Monday, July 31, 2006

Newport Beach

When I was a boy, Newport Beach was a forty-five minute drive down a pastoral two laned highway past eucalyptus trees and grazing cows. The house with a rocket sticking out of its roof was in the canyon on the left. Turn right and you were at Disneyland. Drive a little further and you were at the alligator farm across the street from Knott's. Go straight and you went to Newport. First kid to see the water got a quarter!

Now it's an hour and a half drive on an eight lane freeway with toll roads, carpool lanes and 4 "fast track" lanes for rich people. Disneyland is there and the alligator farm isn't. And the pie's not as good at Knott's.

When I was a boy, driving through the canyon was a bit worrisome. If your car broke down you'd be there for awhile. A long while. Now you can call someone on your cell.

So Viv, Princess and I drove to Newport last weekend to hang with the some of the Beechwood contigency. They rented a house on 25th Street, a few blocks from the pier. The house was tiny and hot, but neat in a Newport kinda way. 25th Street is about 10 feet wide. You can shake hands with renters across the street without leaving the kitchen.

The weather was gorgeous and the parking was expensive. $10.00 for a day long space near Blackie's Beer Barrel. I was glad Blackie's was still there. Henry's Market was still there as well. We used to rent rubber rafts there. The old guy with the macaws was there, complete with emphysema and a a fake rubber finger that looks like his parrot bit him. He asked me if I thought he should go to the hospital for stitches and I said 'yes' and he pulled the wounded rubber finger off and got a laugh at my expense. Nyuk.

The Newport Pier looks a little prettier than I remember. I caught my first fish there when I was 6ish. It was a smelt. My cousin Joy immediately accidently stepped on him and his guts came out his mouth. I can still hear my Uncle Roy laughing.

My mom's friends the Farnsworths used to own the restaurant at the end of the pier and a barge out in the Pacific a mile or so. A boat would take people out to the barge to fish. I remember a story about the barge taking on water and sinking when I was little. Sorta scary.

We went to the Farnworth's daughter's wedding at the Lutheran church near 15th Street. It was a big Hawaiin affair, as her new hub was from the islands. That was the night I had poi for the first, and last, time.

When I walked by Charlie's Chili it was jammed with people. I think one of my ex-girlfriends worked there for awhile. I don't think I ever ate there. Nothing personal.

When I was 16, my friends Albie and Gar and I spent a week in Newport. We were very cool then. We walked around smoking Tarreyton cigarettes with cinnamon toothpicks stuck in them for extra flavor. One night we went to a coffee house by the Balboa Pier called the Prison of Socrates. We saw Big Mama Thornton and her blues band, completely outfitted Silvertone amps and ripping the joint up. The place was small and nearly empty except for us. There should have been a million folks there, she was that good. We stood in the parking lot afterwards and talked with Big Mama. She was wearing a bowling shirt and smoking Kools. She had a few gold teeth. She is one of my favorite Newport memories.

There was a "headshop" on the bay side close to the Fun Zone that had beads and posters. I bought a Jimi Hendrix poster there that I still have. It's nearly 46 years old! I just read that the Fun Zone is going to be torn down and replaced by a maritime museum. That'll bring in the tourists.

The Beechwood contigency and us capped the night off with a meal at the Crab Cooker, a restaurant that was once a Bank of America. I sat on a metal folding chair and ate salmon on a paper plate with plastic fork and knife and washed it all down with a soda in a paper cup with no refills.

I may drive down to Charlie's Chili later this week and try their famous chili omelette.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mark the Nut, Ben the Star and A. Whole Profundo

Last nite was the monthly open mic nite at the famous Folk Music Center in Claremont, CA. Brother A-bomb, Liam Canary and myself like to go in and play a few songs each to hasten that glorious day when the Canaries are bigger than the Beatles. We didn't get much hastening done last night though. A-Bomb was the only of us to play. Liam had love interests he had to tend to and I was a lazy schlub all month and had nothing to play. So I just went to watch and be witty.

