Friday, November 22, 2013


I’ve had the same mailing address since 1969. My folks had to get a po box for the brace shop after the earthquake. The building got torn down We had two earthquakes in Santa Rosa on the night of October 2, 1969 registering, like, 5.6 and 5.7 on the Richter Scale. I remember my sister was on the toilet for the first one. It splashed her on her butt. My mom, all 5'2" of her, ran to the kitchen to try and hold the cabinets shut. My dad ran out to the deck to see what he could, and saw a flash of light from town. I sat there on the floor like a dummy. By the time it was over, I'd finally figured out that I was supposed to be under my desk, or a doorway, so something. We all got in Mom’s ’68 Plymouth (read: ‘Boat’) and went downtown to check out the shop and clean up the mess. There was plaster on the floor, mostly along the edges. The machinery was fine. Shit got knocked over, but I don’t recall seeing any major damage, which is really amazing because there were huge display windows facing third street and lining the entry to the shop. We’re talkng like eight by ten foot panes or more. They weren’t even cracked. After we checked out the shop, we went to check on my parents’ friend Chuck Chapman’s liquor store out on Cleveland Ave. I guess the place was a shambles – glass and booze all over the floor. That’s where I first heard “I’d like to have helped clean up, but I was afraid I’d cut my tongue. On the way back home, we stopped so Dad could check on his friends Bob and Dieter at The Black Forest Inn. That’s when the second quake hit. My mom, my sister, and I are sitting in the boat (remember the ’68 Plymouth ?) and it starts rocking like a bouy in a storm and my mom yells at me “Randy, stop rocking the car!” And I answered “Mom, I’m not doin’ it!” Dad came out the big black wooden doors first and headed straight for one of the columns supporting the roof to hold on to. Bob and Dieter followed him out and saw Dad hugging that column, and from that day on gave him credit for holding up the building. When we went into town the next morning, third street, where the shop was, was a mess. Part of the wall above the Miramar had fallen. I saw a corner of the building fall off later that afternoon while KGO was interviewing my parents. (An interesting note: I never realized my dad had an accent till I heard that interview on TV. Really.) The bottom floor of our building looked OK, but in the apartments upstairs, there was a gap a foot wide between the wall and the ceiling. So they tore the building down. The Till Two, The Court Market, Western Union, and all the apartments with newly acquired skylights, along with our shop, I’m not sure, but I figure the market probably closed. Western Union went somewhere – they still mattered in those days. PG&E had some kind of offices there. I’m not sure what happened to them, but I think they got torn down, too, and Pac Bell, or whatever they were called at the time, expanded into their space. That’s the only building that survived – what’s g.enerally regarded as the ugliest building in town. Go figure. I think Till Two relocated somewhere down Santa Rosa Ave. So did Lou Saare. We found a place in a little strip mall across the creek from Memorial Hospital, down the row from the Music Box, a bar where the Raiders hung out when they trained at the El Rancho. Of course, while my parents looked for a new place, they needed a place to get their mail, so they got a box at the main post office. That’s where I get my mail

Thursday, August 29, 2013


I've seen the sun look like this. It was in 1964. I remember there were a lot of fires in the hills above Rincon Valley when I was a kid. Usually they burned ten or fifteen acres of somebody's pasture where some teenagers were smoking or lighting off fireworks. Rincon Valley Volenteer Fire Department would come out with their engines and dads would head up the hill with wet blankets and shovels, and a brigade of kids with shovels or hoes or maybe nothing at all would be stationed a safe distance from the flames. 1964 was different. The Hanley Fire burned 52,000 acres from Mt. St Helena to Brush Creek Road. The Nunn fire was spreading east from Kenwood. We all listened to KSRO to find out how close the fires were. They reported that they were evacuating Community Hospital. (Or County Hospital, or Sutter, or whatever.) Folks were watering their roofs. Highway 12 was crowded with evacuees. We sat at the top of our hill looking out over the valley and watched the red glow, sometimes an occasional flare when an oak tree burned. Or maybe a barn or a house. We'd have seen the same looking east if the the hills hadn't blocked our view. More than 300 structures burned, 150 homes. I was more afraid then than I've ever been. The next day, half the desks at Sequoia Elementary were empty. We knew where the fire had burned - we could see it. We knew whose ranches were burned. Those kids weren't at school that day. And as the sun lowered into the smoke-filled horizon, it became an orange disc in a haze of grey. Much like the picture.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hi wine lovers. I work in a pretty premium winery in Russian River Valley. If you know me, you know where. I'm gonna ask my boss if I can use real vineyard names and stuff, but wineries get pretty hush hush about stuff this time of year. Last year I wrote a running commentary on my facebook page during crush. I'm going to do it here this year so I can reach a broader audience. Also so I don't bore all my thirty or so facebook friends with all this winery shit. That said, we finished bottling yesterday and we got grapes today. We don't bottle a lot of wine, so we don't have our own bottling line. We bring in a mobile line, built into a semi trailer. Of course, they schedule their work months in advance. So they pulled out yesterday, and grapes came today. Grapes aren't as predictable. We got a little under four tons from our 'Reserve' vineyard. I think a lot of wineries use 'Reserve' either for a blend that they think represents their best or a blend of things that can't stand on their own. We have a vineyard that's kind of inside another vieyard (?) that we call 'Reserve'. Since I've been at the winery, we've only put it into our non-vineyard blend. We got a little under four tons of Reserve today. Little tiny clusters of little tiny berries, I was told. I don't know the brix yet, and I don't know if I could tell you anyway, but they tasted nice and sweet and kind of like blackberries, to me.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

