained ballcap, and known to emerge from hangovers so monstrous most people would be hooked up to an IV in a hospital room and go straight to work after his first cigarette and securing his coffee and roll at the local coffee den, where he has been observed indulging in such terrifying coughing fits some have suggested calling an ambulance.

The Crow is a stonemason/plasterer/framer/commercial fisherman/hunting guide/farmer and bass player with his own band, the Motowners, which plays in the town’s popular annual 4th of July parade and various ragged festivals in Big Sur. A brass plate on a wooden stool at a particular corner of the bar at Schooner’s Wharf has his name etched on it. He is always clad in sweat shirt with arms torn off, Levi’s faded and frayed with legitimate holes at the knees, drinking sneakers, and ballcap. He keeps a “pirate’s” treasure chest on hand in the bar to supply kids in the restaurant candy, and every half hour allows a girl to occupy his stool while he goes downstairs to stand in the alley across from the sea wall and beach to smoke, cough, and check his cell phone.

Lately Wilbur’s been in the habit of running down trucks with diesel engines and I must apologize to people who are forced to stop in fear of running him over

Photos by Stacey Warde

Photos by Stacey Warde

Until recently, before moving out into the back hills of town, the Crow lived four doors down from me on G Street, where he parked his truck, a 35-year-old wonder that sounds like a tractor and rattles without hitting bumps in the road. The paint job is peeled off, though “Pirate Plastering” is printed on the passenger door that does not completely close and sometimes flies open when he turns a corner. The bed of this truck is as cramped as the passenger seat with tools and debris that Crozier claims, “Only a lunatic would steal.” The spot where he parked for years at a hovel connected to a main house run by Tag Morely, local Everyman, is permanently oiled. To get to this particular spot, the Crow usually passed my large, railed patio before turning right. Wilbur, my 10-year-old, 90-pound Chocolate Lab, who has eaten rubber and wood and cost me hundreds of dollars in vet’s bills, can hear Crozier’s jalopy several blocks away.

The second Wilbur hears it—usually around 3 in the afternoon when the Crow knocks off and is in the process of getting ready for his drinking—he is up and scrambling to the patio, where he paces as the truck gets louder and louder. He paces in circles, then back and forth along the railing, and a touch of drool drips from the side of his mouth, since he lacks front teeth on that side. He spots the truck. He nudges up against the railing and stares as Crozier pulls up. Crozier, at 55, and looking and showing every year of it, takes a while to get out. Wilbur paces some more. By the time Crozier emerges from his truck with a couple of super-sized biscuits from a package from the Dollar Store in Morro Bay, a long strip of drool slings back and forth from Wilbur’s lips as his eyes keen in on the Pirate.

Crozier cackles and points: “Look at Wilbur drool….” He laughs like Santa Claus, and with the same glee he relishes when buying somebody a drink at the bar, he hurls the biscuits up onto the deck, where Wilbur scrabbles and devours both within seconds and returns to the railing to watch Crozier drive off.

Sometimes, in the morning, or even afternoons, I’ll have Wilbur on the street below, ready to walk him, when he hears Crozier’s truck growling toward us. He tears straight at it, blocking the driver at the grill in a frenzy, makes him stop, then lunges at the broken door, drooling. Crozier chuckles and feeds him and moves on, and I must leash Wilbur or he will chase the Crow’s truck down the street.

Lately Wilbur’s been in the habit of running down trucks with diesel engines and I must apologize to people who are forced to stop in fear of running him over and rearing back as he lunges through the window and scratches up doors with paws as he drools for a biscuit. If he sees Crozier’s truck parked anywhere he goes into a frenzy, and I must leash him as he cries. When I go to Schooner’s Wharf and sidle up beside Crozier, I always order him a beer, and he grins and laughs and coughs and says, “Wilbur…I love it when he starts drooling….”

As always, we spend the first 15 minutes or so talking about Wilbur, and laughing. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur, who the vet recently discovered had eaten an old rubber tire and gotten sick. He’s recovering well and still hunger’s for the Pirate’s biscuits. Visit dellfranklin.com for more of Dell’s work.

