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Outside Dick’s Home across the driveway from the front door there is a tall hedge growing. I assume it was planted to shield the occasional pedestrians on the street from a view of our garbage cans. On one side of the hedge, barely visible from either the front door or the street is a large dark gap or hole in the foliage. From this gap, for as long as I have lived here, there issue several rivulets of water that tumble down the slope for about 30 feet or so before disappearing into a drain at the side of the garage. During the rainy season, these rivulets grow quite large and at times flood the driveway.
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Not too long ago, while leaving the house, I noticed some kid standing by the garbage cans behind the hedge peeking out at the street. Curious, I shouted, “ Hey, what the fuck are you doing here?”

At the sound of my voice, he spun around and stared at me, a surprised look on his face. That’s when I realized he was not some kid, but a very short old man with a scraggly gray beard. Old, about my age with wrinkles on his face that stood out like scars. He was short, well under five feet I guessed and dressed oddly too. On his head, he had on what looked like a black or dark blue felt fedora with its brim cut off. His coat, dark brown in color, had shiny buttons, yellow piping, and hung almost to his knees. Below the coat were wrinkled tan pants tucked into dirty white socks. On his feet, he had what looked like old hiking boots.

He hesitated a moment then turned, ran through the mud, up the slope and dove head first into the gap in the hedge. I noted that he was far spryer than I.

“Hey!” I shouted and ran across the driveway after him. Well, I actually didn’t run, that’s beyond me at this age — shuffled more likely. Also, I was wearing my imitation Crocs that I bought in Thailand for two dollars. There’s no running in them — waddling perhaps.

I crossed the driveway, then slipped and slid through the silt and the mud and turned toward the dark gap. “I’ve got you now you rat bastard,” I thought.

As I approached the hole and tried to reach in to grab the little jerk, I slipped and slid feet first into the gap. I fell thinking I was going to land hard on my ass. Instead, I kept falling down and down and down. As I slid down, one of my faux Crocs slipped off my foot. For some reason, I believed it essential I save the thing and so I did by grabbing it and clutching it to my breast. It felt like I was dropping down the chute at a water park. I tried to turn my body so I could apply some friction to slow or stop my fall. I got part way around when I popped out of the tube, flew about five feet through the air and with a loud “oomf,” landed face down onto what felt like soft moss. I was sopping wet and in pain all over. I was still grasping the phony Croc like it had saved my life. Eventually, I moved my head a bit and glimpsed a small pond a few feet away from where I lay. I could hear the plopping sound of water dribbling into the pond. I appeared to be lying in a small clearing a forest. I spied the little guy standing at the edge of the clearing. When he saw me looking at him, he ran off into the woods and disappeared. “You rat bastard,” I croaked after him.

Slowly and agonizingly, I worked my way onto my back, looked up into the clear blue sky, and shouted “I am not Alice.”

Four days later, I returned home. Neither Hayden nor Dick seemed aware that I had been gone. What was even more strange was that they also seemed not to notice my appearance. I was almost naked wearing only a few rags and of course the phony Crocs. My beard was long and braided. On my chest I sported a tattoo of a naked mole rat standing fully erect and above it in large red bank gothic the words “Fuck Trump.” A stud, shaped like a human thigh bone, pierced my left earlobe.

Disappointed at their lack of reaction, I stomped off the bathroom, showered, shaved, removed the thigh bone stud and put myself to bed. The next morning Dick woke me up to drive Hayden to school.

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During my weekly massage, my masseuse likes to watch the Thai soap operas on television while she administers the various pains and pleasures of her therapy.

Now, as I am sure we all know, soaps are a window into the dark, twisted soul of a society, so it is with Thai soap operas.

To me, they all appear to tell the same stories and contain the same characters. There is the beautiful innocent heroine and the equally beautiful though not so innocent young woman. You can usually tell them apart by their eyebrows. The innocent heroine’s eyebrows are somewhat rounded, while her evil counterpart’a are straighter. They are accompanied by two equally attractive young men, one good and the other not so good. These four then are supported by a cast of actors and actresses of varying ages often playing family members of the protagonists. There are also one or two comic characters, usually played by ladyboys.

Although the stories are, generally, all the same, their location varies. I have seen Thai soaps set in the homes of the rich, and others in the homes of the poor living beside a klong somewhere. I have also seen them set in grocery stores, health clubs, and farms. Some occur in modern times others in old Siam and still others are set in times of magic or in some guerilla campaign somewhere.

