Yours sincerely, pruning away

Yours sincerely, pruning away

 

My new nose-hair trimmer has arrived.

Yes, let the shame begin.

For some reason, over the past year or so I’ve convinced myself that among the many unpleasantries of aging is the sudden growth of a miniature forest in one’s nostrils. I swear I can now see hairs growing out of my nose in full force, and I worry that I’ve unknowingly sported them for many years. But Julie insists that she has yet to see a hair descending from either of my nostrils.

Maybe they’re a complete figment of my imagination. Or maybe the only way another person could spot the hairs would be to come within an inch of my face and peer at an upward angle directly into my nose – as I do when I nervously check the mirror every morning.

Still, my resolve to vanquish the hairs has persisted. It took many months, but eventually I screwed up the courage to do some major research on nose hair trimmers. After all, I’d always assumed that this was “a guy thing” – like ear hair, which, thankfully, I have yet to claim.

Anyway, I clandestinely made my purchase (no one needed to know, really), settling on the ConairMan NE150NSCS Cordless Nose and Ear Hair Trimmer. The “ConairMAN” model name only increased my humiliation. But I overlooked that. I like Conair hair dryers, so I figured they know what they’re doing over there.

***

Let me digress for a moment with a somewhat-related story. Back around 1988, I read a “Dear Abby” or “Ask Ann Landers” letter from a mother of a minor-league baseball player. (Or maybe he was in college – I can’t remember and I’ve looked fruitlessly for this old column online.) This woman said that while her son and his teammates sat on the dugout bench, to pass the time they would reach over and pull out each other’s nose hairs. She was concerned about this practice because she had heard that it could kill you. I’m not sure why this was an etiquette question, although I suppose it certainly could be considered rude to indiscriminately yank out someone else’s bodily hairs. Anyway, either Abby or Ann did some calling around and found out that, indeed, pulling out one’s nose hairs could be truly dangerous, potentially leading to infections like meningitis.

This particular column has really stuck with me. First of all, since then I’ve been terrified of absent-mindedly pulling out one of my nose hairs and then dying a few weeks later of a raging brain infection. But I also continue to find it hard to fathom that men would sit around and entertain themselves by pulling out nostril hairs. Not to mention how adept and precise one would have to be to expertly clamp one’s fingers around another person’s solitary nose hair!

***

I have to admit that, a time or two, I’ve disregarded the advice column and recklessly pulled out a nose hair via tweezers. But then recently I decided to research whether tweezers were at least safer than a ballplayer’s unsanitary fingers. Not really. It turns out that no less of an icon than Dr. Mehmet Oz has warned about meddling around in that area of the face he calls “the triangle of death.” Using tweezers in and around the nose apparently can cause infections that might travel to your brain and lead to a hideous condition called “cavernous sinus thrombosis,” which is in many cases fatal.

Yikes. It was time to try out the trimmer.

I was quite nervous and scared about turning that thing on for the first time, fearing that I would slice the insides of my nostrils to ribbons. After all, the way it works is that the batteries power a bunch of tiny blades that spin around and carve off the hairs. The instructions were that the user should stick the trimmer in NO MORE THAN 1/4” (this seemed to be very important, and it struck the fear of God in me) and then move it around in circles. I tried this many times and just couldn’t see or feel any results. It could be that I didn’t have a nose hair problem in the first place. But I couldn’t be sure. I felt unsettled.

So I did what any tech-savvy retiree does these days: I turned to YouTube.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a number of YouTube videos address the proper way to use a nose hair trimmer. I was drawn to one young man in particular because he was very handsome, had an accent that seemed to be a cross between Wisconsonian and Middle Eastern, and spoke in an incredibly precise and earnest way. So I decided to give his video a try. And I’m glad I did, because I learned two important things from his demonstration:

  1. I need to be much better about measurements. It turns out that I had completely miscalculated what 1/4 of an inch is. Perhaps out of an abundance of fear, I probably put the trimmer only about 1/50th of an inch up my nose. That just ain’t going to do anything.
  1. “Moving it around in circles” means moving the trimmer all around the inside walls of your nostril. It does not mean putting it in one position and twirling it like a top, which is what I was doing.

This was such crucial information!

Amusingly, the fellow in the video took great pains to tell his viewers that he would have no need to show us how to use the trimmer in the left nostril after he’d already given us the instructions for the right. This made sense. “I only showed you how to trim one of my nostrils, because the process for trimming the hairs inside of the other nostril is identical,” he says, very deliberately. “Obviously I would be doing the exact same thing with the other nostril, but you don’t need to see it again.”

True. I don’t.

Nevertheless, I could watch this guy for days. He’s just so darned cute and caring!

***

Okay, that was settled. The video couldn’t have been more clear. Sure enough, when I tried it again, the trimmer snapped and crackled and made a lot of noises, so apparently it was doing its job inside my nose. It gave me a sense of satisfaction, and I prided myself on my good grooming.

I did, however, slather Neosporin all around the insides of both nostrils when I was done. You just can’t be too careful about cavernous sinus thrombosis.

the end

 

 

***

Due to popular demand, I am including, at the end of each blog post, the latest random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1970 and 1987.

7/21/72 [age 16]:

“We happened to drive by a recent accident on Piedmont Road a few days ago and it scared me a little. Dad called later and told us that Mark Teresi had been killed and I am still wondering about death. I believe that death comes upon perfection of this level. Essentially, we have the potential to be perfect beings; we are but a perfect mind (or soul – I am not yet certain what the mind or the soul are, or if they are one and the same) clothed in physical bodies. When we manifest that potential perfection, we no longer need our bodies to exist in the next conscious level. At the funeral mass today Father Prindeville’s sermon said that God took Mark because He wanted him for Himself – because he had proven himself in this life. That MUST be right. I hope I am not coming close to perfection! I’m afraid. In fact, a few weeks ago I told [my sister] Janine I thought I’d die in two years. But now I realize how far from perfect I am.”

7/20/72 [age 16]:

“Today was Jeanne’s last day at home for a month, so I rode down to her house and together we rode to Barb’s vegetable stand (which was a mistake, because the roads were too dangerous). On the way back, both of my tires went flat in San Ysidro. Upon returning, I was exhausted but I knew she wanted one last tennis match, so we did. (Me, 6-4, 7-5.) At 6:15 we walked back to her house and had pizza for dinner. I didn’t realize that that was all we were having! I had only three pieces, thinking it was merely an appetizer!”

7/23/72 [age 16]:

“For some very strange reason, I have been proclaiming to the walls, ‘I love you’ lately. Yes, just walking into my room, smiling, and shouting out the phrase. Now, I am surely going crazy. The love in my heart grows by leaps and bounds, and I don’t know for whom. Perhaps, it is for humanity in general. The world is beautiful when you love. Last night, [my neighbor] Ted . . . and I went to see [the spaghetti western film] ‘Duck, You Sucker’ and I loved it. But Ted, he BEGGED me to come and he’s so nice and I love him, brotherly, but I don’t know how to express it.”

 

 

 

A long, strange trip

A long, strange trip

 

Dear readers, my writing has been stuck lately. I know that my next blog needs to be – no, is going to be – about my great love for San Francisco. But I can’t seem to do the topic justice and I’ve been mentally flogging myself about it for weeks. Basically, I suck and I stink. So I’ve decided to put the grand opus away for a while and concentrate instead on a little ditty about the zaniest commute day I ever had.

***

It was the winter of 1979, in the waning days of the old green San Francisco streetcars. Fresh out of college, I’d just taken a job at Harper & Row Publishers down on the Embarcadero. Every evening after work I’d catch the 42 bus out near the railroad tracks across from Pier 23, get off at the former Transbay Terminal, and take the N-Judah streetcar outbound to my apartment in the Inner Sunset. The trip was never a short one, and it was rarely without incident. But on this December night in particular, what a long strange trip it was.

In those days, the 42-bus driver had a number of quirks. Most annoyingly, he whistled – continually – “As Time Goes By,” the lovely tune that Sam sings in Casablanca. The problem was that he whistled the first three lines and then stopped, without ever getting to the resolving line. Sans lyrics, what we heard was:

You must remember this:
A kiss is still a kiss.
A sigh is just a sigh . . . .

And then nothing. Crickets. A few seconds later he started over. It drove me absolutely mad.

The fundamental things apply!” I wanted to scream at him. “As time goes by, you irksome twit! Stop persecuting me!”

This guy also had the well-deserved reputation for driving, well, a tad rapidly. But breakneck speed was really the lesser of his foibles. What was worse was his habit of trying to stop on a dime at every corner, throwing his passengers into a severe panic and into the aisles.

On that particular day I was wearing my platform shoes for the first time ever, no easy challenge for feet accustomed to years of sneakers. I twisted my ankle about 742 times that day. It was in a most crippled state, then, that I hobbled tentatively onto the bus and, unable to find a seat, grabbed the pole directly in front of the sideways seats up front. Big mistake. The driver took off like a madman. I clutched the pole in fear of my life at the first two corners but lost my balance at the third. In a dizzying display of clumsiness I spun 180 degrees around the pole and tumbled backwards across the laps of three teenage boys. They were polite (albeit stunned), but I was mortified – so mortified, in fact, that I became confused, lost my composure, and simply got off the bus then and there.

I made the long walk up Battery Street and across Market to the Transbay Terminal in about half an hour, record time considering that I fell off my shoes every 50 feet. The usual throngs of people were waiting at the streetcar turnaround, and I planted myself in the exact spot where I’d calculated that the doors would open when the N-Judah pulled up. That way, I’d be strategically positioned to shove my way through the front doors and do a swan dive into an empty seat.

But then came disaster. Rain. The old streetcars’ nemesis. For some reason – perhaps wet tracks? – the entire system would often become disabled by the mere suggestion of water. Those stubborn, breakdown-prone streetcars would simply refuse to move in inclement weather. They’d back up along Market Street, about 25 of ’em, and hundreds of pathetic commuters would be stranded. The Municipal Railway (Muni) would then send out its regular buses, after an interminable wait, and because the buses couldn’t go through the Duboce tunnel, they would discharge the hapless commuters at the Van Ness stop to wait again. I’m not sure what good that did at all.

Sure enough, the buses arrived about an hour later and deposited us at Van Ness. By then the system had gotten started again, though, so the next 12 streetcars that came by passed us without slowing down, crammed to the hilt with people they’d picked up all along Market.

After I finally made it onto an N-Judah streetcar with a few inches of available room, and as we were plodding our way through the tunnel, the alarm bells suddenly screamed and we slammed to a halt.

“All right, is someone stuck in the doors or are you just playing around?” our driver yelled, infuriated. “Someone better answer me” (then a pause) “or we’re not moving at all! Is someone stuck in the goddam doors?”

“No,” came the meek response from all of us standing jammed and exhausted in the car. I myself was immobilized with depression at the thought of “not moving at all.”

“You get paid enough!” came one passenger’s rather puzzling retort.

“I don’t get paid enough to take your abuse!”

“Well, turn the heat off then!” (Another frustration-induced non sequitur.)

“The heat’s not on!” yelled the driver. He tried to re-start the streetcar but it wouldn’t budge. “Thanks a lot, buddy!” he shouted at the argumentative passenger, whom he apparently blamed for his constant mechanical trials and never-ending series of breakdowns.

Someone standing behind me told everyone that it had happened to him once, getting stuck in the tunnel. “What a horrible feeling,” he droned, “watching the headlight from another streetcar rush up on you from behind and thinking, ‘We’re gonna be hit. . . . We’re gonna be hit . . . . We’re gonna be hit . . . .’ ”

In unison, everyone anxiously whipped around to size up the situation behind us.

Meanwhile, the driver got out and worked on the door, along with a bunch of Muni men from all the other streetcars who were now stopped as far as the eye could see in both directions.

At one point something fell on the tracks, maybe a huge piece of metal, and it clanged and echoed in the dark.

“What was that?” someone asked, and a droll commuter in the back cracked, “Maybe one of the driver’s eyelashes fell out.”

Once the door was finally fixed they still couldn’t get the car going, so another streetcar came up on the tracks behind us to push us in traditional Muni fashion – by slamming mercilessly into our rear. Wham! (we’d lurch a foot). Whack! (another foot).

Unbelievably enough, when we emerged from the tunnel and the streetcar gained power again and it seemed that we would all get home after all, the back doors suddenly started banging open and closed repeatedly, rapid-fire, as if possessed. The streetcar couldn’t move, of course. We all groaned.

I’d gotten off work three hours earlier and still hadn’t made the 5 miles home across town yet. People all over the city were getting ready for bed and I was still stuck on the N-Judah. I eased my way resignedly towards the front and got out into the chilly December night. And walked home.

the end

 

***

Due to popular demand, I am including, at the end of each blog post, the latest random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1970 and 1987.

4/23/72 [age 16]:

“God, give us peace here, not simply the superficial absence of war, but genuine unequivocable [sic] harmony and unity. Give Ireland back to the Irish and Vietnam back to the Vietnamese. Let Cubans and Russians and East Germans have their freedom, and, in turn, let Americans come to know and appreciate what freedom is (as yet they do not). Free us from environmental pollution and the curse of overpopulation. Is it possible that the starving can have food, and the naked can have clothes, and the homeless can have shelter? Deprive me – I am too well off for my own good.

“Let the unemployed find work, if they so deserve. Give strength to victims of mental disease and fatal illnesses, like cancer and leukemia, and physical handicaps, and to those who love them. Help the unfortunate victims of broken homes. Let the blind see and the deaf hear and the dumb speak and the lame walk and the ignorant be made wise. Comfort the broken-hearted; they, too, suffer. Enlighten students to the values of education (I know without it I would be totally lost). Let the young take care of the old, and the old appreciate the young. Restore to the populace a real sense of moral value. Keep good people as they are, and convert the bad to good. Let the innocent be safe from the guilty.

“Bless my relatives and friends. Give [my younger sister] Janine the ability to withstand my persecutions, release the clutches of hay fever from [my brother] Marc, help Mom stop smoking, and get that stupid job off Dad’s back. Ease Grampy’s asthma, let Nonna at least remember who she is, and help Auntie Jackie lose weight so she is not so fat.

“And for me – may the coming of college be a ‘finding’ and not a ‘losing,’ may I retain my mental and physical health, and perhaps (can I ask this?) may I gain a little bit of common sense and knowhow? Let me accomplish something while I am here.”

4/19/72 [age 16]: [Ed.’s note: Even after the girls were finally allowed to wear pants at our high school during our senior year, my parents didn’t allow me to wear them except, I think, during finals week. And maybe on FridaysI can’t remember.]

“On our field trip to San Francisco today, Jeanne and I changed our clothes twice in the course of the day. I snuck a pair of Levi’s out of the house around [my brother] Marc’s waist. When we got to school we rushed to the restroom to change into our Levi’s and barely made it to the bus on time. We ran the 150 in 10 seconds. In SF we went to Golden Gate Park and just sat down on a grassy hill and ate our lunches. Soon we had only 20 minutes left and we still had to change into our dresses [for a play we were about to see]. We were looking for a restroom but they charge admission to get in the museum, we found out. Some guy said the restrooms were way over there behind the pillars. We had four minutes left before the bus took off so we sped over there, changed, in a flash, and sped back. Embarrassment. Everyone was on the bus already. Then we went to the play, ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.’ It was well-done, but BORING. I almost fell asleep. Finally, the play ended at 4:35. Joe Turner and Mark Anhier had cut out of the play and weren’t there. Mr. Vierra went on a wild goose chase with the police all over Golden Gate Park but didn’t find them. They eventually got suspended. Anyway, eventually I came home in my dress with no idea how I was going to sneak my Levi’s back into the house. Jeanne said she’d hold them for me and I could smuggle them home with my gym clothes Friday. However, Thursday was Mom’s washing day, and noting the missing pants, she figured the whole thing out.”

4/24/72 [age 16]:

“Joe – as you know, he’s my lab partner in Physiology. (I can’t stand Physiology right now; we’re cutting up the stupid mink and I’ll never be able to memorize all those muscles.) He got suspended Thursday. He’s always talking to me in English. On the bus going to that memorable field trip Jeanne told me she thought he liked me. Would I go to the Senior Ball if he asked me? Ha, I’m sure Mom and Dad would never let me go with that ‘hood.’ ”

4/26/72 [age 16]:

“I MUST relate my bike-riding experiences! First I went to Jeanne’s at 10:15 (my chain slipped off once and my hands got all black; her mother sprayed some stuff on them to take the grease off). She had to take her little brother to Eastridge to pick up a friend, so I drove with her out there. (She’s a good driver – nice and smooth.) Then we came back and her mother wanted her to go water some garden at Noble School, so we bike rode over there and we played tetherball for awhile. Then we rode to the library and then down to the drugstore because I had to pick up some prints. I wanted to eat, but Jeanne wasn’t hungry, so since she wanted to go the Flea Market and had never been there, we went. I wanted to eat there, but she STILL was not hungry. Then we rode back to Jeanne’s to eat lunch; I called home, and Jeanne discovered she had lost her mom’s keys at Noble. So we drove back over there, looked, walked to the library, looked, drove to the drugstore and looked, but they were nowhere to be found. This was after we ate lunch of hot dogs and potato chips and cupcakes and Oreos. We rode back and she suggested we play tennis (I swear, she is a tennis fanatic) and I won, as usual. (It’s just my consistency; she is a better player.) Then she drove me and the bike home. Don’t we do thrilling things?”