It was too late to eat, so we got in line and were glad because it was only 100 dgrees in the shade in Claremont. It was 107 in Rio Nada. Those 7 degrees can make a big difference. If you don't believe me, ask the polar ice caps.

We were standing there minding our own business when I saw Mark the Nut glaring at us from across the street as he adjusted his shirt or coat or chonies or something. His eyes never left us. Then he begins to walk towards at a deliberate pace. There might have been steam coming from his ears, I'm not sure. But I do know that if he had screwed his face up any more severely it would have sucked in upon itself never to be seen again. He made a sort of F-16 low altitude face fly by of A-Bomb's beezer, coming within six inches of said protuberence and he flew up the street in one swoop. He hovered around for the rest of our line time, adjusting things and giving us the stink eye.

"If he goes for me, whack 'em with yer uke, I'll buy ya a new one." I said to A-Bomb, never taking my eyes of the Nut.

Later, the owner of the store told me that his name was Mark and he was just a mathematics grad student gone bad and that he was really harmless, homeless and had been around for years. She said the worst thing to do is get in a conversation with him because he will recite Pi to you for days.

Next time I will just say "Mark, go away!" and save A-Bomb a tragic uke mishap.

For a hot day, it was pretty crowded. We parked ourselves along the Wall O' Instruments just between the banjos and the ukes, just behind A. Whole Profundo and his mother, Ms. Profundo. A. Whole is, in his mind, the only person in the Universe that should sing "'Ol Man River". In an audience, he is the lady who won't remove her hat or turn off her cell phone and talks to the movie screen. All his mother and he did was stare at the banjo wall and talk about the banjos. To make things worse, he got on stage and sang something from an obscure French opera. You could hear the coyotes in the San Gabriel Mountains.

"Gimme yer uke! I wanna whack 'em! I'll buy ya a new one!" I grumbled to A-Bomb.

It was looking more and more like a night to remember for all the wrong reasons.

Until Ben Harper showed up.

The Folk Music Center was founded by Ben Harper's grandfather, Mr. Chase. Ben's mother runs the place now and Ben owns it. Ben, as you may know, is a well known and accomplished folk/alternative singer/songwriter. He is also married to Laura Dern.

He sang two songs and they were exquisite. His voice was sweet and soulful and his songs superb. He turned the night around. No more Mark the Nut. No more A. Whole Profundo.

A-Bomb was pretty good, too. I especially liked his "Daydream". We all mumbled along because we thought we knew the words but we didn't. He did a cool scat to take it home.

There was also a girl named Sydney who had a set of pipes like the Royal Albert Hall Organ. A huge voice! And her songs were mournful and well-crafted. She messed my hair up.

After the show, A-Bomb and I walked around the corner to that trendy watering hole called The Press. We sat at one of those cute little highrise tables with cute little highrise stools waiting for some table service. None appeared.

So I went to the bar and ordered a pale ale for me and an iced tea for A-Bomb. And it just dawned on me...I tipped that chump a buck! What kind of fool am I?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Roller Derby Carwash

There is a crowd of women washing cars near the corner of Merrill and Rio Nada streets in front of the tire shop. They are scantily clad. Some are skinny. Some are portly. Some have tattoos. There are redheads, blondes and brunettes. Many are holding handmade signs that say "Roller Derby Carwash" or "Roller Girls Will Wash Your Car". Many are shouting and squealing at people with dirty cars. They all have a girlish, dollish quality about them. And they all have roller skates on. The kind with four wheels on each skate.

And I suspect they could knock me on my ass.

My dad used to take my brother, Brother Atom Bomb of Destruction, and myself to the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino to watch Roller Derby. We often went with our German neighbors
from across the street, Grandma Vokker and her son Johnny.

The Swing held about 5,000 people and was usually full on Roller Derby night.

Our favorite team was the Los Angeles Thunderbirds with Ralphie Valederez and his wife Honey Sanchez, redheaded Danny Riley, and Stretch Saunders. They would always win when in the L.A. area. They played teams like the San Francisco Bombers, the New York Wildcats and the Texas Rangers. These were the teams that always cheated and played dirty.