Anyway, this particular day the masseuse was watching a soap in which the straight-browed beauty dressed all in black, carried a sword and had just done unspeakable things to a group of poor people locked in cages.

Viewing this through my western acclimated eyes that see everything as a conflict between good and evil, no matter the atrocities performed by either side, I commented, “She must be the bad girl.”

To which my masseuse responded, “Good or bad, it makes no difference. She is beautiful and everyone cares about her and what she does. If she were not so beautiful no one would give a damn at all about her or anything she does.”

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I just finished a John Gresham short story about a lawyer who gets fed up practicing law, rips off a few clients and runs off to a tropical paradise and lives happily ever after. While I like Gresham, he is no Sheldon Siegel. Once a week I trundle the two miles to the outskirts of hell, where the English language bookstore is located, to check for Sheldon’s latest publication. While his mystery and courtroom scenes are great, it is the latest doings of his main characters Mike and Rosie that I look forward to. They are more real to me than my life here.

Two of my favorite authors are Sheldon Siegel and William Kotzwinkle. At least Sheldon Siegel sounds like and author. Kotzwinkle sounds like a character in Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

Speaking of Pee Wee, I am waiting for a revival of Pee Wee Herman and Soupy Sales’ great performances. In case you do not recall (or are not old enough to recall) one of Soupy’s more memorable bits was to tell his juvenile audience to go into mommy and daddy’s room while they were asleep and go into daddy’s pants, take out his wallet, extract a dollar and mail it to Soupy. While most 5 to 10-year-olds got the joke, their parents had Soupy thrown off television.

Pee Wee, on the other hand, is the metaphor for our generation, a happy life in a children’s playhouse exposed in the dark theater of history. Pee Wee’s comeback was in one of my all time favorite movies “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (the original) where he plays a vampire’s assistant. You should see it. There are memorable performances in it by Rutger Hauer as the chief Vampire and Donald Sutherland as Buffy’s instructor in vampire slaying.

One of my ex-clients, Danny Elfman, the oscar winning musician, got his start in movies by writing the theme songs for the Pee Wee playhouse movies. Danny told me once that he was an “Artist,” not a doped up guitar player. I wonder if Willie Nelson considers himself and artist.

Danny’s brother Rick was also a client. Rick is the director of some of the worst movies ever made. Movies so bad that they appear in the cult movie section of video stores. Movies so bad they use a pseudonym for the director’s name. He directed such classics as “Forbidden Zone,” “Shrunken Heads,” “Streets of Rage” (Wherein he uses the pseudonym of “Aristide Pierre Laffite Sumatra of the Ton Ton Macoute”) and “Modern Vampires.”

The last of which, I made my film acting debut in a walk-on role and crossed off item one of my bucket list. The movie was about a war in Los Angeles between the Vampires and the Mafia, one of the last movies in which Rod Steiger appeared (and justly so). I of course played a Mafia Don who, in my one scene, holds open the trunk of a black limousine into which my two mafia henchman, dump the “Queen of the Vampires”(played by Kim Cattrell in one of her earliest and most regretted roles) tightly wrapped in strings of garlic to keep her comatose (I kid you not). Sic Transit Gloria.

Ciao…

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Among my Cracked Histories, Tomyris and the Massegetae is one of my favorites. A version appears in the book listed below at the end of the piece. It can also be found in my blog Trenz Pruca’s Journal (https://trenzpruca.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/every-now-and-then-we-should-stop-what-we-are-doing-and-consider-tomyris-and-the-massengetae/)

I believe, it is worthwhile to occasionally contemplate Tomyris and the Massegetae, if not for its impact on history than for its elucidation of the ability of a determined woman to lead her country in a time of crisis.

Tomyris Queen of the Massegetae reigned over a semi-nomadic nation in South-central Asia at the time Cyrus the Great Emperor of Persia and ruler of just about every other place anyone had heard of, ravaged that part of the world. (This was about four or five hundred years before Jesus walked the earth preaching peace and unleashing, often in his name, 2000 years of bloodshed far beyond that which the world had experienced for the previous 4000 years.)

“One day, Cyrus marched his armies into the land of the Massegetae, an area he noticed he had forgotten to conquer. He exclaimed to his comrades in arms, “Hey here’s a place where I haven’t killed many people yet. Let’s have some fun.”