5/1/72 [age 16]:

“Jeanne and I had pizza and chicken TV dinners for dinner. Afterwards I sat on the couch and she sat on the steps and played my guitar. (She’s darn good, too.) Then we established the fact that neither of us is arrogant.”

5/8/72 [age 16]:

“Today Nixon made a critical speech about how we were going to back off North Vietnam ports and then withdraw only when they release our American POWs, etc. I don’t know what will come of all this. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be atom-bombed.”

5/18/72 [age 16]:

“I went to the CSF Life Membership Ceremony tonight. They read our names and we had to walk up on stage (I was so afraid I was going to trip) and Mr. Bailey named our college and our major. That was embarrassing – everyone thinks Law Enforcement is so wierd [sic]. Then (I’m such a klutz) the people to the right of me would move down and I’d stand there oblivious, with a big space between us until the girl on my left nudged me. I did that THREE TIMES!! Good grief. How dumb.”

5/23/72 [age 16]:

“Last night I got a really cute blue bodyshirt. It’s not really too tight, but I like it. It makes me look more feminine. I’m changing. I always hated more feminine styles but I’m coming to like them more and more. A new image is what I need; I wish I had done it sooner. I can’t go on being a tomboy forever.”

5/26/72 [age 16]:

“Today was Senior Picnic. Well, Jeanne and Robin and I didn’t want to go. So we got this wild idea to stay in Mr. Healy’s room and we brought food like gobs and we played Risk and talked. Everyone thinks we’re wierd [sic]. We are. I had potato chips and onion dip and a tuna sandwich and an egg salad sandwich and a deviled egg and two chicken legs and about twenty cookies and a big piece of cake.”

 

 

 

Devil with the blue dress

Devil with the blue dress

This, my friends, is just a quick little tale about the one and only time I rented an “adult movie” – an effort that, as per my usual bumbling ways, ended disastrously.

I’d had only a couple of encounters with off-color films, and they’d been innocent enough. When we were teenagers, my brother and I and a couple of our friends snuck into a drive-in to see a movie called Please Don’t Eat My Mother. I know what you’re thinking, but it turned out to be a tame little flick that didn’t even live up to its salacious name. As I recall, it was a comedy about a strangely sexy carnivorous houseplant. And although there was some nudity, I don’t remember any hanky-panky involved. Or maybe I just didn’t understand what I was seeing. Unfortunately, we were busted when my mother found the ticket stub in my brother’s pants pocket. Dang! We should have done our own laundry!

Later, when I was a resident at San Francisco State and chair of the dorm film program, a couple of good-looking, charming fellow movie buffs coaxed me into giving them a private showing of one of the 16mm prints I’d rented for the film program from a major Los Angeles distributor. (It was an Italian neorealist movie called The Bicycle Thief.) The guys noted that the movie was preceded by trailers (previews), including one for Fellini’s Amarcord. I locked up the print when we were done, but using some subterfuge that I never figured out, they later snuck into the A/V room, took the film to their room, cut out their favorite trailers, inserted some choice pornography, and returned the altered print to its shelf. I innocently sent the film back to the distribution house, at which point all hell broke loose and eventually the FBI got involved. A couple of federal agents came to the dorm to interview our dorm advisor and me. By then I’d told the advisor about my suspicions (this means you, Kevin Henry!), and he believed me from the get-go. The FBI guys seemed to believe me, too, because the nervous young dupe girl sitting in the hot seat did not appear to be an Amarcord-slicing, porn-inserting swindler. I was off the hook, and I don’t know what became of the investigation. (Are you still out there free as a bird, Kevin Henry?)

The incident at hand, however, happened in the early 1990s when I decided to rent a steamy little video that I will call, for the purposes of this tale, Lex Baldwin and His Peccadilloes. Lex Baldwin was the real-life leading man, and his co-stars were an assortment of men and women, all involved in a variety of scenarios in every conceivable configuration. The film had been recommended to me by my hairdresser. (I have no idea how on earth we came to have that conversation.)

In those days, of course, there was no streaming video and there were no DVDs. We had to rent videotapes from the Blockbuster chain or a local video store, watch the tapes on a videocassette recorder (VCR), and bring the tapes back like library books to avoid incurring overdue charges. I had never been assessed a late fee on anything in my entire life so I knew that that wasn’t going to happen.

Except that the tape got stuck in my VCR.

***

“Oh, no, nonononono!” I screeched, partly out of terror of the tape’s late fees (or, even worse, the total replacement fee) but also because of what I knew would be my impending humiliation and disgrace. I clawed frantically at the machine. But not only was the video jammed, the VCR would not even power on. I pushed every button 26 times. I tried sticking a screwdriver through the flimsy little tape door, to absolutely no avail. Then I decided to pry off the whole casing, but the “Do not attempt to remove the back of the VCR because of the possibility of electrocution” sticker dissuaded me. Finally I gave up, letting the machine sit overnight in hopes that the components would cool down. Sigh. No luck.

stuck videotape_abc news 2
My biggest fear

Today, someone in a similar predicament might very well simply throw away the entire kit and caboodle. Buy a new VCR, pay for the tape replacement. But that was not remotely an option for me in those days. I had no money whatsoever – certainly not enough to buy a new VCR, which would have cost me $400 or so (almost $800 in today’s dollars). I mean, around that time I was actually trying to figure out whether, to save money, I should stop my Chronicle delivery, which was costing me all of 10 cents a day.

I couldn’t very well discuss my plight with my mother, my usual go-to person who always knew what to do about everything from appliance repair to wardrobe malfunctions to food spoilage questions. No, this was far too delicate a matter.

So I called my friend Kay.

“OhmyGod, Kay,” I blurted as soon as she picked up, “I-got-an-X-rated-movie-stuck-in-my-VCR-and-I-don’t-know-what-to-do!” I was in a wheezing panic.

“Paula, calm down and let’s brainstorm,” she said. “Isn’t there a repair shop somewhere that could get the tape out without ruining it?”

“Well, there’s that electronics place out in the avenues, but I just know it must be run by a nice little old Irishman. How will I be able to show my face, Kay??”

“Paula, your worst fear is not going to be realized. There will be no little old Irishman. It’s going to be okay, and they won’t care! This probably happens all the time!”

I wasn’t listening. “I know, I’ll invent a story to make the situation more respectable. I’ll say I was watching it with my husband. I’ll say it was HIS fault! HE wanted to rent the movie!”

“Oh, brother,” she said. “I’m not sure why that is more respectable, but OK, I’m with ya.”

“And listen,” I continued. “I think I should look sophisticated and proper. Kay, you have a ring that looks like a wedding ring, don’t you? Can I borrow that? I’ll wear a simple blue dress and pumps.”

Kay did an eyeroll over the phone but nonetheless humored me as she hung up to go find her gold band. After rushing to her place to borrow it, dashing down to Macy’s to buy some pumps with high heels (my heels were way too low and clunky to be considered sophisticated), and calling Kay another 52 times for reassurance, I knew that it was finally time to pay a visit to the electronics shop.

Blue dress photo with copyright
The “My Husband Did It” ensemble, except that I didn’t wear the hat

When I pushed open the glass doors to the shop, carrying my disabled VCR – the proof of my sins – under my arm, I didn’t see anyone behind the counter at first. I clomped unsteadily towards the back of the store in my new high heels. It felt like it took me three hours to get there. I was relieved, at least, not to see a little old Irishman. However, much to my horror, as I approached the counter up popped a petite young Asian woman! Or a girl, even! She didn’t look to be much older than 16. I was awash in shame and mortification. “Oh, no,” I thought, “I’m going to ruin this poor young woman if she finds out what kind of tape is in that VCR!”

But there was no getting around it. When she asked what she could do for me, I launched into my long story about how my-husband-rented-the-tape-and-somehow-it-got-stuck-and-I-don’t-really-know-what-the-tape-is-so-please-just-fix-it,” etcetera. And then she said, “Well, let me get the owner,” and out came a little old Irish man.

Of course.

Then I commenced to relate the whole story about my husband again.

Unfazed, the Irishman told me that the VCR would be fixed in three days. I could practically hear the late fees adding up. Ka-chink! But I had no choice. I whirled around on my heels to leave and did a face plant onto the showroom floor.

For crying out loud, how many indignities would I have to suffer for my wickedness???!!!

Three days later I went back to pick up the machine. Once again I donned my outfit – dress, ring, heels, the entire ensemble. It was a different young woman at the counter, and I breathed a momentary sigh of relief that she wouldn’t recognize me as the raging degenerate with the X-rated movie. She went into the back room to retrieve the VCR and when she brought it out, Lex Baldwin and His Peccadilloes, with its title in gargantuan letters, was taped to the top of the VCR. Oh, I am a wretched disgrace.

It cost me about $100 to fix the VCR. A veritable fortune for me in those days.

The next day I clomped into the video rental place in my now-wrinkly dress to return Lex Baldwin and I launched once again into my well-worn husband story.

The manager waived the fees.

the end

 

 

 

***

 

Due to popular demand, I am including, at the end of each blog post, the latest random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1970 and 1987.

2/7/72 [age 16]:

“When she was young and went to school
Some asked her what they’d taught her.
‘I just recall one thing,’ she said,
‘That I was principal’s daughter.’ ”

 

2/2/72 [age 16]:

THINGS I LOVE:

12-STRING GUITARS
HAIR (blond)
AMERICA [the band]
MR. BARISICH
SKIING
HAIR (Robert Redford’s)
Hearing the net go “swoosh” when somebody makes a basket
MY 10-SPEED
FRIENDS (they’re wonderful)
MUSIC
PAT SEARS
DOGS (all but ours)
LINUS
BLUE
Having a perfectly clear face (I don’t remember when I last had it but maybe sometime in the near future . . . ?)
NEIL DIAMOND
LEVI’S
GOD
DAYDREAMING
THE POLICE DEPARTMENT
PIZZA & LICORICE & HAMBURGERS & OREOS & EATING IN GENERAL
Staying home and turning up the record player so loud they can hear it in Alviso and my eardrums become so immune I can hardly hear the rest of the day
MICROPHONES
ARGUING
READING WALT WHITMAN
ROOT BEER
Jumping off the high dive into the deep pool and feeling really wierd [sic] on the way down
MR. ADAMS
AIRPLANES
BODY SHIRTS
GOATS
THE SANTA CLARA COUNTY FAIR
Riding the waves at Santa Cruz on an innertube and getting wiped out
WATERBEDS
CAMAROS
TULIPS
SAN FRANCISCO
“ALL IN THE FAMILY”
THE WORD “SENSUOUS”
All those wonderful times we have where the great kids on our block all get together and have one huge gigantic waterfight and we all sit around and drink lemonade and play pinochle afterwards
HELIUM BALLOONS
BEING SIXTEEN
CUTTING CLASS
LIFE

 

2/3/72 [age 16]:

“Once in the eighth grade we had this graduation swim party and once again I demonstrated my complete lack of sense. The water at Rock Canyon was freezing cold and something happened to my jaw. It kind of locked. I guess the nerves tightened up because of the cold. I could open my mouth, but only up to a certain point. Then if I opened it farther it popped and hurt like crazy. I guess I’m a physical freak. Anyway, it was pretty miserable and I got one of the kids who wasn’t swimming to call my teacher over. Sister Anne Maureen. She knew a lot about science so I assumed she knew about diseases. So I ask her, ‘Do you think I have lockjaw?’ I don’t know how she kept from bursting out in hysterics, but she said, ‘I really doubt it.’ And I said, ‘Well, I stepped on a nail about a year ago.’ Pure stupidity, I swear.”

 

2/8/72 [age 16]:

“My idea of heaven – I run away to a place on the beach. I adore the beach, but my parents hate it so I never get to go. There wouldn’t be any parents there. The temperature would always be a comfortable 82 degrees. I would have an AM-FM radio with a really loud volume. I’d have a stereo with ten speakers all over the house. I’d also have my bike and a lifetime supply of root beer, hamburgers, and onion rings. Add a couple people I like and – presto – Utopia.”

The lonely neurotic

The lonely neurotic

This past week, Julie had to fly off to Denver on business. She doesn’t love traveling by air or staying alone in hotels, so she was dreading the entire trip. I, however, was eagerly looking on the bright side. For one thing, I was going to have multiple days free of political jabber and, in fact, free of any news whatsoever except for my morning Chronicle read. Julie, you see – the woman who moved to California 22 years ago with not a scintilla of interest in politics – has now become a journalistic junkie, whereas I am so roiled by national and world events that even the slightest passing glimpse of the news gives me agita. One evening I fell asleep while she was listening to cable news on headphones, and the next morning I awoke to a 1,000-word e-mail message from her – a series of bullet points, no less! – summarizing the previous day’s political revelations, accompanied by a succinct legal analysis of each incident. My heartburn erupted.

More importantly, Julie’s absence for a prolonged period of time also means that I can clean out all of our expired food. Oh, the rapture! Our cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer are always filled with food that we’ve forgotten we have, or that we bought for one exotic recipe years ago, or that we purchased after one too many wine-tastings, if you know what I mean. Julie never wants to get rid of it but I can’t stand to have solidified fig preserves cluttering up my space! So when she is gone I gleefully throw open the cupboards, take out our stepstool, and start TOSSING, baby!

My time of uninterrupted organizational bliss was about to begin.

 

MONDAY

After dropping Julie off at the airport, I stop at the UPS Store to pick up a couple of parcels. The guy behind the counter says I have seven packages. I’m rather surprised. By my calculations, all I am expecting are printer ink and some orange shoelaces. Maybe Julie has bought me a raft of presents! He hands me the packages and I start hefting them out to the car. I can’t wait to tear into them. When I glance down, though, I see that they’re all for someone else. Dejectedly I trudge back into the store. The guy apologizes and says he thought I was another woman. I’m kind of excited to think that I have a doppelganger in West Portal.

I then race home, eager to get started on the kitchen. My rule is that the expiration dates on the bottles, jars, and packages must have come and gone. I spot about 11 expired bottles of assorted vinegar varieties. Can vinegar even go bad? It’s already so bad. Then again, we bought these bottles when we lived in a different house. It’s been more than 12 years! Surely they must be riddled with sediment at the very least. Can sediment kill us? It’s certainly possible. I throw out the vinegar.

I throw away half-used bars of Ghirardelli Cooking Chocolate from 2009. Out goes the stoneground mustard that is so desiccated it has become colored pebbles. With an athletic hook shot, I toss the foil-wrapped beige-colored thing from the freezer that cannot be identified. I take the rubbery Triscuits and sink a fade-away jumper into the trash.

I empty dozens of jars and haul many bags of recycling down to the garage. I’m so lucky that tonight is garbage night.

IMG_1660-[edited for blog]My rotator cuff starts to burn from all the “kitchen basketball” heroics. I down a bunch of Advil.

Buster sleeps for part of the night in the foyer, right by the front door, waiting for Julie to come home. I don’t think he usually does that when I’m gone. He obviously likes her better. Why am I so unlikable?

 

TUESDAY

As per my usual morning routine, I go downstairs and exercise on the elliptical. Thankfully I’m on a roll and I’ve been able to work out for a full 30 minutes regularly for about a year without tearing any muscles or snapping any bones. As usual, I listen to one of my CDs and fantasize that I am asked to play drums for the performer when the regular drummer has a sudden but nonfatal bowel emergency. Today I am listening to Hitsville USA, which is a box set of the Motown singles. I notice that the main Motown drummers (Benny Benjamin and Uriel Jones, members of the Funk Brothers) would often start a song (like “My Girl” and the sublime “This Old Heart of Mine”) with the same fill: one hit on the high tom, some 16th notes on the snare, and then one bass drum BOOM before the song starts. But they never finish the fill with a crash. Why? Everyone crashes at the end of a fill! When I get back upstairs I obsessively comb the Internet looking for an answer. This takes hours. Finally, I watch a video and find out that in those days the singers and musicians all recorded together in one room and the drummers were afraid that if they crashed, especially going into the start of a song, the sound would bleed into the other mics. Ah. Now I can relax.

I go in to take a shower and start worrying about what could happen if someone broke in. Buster is a prize-winning barker but I don’t think he would deter a marauder. I start hearing voices. It sounds like someone is begging for his life! Why would a criminal be begging for his life? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Or does Buster have him cornered? I shut off the water to listen. Nothing.

In the kitchen I see some purple bloodstains on the counter. Is someone in the house? Aren’t bloodstains red? Wait a minute, that’s where I inadvertently smashed a blueberry with my elbow.

In the afternoons I like to lie out in our backyard and read for a while. I’m beginning to have an unsightly farmer’s tan. Right now I’m continuing to make my way through A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I really enjoy it and I think Dave Eggers is brilliant. Many people reviled this work as an overblown exercise in self-indulgence. They are clearly misguided. I, for one, love stream-of-consciousness. Give me the hearty Thomas Wolfe or William Faulkner any day rather than, say, that insufferable Henry James. Gad. When you read that guy’s prose it’s as if you can actually hear the delicate tinkling of teacups.

It’s about 43 degrees outside with a blustery northwest wind (welcome, summer!), so I last only a few minutes. After I come inside I realize that Julie’s dad has called but the downstairs phone was malfunctioning and I could not hear the ringer. It is a beige 1970s wall model that I cherish. I decide to look at it and the entire phone clatters off the wall and falls on the floor with a bunch of electrical things hanging out of it. I’m horrified. I leave it on the dining room table for Julie to fix.