Cayucos, an idyll

pith.cayucos4Apricots are suede loafers, and
black plums are cordovan weejuns,

both of which are indications that
Summer, however foggy it may be

in this tiny beach town, is upon us.
The tourists, in their brightly colored

shorts and aggressive t-shirts
advertising everything they own

and everywhere they’ve been,
descend to the kelp-strewn beach

and set up their tents, their umbrellas,
and their coolers filled with light beer

and candy flavored malt liquor. The
locals grumblingly take the tourists’

money. It is a grudging annual
symbiosis, but the apricots are

delicious, and my suede loafers are
safe from the flip flop wearing hoards.

—Todd Young

Wilbur’s Reckless Peeing Habits Come under Attack

CITY LIFE.WILBUR'S PEE HABITS

Wilbur, who has his favorite spots to pee, has admittedly developed habits unbreakable. Photo by Jason Vest

by Dell Franklin

Just about every weekday afternoon, at around 3 o’clock, Wilbur, my 10-year-old, 95-pound chocolate Lab, sunning himself on my spacious terrace, hears Randy Crozier, otherwise known as “The Pirate” and resident boozer at the downtown Schooner’s Wharf, returning from work as a builder and approach our residence in his loud, growling 25-year-old truck. Wilbur immediately tears to the railing, tail wagging frantically, drooling, pacing, as Crozier pulls over, steps out and lobs a couple biscuits up on the terrace, which Wilbur instantly devours and returns to the railing to watch Crozier turn down the street below us and park three doors down. Wilbur rewards Crozier for his generosity by peeing on his tires when we walk down that street.

Wilbur rewards Randy Crozier, also known as "The Pirate," for his generosity by peeing on his tires when we walk down that street.

Wilbur rewards Randy Crozier, also known as “The Pirate,” for his generosity by peeing on his tires when we walk down that street.

Wilbur has admittedly developed habits unbreakable. I was walking him the other morning around the corner from Crozier and along the same route I’ve been walking dogs in this neighborhood for 17-plus years when the blinds went up at a new residence and a stern voice blurted, very curtly, “I’d appreciate it if your dog didn’t pee on my bushes, thank you.” His “thank you” was very dismissive and condescending, as if Wilbur and I were trash when for years we’ve been regarded as harmless if a little eccentric and unruly of appearance due to the gentrification of Cayucos.

I paused after Wilbur peed on the bush and faced the narrowly opened blinds and laughed in a jeering manner as the blinds snapped shut. Wilbur and I continued on past signs on some yards of a dog squatting to shit and a red arrow running through it. I try and refrain from allowing Wilbur to shit on any lawn, but in case he does I keep plastic poop bags like a thoughtful neighbor. This little grid of a neighborhood is rife with dogs of all sizes and we’re all pretty respectful and affectionate toward each others’ dogs. So far no signs have popped up of a dog lifting his leg to pee with a red arrow running through it. As far as I know these signs don’t exist. Dogs here and everywhere are hard pressed NOT to pee on every fire hydrant they pass, as well as  plants, bushes, mailbox posts, fence posts, tires, trash cans, or any object other dogs have peed on, and if you try to stop them they fight hard and become confused and perhaps unhappy.

This is THEIR time.

Wilbur and I continued on past signs on some yards of a dog squatting to shit and a red arrow running through it.

Wilbur and I continued on past signs on some yards of a dog squatting to shit and a red arrow running through it. Photo by Stacey Warde

I’m concerned about this guy who lurks near his window so early in the morning laying in wait for miscreants like Wilbur and myself who are used to roving around with impunity. Has he maintained this vigilance with all the tiny dogs and pretty pedigrees walked by ladies wearing designer sunglasses and toting Evian bottles of water? Does he have it in for Wilbur and me? I recall him glaring at us and issuing a muttered, grudging “hello” when I greeted him with an ebullient “hello” one afternoon as I allowed Wilbur off the leash to indulge in some frenzied sniffing and peeing. Since then, I’ve made sure to leash Wilbur and wonder: Has this guy employed a hi-tech surveillance system to catch dogs peeing on his newly planted bushes so he can gather an enemies list and confront them, too?

