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The following is a beautifully written obituary written by Pete Zander upon the death of his beloved brother Corky.

 

In Memoriam: William Paul (“Corky”) Xander
b. 4/10/1943
d. 2/19/2020

As many of you who were former students of my oldest brother Bill Xander — but who was always known to me as “Corky” — have learned, he passed away a little before midnight on Wednesday, February 19, 2020. He would have been 77 on April 10th of this year.

I was up in Twin Peaks, CA, up near Lake Arrowhead, for the week helping my daughter Kristen, who had fallen and ripped ligaments in her right ankle. She has two young sons, ages 5 and 2¼, and she desperately needed help around the house and with the boys, especially since her son Alexander had turned 5 on Feb. 12 (we Xanders pick great birthdays!) and had his birthday party last Saturday at an indoor pool at a resort where around 50 adults and kids partied. And little Evan Xander Flores is feisty enough to keep several adults busy and occupied.

During the night early on Friday morning the 14th, Kristen received a message on her phone from Corky’s wife Maj, who said he was ill and she needed Kristen to get in touch with me. When she told me the message early Friday morning, we figured it was something worse than pneumonia or the flu. A battery of tests and a biopsy confirmed that he had an advanced case of pancreatic cancer, and we feared he only had weeks, maybe even days left.

You’ll have to forgive my referring to him as “Corky” and not “Bill” or “Mr. X.” He never WAS “Bill” to me, and since that was our dad’s name as well, an abusive, alcoholic, 24-karat SOB and proud of it, I have an understandable reluctance to call my brother Bill. So, Corky it is.

Ironically, he felt as if he was in the best shape of his life, quite a statement when you consider he was a letterman in four sports in high school: Football, basketball, baseball, and track. He could’ve had a fifth letter as a swimmer, but on a qualifying swim, though he’d been the fastest of anyone on the team weeks earlier, he was extremely ill from pneumonia and damned near drowned. So I’ll call it four sports but put an asterisk next to it.

It is indicative of the profit-driven health care system in our country that his cancer wasn’t discovered sooner, not that it would’ve mattered in the long run — pancreatic cancer is tough to detect, tougher to fight (fewer than 5% of patients survive it for very long), and in Corky’s case, it hit hard and fast. Like I said, he felt he was in great shape, walking 3 miles a day, working out in the gym on weekends, and doing well.

In mid-December, he felt extremely ill and knew he needed help. So the procedure was to take some blood samples, wait two weeks; do an x-ray, wait two weeks; do an MRI, wait two weeks; do an ultrasound. He had been hospitalized twice for 3-4 days at a time and two emergency 911 calls, certainly enough time ONCE to do all of those diagnostic tests, but there’s no PROFIT to be made that way, of course. It is emblematic of our fucked-up profits-driven system that his first appointment with an oncologist — a cancer specialist — wasn’t even scheduled until yesterday, literally “a day late” and hundreds of dollars short.

I will never think it was a blessing that he was only sick for two months. Having an aggressive form of cancer is NEVER a blessing, but it is somewhat comforting to me that he only suffered for those two months. When an ultrasound revealed some shadowing on the pancreas, a biopsy confirmed that he had pancreatic cancer and that it was already at Stage 4.

When I talked to him on Friday last week, when he was still in the hospital, his first words to me were, “Well, this is really fucked up, isn’t it?” Despite the clearly bad diagnosis and outlook, we had a lighthearted talk, and I told him we’d get down as soon as possible to see him, With Alex’s birthday over with the next day, my son-in-law Ivan Flores drove Kristen and me down to Bonita last Sunday to see him.

He opened his eyes and said, “Hey — it’s my ‘baby brother!’” Yeah, as the third and last boy in the family, I was ALWAYS going to be the “baby brother.” To my mom, who preceded Corky in death by 5 years, I was always her ”baby boy.” But I can live with that . . . especially since it means living.

According to his brother-in-law Albert, he had not been able to have conversations with anyone for more than a minute or so without nodding off for five minutes. So it was remarkable that last Sunday he was able to talk with us nonstop for an hour and a half. He only got sleepy after he’d been given medication that made him drowsy, and of course it was important to keep him on the medication schedule.

I do feel especially blessed that we were able to talk for as long as we did, and our conversation was a rollicking one, covering talking about fishing trips we’d done. I know all of you former students of his will be pleased to know that we even got into Faulkner and Hemingway. Well, MAYBE you’d be pleased to know that! But certainly, he had a love of literature and especially that of his two favorite authors. Me, I’ve always been more of a Steinbeck person; but then again, I was a marine biologist. At least Hemingway was a trout fisherman!

I’ll get into some fishing stories because I truly believe that if he hadn’t been an English teacher and he hadn’t had the satisfaction of sharing his love of literature with all of you, I believe he might have become a fishing guide. I mean, can you imagine it — getting PAID to go fishing??? As the Russian-born comedian, Yakov Smirnoff used to say, “America — what a country!”

Corky was 11¼ years older than me, with our brother Terry born 4 years and 10 days after Corky and 7 years before me. He and I looked a lot alike, and people often commented on it to us. Once, I replied to someone, “Yeah, but I’m the better-looking one!” After that, it became a contest to see who could snap off the one-liner before the other did. Our voices were so similar that his first wife Cat once called, expecting to speak to him. I had answered the phone, and she began talking, under the assumption that it was him to whom she was speaking. After a couple of minutes, when the conversation began turning to a direction I didn’t believe I should be hearing, I interrupted her and said, “Um, Cat — you DO realize that this is Pete you’re talking to and not Bill?”

I know this might shock some of you, but my brother was NOT perfect. Oh, sure — we did the usual brotherly stuff, like the aforementioned “I’m the better-looking one” line. But his imperfection stems from our Thanksgiving Dinner in 1974. We were having the dinner at his home in Mira Mesa, and I was already contributing to the effort. I began baking what everybody calls a “German Chocolate Cake,” but the truth is that the cake has nothing to do with Germany in the least. The sweet chocolate used in the recipe was made by a company called German’s, which was bought out by a company called Baker’s, so the cake is called “Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake.” If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourselves on the supermarket aisle where chocolate for baking, coconut, and nuts are sold.

Anyway, that year, I did a friend from back East a favor. He knew a girl who was going to school in Pomona, east of L. A., at Pomona Pitzer College. She was going to be stuck in southern California while everyone else at the school went home to their families. She was going to spend the entire four-day weekend all by herself on a deserted campus and dorm, and that was just too awful to think about, so I told my friend Chip that I’d be happy to bring her to San Diego and have her spend Thanksgiving with us.

In order to make all of that work, I had to get up at 4:00 in the morning, slap my face around a little . . . or a LOT, and bake the German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake before I drove to Pomona. It was no big deal — I could do that cake in my sleep, and I pretty much did. But cooks always talk about how, for instance, a bread dough has a proper “feel.” It sounds esoteric but is well-founded in fact. For example, KitchenAid mixers do an AWFUL job of making the dough we use for making our famous Thanksgiving Dinner rolls.

As I made the cake batter, it just didn’t look right to me. I couldn’t identify what the problem could have been, and I merely shrugged it off as being really tired and sleepy. But when I put the three cake pans into the oven, it became apparent quite rapidly that there was something seriously wrong with the batter. In the oven, the batter began burping and bubbling like some God-awful witches brew, and in fact, the goddamned stuff was BOILING. I had no idea what was wrong, but I was committed to seeing this through, so I gamely marched on, baking the layers longer in what eventually was a futile effort to salvage all of those expensive ingredients.

After I removed the layers from the oven, they sagged ominously in the middle. I made the coconut-pecan frosting and tried to frost the thing, but it sagged in the middle like a disgusting soggy doughnut. It clearly was a disaster of immense proportions, and I was mortified.

Of course, the family was giving me a ration of shit over the cake, but I had no idea what had gone wrong. Finally, Corky asked where I got the flour to make the cake. “I got it from the flour canister on the counter,” I said, pointing to the largest of four wooden containers. He began laughing demonically and said, “Pete — there was BISQUIK in that canister!” Bisquik, of course, is an instant mix for making breads, rolls, muffins, pancakes, and the like. It contains flour and the usual leavening agents, but it also includes shortening, so my precious German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake, my pride and joy, got a double dose of fat!

