Tag Archives: small town

Obsolescence and doing business



by Stacey Warde

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

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 “Um, yeah, that machine is obsolete,” an Apple techie said recently when I asked for help with a fan that had gone bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did I just see what I think I saw?”

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

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

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

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

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

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


“You want blueberry, you tell me what is blueberry.”

“You want blueberry, you tell me what is blueberry.” Photo by Stacey Warde

by Isaac Levy

I’m trying not to be like most everybody else in this country since 9/11 and control myself when I feel like strangling this Arab who works at the gas station/store/deli/bakery on the corner downtown, just off the pier. At one time this establishment was owned by a greed-monger from New York City who was married to an even more aggressive greed-monger, who has moved out of the area after selling out to Arabs, who, if humanly possible, are hated even more than the greed-mongers from NYC, especially after they bought our only two liquor stores from long-standing white owners who were not hated or jacked up prices and fired all the long-established white townies who were barely competent yet at least pleasant and replaced them with morose, unsmiling, downright rude relatives from the homeland.

I don’t go to the liquor stores, but the blueberry muffins are so delicious and reasonably priced, I visit the bakery at the gas station mornings to purchase my lone muffin, which is about as much money as I want to contribute to these bloodsuckers, and especially the swarthy, lean-faced, surly young guy who works the register at the front counter from opening at 6 in the morning until closing at 9 in the evening. He’s usually on his cell phone conversing in Arabic, looking worried and solemn, and he’ll wait on you when he pleases without making eye contact or saying thank you, making a show of taking his time, appearing oblivious to the forming of a line of restless, impatient customers, many of whom need him to go behind the glassed-in counter across the room about 10 feet away to fetch muffins or donuts or croissants or pastries prepared in the wee hours along with breakfast burritos by a Mexican woman who seems exhausted but remains friendly and used to stay until 10 in the morning to wait on people and say thank you with a smile when we dropped change or a dollar into the glass jar with the TIPS sign on it.

But I guess the new owner, who comes in a couple times a day to empty the register for a deposit without looking at or saying anything to anybody, cut the Mexican woman’s hours and has no new landsman to help out his current standoffish uncommunicative relative.

Before the hated New Yorker sold the place he employed a local brother/sister act who baked and cooked and their pastries were voted best in the county in the county alternative paper but the Arabs kicked them out and replaced them with the Mexican. The Arab who works seven days a week does not like to come out from behind the counter and always expresses irritation with me I suppose because I never buy coffee or anything else but a lone muffin. He reluctantly goes behind the glass counter of gleaming goodies and stands there looking crucified, with a little open bag and asks which is the blueberry when I suspect he knows which is the blueberry and especially so since all I ever order is the blueberry muffin. “You have to know the blueberry,” he tells me.

“YOU have to know which one is the blueberry,” I tell him for the hundredth time. “They must be labeled and priced.”

He says, “What do you want?”

I remain polite because I try to see things from his perspective, a Muslim propagandized by voodoo gibberish and marooned in this rich country rife with hedonistic degenerates on every social level, obsessed with garish consumerism, kinky sex, narcissism, exhibitionism, reality programs full of obscenely wealthy women with fake boobs and bulbous lips and mousy husbands and tiny pampered dogs and empty-eyed offspring, repellant jingoism combined with money-sucking Christian TV evangelists and their chanting trance-like minions—an endless tapestry peopled by a diet-crazed fat farm of feeble, drug-addicted hypochondriacs complaining about free health care and Obama. Is there any end to it? So I can see why this wretch is disenchanted with us, but still, he’s taking our money with a sneer and nobody bothers to take that sneer off his face.

“I want a blueberry muffin,” I repeat, raising my voice.

A couple file in behind me. “I don’t know what is blueberry,” he insists, holding his bag. “You tell me blueberry.”

“How am I supposed to know blueberry when I don’t make them?”

His mouth narrows, his eyes flash. “You want blueberry, you tell me what is blueberry.”