Tomyris’ son and about a third of the Massegetae troops rode out to meet Cyrus and his marauders. They were quickly defeated and Tomyris’ son (clearly not a chip off his mom’s block) taken prisoner. This was familiar stuff to Cyrus who whenever he wanted to kill some people usually was confronted by their young sons who shouted at him that they would fight back if he tries to kill them. He would kill them anyway and make the rest slaves. It was good being Cyrus.

So Cyrus walked or rode or however conquerers traveled back then, up to what passed for a wall surrounding what passed for a city to the nomadic Massegetae. With Tomyris son in tow, he strutted back and forth in front of those walls and shouted to Tomyris that she should surrender her town and country, such that it was.

Tomyris that tough old bird, climbed to the top of those walls, hiked up her skirt, stared down at the strutting Cyrus, and shouted back:
“Now listen to me and I will advise you for your good: give me back my son and get out of my country with your forces intact, and be content with your triumph over one-third of the Massegetae. If you refuse, I swear by the sun our master to give you more blood than you can drink, for all your gluttony.”

Thus, Tomyris Warrior Queen of the Massegetae responded to Cyrus the Great, Emperor of Persia, conqueror of the greatest empire of the ancient world and leader of the largest and most technologically advanced army of the time.

Cyrus refused Tomyris’ advice. So, she personally led the charge of her forces and destroyed his army. After her victory, she searched the battlefield herself until she found Cyrus’ body, then she cut off his head and thrust it into a wineskin full of blood and declared, “See now, I fulfil my threat. You have your fill of blood.”  Later was reputed to have made his skull into her favorite goblet.

This leads me to conclude that one should never mess with a woman named Tomyris, or for that matter a Massegetae who some ancient historians believe became the Huns. (I heard that there is a biker gang in South Dakota named the Massegetae whose leader is a six-foot-six-inch transsexual named Tomyris.)

For those interested in learning more about the Massegetae, this is what the ancient Greek historian Herodotus had to say about them:

“In their dress and mode of living, the Massegetae resemble the Scythians. They fight both on horseback and on foot, neither method is strange to them: they use bows and lances, but their favorite weapon is the battle-axe. Their arms are all either of gold or brass. For their spear-points, and arrow-heads, and for their battle-axes, they make use of brass; for headgear, belts, and girdles, of gold. So too with the caparison of their horses, they give them breastplates of brass, but employ gold about the reins, the bit, and the cheek-plates. They use neither iron nor silver, having none in their country; but they have brass and gold in abundance.”

“The following are some of their customs; – Each man has but one wife[…]“yet all the wives are held in common; for this is a custom of the Massegetae and not of the Scythians, as the Greeks wrongly say. Human life does not come to its natural close with this people; but when a man grows very old, all his kinsfolk collect together and offer him up in sacrifice; offering at the same time some cattle also. After the sacrifice they boil the flesh and feast on it; and those who thus end their days are reckoned the happiest. If a man dies of disease they do not eat him, but bury him in the ground, bewailing his ill-fortune that he did not come to be sacrificed. They sow no grain but live on their herds, and on fish, of which there is great plenty in the Jaxartes. Milk is what they chiefly drink. The only god they worship is the sun, and to him they offer the horse in sacrifice; under the notion of giving to the swiftest of the gods the swiftest of all mortal creatures.”

I have a few concerns and questions about the Massegetae life-style: 
 1. How does one have one wife held in common? 
 2. How old do you have to be before they come for you and boil you up with a cow or two? 
 3. How pissed off with your lot in life would you be if you were forced to live on beef, fish, sour milk and a grandfather or grandmother now and then? Enough to want to go and beat the shit out of someone, I would imagine.”

Excerpt From: J. E, Petrillo. “Trenz Pruca’s Musings.” iBooks. ”

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A few sunny days on the Mendocino coast allows me to sip my morning coffee and enjoy the view:
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One day, I drove into Fort Bragg to have my tire repaired. Waiting for the repairs allowed me to do what I love doing best, wandering aimlessly. Among my wanderings, I visited the Noyo Headlands Park that the Agency I created and headed, the California Coastal Conservancy, helped to bring about.

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The Park represents to me an ideal use of an urban waterfront — an environmentally sensitive open park along the shorefront. I believe it will soon be considered one of the nation’s premier oceanfront park and restoration areas. Now if we can only get the City of Fort Bragg to post proper signage along PCH so that people can find it, it will be a boon to the City’s economic health and to the environment.
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I urge you to visit it and see if you agree with me.

The overcast skies and rain have returned. Still the walks along the bluffs are exhilarating — the churning surf battering the black cliffs below.