Shirley Hardman was on the Rangers. She was THE ENEMY. One night she wore an outrageous beehive hairdo and the T-Birds spent the entire night trying to destroy it. She drowned many years later and even though she was a cheater and THE ENEMY , I was sad to hear of her death.

We would all scream and shout when the T-Birds would launch The Whip and rocket one of our T-Birds around the course knocking down Rangers left and right, leaving them writhing on the track or in the infield and scoring millions of points. Every now and then one of the cheaters would careen into the infield and hit the water cooler, sending water everywhere.

There is something archetypical about the Roller Derby struggle between good and evil. It may not be enlightening, but the Universe moves a mite more comfortably with Roller Derby around. I feel guilty that I didn't get my car washed.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bloe Hurricanoes!

If you agree with George Bush that global warming is fuzzy science, come to my house! It was 112 degrees Farenheit in Rio Nada today!

There were hurricanoe winds that made me think that our big sycamore tree was a yogini in a previous life. Or maybe a rubber tree.

The rain was going sideways and the thunder and lightening were clapping and flashing like an audience of exhibitionists at a Whoopee John Willfartz concert.

We lost power twice and the transformer on the telephone pole was spewing smoke. The fire department came and hosed it down, but had to leave in a hurry because there was a lightening strike around the corner. We were trying to figure out how much a fireman makes per hour.

The river bottom was burning near Limonite. This will most likely make a few bums mad.

All the neighbors congregated in the street as we are wont to do whenever we have a neighborhood episode of epic proportions such as this. Someone always busts out the beer.

The monkeys that live in the backyard across the street were a little edgy for awhile, but we threw them a couple of bananas and they got over it.

I walked my daily 2.5 when it was all over. Lotsa debris everywhere. That adobe house on Maplewood had two huge branches on its roof.

The smell after a storm is remarkable.

Don't forget to vote!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Holiday in the Sun Part Dos

Vivage made arrangements to take a tour bus to Tijuana on our first Monday in Solana Beach. There must be as many tour companies as their are touristas. We got lucky. Raoul showed up at our doorstep with his bus at 7:30 Monday morning. We hopped on the little bus and headed South to the Coronado Hotel to pick up the the Beechwood contigency.

The first thing Raoul said was "The air conditioners don't work, so all the windows are opened. The parts are on order."

Raoul was was a man of stories, yarns and opinions. He was an author of four books and numerous articles, talk radio show host, Republican, guest speaker, historian, newspaper reporter, entrepeneur, immigration proponent, botanist, bon vivant, ranter, debater, gourmet cook, and recanteur. We knew he was telling the truth because nobody could make all that stuff up. He knew how to get in and out of Tijuana like a master thief. Easy and without a trace.

I hadn't been to Tijuana since I was a teen. I went with my friend Gar and his family. We drove to one of those border lots and walked across. There were swarms of little kids selling Chiclets then. Not so many now. On the way back Gar had me pocket the little switchblades and firecrackers he bought. Of course, we were told to empty our pockets upon our return to the land of the free and I was busted for having little switchblades and fireworks. We were put in a room with a bunch of criminal types and then ordered to pay a fine. My life of crime South of the Border.

Raul took us to Avenida de Revolucion to shop for cheap liquor, silver, leather and all manner of gaudy cheapness. Ya seen one store, ya seen 'em all.

Met one old redheaded Americano at his store which looked more like a flea market than a tourista trap. He was sitting out in front smoking a huge cigaro and playing and singing with a friend as they strummed their guitars. He was some kind of famous singer in Mexico at one time and recorded many LPs. They were all hanging on the wall.

Raoul pointed out the nightclub that Redd Foxx did his very blue act in after being banned in the U. S. of A.

Saw the Jai Lai Auditorium. When we were kids we used to watch Jai Lai every odd Sunday night on our black and white Magnavox T.V. on Channel 5 coming out of Los Angeles. Now I got to see the place up close.

