The First Few Friends I Had

First Few Friends Cover005

The Pondering Pig is relieved to announce his long-sought collection of stories about being young in San Francisco during the maelstrom of the early 1960s – is finally done, published and available on Amazon.  Here’s the link:

The First Few Friends I Had

and here’s what I said about it:

Someone asked me who the first hippies were, those unknowns who kicked off the psychedelic era of the 1960s. Were they born-too-late beatniks who arrived at the party after everybody had gone home? Or were they something else? Something new?
I actually knew some of those first freaks. In fact, they were the first few friends I had.
This trip starts in Nineteenth Avenue Park, San Mateo, California, winter of 1958, muddy raw subdivision streets, brine shrimped salt flats stretching to the Bayshore Freeway and beyond to sorrowful tract houses of Norfolk Street. The ground I sprung from.
But we won’t tarry. We’ll hit the road through the vast Sonoran Desert on solitary two-lane highways spring of 1961 to adventures in Mexico, then on to steaming East Village summer to swirling fog over North Beach, broken hearted spring of 1962.
Along the way, we’ll stop at the corner of Seventh and Judah Street in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset to watch a girl named Solveig rush out our door with ‘Ban the Bomb’ placards banging against her shoulder. We’ll scene shift till midnight to watch Peter Weissinger swing over the stair rail into teens crashing our big peacenik party and whomping on them in peacenik joy. We’ll contemplate a ghostly Carmen O’Shaughnessy stride through the archway in badass logger boots, tawny lionhair in long braids, brassy confident smile and my handmade Mexican chaleco.
Snow is falling over Long Island, the first winter rains are pouring into the sewers of Lily Alley, San Francisco. Carmen has jumped off the bus in Barstow, hitched home across the desert and there is not a damn thing I can do about it.
Summer 1964 in the Langley Porter Psychiatric Day Care Center for Mind-Blown Proto-Hippies and Hysterical Teenagers, the passengers are unraveling hidden meanings within Sally Go Round the Roses by the Jaynettes. They hear the Bomb, the war, the police dogs attacking demonstrators, fire hoses of death, J Edgar Hoover vs the Commies, peyote, pot, fear, angst, and – hey everybody, it’s Mashed Potatoes Time.
Look, the sky has gone blue, the golden city beckons. It’s spring again. Let’s stroll down to the North Beach Arts Festival to find my friends. Come on, they want to meet you. The First Few Friends I Had.

It’s been getting great reviews so far – so I hope you have a chance to check it out soon.  PP

The Pleasures of Eastern Washington 1: The Mountains

I’m a city kid, ah, but you gotta have some wildness too.  Doncha? Preferably, with plenty of splashing.

I’m cooling off in Lake Leo, named for our trusty correspondent and great friend of Jinx The Cat, Leo Sadorf.  It’s a trout-filled little lake hidden in the Selkirk Mountains of Northeastern Washington, just two hours from our home in Spokane.

If you’re scared of fish nipping your toes, or Grendel maybe, you can go hiking…

That’s my 89 year old mother-in-law beside me. No joke – this lady keeps up with the Pondering Pig on the trail any day and she ignores the doctor’s pleas about osteoporosis.  She can trip over a root, get up, grin and keep going.  Never broke anything yet. What a lady! My Patrushka comes from sturdy stock.

Ah, the August mountains. If you’re a photographer you can wander around and just look through your viewfinder…

We get long winters up here in the North Country, not far from the Canadian border, but the summers are divine and the mountains are near. They’re one of the pleasures of eastern Washington.

On To Santa Barbara, Summer 2008

We touched down at the Oakland, California airport a week ago Wednesday (July 9).  I was curious – has the price of gasoline changed California’s famously maniacal driving habits?  I was here to find out.

Actually, I was here to go to a wedding (see I’m Going To California),  but I was still curious to see how Californians, with their wondrous skewed materialism and idealism all slushed together, were facing peak oil.  The cost of housing has driven folk right out to the outer outer suburbs. Towns that used to be artichoke centers or desert spas are full of new subdivisions and professionals who drive 85 miles to work every morning. That’s the distance between San Francisco and Stockton, once an affordable community for San Francisco wannabes who couldn’t afford to buy there.  Or it was popular until their mortgage balloon payments called the game.

Unemployed writer and ponderer that I am, I can afford to sneer, but I don’t.  We’re all stuck in this shit, one way or the other.