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Now and then I notice a tiny bit of color among the bushes as I walk by.
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One morning, the sun was out. My walk along the bluffs of the Mendocino Headlands took me to an area that, despite my almost 50 years of visiting here, I had not gone before. I felt a little like Kirk and Spock visiting a new world — except here there were no large breasted aliens with skin tight costumes, colorful body paint, and prominent dark eyebrows. What there was, however, were white crested waves pounding the bluffs and curling onto the black sand beaches hidden among the cliffs.
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Later, as the sun dropped toward the horizon, we strolled along the Headlands again.
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All this dramatic natural beauty began to irritate me. I longed for a sidewalk, curb and a gutter blocked up with urban refuse. So, after my morning walk, I fled north to Fort Bragg in the hope that I could find a dingy bar filled with out of work loggers or a cafe with the paint peeling off the walls where I could drink weak American coffee.

As I approached the town and circled the round-a-bout, I took the road that said, “No exit,” or something like that, since it agreed with what I was feeling. I drove up what John Olmstead called the Mendocino Ecological Staircase in hopes that I would find a forgotten tavern among the Redwoods. The homes, more shacks than homes, became shackier as I drove, the fences more home made and the “No Trespassing” signs more prevalent. I realized I was entering the zone that 20 or 30 years ago harbored the areas high-value cash crops. I soon came to the end of the road and retraced my steps down the Staircase.

At the edge of the city, another road stretched off to the East. This road promised to cross the mountains to Willits on Highway one. I suspected, since this was a numbered road, a roadhouse would exist somewhere along it. So, I drove again up the staircase until I reached a sign that announced a curvy road for the next 25 miles. I knew that roadhouses only existed on straight-a-ways and I decided to forgo the possibility of encountering the ghost of Patrick Swayze and returned to Highway 1.

After passing through the harbor in the hope I would find a fisherman’s dive with no luck, I drove into the back streets of Fort Bragg.
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I had just about given up when I spotted a place on a woebegone corner of the city that seemed to have some promise.
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I parked, went in and found what I was looking for. The twelve stools at the bar were filled with men and women, most of whom were my age or older. Nearly all of the men wore baseball caps and a few were dressed in work clothes. A woman with blond hair, who now would be referred to a naturally proportioned, presided behind the bar. Although I intended to order ginger ale, I decided to order the bar’s special amber ale instead. I felt it would be more appropriate. Much of the discussion around me involved the bar’s multiple Super Bowl pools whose mathematical basis was far beyond my comprehension.

A man sitting next to me knew Duke Snyder when they both lived in Compton. They would meet walking their dogs and discuss baseball and life while their dogs humped each other.

In the corner sat a man with dark skin and a magnificent beaked schnoz, I thought he was either Native American or Mediterranean based upon the size of his proboscis. I know schnozzes — we Italians revel in the potatoes or hatchets grafted onto the front of our faces. We believe it makes us look distinguished. I learned that during the 1950s, the beaked one pitched triple A ball for a team in South Carolina before his arm gave out. I was in heaven. Next to him sat a small dark woman with many tattoos who kept bouncing up and down running off to talk excitedly with someone else sitting at the bar.

Feeling happy, I ordered a second ale.

Later, more people showed up including a younger woman who seemed to be over six feet tall. She had long braided blond hair. She slammed down the drinks like she was born to it. Everyone seemed to know everyone else and appeared happy to be there or, at least, happier than being where they were before they got there.

I left after I finished my second ale because I wanted to be able to drive home and I had begun to feel the buzz. When I die, I want my ashes sprinkled on the floor of the place.

Later that night, we all returned to Fort Bragg because in was “First Friday” when all the galleries stay open until late at night. I bought an old used book that contained some interesting illustrations. We then had dinner at a Mayan Fusion restaurant in the harbor. It was quite good.

