Thursday, July 31, 2014

Unquestionably inconsistent

(Let's pause for this message, brought to you by the National Football League®™©, America's Game:
You don't count. Your money's good, and we'll take it, as much as you want to give. But you? Not so much.)
By mistake last week, I clicked on the name Ray Rice, confusing it with Ray Price and thinking I might hear a long lost song from the late country crooner, or something. Because I'm old and out of touch.

Instead I found the shame of the nation. Or what should be, anyway. Your shame and mine.

"Oh yeah," I thought when I clicked, "this is the football player who punched his fiancée, knocking her unconscious." The video of Rice dragging his fiancée's body out of a casino elevator went viral.

Rice is a running back with the Baltimore Ravens. He's playing under a 5-year, $35 million contract.

When I first saw the video earlier this year, I didn't pay it much mind. I'm no football fan, so maybe I'm being unfair, but when I hear news related to the National Football League©®™, it's as much about players being caught with drugs … or trying not to get caught with drugs … or driving drunk into a tree … or brawling at a nightclub … or carrying a weapon illegally … or firing a weapon … as it is about play on the field.

Off-field violence — rape, attempted rape, murder — has become as much a hallmark of the NFL®©™ as the on-field mayhem we seem to love so much.

Other sports share their problems — my San Francisco Giants must deal with its share, for example. But nothing — nothing — on the scale and regularity of the NFL®™©.

Ray Rice? Pffft, take a number, sit over there with the rest of the bunch. One more reason not to give the NFL™©® any attention, certainly not my money.

Why did Rice's name show up last week on the Internet? Because the NFL®™© punished him for the alleged punishing Rice delivered his girlfriend, Janay Palmer, in February.

If you can call it punishment: Rice is suspended for two games the upcoming season, losing more than $500,000 in salary, and fined another $58,000.

Two games.

I say "Chump change!" and you say "Sucker!"  
"Chump change!" ________________
Rice was indicted on a felony charge, but avoided trial by participating in an intervention program. He and his fiancée, who was also charged with hitting Ray Rice in the same incident, married.

Delivering punishment, NFL®™© Commissioner Roger Goodell told Rice:
"As you acknowledged during our meeting, your conduct was unquestionably inconsistent with league polices and the standard of behavior required of everyone who is part of the NFL. The league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game. This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women."
Goodell does not see the glaring irony of "unquestionably inconsistent."
The National Football League ©®™: Unquestionably Inconsistent!™
Let's put the NFL's®©™ scales of justice into perspective:

At the same time, wide receiver Josh Gordon with the Cleveland Browns is preparing to appeal a season-long suspension for his second alleged use of marijuana in the off-season. The NFL™®© suspended more than a dozen players in 2014 for violations of the league's substance abuse or performance-enhancing drug policy, reports a website called Most of those players were suspended for four games — twice as many as Ray Rice — some for the entire regular season.

All laudable, though I question the harm of recreational marijuana use — which two states legally allow — especially compared to the severity of beating someone unconscious.

The NFL™®© suspended a Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Terelle Pryor, five games for tattoos he allegedly received free, in violation of NCAA policy, while paying in college.

I can see how a league that so utterly upholds appearances, fining players if they don't pull their socks up correctly, would want to crush the illegal tattoo getting thing.

Yet when a player beats a woman unconscious, he sits out two games.

The NFL©®™ "simply cannot tolerate" it!

The Ravens' owner Tom Bisciotti is quoted in a Ravens' PR column that Ray Rice is a great guy and the punching of his fiancée was "out of character."

"Don't we all have days or moments or periods in our life we regret?" Bisciotti asked.

(Let's take time out for this message, brought to you by the National Football League©®™, What America is All About:
It's OK to hit a woman! Promise not to do it again? OK, all better!)
The NFL®™© congratulated itself, then defended itself in the wake of widespread scorn and criticism. Ray Rice's coach, John Harbaugh, said he's disappointed but supports his player. Fans cheered Ray Rice's name at training camp this week.

I'm not adding anything new to the pervasive condemnation of the NFL®©™'s terrible decision. You want a righteous, searing rant about the wrongness of it? Enjoy Keith Olbermann's take.

I'm just doing my little bit to spread the word about this, in case you don't follow football.

