Tag Archives: paradise

Searching for home

from the publisher.weekend!1

CAYUCOS COWGIRLS—If you ever have doubts, as we sometimes do, that we live in paradise, you just gotta know where to look, as these ladies discovered recently on an outing not far from home. Featured: Yakelin Pizano, Emelyn Reyes, Liz Herrera, Jessika Lee, and Betsy Ball. Photo courtesy of Betsy Ball

by Stacey Warde

My whole life has been a search for belonging, finding a place to call “home.”

The closest I’ve come to feeling this way is here in this peculiar beachside throwback of a community called Cayucos, a throwback to sparsely populated seaside villages along California’s rugged, magnificent coastline, a throwback to my earliest childhood memories of Laguna Beach, where my great-grandfather, Joseph Smith Thurston, and his Morman family found a homestead, settling in Aliso Canyon in 1871, before there was water, before there were multi-million dollar palaces on beachfront property that once cost $25 a lot, Old Laguna, which my cousin, Kelly Boyd, a two-time mayor there, likes to remind us, “doesn’t exist any more.”

Cayucos, when I moved here nearly 30 years ago, reminded me of Laguna Beach, a seaside hamlet tucked among the hills rising above the ocean, safe from development and money grubbers and golden boys in hot cars, at least for a while. The people here, ranchers, surfers, loners and drifters, were friendly and regular. Houses were of reasonable size and most had gardens where it was easy to strike up conversations with the neighbors.

The quaint little beach cottages have mostly succumbed to the bulldozer to make way for grotesque stucco monstrosities with little thought to impact or design, their form artless and dull, much like their owners. There are a few exceptions but the rule for development here the last three decades appears only to have been “make it ugly, make it fast and make it big.”

Gone are the gardens with fruit trees and flowers, and friendly neighbors, who actually talked to one another from their yards. Most of the homes that have been built here in the last 30 years don’t have yards. They’re all house. Ugly boxes with tinted windows, where conversation can easily be avoided, and the world, the place we call paradise, can be shut out.

To put a spin on cousin Kelly’s comment, “It’s not Old Cayucos any more.” Yet, while much has changed here, it still feels like home, even if it’s not exactly paradise.

I’ve realized over the years, however, that home is more than a place, more than what we might like to call “paradise”; it’s really what we bring to our living spaces and the ground we keep, as well as the company we keep; it’s where we feel most safe to be our selves, whole and fractured—all of it—and rest, if even for only a moment, from the the world’s troubles, of which there are plenty.

You don’t have to turn on the TV to witness another Islamic State beheading to know “the world’s a mess” right now, as so many people have said to me recently.

All you have to do is make an appearance at the local watering hole to know that there are plenty of messy situations right here at home: Addictions, feuds, excessive drug use, overdoses, suicides, and the occasional racist comment. Addictions and feuds seem reasonable; drug use and overdoses, indulgent; suicide, pardonable; but racism, why?  All it does is prove how mean you are, not intelligent or reasonable.

Author Dell Franklin, in his recent powerful account of confronting a local young man for revealing his ignorance about blacks, Obama and the “N” Word, reminds us that we gain much by setting aside our prejudices in the interest of pursuing a common goal, of learning from someone with a different value system or experience or skin color. We’re all in the same boat—as Dell was when he signed on as the only white crew member on the Delta Queen—and we really do need to learn how to get along.

We’ve ripped on the notion, commonplace in this town, that we live in paradise, among the bigots who like to say bad things about blacks and Mexicans, and the intolerant who throw newspapers and magazines in the trash because they don’t like what’s in them, but we do an injustice to our fair haven by not recognizing the elements that really do make this paradise, and there are plenty of them.

You just have to know where to look, like the women in the photo at the top of this page who have found their little weekend slice of heaven during a recent outing somewhere in the hills not far from our town. What more do you need than a place to park above the ocean with guns and beer and a thirst for adventure? We like to be reminded of what really does make this paradise. Thank you, ladies, for showing us the way. Oh, and the gal with the gun, I don’t believe her name really is Jessika Lee with a “K,” but what do I know?

IMG_7383Meanwhile, Hoppe’s restaurant and the little bistro in back of the Way Station mysteriously shut down recently, putting a dozen or so employees out of work and leaving the town without the world-class fare we’d grown to expect.

Way Station owners Henry and Mary Ellen Eisemann lamented the situation by posting a note on the door that informs potential patrons that for the first time in 41 years they will not have a restaurant at the location, at least until they can find a “suitable operator.”

It goes along with what I’ve said earlier, things change, even the place we call home. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.com


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

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

by Stacey Warde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Stacey Warde

Photos by Stacey Warde

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

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

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

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

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

dangling between the
pile ons like a shadow

above the ocean where
the pigeons leave their droppings.

Did you hear the lady
from Fresno who, after

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.

Small town gossip in paradise

did you hear?

photo by Stacey Warde

Did you hear
about the girl who gave a blow job,

a one-night hookup, in the restaurant bathroom
downtown, and now the guy’s girlfriend

refuses to enter the coffee shop next door,
or even look that way,

where the little whore works
on the weekends?

Did you hear
about the cute waitress who did a porno,

which would have been ok
(because everyone does it now)

if she hadn’t done it
with that slacker

who sits in front of the liquor store
and smokes cigarettes all day?

