On The Pondering Pig’s Unexplained and Really Quite Mysterious Disappearance.

For a long time I thought the Pondering Pig might be sort of like King Arthur. If I looked, eventually I’d find him in a cave over in Cornwall somewhere, thinking deep thoughts for two thousand years, and then he would come out and explain everything to everyone, including the whereabouts of the cheese.

So I waited around until one day it occurred to me he might just be taking a very long afternoon nap up on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais, while his readers waited hopefully, and those snooty little dwarfs pitched their bowling balls down the mountainside.

So I decided to go looking for him.

It didn’t take long. I knew all his haunts from the old days. I figured he’d be over on the west side of the mountain, where it’s sunny and breezy and you can look out over the Pacific as you doze off. But he wasn’t around anyplace, so I wandered up Bootjack Creek toward Laurel Dell and those jolly camping spots above the fog line.

1974 05 SF fr Mt. Tam_edited-1

Being as it was a warm day, I sort of sat down to think some deep thoughts myself, and, when I awoke, I distinctly heard the sound of typing nearby. Somebody was using an old-fashioned manual typewriter and was going blue blazes, except for the occasional shout of "Oh Fiddle!"

Ponderpig has built a little cabin in a clearing up there, or, more likely, he moved into one that happened to be available, and he is up there even now, working on everything he always wanted to write. He’s writing longer pieces that won’t fit on the blog, and, as I figured, they will finally explain everything about everything to everybody.

While I was sitting there he knocked off 11,000 words about his old friend Solveig Rimkeit, and her adventures in the American South during the freedom rider era, and how she hitchhiked across America in 1962 and how Piggo used to sit around and eat pickles with her when he wasn’t moaning on and on about his mean girl friend, Carmen O’Shaugnessy.

He actually gave me a copy.  I have it here in front of me and I’ve been wondering who might publish it, because it explains exactly what it was like to be young in San Francisco in 1962. Pig calls it "Solveig Hitches Home."

Then he showed me the novel he’s been working on.  It’s about three Haight-Ashbury kids in 1965 who find an old-fashioned kitchen radio in a dumpster at the corner of Page and Clayton Streets and when they turn it on to see if it works, well, the results are unexpected, to say the least.

I scanned it while the Pig was out rooting up his dinner. It’s already 35 chapters long and it’s funny and exciting and really deep, but the Pig said I couldn’t tell anybody about the details until he’s finished it.

So he is actually working on a lot of projects, none of which he is yet is ready to publish. The next time I go up to Mt. Tam, I will ask him if I can post a few pages from “Solveig Hitches Home,” so you guys can take a peek at it.

Oh, that reminds me. He also asked me to say thanks to his readers, who continue to log thousands of views each month at his site, even though it has been untouched by porcine hands for quite a while. And a special thanks to all the fans of Grace Slick, who refuse to believe that was really Linda Ronstadt up there with the Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock.


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!

Spring Is Here At Last

Ah, spring! Our daffodils are daffy in the door yard. Our crocuses are croaking. The tulips are…what? And there’s not a cloud in the sky, except for that little cloud there.

I feel like wandering lonely as that one today until I spy a field of daffodils, don’t you? We could go together. We could be lonely as two clouds.

We could pack a lunch. A loaf of bread, a jug of wine…but then I’ll be dozing in the daffodils while you frolic in the flowers. Make that sasperilly today, bartender.

In honor of this glorious Spokane day (with delightful April showers forecast for this afternoon) I intend to share a well-known little poem with you. It’s from a bear of a literary figure, but don’t worry. It’s not Wordsworth.

How sweet to be a Cloud
Floating in the Blue!

Every little cloud

Always sings aloud.

“How sweet to be a Cloud
Floating in the Blue!”
It makes him very proud
To be a little cloud.

You’ll be interested to know that lovely set of verses comes from the twenty-ninth best selling children’s book of all time. The biggest-selling children’s book of all time is, of course, The Pokey Little Puppy.

Last Days of Playland-at-the-Beach

Note: This is Part 3 of the Playland Story. It’s full of occult hippies and glamorous pop stars and stuff you’ll want to read about — but if you came in late, you might want to start with What Happened to Playland at the Beach? just below.