I decide to spend the latter part of the day watching all the documentaries that are piled up on my DVR. I can’t believe Julie has no interest in watching docuseries about the Kennedys or the Patty Hearst kidnapping. Tonight I choose HBO’s The Searcher, about Elvis Presley. Gosh, I never knew how much his manager Colonel Tom Parker screwed him by insisting he take time off from music to take on movie roles in Hollywood. And wasn’t he a handsome guy? Those lips!

IMG_1661-[edited for blog]
Lou Seal
Buster spends another couple of hours in the foyer at bedtime, waiting for Julie. He finally saunters back to the bedroom, where he sees our cute little stuffed Giants mascot Lou Seal. He eyes it warily and smashes up against me, far away from that terrifying seal.

 

WEDNESDAY

In the middle of the night I am startled awake by a robocaller. I cuss heartily. I decide that I should change our answering machine greeting to simply state that I already know I owe the IRS and have debilitating credit card debt and could use a vigorous carpet cleaning.

In the morning I wake up with lower back pain because I have had to sleep curled around Buster like a paper clip. The bed is 76 inches wide. Buster has somehow taken up 70 inches.

I down more Advil.

The Chronicle points out that Southwest Airlines keeps having to make emergency landings. Julie is flying Southwest. What if she gets sucked out of an airplane?

This morning while exercising I worry that I could have a heart attack like Sheryl Sandberg’s husband did while he was working out in a hotel gym. What if I keel over and die right here in the garage? I’m not wearing pants!

I am going to the Giants day game today against the Reds. And I have a huge decision to make. Do I leave the door to the backyard open for Buster? I am afraid that he might encounter a coyote or start eating landscape bark. After an agonizing three hours I finally settle on leaving the door closed. After all, finding a small pile of poop in the house is much preferable to Buster’s being devoured by wild animals or choking to death on mulch.

For this ballgame I am bravely attempting something new: I’ve resolved to find the crab sandwiches! I am filled with excitement and anxiety. Normally I sit in the same general area: sections 310-314, between home plate and first base, on the top level because that’s where the cheapest seats are. I keep a spreadsheet on the specific seats I’ve gotten over the last 5 years. The spreadsheet rates the seats according to the following criteria, among others:

  1. How long am I in the sun? (I prefer that it be half the game.)
  2. Do I have to look through that infernal Plexiglas wall?
  3. Are the season-ticket holders around me obnoxious or friendly?
  4. How close are the bathrooms?

The problem is, some of my favorite food items near those sections have, over the last few years, disappeared. So I am left primarily with my old standby: the “Sports Meal,” which consists of a hot dog, popcorn, and a beer. However, I really really really love AT&T Park’s crab sandwiches. They’re on buttered, crisp toasted sourdough with some kind of herb sprinkled on them. Heavenly! But, unless you are sitting in the luxurious Club-level seats, you can get them only on the opposite side of the stadium, near the bleachers.

IMG_1659-[edited for blog]
Success!
Julie has told me not to worry. She says that I should try to find the Marina Gate, which will likely be the nearest entrance to the precious sandwiches. Then I can “just trot upstairs and find the crab.” I obsess about the whole procedure all the way to the game on Muni. Sure enough, I can’t find the Marina Gate. But I adopt a new tactic: ask for help. Ask repeatedly. I get there early enough that all of the Giants personnel are still eager to assist. So I ask about the gate, I ask how to get upstairs, I ask where the crab is (that gentleman is so happy to help me out that he escorts me directly to the sandwiches!), and I ask how on earth I can then get back around the entire stadium to section 311. It all goes off somewhat without a hitch. I carry my sandwich delicately all the way around the ballpark, more than once narrowly avoiding having it knocked out of my hand by clueless frat boys, and make my way to my tried-and-true vendor where I buy my Sierra Nevada beer. My stress levels ease as I get to my seat. I then sit there and smugly scorn all the people who have a hard time figuring out on which side of the section to enter while trying to find their seats. Dolts.

Buster is still alive when I get home.

I decide to watch more documentaries, but they are starting to get tedious.

At some point in the evening our landline rings and the phone identifies the caller as my nephew Alec. What?? No one under 40 uses the telephone anymore! Someone must have died!!

(No, thank goodness.)

 

THURSDAY

The Chronicle runs a long article detailing how scores of people are dying from carbon monoxide poisoning because they don’t realize that they’ve left the engines of their keyless cars running in the garage. I immediately become convinced that I will easily make the same mistake and that I have very little time to live before I die of carbon monoxide poisoning myself.

While exercising I tell myself for the 50th time that I really should let my hair go grey. But I don’t have a young face. I have furrows in my brow the size of the Marianas Trench. If I go grey, that guy at the UPS Store might start mistaking me for Mel Brooks.

I go to Safeway to replenish our stock of expired food. I buy 11 replacement bottles of vinegar. Julie will never know what I’ve done. I have successfully covered all my tracks.

I spend some time continuing to work on my long-running project to finish scanning and naming (using a very strict naming protocol, of course) my parents’ and grandparents’ old photos. I’m also continuing to get my Super 8 films digitized, including my two-hour movie (with soundtrack and narration!) of my three-month 1980 round-the-country trip with a girlfriend in a VW van. It’s an epic and Oscar-worthy film. The thing is, who is going to care about any of this when I’m gone, which will be soon because I will imminently be murdered in the shower, suffer a massive heart attack while exercising, or asphyxiate myself with our keyless car? No one will care about your silly digitized photos and movies, Paula. They will just be summarily deleted.

Like me!

Thank goodness Julie is coming home today. Being alone, even with freshly organized cupboards and brand-new vinegar, isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Meanwhile, I’ve still got my next blog hanging over my head. I’m letting down my legions of fans. Maybe I should write about the time I got an X-rated videotape stuck in my VCR. No, that would sully my pristine reputation.

Buster has developed a sudden fear of uncarpeted stairs. Good grief, where is he getting all of his strange neuroses?

Julie’s plane is late but she finally lands around dinnertime. Hallelujah! Buster and I pick her up. The “Human Anti-Anxiety Pill” has arrived!

***

As soon as we walk in the door, she heads to the kitchen for a snack. “Hey, you rearranged the cupboards!” she announces. “And have you heard about today’s chaos in Washington?”

Strangely, I feel a wash of serenity.

the end

 

 

***

Due to popular demand, I am including, at the end of each blog post, the latest random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1970 and 1987.

 

11/19/70 [Ed.’s note: I was a couple of years younger than others in my class]:

“Today was a great day! They sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me in Spanish and we went through the whole age routine. At lunch, everyone got me ‘Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour’ album. During Geometry, someone wrote ‘Happy Birthday’ on the board and I went through the whole age bit again. Tonight I got a Glen Campbell song book from Mom & Dad, 5 dollars from Zia, Grammy, and Auntie Jackie, a belt from Marc, a guitar strap from Jan, ‘Oh, Happy Day’ record from Colleen, and personalized stickers from Barb. It was all very happy, except now I realize I’ll never be 14 again. Never!”

 

11/6/70:

“Tonight, [my sister] Jan discovered that [our tiny pet frog] Toby wasn’t in his cage. I love that frog. We’ve had him for a year and a half. I feel like crying. We looked all over for him and finally found the poor little guy all dried and shriveled up under the T.V.”

 

10/19/70:

“Tonight at 6:00 we went to the Blanchettes for dinner. We had barbecued bonito. It doesn’t sound too good, but by that time I was so starving I would have eaten anything. We had a little game of football and Butch and I were the best. Then Butch and I went into his mom’s room to watch T.V. Once he called me “honey.” How romantic! I wish I was clever or humorous or something. But I’m such a complete dud, I swear. We watched interesting things like bullfights.”

 

10/7/70: [Ed.’s note: I think Eddie Ryan was just a guy who went to our school]

“[My brother] Marc and I have a thing going when we walk to school every day. We have to see ten landmarks: 1) “Whistle-’em-up” the crossing lady (she told us to whistle when we want to cross), 2) A pet, 3) “Hawkins” written on sidewalk, 4) “Rhonda Kelly was here” on sidewalk, 5) Piedmont Hills bus, 6) little bus, 7) Boys’ P.E. bus, 8) Girls’ P.E. bus, 9) A motorcycle, and 10) Eddie Ryan. That’s the hardest one.”

 

10/4/70:
“You know, I really want a bike for Christmas. But Dad thinks it’s too dangerous. To him, everything is too dangerous. But Mom said she’d rather wait and give us a Honda. So now I want a Honda. You don’t need a license except for the streets. Like Bronson –the feel of the wind on your face. Groovy!”

 

 

Tibby is king!

Tibby is king!

I have been lazy of late, dear readers, for no particular reason, and I know that it’s high time I got back on the blogging horse. I’m working on a more dignified piece right now, but in the meantime, just to sate your appetite for my literary pearls, I’ve decided to present to you the official minutes of the Tibby Club of America. And I will reward you with more substantive content in the days to come.

The Bocciardi kids founded two groundbreaking organizations in the 1960s. One of those – The Fishing Club – has already been covered here on Monday Morning Rail. The other was dedicated to my grandmother’s dog. Luckily, in both cases I appointed myself the recorder of the meeting minutes, and the historic proposals and decisions we made as members of these clubs are now saved for posterity.

As a bit of background, my mother’s parents lived in La Crescenta, California, which is in the southern part of the state near Los Angeles. At some point when we were kids, my grandmother acquired a cute little Lhasa Apso puppy whom she named Tibby, presumably because that breed of dog originated in Tibet (and was in fact not introduced to the United States until the 1930s).

Tibby was an adorable but completely spoiled little white bundle of hair. Now that Julie and I have a Lhasa Apso of our own, we’re quite familiar with the breed’s extreme stubbornness, tendency to bark maniacally at perceived dangers (their name in Tibetan means “Bark Lion Sentinel”), mischievous ability to outsmart their owners, and marked distrust of strangers and children, with whom they can be quite snippy.

Luckily, Tibby was a fairly chill little dude. His worst trait came about only because my grandparents fed him “people food,” a practice that was frequently evidenced by Tibby’s walking around with an orange beard after slurping Ragu-drenched spaghetti out of his bowl. (These grandparents weren’t the Italian side, hence the dubious sauce.) However, when the family sat down to dinner, Tibby would expect additional tidbits and would beg and yap ceaselessly in a voice so shrill that it could cause serious tinnitus. He would then be banished to the backyard, where he would continue to yip, all the while pawing and scratching incessantly at the sliding glass door until we went nearly insane.

Otherwise, though, he was very good with children, and he put up with our constant mauling in a manner that was both aloof and patient. We absolutely worshipped him.

1965_05_Janine, Marc, Agnes (Hansen) and Frank Steger, Jackie Gross, Dad, Mom, Carla Gross, Kathie Gross, Ron Gross, Tibby
Adults in back: My grandmother Agnes (holding Tibby), grandfather Frank, aunt Jackie, Dad, and mom. Standing kids: My sister Janine, brother Marc, and cousins Kathy and Carla. Kneeling teenager is my cousin Ronnie, whom we’d just as soon forget.

When the first meeting of the ambitiously named “Tibby Club of America” was convened at our house in San Jose, I had just turned 12, my brother Marc (obviously the money guy) was 10, and my sister Janine was 7. Occasionally our grandparents drove up to visit from SoCal, bringing Tibby and sometimes the two other people present for the club meetings: our first cousins Carla (12) and Kathy (10), the two daughters of our beloved hippie aunt Jackie who lived just a few blocks from my grandparents.

This is an abridged version of the complete minutes of the Tibby Club. If I were to include the full documents, you’d all be snoring. My comments are bracketed in italics.

***

 

TIBBY CLUB OF AMERICA

Minutes

The meeting came to order at 8:25 p.m., Friday, November 24, 1967. Kathy Gross, Janine, Marc, and Paula Bocciardi attended.

The President, Marc Bocciardi, said that the four slips of paper in front of us may be wrote on about a suggestion [sic] after you call time out.

We all called time out and wrote our suggestions. Then we all called time in after putting our suggestions in the bandage box located behind Paula, the Great.

Marc then proceeded to write down the Tibby motto.

Tibby Club of AmericaPaula voted that we read the suggestions. Marc took them out and the first one was Janine’s. It said, “My thing is this – we should feed Tibby every day except once in a while.” Everyone voted on it.

The next suggestion was Janine’s. It said, “Do the Tibby sulut [sic] every day.” Everyone almost voted it in. Then Janine got a demerit for talking about how Marc once said, “Dear Grammy and Grumpy.”

Next was Paula’s. It said, “We should have an itiation [sic; initiation] for Kathy and other new members.” Everyone voted for it.

Kathy got a demerit of salivaing [drooling on] her knee. Paula said Kathy should say to Grampy, “Grampy, damn it.” The inititon [sic again!; initiation] was decided to be a tickle torture.

Paula said, “Wall – damn it” after Jan fell and Paula made a loud poop [fart].

Next was Janine’s. It said, “I love Tibby . . . I love Tibby.”

Next was Kathy’s. It said, “I don’t love Tibby.” Kathy almost got a demerit for it.

Next was Marc’s. It said, “I think we should all five of us (Kathy and Carla, Marc, Jan, and Paula) should contribute 10¢ for Tibby’s birthday present and 10¢ for his Christmas present.” We all voted for it.

Then Janine said, “I think that we should play with Tibby more often.” We all voted for it.

Then I read this, and the meeting was adjourned at 9:04 p.m.

Signed,
Paula Bocciardi
Minute Man

 

***

Minutes

The meeting started Saturday, November 25, 1967 at 8:10 a.m. Marc, Paula, Jan Bocciardi and Kathy Gross were present.

Marc, the President, passed out suggestion slips. Everyone called time out and wrote down their suggestions. We all called time in.

Then we decided to collect the 20¢ for Tibby’s presents. Everyone contributed 20¢ except Kathy and Marc. Marc had done it the previous night.

1965_05_Felicia Morrow, Agnes (Hansen) Steger, Tibby, Janine, Marc-2
Neighborhood friend Felicia, my grandmother Agnes (with Tibby), Janine, and Marc

Then Marc read the first suggestions. It was Paula’s and Marc’s and Kathy’s. They said, “We should give Tibby a final salute and have a salute every meeting and a final playing with.” Everyone voted for the first and third, everyone except Paula for the second.

Next was NOBODY. It said NOTHING. [It appears that I had left blank spaces where someone later filled in the “nobody” and “nothing.” The handwriting was clearly my brother’s.]

The meeting adjourned at 8:26 a.m.

 

***

Minutes

The meeting came to order at 7:31 p.m. on Saturday, November 25, 1967. Kathy Gross, Paula, Jan, and Marc attended.

Kathy suggested that we read the promotion. Then Paula said to Kathy, “You stink.” Then it was decided that Kathy and Janine were to be promoted. Kathy was promoted to first class and swore (an oath, that is). Janine was promoted to first class and swore.

We discussed swearing.

Marc suggested we read the suggestions. The first one – Jan read. It was Marc’s. He said that we should have a crown [for Tibby]. Suggestion was overruled.

Then Kathy read Jan’s. It said that we should comb, brush, feed, and give water to Tibby everyday.

Then Marc read Kathy’s. It said that Carla should send up her membership and that we should care for Tibby better. The first part was voted for by everyone.

Paula moved that we should adjourn the meeting and give the Tibby salute. We all voted on it.

The meeting adjourned at 7:55.

Signed,
Paula Bocciardi
Co-Chairman
(Minute Man)

 

***

Minutes [these are written by my brother]

I had to write the minutes because Paula got mad and threw the orig. ones in the wastebasket.

President, Marc

The meeting came to order at 3:57 p.m. on Thursday, December 21, 1967. Kathy and Carla Gross and Marc, Paula, and Janine Bocciardi were present.

We wrote our suggestions.

The first one read, “Let’s give Carla her Initiation Tickle Torture.” Everyone but Carla voted for it.

The next one said, “let’s have a party.” Everyone voted for it. The next said, “We should give Marc demerits when he needs them.” Everyone voted for it.

The next said, “let’s make a Tibby song.” It was overruled.

The next one said, “we should have interest on dues.” [Guess whose suggestion THAT was?] It was overrruled. The meeting was adjourned at 4:31 p.m.

President,
Marc

1969_06 Marc, Tibby, Paula, Janine-2
Marc, Paula (with Tibby), Janine

***

Minutes

P.R. – Marc (President)
M.M. – Paula (Minute Man)
1st class Jan – Janine

The meeting came to order at 10:05 a.m. PAT (Paula’s alarm clock time) on Sunday, June 30, 1968. Then Paula read the minutes of the last meeting. After Marc passed out the suggestion slips, we wrote them down and put them in a jacks bag.

The first Marc read’s [sic] was 1st class Jan’s. It said, “We should take turns reading these.” That was voted in. Then Jan read her own, which said that we should sell Tibby badges for 5¢ apiece [and] that she could make some – Marc’s idea. Then she read Marc’s which said the same, but also 5¢ for folders, money to Tibby fund. We voted that in.

Marc read Paula’s, which said we should have a Tibby scroll. Jan read Paula’s, which said she’ll make a Pig crown for Uncle Dave.

Then Paula read Jan’s, which said, “I think every day we should give Tibby rewards because he’s KING. First-class Jan.”

Then Marc read Paula’s, which said not to go too far or Mom or Dad will get mad.

Janine then left to go to the bathroom.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:35 a.m. PAT.

the end

 

 

***

Due to popular demand, I am including, at the end of each blog post, the latest random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1971 and 1987.