My problem with this guy is he’s the first person ever in all my 71 years that I’ve ever heard of having a problem with dogs peeing on his or her bushes. What he needs to understand is that before he moved here Wilbur had already established territorial rights on his property and has no inclination whatsoever to relinquish them. Wilbur jerks and pulls me to that bush, threatening my bad knee, hip and shoulder. It is a vital part of his peeing grounds, just as he leads me invariably to the same shitting grounds and shows displeasure if another dog has violated these grounds. And this is all set off by his sniffing mechanism, which controls his every instinctive action and reaction.

The blinds went up at a new residence and a stern voice blurted, very curtly, “I’d appreciate it if your dog didn’t pee on my bushes, thank you.”

Anyway, I’m in a quandary about this situation. One friend warned me about pushing it and advised me to avoid this street, home and bush so as not to trigger a confrontation, which in my past history has led to threats and violence and the police called in. “Be big,” he said. “And let this asshole be small.”

Another advisor said “You’re too old to get worked up and involved over such a petty predicament. And besides, you’re too crippled to fight like in the old days.”

Sorry, but I just can’t get over this. I’ve always hated authoritative tight-asses trying to control my behavior. I’ve got a good notion to purposely have Wilbur pee on his putrid little bush and wait for him to snap open that blind so I can explain to him that Wilbur cannot live without sniffing this bush every day to find out who else has peed on it and then pee on it himself, and if he doesn’t like it, well, build a goddamn fence to keep all the goddamn dogs in the neighborhood from peeing on his goddamn bush!

Or, I could come by without Wilbur while he’s obsessively maintaining his vehicles or premises and explain very diplomatically that it is the destiny of every living dog to pee on any bush any other dog has peed on and if this is interfered with it destroys the harmony dogs have brought to this and every neighborhood in America and perhaps the world.

Is his precious bush so important it antagonizes the entire neighborhood, especially when I’ve lived here so long and know everybody on HIS street as well as the surrounding grid and will soon inform all of them about his antics regarding Wilbur and myself? Does he realize that in a case like this EVERYBODY is on Wilbur’s side and that automatically puts them on MY side? Does he know that his immediate neighbor, Crozier, has lived here since he was a child and loves Wilbur as his own and has a history of unchecked vengeance when he feels his friends are being wronged?

Maybe I should leave a business card from my lawyer, Gifford Beaton, Esq., a heavy hitter who resides in San Luis Obispo, on his bush, with these words, “I am Wilbur’s lawyer and anybody trifling with his peeing habits will be taken to court!” §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he and Wilbur spend their days when not peeing on bushes in the neighborhood. He’s the author of The Ballplayer’s Son.

The Oaxaca Express

Alfredo pointed to a side road running into the fields and inland hills near Cambria. Barns and ranch houses nestled among clusters of oaks. Cows and the occasional horses grazed. I had cut the meter at $40 and was saving them at least $25.

Alfredo pointed to a side road running into the fields and inland hills near Cambria. Barns and ranch houses nestled among clusters of oaks. Cows and the occasional horses grazed. I had cut the meter at $40 and was saving them at least $25. Photo by Stacey Warde

by Dell Franklin

Sitting in your cab when the buses roll in at the Greyhound station in San Luis Obispo, Calif., you pretty much know who your prospective rides are going to be: black women visiting inmates at the state prison, little old ladies afraid to fly, parolees in new issue shuttling down to L.A. from prisons north, tattooed white trash, the occasional student, and Mexican immigrants from the poorest provinces of that country. The very rock-bottom of the socioeconomic ladder in America.

Anybody who departs from a Greyhound bus after having been on it for days exudes an identifiable odor: a distinct blend of cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, sour, dead air, armpit sweat ands crotch rot—all accumulating over years and soaking into seats and clinging to the hair, skin and clothes of a passenger and rising from them like a fetid, septic vapor, a sensory bludgeoning.

I picked up these field hands, or campesinos, always immigrants. Six of them. Since a cab is by law only allowed five passengers, I tried to explain this to them in my broken Spanish, but they pretended not to understand and piled in, five squishing up in back. They were not about to separate and take another cab for the extra $60 or 70$ to transport them to the farm or ranch where they were to cultivate and harvest vegetables and fruit and tend cattle out by Cambria, thirty-five miles away. Besides, they were diminutive people compared to fat Americans, stick-like and black-eyed, no doubt from the farthest reaches south, 3,000 miles from home.