Patrushka and I grabbed BART to downtown San Francisco – where you can rent a car for half the price at the airport, and off we buzzed towards the great Beach Boys California to the south.  Good Vibrations, here we come.

The Eyesore Freeway as far as Gilroy is still crammed with giant SUVs hitting 80 miles an hour on their way to somewhere dead important before it’s too late, leaving the Pondering Pig in his rental Dodge Caliber inhaling their carbon dust.  $4.85 a gallon?  Pigeon feed.  I got lunch with Steve Jobs.  Let’s roll!

There’s next to no clunkers on the road, so maybe the $4.85 a gallon has affected the beatniks, layabouts, and other troublemakers who know how to enjoy the coast, but now that I think about it – there never were many clunkers on the Eyesore – this piece of Highway 101 is in the land of big salaries and young cats with two Mercedes and a Hummer in their three car garages.  OK, there’s still the odd gardener burning oil down the Eyesore on his way to the next job, but that cat’s driving a gas-conscious 60.

Me too.  This rental car has cruise control, we got the time and I want to look around.

Gad, I hate to write this.  But I am sworn to the truth, no matter how much it costs: the California coast in July is just as beautiful, just as near perfect as it ever was, even looking out a Caliber car window.  Oh man, why didn’t I rent that white Mustang convertible instead?  I need the top down to watch the wind tousling my baby’s hair.  As soon as we hit the eucalyptus groves north of Salinas, the years melted away, my hair grew out down over my shoulders, the pounds melted off and I popped a Coca-Cola, the kind with sugar. And Patrushka, my gosh, she looks fab in that bikini next to me, just like she did when I first fell in love with her in the spring of 1969.

Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true
Baby, then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do –
We could be married!
And then we’d be happy!
Wouldn’t it be nice?

We stopped for lunch in Pismo Beach.  Is this guy still selling these things?

You know what?  I sat down to write a nice self-righteous diatribe against people still living a sybarite lifestyle with the apocalypse nearly upon us – but damn it, this is California and the myth is just too big to see over. I’m getting those good vibrations!  I can’t raise up the required sourpuss-ness.

Say, isn’t that the curve where James Dean bought it in his Porsche Spyder one  afternoon in 1955?  And isn’t that Dead Man’s Curve, that place you won’t come back from?  And look, isn’t that where that guy in the black denim trousers and motorcycle boots and a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back bought it on the railroad tracks?  And, my gosh, that’s exactly where Brian Wilson’s girl made him come alive, made him want to drive in Don’t Worry, Baby!  Hey Patrushka, stop slathering yourself with Sea ‘N Ski.  Let’s roll!  We got a wedding in Santa Barbara!

What Patrushka Saw: The Birdseed Capital

Looking at Andreea’s pics just now reminded me of all the images from The Pondering Pig and Patrushka’s travels across America this summer in their little gypsy cart.

Here is the little world of Flagler, lost and forgotten on the plains of eastern Colorado. Except for the local bird seed farmers, of course, to whom it is found and remembered every day.

Bird Seed Central

What America’s Sparrows Need

Technology for the Sparrows

In the Lonely Country

Corn Dog Girl

How’s this for a life style? You go down to the barn, get out your traveling corn dog stand, and your traveling pizza stand, and your supply trailer with batter and cheese and stuff and off you go over the mountains to the Mendocino County Fair, or the California State Fair, or the Fresno County fair, the Rodeo, up and down Northern California, filling hungry giant California bellies with fresh deep fried corn dogs, lemonade (“our lemonade made with real lemons”) and gooey slabs of cheesy pizza.

The County fair wasn’t even open yet. We were just wandering around watching setup, watching the 4-H Ag kids putting the last bean in their all-bean display about the top 10 crops of Mendocino County – (trees are number one, grapes number two, apples number ten, pot number nothing), stopping by the Methodist Ladies Homemade Apple Pie and Ice Cream Stand to see if it was open yet and the corn dog business was already jumping. The workers, the 4-H Dads, the guy from the cowboy hat and saddles concession, and even some of the Methodist apple pie ladies were standing around waiting for their custom fried corn dogs to come out hot and brown.

Corn Dog Girl told me they’ve been deep frying up corn dogs for many a year. Her partner started out in 1970 with icies and they went pretty well, but when he added hamburgers, the business took off. It was hard decision, moving into corn dogs but once he decided his future was corn dogs and lots of them, he never looked back.
He built the sign one rainy winter. Pretty cool too. Yellow. Purple. The letters light up one after the other in a hungry sort of way.