I was livid. “Well, how the FUCK was I supposed to know THAT?” I yelled. “What, did you also put salt in the goddamned sugar shaker too?” I screamed, but all everyone could do was laugh at my predicament. The cake was an absolute disaster, and one of our favorite desserts was MIA that Thanksgiving. Totally mortified, I drove up to Pomona, retrieved my friend’s chum, and returned to San Diego for our dinner. That evening, in what was perfectly in keeping with the disaster that my poor cake had become, we went to the premiere showing of a disaster flick, “Earthquake,” starring Charlton Heston and a host of aging, washed-up film superstars, about a high-rise hotel that becomes a death trap when a massive earthquake strikes L. A. I don’t know if Chip’s friend was comforted by that thought at all, but she survived the evening, as did I. But I was STILL really pissed off about the cake!

Corky helped raise me and also acted to protect me from the worse actions of our dad. One Saturday morning, though, when I was about 7 or 8 and just a scrawny little kid, our dad had beaten me pretty severely with his leather belt. As any of you know painfully well who have had the unfortunate experiences of dealing with an abusive parent, oftentimes there isn’t any reason or anything you might have done that triggered such a response, and as a quiet kid, I certainly can’t imagine what I could possibly have said or done.

He beat me so savagely with his leather belt that the welts on the backs of my legs were swollen nearly ½” high, and the edges of the belt had even cut into my legs and were bleeding. It was a little after 10:00 a.m., and our mom was grocery shopping when this happened. When she walked in the door, carrying bags of groceries, she entered into a surreal situation: Corky and Terry were in the kitchen, wrestling and fighting over a butcher knife.

Our mom set the bags down, ran into the kitchen, and began pulling on Corky. Terry had the knife in his hand, and she was yelling at them to stop it as she pulled on Corky to stop him from doing whatever the hell HE was doing. Finally, he yelled out to her, ”God DAMN it, Mom, STOP IT. Terry’s trying to kill Dad!”

Once all that commotion settled down, she found out why that skirmish had taken place. She came into my bedroom — the one I had to share with our dad — and I was lying on the mattress, face down and crying into my pillow. By this time the welts had turned a horrific red and purple, and the bloody edges of the welts had quit bleeding and were beginning to coagulate.

She stormed into the kitchen, grabbed the kitchen knife, and plunged it against our dad’s belly. “You son of a bitch!” she yelled. “If you EVER touch that kid again, i’ll stab you with the goddamned knife!” Just another typical Saturday morning in lower-middle-class gang war zone National City back in the 1960s.

But Corky just didn’t help raise me or try to protect me from the worst predations of our dad. He introduced me to classical music, still a great love of mine. By the time I was a senior in high school, I was a good enough trombone player (which I’d taught myself how to play after 7th grade, so I could be in the junior high’s jazz ensemble) that I received an offer to become an apprentice trombonist with the Chicago Symphony, at that time easily one of the three or four greatest symphonies in the world, and I would have had the opportunity to study conducting under Sir Georg Solti, the 20th Century’s finest interpreter of Beethoven.

I had also applied for acceptance in a summer-long oceanography program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. If I hadn’t been one of the 41 kids from all across North America chosen from among the nearly 2,000 applicants, I would’ve accepted that fabulous offer and been, at the very worst, a very well-paid trombone player in Chicago. As Fate would have it, though, not only was I accepted in the oceanography program, but the National Science Foundation awarded me a grant to cover the entire cost of the program, and I became a biologist.

Corky and Terry also introduced me to rock ’n’ roll, which of course EVERY kid back then loved. I distinctly remember horrifying Sister Mary Daniel, my first-grade teacher at St. Mary’s in National City when she asked if anyone had anything they’d like to share with the class. Little brown-noser that I was, I raised my hand. “Yes, Peter?” she asked, and I walked up to the front of the class. “My brothers taught me how to do The Twist!” and I began gyrating before the class and the stunned Sister Mary Daniel. Well, what the hell — SHE asked! Guess it was yet another mortal sin I’d racked up . . . .

But let’s go fishing. Or, at least, let’s go trudging through some of the semi-legendary stories of our fishing adventures.

When I was still in high school, Corky and I would go fishing in tiny Santa Ysabel Creek, a little stream that in the winter and early spring months was occasionally stocked with hatchery trout. Remind me to tell the story about the bull at Santa Ysabel Creek, okay? Not verbal bull or even bull trout — a BULL, a real, snorting, no-kidding, charging bull.

Oh hell . . . . Well, screw it. Why wait? I mean, if my brother’s recent illness and passing is to be used as a learning experience, it is that anything could happen to any of us at any time, and that life has to be LIVED. There’s no waiting around for Life — you’ve got to grab it by the horns if you will. Yeah, that is a pretty cheesy introduction to the story, but what the hell!

So, about The Bull. To former students of my brother, who was a great fan of Hemingway and Faulkner, it sounds like a Hemingway short story doesn’t it?? “The Bull of Santa Ysabel,” right?

Corky and I had been fishing in Santa Ysabel Creek, which is just about a mile north of Dudley’s Bakery in northern San Diego County, an amazingly popular bakery that draws people from everywhere (their Dutch Apple Bread is awesome . . . their cinnamon bread is pure heaven; and — well, they ALL are).

Anyway, there is a large pasture or grassy meadow there, right up against State Highway 79. You have to go under a barbed wire fence and cross the meadow to get to the fishable upper portion of the creek in the hills to the east (interestingly — at least to me — the DFG had stocked Santa Ysabel Creek back in the 1930s with 15,000 Paiute cutthroat trout, an incredibly rare trout and native to just a couple of headwater creeks above waterfalls in Alpine County, tributary to the East Fork of the Carson River). We had been fishing for a couple of hours, it was getting late in the day, and we were at the meadow.

We’d never seen any cattle there before, but on this fateful day, there was a very large longhorn bull at the far side of the meadow. We were minding our own business, and so was the bull. Unfortunately, at that very moment, the bull’s business was US.

As we walked, so did the bull. As we walked faster and faster, the bull did the same thing, matching our pace. With about 30 yards to go, the goddamned bull began charging to cut us off, and we both began running for our lives. The bull had the angle, and the only way we would get out safely was if we ran down to the fence at full speed and slid under the barbed wire fence, a dangerous move even if executed successfully. Of course, Corky didn’t have to outrun the bull — he just had to outrun ME. But back then, I was a really fast runner, and we were neck and neck, hauling ass to get to the fence and to safety.

I yelled to my brother, “We have to slide underneath the barbed wire on the run!” and he yelled back, “Yeah — I KNOW!!” We got to the fence just about the time the bull did, and we both slid on the gravel under the fence like Jackie Robinson stealing home. Only then, safely on the other side of the barbed wire fence, complete with skinned and bloodied elbows, could we laugh our asses off at the craziness of challenging half a ton of pissed-off pot-roast-on-the-hoof trying to gore us. I mean, FUCK Pamplona, right?? But we survived.

In 1974, a geography professor, at San Diego State, Gene Coleman, who also taught at Southwestern Junior College in Chula Vista and who became a good friend and a trusted personal and political advisor, told me about Pauma Creek — really, the classic version of the “secret fishin’ hole” of fishing lore. He only told maybe one student a year about this little piece of heaven on Earth, and he knew that I was the kind of person with the right ethic who would appreciate the stream and respect its solitude and relatively unknown existence.

Pauma Creek is a rugged little wilderness stream, flowing from Palomar Mountain State Park, formed from the confluence of Doane and French Creeks, and draining the southwestern slope of Palomar Mountain in northern San Diego County. It is a sometimes tributary to the San Luis Rey River (now blocked to would-be spawning steelhead by a concrete bridge abutment).

From Gene’s description, Pauma Creek sounded like a much better stream — a rugged wilderness stream that involved a lot of rock-hopping and crawling, but more importantly, the trout were not stupid hatchery fish but real native trout, remnants of the original rainbow trout/steelhead that arose in streams in San Diego County before the most recent Ice Age, the ancestors of all rainbow trout throughout their range from northern Baja California to Alaska and to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. These were not mass-produced production-line factory trout — they were the real thing.

The only non-native fish in the stream were brown trout that had been stocked in the 1930s — and WHY??? — and I had caught the only one we’d ever seen there, and green sunfish washed downstream from Doane Pond. We’d only ever caught two, and we killed both since they are voracious competitors with the trout for food and would eat baby trout. Since I’ve had green sunfish as pets, I know how aggressive and voracious they are, so we did our own habitat enhancements to benefit the trout. The trout were native, not stocked; the green sunfish are found east of the Rockies but have been planted everywhere, so it was “Vaya con Díos, piscas verdes del Sol!” or however “green sunfish” translates into Spanish. Sorry about that. So much for being forced to study German in high school, a REALLY helpful language if you were going to become a biologist in San Diego! Yes, even the college and university system is a screwed-up educational mess. But to students of my brother, that won’t come as any damn great surprise.