Each of them toted a flimsy satchel with their meager belongings, which I stuffed in the trunk. The five in back were young men, and the oldest, with grey flecks in his abundant hair and bushy mustache, sat shotgun in the bucket seat. He smiled at me hopefully, a sly, wise look on his face.

I was familiar with these people. As a college kid, I had worked part-time and saved enough money to travel to the interior of Mexico with three pals in an old jalopy we eventually blew up. We hit cantinas, beaches, whore houses, and although we were poor compared to most Americans, we must have seemed to these peasants to our south, rich and privileged.

These passengers were not street-wise, big city or border town Mexicans. This was possibly their first time in America. They seemed curious yet wary, like young kittens.

The man sitting shotgun smiled at me. “You geeve me good deal, amigo?”

I shrugged, looking helpless, pointed to the meter. “No po-see-blay, amigo.”

“We have leetle dinero, señor.”

I nodded. “I understand. But it will cost you around seventy dollars.” He winced, as if stabbed. He was possibly a few years younger than me but looked older, obviously having lived a harder life, as they all did.

I remembered how, when our car stalled in little villages and big cities, everybody, even kids and women, came out of buildings or shacks to push us up hills, waving and smiling as we pulled away. I remember, deep in the interior, little dark men like those in my cab buying us beers and tequila when they could not afford it, because, evidently, they liked us, or were too proud to allow us to buy them drinks, or perhaps they were showing us the true nature of the Mexican people—warm and generous, money meaning little in the face of gratitude and goodness of spirit.

“I will try and make us a deal, amigo, but it is very difficult.” I again pointed to the meter, explaining to him that my supervisor kept close tabs on cab drivers. Then I picked up the phone, checked in with my dispatcher/supervisor, informed him I was going somewhere past Cambria and would be gone a while.

The car stunk. It was chilly outside, but I had my window open and the thin-blooded peasants huddled up and shivered in their faded denim jackets. Shotgun, who was named Alfredo, asked politely if I could roll up the window, so I cracked it a little, turned on the heat, but the stench increased and wafted to my nostrils, my gorge rising, like somebody died in my cab. They were, of course, immune from their own miserable smell and had probably been eating food they’d never eaten before, arousing their bowels, causing them to get diarrhea and even vomit. This happened to us in Mexico. These poor kids were used to nothing but beans and rice and tortillas and whatever they could kill.

They were incurious about the passing countryside, sat quietly, like mutes awaiting a sentencing. Alfredo kept an eye on me, occasionally producing his reassuring grin, his teeth white and clean.

Alfredo and I haggled amicably, bluffing, shrugging, throwing up our hands, and eventually arrived at a price.

Alfredo and I haggled amicably, bluffing, shrugging, throwing up our hands, and eventually arrived at a price.

I asked him where they were from. And he told me Oaxaca. I told him I’d been there, and it was pretty, and was about to comment on how poor it was, but knew this would humiliate him and place me at a disadvantage when we started haggling over the fare. I’d decided to give them some kind of deal. He knew this, sensed my willingness to compromise. I could tell the dispatcher I got lost from poor directions from non-English speaking Mexicans. Perhaps cut the meter at around $40 or $50. That was my limit.

So I relaxed just past Morro Bay, and Alfredo and I talked. My chopped up Spanish was as adequate as his English. He had a wife and five kids. Two of his boys were in back. They lived in a small village outside of Oaxaca. He was foreman at a ranch outside of Cambria. As we passed Cayucos and its glinting bay, my passengers did not bother to look. I studied the peasants in the rearview mirror; they looked exhausted, half asleep, like bags of ragged clothes. Urchin-like, they received little or no help from their government, I knew, forcing their survival on family alone. They possessed the high-cheek-boned, ridged faces of bantamweight boxers toiling in American arenas and on our sports channels on TV—men who could dish it out and take it and ignore blood and pain, never backing up until the final bell rang, bleeding, swollen about the eyes, yet still proud and game. They had perfect skin, were splendid looking people. Their women, in teenage years, before being burdened with multiple children, were breathtakingly beautiful. As a people they broke your heart, but you never let them know. Never.