12/13 and 12/14, 1971 [the hard life of a teenager]:

“Mrs. Moore gave me a tutoring assignment today. I was really happy about it until she told me it was in Algebra. Yecch! My worst, most hated, dumbest subject! Yecch! First period P.E. has (glory of all glories) BASKETBALL IN THE GYM. And do you know what I got stuck with? Huh? FENCING!! That’s right! I’m so sore I can’t move.”

12/5/71:

“I was very busy today and did not go to church. Dad had a cold, Mom had a stomach pain; yet I could have walked. I should have. Somehow I know that I am a good person, and perhaps those religious standards made me that way. Yet there are all these new voices proclaiming that we do not have to go to Mass. I hate to think that they are right, and that all my Masses and all my Confessions were for nothing!”

12/7/71:

“Tonight, I went with Mary Pasek to my first P.A.L. [at the time, sort of like little junior police officers] meeting. We got a thing for our parents to sign saying that if we are killed or seriously injured, the Police Department is not liable. We are binded to risk our lives for policemen. The rigidness of conduct and the very strict inspection scared us into a panic. However, it scared me INTO P.A.L. because I have found that I have a certain desire for very authoritative procedures. We MUST have black shoes and a pen.”

11/26/71:

“I watched the Baltimore Bullitts [sic] beat the Atlanta Hawks today, 105-118. Pete Maravich is the only reason I watched. I used to like ‘Pistol Pete’ a couple years ago when he played college ball. I can’t say he’s too much of a shooter, but he sure can handle that ball. I used to think he was cute. YICK!”

11/30/71:
“Boy, did we see a tear-jerking movie tonight. The movie was “Brian’s Song” about Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears. Brian died of cancer. I cried the last half hour and 15 minutes AFTER that movie!”

11/23/71:

“Today I was notified that I am going to be Editor-in-Chief for the next issue of our [school] paper. SWELL. I had to fork out an editorial today. I also got my senior pictures taken. At first I was really scared, but it didn’t take too long, thank goodness. One thing I am afraid of is Driver’s Training. I’m getting it sometime this quarter. Boy, I am so scared. Thank goodness tomorrow is the last day of this week. Yay, Thanksgiving! Food!”

11/21/71:

“What did I do today? I went to Church, finished selling my box of candy bars, vacuumed my room (there were 26,962 pieces of confetti on the rug), wrote thank-you notes, got Mom to let me wear pants once a week, made up a schedule for wearing my clothes, and took a BBGO (Big Bath and General Overhaul).”

 

The high cost of Slurpees

The high cost of Slurpees

In 1971, when I was 15, the allowance allotted to me by my parents was a meager $5 – PER MONTH! Under that kind of economic pressure I finally came to the conclusion that I should pitch a $3 increase, and I wrote them a letter in my best teenage legalese and accounting-speak. On a light note this week, I am reproducing the letter here, verbatim. Maybe Congress can use it as a model in the forthcoming budget negotiations.

From the desk of Miss Paula Rae Bocciardi on this day, July 1, in the year A.D. 1971 to Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Raymond Bocciardi:

A request for a raise in allowance to increase my previous income of $5 monthly. The underlying are reasons why $5 is too small a sum.

  1. Presents – counting up all gifts, we have Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Marc’s birthday, Janine’s birthday, Beverly’s birthday, Gerald’s birthday, Colleen’s birthday, Beverly’s Christmas present, Gerald’s Christmas present, Marc’s Christmas present, Jan’s Christmas present, Carla’s Christmas present, Kathy’s Christmas present (this year), Colleen’s Christmas present, Mary Blasi’s Christmas present, and let’s assume 1 assorted birthday party, even though there were 2 last year. These total 18. Assuming $3 are spent on each on an average, a sum of $48 is spent per annum, or $4 per month. This leaves only $1 per month.
  2. Food – rather than spend $.10 a day for hot bread, I suffer at “B” period [break]. But a $.10 root beer at lunch is absolutely necessary, since its absence will cause withdrawal symptoms known only to root beer addicts, such as falling asleep 5th period, a certain listlessness in 6th period, and a tendency to get hit in the eye with the ball in P.E. Also I develop kleptomaniac symptoms in G.A.A. [Girls Athletic Association]. Now, assuming that I get a root beer only 120 school days, the total is $12.00, or $1 per month, leaving me totally broke. Bankrupt. Caput.
  3. Slurpees – after hot hours of tennis I can take one of two alternatives: a) buy a Slurpee, or b) watch everyone else gurgle and slurp theirs and die of 1) jealousy, and 2) extreme thirst and dehydration. Obviously, step a) is the only possible choice. Considering 24 days of tennis, Slurpee cost would be $4.80, or $.40 monthly, leaving me $.40 in the hole.
  4. Other costs – necessities such as $.50 for G.A.A., money for gifts, and G.A.A. parties in which I seem to be the only one to chip. School presents many new and fascination [sic] expenses every week. So far, $2.00 in the hole.
  5. “Luxuries” – things which I don’t have to get, but should. Film and developing are quite costly. Occasionally I get invited somewhere and must buy something to keep myself from starving. $3.00 in the hole.
  6. Entertainment – since I have the unique ability to attract only little boys and wierdos [sic], and lack for dates and/or good* (*clean) fun with the opposite sex, and don’t enjoy or believe in turning on, and don’t drive, I turn to music. Once a half-year I might like a record. A far-fetched thought, I know. I haven’t gotten one in months and months, unless counted is the $1.97 1932 Glen Campbell record I got where he sounds 12 at the most and howls as he sings “Those Lonesome Lonely Jailhouse Bluuuues.” YECCH!
  7. Other income – none. The Gallos have no work to offer. Since I am only 15 I cannot get a decent job. I can’t babysit. I’d destroy the babies.
  8. Bank – I should think ahead. The $130 I have saved for 10 years won’t go too far in college. Birthday money should go to the bank, but is always needed to put me out of the hole.

All in all, we can conclude that a raise is desperately needed. I have been proven to be very resourceful in times of crisis and butt operations. [Ed.’s note: I believe this referred to a procedure my father had done at the hospital. We’ll leave it at that.] I was uncomplaining. I have helped more and thoroughly destroyed the house, but that is unimportant. I have a $1 raise already, but now that the causes are understood, perhaps sometime in the near future the remaining $2 in the hole monthly will be considered.

Thank you and sincerely yours,
Miss Paula Rae Bocciardi

zzz 3

My parents caved. I got the full $3 raise.

 

***

 

Due to popular demand, I am including, at the end of each blog post, the latest random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1971 and 1987.

 

5/10/71:

“Softball was wierd [sic] today. Mom and Dad came for the first time and watched the other team get 10 runs in the first inning. We made about 15 errors (me not included). But after that we held them scoreless. I got a home run. Soon we had only 10 minutes left and we were up. The score was 10-8. All we needed was 3 runs. All of a sudden it was 13-10. What a comeback, man! Right on!”

April-May 1971:

“We went to Coyote [Reservoir] to fish and have a little picnic. We caught about 76 crappie – the best we’ve ever done, not counting Clear Lake. They are small, but plentiful. It would have been perfect except as usual my hay fever started acting up around lunchtime. Hay fever is one thing I simply cannot stand. I don’t mind all the work I’ve had done on my teeth, or my operations, or even having to wear glasses. But hay fever is terrible. I sure wish we could have shots for it. But for some reason good ole Doc Williams won’t give us the shots. Let me tell you, I’d suffer any amount of pain. And I had taken a [Ornade prescription antihistamine] pill in the morning! Those babies are strong, too, boy.”

5/27/71:

“Marc [my brother], Ted, and I have a dirty book storehouse in Rudy’s poolroom. We’ve only got two books, but they’ve got loads of Playboys to read. I’ve read one of the books so far. It was called ‘Retribution.’ Some name, huh?”

Paula’s poetry pastiche

Paula’s poetry pastiche

It came to mind recently that although I’ve filled many drawers and shelves with diaries, journals, notes, correspondence, and more than a few published articles, I never seemed to be very prolific as a poet. In fact, after much searching for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been able to unearth only the following six works, all written in my childhood. And now I know why no one encouraged me to pursue the poetic arts any further.

***

This first gem is actually one of three songs I wrote as a youngster, all of which have specific melodies. Because I’m unable to reproduce the tunes here, I thought I’d figure out their closest approximation. After all, they must have sounded like some nursery rhyme or popular children’s song at the time, correct? But I gave up after spending a couple of hours online, listening to at least 50 classic children’s songs. None sounded familiar.

Believe it or not, I then tried singing the songs (sans lyrics) into the Shazam app, hoping that somehow the melodies would be recognizable. Uh, no.

Finally I did what I often do in these situations – I called my sister Janine. But she could not pinpoint my musical influences, either. These must have been original melodies I came up with!  I was obviously a genius!

1957_xx_Paula 042
As you can see, if you look closely at the newsprint, I was reading Shakespeare at an early age.

As for this first song and its lyrics, neither Janine nor I could imagine how I came up with the idea of three men in a bottle. Our best guess is that I was influenced by the literature I was reading at the time:  “Run-a-Dub Dub, Three Men in a Tub.” Which makes a lot more sense than three men squeezing into a bottle – full of whisky, no less. My father used to drink whisky “highballs,” a classic cocktail, so maybe that’s what was on my mind.

Anyway, here’s the song, any mistakes included.

 

THE THREE MEN (age 8)

[a nursery rhyme with a lilting melody]

Three men went out in a bottle to sea
And it was full of the drink wiskey,
But when they got there they all drowned
I think the bottle has not been found
So please, unless you’re less than 1 pound
Don’t try to sail, unless what you’re in is round.

 

The Three Men

 

***

I tried songwriting again the following year, and I’ve wrestled with whether I should publish it, because it deals with my brother Marc accidentally walking in on my sister when she was taking a shower. It seems a little odd that I would write about this incident, but I did.

 

JANINE TOOK A SHOWER THIS MORNING (age 9)

[belt this one out with gusto]

Janine took a shower this morning.
She got water all over the floor,
She got soap all over the soapdish,
And she forgot to close the door!

Marc walked into the shower
And he saw her standing there.
He looked at her in amazement
’Cause he’d never seen her bare!

 

***

My final tune is a bit of a cross between a folk song and a wartime march.

We had just moved into our new house in East San Jose, and at the end of our street stood an orchard followed by rolling hills. I couldn’t stop wondering what lay beyond those hills (answer: more hills). This became an obsession, so I composed a song about it.

My sister nailed my style and influences when she reminded me that when I wrote the song I was squarely in the middle of my “New Christy Minstrels period.” I was quite enamored with large groups of folk singers.

And I will add that my appending the “boys” to the end of each line is reminiscent of those World War I and II songs about soldiers leaving for, or coming back from, battle.

Obviously I liked mixing my styles, so I will call this song a “pastiche.”

 

WHAT’S ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HILL, BOYS? (age 10)

[sing this song in a rousing manner]

What’s on the other side of the hill, boys?
What’s on the other side of the hill?
What’s on the other side of the hill, boys?
What’s on the other side of the hill?

Do you know?
We will go,
And we’ll see,
You and me.
Yes, we will
Climb that hill
And we’ll look dowwwwwwn.

Will it be a town, will it be the sea, will it be the woods, what will it be, what will it be?

What’s on the other side of the hill, boys?
What’s on the other side of the hill?
What’s on the other side of the hill, boys?
What’s on the other side of the hill?

 

1969_04-06_Paula, Mom, Janine 1(b)
What IS on the other side of that hill in the background?

***

Although I was done writing songs, I did continue to churn out a few poems. This one was a Catholic school assignment. I was already in the seventh grade, so the real travesty was that I still had to go to bed at 9:00!!

 

UNTITLED (age 11)

Over and over my dad has said,
“Paula, it is time for bed!”
How I dread the hour of nine
When I begin to beg and whine,

“But Dad, please, just a little more?”
And that’s when he gets really sore.
So I, not making one more peep,
Go up to bed, and fall asleep.

 

***

I wrote this poem on the eve of my starting “Driver’s Training,” which in those days was a short high school course that involved hands-on experience behind the wheel. My course was taught by football coach Ron “No Neck” Locicero. He took us up in the East San Jose foothills and was actually very kind, even though he was forced to use his extra set of brakes liberally when I was behind the wheel.

The poem was published in the January 14, 1972, edition of our high school newspaper The Legend. Of course, it wasn’t difficult to get my own works into print, since I was the editor of said paper.

 

FUTURE DRIVER’S LAMENT (age 16)

O Horror of Horrors! I grieve in sorrow;
I wish I never could see tomorrow,
For when 3:30 comes I start Driver’s Training.
What if it’s windy? What if it’s raining?
What if I make a jillion mistakes
And he always has to slam on the brakes?
Everyone knows I’m the world’s biggest clutz –
The whole Driver’s Training Department is nuts!
They decided to risk it and hand me the wheel.
It seems they don’t value their automobile.
What if I step on the pedal too hard
And we end up in somebody else’s backyard?
I’m so absent-minded I just may forget
That I’m driving a car, and I’ll daydream, I bet!
I’m no big speed demon, the world will soon see.
Ten miles an hour is the limit for me.
Oh, no, I don’t panic, just go in a coma.
They may have to revive me with some strong aroma.
I don’t want to look like a stupid old fool
Nor be laughing-stock every day I’m at school.
They said, “Don’t be scared, Paula, you’ll do all right.”
But I have to drive at 5:30 at night!
The world will be dark. Is it like being blind?
What if I hit some poor guy from behind?
“It’s only 9 days – they go pretty fast.”
Oh sure, but I do hope my teacher can last.
My friends have no mercy. This whole bit they’ve seen.
Don’t they know what it’s like to be only sixteen?
“What about college? You won’t want to hike!”
You’re right, but I’d rather stick with my bike.
I guess I’ll live through it. I just hope I don’t kill
Some innocent soul. I keep thinking I will.
Yikes! Here comes the teacher! My heart beats no more.
Oh, what did I ever get into this for?
There’s just one thing to do. I look at the sky
And plead with Him, “God, oh, I’m too young to die!”

 

***

I didn’t even remember the following poem until my sister – who actually recalled most of the first stanza! – pointed out that she had once tried to set it to music. An accomplished banjo and guitar player by the time she was 12, she apparently wrote a melody for this poem “using a lot of minor chords.” Unfortunately she doesn’t remember the tune, but she claims that it was truly terrible, which I strongly doubt.

As for my influences at the time, I would have to say that they were a mixture of William Shakespeare, John Dunne, and whoever wrote “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”

 

UNTITLED (age 17)

This cool, tranquil, weightless night
A star begins to die
In quiet, pulsing, choking gasps.
And I must say goodbye.

In young, confused and awkward grief
I watch the lonely light
The sky gives up its ghost; the star
Plunges out of sight.

If time would just dissolve this knot
I’ve never overcome –
But I, in muted silence, stand
Embarrassed, frightened, dumb.

O God! If man is so supreme
Then why am I so weak
That those whom I adore the most
Have yet to hear me speak?

I cannot catch my tortured breath
Or cool my heated head;
I cannot purge my heavy heart
Of all I’ve left unsaid.

I love you, friend, though through it all
I gave you not a sign.
If all you saw were pleading eyes
’Twas not your fault, but mine.

 

Could this be any more overwrought??  Then again, I guess that’s what being 17 is all about, isn’t it? ℘

1964_11-19_Paula, Janine(b)
The two collaborators. My little sister Janine played a mean guitar!

 

***

Due to popular demand, I am including, at the end of each blog post, the latest random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1971 and 1987.

7/18/71:

“Monday night I had my first driving lesson [with my parents]. I don’t want to make a complete fool of myself, with my uncoordination and absentmindedness and stuff. I get so nervous. So we took the truck. I was scared to death. I jerked on the brakes a little. It’s hard to know how far down to push them or the accelerator. And sometimes I forgot to change the gear shift. I think I got up to about 9 M.P.H. but was scared. I thought about 4 M.P.H. was a safe speed.”

***

Finally, as a reminder, our band, “Hotter Than Helga,” will be playing in Fairfax at 19 Broadway on Thursday night, September 14. (I play drums.) If you like alt/country/rock/Americana music, come out and have a listen!!

Helga_Sept14_web (002)

Busted!

Busted!

I’m calling this my “By Popular Demand” post because I’ve gotten repeated requests for a few specific items. First, people who read my last blog are wondering about the brushes with the law that I mentioned briefly. Second, friends who are not on Facebook are asking me to repeat my weekly diary entries so that they can see them as well. Finally, the non-Facebook people also continually ask me when my band will be playing. So I’ll cover all three requests in this week’s post.

***

PART ONE

My first scrape involving law enforcement involved, as usual, my friend Jeanne who had wire-rimmed glasses and the intense disapproval of my parents. (I’m beginning to see why!) I was visiting Jeanne in August 1975 and we’d just come back to North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, after a trip up to Maine to meet her new husband Steve’s family (see “Return to Triangle Acres”).

For whatever idiotic notion, we decided to head over to a nearby private beach on Steve’s decrepit motorcycle. And this was, according to my diary, after I’d already donned my nightgown and “put on my curlers and retainers.” So I threw off the curlers and retainers, we grabbed a bottle of rum (never a good idea) and packed a knapsack, and we took off. Along the way we purchased some Cokes and napkins, and my diary says that “we had to use the napkins to sop up some of the gas which kept spilling out of the tank.” Again, never a good thing.

