California: A State of Many Wonders and Oddities



My trip to the great outdoors, accompanied by my fellow co-workers, began with a meandering migration inland to
Pinnacles State Park (, located some 30 odd miles south of Hollister California. Our road trip required three cars more or less caravanning and featuring at least a hundred stops along the way as lattes, film, fruit, ice and assorted foods were procured. Now by nature I am not a real outdoorsman type but it is nearing the end of summer, another year has passed and I got suckered into it. So off into the heat I went, deeper and deeper into Steinbeck country, and at one point the car that I was riding in got dived bombed by a flock of starlings committing a hari-kari suicide mission type deal most of whom were sucked into the grill of the car or pressed flat against the windshield and passenger side window. An omen we no doubt should have heeded and just turned around and gone home instead of scraping off the goo and continuing along our way whilst praising the aerodynamics of German engineering.

Pinnacles Campground lies in a very shallow dried up creek bed just off highway 146 enclosed by the desiccated and barren Gabilan Mountains that make up Bear Valley. Though no bears were to be found on our trip there were in abundance wild boars, tarantulas, deer, coyotes, cotton tail bunnies and numerous species of flying things – bats, condors, vultures and ravens, magpies and screaming mad blue-jays who conspired in the shadows hoping to mug us for anything we were eating. In the late afternoon a particularly obnoxious type of black fly would descend and hover and bite until the sun went down, this was of course preferable to the yellowjacket hornets that besieged us when we arose to start our day trying to drink your first sip of coffee as the stinging bee type thing is doing the same, therefore almost making it into your mouth at the same time. Ah, nature at its best.

The campground was run by a very large fat lady who seemed pissed off all of the time, but maybe it was just the heat and all, though I did overhear a conversation regarding chaffing that she was having with an equally fat camper. There was a swimming pool that the cotton tailed bunnies used more than anybody else or at least used to shit around in great quantities and a small building with showers off to one side with “extra security” doors to keep out the marauding gangs of wild boars, though why we should only be scared of the wild boars while taking a shower and not, let’s say, when we’re lying in our tents, I don’t know? But anyway – the showers were a strange contraption that required quarters to turn on the hot water, bringing sleazy motels or high class Tijuana jails to mind – and all the RV’s and trailers were off in their own little fenced-in, boar-free enclave with the electrical and water hook ups, they didn’t need the facilities so we were pretty much on our own as boar bait.

As for camping, what can I say? Some things never change: the ground is still hard, at night there’s no god damn noise except the rustle of “things” (read boars) in the bushes and outside – first thing in the morning, it’s awful bright. Coming back from the shower you had to keep an eye on the road because the huge hairy fat black tarantulas love to sun themselves on the blacktop and there were quite a few hundred doing just that, the fat lady said to be careful because they could jump up at you, but it was way too hot for anybody to be doing any jumping and besides they probably only jump to get out of the way when she waddles past.

We took one hike into Pinnacles National Monument that promised a trek through bat caves, but it turns out that they had been closed due to the bats freaking out over too much contact with people and they now needed some quiet time to themselves, so we sort of went around and got above near the “pinnacles” – large pointy rocks that should have fallen over but somehow have escaped the earthquakes – and saw spectacular views, breath taking vistas and gaping holes leading to other dark caves covered in bat guano. There were, of course, another few thousand tarantulas hiking with us and lurking at every turn of the trail so that we all sort of moved lively along our hike waiting to get back to the campground and its modest amount of safety.

At night we cooked massive feeds and waited until the fat lady left so that we could burn large amounts of wood in our fire, thereby breaking all the rules concerning fires that were posted through out the campsite. NO WOOD FIRES! Signs were everywhere and charcoal was the price of platinum at the fat lady’s store, so we were forced to buy a bag or two just to look good and then even the picnic tables were going in after the sun went down. At one point during a beaucoup flame up another camper materialized out of the dark, probably some RV dude, and pointed out that wood fires were against the rules – “Do we really look like the kinda guys who follow the rules?” was the reply! Talk about your male bonding!