The fishing in Pauma Creek was superb and tested our skills at reading water, even in miniature, and required stealthy approaches to avoid spooking the skittish wild fish. We could always tell when another fisherman had accessed the creek ahead of us by sliding down a steep primitive trail from a road about halfway down. We used ultralight gear, 2# test line, 1/32 oz. Dardevle Skeeter lures with barbless hooks and released all of the trout we caught.

Within a couple of years, I’d named some pools, something that occurs on famous salmon and steelhead rivers, not creeks you can jump across. At the first waterfall, as one goes down from Palomar Mountain State Park, there is a very large deep pool with a waterfall plunging over the granite boulders to climb down and over. My knees were hurting, and Corky wanted to fish that deep pool for the monster trout that surely was there (one that he finally caught, years later, and had break off before he could land, photograph, and release it). I found a split boulder above the pool that was a perfectly comfortable granite chair, so, resting my knees, I named the waterfall pool “Orthopedic Rock.”

There were others with similarly offbeat names; but after all, look at who the crazy bastard was who was naming them!

“‘Freight Train’ Pool,” about 3 miles down, where an enormous trout would come charging out but was never hooked solidly. In order to get the fish to come out, we got one cast only: The lure had to be cast sidearm underneath overhanging tree branches so that it bounced and ricocheted off two boulders in order to get the lure back where the trout had its lair (note to a beloved former girlfriend of mine: Try doing that when you’re fly-fishing, Beckie!). Sometimes the little barbless treble hook would tangle with the line, making it impossible to hook the fish and spooking that pool; at other times, the fish was charging too hard to get a tight enough line to set the hooks; and

“‘Nettle Nuts’ Pool,” where the only way to get downstream was to do the splits and bend way down under a fallen tree, where stinging nettles growing up toward the tree made the effort, um, a very very cautious one. Well, you get the drift.

My brother and I had made a number of trips down to Baja, going all the way down to the very tip of the peninsula at Cabo. In fact, the town at the end of the Transpeninsular Highway was named San Jose del Cabo, NOT Cabo San Lucas. But all of the norteamericanos — well, all of them but for us sticklers for proper use of the language! — called it Cabo San Lucas. Mexico eventually gave up and called the whole damned area Los Cabos, though there’s only the one cape. Whatever.

Hell, I can’t even get away with using adverbs after the verb or not ending a sentence without a preposition without ignorant people bitching at me. If you knew Corky, then maybe you have an inkling as to what my attitude is like — I refuse to give in to ignorant assholes, and God knows we’ve got more than our fair share of those in our society. Even had some as President of the United States. Er, had/have. At least Corky dedicated his life to helping thousands of kids over the decades wade through the mess that is the English language, without resorting to the typical bullshit like forcing students to diagram sentences.

In talking to my sister-in-law Maj, Corky’s wife, Thursday morning, she shared a story with me. Before he passed away, she had a video monitor on him so that she or the attending nurses or the family members helping out could know if he needed assistance. On Tuesday, he became restless and tried to get out of bed. Then, she said, he was doing something odd in his sleep, even for a Xander: He was raising his right arm in the air, waving it around slowly (see? Adverb after the verb!). Then a little while later, he did the same thing but with his left arm. She didn’t understand what was going on with him until it dawned on her later: They had been planning a trip to Scotland so that he could go fishing for Atlantic salmon in some of the world-famous rivers there. She thinks that his subconscious, in one of the last actions of his life, was having him practicing his fly-fishing casting in preparation for that trip.

I once read a short story about a trout fisherman who’d died (and ladies, I’m sorry our misogynist society and language makes anything but a male version of the language seem clumsy and awkward). He didn’t know whether he had gone to Heaven or Hell, but there he was in the afterlife, standing in his chest-high waders and fly-fishing in a beautiful river. There was a hatch of insects on, and there were trout rising everywhere. He was giddy with anticipation — so, he was in Heaven! He flicked out some line, began false casting, and stripping out more line, and there, near the opposite bank of the river, was a truly spectacular huge trout.

He laid out a perfect cast and began stripping in line in short twitches. The huge trout turned and began to pursue his fly, but a plump 14-inch trout grabbed it instead. That fish jumped everywhere, and the guy was thrilled! He played the trout for a minute, enjoying every second of the experience, then brought the fish in, used pliers to remove the fly from the trout’s lower jaw, and gently released it.

He began false casting again to dry the fly, and sure enough, the monster he’d eyed earlier had resumed feeding. He again laid out a beautiful and perfect cast, right in the goliath’s feeding lane, but again, a smaller trout grabbed the fly. This time the man brought the fish in rather unceremoniously, released it, and resumed trying to catch the monster.

But try as he might, every time he thought the huge trout was going to take his fly, a smaller trout always beat the big fish to it. It was then that the ugly realization dawned on the guy: He wasn’t in Heaven after all — he was in Hell!

It is a sad but inevitable reality that we all die someday. I personally want to believe I’m immortal, and I will continue to think that way until and unless, of course, I find out otherwise the hard way, as I suppose all of you mortals will discover yourselves. But if one has to die, as my beloved brother did a few days ago, what better way to end your days than to pass away with your mind getting ready for the wonderful fishing trip that he, unfortunately, did not get to take.

Very few of us get the opportunity of choosing how we leave this plane of existence. But what we leave behind — the people we met, the lives we changed, the improvements we made to our society, to our nation, and to our world — will be the testaments to who we were, what we did, and how we made a difference.

All of you whose lives he touched, affected, and hopefully made better, are the testimonials to his lifetime of service to education. I hope you have wonderful memories of my brother and will continue to live the lives he hoped you all would, that will you pass on to your loved ones the lessons learned under his tutelage, and be the men and women he hoped you all would become. Thank you, each and every one of you, for being a part of his life and for giving his life the meaningfulness and sense of reward he felt.

— Pete Xander

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1. From Boise to Idaho Falls:

 

The next morning after breakfast we left for the long drive across southern Idaho. Upon leaving the city precincts, we crossed the bleak high desert covering eastern Oregon and Southern Idaho. During the hours and miles, Naida kept up a running narrative about the pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail along the same route and their hardships, technology, and social relationships. She told about the Native Americans who lived in the area prior to the arrival of the pioneers, how they lived, their horse breeding prowess, and their initial reactions to the arrival of the white immigrants. Eventually, as we approached the Snake River patches of green cultivated land, some of which were on the bottomland of the river and others on lands watered from the massive irrigation projects of the New Deal.

We eventually arrived at Shoshone Falls, about halfway between Boise and Idaho Falls. Until the installation of the nearby hydroelectric project diminished them, the falls were reputed to be higher than Niagara. Directly downstream from the falls the Snake passes through the steep canyon where in 1972 the entertainer Evel Knievel attempted unsuccessfully to jump across the canyon on a rocket-powered cycle. Although I had watched the failed attempt on television way back then, I had no idea how wide a canyon it actually was.
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Shoshone Falls

 

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Knievel attempted to jump this canyon.

 

Following the brief diversion to the falls, we continued on. About halfway to Idaho Falls, we came upon a poorly signed detour on the Interstate. We became confused and took the wrong road and found ourselves traveling along a ten-mile detour, five miles out and five miles back. There appeared to be no place to turn around. After about two miles, I noticed an automobile parked at the edge of the road. As we approached, I realized it was a police car and mentioned it to Naida who was driving at the time. She tried to move into the left lane but couldn’t because a truck was passing us. Just as we approached the police car, its backlights began blinking. We passed it. I then watched in the mirror as the cop pulled out, caught up to us, and motioned for us to pull over. This annoyed me since I suspected this was just a speed trap, especially since the rental car had California plates. We pulled over to the verge with the police car directly behind us. He walked over to the car, motioned to me to roll down the window and announced that we had failed to move over one lane when passing an emergency vehicle parked at the side of a road. After my failed protest, he gave us a ticket and returned to his vehicle.

Our rental vehicle was a new RAV4. It came without an owner’s manual. As a result, we could not figure out many of the intricacies of its operation. So, as Naida started up the car and while trying to determine how to put it into drive, it began rolling back and panic ensued. We crashed into the police car. Naida was mortified. I found it the amusing high point of the whole trip so far. The cop was non-plussed and since there was no serious damage simply told us to drive on carefully.