It's fair to say the NFL®©™ is the most popular sport in the country. It's the taste maker, the exemplar, for good or ill. In the last couple of years it has stepped up its marketing to women, offering special licensed apparel from top-name makers, and other ways to attract more women to the sport.

With the Ray Rice decision, the NFL®©™ is effectively saying it doesn't want women fans so much as women fans' money. It's establishing that women don't count. Nor do fans who believe it's not OK to hit women.

What counts in all things is money. The NFL®™© wants butts in seats and eyeballs on TV big screens, clad in licensed NFL®©™ gear. It wants you to travel on the official plane and stay in the official hotel and eat the official hamburger of the NFL®™© — paid for with the official credit card.

Ray Rice puts butts in seats and official NFL®©™ beers in fans' hands. He makes money. He counts. Not you.

Fan or not, you can do something. Tell the NFL®™© it's wrong and must mete out punishment befitting Ray Rice's offense. Failing that, vote your pocketbook. The NFL®™© can hear your wallet closing and your TV turning off.

But if you shrug it off; if you see the NFL®©™ as purely hard-hitting entertainment — serving up the mythos that it sport is the emblem of our brawling, looking-out-for-No.-1 country — then the league wins and assaulting women is officially no big deal.

The NFL®©™ is counting on you not to care.

(We'll be back after this message from the NFL™®©, Made of Money:
We win!)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

As hen's teeth

Dave Beronio's sketch of first baseman
Willie McCovey — you just know it's 1972.
What light and life a deft pencil can make
Now and then in this blog, I plead for help with my unfulfilled fascinations.

"Anyone know who created this logo?" I might ask, or, "Whatever happened to so-and-so?" "If you know anything, please tell me."

My pleas might as well be messages in bottles — too small, too random — but I chuck them hopefully past the breakers anyway.

Because sometimes — you never know! — something comes back.

A big something came back recently. A doozy. A four-bagger.

"I happened by your blog from February ’13 noting about my Dad’s sketching of the SF Giants yearbook for 1972," wrote Barry Beronio. "Thanks for the kind words."

Barry's dad, Dave Beronio, is why I've hung onto the program from the first San Francisco Giants game I attended, in 1972. Beronio's pencil-on-coquille-board illustrations of the Giants stars and prospects still enthrall me. The dollar it cost for the program was one of the best ever spent on me.
"Should you stumble upon this blog and know about Dave Beronio and his work," I pleaded in that post, "I'd love to learn more, the man and his process. His body of work seems so far to have eluded the magnet of the Internet."
Giants Manager Charlie Fox; the name fit.
The "Best in the West" logo refers to the Giants
having won the division the year before.
They weren't so good in a strike-shortened '72.
Really, apart from his illustrations I included in that post, Dave Beronio's work does not appear readily on the Web. With my small contribution I hope to end that dearth.

Barry emailed me last month.

First, the sad news: Barry said his dad passed away late in 2013. Dave Beronio was 92. Here's the tribute in the Vallejo Times Herald, where he spent most of his journalism career.

In ill health, Dave Beronio had been living his last months just blocks from my home, close to two of his three sons, including Barry, who works in Sacramento for the California Lottery.

Except for flying 35 B-17 missions out of England during World War II as a radioman-gunner, and working briefly in Hollywood on behalf of GIs after the war, it was the only time Dave Beronio didn't make his beloved Vallejo home.

He was raised there, and became a professional boxer — "Dynamite Dave" — before becoming a sports journalist. Judging by the photo accompanying his tribute, the first I'd seen of him, Dave Beronio was probably a featherweight.

Dave worked 33 years at the Times Herald and briefly at another Vallejo newspaper, contributing to the Vacaville Reporter too.

Catcher Dick Dietz.
Dave Beronio captured his
fun-loving nature.
"He was pretty much self-taught with his sketching from an early age," Barry wrote me, "sketching for his high school paper (and) the Vallejo Times Herald, where he was the sports editor and included his sketches in with his columns about local and national athletes."

Self-taught! I don't know whether to hope or despair. I imagine Max Mercy in "The Natural," drawing sports figures for his columns. That's old school!