All in all I had fun, got sun burnt, insect bit and a stiff neck but in the end it was worth doing, I guess. Civilization still looked pretty good as we sped through the traffic of San Jose and onto the peninsula while Burger King’s and Wal*Mart’s blurred into one another in a cluttered semblance of reality as I hurried home to a soft bed and food served without indistinguishable black bits in it!

This entry was posted on Saturday, September 25th, 2004 at 6:29 pm. 2 responses. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

Cleaning as a Way of Life



I’ve been living in my modest domicile for like what? A year? Two? (Christ, it has been two years!) And though it is not large enough or even remotely roomy, sorta more what money guzzling
San Francisco landlords in a cruel attempt at deception tend to describe as cozy or compact, so consequently there really isn’t that much to cleaning it and for the most part I do it on the regular and all. But a real problem has recently arisen and that has to do with the 6 by 8 foot section that I’ll designate as the “Bedroom” and its carpeting. This is in fact how I can distinguish it from the rest of the apartment: The rest – all five feet of the kitchen being laid out in a parody of tile inscribed linoleum or the institutional yellow non-slip surface of the bathroom/shower area, but that thankfully is behind its own imitation laminated wood door.

Now I’ve tried to keep up in a cleanly sort of way against the infernal soot that the elevated freeway spews in from the window as well as the dust that creeps in under the door from the hall. But after all this time, with nothing but a small brush and dustpan to sweep with the floor, well, the carpet to be exact has suffered. You can brush a carpet all that you want but there are fibers and twills and layers to contend with and it really doesn’t get very clean, and it’s not like I’ve been hovering over it with happy fingers as I eat tortilla chips in an imitation of a desert sandstorm or that I gleefully spit cherry pits across the room once I am done with the fruit, but the carpet is sort of thick with bits you might say—little strange pieces of life that have strayed on my foot from outside and landed here on my floor and into my rug. The question of what to do with them has now materialized.

You would think that in an apartment building whose numerous hallways are entirely covered in carpet, the management would see fit to lend a resident one of their many industrial grade vacuum cleaners. But no, apparently it’s against management’s wishes and there is what was described to me at the front desk as a “no go policy” which I can only interpret as that they are not going to lend one to me and anyway seeing what shambles my neighbors make of their own belongings not to mention their lives, I can hardly protest that I’m what? Different? And they should bend their rules and make an exception. But the idea of going out and buying a vacuum seems absurd just to clean a 6 by 8 foot section of floor, not to mention like just where in hell I am supposed to store the damn thing when it’s not in use. And for a quick second I thought that others in the building may be experiencing this same dilemma and that maybe I could organize a vacuum coalition where we as neighbors communally shared the use as well as the storage but then I’m back contemplating what neighbors are at hand and I think we’d have problems even deciding if we trusted the first one of us to store it or, as is my fear, just expect that person to go down to Sixth Street and pawn it.

At this point I am really nowhere near solving my problem, a problem that I never thought that I’d ever have. Who would have predicted that in the year 2004 that I’d have cultivated such a need for a vacuum or even be presiding over a rug in need of vacuuming for that matter? It wasn’t like in the years past I kept the cleanest of houses – all spotless and pristine with everything in place, nor had I pitched a tent in the midst of the city dump! However the acquiring of household appliances was never a forerunner of my unmet needs or something that I perused the Sunday paper’s ad supplements in order to obtain the best deal while going all ga-ga over the Millennium Hoover Model and checking its dirt absorption ratios and dust bag capacities.

This is just not how I saw my life back in the nineties. But then again I really didn’t see much of a future in the nineties, let alone do I really remember them either! It’s just all a sort of murky blur where I kinda recollect the highlights — if that is indeed what they were. But I’m pretty sure that I can safely say that vacuums were not on the top of my list of must-have items and that cleaning rugs was at best something that others did – those of whom actually had rugs and felt the need to clean them. It’s pretty safe to say that my priorities were a tad screwed up but does an obsession with a clean carpet necessitate that one’s life has taken a turn for the better? Or am I just bowing down to the accepted norm?