By the mid-Sixties, Playland at the Beach had lost it’s magic, even for me, and certainly for the Whitney family who owned the park. After George Whitney Sr., its entrepreneurial genius and founder, died in 1958, the family business slowly disintegrated in law suits and ill will, with the children — able people in their own right — battling their mother who still controlled the park and who finally forced them out of management roles.

If I ever went to Playland, it was late at night, probably with a carload of hippies who had the munchies. The Pie Shop still sold fourteen kinds of pie, and the Hot House next door still sold enchiladas we could eat sitting on the seawall across the highway. Skateland, the roller skating rink across Balboa Street from the Midway held on, and George Whitney’s collection of Victorian fortune telling mechanical gypsies, peep shows, steam pianos, and a working toy carnival made entirely out of toothpicks were still on exhibit, but somehow they weren’t trippy any more.

Yet, in 1969, as the old world of Playland ebbed, across the street the brave new plant of San Francisco pop culture was sending out a hot tendril.

The Family Dog, the rock dance commune centered around original hippie Chet Helms, lost its lease on their Avalon Ballroom headquarters and moved west, out to the beach, out to a rickety wooden building where generations of San Franciscans had come to eat fried chicken, roller skate, play with their slot cars and now…dance to the Grateful Dead.

Soon longhaired freakos, velvet swathed teen heart throbs, spotty faced boys and undercover narcs were converging on the fog-shrouded building across the street from the kiddie sailboats dripping in the foggy night dew. The guys running the ski-ball concession looked at each other incredulously as Pigpen’s blues organ drew the few lingering drunks across the street.

Monday nights acid guru Steven Gaskin was filling the same hall with a kind of revival meeting for hippies called the Monday Night Class. I can’t beat Albert Bates description: “Monday Night Class became a weekly pilgrimage of throngs of hippies from up and down the coast, from high schools and university campuses, from army bases and police academies, from mountain communes and Haight Street crash pads. Thousands of people, in various states of consciousness, came with tamborines and diaphanous gowns, love beads and bangles, Dr. Strange cloaks and top hats with feathers. The open-ended discussions ventured into Hermeneutic geometry, Masonic-Rosicrucian mysticism, Ekenkar and the Rolling Stones, but opened with a long, silent meditation and closed with a sense of purpose.”

Gaskin was teaching the kids the original Huxley-Alpert-Leary hippie vision of LSD as a life-changing sacrament, not a thrill ride or a Friday night high. Challenging them to change their lives, not just trip. And the continued success of The Farm after nearly forty years implies he was to some degree successful at it.

I could never take him seriously though. Not his fault – but to me he was just good old Steve Gaskin, my hip grad student acquaintance at SF State who had a teaching assistantship in creative writing, I think. I remember when he came back from Mexico absolutely charged with psychedelic adrenalin. The guy had had a life-changing experience down there and he was telling everybody who would listen. But I wouldn’t. Like Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor, except to his old pals.” Or something like that. But basically I thought Steven was okay.

But there were all those other guys climbing onstage at the Avalon. OK, I’m not a big swami fan, and my prejudice colors the rest of this picture. I was at the Avalon the night Allen Ginsberg introduced Swami Bhaktivedanta on stage. He was the guy who introduced the Hara Khrisna movement to the West. The two of them chanted Hare Krishna together for a while, and clicked their little bells and Om-ed it. I thought “Hmmmm… is there something in this?”. It was interesting. I’ve still got the poster for that night in a box under my bed along with a lot of other remnants of that life.

Well, it turned out there was something in it. There was macrobiotic food and colon cleansing and kundalini force for the masses and Esalen Human Potential Seminars, Khrisna Consciousness with extra child abuse for no charge, The Children of God, Werner Erhard, transcendental levitation and the whole soggy descent into dopey earnest astrological unreason that has plagued the rest of the twentieth century. Thanks a lot, Allen. Thanks a lot, Chet, for letting that fakir onstage.

Hmm, I seem to be wandering off here. Just to wrap up the obvious, the hard beat Sixties I had entered as a seventeen year old kid were over. Playland would be closed and ripped down in 1972. The Family Dog was going broke. And the soft and goushy, it’s-all-about-me Seventies were on us. Help! Run!

Photo 1: Playland’s End. September 24, 1972. Photo by Patrushka.
Photo 2: Site of Playland today. Photo by Patrushka.

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.