A few miles after returning to the Interstate we arrived a Rupert Idaho, a small town where Naida spent part of her childhood. Almost every storefront, many of which were empty, had a plaque affixed to the facade declaring it a historical landmark and telling a bit about its history. What fascinated me most was a massive fabric shop catering primarily to the quilting crowd.

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Naida at the Rupert town square.

 

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Pookie in the fabric shop.

 

We returned to the interstate and arrived in Idaho Falls at dusk and drove directly to Naida’s half-sister Christy’s home. After a few minutes of relaxation, Christy got into her camper and we followed her in the Toyota for about 45 minutes until we arrived in the mountains to the east of the city at an area called the Palisades. There, we turned into a box canyon that terminated at the foot of Sheep Mountain and after a brief climb on the curving, unlighted dirt roads that snaked up the side of the canyon we arrived at Christy’s small but comfortable A-frame cabin where we would spend the next few days.

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Sheep Mountain.

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The cabin.

 

 

2. Christy and the Cabin at Sheep Creek.

 

Christy a hard-living, hard-drinking, dope-smoking, gun-toting, Mormon hating, radical woman of the Continental Divide spent her life hunting, marrying, selling real estate, boating up and down the Snake River, raising children and cooking the greatest pancakes I had ever tasted. That first evening as we got settled, Cristy mentioned that moose, grizzly bears, and other large mammals visit the cabin now and then. I told her about my pathological fear of bears especially those of the grizzly kind. She responded, “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you,” and immediately strapped on her pistol which she kept on her hip the entire time I was there. How can you not bond with someone like that?

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Christy, her pistol and I.

 

We spent the next few days eating pancakes in the morning, sitting on lawn chairs by the cabin staring at the palisades across the valley, smoking, drinking and telling stories. Christy spoke mostly about her third husband. She loved him very much. He shared her lifestyle, carousing, boating, racing their ski-mobiles through the forests in winter and the like. She was devastated when he died in an unfortunate accident.

One morning Christy drove us in her van around the valley. We stopped at the base of Sheep Mountain. Naida told me that the canyon and Sheep Mountain had been leased by her grandfather from BLM when he was raising sheep on a ranch somewhere near Idaho Falls.

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Naida and I at the head of the Sheep Creek Trail.

 

During the summer, he would drive his sheep into the canyon where they would graze along the creek on the way to the slopes of the mountain where they would spend the season. He would spend most of the summer there with his sons and ranch hands and his sheepcamp.
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A Sheepcamp.

 
We also walked along the trails and dirt roads. Naida would try to identify the flora that we passed by.

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At one point she mentioned that she thought the mountains thereabout were part of the Grand Teton mountain chain. If they were they were not particularly imposing. I decided to call them the Puny Teton Mountains.

On our last day there, Naida and I met with some more of her relatives who we met in the nearby town of Swan Valley.

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Naida and Brian Miller and his family.

 

and then, after saying a sad goodbye to Christy, we left the Puny Tetons and headed to the Grand Tetons and the second half of our trip.

 

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The Palisades and Christy’s Boat.

(To be continued)

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The following was sent to me by my cousin Lou. It’s a little sappy and a little long-winded but at our age (Lou is a little older than I am) being a bit sappy and long-winded is how we spend much of our time.

“THIS IS RIGHT ON THE NOSE. …….READ IT SLOWLY… I DON’T KNOW WHO WROTE IT, BUT I AM GUESSING IT WAS A SENIOR!!! I FIRST STARTED READING THIS EMAIL AND WAS READING FAST UNTIL I REACHED THE THIRD SENTENCE. I STOPPED AND STARTED OVER READING SLOWER AND THINKING ABOUT EVERY WORD. THIS EMAIL IS VERY THOUGHT-PROVOKING. MAKES YOU STOP AND THINK.

AND THEN IT IS WINTER You know. . . time has a way of moving quickly and catching you unaware of the passing years.

It seems just yesterday that I was young, just married and embarking on my new life with my mate. Yet in a way, it seems like eons ago, and I wonder where all the years went. I know that I lived them all. I have glimpses of how it was back then and of all my hopes and dreams. But, here it is… the winter of my life and it catches me by surprise…How did I get here so fast? Where did the years go and where did my youth go?

I remember well seeing older people through the years and thinking that those older people were years away from me and that winter was so far off that I could not fathom it or imagine fully what it would be like. But, here it is…my friends are retired and getting grey…they move slower and I see an older person now. Some are in better and some worse shape than me…but, I see the great change….Not like the ones that I remember who were young and vibrant…but, like me, their age is beginning to show and we are now those older folks that we used to see and never thought we’d be.

Each day now, I find that just getting a shower is a real target for the day! And taking a nap is not a treat anymore… it’s mandatory! Cause if I don’t on my own free will… I just fall asleep where I sit!

And so…now I enter into this new season of my life unprepared for all the aches and pains and the loss of strength and ability to go and do things that I wish I had done but never did!

But, at least I know, that though the winter has come, and I’m not sure how long it will last…this I know, that when it’s over on this earth…it’s NOT over. A new adventure will begin!

Yes, I have regrets. There are things I wish I hadn’t done…things I should have done, but indeed, there are many things I’m happy to have done. It’s all in a lifetime.

So, if you’re not in your winter yet…let me remind you, that it will be here faster than you think. So, whatever you would like to accomplish in your life please do it quickly! Don’t put things off too long!

Life goes by quickly. So, do what you can today, as you can never be sure whether this is your winter or not! You have no promise that you will see all the seasons of your life…so, live for today and say all the things that you want your loved ones to remember…and hope that they appreciate and love you for all the things that you have done for them in all the years past!

“Life” is a gift to you. The way you live your life is your gift to those who come after. Make it a fantastic one.
LIVE IT WELL! ENJOY TODAY! DO SOMETHING FUN! BE HAPPY! HAVE A GREAT DAY!

REMEMBER:….
“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.
“LIVE HAPPY IN THIS YEAR AND EVERY YEAR!

LASTLY, CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING:
TODAY IS THE OLDEST YOU’VE EVER BEEN, YET THE YOUNGEST YOU’LL EVER BE SO – ENJOY THIS DAY WHILE IT LASTS.
~Your kids are becoming you…….
~Going out is good.. Coming home is better!
~You forget names…. But it’s OK because other people forgot they even knew you!!!
~You realize you’re never going to be really good at anything
~The things you used to care to do, you no longer care to do, but you really do care that you don’t care to do them anymore.
~You sleep better on a lounge chair with the TV blaring than in bed. It’s called “pre-sleep”.
~You miss the days when everything worked with just an “ON” and “OFF” switch..
~You tend to use more 4 letter words … “what?”…” when?”… “what?”. ???
~Now that you can afford expensive jewelry, it’s not safe to wear it anywhere.
~You notice everything they sell in stores is “sleeveless”?!!!
~What used to be freckles are now liver spots.
~Everybody whispers.
~You have 3 sizes of clothes in your closet…. 2 of which you will never wear.
~But Old is good in some things: Old Songs, Old movies, and best of all, OLD FRIENDS!!

Stay well, “OLD FRIEND!” Send this on to other “Old Friends!” and let them laugh in AGREEMENT!!!
It’s Not What You Gather, But What You Scatter That Tells What Kind Of Life You Have Lived.”
Robin Stevenson, January 7, 2016

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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THE BIG ENDIVE BY THE BAY:

 
I am sitting here this morning in my favorite chair in Peter and Barrie’s house typing this. Naida sits at the table across the room reading the newspaper, her coffee cup at the ready by her right hand. Barrie has gone out into the misty morning to walk Ramsey. Peter has disappeared upstairs to prepare for the day. Boo-Boo the Barking Dog has just finished barking at imagined threats to the safety of the household and now lies quietly, head between paws, on the black sofa to my left. It is a good beginning to the day.

Naida and I arrived last night and today I intend to spend most of the day at the hospital for my immunotherapy infusion.

We agreed that Naida would spend the day here tending to the dog while I went to the hospital. I got into the car and had driven part of the way from Noe Valley to Mission Bay when I decided to check my wallet for my identification and credit card. I could not find either of them. In a panic, I returned to pick up Naida so that at least I would have someone with me with the means to pay for whatever may be needed. Later I discovered the missing cards were in my wallet exactly where they were supposed to be. And so, another senior moment passes through my life.