Leaving the motorcycle up off the road, we walked down to the beach in the balmy moonlight. The white sandy dunes were, of course, beautiful, and we proceeded to alternately drink rum and Cokes and then take plunges into the warm Atlantic waters (we had bathing suits on under our regular clothes). Once again, not a good idea. Luckily, neither of us drowned, and we spent hours making ill-informed forays into philosophy, all the while slamming down liquor as if there were no tomorrow.

Eventually we passed out on the beach, and a few hours later we awoke, shivering, both of us heavily encrusted with wet sand. It was time to go home, we thought, and off we trundled towards the poor excuse of a motorcycle that was waiting for us. A hideous idea. Anyway, as we approached we saw, squinting through drunken eyelids, that the bike was surrounded by police cars and a group of clean-cut men, many of whom were in uniform. Someone asked Jeanne for her license and registration, which she cheerfully handed over, but we knew that the bike itself was an illegal mess. It had no brake light, no license plate, and lots of duct tape everywhere. Oy. One of the local police officers said that the infractions amounted to a $66 ticket and he began to write it up.

Another of the officers – with a rather rough bedside manner – asked me for my license, but I wasn’t carrying one and explained to him that, since I wasn’t driving, I didn’t have it with me. “Well, show it to me anyway!” he barked nonsensically.

Then for some reason the police cars both drove off and we were never issued the ticket.

Still, a group of men remained, and one of them – not in any kind of uniform – sort of took us under his wing as we stood there perplexed, still reeking, I’m sure, of spirits. He explained that the local officers could not ticket or arrest us because we and the motorcycle were on private property. But he pointed out that they were parked just across the beach line on the public road and would surely nab us, if we dared to start the bike and venture home, for not only the vehicle infractions but also for trespassing, sleeping on a beach, and of course driving while intoxicated.

Then he asked us if we were “holding.” I had no idea what that meant. But Jeanne said yes, she had a lid (an ounce of marijuana, for any of you under 55). This was news to me.

Then the man pulled out his badge and flashlight and identified himself as a state SLED (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division) officer.

I just about died.

As luck would have it, though, he had much, much bigger fish to fry. He explained that we had actually stumbled into the middle of an enormous statewide drug stakeout whose mission was to break up a network of heroin dealers. To prove it, he shined his flashlight up into the hills surrounding the beach, and about 50 flashlights blinked back.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said, sympathetically. “Let me take you up into the trailer park across the road, and you can sleep off your intoxication in the lounge chairs by the side of the pool. By the time you sober up, those cops will be gone. They’re not going to sit there all night waiting to nab you.” I could tell that there was some tension between the city and state officers, and he was happy to thwart the efforts of what he thought were clumsy local goons. I myself was happy to take advantage of that, so I thanked him until the cows came home.

Jeanne and I climbed into his Volkswagen – really, another stupid move because he could have been an axe murderer – and sure enough he took us to the trailer park and helped us find lounge chairs. And he watched over us all night.

At sunrise he woke us up and told us we had to get moving because the residents were starting to rise. So we dragged our sand-encrusted carcasses to the bike, started it up, and got home safely.

Then, of course, we went out to breakfast and, according to my diary, “had a beer to settle our stomachs.”

Youth: Reckless, dumb, and lucky.

***

On Friday, November 22, 1985, I had just turned 30 a few days earlier and was driving over to my friend Ellen’s house on 21st Avenue in San Francisco’s Richmond District, ostensibly to pick her up to go to dinner at Speckmann’s, a German restaurant that I’d heard served great spaetzle. Sampling that spaetzle was my one and only fervent birthday wish. When I got to Ellen’s, though, I found myself ushered into a surprise party. All of us had a great time, and I remember that at one point we all donned streamers to mimic Bruce Springsteen’s then-ubiquitous headband as we danced much of the night away to Springsteen tapes. After most of the guests said their goodnights, the few of us remaining were still full of residual energy. So at 3:00 in the morning we came up with the brilliant idea of playing “knee football” on the hardwood floors (ouch!), using a birthday balloon as the football. Three guys and three gals. As we were scuffling around on our knees, laughing loudly and hysterically, we looked up and saw flashlight beams coming through the slatted doors that we had closed to shut off the living room. Two police officers were out in the hallway; we’d never heard their robust knocking at the front door. Uh oh. They admonished us to be quiet, and after they left, still wanting to play, we came up with the idea of “silent knee football.” The idea was that we would no utter no sounds at all, so as not to disturb any neighbors. As my diary says, that “made the whole game even more fun. I must say that I was the star of the game, making most of our touchdowns. Boy did we all have bruised knees the next day.”

By the time she was 30, my mother had three kids. I, on the other hand, was single and playing Silent Knee Football.

** *

I’ve been pulled over three times while driving. The first two instances happened with Julie behind the wheel. In 2001 we were in my new T-Bird on Route 66 – or should I say, accidentally well off of Route 66 – going a tad over the limit as we sped past an Oklahoma police officer who just happened to be sitting by the side of the highway with a radar gun. When he asked us where we were headed, we told him the truth, that we were dreadfully lost going north trying to go west, and we admitted that we had absolutely no excuse for flying along as fast as we were (except gosh, in that car it really feels like you’re just CRAWLING if you’re going 80). We were so polite and deferential and confused that he pointed us in the right direction and let us go.

Much more recently, we had just left Safeway and were driving TWO BLOCKS to our local meat market, Guerra’s. I reminded Julie, who was driving, that she needed to put on her seatbelt, but she insisted that there was no need for that as we were going to be in the car only 90 seconds, and I retorted back that people had been known to die in low-speed collisions not far from home. Of course she refused, and of course we then saw the flashing lights. I was almost smug about it. The female officer told Julie that she was in violation of the seatbelt law and that “people have been known to die in low-speed collisions not far from home,” at which point I smacked Julie on the shoulder and said, “See?! What did I just say?” and thanked the officer. She let us off.

The only time in my life I’ve been personally pulled over was in the late 1980s when some of my workmates and I piled into my Corolla to attend a wedding in Chinatown. I was driving all of us down Oak Street, and it was one of those situations in which I had to keep flying through yellow lights in order to beat the red. As a side note, for reasons I cannot recall, my girlfriend Adair’s wisdom teeth, which she had just had removed, were in one of the front seat cupholders. I swear to this day that I was already in the intersections when the lights turned yellow, but we were driving at a fast enough clip that my friend Leon Acord – possibly the funniest human being who ever lived – began screaming dramatically and then grabbed the teeth and hurled them into the air as though all the passengers were losing their teeth from the ultrasonic speed.

Of course, then came the flashing light.

The officer pulled me over and asked me for my license and registration. The license was in my purse, which was in the trunk of the Toyota, so I got out and wobbled to the back of the car in my dress and high heels (yes, I know that I’m not normally associated with purses, dresses, and heels, but I was going to a wedding, for crying out loud). I cannot possibly replicate in words how my hands were shaking, but let’s just say that it took me about four hours to get my license out of its little plastic holder. I think the officer was starting to feel sorry for me. I pleaded with him that the lights had all been yellow, and he said he wasn’t so sure about that. “Besides,” he continued, “what on earth were those things flying through the air?” “Teeth,” I answered.

By the time I got through explaining why the wisdom teeth were in the car in the first place, he was probably weary. So he let me go.

***

One experience with the law, though, caused me great mortification twice – 10 years apart. Yes, the same offense.

Rusty Hamer
Rusty Hamer

In 1975 I was living in the dorms at San Jose State and working towards my (first) degree in law enforcement. One Saturday night in December, a friend of my brother’s called me up and wanted to know if I wanted to go see a movie. I don’t think either of us thought it was a date, but we were both feeling kind of gloomy and thought it would be nice to get together. I will call him “Rusty,” after my childhood crush Rusty Hamer from the “Make Room for Daddy” TV show. (Truth be told, there was some resemblance between the two lads.)

Warning: This anecdote carries a PG rating, so please tear your small children away from this blog immediately.

Anyway, after the movie Rusty and I decided to drive to Santa Cruz. This was what young people always did in those days if we were feeling shiftless and wanted to seek out some form of adventure. No matter what we were doing, or what time of day, “Hey, let’s go over the hill!” was always cause for excitement.

Long story short, the two us ended up on a deserted dirt road in Scotts Valley and let’s just say that Rusty ended up on one of the bases. I don’t know all of the distinctions between the bases, but I can say with certainty that he did not get a home run or even a triple. I think he ended up only on second base, and nothing below the waist was involved. So it was fairly innocent. But we had a lovely time, and he was just cute as a button. A lovable, freckle-faced cad.

As luck would have it, though, just as we were about to leave the scene of the crime we saw the telltale flashing red light in the rearview mirror. I frantically threw my shirt on backwards.

It was a patrol officer, and he admonished us for parking on private property. We were trespassing, technically. After sitting in his police car and taking what seemed like forever to make sure we weren’t wanted anywhere, he jotted down our names and addresses and employer’s addresses and said that we were now going to be put on the Scotts Valley “list” of offenders, that we’d now be “on file,” and that if we were ever caught again we’d be in a heap of trouble.

I was mortified.

Now, at the time I was working part-time as a teacher’s aide in San Jose at James Lick High School, which is part of the same school district for which my father was working as principal of Piedmont Hills High School.

On Monday, I was at work when I was summoned to the office of Lick’s vice-principal, Russ Phillips, who was a giant of a man, an ex-football coach with a huge square head and heavy, oversized rings on his fingers. I was absolutely sure that the Scotts Valley Police Department had called Mr. Phillips to tell him that he had an immoral employee working for him. I was also sure that he was going to fire me and then call Dad. I was about to bring shame down on my entire extended Italian family and on all devotees of the Catholic faith.

“Principal’s Daughter Caught Canoodling in Scotts Valley,” the San Jose Mercury-News headline would read the next day. Or so I imagined.

I panicked and started to sniffle as I headed to Mr. Phillips’ office.

Luckily, he wanted only to ask me something about my payroll form.

And my father, bless his soul, never knew about Rusty and me. On top of everything, he never really liked Rusty much, either.

***

A decade or so later, this incident actually was a factor in influencing the course of my career. I was a freelance editor at the time, after having gotten a second degree in English. I’d all but given up on a career in law enforcement because police departments were requiring perfect vision among their recruits and I wore contacts, but times started changing and two local departments had no such requirement: Fairfax in Marin County and Fremont in Alameda County. So I applied to both and began working to build up my legendary herculean strength.

Fairfax, like most departments, had a physical skills requirement, and the one possible impediment to my getting past that test was The Wall. We had to perform other tasks like dragging a heavy mannequin or stepping rapidly through tires while wearing a heavy weight belt, and I was able to do those easily. The Wall, though, was a different story. It was taller than we were and we had to leap up, grab the top of the wall, and hoist ourselves over it using sheer upper-body strength. In general, men are taller and their upper-body strength is much greater than women’s. All of the other women at the test site failed; they just weren’t able to pull themselves over that thing. I was the last hope for my gender. I went flying towards that wall, leaped up with every ounce of momentum I had, grabbed the wall, and flung myself over. It was all adrenaline, I think.

I was secretly happy, I have to admit, because all of the other women had been effectively eliminated, which greatly increased my chances of getting the one open position. Or so I thought. Then they allowed the women to all try again, with some help, and a couple of them made it. I was furious. Damned liberal Fairfax!!

I didn’t get the job, but it’s interesting that a couple of years after that, my parents in Clearlake met their new police chief, who just happened to have arrived there from Fairfax. Upon hearing their last name, he remembered me and apologized to them for my not having been picked. He said the department brass had been impressed with me (it must have been my domination of the wall!), but they already had had someone picked out before testing had even started – a guy who was a police cadet serving in that department. I guess that made me feel a little better.

Then came Fremont. It was a much larger and seemingly more professional department. There was no physical agility test, for some reason, but there was a written test and a grueling oral exam. After both of those, I was #1 on the recruitment list. All that was left was the lie detector test.

So I found myself sitting in a little room, wired up to the polygraph, with a kindly young officer. It was the last question, and it was an odd one: “Have you ever committed rape, child molestation, or indecent exposure?”

I said no, and the polygraph needle started jumping all over the place.

“That’s odd,” he said. “Let me try again.”

Same result. That needle was flying.

He turned off the machine. “Okay,” he said, “I’m quite sure that you have not committed rape or child molestation. Tell me what’s going on with the indecent exposure thing.”

I was – of course! – mortified. I knew I was thinking about Rusty and that night in Scotts Valley with my shirt off! But I didn’t want to tell the officer. My heart started hammering and I completely lost focus, to the extent that I neglected to mention that Rusty and I had been out in public, which was of course what triggered the “indecent exposure” fear in my head.

Instead, all I said to the officer was, “Well, one time I was with a guy and we had our shirts off.”

There was a pause. He looked at me with a puzzled expression.

Then very gently he said, “Really, dear, that’s okaaaaaaay.”

***

I didn’t get the Fremont job. My status as #1 on their list must have plummeted after that polygraph test. They probably thought I was just too weird for words.

Of course, in retrospect it was good not only for me but for the safety of all the citizens of the Bay Area that I did not become a police officer. Things, as they say, happen for a reason.

There are countless people in our lives who say or do something, however insignificant it seems at the time, that we will remember all of our lives. I wish I could thank all of them. When I think back on that sweet little evening in Scotts Valley, I can’t help but smile. It really did me a world of good, in so many ways. Thanks, Rusty.

***

PART TWO

Due to popular demand, for those of you who are NOT on Facebook, I am including for you, here, the random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1971 and 1987, and they’re all inadvertently hilarious. From now on, my most recent entries will be at the top.

3/26/71:

“We went to Clear Lake today. Big deal. It was miserably cold, miserably rainy, and miserable. Dad took us out to dinner and I became ill. There’s a lot of flu going around. It’s weird — you get very depressed and feel very blecchy. And another weird thing is you feel like crying. So I ate only 2 pieces of chicken, 1 helping of beans, 1/2 baked potato, 2 pieces of bread, and a chocolate sundae. Since I hardly ate anything, they KNEW I was sick.”

2/27/71:

“I wanted to see what sport I’ll be in in P.E. It’ll probably be tennis, basketball, or flag football. All of those choices are good, but I like basketball best. I just adore the feel of that big orange ball.”

1/3/71:

“Today I took my ‘big bath.’ There I 1) wash face with special soap, 2) pluck eyebrows, 3) clean ears, 4) blow nose, 5) brush teeth, 6) shave, 7) take the bath, and 8) clean my nostrils, etc.”

12/22/70, one of many displaying my teenage eating prowess:

“While there I ate an egg sandwich, macaroni salad, toast, popcorn, and Tab. Then I came home and ate dinner.”

12/21/70:

“Today [my cousin] and I stayed at [my aunt’s] house while they all went shopping. We played with [the baby] a lot, and we looked at all their dirty books. One that was really a crackup was A Guide to Sex in Marriage, and man, it told the whole procedure!”

11/11/70 (and it MUST be the winner of the “Unclear on the Concept” award):

“We went to the Veterans Day parade on 1st Street today. We were going to march in the ‘Silent Majority’ section but there wasn’t one.”

11/1/70:

“[My brother] Marc beat me 17 games to 0 in Hex today. It’s a game like Twix but on paper. It was the first time I played, and quite possibly the last. How humiliating!”

9/17/70:

“Mark, the president of our class, is in my History class with Mr. Ferguson and he is the most good-looking boy I’ve ever seen. He says hello all the time and WOW!”

4/24/71:

“Barb and Denise came up later and we just talked in my room for hours. I showed them my big Glen Campbell poster and we tied all our shoes together and other such mature stuff.”

1970:

“On another one of our numerous high school surveys, I had to put down 3 careers I want to enter. I was tempted to put down prostitution but I’m sure Dad would find out.”

***

PART THREE:

Again, this is just for people NOT on Facebook:

Our band, “Hotter Than Helga,” will be playing in Fairfax at 19 Broadway on Thursday night, September 14. (I play drums.) If you like alt/country/rock/Americana music, come out and have a listen!!

Helga_Sept14_web (002)

 

Oops!

Oops!

And then there was the time I found myself downtown at rush hour with my nylons around my ankles.

My latest blog posts have been a bit on the serious side, so I decided that today’s would be simple and light – another in my endless series of embarrassing moments now set forth for all eternity.

I’ve had a number of clothing-related mortifications in my life. I once walked out the door and all the way to the bus stop before realizing that I was wearing only a slip. The uncommon chill is what finally tipped me off.

But a couple of other incidents stand out.

Early in my career in San Francisco, I would periodically wear dresses to work. I had landed a job as an “editorial assistant” at Harper & Row Publishers right out of college, and while most English majors would have swooned at that opportunity, I worked in the production side of things, which meant that I really functioned as an accountant. I dealt with lots of invoices and spreadsheets (all by hand, of course) as I developed a growing familiarity with the intricacies of offsheet presses and bookbinding.

Anyway, one evening I was walking down Sutter Street after a long day at work when quite suddenly both of my nylons rolled down around my ankles. I was wearing thigh-high hose at the time – individual nylons with a tight band at mid-thigh level that miraculously gripped one’s leg. They were supposed to stay there. I don’t know why I preferred them over your standard-issue panty hose, but that was my scene at the time. (By the way, I just Googled them and discovered that they still exist today, so perhaps I was not as far afield fashion-wise as you might be thinking.)

I have no idea why both nylons decided to defy all odds and slide to earth at the same time. In fact, I don’t understand why they slipped down at all. My best guess is that they were getting on in years and perhaps I’d stretched them out when I was heavier – when I had put on the “freshman 15” living in the dorms at SF State, scarfing down as many carbohydrates as I could stuff into my gaping maw. Well, that and the sodas.