Alfredo pointed to a side road running into the fields and inland hills near Cambria. Barns and ranch houses nestled among clusters of oaks. Cows and the occasional horses grazed. I had cut the meter at $40 and was saving them at least $25. At Alfredo’s direction, I turned onto a bumpy dirt road; rows of crops on either side. There were orchards and more cows. We arrived at a single trailer situated some fifty yards from a main house and barn and small corral.

When we pulled up, a door opened and five Mexicans who looked exactly like my passengers spilled out of the trailer. Their satchels and a few duffel bags were stacked by the steps. They looked fit and fuller than my crew. Everybody piled out of the cab and I opened the trunk and my peasants took out their satchels and everybody commenced to speak in Spanish at such a rapid pace I could not keep up with it. Alfredo talked to an older man who stepped out and could have been his brother. He glanced at me as they talked.

Occasionally, after a harvest, on a pay day, they’d go to a bar in Cambria and get drunk, shoot pool, become happy and sentimental, stare hungrily at big, healthy white girls, perhaps get angry.

I observed the crew I’d dropped off. They would be here for months, a year, probably longer, working all day, every day. Occasionally, after a harvest, on a pay day, they’d go to a bar in Cambria and get drunk, shoot pool, become happy and sentimental, stare hungrily at big, healthy white girls, perhaps get angry, maybe fight among themselves and be called “beaners” and “wetbacks” before being run out. This was to be part of their lot: Work, eat, drink, sleep, go without.

The two older men approached me. Any Mexican, be he a cab driver, pimp, or merchant involving any kind of exchange, liked to haggle. We learned to do it well in Mexico. They had no respect for you if you didn’t try and chisel them down or were a pushover when you tried.

“How much to San Luis?” asked Alfredo.

“The same, amigo—forty dollars.”

Again the pained look. “Too much, amigo.”

“Other cabbies, they charge you sixty-five, seventy on the way up, the same on the way back. They are not like me. They are not simpatico.”

Alfredo nodded, expressing his appreciation of my understanding and generosity. He turned to the man who looked like his brother and conversed rapidly while the peasants talked in the background. I heard the word “simpatico.” I’m sure they knew from previous rides that if I drove back alone I got paid nothing. Dead time. This was an excellent opportunity for all of us to come to a very pleasing compromise. Since they didn’t tip, which was fine with me, I could make some quick cash and be a true amigo at the same time.

Alfredo returned to barter. He shrugged helplessly. “We are not reech, senor. It is too much.”

Now they were all staring at me, a dozen bantamweights with calloused hands, wiry frames, sparkling teeth, deep leather tans. The departing kids would be returning home with pockets full of cash for their families, where they would be kings in their small village, almost heroes. They had no doubt already sent money home. I had seen their kind break hundred-dollar bills in the Cayucos Tavern to buy pitchers of beer. They spent their money on little else, lived free in the trailer, were fed, had few expenses. They became very generous when drunk, forgetting temporarily how poor they were as they bought local gringos and women shots and beers if they seemed halfway tolerant and interested in them as people. The drunker they became, the more foolish they became with their cash. They dropped it on the floor and left it on the bar and sometimes lost wallets. They requested their honking, tooting, oompah music on the jukebox, but no bar would hear it.

Alfredo and I haggled amicably, bluffing, shrugging, throwing up our hands, and eventually arrived at a price—$60 for a round-trip. I would make myself a $20 tip. For them, they were saving a fortune. Everybody was happy, satisfied. They paid me with a hundred-dollar bill. Alfredo and I shook hands. His brother, Eduardo, nodded at me, smiling. Everybody piled in.

On the drive back, I talked with Eduardo, who was from a family of fifteen. The kids in back were talkative and lively, behaving like jubilant school boys going away to summer camp. It was a quick, easy ride. I dropped them off at the Greyhound depot, where they hauled off their plump satchels and duffel bags. They wore new denim jackets and new leather boots and Levi’s and plaid flannel shirts and white straw hats.

They were freshly cleaned and laundered and smelled good. Such sweet people.

They would stink to high heaven when their bus pulled into Oaxaca. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur.

 

 

MADE IN CHINA

FUCK YOU, CHINA! At first I got mad at the country of origin—there wasn’t any manufacturer’s label, just a price tag. “Fuck you, China, for your cheap consumer ‘goods!’” And: “Fuck me for being dumb enough to buy them!”