Raoul took us North one block to Avenida de Constitucion. This block was not for touristas. The street was lined with produce markets with swarms of bees flying around, street vendors selling churros and other foods, and beggars. The sidewalks were very narrow compared to Revolucion and they were jammed with people; locals, Indians from the Southern states and not many touristas. One legless guy sat on the sidewalk playing a guitar. He had fake rubber feet sticking out of his pants. Another pale man without eyes, arms or legs sat on a chair.

On the way North, we got across the border quickly and without trouble. The traffic jam coming back is world class. We were in the bus lane. And we were lucky.

Heading up the strand between Imperial Beach and Coronado we stopped at a light and Raul asked "Did anyone notice that there are five different species of palm trees on this corner?" We hadn't. Perfect Raoul.

We met some friendly people in Tijuana; Raul at the silver shop, the old man and his wife who owned the leather shop and the redheaded gringo. But there was a sense of desperation about the place that was disconcerting.

A guy on T.V. tonight said that Mexico is a sad culture. But because of its sadness, its celebrations are joyous and there is a gleefulness in its people.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Weather Vein

this is an audio post - click to play

Monday, July 17, 2006

Holiday in the Sun Part 1: The Corpulent Man and the Guitar

Check in time at the Winner's Circle Last Resort in Solana Beach, CA is 4:00. We usually get there late, say, 6:00. It's a 90 mile drive from Rio Nada and we never, ever hit the road on time. And if we ever do, we still get there late because the traffic on the 5 South is always in slowmo from Oceanside to Imperial Beach. (I watched the first moon landing on a dinky black and white Magnavox TV with a coat hanger antennae in Imperial Beach).

But this year, we were way ahead of schedule. So we stopped in Carlsbad to check out Giacolleti's Music Store in the Village. I hadn't been there in a year or two so Liam Canary and I decided to check it out. They usually have an excellent ukulele selection and for a time had carried some one of a kind handmade ukes that a guy from Temecula makes that are visually intriguing and sonically impressive. Brother Atom Bomb of Reflection bought one a few years back that is shaped like a shark egg but sounds much better.

I was a little disappointed this time. There were two Flukes, a Lanakai and a wall full of gaudy things that had tiny "Made in China" stickers on the back of each fretboard. I am suspect of ukes that are made in China.

But I did find a case for my Arthur Godfrey Vega Baritone.

I was putting my Vega in the case and taking my money out of my pocket when the bell on the door tinkled and in walked a corpulent guy carrying a guitar in a hardshell case. The guy looked like he should be setting bowling pins somewhere, not carrying a guitar around Carlsbad. He had a sloppy blue shirt that didn't button right, a pair of cheap flip flops and extra large glasses that listed starboard. He had a bit of a waddle and a reedy voice.

He wanted to sell the guitar to Eddie Giacolletti, the owner's rockabilly son.

"It's a Seagull from Canada. 25th Anniversary. Only 2,000 made." he said, "I'll sell it for $200 bucks."

"Sweet guitar," Eddie answered, "Nice wood! Cedar! But man, I ain't got the cash!"

The corpulent guy looked at Eddie for a moment, turned and shuffled out the door.

I was leaning on the counter with the cash for the case in my hand when it dawned on me that maybe this guitar thing was an opportunity that shouldn't get away. "Hey Eddie," I said "Was that guitar worth $200?"

"Hell, the case is worth $200!" Eddie popped.

We were out the door faster than a Mahavishnu lick. Vivage and Princess were in the bead shop across the street and they had the cash! And there was the guitar guy lolling down the street in the oppposite direction with the guitar slung across his back!

We snaggged the cash from Vivage and ran out the bead shop door. Schnikeys! Guitar guy had vanished!

" He can't be far." Liam said "He can't shuffle that fast! You go that way and I'll head down toward the beach!"

We ran like a couple of canaries on fire.

I was running fast, dodging old ladies and strollers, sticking my face in every antique shop and overpriced diner I passed. He was nowhere.

SCREEEECH!!!!! THUMP! THUMP! There was Vivage, Princess and Liam sitting on the sidewalk in the SUV.

"Hop in!" hollered Princess, "This'll be faster!"

