Note: This site has long been too dormant and been dormant too long. I may change that or I may not not. But going on week seven cooped out with  the COVID-19 emergency, I’ve started wondering what I want to do with the rest of my life. And as a result I’ve been pounding keyboards with some of the stuff in my head — most of which gets deleted. Writing has always been a passion and equally a pain. It’s something I know I am good at, but for too often don’t have the patience. Few stories flow from me. They have to be dragged out, and then endure ridiculous tinkering. But more than a year after my last post, I posted to Facebook this little window into a few weeks of one childhood summer that I banged out relatively effortlessly a cou0ple early mornings ago, and definitely wanted to port it here to live and perhaps to breathe a breath of life into this comatose old blog rather than just leave it to disappear from  a social media platform. Anyway, here it is…

It was the early 1970s. I was at my grandmother’s house in Carbon Hill, Alabama, for a part of the summer. Just me and her. I was six. Maybe seven. Carbon Hill is a small town in the northwestern part of the state, outside of the larger town of Jasper, which I read once had the distinction once of being the top coal producer in the entire world. Grandma had a dusty little wooden house with a coal-burning stove in the kitchen that sat near the the crossroads of two strips of asphalt.

The nearest building was across one of the roads that had once housed her flower and gift shop shop, but now stood empty. The next nearest was the small church down one the other road aways, at which my grandma used to teach Sunday school in a damp dirt-floored basement underneath the pulpit. During a different summer visit, I sat in that basement with my cousins and Grandma going on with some story about David, transfixed at a large hornet might have been the size of my eyeball that flew to a s midair stop and hovered so beautifully in the open basement doorway. I couldn’t decide if the hornet was afraid to come in or was just taking its time figuring out which one of us it was going to sting, until finally grandma got fed up with me staring at it dumbstruck and slammed the door shut.

The nearest neighbor was my great aunt Nellie up a nearby dirt road who I visited even though Grandma didn’t seem to keen on it. Aunt Nellie was sweet and gave me Milky Way candy bars and told me to mind her sister Ola and that she loved and missed Lyndell. That confused me at first because everyone who knew my mom called her Casey, which is how I learned the difference between birth names and stage names.

The room I slept in was in the rear of the house near the screened-in back porch. It had wood paneling and a ceiling fan in the center and bare floors and a large down bed with down pillows and a down comforter all positioned at an angle that when you’d fall in it would almost fully swallow you up. The bedding gave the room a deep, dense, and absolutely wondrous musty smell that has never left my nose, nor will I ever hope the day comes when it does.

Above the room’s ceiling and under the roof in one of the corners was a beehive so very large and active that you could hear endless droning of its workers day or night. So loud was it that often it seemed they were either in the room or on the verge of breaking through, but I never was freaked out by it. For that I can thank my best friend back in Van Nuys who was allergic and would run crying a mile like a baby in the opposite direction of where a single honeybee minding its own business might be. His embarrassing tantrums were a great lesson in how not to act around bees, most of which I’d encountered in my life had much better things to do than sting you. In fact, the incessant buzzing coupled to that thick aroma would often conspire to lull me off to sleep even when swaddled almost to suffocation in the humid-hot nights.

To the west of the house was a creek (which grandma pronounced “crick”) full of crawdads and the occasional cottonmouth. Behind the house was a chicken coop, and beyond that were towering sunflowers and corn stalks as far as I could see. There were also masses of beans growing somewhere, but their location I don’t recall. I only know they existed because of the many evenings spent shelling bushels of them on the front porch with grandma, done so under a bare bulb porch light that drew skies full of noisy flying things from the next county. Under the light stood a large bowl of water, and in the mornings it would be full of a fair percentage of those winged creatures who had the misfortune to land in it.

As a child of six or seven what terrified me weren’t the bees or the bugs or the critters in the crick. I became petrified by the black panthers I’d overhear grandma talking about on the phone and how there was no stopping them and they were coming to get all of us. I had no idea at the time or for years to come that she was frightened by the militant activist group so often in the news of the day. From my Jungle Book mentality all I figured she was talking about was a legion of bloodthirsty Bagheeras lurking out there somewhere in the darkness.