Speaking of sodas, I must digress for a moment, because one day I was in line at the college cafeteria with my friend Kati. I had poured myself a Coca-Cola and she had gotten a Pepsi, both in gigantic paper cups, but I’m sure we were distracted by a million things and by the time we paid our “scrip” for them we couldn’t remember which was which. “Don’t worry; I can tell just by smelling them,” she assured me. So she proceeded to stick her nose down into one of the cups and draw in a huge, dramatic sniff. Well, in front of a long line of students, the soda shot way up her nostril, so far that it then streamed out the other nostril and back onto the counter. We both guffawed so hard that she practically choked to death. It caused quite a delay at the counter.

“Well, I can say with clarity that that was definitely not the Pepsi,” she deadpanned.

And that, my friends, was the only time I’ve been around someone snorting Coke.

Anyway, back to the nylons. So now I’m in a torrent of people heading home, my stockings are bunched loosely around my ankles, and I’m overcome with embarrassment. What the heck am I going to do?  Undress right in the middle of Sutter Street?

So, I decided to ever-so-gradually back into a doorway so that I would go undiscovered by at least the majority of the people on the street. I eased myself slowly backwards until I could lean up against the solid wall behind me, at which point I took off my heels, rolled each piece of hosiery all the way down and off, stuffed the nylons in my backpack, and slipped my shoes back on. It took quite a bit of time because I was very deliberate and protracted in my actions so as not to draw attention.

Then I turned around to look at the building.

Oops.

The “wall” that I had backed into was really a window. A huge plate-glass window. And inside the lobby of that building was a large crowd of people, all of them staring. They had had quite a show. A long show at that. They could have consumed an entire tub of popcorn watching me undress!

***

I suppose the most mortifying of all my clothing situations, though, occurred the day I went to the water-slide park with my sister Janine, my former brother-in-law John, and their children. This time I planned carefully in advance and donned a one-piece bathing suit to avoid any mishaps.

I had a fantastic time that day. It was an hour of pure joy and laughing and screaming.

On my last trip down the largest slide, a 10-year-old boy had somehow gotten stuck partway down and along I came, barreling towards him. I flailed around and tried to stop myself, but to no avail, so I careened into him and ended up taking him down with me, the both of us shrieking and hopelessly entangled.

Now, at the bottom of the slide was a shallow pool. Just beyond that was a large, grassy hillside, on which all of the parents sat to watch their kids as they splash-landed after a wild ride.

I stood up out of the pool, cackling and grinning from the delight of not only the fast ride but also the craziness of being intertwined with the startled little boy.

John and the kids met me at the edge of the pool, and I began breathlessly recounting the details of the slide.

As I stood there jabbering, facing not only my family but the hordes of parents on the grass, I noticed that John was staring perplexedly at me. And not at my face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, still catching my breath.

He just pointed.

Somehow in all the chaos my bathing suit had slipped down on one side, and my entire lily-white left breast was out and pointing like a beacon at not only him but also the large crowd on the hill.

“For God’s sake, John, why didn’t you say anything?” I blurted at him while stuffing everything back into place. “A hundred people are staring at me!”

Hand to God, this was his response:

“I wasn’t sure what it was.”

**********

For SF Giants fans, my latest Giants blog posts (most of which are dullsville) are at http://sportsspotlight.com/blog/author/paulabocciardi/

 

 

 

 

Fug’s final feature

Fug’s final feature

My father had the world’s most bizarre middle name.

If you think yours can top it, think again. If your middle name is Phinneas or Clothilde, you still don’t get the blue ribbon. Even if your middle name is Adelgunde, step aside.

My dad’s middle name was . . .

Wait for it . . .

FUG.

Hand to God.

As the story goes, my father grew up believing that he did not have a middle name. No one told him otherwise, and because Italians really didn’t hand out middle names the way other cultures did, he was simply Gerald Bocciardi.

At some point, though, someone decided that he should adopt Raymond as his middle name. His paternal grandfather’s name was Raimondo, so that made as much sense as anything.

So he’d been going along in life as Gerald R. Bocciardi until the day he went to the Oakland Hall of Records to obtain his official birth certificate.

***

My father had been in the army’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at UC Berkeley when he was an undergraduate. ROTC was a program that trained young college students to be commissioned officers in the armed services. When he got his draft notice in August of 1952, in the middle of the Korean War, Dad drove from San Leandro with my mother – his new wife of three months – directly to the Presidio in San Francisco to activate his commission so that he could go into the army as an officer rather than as a grunt private. After a full day of being sent from building and building, signing and transporting paperwork, he was given an official letter to present to the Oakland draft board declaring that he was a commissioned officer.

Now, my dad was a patriotic man and he wanted to fulfill his duty to his country, but Gerald Bocciardi’s boots on the ground would not have served America well. He was a smart guy, but he was also completely inept at practical matters. The man just could not master the most basic of everyday tasks. Boot camp would have kicked him to the curb.

When he got to Camp Cooke – a former army base near Lompoc, California – he was assigned to, of all things, “heavy mortar.” That obviously was not going to be a permanent spot for him. Later, at Fort Lewis in Washington, he was asked to oversee “reconnaissance patrols.” As my mother told me later, those were “the guys who go out in the middle of the night, and they have to read the maps in some foreign, strange jungle. He couldn’t find his way around San Leandro!”

That was a bust, too. It was then that my dad, who was nothing if not crafty, marched into the General’s office with a plan. “I think I’m probably misplaced here,” he announced. “I’d be much better utilized in Intelligence. I speak foreign languages. I’m fluent in Italian and Spanish, I can get by in French, and I also know a smattering of German.” It was all true, although because we were at war with North Korea, I’m not sure how any of those skills mattered. In any case, the General bought the pitch, and my father soon found himself with a top-secret clearance.

1952_11_Southern California_Mom and Dad
Bev and Fug, November 1952

During that time, Mom and Dad lived off base in a motel room because Dad was supposed to be deployed to Korea any minute. Every day they waited for his papers to arrive. Mom was isolated and had nothing to do all day, so she put her considerable energies into a lot of cleaning and knitting. At night they watched television. In those days you had to put a coin in the slot to watch a motel television, but when the coin box broke and my mom – in all of her honesty – told the proprietors about it, they felt so sorry for her being alone all day that they decided to “forget” to fix it. So Mom and Dad had free TV for all those months. As long as she lived, she was always grateful for that.

She and Dad would get out to the Officers’ Club every Saturday night, though. “For one buck,” she told me, “you picked out your huge T-bone. Thick, and choice meat. The army had the best meat in the world. And then they had all the other stuff on buffet tables and salad tables. And they cooked your steak right in front of you. For a dollar!”

Months passed, and more months, and the deployment papers never came. It was a classic army snafu.

***

In any case, at the beginning of this whole process, Mom and Dad stood at the counter at the Oakland Hall of Records waiting for a copy of his birth certificate to submit to the army. The woman helping them returned with a wry smile on her face. “Well, I see you have a very unusual middle name,” she said, mysteriously.

“What do you mean?” my dad replied. “Raymond?”

“Oh, no. Fug.”

Well, that certainly blew their minds!

My father made the mistake, when he first got into the service, of telling a fellow soldier about his newfound middle name. It was a grave error. From that point on, he couldn’t walk through the base without someone hollering “Hey, Fug!” at him.

And when his two years were up, his army buddies sent him off with a party, a poem, and a cartoon. The presentation was called “Fug’s Final Feature.”

***

I now have a certified copy (dated 1980) of Dad’s birth certificate, and it offers Option No. 3. It lists his name as Gerald Gus Bocciardi. Gustavo was his father’s name.

I don’t know what happened. Maybe the original original did show Fug as his middle name. Or maybe someone transcribed or typed something incorrectly along the way, and “Gus” became “Fug.”

You know, maybe the army never got Dad’s papers sorted out because they were looking for Gerald Raymond, who technically didn’t exist. Or maybe they were looking for someone named Fug. I don’t know. Things happen for a reason, though. Had Dad gone off to Korea, it’s possible that his ineptitude would have singlehandedly and inadvertently sabotaged the entire U.S. war effort. On a more serious note, it’s also possible that he never would have come back.

I’m glad you made it home, Fug.

Fug's Final Feature (Dad's army farewell from buddies)-1

“Fishing First!”

“Fishing First!”

Those of us who live in California are getting a bit tired of the unending rain. We’re ecstatic, of course, over the apparent end to our five-year-long drought, but enough is enough. I have to check the weather sites and watch the “motion radar” every few minutes just to determine whether it’s safe to take our dog out without walking into a deluge. The lakes, streams, and reservoirs are getting full now – some dangerously so – and we could all use some sun exposure.

When I was young, full lakes and the promise of spring meant one thing to our family: fishing. We never took fancy vacations, but we spent many a Saturday or Sunday throwing worms or minnows into a host of Santa Clara Valley reservoirs hoping to bring home bluegill, crappie, bass, and catfish. Mom packed a picnic basket full of salami sandwiches, potato chips, and Cragmont sodas. Dad spent much of his time untangling our lines, and he and my brother ultimately had the task of cleaning and filleting the fish. (We ate everything we caught.) Once in a great while we would rent a cabin up at Fallen Leaf Lake in the Sierras, and Dad would take us out in the early morning chill to fish for trout. I remember that he used to sing or whistle the Army’s “Mess Call” (“Come and get your chow, boys”) so the trout would bite. In the early days, I believed that that worked. I will never forget the taste of fresh rainbow trout, right out of the water, wrapped in bacon for breakfast.

The Bocciardi kids became avid anglers.

1962_07_sea-cliff-fish_paula-marc
1962, flounders caught at Seacliff State Beach, CA

Meanwhile, we also loved to form clubs devoted to our youthful pursuits, and as luck would have it, I still have the “minutes” to two of those clubs. One of them, The Tibby Club, was dedicated to my grandmother’s dog, an adorable but spoiled and yappy Lhasa Apso whom we revered. The other club was The Fishing Club. We were a little older then, so the minutes were, of course, typed.

The year was 1969. The meetings took place in our house in San Jose. I was 13 years old, my brother Marc was 11, and our beloved but beleaguered (you’ll see what I mean) little sister Janine was 8.

Please note that although there were four meetings, all of them appear to have taken place on the same day. Then the club completely fell apart in acrimony.

I don’t believe I need to say anything further. I have re-typed the minutes precisely as they originally appeared. They speak for themselves. Enjoy.

MINUTES

Date: June 19, 1969

Time: 8:25 – 8:48 a.m.

Place: Paula’s room

Present: Paula Bocciardi, Marc Bocciardi, Janine Bocciardi

Acting Chairman: Paula Bocciardi

The meeting was called to order by Paula at 8:25 a.m. All were present.

This was the first meeting. The list of club duties was passed around.

Next, we voted on the place to go fishing. The area that came in first will be presented to our parents and if they disagree, the others, in order, will be presented to them. Lexington was first with 11 points, Mt. Hamilton second with 9, Coyote and Chesbro with 5, and Anderson is the alternate.

Then we decided on date, time, bait, and other articles which will be on the plan. Paula will type the plan.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:48 a.m.

***

Fishing Club Duties:

The main duties and functions of the fishing club are as follows:

  1. To plan and prepare one fishing trip a month
  2. To trade fishing gear
  3. To make better fishermen of all its members
  4. To find out the fishing rules and regulations for various areas
  5. To aid, if possible, in fish conservation
  6. Any other duties pertaining to a fishing club

***

Members:

Paula Bocciardi – secretary

Marc Bocciardi – equipment manager

Janine Bocciardi – frog-keeper

Meeting place – 3561 Telegraph Drive

Meeting days – anytime

***

Motto:

Fishing First!

***

Fishing Plan:

  1. Date: July 19 or 26
  2. Place: Lexington
  3. Area: Drive around lake, then return to old spot if no other one is available.
  4. Getting up time: 4:45 [a.m.]
  5. Bait: 2 dozen minnows, 2 night crawlers, 2 worms, no clams, etc.
  6. Leave: anytime parents want, possibly no later than 2:30 [p.m.]
  7. Children will:
  • Make food
  • Load car
  • Go across street to buy bait
  • Wake up parents
  • Get ourselves ready
  • Make breakfast
  1. All parents have to do is dress, drive, and pay for bait.

HAVE FUN!

***

Fishing Day Activities:

  1. Make breakfast (Janine, Paula)
  2. Get Bait
    a. Tell man what we want (Paula)
    b. Pay (Marc)
    c. Carry bait (Janine)
  3. Wake up parents (Janine)
  4. Load car (Marc)
  5. Make lunch (Paula, Marc)

***

1968_07_clearlake_paula-marc-janine-2
1968, Clearlake, CA

 

MINUTES

Date: June 19, 1969

Time: 12:37 p.m. – 12:52 p.m.

Place: Marc’s room

Present: All

Acting Chairman: Paula Bocciardi

The meeting was called to order at 12:37 p.m. The minutes were read.

There were no corrections. There was no old business.

Paula read the fishing plan. No corrections were made.

Janine suggested that we have a suggestion box. This was voted down.

Paula informed Marc that, as manager of the equipment, he must obtain a notebook for the club.

Marc suggested that we should collect dues every once in a while to pay for certain fishing gear we could buy. Paula added to this and said that the equipment manager should present something new we might get at every meeting and we could vote on these presentations.

It was decided not to present the parents with our plan today, but wait.

The meeting was adjourned at 12:52 p.m.

***

1970_08_ship-n-shore-resort_clearlake-ca_marc-janine-paula-1
1970, Clearlake, CA

MINUTES

Date: June 19, 1969

Time: 2:24 p.m. – 3:09 p.m.

Place: Paula’s room

Present: All

Acting Chairman: Paula Bocciardi

The meeting was called to order at 2:24 p.m. The minutes were corrected by Janine, who said that the opinion she gave of the problem that she and Paula would fight over the lures, etc. we buy was not included in the minutes. However, since this was only part of the discussion, and not a suggestion, it does not have to be included in the minutes.

Janine, the frog-keeper, was called upon to report. She said that she was going to ask the twins (Chris and Dan Sears) to take care of Toby, the frog, when we go up to Fallen Leaf Lake on Saturday. The twins weren’t home, so Marc will call them later.

Marc, the equipment manager, was called upon to propose some ideas on things to buy. He suggested a bass/crappie jig, some split shot, some #8 hooks, some #2 hooks, or a plastic worm. We voted on the split shot. We will pay, as individuals, 8¢ for 20. It was agreed that anyone who loses a lure, etc. will be unable to use the others.

There was no old business.

We then chose some projects to undertake. Marc will write to the Fish and Game Department and ask if there is anything we can do, such as putting up posters. I, too, will write to them and tell them about the bad situation at Ed R. Levin Park.

Marc then read the portion of the fishing regulations that tells about night fishing. We discovered we cannot night fish at lakes here.

We decided that Janine should put up posters saying to come to our house for information on local fishing. Janine refused and was kicked out of the club.

The meeting was adjourned at 3:09 p.m.

***

MINUTES

Date: June 19, 1969

Time: 9:44 – 9:58 [p.m.]

Place: Paula’s room

Present: All

Acting Chairman: Paula Bocciardi

The meeting came to order at 9:44 p.m. The minutes were read. There were no corrections.

There were no new developments on the frog. The equipment manager had nothing to report.

There was no old business.

Janine orally took an oath, then signed a written one, which enabled her to come back into the club. This was done because Janine tattled and Mom said that if we didn’t let her in, we couldn’t have a club either. Mom also said she did not want any posters to be put up so we’ll have to think of a new project for Janine.

Marc got a notebook during the meeting.

It was decided that we will write our letters tomorrow if possible, and if not, as soon as possible when we get back from vacation.

We voted on a suggestion made by Paula and Marc. The club shall temporarily be closed to further membership. However, if one of us would like a new member to join, the person would have to be approved by every other member.

The meeting was adjourned at 9:59 p.m.

***

Oath:

I, JANINE BOCCIARDI. DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR THAT IF KICKED OUT OF THE CLUB I WILL NOT CONVEY THIS MESSAGE TO OUR PARENTS IN ANY WAY. I ALSO DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR THAT I WILL NOT DISCUSS ANYTHNG ABOUT THIS CLUB TO ANYONE, INCLUDING OUR PARENTS, UNLESS I AM GIVEN PERMISSION TO DO SO BY EITHER MARC OR PAULA BOCCIARDI.

SIGNED,

Janine Bocciardi

fishing-club-oath

***

I hope you enjoyed that peek into the past. Meanwhile, for those of you not on Facebook, I have some blogging news. I am now the official blogger for the San Francisco Giants on a website called “Sports Spotlight.” If I think any of those blogs might be of interest, I’ll include the links at the end of my Monday Morning Rail posts.

The latest:

On whether Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame: http://sportsspotlight.com/blog/boys-bay-021317/

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A sloth’s guide to exercise

A sloth’s guide to exercise

 

When I was talking to my good friend Julie R. last week, she told me with great disappointment that she had a terrible cold and had to scale her cardio exercise session “down” to 30 minutes. Then she and I immediately laughed, because we both know that getting up to 30 minutes of cardio is my never-ending goal.

I am cursed blessed with a group of friends – none of them spring chickens, mind you – who all seem to be paragons of physical fitness. The aforementioned Julie R. runs marathons. Jill and Barb climbed Mt. Everest and, when that got a bit tedious, trekked around Machu Picchu. Michele works out with kettlebells (or, as I like to call them, “rotator cuff rippers”). Ron hikes the Pacific Crest Trail. Annabelle is a national champion in velodrome cycling. M.L. does triathlons.