I hopped in the Montero and we zoomed down the street with one purpose: Find the Corpulent Guitar Guy!

After driving up and down every street, road and alley in the city of Carlsbad, after asking every tourist, citizen, bum and gas station guy, it became clear that we were wasting our time. The Guitar Guy had simply vanished. Our search was futile. We gave a collective sigh and headed down Village Drive toward Pacific Coast Highway. The new Johnny Cash CD played sweetly as we headed down the highway to our well deserved vacation.

"THERE HE IS!!!" screamed Princess.

He was at the train station ten steps away from boarding the Coaster Express headed South.

Vivage gunned it and crossed into opposite lanes, nearly mowing down a passle of bicyclists in Spandex, and raced towards the Coaster parking lot. He was just stepping on to the train when Liam and I jumped from the car and ran toward the open train door. The Guy disappeared into the car as we approached.

We were stopped at the door by a burly conductor with one hand on his hip and the other raised in the international "Stop Right There" position.

"We wanna buy the guitar from that guy!!" we yelled.

"The Coaster must leave. Either get on or step back from the Coaster!" said the Conductor.

"But the guitar..."

"Get on or step back!"

"But we don't know where you're going!"

"San Diego!"

"Duh!" we thought.

"At least give him our phone number and ask him to call. Please?" I begged.

And the big conductor laughed a hellish, nasty laugh as the Coaster door slammed shut and the train began to roll South toward San Diego, screeching, blaring and messing up our hair.

No matter where you are on Pacific Coast Highway between San Clemente and San Diego, you can see the Coaster as it rolls up and down the coast through Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, clacking and clanging as it passes by. We must have seen seen it 20 times as we ate at some cafe or sat on the beach. We saw it as we sat on kayaks a half mile out in the Pacific. Another time it was five miles up the coast when we spied it from the window of a second story Indian Restaurant in La Jolla. We saw it from the top deck of the Del Mar Racetrack as our horse came in second and from Dog Beach when we tried to fly our kites, teasing, mocking and pernicious with its sounds.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Woodchuck Ukulele Orchestra

The P.T.A. at Woodchuck Elementary School, where I sometimes work, has agreed to fund a ukulele orchestra made up of fourth graders. They will buy the ukes and I will supply the ukeful knowledge. This could be a seismo-cool thing, or it could crash and burn like a wad of poi entering the atmosphere. I suspect it will be the seismo-cool thing. I hate poi.

This is how I see it: 10 or so kids dressed to the nines in spangly vests, spats and top hats. Another half dozen, dressed in the same get up, will play percussion (washboards and rattley ringy thingys). And lastly, a few kids that sing like Canaries will warble away on songs like "I Been Workin' on the Railroad" or "Eerie Canal".

Man, if I could only tapdance like my brother, Brother Atom Bomb of Reflection.

The End of the World As I Know It...or something

I get up in the morning, eat two Pop Tarts, read the local newspaper and then walk 2 miles. When I'm done walking I usually plop on the couch for awhile and maybe watch a little Price is Right.

I plopped and was hoping for a little Plinko action this morning when a sound that means your submarine is diving and diving fast starts honking from my TV. Then a hollow, authoritative voice bellows "An emergency from the Civil Defense has been declared! For further details, turn to channel 18!"

Usually this means that there are expected flash floods in the desert or thunderstorms are rolling through the neighborhood.

I grab the remote and click to channel 18. There is a text message superimposed over the Asian soap opera that says that an emergency has been declared for the entire state of California from 10:45 until 11:20 A.M. The entire state?! But it doesn't say what the emergency is.

I figured the choices were:

1. The Big One.
2. California was, after all these years of waiting, at last going to fall in to the Pacific.
3. North Korean Missiles.
4. Global Warming (It was pretty hot!).
5. Locusts, plague, terroristas, scrofula, pustuoles for everyone, a Doors reunion, yada yada yada....

We called the cops, the so-called newspaper, the Asian T.V. station. We asked our Ouija Board, our 8 Ball, and we Googled. Not one had a clue.

So we waited quietly for 11:20.

And nothing happened...