The only interesting thing that transpired at the hospital was the doctor informing me that my previous CT scans seemed to show cancer spreading. Adding that it was so small he could not hazard a guess at to what it may mean. So, he ordered new scans to be done before my next infusion and assured me that even if they do show some spreading of cancer he has me scheduled for participation in some clinical trials.

The next morning, after we left Peter and Barrie’s house, we stopped at Red’s Java House on the Embarcadero for breakfast with Anthony and his girlfriend. Anthony asked me to tell some stories as he has begun to take an interest in family history. I told a few of them including my midnight knife fight in the dark alley’s of Istanbul in the early ’70s. We then returned to the Enchanted Forest.

 

B. THE SATURDAY MORNING COFFEE.

 
The following morning we attended the Saturday Morning Coffee at the Nepenthe Club House. It was our “dear leader” Gerry’s birthday and so we had a cake and sang happy birthday to her. Later Winnie and I told each other a few stories. She told me that Ducky, the woman in the group whose white hair was always perfectly coiffed had some interesting stories also. Ducky lived and traveled in many places in the world with her husband who was in charge of a US submarine squadron. One of Ducky’s stories about her being kidnapped at knifepoint in Japan, she felt was worth hearing. So, she called Ducky over and left. I asked about the kidnapping. Ducky, said “it was nothing as serious as a kidnapping. It was more like being taken hostage.”

She explained that they were living in Japan at the time and she had gone to the bank. As she approached the teller, a Japanese man rushed up behind her, grabbed her, put a knife to her throat and demanded the teller give him money or he would kill the American lady. Ducky was proud of the fact that somehow for some unknown reason she had the presence of mind to signal to the teller to call the embassy. The teller cleverly gave the thief two large bags heavily filled with coins to slow him down as he tried to get away. The thief then dragged Ducky and the bags of coins across the floor of the bank and out into the street where he threw her down and tried to make his escape. Unfortunately for him, weighted down with the coins, he was quickly subdued by two policemen armed only with batons.

What happened later was the most interesting part of the story. Everyone, the thief, Ducky, the tellers, bystanders, and the two policemen were all taken to police headquarters, placed in a large room together where they sat around a table and each gave their account of the events. Then they were all taken back to the bank where they each, in turn, had to reprise their role and movements in the drama. They then were all returned to the station to review their statements once again. After about 12 hours of this, the embassy secured Ducky’s release. But wait there is more.

A few weeks later, Ducky received a visit from the parents of the thief. Apparently, following the trial, the parents were ordered to beg her forgiveness. Much to her embarrassment, they then crawled across the floor to lie at her feet and apologize for their son’s behavior.

Still later, she was ordered to appear at the prison to view the cell in which the miscreant was imprisoned. It was a small room. Ten prisoners were kept there. There were sleeping mats on the floor and a bucket by the wall. The jailer assigned to the room, she was told, checks the prisoners very closely every night because if one escaped, the punishment was for the jailor, himself, to take his place. Finally, she was informed that when the thief in question was let out of prison he would be prohibited from appearing in public without a member of his family accompanying him.

 

C. SMOGY THINGS.

 
Naida drives a white 1991 Mitsubishi sports car. It is the model that allows one to choose a touring or sports mode as they drive. In sports mode, the car can reach into the 180 mph range. Alas, while seeking to re-register the car for 2019 (yes, we are grossly late), it failed its smog test. As a result, we agreed to switch cars (she the Toyota Forerunner and I the Mitsubishi) while I set about doing whatever needs doing in order to secure the smog clearance. We first sought the opinion of something called a “smog referee.” That worthy, we were told, was supposed to assist people whose automobiles fail the smog test. “Not so,” he said. His job, he informed us, was to do the same smog inspection as had previously been done. And so he did with the same results. So, after that I enlisted the assistance of my grandson, who had worked for a few years in an auto repair shop, as well as Hayden and the Scooter Gang — they being at that age when adolescent boys obsess about all things automotive.

On Monday, I drove the Mitsubishi into the Golden Hills to confer with my automotive consultant, Hayden. He informed me that he and the gang reviewed the referee’s report and believe that the repairs to the engine needed to bring it into compliance should not be too expensive. He agreed to seek out some estimates.

While driving back to the Enchanted Forest, I realized how much I enjoyed driving a sports car and decided to try to persuade Naida to make the switch of automobiles permanent.

IMG_7833

 

D. AT NIGHT WITH NAIDA AND ANNABELL LEE.

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One night, perhaps it was the same night, I drove the Mitsubishi into the Golden Hills, Boo Boo the Barking Dog lay strangely quiet on the chair beside me. Naida sat at her computer happily pounding the keys in order to produce the paragraphs making up volume two of her memoir. I, in my black vest over a red sweater, sat in my favorite reclining chair, my laptop set properly upon my lap, flipping through the poems in one of my favorite poetry sites (PoemHunter) when I happened to strike with the curser a tiny arrow and a somewhat reedy voice with what sounded like a British accent emerged and filled the room with a recitation of Edgar Allen Poe’s Annabell Lee.

t was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought

Than to love and be loved by me.I

And so on.

The dog raised his head for a moment then returned to sleep. Naida suddenly stopped typing, turned from the computer and began reciting the poem word for word along with the narrator. When they both had finished, she sprang from her chair and exclaimed:

“He said it all wrong. He sounded like he was selling aspirin. He is no poet or actor. To Poe, this was highly emotional. There were angels and demons and sadness and loss.”

She then sat back down and returned to her typing. Shortly thereafter she got up and took the dog for a walk.

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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THE BIG ENDIVE BY THE BAY:

 
I  sit here this morning in my favorite chair in Peter and Barrie’s house typing this while Naida sits at the table across the room reading the newspaper, her coffee cup at the ready by her right hand. Barrie has gone out into the misty morning to walk Ramsey. Peter has disappeared upstairs to prepare for the day. Boo-Boo the Barking Dog has just finished barking at imagined threats to the safety of the household and now lies quietly, head between paws, on the black sofa to my left. It is a good beginning to the day.

Naida and I arrived last night and today I intend to spend most of the day at the hospital for my immunotherapy infusion.

We agreed that Naida would spend the day here tending to the dog while I went to the hospital. I got into the car and had driven part of the way from Noe Valley to Mission Bay when I decided to check my wallet for my identification and credit card. I could not find either of them. In panic, I returned to pick up Naida so that at least I would have someone with me with the means to pay for whatever may be needed. Later I discovered the missing cards were in my wallet exactly where they were supposed to be. And so, another senior moment passed through my life.

The only interesting thing that transpired at the hospital was the doctor informing me that my previous CT scans seemed to show cancer spreading. Adding, however, that it was so small he could not hazard a guess at to what it may mean. So, he ordered new scans to be done before my next infusion and assured me that even if they do show some spreading of cancer he has me scheduled for participation in some clinical trials.

The next morning, after we left Peter and Barrie’s house, we stopped at Red’s Java House on the Embarcadero for breakfast with Anthony and his girlfriend. Anthony asked me to tell some stories as he has begun to take an interest in family history. I told a few of them including my midnight knife fight in the dark alley’s of Istanbul in the early ’70s. We then returned to the Enchanted Forest.

 

 

B. THE SATURDAY MORNING COFFEE.

 
The following morning we attended the Saturday Morning Coffee at the Nepenthe Club House. It was our “dear leader” Gerry’s birthday and so a cake with candles brought out and we all sang happy birthday to her. Later Winnie came over to where I was sitting. We told each other a few stories. She mentioned that Ducky, the woman in the group whose white hair was always perfectly coiffed had some interesting stories also. Ducky lived and traveled in many places in the world with her husband who was in charge of a US submarine squadron. Winnie felt one of Ducky’s stories where she had been kidnapped at knifepoint in Japan, I would enjoy hearing. So, she called Ducky over and left. I asked about the kidnapping. Ducky, said “it was nothing as serious as a kidnapping. It was more like being taken hostage.”

She explained that they were living in Japan at the time and she had gone to the bank. As she approached the teller, a Japanese man rushed up behind her, grabbed her, put a knife to her throat and demanded the teller give him money or he would kill the American lady. Ducky was proud of the fact that somehow for some unknown reason she had the presence of mind to signal to the teller to call the embassy. The teller cleverly gave the thief two large bags heavily filled with coins to slow him down as he made nis getaway. The thief then dragged Ducky and the bags of coins across the floor of the bank and out into the street where he threw her down and tried to make his escape. Unfortunately for him, weighted down with the coins, he was quickly subdued by two policemen armed only with batons.