Meanwhile at this moment in time I am forced to take a look at just why this bacteria infested fiber floor covering annoys me so? Is it my urbane upbringing coming back to haunt me or do we all get overly fastidious about cleanliness once we’ve reached a certain age? And if the truth be told there were times not that long ago when I did actually have a spacious almost trendy garden apartment with wall to wall carpet and a vacuum and a girlfriend and a different life. But all those bits came unglued and sorta went their separate ways and who knows where the vacuum is now, let alone the girlfriend and besides I was sharing the apartment with someone that I thought was in love with me. So the reason to keep a clean environment was the mutual coexistence of sharing space with another not like now where it’s just me and the microwave watching DVD’s and me writing about shit all on the internet!

Ok, so obviously there’s a morsel of discontent here and the vacuum just sort of got stuck in the crossfire. And it has become all too apparent once I started conversing on the subject and after I announced that I didn’t have or need a vacuum or a future and then I allegedly did but it was in a life that I no longer have and now I seem to be endlessly lamenting and somewhat bitching about the pathetic bit of life that I do have. Could it be that obsessing over the floor is really a misplaced fixation in the name of cleanliness as a way to not address what is really screwed up in my life? Or more to the point – what I have screwed up in my life!

Damn I hate the soul searching drama of self-discovery that precedes an overt observation on my part. It would be so much easier to absent-mindedly come to the same conclusion while drinking coffee and reading the morning paper instead of dissecting my life one layer at a time until I expose the wounded interior to the bright light of day. It’s like waking up and realizing it’s morning and time to get up and start your daily routine and then just giving up to turn over and go back to sleep knowing that you’ll enjoy dreaming life a little better than the real thing.

But getting back to the matter at hand – I’m starting to get the feeling that in setting up my apartment, my life yet again has reached a rather repetitive and tedious point and having to buy things like a dish drying rack or a cutting board for the twentieth time is apparently taking its toll on my psyche and coming to the surface evolved as a soiled rug complex. What an analogy! Messed up life – dirty rug! Internal change – cleaning! It is a tad bit more acceptable intellectually to think that I’m preoccupied with the encrusted carpet because it is an exercise on getting my life together rather than admitting to an obsessive-compulsive disorder of the mind. But if that is so, well herein lies the rub – what exactly is the vacuum representing in this equation? The Eureka Whirlwind Bagless Cyclonic 4880D of self awareness or a little personality overhaul from the good folks down at Royal – “the first name in home care”?

I have often heard it said, well truthfully I only heard it said once and that was in some arcane foreign movie, but anyway here goes – that your home is the mirror of your soul. It may be way past time for some house cleaning on the galactic scale yet it is never too late to put in the work. Which brings to mind that esoteric Zen proverb “Chop wood, carry water” or the long explanation in English – find inner peace in the ordinary routine and once you have attained enlightenment life doesn’t stop. Obviously I still have so much work to do here and in the end my carpet is still as complete a mess as I am.

This entry was posted on Friday, September 24th, 2004 at 2:26 am. 3 responses. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

The Substance of Revelations

The mini-half fridge in my apartment has two kinds of water staring me in the face, bubbly and flat and only the wilted cilantro wedged between the hand-pressed organic mustard seed mustard and the very un-organic high in cholesterol Best Foods brand mayo in its squeezable tube resemble anything edible. The cantaloupe has been there for like what? Three weeks? Hovering in a depreciating shell and really do I think that what’s inside is going to be any different than what’s growing on the bottom of it in light shades of blue?