And damned if on one of those steam-soaked nights when something made a noise louder than the beehive and startled me from sleep, instead of my room the following morning, Grandma found me sprawled out on the backporch couch, garden hoe gripped tight in my hands from the vigil I’d stood in the dark, guarding over the house and the hens and beyond it the impenetrable sea of sunflowers and corn, where every whisper of the wind and sway of a stalk was a deadly black panther to which I’d defiantly stomp my weapon to keep them at bay and away from my grandma.

When she woke me frowning at my location, I told her what I had been keeping watch for, and Grandma gave me a sideways look stared out into the field and walked back into the kitchen wondering aloud where I’d gotten such a silly idea like that.

So I did it: I ordered a new toy. No, not a Harley-Davidson. Not a fully restored 1965 Mustang. Not a sky-dive or a 130-pound Hungarian Komondor (google it for some awesome).

Nah. I went and bought me an E-bike (actually us; one for me, one for Susan), though it can’t be considered an impulse purchase so much as a convergence of events: the right product finally coming along at the right price from what appears to be the right company.

See I’ve been eyeing E-bikes going back more than 12 years, but I always found reasons to run away from such a commitment, including but not limited to:

1) Financial: They cost too damn much
2) Ego: Up until a few years ago I was in my riding prime logging 6,000 miles per year on a single-speed bike and didn’t need any type of energized assistance thankyouverymuch.

Then a few weeks ago, a Facebook friend and really cool biking dude named Joe Anthony posted a link to a Seattle-based company called Rad Power Bikes and I clicked on over and really liked what I saw. I mean REEEALLY liked. The company seemed innovative and proactive and straight-forward and it reflected in their product line, which for all intents and purposes was comparatively affordable and well-designed.

Let me introduce you to the truly rad badass and beefalicious RadRover.

In addition there were sa-weeet incentives taking affordability to the next level such as a multi-bike discount and free shipping.

I was almost all set, but first I had to have a sit down with my ego, which was all “To hell with E-bikes! You’ve got plenty of miles left in them legs!”

That was not a lie, but more correctly is my present physiological reality, borne from getting past the police academy as I did at my already advanced age to get my present job. The cumulative result of countlessly hauling myself over over six-foot walls and fences, trips up and down the infamous Nike Hill, hours of defensive tactics, and miles and miles of laps around the track have left me with some ongiong lower back/sciatic issues. And on those few times since that I’ve mounted my trusty two-wheelers — even for relatively short rides — more than not there’d be some nagging and lingering aches, pains, leg numbness, et cetera.

With those things making it tough to get motivated, I ultimately told my ego to shut the funk up and that if it was time to bring in a battery back-up to get me away from the frustration of not being able to get back in the saddle, so be it. My ego was all “Whatevs loser.” And I was all “Fine.” And my ego was all “Fine!” Which is fine.

Next up, of course I had to pitch it to my better half. When you’re the type of austere person who happily motors around in an almost 22-year-old truck, and spends time trying to fix $15 box fans that crap out after 10 years of use, it can come as a bit of a shock when suddenly I start wanting to throw thousands of dollars at the internet.

So at her burfdae dinner last weekend, I broached the subject of us getting not one E-bike, but his-and-hers type burfdae giftsesses, and she A) didn’t laugh me out the restaurant, or B) slam her foot down on the floor in total rejection.

Her eyes did go wide at the estimate cost-outlay, but I think the idea appealed to her because while she’s enjoyed biking in the past, she’s no fan of hills or of trying to keep up with me (though I would argue that’s probably easier to do now that AARP and Forest Lawn are contacting me on a regular basis). Being able to bike together on a more level playing field would instantly increase opportunities to get outdoors and go roll around town exploring together, which is something both of us miss.

This morning, I had her look over the models and she decided the RadCity Step-Thru (also pictured) was the one for her so I ordered them up from the website (www.radpowerbikes.com) and barely hesitated in clicking the submit button. Delivery is estimated at 5-7 business days. So we might be out on the road on or around Easter Sunday!

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Joe who I mentioned up top. In the ordering process the company obligatorily asked how I’d come to hear of them. I started to select Facebook from the drop-down menu options, but no offense Mr. Zuckerborg, I really don’t like giving your company credit for anything accept the further decline of civilization, so instead I chose “Referred by a friend.” That of course prompted a request for the friend’s name,” which I readily entered. I hope it benefits him in some way, and by that same token should this lengthy diatribe ultimately find you ordering up your own Rad Power bike, maybe you could do the same for me.