What happened later was the most interesting part of the story. Everyone, the thief, Ducky, the tellers, bystanders, and the two policemen were all taken to police headquarters, placed in a large room together where they sat around a table and each gave their account of the events. Then they were all taken back to the bank where they each, in turn, had to reprise their role and movements in the drama. They then were all returned to the station to review their statements once again. After about 12 hours of this, the embassy secured Ducky’s release. But wait there is more.

A few weeks later, Ducky received a visit from the parents of the thief. Apparently, following the trial, the parents were ordered to seek her forgiveness. Much to her embarrassment, they then crawled across the floor to lie at her feet and apologize for their son’s behavior.

Still later, she was ordered to appear at the prison to view the cell in which the miscreant was imprisoned. The cell she was shown was a small room. She was told that ten prisoners were kept there. The only things in the room were sleeping mats on the floor and a bucket by the wall. The jailer assigned to the room, she was told, checks the prisoners very closely every night because if one of them escaped the jailer himself would have to take his place. Finally, she was informed that when the thief in question was let out of prison he would be prohibited from appearing in public without a member of his family accompanying him.

 

 

C. SMOGY THINGS.

IMG_7833
Naida drives a white 1991 Mitsubishi sports car. It is the model that allows one to choose a touring or sports mode as they drive. In sports mode, the car can reach into the 180 mph range. Alas, while seeking to re-register the car for 2019 (yes, we are grossly late), it failed its smog test. As a result, we agreed to switch cars (she the Toyota Forerunner and I the Mitsubishi) while I set about doing whatever needs doing in order to secure the smog clearance. We first sought the opinion of something called a “smog referee.” That worthy, we were told, was supposed to assist people whose automobiles fail the smog test. “Not so,” he said. His job, he informed us, was to do the same smog inspection as had previously been done. And so he did with the same results. So, after that, in order to find someone who could to the proper repairs required to enable the car to pass the smog test, I enlisted the assistance of my grandson, who had worked for a few years in an auto repair shop, as well as Hayden and the Scooter Gang — they were at that age when adolescent boys obsess about all things automotive.

On Monday, I drove the Mitsubishi into the Golden Hills to confer with my automotive consultant, Hayden. He informed me that he and the gang reviewed the referee’s report and believed that the repairs to the engine required to bring it into compliance should not be too expensive. He agreed to seek out some estimates.

While driving back to the Enchanted Forest, I realized how much I enjoyed driving a sports car and decided to try to persuade Naida to make the switch of automobiles permanent.

 

 

D. AT NIGHT WITH NAIDA AND ANNABELL LEE.

 

 

One night, perhaps it was the same night, I drove the Mitsubishi into the Golden Hills, Boo Boo the Barking Dog lay strangely quiet on the chair beside me. Naida sat at her computer happily pounding the keys in order to produce the words that will eventually make up volume two of her memoir. I, in my black vest over a red sweater, sat in my favorite reclining chair, my laptop set properly upon my lap, flipping through the poems in one of my favorite poetry sites (PoemHunter) when I happened to strike with the curser a tiny arrow and a somewhat reedy voice with what sounded like a British accent emerged and filled the room with a recitation of Edgar Allen Poe’s Annabell Lee.

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

And so on.

The dog raised his head for a moment then returned to sleep. Naida suddenly stopped typing, turned from the computer and began reciting the poem word for word along with the narrator. When they both had finished, she sprang from her chair and exclaimed, “He said it all wrong. He sounded like he was selling aspirin. He is no poet or actor. To Poe, this was highly emotional. There were angels and demons and sadness and loss.” She then sat back down and returned to her typing. Shortly thereafter she got up and took the dog for a walk.

Later after Naida and I went to bed, the dog joined us, nestled in and quickly fell asleep knowing he would have to wake up early the next morning to begin barking in order to protect the house from the ravages on rebid squirrels and itinerant leaf-blowers.

IMG_7829 - Version 2

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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THE BIG ENDIVE BY THE BAY:

 

I type this while riding on the train on the way to my tri-weekly immunotherapy infusion at UCSF. Later we will spend the night at Peter and Barrie’s house. We are approaching Suisun-Fairfield. The sky is overcast, gray and dark. Next to me, Naida naps. I think I will join her.

It is now the following morning. We’re sitting around Peter and Barrie’s home eating breakfast and watching Marie Yovanovich’s testimony in the impeachment inquiry. My treatment yesterday was same old, same old. They did discover my thyroid continues to underperform so they upped the dosage of whatever magic concoction they had me on. After the treatment, we headed off to Peter and Barrie’s. I enjoyed traveling around the Big Endive by the Bay on public transportation observing the antics of my fellow riders and watching the brief melodramas of the City as we pass by.

We arrived at Peter and Barrie’s home and spent a pleasant dinner together telling stories and laughing as we often do. The following morning, after breakfast, we all set off for North Beach. None of us had been there for many years. I used to live in North Beach for a few years but had not been back in over a decade. We passed the restaurant where I used to sit at one of the outside tables and eat lunch or dinner several times a week. It is also the site where, in my unfinished and never to be finished mystery novel the main character, Dragon, would sit and conduct business lacking an office to do so. The novel opens with Dragon sitting at one of the tables when Mavis the beautiful Tattoo artist retained him to find her missing boyfriend. Dragon leaves the restaurant to pursue his first clue only too return a few minutes later bloody and frightened having been beaten by two mysterious fat guys. And so, the novel continues on to its non-conclusion. (If you wish to read one version of the novel it can be found here: https://papajoesfables.wordpress.com/here-comes-dragon-an-unfinished-novel/)

We also passed several of the sites where Carol Doda, she of the large naked breasts and hydraulic piano and I during her declining years would meet now and then for dinner and tell each other stories, reminisces, and lies and laugh a lot.

We stopped first in front of a restaurant I intended to have us all eat lunch at owned by a man who immigrated from the same town near Avellino in Italy where my grandfather grew up. His wife was the chef and cooked some of the best Neapolitan food in the area. Unfortunately, it was closed.

Ultimately, we chose Cafe Sport on Green Street. Fifty years ago, when I first visited it, the place was a simple cafe with a pool table in the back room. Antonio (perhaps his name was Franco. I do not remember which), the owner, eventually began also serving some full meals and added some brightly colored tables. He also began decorating the place with whatever oddities he could find. Eventually, the pool table was replaced by more tables and more odd decorations. It became one of the favorite hang-outs of the Prop-20 Coastal Commission staff. For a short period, another room was added. To get there, one had to pass through the kitchen where Antonio, a cigarette in his mouth with its long ash drooping over the large pots of sauce simmering on the stove, held court. We would joke that it was the ash that made to food taste so good. That room became an unofficial meeting place of the Coastal Staff until the Fire Department realized the room lacked fire exit and closed it down.

The four of us had a good meal, talked a lot and joked with the waiter. We then piled back into Peter’s car and he drove us to the Downtown Transit Station where we boarded the bus to the Emeryville train station to catch the train to Sacramento.
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B. A DREAM BACK IN THE ENCHANTED FOREST:

 

 

For the past two nights, I have been having a pleasant dream set in the dream world of my ancestral home in Sicily. It is nothing like the real place I have so often visited. In my dream lives, I have several places that over the years I return to now and then. They appear in my dreams nothing like the real places they are supposed to represent. For example, San Francisco in my dream world has no Golden Gate Bridge. Instead, when I look north, I see a crowded harbor filled with large ships and pleasure craft. Further north, there is a mountainous island or peninsular. I sometimes climb those mountains and stare at the endless ocean beyond.

Another dream place I sometimes visit seems like a combination of Mendocino and Eureka. Strangely when I face north the ocean is in my left as though I am on the East coast. I spend a lot of my dream time here. On the way to the town, there is an old hotel or resort sited a short way from the ocean. It’s a bit rundown down and the owner is a mysterious dyspeptic man who alternately frightens and annoys me.

The Sicilian town of my dreams appears like it had just emerged from the middle ages or had just been bombed during WWII. Both the women and men wear dark clothing — the woman generally long dresses, the men old working men’s clothing. My friend Vittorio, Naida and I were in a tumble-down house. A middle-aged woman (perhaps the owner) acted strangely, maybe she was angry at us for some reason. Fortunately, she took a liking to Vittorio and pulled him off into the bushes. At the back of the house, there was a large shed open on three sides. The shed operated as an impromptu cafe and meeting place for the neighborhood. In the evening, parties were often held there with a lot of singing, dancing, and storytelling. We had a great time and I woke up happy.