Hey, they’re just a carny couple, right? Hardscrabble life in a trailer behind the ferris wheel, right? Wrong, On corn dog profits, they just bought a twenty acre ranch in the Sierra foothills.

See You In September

If you’ve been wondering why the Pondering Pig is getting a little thin lately, a post here, a post there, but sort of random – Patrushka and I are putting our lives into an entirely new order. We are leaving our temporary summer quarters here on the far coast in 1910, and heading home – to our new home in Washington State up against the edge of the Rocky Mountains where the grizzly bears roam.

We have chosen the year 1925 as our time location, although I will be visiting the present to report on our adventures, discuss the pondering business with other talking pigs, and pick up our supply of Cheerios.

We’ve been sweating the deal and the financing and how to move all our gear over a thousand miles and packing Grandma’s sewing machine (yes, Patrushka’s greyhaired Saxon mother is coming to live with us) and besides that, we left our gypsy cart in a field in Washington State and I have had to hitchike to the library to post.

By the end of September we will be living in our new home, surrounded by boxes but with an internet connection again. And, I promise you, a whole new exactly the same Pondering Pig ready for new adventures. So keep your RSS feed connected.

Pondering Pig’s Tour of San Francisco

Planning your big trip to San Francisco? Don’t forget your coat! I know you want to see Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum real bad, and, oh those cable cars climbing halfway to the stars, they’ve got to be great. How about a trip to the Haight-Ashbury to see where the Grateful Dead lived? Maybe a topless bar (wink wink nod nod), and a nightcap in the bar of the Holiday Inn.

But hold on for a minute. There’s another city hidden beneath the glitter and gloss of “My Enchanted City”. A city with hidden treasures and landmarks that only the talking pigs know about. Let me take you down, cause I’m going to…San Francisco’s Richmond District, Home of the Talking Pigs!

Oh, there’s not many of us left now in the City. We’ve dispersed across the world. I’m an exile myself, sleeping in an abandoned mobile home far down the coast with only an owl and a feral cat for company. (Besides the beautiful Patrushka and her indomitable Mom, of course, both of whom insist they like it)
Oh, perhaps it’s quiet, perhaps it’s a little lonely today. But there was a time when the Richmond resounded to the throng of happy snorts and grunts, when little curly tails disappeared into the bakeries and came out with pies and cakes and sugar cookies to take home for tea. Young pigs such as myself studied in the libraries and parks of the Richmond and learned to ponder deeply into the mystery of things.

Wandering through the muffled streets, we learned to love the fog and moist grey gloom. For us it was a warm cozy blanket. The wind barreling off the Pacific, it filled the lungs with glee. Ah, for the life of a talking pig in the Richmond District in those golden times of yore.

Certain among you are beginning to wonder when the show starts and I wish you’d have a little more patience. I’m just getting warmed up. But ever it shall be. Okay, next picture, please…

The Temple of Learning. Ah, the lines of merry young pigs that stood outside the Balboa waiting for the box office to open and the Saturday matinée to begin. Some Saturdays we heard a lecture on Aristotle. Other Saturdays it was six color cartoons, a Superman serial, and Mickey Rooney in “Penrod Fights The Gangsters”. Even today, the remnants of the Golden Age remain. Where else could you have your choice of Nacho Libre or Army of Shadows, a phenomenal, magnificent 1969 French film about the Resistance during WWII, and don’t miss it if you trust a talking pig’s judgment). But it’s not coming soon to a theater near you. Sorry. Maybe on DVD.

The Secret Treasure Statue. I boldly proclaim its location because I know how to get to the treasure and you don’t. No, it’s not symbolic of the treasure of the imagination – it’s money. Gold beyond your wildest dreams! And it’s mine, mine mine! Hahahahahahahahah.

Adolf Sutro. How we honor Adolf. Not only did he build San Francisco’s Sutro Park, most beautiful park in the known universe, he was the first talking pig to successfully pass as a human for most of his life. We don’t like to do it, but it’s so much more convenient. People are always asking embarrassing questions like “How come you’re not wearing trousers?” But they never guessed the truth about Adolf. What a pig! Too bad about the name though. It was a perfectly nice name in 1890.

The Old Manse. Pigs lived here once but now they’re gone.

Our tour of San Francisco’s Richmond District is about halfway through. We’ll be stopping for lunch today at The Blathering Pig. Please try not to encourage the proprietor or we’ll never get served!