In the end, the bikes are going to be all the reward I need. I’m totes excited to find myself thinking something I haven’t in a long time: “I can’t wait to get on a bike and ride!”

I sucked at shining my boots when it mattered most — during my time as a cadet at a local public police academy. I was a complete failure at putting a proper gleam on my boots, and I paid the price at inspections in getting yelled at and doing pushups.

Since then in the course of my present employment my results have improved. Given how bad I was before, I’d say they’ve improved a staggering amount. By no means am I saying I’m the best. I’m just saying I’m far more satisfied with the endgame than I’ve ever been. Shame I couldn’t have figured this out when it counted.

My tools: Latex gloves. Saddlesoap. Angelus Polish. Heat gun. Kiwi Parade Gloss Polish. Water. Soft cloths. Horsehair brush. Elbow grease.

The boots: A pair of A.T.A.C. 8″ Shield Side Zip-up 5.11s, straight-outta-the-box.

My method? Credit where it is due: I owe a debt of gratitude to an area shoeshine establishment known as Code 7. They used to have a location much closer to my Los Angeles home but have long since shuttered that place and now operate about 25 miles away. For $10 (a bargain at twice the price; not including tip), they are masters, but a 50-mile roundtrip is just too far for me to travel even for such unparalleled and affordable excellence.

So I did the next best thing: imitated them. While I can no longer find it on their website, Code 7 used to have a webpage that listed the series of steps involved in their process. Based on that here is what I do, as shown in the accompanying 90-second timelapse (realtime: 60 minutes):

1) Saddlesoap lathered on, dried, and buffed off
2) Angelus polish hand-rubbed on and then melted with heat gun
3) Let cool and repeat Step 2
4) Let cool and repeat Step 3
5) Let cool and repeat Step 4 (yes, I bake in four layers of base on new boots)
6) Allow boots to cool completely
7) Kiwi Parade Gloss hand-rubbed on
8) With water, cloth and elbow grease, dab-dab circle-circle until shiny
9) Clean up work surface
10) Horsehair brush finish

Before and after (click to biggify):

 

Until yesterday, when this image rather randomly popped up on my Facebook feed from a group I follow, I’d made countless unsuccessful attempts to find any photographs of a place I worked during my junior and senior year in high school that was so near and dear to me: Hunter’s Books.

Situated on the southwest corner of Rodeo Drive and Little Santa Monica, my history with the place is one filled with fond memories and a fair share of intrigue, which one day I may go into in far greater detail. How I got my job there as a stock clerk itself involved a bit of stealth. I was sitting in chemistry class awaiting the arrival of one Mr. Thorpe, who I despised. I overheard a fellow student by the name of Marc Sugarman talking to another about a job for which he was supposed to apply at some bookstore on Rodeo. He said it was a done deal, all he had to do was show up and the gig was his — but he wasn’t really feeling it.

Since I was definitely in need of gainful employment at that time, as soon as school let out, I hustled on over and met with the stock manager, Barry, a short middle-aged guy with a gray goatee and spectacles. I told him I heard there was a job available, and he made some comment about me not being who he was expecting, meaning Marc. I feigned having no idea what he was talking about and boom, I was hired, wherein I joined a ragtag crew of underground characters who worked primarily in the basement or back. There was Reggie, the loveable short black frenetic homosexual who was in charge of shipping and receiving. There was the middle-aged and also gay Arthur with his huge mustache and his Joseph A. Bank wardrobe in charge of returns. There was Wiley, a tall quiet black man of a certain menace who primarily assisted Arthur and who almost always had some white gunk in the corners of his mouth and never had much to say. And stock clerk  Manual, the aspiring guitarist philospher , with his giant afro, his snide laugh and his coolness. Rounding things out was Dennis, an actor, whose receding hairline tormented him enough to seek out the Bosley Medical Group’s that left him with a line of hair plugs circumnavigating his forehead like a picket fence. Upstairs the sales floor was dominated by Susanna, an elderly German frau never without a scowl and menthol cigarette dangling from her lips. Her assistant was Margaret, a lovely young black woman who had a thing for James Dean. Last but not least was Larry, the boss of us all, who ruled from his roost up on the third floor.