In the apartment upstairs from me they’re drilling a hole in the floor with an immense auger, so for now to stay here and think about what to eat is a futile proposition. But none the less I am hungry and there are only two places in this neighborhood to buy groceries – Jack’s Liquors or Whole Foods. Now Jack’s, for a liquor/porn store and only a mere half block away, has an amazing amount of really strange dusty canned goods and an un-amazing mixture of discount two for a dollar cookies, puffy loafs of generic white bread, off brand toilet paper and those suspect triangle “deli sandwiches” that Ahmed’s got tucked away neat in their little wedge shaped packages behind a refrigerated display case. This veritable plethora of culinary delights pales in comparison to the two shining racks of porno magazines and half priced “Adult” videos that take up the front left-hand side of the store’s space. There is a small badly printed sign proclaiming this part of the store off limits to those that are not 18 years of age or older and then two or three larger ones stating that there will be no overt fondling of any of these items unless you absolutely intend to buy them! In the back of the store below the giant concave anti-pilfering mirror are the real necessities – the beer and wine, while behind the checkout counter the various sized bottles of hard liquor sit awaiting purchase. Thus have I mentally toured Jack’s before even going over there and came up with the same conclusion as always – that there is nothing to eat there unless one is so inebriated that booze or pornography no longer holds sway and any thought of avoiding what does indeed keep these foods from rotting after years of sitting on these shelves is a dietary concept that one doesn’t adhere to.

As an alternative there is, of course, Whole Foods, an actual organic grocery market chain store that just put down roots not a block and a half away from my apartment building. Yet in substance and appearance it is another world apart from Jack’s. There are no racks of magazines with naked women shoving their breasts together as they stare out at you nor are there any microwave and serve frozen chiliburgers to be found. However, there are many organic or at least somewhat humanly processed food stuffs from throughout the world and a rather large take-out/self-serve/salad-bar area, while the rest of the store has its fresh vegetable, meat and cheese sections. There is quite the au courant bakery as well. And right about this time you might be asking just why anyone would waste their energy going to Jack’s if this seemingly tempting wholesome emporium were available instead?

And I think I can answer that sorta.

If it’s real early in the morning or after nine at night then Jack’s be it as far as stores for this neighborhood and if you’re a bit down on your luck and a tad short on funds then Ahmed will put it on the tab until the end of the week and besides as overpriced as he is Ahmed’s a local. He lives upstairs from his store and from what I can see all he does is work and sleep and scream at the Crackheads while waving a baseball bat! Now none of the employees over at Whole Foods even lives in the neighborhood and besides all the people who work at Whole Foods, except of course this one girl with the short black hair who sorta smiled at me once with this lopsided smile of hers… But anyway, all the stockers, the fishmongers, the cheese slingers and even the cashiers all look like they just finished shooting dope in the bathroom and afterwards either were busy piercing each other’s bodies with the used hypodermic needle or tattooing one another with the same needle dipped in organic day-glo goo! Not one of them appears destined to be a professional clerk in the same sense that those guys who bag your groceries at the mega-markets in the suburbs do. Not that I’d wish that kinda existence on my worst enemy and really I got nothing against junkies – hell I was one for ever and ever! But at least I had the decency to not touch food stuff and be a parasite for a living while I was one! I mean what happened to the days when any self-respecting junkie committed petty crimes for their daily fix by shoplifting in places like Whole Foods – not working in one!

Then again it’s not like Ahmed over at Jack’s actually washes his hands after he pees and then prepares you a tasty Cup-O-Noodles™ in the store’s seldom cleaned and much abused microwave. But at least I know that he’s there exploiting the neighborhood with his over priced transfat saturated garbage and makes no pretense about doing it. Hell for all I know he’s selling crack to the kids from the elementary school around the corner!

So I guess that my ire is somewhat misdirected and what I resent the most isn’t the slovenly Whole Food’s workers themselves but their complacent engrossment in this invasion of my neighborhood by the likes of these alternative lifestyle franchises with its “for the community/for your health” bullshit and all. Like how dare they come into this grimy repressed area and try and help us out by placing quality edible food within our grasp! And maybe the overly pierced youngsters behind the tofu counter just happen to remind me a little too much of myself at their age and ok, maybe I do need to take a look at that and stop blaming them for things that are beyond their ability to change. And so what that in my day tattoo scrawled junkies had scruples and boundaries as to what they’d allow themselves to be exploited with and that now these kids will just about do anything that bucks the old trends in order to survive.

Jesus! How could they be drilling for so long above me and not come through my ceiling yet? And I still haven’t had anything to eat though a double latte sounds just about right to get those digestive juices flowing. But don’t get me started on Starbucks vs. the little Russian guy’s espresso shop up on 3rd Street!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 31st, 2004 at 5:41 am. one response. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.