FUCK YOU, CHINA! At first I got mad at the country of origin—there wasn’t any manufacturer’s label, just a price tag. “Fuck you, China, for your cheap consumer ‘goods!’” And: “Fuck me for being dumb enough to buy them!”

 

In parched, sun-baked California, buyer beware

by Stacey Warde

I bought a cheap pair of plastic sunglasses, made in China, at the Cayucos Super Market several days ago, a purchase I’ve come to regret.

In less than a week, they broke. Of course.

The white “Made in China” small print along the inside of the temple piece began to wear off in less than two days.

The frame cracked the next day and by the fourth day the flimsy dark plastic eyepiece fell out.

Not my best purchase.

I bought them becuase the sun bears down hard lately, harder than feels normal this early in the season, mid-April, and summer still officially two months away.

Pollens and dust from swirling, drying winds fill the air. Clouds of tiny bugs drift across the dusty ranch road. They fly into my eyes whenever I drive the quad to get to the orchards I tend as a farmhand. It’s annoying as hell, and hazardous to boot.

Additionally, my eyes have been light sensitive, they hurt and they’ve been watering. When I put on scratched-up safety goggles or get sun screen in my eyes, I can hardly see sometimes. A new pair of sunglasses seemed essential.

I might have known better. Buyer beware.

***

It feels like summer already. It’s so damned bright, and hot. We’ve had above-normal temperatures for weeks now, and little of the precipitation this parched country so desperately needs. The governor has put restrictions on water, demanding reductions in residential use.

Farmers and corporations, apparently, are not subject to the same restrictions. Blame and finger-pointing have begun in earnest; last week, it was Nestle® who was most at fault, and this week, environmentalists are to blame for the historic drought.

The dust on dirt ranch roads kicks up much more easily now, and hangs in the air  longer, like a faded earthen curtain, blinding and choking, slowly drifting with the breeze, moisture and water obscured from sight and becoming more scarce.

Ticks and snakes have come out, predators and pests are more prevalent. The coyotes sneak closer to drink from the dwindling creek in front of my cabin. They nabbed a neighbor’s house cat recently.

I heard the shrill and sudden scream of the cat in its final desperate act of defiance. Wrong place, wrong time that night. Tooth and claw, foolish cat. The kill couldn’t have been very satisfying for the coyote. The cat was scrawny, no contender, and had snuck out of the house, where it was safe, and went down to the creek.

“That’s what they do,” a friend tells me of the coyotes, “they sit near the creek at night and wait for critters to come drink.”

The night cry spooked me. I thought a bobcat or young mountain lion had screamed. It pierced the night, fierce and defiant, even for a scrawny animal.

When I flashed my light across the creek, I saw the coyote chawing on the victim’s feline remains. I threw a rock at the prowler and it dashed off into the darkness with its prey.

My neighbor was grief-stricken. “She shouldn’t have gone out there,” she lamented. “She never had a chance.”

As water becomes more scarce, we’re likely to have more run-ins with  predators risking rocks, ranch rifles and shotguns to get their food and drink.

Some say the unusual brightness and intense sunlight are evidence of global warming, or of fallout from the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, or of a government conspiracy to spread mind- and weather-altering chemicals in the sky. Whatever it is, it’s rough on the eyes.

***

Barely two days after buying my new sunglasses, I noticed the flimsy dark plastic lens on the left side popping off the rim.

“Good thing I got these for eight dollars instead of the fifteen they wanted on the sticker price,” I thought.

I had plowed through the pastic-wrapped, toy-like sunglasses on a bottom shelf near the handkerchiefs and beach items and over-the-counter medicines, eager to find a protective cover for my eyes.

“Oh, these’ll be OK, only four dollars.” My eyes, tired from age, and watering from excessive light, wind and dust, missed a digit on the price tag. The nice lady at the cash register, seeing my difficulty, offered them to me at the cut rate of only $7.99 instead of $14.99.

I knew better the moment I touched those shitty, toy-variety sunglasses, that they were worthless, absolutely worthless, and I bought them any way.

At first I got mad at the country of origin—there wasn’t any manufacturer’s label, just a price tag. “Fuck you, China, for your cheap consumer ‘goods!’” And: “Fuck me for being dumb enough to buy them!”