So long, Doc.

My dad and I sat together in the living room when I was a kid and watched Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest. My dad, arch republican and commie hater for the ages, wouldn't miss the show for anything. I remember watching this old blind guy and his son just playing the bejeezus out of their guitars. The old blind guy was fucking fantastic. At the time, I was probably more impressed by his being so good for an old blind guy than I was for his being just so incredibly good. But his son - I had just started learning to play guitar, and this kid looked only a couple of years older than me, and he blew me away. Needless to say, I was impressed enough that I never forgot their names - Doc and Merle Watson. Impressed as I was, I continued to think of myself as a rock and roller and could only strum the chords to a few folk songs. Of course, Gloria and Louie Louie were way up there on my rock reportoire, too. When bands like The Dead started doing acoustic stuff, I dedided I liked playing my Gibson more than my Fender. I sold all my electric stuff and became a folkie. Doc and Merle Watson reentered my life. I bought their albums and learned the songs. I tried to play Doc's riffs. I was hooked. One of my favorite concert memories was seeing Doc and Merle at the old Inn Of The Beginning. (I saw Norman and Nancy Blake there, too. What a venue!) I haven't thought a lot about Doc Watson for a while. I play his stuff I have on cd, but I haven't really thought about how long I've been listening to him. I think I'll go dig my old lp's out of the garage and digitize them and listen to them from time to time. My daughter will love them. I hope they remind me of the times Doc became part of my life. They were always good times. So long, Doc. I'll miss ya.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Nothing to write right now, just a link. Please watch the whole thing. It's important.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Old Glory

I just watched a You Tube video of the Great Red Skelton doing his Pledge Of Allegiance bit. I’ve seen the performance before, maybe as long ago as on his TV show back in the sixties, but it’s been a long time. This isn’t a comedy routine. It’s a story about a teacher explaining the meaning of the pledge to his students. It’s very touching.

I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance. When it’s recited, I stand quietly with everyone else, out of respect for those around me, and if I’m wearing a hat I’ll remove it (It bugs the shit out of me how many good ol’ boys with frazzled flags flying off the beds of their 4x4’s won’t take off their caps for The Pledge!), but I don’t put my hand over my heart and mumble the incantation, much as I’ll stand if I’m in a church and the guy says ‘All rise’ when it’s time to say a prayer, but I don’t bow my head and recite those magic words, either. What I do is look around to see who else is looking around and not reverently bowing their heads. It really can be fun and interesting. (I’ll write about God another time.)

One day long, long ago, when I was a junior at Montgomery High, they had to shuffle the homeroom periods to accommodate a pep rally or something, and my homeroom class for the day was Bill Marcott’s advanced biology class. (Bill Marcott, the tennis coach and, by the way, a Texan, was the guy who got me Dexedrine to give to my fruit flies, but that, too is another story – and a very complicated one.)

At this point in ancient history, ‘Homeroom’ activities consisted of standing and saying the pledge and listening to announcements that, if you were interested in, you already knew about, and if you weren’t, you couldn’t have cared less. But that day, because of the changed schedule, in Bill Marcott’s second period advanced biology class, one skinny little blond girl didn’t stand up for the pledge.

She sat at a station in the second row. She was a nerdy girl with heavy rimmed glasses. She always raised her hand and knew the answers. She was, like, a teacher’s pet. Marcott, red faced, marched her out of the classroom and she never returned. I’m glad I sat in the back.

I’m reluctant to pledge my allegiance to any symbol because of the fickleness of man’s devices, nations among them. By revolution, coup, and the choice of blinded citizenries, nations have turned evil. My own family heritage gives evidence to that. My allegiance is to the ideals and the people of The United States, not to it’s totems. The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors. They didn’t pledge to a flag. (Of course, they didn’t have one yet, but that’s beside the point.)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a flag waver. I fly my three by five foot flag on appropriate holidays. I try to remember not to leave it out after dark unless it’s properly lit. I fold it into a little star-spangled triangle when it’s stored. I’ve worn a flag pin in my lapel for as long as I’ve worn jackets with lapels. Like I said, I love what the flag stands for and I’m proud to share that feeling. Besides, it’s a pretty psychedelic flag.