The next morning we hiked along the bluffs of Spring Ranch just south of the town of Mendocino. Spring Ranch is a Coastal Reserve created by California State Parks and the California Coastal Conservancy.
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It is an example of the type of project I had in mind when I wrote the Conservancy Concept into California’s Coastal Plan, shepherded the legislation through the legislature and administered the agency during its formative years. It not only removes the land from the vagaries of regulatory conflicts but begins to push back the impacts of prior land uses, ranching and the like, through restoration. At the time the Conservancy was proposed, restoration of environmental resources was not a high priority of the State and in the case of wetlands opposed by many in the environmental community as well.
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The Reserve is long and relatively narrow, stretching from PCH to the ocean for several miles. This type of public acquisition, small narrow units, along with the purchase undeveloped subdivisions along the coast were frowned upon by the State because of management and cost issues. Yet, we believed they were necessary if critical coastal resources were to be preserved and the goals of the Coastal Plan achieved. I am pleased to see that, in part through the efforts of the Conservancy, up and down the coast these objectives are now accepted.
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Although the several entrances are a little difficult to see, once you do, you can stroll down across the coastal terrace, along the bluffs and through a magnificent restored cypress grove. There are a few benches along the way where you can sit and watch the tumultuous surf crash of the rocks, and if the season is right, see whales migrating and seal pods roaming the waters and hauling themselves onto the rocks to sunbathe.
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The Reserve is an excellent counterpoint to the more urban Noyo Headlands Park a few miles north. You should visit both if you are in the area, and don’t forget to stop at Point Cabrillo lighthouse and park and the Mendocino Botanical Gardens two other Conservancy projects in the area I am proud of. And, of course, end your trip sipping the wines at Pacific Star Winery while sitting on Dad’s Bench watching the sun dip into the ocean.

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That afternoon, as I suggested above, we had a delightful picnic at Pacific Star Winery.
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I bought a new hat there also.IMG_1097

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There comes a time in every journey where novelty begins to pale and events become merely circumstances to endure on the way home. Awakening this morning after a night of almost no sleep became that point for me.

One of my favorite travel books is entitled A “Short Walk Through the Hindu Kush.” It was written by Eric Newby who in 1956, at the age of 36, ended his London career in fashion and decided impulsively to travel to a remote corner of Afghanistan where no European had ventured for 50 years. Although ill-prepared and poorly experienced, Newby and his friend Hugh vowed to climb Mir Samir, an unclimbed 20,000 foot glacial peak in the Hindu Kush. He and his friend prepared for the venture by spending a weekend with their girlfriends hiking in Wales. Then, after driving a Volkswagen van from London to Kabul where they picked up their cook, they began their trek. Long before they had reached Mt. Samir (which they ultimately never climbed) they had arrived at the same juncture that I had this morning.

For today’s trip I was asked to ride in the new truck of the friend in whose house I had spent the sleepless night. She drove and Lek and I accompanied her.

Lek told me about her concerns for her friend’s happiness and marriage. It seems the friend had married a man who worked for the Thai version of the forest service. According to Lek, he treated his wife badly, telling her he was going to work but later appearing in the city with a woman he claimed was his daughter. Lek also was unhappy that he had persuaded his wife to spend their money on this new truck when they already had a perfectly serviceable older vehicle. In addition the man apparently had alienated the wife’s children from a prior marriage.

Having met the gentleman, I concluded that Lek’s concerns were probably accurate.

We spent most of the day traveling to the other end of the lake (or to a new lake, I did not know which) I dozed on and off throughout the drive. I was so exhausted I was dizzy.

We arrived at a place that I was told contained the longest wooden bridge in Thailand. It was built from scrap lumber and crossed the lake to connect two villages that had been forced to relocate on higher ground when their original villages were inundated by the rising water caused by the construction of a dam forming the lake. One village was Karen and one was Mon. I did not know which was which.

Anyway, the building of the bridge by the townspeople, with little assistance from anyone, was considered so remarkable that it was almost miraculous, prompting the local temple to conduct extensive and colorful ceremonies every year commemorating the completion of construction and as a side benefit bringing substantial tourist dollars to the temple and community.

We crossed the extremely rickety bridge, that was undergoing repair and reconstruction for the first time since it was built and walked down to the lake shore where a small village of houseboats awaited.

We got into a rooster-tail boat to cross the lake to view the partially submerged ruins of the local temple. The water level in the lake had dropped about 20 feet in the last few years for some reason, so the temple now stood on its own little Island. The trip came complete with the obligatory mysterious and miraculous legend.

It seems the head monk who built the temple 20 years or so ago also planted a grove of palm trees that he tended assiduously throughout his life. On the day of his death, mysteriously and miraculously all the palm trees died. You can still the tips of their blackened trunks rising above the waters of the lake.

We returned to the shore. Ate lunch in a local restaurant, recrossed the bridge and headed back. We ate dinner at the same roadside place as last night. I was too exhausted to know what I was eating. Then off to drive back to Kanchanburi through a driving rainstorm to a motel where I went directly to my room and immediately dropped off to sleep without stopping to remove my clothing.

 

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