 

 

C. A FEW TRIPS INTO THE GOLDEN HILLS TO MEET WITH HRM:

 
HRM and I got together several times during the past few days. The first time we met, while sitting in Subway’s eating a meatball sandwich and discussing his schooling, he mentioned he was enjoying High School and liked all his teachers because they each keep a toy for him that he is allowed to play with in class.  He had been diagnosed with ADD while in grammar school and prescribed medication to keep it under control. Last year he refused to take his meds and longer. This year the teachers have decided it was best to allow him to release some of his excess energy by fiddling with the toys during class.

A few days later, I returned for the opening of the newly remodeled skatepark. A large herd of young boys and a few girls on scooters and skateboards crammed the place. After, watching things for a while, Naida and I went to lunch in Town Center.

One day I picked him up at the skate park. On the way to lunch at Subway, I inquired about his welding class. Some time ago I had told both him and my daughter Jessica that between adolescence the onset of adulthood they should develop competence in science, art, math, sports, social science, as well as a trade. I believe that given the changes we go through in our lives and the changes the society we live goes through, flexibility is needed for our sustenance, health, and happiness. In my daughter’s case, art became photography, science got to be virology, math (the statistical analysis necessary for her virology doctorate), sports grew into soccer (she continued to play competitively until very recently), and for social science her minor was semantics.

H then showed me his unfinished steel cube designed to look like a die. It was quite heavy and obviously unfinished. He explained he still needed to file down the welded joints.

On Friday, we went to have lunch a Panda’s a fast-food place we favor. He showed me his finished cube. It looked great. We discussed his upcoming Thanksgiving vacation and the possibility of he and I going away somewhere for a few days.

Another time, I picked up Kaleb and him and took them to the hot dog place in City Center for lunch. They had buffalo wings and an Italian sausage sandwich called “The Godfather.” Like teenagers everywhere they seemed at sixes and sevens about things to do, a bit bored but unwilling to give up the general comfort of home and running off into the woods or onto a ship and sailing away into an adventure.

 

 

 

D. ODDS AND ENDS:

 
Days pass, my short term memory slowly continues to shred. I have read a number of books these past few weeks. This is notable because, for about a month or so, I, for some reason, had substantially slowed my normal reading regime.

Naida and I continue our regular routine of spending most days and evenings sitting on our reclining chairs and watching either the impeachment hearings or old movies on TCM. In the early evenings, we walk Boo-Boo the Barking Dog through the Enchanted Forest or to the nearby dog park where instead of playing with the other dogs and running around with them helter-skelter he just sits and waits at our feet staring at us until we give up and take him home for his dinner. When we do go out somewhere to shop or to dinner and I get a chance to see us reflected in say a shop’s glass window I see two slightly dotty old people shuffling along on one of those mysterious errands the aged seem to enjoy.

One evening we watched the movie “Marty” on television. I had always liked it for its dialogue and portrayal of the social lives of young Italian-American men in the 1950s in the Bronx. And yes, I found Marty’s relationship with Clara endearing and appreciated the loneliness experienced by the two central characters, but I had not recognized or appreciated the fear of isolation that pervaded all the characters in the film. Angie’s anger and desperation at losing Marty’s companionship, the mother’s fear of abandonment by their sons and so on permeate the film making it less a comedy and more a caution.

It has been raining and cold for the past few days. The weather reports describe it as an atmospheric river flowing across California bringing with it the weather change. One morning when I went outside it was quite misty. The mist appeared almost solid giving in bulk what it takes away in substance.

We have spent the past few days inside, avoiding the cold and the rain. Naida works on editing portions of Volume II of her memoir while I write this or read a novel on Kindle. At other times we watch the news and political commentary on television. In the evening and at times during the day, we watch the flood of holiday movies on television. We also saw the Battle of Algiers, Giant, the silent film version of Joan of Arc and several other non-holiday fare. I am bored. If the rain and cold keep on much longer, I think I will shoot myself.

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 A. IN THE ENCHANTED FOREST:

 

 

As I type this, I am also watching Ethel Waters sing one of my favorite songs, “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe” in the 1939 movie, “Cabin in the Sky.” A little ego boost every now and then is a good thing.

Before turning on the movie and writing this, I had just returned from lunch in the Golden Hills with HRM, Jake, and Kaleb at their favorite fried chicken places — for me it is not so much a favorite.

This morning, we attended the Saturday Morning Coffee at the Nepenthe Club House. Gerry, our leader, who usually runs these get-togethers, had been taken to the hospital yesterday evening with a heart problem of some sort. Nevertheless, following an exchange of information about how to contact Gerry and express our wishes for her speedy recovery, we shouldered on. Someone described the elaborate Halloween party we were throwing for the young children who live in the subdivision and the much more numerous children of the children of the old people who live in it. Those sponsoring the party have created an entire Halloween town out of cardboard for the children to frolic in. Someone else discussed the problem of termites and described the free termite inspection service provided by the HOC. It is pleasant, every now and then, to be reminded that there are people everywhere trying to do nice things for no other reason than kindness — well, perhaps a bit of comfort, self-interest, and guilt come into it as well, but those are merely like spices added to a good meal.

There being no more announcements, we broke up into small conversational groups. There were only three males at breakfast. Each of us sat in chairs as far removed from one another as possible. None of us moved from our chosen fortress. The significantly more numerous female attendees seemed to comprise two sociological groups. Those who remain alone or sitting in small groups and those who moved around engaging the others in conversation. Naida and Winnie were of the latter cohort. They moved from group to group like bees gathering pollen.

Winnie eventually got around to me. She and I compared photos. She of her former home in Salmon Idaho and I of that portion of our trip to the same area. Winnie and her husband, a distinguished architect from LA, moved to Idaho when he was diagnosed with incurable cancer. He wanted to die someplace surrounded by nature. They lived there for over twenty years. He did not die. They then decided to move into the Enchanted Forest. I do not know why. He is now in his nineties and remains vigorous but cantankerous. Interestingly, he designed the Methodist church in Salmon who’s minister was Naida’s uncle, the children of whom we had traveled to Salmon to visit. He also designed the Sacagawea monument in the town.
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Sacagawea and I in Salmon Idaho.

 

Sunday evening, we decided to drive with Boo-Boo the Barking Dog to Discovery Park, at the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers, where the Spanish explorers first landed in the mid-sixteenth century. There they discovered the largest Native-American settlement in the area. They also noticed that the grass on the top of the mesa was so cropped by the roving herds of Elk that they considered it park-like (This had some significance but I no longer recall what it was.) Naida told me the Native-Americans from the other villages in the area would periodically gather here for dances and parties. Now and then dances and parties are still held here. We walked around for a while, then set off for home.
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Boo Boo the Barking Dog and Naida Under the big Cottonwood Tree at Discovery Park.

 

On the way home, we decided to stop for dinner at a restaurant among a group of night-clubs on J. Street. We ordered squash filled ravioli. It was quite good. While we were eating, a young woman with very long blond hair and very short shorts sitting at the bar left her seat, came over to our table, and asked if we were married. I responded that this was only our first date.

After registering her squeals of surprise, we admitted that, in fact, we had been together for about one year and a half but had known each other for over forty years. Following a few more rounds of chit-chat, she returned to her place at the bar. After finishing our meal, we returned home where we watched a reality TV program about gangbangers who found redemption.

Last week, Naida was not feeling well so on Wednesday she stayed home while I took the train alone to the Big Endive for my immunology treatment at UCSF. It was the first time I had taken the train to my appointment. I wanted to see whether traveling by train back and forth every three weeks would be more convenient and less exhausting for Vecchi like Naida and me.

 

 

 

B. BACK IN THE BIG ENDIVE BY THE BAY:

 
The train trip along with various public transport connections took about three hours to get me from Sacramento to Peter’s house — about the same time it takes by car with moderately heavy traffic. I was more relaxed and rested when I arrived as well. Since Barrie was in LA visiting her sister who was quite ill, Peter and I decided to have dinner at Bacco’s. I ordered my usual Gnocchi. We were joined by my grandson Anthony and his girlfriend.
img_7418_2Gnocc

 

They brought me some product from the boutique cannabis store that soon will open in Dog-patch of which Anthony’s GF was manager. It consisted of samples of higher-priced, expensively packaged products that they hoped I would try and evaluate. They included a topical salve, a flavored drink, mints, chocolate, and the like. The cannabis industry is being rapidly veblenized. That is, marketing more expensive goods when there are cheaper alternatives available because most consumers think it will impress others in one way or another. One side effect of the Veblen Effect is that profits to the producers (growers) are reduced while those to the packagers and marketers soar.