But, I’m a flag burner, too, and that’s what I wanted to write about. I haven’t burned any flags personally, but I am firm in my support of the right of freedom of speech, and the right to spoil the symbol of the nation in protest of it’s policy is the ultimate expression of that right. Banning the citizens’ right to peacefully protest against the government is the way of totalitarianism, not democracy. If the government takes that right away, it’ll be time for everybody to stop saying the pledge.

The only time I ever wrote to my legislators was when I sent a letter urging them not to support a bill allowing congress to pass a law prohibiting flag burning. (Their doublespeak, not mine.) Here’s an excerpt.

....I was brought up, as I guess we all were in the fifties, to believe that our flag was to be ceremoniously burned if it ever so much as touched the ground. That, we were taught, was flag desecration.

Desecration is setting your flag up on Presidents Day and having it still hanging, by one loop or wrapped three or four times round the staff, on Veterans Day. Desecration is putting a flag up in the back of your Jeep and leaving it there until it is so tattered that there are no longer any stripes beside the field of stars. Desecration is dropping the little flag the Legionnaires gave you at the Veterans Day Parade in the gutter after the parade is over.

Burning a flag is not, by the definition of the word, desecration. The ceremonious burning of the flag, whether in honorable retirement or in protest, is an act that, by its nature, recognizes the flag’s importance. The burning of a flag in protest is the burning of an effigy; a symbol representing the object of protest. Our nation was born in protest. Laws that seek to limit people’s freedom of political expression are contrary to the ideals of those early protesters, and to the ideals that the flag represents.

I got a hand-signed letter back from Feinstein explaining that, as one of the authors of the bill, she wasn’t likely to withdraw her support and that we’d ‘Just have to agree to disagree.” (Oops.)

As I read over what I’ve written here, I sound like some sort of militia nut. I’d like to make it absolutely clear that I’m not in any way associated with, nor do I agree with the beliefs or tactics of the militia nuts, except perhaps the belief that our freedom is something to be both joyfully celebrated and covetously protected.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 4, 2010


As much as I hate the term, I guess I'm a skeptic. Not that I’m skeptical of all things, but I pretty much need to have some objective evidence before I accept something as a fact. I’m a member of an on-line community of people who tend to accept principles like astronomy, evolution, and science-based medicine and reject concepts like astrology, creation, and alternative medicine. I have family and friends who have beliefs with which I disagree, and when certain topics come up in conversation, I try to be careful what I say or skirt the issue entirely.

That’s too bad.

People who accept things like Homeopathy and civilizations on Mars hold these as truths based on what they believe. Belief is a very powerful thing and will lead people to do things that they might not otherwise do, like strap bombs in their underpants or put on purple tennis shoes and kill themselves, or devote their lives to charity. I expect it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to change someone’s beliefs, regardless of what Skinner said or what missionaries might try to accomplish. Our beliefs are what define reality for us. I think of words like Gestalt and revelation when I think about changing beliefs.

Yesterday morning, The Bad Astronomer posted about a guy suggesting that the best way for skeptics to explain their views is to present facts in a positive manner, rather than just telling people that they’re full of crap. I don’t know if I want to say Hooray or Duhhh. The moment you tell someone their beliefs are wrong, exchange of ideas stops and a monologue of ideology takes over. “You’re right from your side and I’m right from mine.” (Dylan) I think I lean a bit more toward the Duhhh side.

I regularly read several blogs that present a skeptical point of view. From the comments, I assume most of these sites’ readers agree with the authors. There are exceptions, of course. Dissenting comments that present their cases logically often spur interesting discussions, whereas those that simply recite dogma incite shouting matches. (See paragraph above.) On the whole, though, I believe the vast majority of the readers are already on board. I think the authors are preaching to the chorus, and not really doing anything to expand their way of thinking. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of an arena for the skeptics’ message “outside of a small circle of friends.” (Ochs) Most viewers of mainstream TV are more interested in treating their sexual problems with herbal cleansing than saving their children’s’ lives by vaccinating them.

Skeptical thinkers can encourage critical thinking in their own communities by sharing news and events in ways that promote logical reasoning. There’s plenty to talk about, health, Hubble, the environment. If you’re met with the wall of a belief system, maybe you just have to agree to disagree. At least you’ve put the ideas out there.

That’s what I’m doing here.

Maybe somebody will actually think about them.