A couple framers, in a hurry, dusty trucks running outside, walk in. “I don’t know which one is blueberry! Last time I came here you had me pick one out and it wasn’t blueberry, it was chocolate chip! I don’t want chocolate chip. I want blueberry. A couple days ago I was in here and you were stacking candy behind the counter. You made me wait six minutes while you very slowly finished, knowing I was waiting, and then you did me a big favor asking me what I wanted when you know I come in here at least five mornings a week for a blueberry muffin, and you act like I’m sending you to the fucking gas chamber when I ask you to go back there and get me a fucking blueberry muffin. Is that the way you treat people back home? Huh? Answer me!”

He throws up his hands in frustration, as if dealing with an impossibly stupid person, yet remains cool as a few people in coats and ties trickle in. “You want the blueberry? I don’t know what is the blueberry.” He points to the muffins, so neatly arranged. “You tell me what is the blueberry.”


A small, retired, white-haired lawyer who walks two Schnauzers and knows me by my dog, says, “Isaac, I’m not sure, but I think those ones in the third row are blueberry.”

“How can YOU tell?”

“Well, they look kind of purple on top.”

“Twice I picked up purple on top and they were chocolate chip.”

“I see your point.”

“Why doesn’t Mohammad here have labels?”

“My name is not Mohammad,” snaps the Arab, aggrieved.

“Fuck you, Mohammad, you piece of shit.”

Mohammad walks out from behind the glass counter and stands behind the register to take money for coffee from a framer. Several people are behind me, addicted to the delicious pastries facing us. My teeth are clacking. I walk over to a rack of chew and candy beside the register and pummel it, knocking items to the floor. “Why are you here, motherfucker? Everybody hates your guts.” I point a finger. “I’ve put up with you for a year now, because you have the best blueberry muffins in the county, even if they’re not as good as the ones before you wrecked this place, but as of now, I will never come in here and buy another motherfucking blueberry muffin, you sonofabitch, because half the time I get a chocolate muffin or an orange muffin, or a goddam raisin muffin, which I detest….”

The lawyer has me by the elbow. “Isaac…”

“I’m not finished yet.”

“Come on, Isaac, you’ve made your point.”

Mohammad goes back behind the glass to wait on trade. It’s early and none of these still half-asleep people want to be shocked at this hour, want only their muffins and pastries and coffee.

A woman says, “I’d like a lemon poppy muffin, please.”

“What is the lemon poppy?”

“You don’t know?” The lawyer and a few others try to help. Mohammad crosses his arms, appears bored. I walk out. I will now have to frequent the Coffee Den on the main drag, where the blueberry muffins fall apart in dry crumbs and don’t taste as good and cost more but at least everybody treats me like a prized citizen even if I don’t buy their coffee.

At night, when I walk my dog downtown, I will still see Mohammad standing outside by the pumps either smoking or on his l phone, and I will no longer feel sorry for him because he seems so alone and miserable in this country people risk their lives emigrating to. §

Isaac Levy is former Mossad and hates jihadists, not Muslims or Arabs. He lives alone in a small town where no one knows his real identity.

Crazy comes to Cayucos

And suddenly there I was left standing alone, the deputy off to who knows where, and the crazy guy raging pissed off at me.

And suddenly there I was left standing alone, the deputy off to who knows where, and the crazy guy raging pissed off at me. Photos by Stacey Warde

by Stacey Warde

We get our share of crazies passing through town. I met one not long ago at Kelley’s Coffee and Espresso Shop, not long before the place closed down. Right away he took a dislike to me—and to just about everyone who crossed his path.

The sheriff’s deputies had earlier informed window washers on the job across the street that they were looking for a scruffy fellow wearing a plaid jacket. Not an easy task in this town. There are a lot of scruffy guys wearing plaid jackets around here.

Apparently he had been spotted waving a stick in a threatening manner at the middle-school up the road, pretending he had a gun.

As one window washer, who had come in for his coffee, described the character, a man, a stranger fitting the description, passed by the window of the coffee shop. “That’s him!” the window washer exclaimed. “That’s him! Should I call the cops?”

“You bet!” I responded just as a squad car drove by the intersection. I rushed out the door and flagged down the squad car.

The deputy turned the car and came back. He rolled down his window. “That’s your guy right there isn’t it?” I nodded.

“Yeah,” the deputy said, offering a look of irritation. He rolled up his window and drove away.