The following morning Peter drove me to the hospital for my scheduled immunology infusion. Following my appointment, I walked from Mission Bay to the bus terminal where I caught the train back to Sacramento and home. The walk to the terminal was interesting. I had not walked around this part of downtown San Francisco in a long time. Some places I recognized, but most had changed beyond recognition.

 

C. TIME GOES ON LIKE IT OR NOT:

 

 

On Monday, Naida was depressed about forgetting her tennis match. So in order to cheer her up, I took her with me to pick up HRM from school after which she and I had lunch at Selland’s in Town Center. We sat at a table on the veranda overlooking the lakes. Following that, I gassed up the car and decided to have it washed. While driving into the washing facility, I crashed the car into a wall crumpling its left fender. On the way home, Naida was no longer feeling depressed, but I was. Upon arriving home, I went straight to bed hoping tomorrow would be a better day.

And it was. I got to drive HRM to his dental appointment where he had six cavities filled. In the evening, Naida and I, having given up on the day’s news, watched several movies none of which I really recall, but I do remember that I enjoyed them.

On Saturday, Boo-boo the Barking Dog, for some reason failed to wake us up in time to attend the Saturday Morning Coffee at the Nepenthe Club House. Naida and I decided to spend the morning in geriatric hanky-panky. I find geriatric hanky-panky superior to juvenile hanky-panky because it lasts longer and one never knows what can or cannot happen. Later we had a breakfast of pancakes and then watched Andy Griffith ham it up in “A Face in the Crowd.”

I do not recall what happened between Wednesday and Saturday except that on Friday night I dreamt I was dying. Strangely, I was neither unhappy nor frightened but instead content and resigned. Naida who woke me up during the dream told me she had done so because I had stopped breathing. Strange.

Saturday evening, Naida, Boo-boo the Barking Dog and I went for a walk along the American River. As we walked along, we noted the extensive blow-down of trees and tree-limbs throughout the Enchanted Forest and along the river caused by the heavy winds of the past few days. When we got to the clearing by the river where we like to stop for a while and take in the view, we sat on a log and watched while some people in the picnic area across the river tried to get a car that was half-submerged out of the water. After several failures, they did. A little later, flocks of Canadian geese flew in and out of the setting sun and paddled their way to the little wooded island in the middle of the river where they would spend the night.
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Monday, we spent the morning doing what has become our favorite pastime, sitting next to each other holding hands, listening to Boo-boo the Barking Dog bark at anything that moves within 50 feet of the house, watching television and reading or playing on the computer. Perhaps it is just our age catching up with us. Still, we sit here passing the hours singing at times and laughing a lot. It could be worse.

 

 

 

D. NEWS STRAIGHT OR SLIGHTLY BENT:

 

 

On Tuesday, Naida spent the Morning playing tennis and I sat alone fooling around on the computer. After Naida returned, we turned on the news and learned about the killing of nine people six of them children traveling in an American car caravan in Mexico. The news reports initially seemed to blame a Mexican drug cartel connection to the murders. Naida commented that she believed the caravan was composed of members of a fundamentalist Mormon family traveling from the US to their home in one of the sect’s communes that had been set up in the area by polygamous Mormons following Utah admittance into the Union as a State at the end of the 19th Century on the condition polygamy be banned.

Naida told me about a writer friend of hers who was a “sister” wife at one of the communes. The friend, Irene Spencer, the second of 10 wives and mother of 14 children, wrote a book about escaping from the community. Spencer also wrote another book about the almost ceaseless violence among the sects. She told Naida about the horrendous carnage between the communities that began by a falling out between two brothers (each claiming “Prophet” status), one of whom was her husband, They commenced an internecine war with each other over control of the sect. Over 50 people have been killed during the past 25.* Both brothers now are dead but the feud continues.

Sometime later the news broke the name of the dead and of the community they were heading to for a wedding. It was the same community as the one her friend fled from. She tried to call her friend who had moved to California but discovered she died two years ago.

(*In the 1970s and 1980s, Ervil LeBaron, brother of the leader of the LeBaron community, launched his own Mormon offshoot sect in which he and his followers believed they had a right to kill those who had sinned. The group murdered at least 25 people, one expert told the LA Times. (https://news.yahoo.com/more-hundred-years-ago-mormons-205004653.html))

Later, while walking the dog through some of the dark pathways of TEF, we met another elderly couple who recently moved into the area after spending much of their lives living in the woods beyond Nevada City. They invited us into their home. While touring their kitchen they suddenly forced us into their large-sized micro-wave, cooked us on high for 90 minutes, placed us in a pie-crust, added a bit of cinnamon and sugar, baked us in the oven for another hour and had us for breakfast the next morning.

It’s Friday, neither Naida nor I recall much about the last few days other than they have been mostly pleasant. I think, given my general inactivity and shredded memory, I should give up writing T&T (https://wordpress.com/view/josephpetrillo.wordpress.com) as a journal. Maybe I should just write strange short-short stories. You know, like this old fucker who is so distressed about being old, forgetting everything, immobile and dyspeptic, he spends his days on his computer sending emails to the friends about sitting in his chair and sending emails to his friends or better yet weird Facebook postings to his Facebook friends. Can one have electronic friends one either never sees or never met? I have a Facebook friend who I know has been dead for six years. Children used to have imaginary friends. Now that they are aged decrepits more and more of their friends are just electric pulses.

Ah, one day later, things changed. Well, perhaps not so much. Let’s begin with my receiving an email from one of my dearest friends in Thailand with two little stories about recent events in his life. Much like the stories I write about here in T&T. Stories far far better than I could ever hope to write. Here they are:

The other day I was sitting with Sultan Ishmael Nasir at the bar we frequent watching the R. Crumb characters file past when a young man, built like one of those muscularly overburdened bare-knuckled tattooed cage fighters wandered in. He was hopping on one leg and asked to join us.
Seems he is a mercenary doing the devil’s duty in Fallujah Iraq. It is easily believed. I asked him why he is limping?

Turns out he tripped on a curb in Bangkok and tore a ligament.

Sheesh!

The other night we went to a movie theater here to see Joker. The theater was black with only a semblance of light on the stairway. My hands were full with a tub of fresh buttered popcorn and a cold Singha Beer. My eyes hadn’t adjusted and I fell tits over tea kettle down the stairs. I wondered if I had hurt myself, but stood upon the well-padded stairs and realized the beer was intact and I had lost only a small scattering of popcorn.

I ascribe this inane skill to being knocked on my ass a thousand times during karate.

Whatdaworld!

Richard Diran

 

It was Saturday again. Naida and I set off for the Saturday Morning Coffee. We walked from our house to the Nepenthe Clubhouse. We walked through brown, red, and gold leaves that covered the paths. Like kids we giggled while kicking them about, stepping on them and hearing them crackle. We both wear hearing aids. Although the hearing-aids may not work so well helping us understand what someone may be talking about, the snapping sounds of the leaves as we crushed them underfoot was ideally suited to whatever frequency the hearing aids were attuned to. We heard them like firecrackers a Fourth of July and we laughed.

About 30 people attended the coffee, eight men and about 22 women. More i Vecchi (old people) then I had ever seen at these events. Gerry, our leader, had returned from whatever hospitalization prevented her from presiding a few weeks ago. Announcements were made. I could not make out what they were about so I just sat there smiling like the village idiot. Later Naida told me she could not hear much either.

After the announcements, Paul the architect, Winnie’s husband came by and described at length how he designed the Sacagawea park in Salmon and picked out everything in it. I recalled that except for the two statues, everything else seemed to be just rocks.

Then off to the Golden hills. HRM called asking me to drive him and the Scooter Gang to COSTCO in Folsom so that they could eat their pizza for lunch. They think COSTCO pizzas are “the best.”

It is autumn in the Enchanted Forest. Naida, Boo-boo the Barking Dog and I went for a walk through the forest this evening. We walked further than we usually do along paths I had not been on before. It was a lot longer walk than I had attempted for many months except for that trek in SF from the hospital to the bus station a few weeks back. It tired me out, but I was pleased I did it.

 

 

All youse guys take care, ya hear….

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