***

I’m working in the avocado orchard today, tending 1,300 or so trees, irrigating, pumping thousands of gallons of water, installing injectors with their chemical magic to keep dying trees in production, cutting out deadwood, and pulling up suckers and sprouted seeds.

It’s unseasonably hot and dry again. I’ve put on my new sunglasses, and that helps against the intense brightness of the sun.

We’re one of the lucky few growers in California. We still have water. This season’s crop of avocados looks promising and we expect a favorable yield, so long as the water supply holds out.

Just over the hill, however, barely a mile or so distant, a friend who also farms avocados has already heard the gut-wrenching sound of gurgling from one of his pumps, indicating that his water source is running low.

“It hurts like hell,” he says, “to watch what you’ve worked so hard for just wilt away. But what are you going to do? You can’t fight mother nature.”

Some growers have begun trucking in water but that’s an expense few can afford.

The green from what little rain we got this season has begun to fade and turn shades of yellow and brown; drying grasses appear the way they usually do at the beginning of summer.

The rolling golden hills of California…are not such a pretty sight right now. It’s going to be a long, hot summer.

Trees have been cut down, stumped and painted white. Pests have turned up, attacking weakened trees and fruit, and will continue to be an issue as water turns more scarce.

The great California drought of the new millenium put a significant stamp on this county’s agriculture in 2014, according to the ag department, reducing yields of avocados. The drier weather was good for strawberries, though, which topped even grapes as the highest yielding crop in a region that prides itself on wine.

The wine industry, meanwhile, continues to suck up the lion’s share of North County’s water. How much more water can be squeezed out of the ground is anyone’s guess but when it does finally run out, we’ll have plenty of wine to drink.

The world-class desal plant in Cambria is a last resort as a home water source but some people still complain about and fight it, arguing they’ll pay more for their water rather than contribute to farming water from the ocean or brackish ponds. But how much will they pay when traditional water sources run out?

“This is bad, really bad,” people keep saying.

Nonetheless, even with water restrictions and hills turning brown, residential landscapes, the little slices of heaven we create to insulate ourselves from the cruel world, manage to stay green. As long as water continues to pour out of the taps, homeowners seem to think, what’s to worry about?

In the Central Valley, meanwhile, the nation’s breadbasket, some water-starved growers have shut down operations and unemployment among farmhands has skyrocketed.

***

One of the benefits of working out here is the lack of distractions from meddlesome and self-important boobs whose only apparent goal in life is to make money, or sell something, regardless of its value.

Not to say there’s anything wrong with making money or selling goods and services but some people I know—and avoid—think only of turning a buck, would sell you a bucketful of dogshit if they could, and tell you what a great value you’re getting.

I despise those people, the crafty, who lack integrity, whose only motivation is to make a fast buck, the hosers and posers, the merchants of cheap and worthless goods, whose only real interest in you is how much money they can get out of you. I avoid them whenever possible. They’re scum.

Then, there’s my farmer friend whose wells are going dry, whose one great joy in life is to put food on people’s tables. He takes pride in growing quality organic produce, and is glad to provide something of value, something that actually improves the quality of people’s lives.

If more people thought the way he did, we might not be subject to cheap imitations and bogus, worthless consumer goods, with which this culture, thanks largely to slave-labor countries like China, more than eager to supply them, seems to have overrun itself.

***

While eating lunch in front of Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Cayucos, friends of mine brought up the subject of U.S. indebtedness to China. [Disclosure: The smokehouse is a sponsor of The Rogue Voice.]

“What’s going to happen,” asks one, “when they finally decide to collect on their debt? Will the U.S. be able to pay? And, if not, what will China do, invade us?”

“I doubt it,” I say, “but if they do, the only thing that will save us will be places like this, places that haven’t succumbed to selling cheap and worthless goods.”

What drives this dependency on cheap goods? Low wages? A lackluster economy? The so-called recovery from the Crash of 2008, from which many still suffer, is being hailed as the “low-wage recovery,” meaning basically that jobs don’t pay enough for workers to survive.

There was a time when, perhaps a fool’s errand, I thought I could avoid buying anything made in China. That seems almost impossible now. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.