His reportage and sketchbooks put him front and center in the 20th Century sports world — not just the Giants but the San Francisco 49ers, not just Joe Dimaggio but Bob Mathias and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"My brothers and I didn’t inherit that talent to draw, maybe because we were always doing something else," Barry told me.  "He gave me an enviable childhood going to all of the pro games in the Bay Area over the years. It was quite a fun time and I’m glad I got to go along for the ride."

I thank Barry for the brief chance to ride shotgun.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lost in space

Men first returned to earth from the moon this day, 45 years ago.

When I turned seven.

It lacks the crystalline ting! of "Man landed on the moon this day, Sunday, July 20, 1969," probably the Associated Press' best news lead ever, from four days before. But you take what comes.

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins fell from the sky, landing their little barbecued space capsule into the Pacific Ocean 45 years ago today — the very same day of the week, even! Something a seven-year-old would find marvelous.

The Apollo 11 astronauts could have disintegrated on re-entry if their capsule came in too perpendicular to the atmosphere, we were told. Or they could have bounced right back into space, lost forever, if too shallow. But they didn't.

Armstrong and Aldrin also could have died right there on the moon — agonizing oxygen-robbing deaths, made worse by the fact that Collins orbiting the moon in the command module would have jetted back to Earth without them, as planned — if their module didn't launch properly off its surface.

Horrors I think seven-year-olds secretly relish.

But they didn't. The astronauts survived, the USS Hornet aircraft carrier scooped them up, President Nixon was on deck to say hello from outside the special Airstream®™ trailer where the astronauts had been whisked into quarantine so they didn't infect the world with alien diseases.

In the spirit of optimism, my mom made — or had made — a round chocolate layer cake with gray frosting cratered like the surface of the moon. A spaceman and space ship might have been on the surface too, and maybe a U.S. flag on a toothpick.

Photos exist somewhere.

The cake was delicious. Gray frosting and being seven years old made it so.

Though I'm absolutely sure I coveted several wonderful toys that day, why do I remember only the commemorative Apollo 11 medallion, encased in lucite, that Grandma Gibson gave me? I still have it somewhere.

I like to think that night I looked up at the moon and tried to see where the astronauts stepped. I remember shivering with the realization that someone had actually been up there — damn you, persistent hoax mongers! — 250,000 miles away, just a few days before.

Or maybe it was the next rare clear summer night. I've said before, no astronomers came from my hometown, encased as it was by each afternoon in fog. It figures that a missile base operates there, somewhere in that fog.

I remember assuming the future would be filled more and farther and greater astronaut missions, that Apollo 11 and the moon was just the start. Instead, the descendants of all that technology and awe became the iPhone®™ and Instagram©®. Cool and useful, I suppose, but no walk on Mars, which is what i thought would be going on by now.

Impressive as space exploration is — the work of brilliant people who grew up about the same time as me and saw stars and reached for them, with little ships that fly the heavens and unfold on alien lands like origami swans — it's still not human space exploration.

When Ron Howard's Apollo 13 came out in theaters. I remmber a flash of shame as the movie pointed out America — and I — had already lost interest in moon launches, just two launches later. Skylab wandered around, ushering in the international space station, still spinning, still working. The Space Shuttle flew as regular as non-stop flights to Dallas, and then that ended.

We are far short of where I thought we would be; I can say the same for myself.

This week NASA named a building at the Kennedy Space Center after Armstrong, first man on the moon. All these years later, Aldrin and Collins appear magnanimous in honoring Armstrong, professionals befitting their profession.

Collins, especially, had the job of sacrificing himself to history, and sometimes he's called the forgotten astronaut. He spoke in exaltation of Armstrong, talking about how he built a wind tunnel as a kid and seemed destined to step first on an alien heavenly body.

All those years until his death, Armstrong rarely spoke in public about his place in history. He was the model of a test pilot, taciturn, just doing his job. All these years later, having accomplished the Firstiest First in Human History, I find Armstrong's unwillingness to have said so much as "Ain't that something!" in to a microphone frustrating and strange.

Even all these years later, my favorite cheerleader for "creation science," Ken Ham, used the spotlight of the Apollo 11 anniversary this week to call for cutting funds to NASA because, even if scientists find alien life, those life forms won't go to heaven because that's reserved for we special humans.

At least I can infer that Ken Ham acknowledges that science may eventually discover we are not alone in the universe.