Like I said, I have plenty of stories about this place, but I’ll save them for later. In the meantime I’m just thrilled that this photo materialized.

We’ve been coming to Olvera Street’s annual Blessing of the Animals event since 2004. First a couple years with Shadow and then one with Ranger. Buster, our 18ish-year-old Russion tortoise, has been the designated representative of the various pets of our household every year since 2007.

This is the second year that we’ve joined with the fine folks at the Reptile & Amphibian Rescue Network and been a part of the initial processional. Last year we lucked into accompanying them basically by being at  their booth wherein they invited us, and this year we did the same thing, thereby getting ceremoniously doused with the holy H2O by Archbishop Jose Gomez at the front of the long line of other pet owners, and allowing Susan and me to quickly get to the real reason for coming downtown: margaritas at La Golondrina.

I set up our GoPro on a corner of Buster’s basket and timelapsed from prior to the event’s commencement of the procession to well into our lunch. The following stills pulled from the video show Buster and me prior to the event; the moment a bemused Archbishop Gomez flings water in our general direction; Buster in line at La Golondrina with a curious little girl; and lastly the moment Buster escaped the confines of the basket. Thankfully her freedom was short-lived thanks to Susan’s sharp-eye.

In the course of my duties yesterday, I did a follow-up with a lady in South Los Angeles with whom I’ve been I’m working as she transitions from unknowingly tethering her dog in violation of the law to doing so via a lawful alternative system. Progress has been slow, but that’s not the point of this post.

The point is that near the end of my visit with a promise from her that she would have everything completed within a week, a neighbor pedaled up with with a guitar slung across his bike’s handlebars curious as to why there was a guy in a uniform and a badge in his friend’s yard. She put him quickly at ease and we discussed the issue with him promising to help her get her dog properly confined.

I’m not at liberty to divulge specificities, so all I can say is the lady is a singer and told me that back in day she was a member of a prominent gospel group that performed all over the world and on television for such variety programming as “The Flip Wilson Show” and “The Mike Douglas Show.”

And before I left them the neighbor picked up his guitar and treated me to the following impromptu quick minute of music, which I offer to you because it was  such a pleasant and surprise joy to unexpectedly find myself enjoying those beautiful moments in a place not very well known for providing such things.


Susan’s not very good at answering the question “Hey baby… what do you want for Christmas?” That’s not a judgment, just a fact borne of the roughly 16 Christmases we’ve been together. Sure there were times when she knew EXACTLY what she wanted, such as that year she said without pause and I kid you not: “A rototiller!” But mostly when asked she typically shrugs. Concurrently I’m not at all very good at intuitively knowing what she might want.

So on the day before this past Christmas Eve when we did an out and back through Echo Park for our regular pre-Christmas local shop/walk-around, one of the last places we popped into was a dark, dusty and rather dreary antique shop on the north side of Sunset Boulevard just west of the bend at Mohawk Street. Nothing from the jumbled piles of stuff jumped out at me, but a framed print depicting a monochromatic farm-like setting of old buildings and birds and barren trees got Susan’s eye. She picked it up and gave it a good looking over.

The proprietor offered “That’s a Wyeth. A lithograph.” Sure enough the signature in the bottom right read Andrew Wyeth. And when she asked how much, he said “$150.” At that pricepoint, she promptly set it back down and we were soon on our way.

I mentioned how I’m not very intuitive, but I’m not a blob of gelatinous goo either. So when sometime later that day, Susan commented offhandedly that she really liked that picture, I knew what I had to do.

And the next day I did. Loading myself up with enough cash to make a polite but firm and very fair counter offer I prayed the place was open on Christmas Eve, which it was. Marching straight back to the print I reminded the owner of our visit yesterday with the Wyeth and told him what I was willing to pay. He mulled it a moment, said OK and the transaction was complete.

Susan was very pleased when she unwrapped it the next morning, and it has since found a home on the dining room side table.

I wrote all that because it finally dawned on me that there might be a title to that work of art, and it only took some brief googling to find out it is called “The Mill,” most likely painted in 1958 around the time the Wyeths bought the property and subsequently restored it. I found other paintings (more famously “Night Sleeper,” featuring Wyeth’s dog) that feature the location, known as Brinton’s Mill, built in 1720, in Birmingham Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania.

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