It probably goes without saying that none of those things is in my repertoire.

For the most part, I hate exercising, unless it involves playing competitive sports. I used to be a decent athlete, but nowadays my sports endeavors typically end in a torn muscle, a broken bone, or some combination of the two. So I have settled on exercising as an individual, because of course it’s good for your heart and helps keep your bones from disintegrating and blah-dee-dee blah blah blah.

I have a feeling that some of my readers (outside of my close circle of superjock friends) might feel the way I do, so I would like to offer my surefire method of starting an exercise program and sticking with it. My method involves just three components:

  1. Exercising for only 30 seconds;
  2. Getting into a furious lather over newstalk; and
  3. Hoping that Max Weinberg gets food poisoning.

 

Follow the “30 Seconds” program

The most critical element of the Bocciardi exercise program is exercising for only 30 seconds. Now, I know you’re all assuming that I’m just trying to be funny, but my closest friends and family members can verify that what I am about to say is 100 percent true.

It seems that every year or two something happens that completely derails my exercise program. I shatter a bone, rip a ligament, get sick, experience some kind of life interruption, or just plain get lazy. And as many of you know, it is really, really hard to start up exercising once you have stopped. It is painful. The lungs burn, the legs ache, the heart labors, and it’s simply a boatload of misery. So I have found that the only thing that makes me start up again is knowing that I have to do it for only 30 seconds.

My cardio machine of choice is the elliptical, and what I do is exercise for 30 seconds on my first day back, 60 seconds the next time, and so on. Of course, increasing by only 30 seconds per outing means that it takes 60 outings to work my way up to my 30-minute max, but that’s fine with me. (And if I get on the elliptical three days a week, that means it will take five months to reach my half-hour max – about enough time for me to tear another ligament and have to start all over again.)

Knowing that I have to suffer for only 30 seconds that first day is a sublime motivator. And I really get into it. I pull on my sweats, grab some Gatorade, and even make sure I wear my sports bra.

 

Get infuriated over newstalk

My ideal sports regimen involves using the elliptical on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, I work out for 20–30 minutes on our hybrid weight machine in our downstairs “guest room.”

I discovered many years ago that listening to newstalk radio in the car always makes me furious, which can really make a lengthy trip zip by in seemingly no time at all. If a 22-year-old know-it-all starts ranting about how future Hall of Fame coach Bruce Bochy doesn’t know what he’s doing and should have replaced a pitcher, the time you spend sitting in rush-hour traffic will pass swiftly as your disgust rises. Or if one of those “survivalists” calls in from his bunker to offer his completely uninformed opinion about the Constitution, your three-hour trip will evaporate while you seethe.

So, while I spend time downstairs on the weight machine, injuring myself in small increments (until one day: SPROIIIIIIING!), I watch cable news on television. I can simultaneously do a shoulder press and shriek at the TV, “Why on earth do you still have a job, Wolf??! Is no one else sick to death of your breathless pettifogging?”

Not only does that pass the time, but my blood boils, my heart pumps like a locomotive, and my theory is that it enables me to lift more weight!

 

Imagine Max Weinberg with salmonella

While I’m on the elliptical in the garage, though, I don’t watch television. What I do is put one of my so-last-millennium CDs into my so-last-millennium living room CD player and listen via wireless headphones.

(Of course, as you might imagine, when I’m exercising for only 30 seconds, I don’t get to hear very much of a song.)

Dealing with the pain and misery of cardio exercise, however, requires that I do something more than just listen to music. So I fantasize.

fess_parker_as_daniel_boone
Fess Parker

When I was a little girl, my favorite fantasy was that I was a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers. As I got a little older, I had a dream (now legendary among my circle of friends) about Fess Parker and me that involved no clothing whatsoever except for coonskin caps. It was rather wonderful, but I digress.

For the last two years I’ve slowly been going through my entire Springsteen CD collection, which includes studio recordings, EPs, and a raft of bootlegs. My objective is to catalog all of them in a detailed database and to rate each studio and live performance according to the Bocciardi ratings system. This means hundreds of hours listening to Bruce while I work out on the elliptical.

What I do for the entire 30 minutes – or seconds, as the case may be – is fantasize that I am playing drums in the E Street Band behind Bruce at a live concert. In my scenario, I’ve been conscripted to play, on the spur of the moment, because regular drummer Max Weinberg is suddenly stricken and unable to take the stage.

Rock fans, this is where we absolutely must discuss the fact that this did happen to the world’s luckiest teenager. And it occurred right here in Daly City.

On November 20, 1973, the Who – one of the greatest bands of all time – were (or is it “was”?) in the middle of a show at the Cow Palace when drummer Keith Moon passed out cold, allegedly from a combination of tranquilizers and brandy. After being revived offstage with a shower and a cortisone injection, he came back out and continued drumming, seemingly back to normal. But during the very next song he passed out again, and this time he meant it.

Miraculously, some of this was filmed and has been posted on YouTube. You can see Keith slumped over at about 8:22, right after “Magic Bus” ends.

https://youtu.be/aIjH9OU2JKw

Guitarist Pete Townshend then looked up into the crowd and asked whether there were any good drummers who could come down and help them out. Holy nirvana! This doesn’t even happen in the movies!

Nineteen-year-old Thomas Scot Halpin, a fan who’d arrived 13 hours early with a friend to see the legendary band, was standing on the floor off to the side of the stage. When Townshend made his plea, the friend dragged Scot over to a security guard and insisted that he knew all the material and would be the perfect person for the job. Concert promoter Bill Graham came over to check out what he thought was a security issue, but he ended up recruiting Scot for the job. So Halpin found himself onstage, where someone gave him a shot of brandy to calm his nerves and he proceeded to spend the next few minutes of his life living out a dream that afterwards he could barely remember because of the adrenaline and the unreality of it all.

The band did three more songs, two of which were classic blues numbers. The third song was a Who tune called “Naked Eye” that had been played live but had not been released on a studio album, so I don’t know whether Halpin had even heard it before.

Although he had not touched a drumstick in a year, and Townshend sometimes had to help him through the tempo changes, I think the teenage drummer did a great job:

https://youtu.be/X5ZGlVY5rg4

At the end, Halpin takes a bow with the band and looks like the happiest man alive.

It gives me chills to watch it.

scot-halpin

My fantasy, as I mentioned, is similar. But there is no way Max Weinberg would ever be under the influence at a concert (or probably anywhere). For a long time my scenario involved his having a heart attack, but after many months it occurred to me that if Max had a coronary before a show, Springsteen would not blithely carry on with the concert as if nothing had happened! So I decided that he needed to suddenly get a raging case of food poisoning. Nothing too serious, of course, but enough to keep him indisposed for a few hours. Meanwhile, I would be dragged up on stage to finish the show.

My appearance would be, of course, triumphant.

And that’s how you can get through your new exercise plan for 2017.

You’re welcome.

paula-exercising

Screaming through Bakersfield

Screaming through Bakersfield

When I was a little girl, I was afraid of a multitude of things, including lawn mowers, elevators, cat’s eyes, cuckoo clocks, the mosaic stone tower at Valley Fair Shopping Center in San Jose, and the revolving Hamm’s beer display (with a giant bear) at the local supermarket. Sometimes, with luck, those things would disappear. For example, my grandparents would nail shut the little door of their cuckoo clock whenever we visited. And the revolving Hamm’s display was ultimately taken down. I spoke Italian at that age, and when the scary things vanished I would ask my father where they had gone. “Dov’è la statua che gira?” (“Where is the statue that turns?”) And Dad would always answer, “It went to Bakersfield.” That town clearly had a lot of open space.

Well, one day when I was three years old, our family was driving to the L.A. area to visit our grandparents, and in those days you had to drive down Highway 99, which ran through the San Joaquin Valley and was the only major connection between northern and southern California.

Most of the towns along the route had arched signs over the highway, welcoming travelers to their communities.

So, visible from the highway was a big banner that announced “BAKERSFIELD” in enormous capital letters as we approached that cowboy town.

That would have been just fine, except that Jerry and Beverly Bocciardi had forgotten that they had taught their daughter to read at the age of three. (It was absolutely unheard of then, although common now.) So they were startled, to say the least, when an ear-piercing scream such as they had never heard before issued forth from their hysterical daughter in the back seat.

The scream did not relent. I shrieked all the way through Bakersfield and continued to shriek through the next three towns. My parents both suffered partial hearing loss. The sheer decibel level caused all the Bakersfield residents to stop in their tracks. Local lore has it that Buck Owens even wrote a song about “The Unending Scream.”

In my mind, all the lawn mowers, elevators, cuckoo clocks, disembodied cat eyes, stone towers, and Hamm’s beer displays were waiting along the side of that dusty road to attack me.

More than half a century later, my terror of even the word “Bakersfield” was finally alleviated when I reluctantly spent the first night of a ’cross-country trip there and was not assaulted by a marauding bear statue.

Whew. One totally unreasonable terror that I can now check off the list!

Panic at the pump

Panic at the pump

 

I’m afraid of salad bars and gas stations.

There. I’ve said it.

A couple of weeks ago, I read a “Dear Abby” column that consisted of three letters entirely about people’s fears and neuroses. One letter, in particular, broke my heart. It came from a poor soul in Montana who described being terrified of driving on interstates and said that the phobia was preventing him or her from going places and doing things. The person believed that no one else in the world had such a fear.

But I can relate. When I first learned to drive, I was afraid of merging. Once I made it onto a freeway I was fine, but the act of merging was nearly incapacitating for me. Shortly after I got my license in San Jose, I was driving with my friend Carolyn to the movies in my 1971 Toyota Corolla. Our younger sisters were in the back seat. As my sister Janine reminds me, we were on the freeway on-ramp when I freaked out and stopped cold, on the ramp, screaming that I was too terrified to merge. Carolyn had to leap out, race around, jump into the driver’s seat, and get us to the theater. There must have been some very patient drivers behind us.

I’ve conquered that fear, thankfully, but it has been replaced by a raft of others.

The common denominator of my phobias seems to be a general terror of being tasked with figuring out how to do something new. What are the rules? Will my impracticality prevent me from following the simplest of directions? Will my fear of embarrassing myself paralyze me?

About 20 years ago, there was a salad bar on 2nd Street south of Market, near my workplace. This was long before the techie migration to the City – long before the emergence of artisanal brewpubs featuring hand-massaged beef and French fries made with specialized potatoes grown only in the Kennebec region of Maine. No, the whole restaurant was just a salad bar, full of fresh and delicious items that ranged from healthy vegetables to caloric pasta salads. As much as I loved that place, though (primarily for the enormous fried-in-butter croutons), I was filled with dread every time I ventured inside. There were so many ways to mess up. In the first place, I was never sure about the etiquette. I zoomed around the salad counter at a pretty quick clip, but there were many customers who lingered over every item. They would debate for what seemed an eternity about what kind of sprout to get. And I never knew whether it was ethical to jump ahead of them and head for the pasta, so I suffered in silence. Then there were other issues. For example, the price of the food was based on the weight of the salad (which meant that my salads were always very, very expensive). But it also appeared that customers were entitled to free bread. How many slices were we allowed to take? More importantly, were we supposed to put the bread on top of the salad, which would greatly increase the weight? Or could the bread be carried separately? Similarly, were the little Saltine cracker packages free, or did we have to disclose them? And what about the soup? How did people carry that back to the office? (I ended up never getting soup; it was way too stressful to think about it.)

You get the picture.

I don’t know whether there are salad bars like that around anymore, so I no longer have to worry myself to death over that particular scenario. But one fear that will affect me until I no longer drive a car is my abject terror of gas stations.

I believe the underlying principle is the same: I’m worried that I won’t be able to figure out the “procedures.”  Nowadays it seems that there is often an enormous set of complex instructions greeting you at the pump. Does the station take cash, regular credit cards, oil company credit cards, or some combination thereof? Do I have to wander inside and pay first, or can I pay right at the pump?  If I have to go inside, how do I tell them which car belongs to me? Do I leave my card with them and then have to retrieve it later? And how does the pump itself work? Are there handles I have to position a certain way before the gas comes out? Do I have to hold the nozzle the whole time, or is there a little lever I can flip so the gas flows on its own? Do I have to wait for the pump to tell me to “remove credit card quickly,” and if so, do I really need to yank it out violently, or can I just remove it at whatever pace I prefer? And God forbid I need to put air in the tires. Do I have to relentlessly stuff quarters into the air machine while trying to inflate four tires? Or is the use of the air free for customers, in which case do I go inside and tell them that I just paid for a tank of gas? If so, how will they know I’m not lying? (And by the way, do other people find it really hard to stretch that air hose all the way around the car to the tires on the opposite side? I feel like I have to muster up herculean strength to do that, and then I’m always afraid the hose will snap out my hands, whip across the car, break all the windows, and tear up the paint. Plus the whole process takes forever, because I always seem to let out more air than I put in.)

My solution to this problem, my friends, is that for decades I have gone to one gas station, and one only. In the entire world. It is the Chevron station at the corner of 19th Avenue and Ortega Street in San Francisco. I have been a customer of this one and only gas station for 25 years. And I know all the procedures.

One might wonder how I have managed to get gas at only this station for most of my life; I mean, I’ve traveled by car through all 50 states except Alaska and Florida. Well, when we need fuel and we’re in another city or state, Julie gets the gas. It’s that simple. Our road trip to Kentucky? Yep, she fills up every time. Inclement weather? Julie has to be the one to brave the elements. There’s no sense in risking my having a nervous breakdown over a tank of gas.

Then one day it happened. Julie and I were driving by the 19th/Ortega station when, as she describes it, I actually gasped, screamed “No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!” and threw myself against the passenger window, my face and hands plastered against the glass, my mouth open in shock and horror. I had just seen some barricades and a sign that the station was closed for renovation. I never could have imagined such a thing. Poor Julie had to put all the gas in our car for the two years it took for my beloved Chevron station to open back up again.

I don’t know why it freaks me out so much to deal with the unknown, or with change of any sort. We learned recently, for instance, that Julie has to go on a business trip to Denver the day I arrive home from my train trip next month (if this *&^%$# chronic vertigo even allows me to go). So she can’t pick me up when I arrive in Emeryville as we had planned. When I heard that truly devastating news, I panicked and could hardly sleep that night. I mean, I can change my ticket so that an Amtrak bus brings me from Emeryville into San Francisco. “But then what?” I cried plaintively. “How will I get home? I can’t get on a Muni bus with multiple suitcases at rush hour! I’ll be all alone on the Embarcadero and have to sleep on the streets!” Julie very calmly asked whether I had perhaps heard of something called a taxi. Oh.

I’m so grateful that Julie understands my phobias and does not laugh (outwardly) at them or force me to confront my phobias if they are only negligibly inconvenient for her. She knows that I have powered through my fear of flying many times over the years because we were visiting her family. But the gas station aversion doesn’t really bother her. Thank goodness I’m not dating anymore: “Hi. Before we go out, let me show you a list of all my neuroses. I’ve typed them out on this 10-foot scroll. Plus I have toe fungus.”

I wish I could tell the poor sweet Montana interstate-phobic person that he or she is most definitely not alone. I believe that all of us have fears of some kind (except maybe Sully Sullenberger). There are the standard phobias, and then there are other terrors that we’ve developed over the years for one reason or another. And we can’t necessarily get over them very easily. As my sister says, “There’s no applying logic to an illogical fear.”

Isolated fears also don’t mean that we are weak. We can be brave in many respects and anxious in others. I had a friend ask me why I wasn’t afraid of traveling alone across the country. That has never occurred to me. Some people fear surgery or anesthesia, but I’ve never been a bit nervous about going under the knife. If you want to operate on me, have at it! But don’t ask me to summon a taxi.

I just read a funny little book by Nora Ephron called I Feel Bad About My Neck. She says, “When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you; but when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh. So you become the hero rather than the victim of the joke.” It’s always a good practice, I believe, to own our fears, our mistakes, and our shortcomings. Talk about them.

You are not alone, my friends. I promise you.

Shakin’ all over

Shakin’ all over

No, that isn’t me in the photo. It happens to be my niece Tara. A couple of weeks ago, Tara threw me into a fit of hysterical choking laughter when she texted this picture completely out of the blue. The photo references one of my many mortifying personal stories, and it must have stuck with her, because she spontaneously saw fit to do a reenactment. So I thought I would re-tell the story. I’ve been writing some fairly serious blogs lately and I thought I’d lighten things up this week, in keeping with my vow to periodically post little vignettes that capture the inane, embarrassing, and/or idiotic things I’ve done in the past.

(See, for example, “Broken windows and empty hallways.”)

It all started at 5:04 p.m. on October 17, 1989. Northern Californians remember that day well. The Giants were about to start the third game of their first World Series in 27 years. They had lost the first two games, but of course there was still abundant hope circulating in the heart of Paula Bocciardi. I was working in the Civic Center and was desperate, of course, to get home for the start of the game. So, like the devoted but precise employee I was, I SHOT out the door at the stroke of 5:00 p.m. as if there were a rocket strapped to my back.

Paula with Honda PassportMy preferred mode of transportation at the time was my cherished “hog.” It was a red-and-white Honda C70 Passport motorcycle. Okay, it was only 70cc and its top speed was 44 miles an hour, but for the City it was perfect. A few people had dared to call it a “scooter” or, even worse, a “moped,” but I would quickly put those people in their place. First of all, you needed a motorcycle license to ride that bike. Second, the tires were motorcycle-sized so you had to lean into curves as you would on a real chopper. Finally, it had actual gears that you had to shift. I felt studly riding that thing, even though, to be honest, if it fell over I could pick it up with one hand.