Did you hear
about the lonely single mom, a “nooner,”

who likes to go
home and fuck for lunch?

(If you’re not doing
anything around noon time

you might get lucky.)

Did you hear
about that loser who got high on marijuana

and cough syrup and killed his grandmother
(accidentally, he said)

stuffed her body
into a suitcase and threw her

off a cliff in Big Sur?

Did you hear that
before they arrested him he got on

the school bus
to pass out flyers to the children

to help him find his missing grandma?

Did you hear
about that crazy old joe

who answered the door
with stick pretzels hanging from his nose

when the cops came knocking?

Did you hear about the clown,
loose in the head they say,

who got his revenge
by rubbing his manhood, balls and all,

over the glass door of the corner
wine bistro on its busiest night?

He gave quite a show
“swabbin’ it real good,” they say.

Did you hear about the martial
arts world champion

who got pummeled by
a bunch of drunk cowboys?

How his girlfriend got whacked
on the head with a cowgirl’s purse?

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

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

dangling between the
pile ons like a shadow

above the ocean where
the pigeons leave their droppings.

Did you hear the lady
from Fresno who, after

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

—Ibrahim Ahmed

Steinbeck Country: the 21st Century

steinbeck country

by Stacey Warde

I met a longtime resident at the local bar recently who challenged me on just about everything from the moment I walked in.

“You live around here?”

Sure, I said. He introduced me to his wife of 40-plus years, a beauty, stately and queenly.

He told me she’s from a long line of settlers who moved here in the 19th century. She smiled at me, like a queen.

“I’ve met you before,” I told her. “I never forget a face.” And I don’t. I forget names but not faces.

“I don’t think so,” she responded. I grabbed a beer from the bar and sat down beside the couple. The old man gave me a smug up and down. He snorted. The wife sat beaming.

“You met her in here?” he challenged.

Sure, I said. I turned to the wife and told her that I’d seen her in here with another longtime resident that we both knew. The light in her face softened and she remembered coming but not meeting me.

She softened even more when I told her that my family had settled as homesteaders in Laguna Beach around the same time that her family settled here.

“Your family homesteaded?” the old man asked.

Sure, I said. There’s a junior high school in Laguna named after my great-grandmother. I come from a family educators, I told him.

He couldn’t believe it. His wife warmed to me. He turned into a jerk.

“What’s your family name?”

Thurston, I said. It was my great-grandfather’s name. He came by wagon from Utah as a little boy. They were Mormons.

He looked down his nose. “You a Mormon?”

I laughed and he backed off a little.

“You own a house here?”

Well, no, I said.

“What do you do?”

I informed him that I work on a farm and he wanted to know what I did there and did I own a gun?

“You don’t own a gun?”

Well, no, I don’t feel the need for a gun. When I need a gun I’ll get a gun, I told him. I was starting to get irked and so was his wife.

He told me he drove a squad car as a volunteer sheriff’s deputy, liked to shoot his guns and was a member of the American Legion.

“Were you ever in the military?” he asked.

Sure, I said. He wanted to know what branch and I told him that I’d served in the army at Ft. Lewis, Washington, with the second Ranger battalion just after the Vietnam War. Jimmy Carter was president then, the only modern U.S. commander-in-chief who didn’t send his troops into war, I told him.

He snorted. “You a liberal?”

I’m what you a call a liberal libertarian. I tried not to let him pigeonhole me. He seemed perturbed, unable to finger me.

“You were a Ranger?” he said, almost sneering. He was so incredulous that he asked the question five times throughout the remainder of our conversation.

By now it was clear that he’d filled up on too much drink. His true colors came out and he wanted to know where were the blacks when there’s work to do?

And, who’s always first in line for handouts?

“You work with the blacks while you were in the army?”

Sure, I said. I knew where he was going with his drunken questions. I didn’t want to get into another ignorant conversation about racial stereotypes.

Sadly, he’s not the only longtime resident in this area whose family connections go back generations, and who doesn’t seem troubled speaking badly of blacks or Mexicans or liberals.

It’s small town California here, I realize, Steinbeck country, where race relations and welcome committees for the poor once were made through goon squads and hired guns.

Apparently, that smallness of mind since Steinbeck’s time hasn’t gone away. It lingers, and not just among the drunks but among ranchers, land and property owners too, and conservatives who balk at any liberal idea.

A farmer I know here once railed against entitlements for the poor and especially illegal immigrants who were ruining this country. I found out later that he’d received nearly $150,000 in farm subsidies over the years.

I wonder sometimes how people like that can sleep at night.

“Get this man another beer!” the old man waved at the bartender.

No, that’s OK, I said. I’ll drink water.

“You’re going to turn down a beer?” He looked at me as if I was a girly man.

No, I said, and thanked him for the beer. I learned from civil rights activist and Baptist preacher Will Campbell many years ago that it doesn’t do any good to make enemies of your enemy.

I lifted my beer, a Guinness, and took a long pull.

“You were a Ranger?” §

Stacey Warde works as a farmhand in the small central coastal California town of Cayucos, gateway to Big Sur and all points John Steinbeck country. This article first appeared in CounterPunch online.