And suddenly there I was left standing alone, the deputy off to who knows where, and the crazy guy raging pissed off at me.

In this climate of gun crazies blowing children to smithereens I figured that I was doing the right thing. “Here’s your man, the one who was waving his hand like he had a gun at the school yard.”

“You got something to say about me, you say it to my face,” the stranger said.

“OK,” I answered, “apparently the cops are looking for a guy whose description you fit to a T, a guy who was seen menacing the children, like he had a gun up at the school.”

“Say gun again and you’ll be sorry,” he threatened.

“The police said ‘gun,’ not me.”

He stared at me menacingly. “Stare into my eyes!”

I snorted a smirk, trying not to laugh.

COMMENT.CRAZY.IMG_4055“I thought so,” he said, as if he’d judged me an easy target, a weakling. Then he followed me to Kelley’s. We sat out front at one of the tables.

I didn’t want him to feel threatened or challenged or bothering the other customers. I kept watching for the deputies to pull up any moment.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

He stared me down again, said he was from Oklahoma, asked me if I’d ever seen the bloody Arkansas River.

“No,” I answered. “How did it get bloody?”

“From people I took care of.”

“Are you telling me you’re a killer?”

“Just keep pushing me,” he threatened.

Where are the damned deputies? I kept wondering.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

No answer.

“What’s your name?”

He got up and walked away, rattled. Clearly he was insane and maybe even a buffoon but I didn’t know that. From our brief encounter, I deemed him a threat to me and to the community. Even faking waving a gun at children warrants a response.  Apparently, the deputies thought otherwise, despite what they had told the window washers.

I went inside the coffee shop and moments later he came back and sat outside the window facing me, staring at me, giving me the Jedi mind control treatment, disturbing other customers.

I can take care of myself but I didn’t feel like getting into a scrape with him. I just wanted to finish drinking my coffee, reading the newspaper, unmolested by someone who belongs in an institution.

I felt annoyed and threatened. He caused concern among customers and staff. He reportedly made threatening gestures at the school. “He gives me the creeps,” an employee said.

Meanwhile, despite word from the deputies that he had threatened students at the school, he continued to roam free.

Finally, after nearly 30 minutes of staring me down through the window, he came in to borrow the shop phone, saying he had been robbed.

“Sorry, the phone is out of order,” a staffer said.

He went outside and got hold of a cellphone from one of the cyclists who stop in for coffee treats on their road trips up and down Highway 1, the same road that brings the crazies through town.

He called the sheriff’s office on the borrowed phone to report that someone had swiped a Rabobank pen, a freebie the bank gives its customers, from his jacket pocket. The deputies investigated, determined it was a false report and hauled him off to jail.

An arresting deputy said, “Mental health is the problem in this country, not guns. We’ll take him in, have him evaluated.”

The next day, the stranger was back, mad as ever and still raging and threatening.

He pretended again as if he had a gun, this time holding his hand behind his back, while confronting Kelley, owner of the coffee shop. She called the deputies and made a citizen’s arrest.

As the deputy pulled away, the nutter in the back seat threw his head in a jerking motion, lips pursed, as if he was spitting on me and Kelley through the shop window.

He’ll likely be back. Then what? And what about the deputy who left me standing there to confront someone who had been reported seen menacing the children?

I felt exposed and vulnerable, not protected by the deputy’s response to my willingness to help. Later when I mentioned it to another deputy, he seemed perturbed, didn’t want to discuss it.

“We’re too busy,” he said. “I wasn’t here yesterday. I’m here getting the story.”

“I’m part of the story,” I said. He gave me a look, irritated.

“Why is that guy back here?” I persisted. “I thought he was going to be evaluated.” The deputy was clearly more irritated than interested in my questions or my side of the story.

Law enforcement’s response to my willingness to help did little to assure me that they’ve got my back. I felt exposed, unsafe and unprotected by lending my hand to the deputy.

The next time law enforcement seeks my support, I’ll think twice, wondering if the deputy’s action will leave me exposed to threats and danger from those they seek. §

Stacey Warde is the publisher and editor of The Rogue Voice. This article first appeared at his blog, Rogue’s View.

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.