So I hit that throttle and zoomed down Larkin Street, heading towards Geary to get home, when suddenly my bike was thrown into the next lane. And I mean thrown like kindling in a cyclone. I had just gotten a new tire, so I instantly assumed that the mechanic had done something terribly wrong. I hollered every expletive I knew into my helmet. Thankfully, I was still upright when I came to a stop. And it was then that I noticed that the ground was rolling, a burgeoning cloud of dust was filling the air, and people were streaming out onto the street. The air got thicker and browner, the traffic lights suddenly went out, and everyone was yelling. I finally figured it out. EARTHQUAKE.

It took me forever to get home, stopping at every intersection in the City because the lights were out. When I pulled up to my apartment building, one of the other tenants was standing outside. “Did you feel it?” he asked. I explained that I had been on my bike and hadn’t really understood what was happening at the moment it hit. To this day, I remember his exact response: “It’s a good thing you weren’t here in the apartment building,” he said, “because you would have lost your lunch.”

There really wasn’t much destruction in my apartment at all. My beloved 19-inch television, perched on top of a trunk, had been shaken off and onto the ground, and a few things on shelves had fallen and broken, but overall everything was okay.

My workplace was closed immediately after the quake because of structural damage, so I headed up to spend a few days with my parents in Clearlake, away from the aftershocks. All in all, then, I was fairly sheltered from experiencing the true drama of that devastating quake.

When I returned to my apartment on Friday night, I settled in to relax and watch television. Channel-surfing, I landed first upon a local news station that was running a montage of never-before-seen footage taken during the temblor from various video cameras around northern California. I started to absorb the horror of what I was seeing: the terrible shaking, the merchandise falling and shelves crashing onto the floors of local businesses, a panicked bartender racing out from behind a bar to escape shattering glass, customers screaming, a freeway collapsed.

Suddenly, I was petrified. It was three days after the event, everyone else was calming down and starting the work of healing, and I became paralyzed with fear. I concluded that there was going to be an imminent aftershock that would be stronger than the initial tremor on Tuesday, and that we were all destined to perish. It was terror delayed, but it was the kind of terror a child experiences when he knows that, the instant he closes his eyes at night, a monster will leap out of the closet.

I needed to take action to ensure my safety. That action, I concluded, was to place a motorcycle helmet on the bed next to me before I went to sleep. That would save my life.

For some reason I didn’t choose my black helmet that made me look like Darth Vader in tennis shoes. In a cool way. At the time, I had a passenger helmet that was a god-awful yellow hue, with no face guard or chin strap, and that’s the one I laid carefully next to my pillow that night.

Well, wouldn’t you know, I was slumbering peacefully when all of a sudden the most clamorous racket arose in my apartment. Wham! Clang! Bang bang bang! It was like John Henry hitting a piece of iron with his mighty hammer. Bang bang bang bang bang! My eyes flew open and the bed was shaking violently and I knew exactly what was happening.

“IT’S THE BIG ONE!!” I shrieked.

I snatched that helmet, crammed it on my head, and raced for the doorway, bracing my arms and legs against the jamb and preparing myself for the inevitable crumbling of the walls.

My doorway faced into the living room, and when I could finally focus, I noticed that my big heavy flower pot, suspended from the ceiling by a long macramé hanger, wasn’t moving. Not swaying a bit. In fact, nothing was moving. Nothing at all.

Hmm.

It seems that, since the power had gone out three days before, the automatic timers that worked the building heating system had been out of whack. The heat was now coming on in the middle of the night. And every apartment had the old-fashioned metal baseboard steam heaters that sound like hammers when water first starts to flow through them. So it was the radiators that were clanking.

And it was my pounding heart that had set the bed moving.

There I was, then, adorned in that yellow beehive of a helmet, pressed in fear against the doorway. I was facing out towards the street, and when I looked out my huge living room window, I saw two passers-by staring up at me.

Did I mention that I was naked?

 

 

 

Broken windows and empty hallways

Broken windows and empty hallways

Today’s post will be the first in a sporadic series of short anecdotes detailing some of the myriad clueless and/or humiliating things I’ve done over the years. If you are a family member or friend who goes back a long time with me, you’ve probably heard these stories ad nauseam, so just hit the delete key and go on with your life.

The incident in question happened on May 19, 1985. I know the exact date because I kept a diary every day of my life from 1970 to 1987. I filled every blank line in those diaries with two lines of printing so microscopic that only eagles can read it without a magnifying glass. So we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of words that I set down during that period. Anyone with questions about events that occurred during that time frame, or even about what they said to me during those years, should feel free to ask me for a full recounting.

I had just moved into a one-bedroom apartment on Lake Street in San Francisco. My housemate Keith and I had been essentially kicked out of our flat on Pine Street by unscrupulous new landlords who falsely claimed they were moving into the building (which enabled them to skirt the rent-control laws) and then immediately doubled our rent. We couldn’t afford the astronomical monthly increase, so we were forced to leave.

In retrospect, it was a great move. I had just spent the bleakest period of my life in a place that was as dark, cold, and dank as my emotional state. It was the bottom flat of a three-flat Victorian. At high noon, it was pitch black. On a sunny day, we could see our breath indoors. And it was so damp inside that we actually had – I kid you not – mushrooms growing out of our bathroom tiles.

2401 Lake Street, SFThe place I found on Lake Street looked like the absolute blight of the block from the outside. Amidst the beautiful houses that line that street, my building looked like an aging pinkish ill-proportioned flat-nosed trapezoid or rhombus or one of those odd shapes we all learned about in geometry class. I’ll include a picture and maybe someone can tell me what on earth it is and why anyone would ever have built the thing.

Inside, however, it was actually quite darling. The rooms were big, bright, and airy; the kitchen was both vintage-cute and functional; and it felt like a brand-new start. Indeed, that place represented the first light of day to me. I wish I could have told my younger self, and could impress upon every young person today, that things that threaten to rip you in pieces – that make you feel like you’re going to “walk down the street and fly apart,” as my friend Ellen used to say – will usually align your compass towards a better direction. The thing that binds you involuntarily will ultimately free you. It just might take awhile.

The only flaw in my delightful new apartment was that one of the living room windows was stuck open. The window was an old-fashioned crank-style, and although I struggled mightily to close it, it would not even begin to budge. And it was frigid in that apartment. People who have never lived in San Francisco may be unaware that a “warm San Francisco night” is a rarity. (I don’t know what Eric Burdon was ingesting when he wrote that song.) Summer days in SF can be foggy, drizzly, and even bone-chilling, and the nights can be worse. I was freezing in that place, and unfortunately the heating system did nothing to counteract the temperature. The apartment had baseboard radiator heaters that were controlled by building management on a timer. They came on for only a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening, and although that ordinarily was okay, the bitter wind coming in off the Bay and right through my open window almost killed me.

I made a couple of phone calls to the realty company handling my apartment, but those calls were not returned. My blood was starting to boil (as much as it could, in that refrigerator of an apartment), and on the evening of May 19 I was heading out the door, fleeing the apartment to have dinner at Ellen’s house. I was looking forward to being in a toasty home and eating a warm meal and just, for God’s sakes, warming up!

Well, as I descended the stairs I saw an open apartment door, with a man in the usually-deserted hallway collecting money from the tenant inside. And his accent exactly matched the indeterminate accent that I heard the building manager speak when I had initially rented the place. Oh, hallelujah, it was the landlord!

“Excuse me, are you the landlord?” I interrupted him.  He gave me a quizzical nod. “Well, my window won’t close, and I thought maybe you could come up and look at it. I’m Paula, the new tenant in #7. Please just come and look at the window, OK?” I don’t believe I sounded angry or threatening; I was just pleading plaintively, like a character in Les Misérables.

It worked. He dutifully followed me up to my apartment, and I showed him the window, recounting in strict detail my unreturned phone calls and the efforts I had made to close that (*&^%$! window. He tried his own hand at forcing it shut, but it would not yield. “It looks like the hinge is rusty and won’t bend,” he said. “I think that what you need to do is get a can of WD40 and see if that works to clean it.”

Well, that annoyed me. Typical landlord, I thought. Too miserly to call in a real repair person to do the job right or, heaven forbid, replace the hinge.

“All right, I’ll clean it,” I said, with some irritation, “but if it still doesn’t work, you’re going to hear from me again, be-lieve-you-me.” I made an internal vow to be assertive, for once in my life, and not let him get away with shirking his responsibility.

“OK,” he said. I glared at him.

“I’d like to help you, lady,” he continued, backing slowly out the door, “but I have three more pizzas to deliver.”

 

The wood is tired and the wood is old

The wood is tired and the wood is old

I have spent many exhausting and frustrating years recommending to my nieces and nephew, as they entered college, that they sign up for a course in Entomology. That’s right – bugs. I’ve emphasized strongly and repeatedly that the course would prove to be a transformative experience. For me, it actually provided confirmation of the existence of God. I am completely serious.

But no one ever listened to my advice, no one ever took the course, and to this day I continue to be appalled.

So I am now going to take up another cause in hopes that one person – just one! – among my legions of readers will adopt my counsel. Here it is: Watch the “CBS Sunday Morning” show.

This charming TV show was recommended to me by my friend Gigi, who shares with me the desire to shut out the disturbing elements in life and ferret out the poignant, the generous, the beautiful, the artful, and the heroic. The 90-minute program, hosted by the delightful Charles Osgood, features beautifully written and filmed vignettes about regular people, some of whom have done extraordinary things in very simple ways. The stories are folksy, sweet, emotional, informative, and always eminently respectful of their subjects, no matter how eccentric.

My all-time favorite piece on “CBS Sunday Morning” was about 10-year-old twin boys whose love of the game Battleship turned into a trip to the aircraft carrier Yorktown in South Carolina, which resulted in their learning about a still-living World War II sailor with whom they became instantly enamored. Even talking about the man made them burst out crying. “We want to hear what his voice sounded like, we want to touch him, we want to know him a lot more,” one of them said through his tears. The story is about how their surprise meeting with the 90-year-old sailor changed all of their lives. I blubbered through the whole thing.

[You can watch the story at the link below. If you can get through the short video without crying, please leave a “comment” to that effect and I will immediately declare you to be a hardhearted fussbudget.]

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/students-experience-living-history-on-retired-aircraft-carrier/

I was catching up on my “Sunday Morning” shows last week when I was particularly captivated by a story about fossilized wood that is pilfered every year from the Petrified Forest in Arizona’s stunning Painted Desert. This was a familiar subject to me because in 2001 I was conscripted to actually return a piece of petrified wood to that same area.

Winona with watermarkIn the fall of that year, I decided to drag Julie on a month-long road trip down nearly the entire length of Route 66. The whole thing came about because I had fallen obsessively in love with the new, retro-looking Thunderbirds that had just been released, and I was determined to get one. Frustrated with the prohibitively long waiting lists and outrageous dealer markups in California, I had the brilliant idea to call some dealers in Kentucky. Kentucky is Julie’s native state, and we were out there often to visit her family anyway. It turned out that at a dealership in Versailles (pronounced “Ver-SAILS” in Kentucky), lo and behold there was no markup and no waiting list. So we put in our order, and I came up with the plan to drive the car back home to California on Route 66. We would take our time, spending a few weeks cruising appreciatively down the historic road that had been the conduit for so many Americans searching for better lives.

Not all that many decades ago, Route 66 (or “The Mother Road”) was the main travel route for people crossing the country. It became official in 1926 when, with the automobile establishing itself in the minds of Americans as their ticket to freedom and prosperity, the U.S. government decided to create a comprehensive network of interstate highways. As Bobby Troup wrote in his famous song, it “winds from Chicago to L.A” and covers 2,451 miles, eight states, and three time zones. It begins in Illinois, drops down into the verdant state of Missouri, clips a corner of the Kansas plains, plows through the Oklahoma dust, then heads straight west out of Oklahoma City through the Texas panhandle, over the long stretches of desert through New Mexico and Arizona, and into California at around Barstow, where it snakes its way through the orange groves of southern California until it ends at the Santa Monica pier.

Route 66 was the great trail that brought people west. Black Americans fled the nightmarish Jim Crow south; poverty-stricken Dust Bowl families set out to find work on California’s farms; and after World War II young soldiers and their wives, bolstered by the GI Bill and national optimism, packed up their infant boomers and went looking for housing and employment. In the more prosperous years that followed, people with cars and leisure time and a decent income took family vacations to see more of what this country had to offer than they could find in their hometowns.

What a great time it was for travelers back then. They could start their day with a heap of flapjacks, eggs, bacon, and hash browns for about a buck, washed down with a piping hot mug of coffee brought to their table by a smiling diner waitress. Then they would spend the day on the road, stopping in each small town to buy local crafts or let their kids play on the kitschy amusements set up as lures in front of each store. Take your photo next to a giant Paul Bunyan statue! Ride on a big blue cement whale! See the inside of a totem pole! At the end of the day, hungry and tired, they would pull into a truck stop and fill their stomachs with flame-cooked burgers, fried chicken, and milkshakes or ice-cold Coca-Colas, followed by enormous slabs of berry pie heaped with fresh whipped cream. Another hour or two of driving straight west into some of the most glorious sunsets they’d ever been lucky enough to see, and it was time to stop for some very sound sleep at one of the ubiquitous, neon-lit drive-up motor courts that had popped up along the road.

Unfortunately, the quaint, friendly cross-country stretch that was Route 66 suffered a terrible blow in the 1960s and 1970s, when the 42,000-mile national interstate highway system was built. Interstates 55, 44, 40, and 15 would essentially parallel Route 66 but bypass all of the small towns that had grown up along the route. Slowly, those towns withered and died as the “big slab” (as many called the interstate) promised travelers the ability to traverse great distances in far less time. Chain motels, chain restaurants, and chain gas stations replaced the colorful lodging and eateries along the route. People lost their livelihoods and moved away from their homes. In 1984, the last bit of Route 66 was replaced near Williams, Arizona. An era had ended.

Fortunately, some individuals, organizations, and state legislatures have stepped up in recent years, restoring old buildings and maintaining sections of the old road. Nostalgia-seekers and people with time on their hands are heading back down Route 66. There are parts of the road that are long gone, forcing travelers to hop on the freeway for miles at a time, especially in New Mexico and Arizona. But stretches of the old road do remain, and there are refurbished diners, gas stations, motels, and roadside attractions – not to mention museums – to be enjoyed. I highly recommend it. It’s almost as much fun as entomology.

Before we headed out on our own Mother Road adventure, my guitarist friend and bandmate Dina M. – a transplanted New Yorker – told us that she had purloined a piece of petrified wood from the Petrified Forest at least a decade earlier when she had moved out to California. In the Petrified Forest, it is absolutely illegal to remove anything because of the numerous ongoing scientific experiments that are conducted on the fossils there. Wood becomes petrified when mineral matter seeps into buried trees and, over the course of millions of years, eventually replaces all the organic matter, turning the wood into a fossilized stone. That wood/stone can reveal an entire geologic record about the passage of time.

So, consumed with guilt, Dina asked us to do her the favor of bringing the wood back to its home so she could be relieved of the crime and the emotional burden once and for all. We agreed, and we brought that little rock (it couldn’t have been more than 6 inches in diameter; we called it “Little Dino”) with us from California all the way to Kentucky and then back west as we meandered along the length of Route 66. It was 50 miles off the route and out of our way to go into the Petrified Forest, but well worth the detour – for Dina’s sake, for Little Dino’s sake, and also for our own amusement, edification, and overall sense of self-congratulation.

Petrified wood with watermarkThe petrified wood in this forest can be 225 million years old, and signs about the federal penalties attached to removing the wood were everywhere. Although we were bringing contraband into, not out of, the place, I remember sweating like a drug dealer when we passed through the entrance gate and had to undergo the ranger’s interrogation about what we had in the car. Then, once into the park, we could find only groups of large rocks that completely dwarfed Little Dino, and he was going to look supremely out of place. But we had no choice. Holding the contraband clandestinely in the inside of my jacket, I awkwardly tossed it a full 3 inches and it landed among its new boulder family, where I presume it lies to this day.

This whole caper is caught on film, thanks to Julie’s persistent cinematography. The link to the 4-minute clip is below:

https://youtu.be/oNa6kfUF6vc

For the “CBS Morning Show” story, the reporter met with a park ranger who displayed his collection of remorseful letters written by petrified wood thieves – many of them children. These people, like Dina, had carried guilt around with them for years, and their letters accompanied the pieces of wood they were finally returning. (You know, the postage on some of those boulders must have been astronomical!) As I watched, I began to get miffed. I thought that I should have been interviewed. After all, the show likes to feature people who do extraordinary things, but instead the story was showcasing the criminals who had taken petrified wood out of the park – not heroes like me who had gone out of their way, nearly 1,000 miles from home, just to bring back a 6-inch rock.

My attention was starting to drift when, at the end of the story, the reporter casually mentioned that the rocks that are sent back to the park are simply stored away because they cannot actually be put back. When I heard that, I snapped quickly to attention. The ranger explained that no rocks can be introduced back into the area because the scientists conducting their careful studies could inadvertently pick up something that had no reason to be there and the study results would all be totally botched.

Uh-oh. Oh, no. Now we’ve got to go baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!

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