Heaven help us. Have some cake.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

That was then

… and the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that, and the time
before that, and the time before that … drawn long ago for my college newspaper,
triggering a few "How dare he?!" letters and calls for my termination.
Herewith, an exercise in futility.

Here, a raw chain of thought, dripping from my fingers rather than being left to stew in my brainpan. It's a  mistake, probably, posting this.

Feelings hurt. Rabble roused.

Maybe it will come to some avail, but I doubt it.

Keep in mind, it's about one of life's Things of Which I Know So Little.

All I know is what I see, and I don't know what I'm seeing.

From half a world away — so far away — I see the government of Israel engage a ground battle into Gaza, the narrow stretch of land bordering Israel and held by Palestinians on the Mediterranean Sea. Israel seeks to demolish tunnels it says is used by Hamas, a militant and political group sharing power in Gaza, to infiltrate and attack Israel, and to destroy sites it says Hamas uses to launch missiles into Israel.

I see that some of the missile sites and Hamas strongholds are in densely populated areas, apparently, and Israeli missile strikes have killed innocent Palestinians, in homes and a hospital — about 70 percent of more than 500 killed, say Gaza health authorities. Palestinian militants have launched missiles into Israel, killing two Israeli civilians. Nearly 30 Israeli soldiers have been killed so far in the latest battle, say officials.

I see that Israel, the United States and other major Western powers consider Hamas terrorists.

Hamas … militants … say Gaza health authorities … terrorists … 70 percent civilians …  say officials …  innocent … all loaded words, triggering anger and agony. They are dangerous words for this subject.

Why do I pay attention now, of all times?! Its strife has droned in the background of my life, all my life. Always has been, always will be, without end, without hope, with blood and pain and loss and rage, now and forever. Amen?

I see ancient grudges, scores to settle, too many ever to really settle. Your children, kidnapped and killed; all right then, your child, burned alive.

Land to settle. My land. No, my land! No, mine!!! This: Also mine. God says so.

Whose god? Who's god?

Something about it now rivets me. My age? A latent fatalism? A piling up of distant atrocities across the world, forming a tower, a teeming pile that I can no longer ignore? Why now?

So the United States supported creation of Israel, a new homeland on ancestral land — on land in which other people had also long been living, are still trying to live.

The United States helps sustain Israel, which exists every day in the struggle of existing, against enemies who would end them. Enemies struggle against Israel, which seems mightily intent on wanting to end them in turn.

Or so I see it now. I see Israel trying to drive Gaza to rubble, into the sea. Maybe it's no different than the last battle, or the last battle before, or the last. Maybe not.

I see some supporters of Israel bristle and boil at the suggestion that Israel's control of Gaza's resources, of its people's coming and going, of its livelihood, parallels the treatment of Jews by oppressive governments that inspired a free state of Israel.

I see we are hardly ones to criticize. We here live and move and have our being by having descended from people who cleared this land of existing cultures so we can exist. This land is our land! Britain drove away the aboriginal people so it could have the bounty of Australia. The western world claimed and took what it needed from Africa and left it reeling still.

We have no moral high ground with which to try to much as a pirouette.

And yet.

I can see, and the world can see now. The world can see the blood and dismemberment. The world can see what appears to be utter control of Gaza by Israel. Despite its hypocrisy, the world should work to end these eons of hatred and bloodshed.

That was then. This is now.

I see no good coming from the status quo. At some point, maybe in my lifetime, the last child will rattle its last bloody breath, the last family will mourn, the last building will be leveled, the last weapon exhausted. At some point, all will be lost.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel seeks "sustainable quiet." He knows, and you know, and I know he won't get it, maybe doesn't want it. We get the ceaseless volley cease-fire negotiations.

But good can still come. Israel and Palestine can co-exist — must exist. It can come from the hardest thing there is: To act the peace and justice and compassion upon which our collective religions were built, upon which humans can live together.

Not just mouthing those tenets. Not justice as in "I'm right, you're wrong," or "I count but you don't."

Nor the dance of diplomacy, the condemning praise and laudatory damnation, that wins a few bits of meaningless quiet so civilians and replenish and hunker again.

Real, actual peace, justice and compassion. By everyone. Looking beyond one's own immediate need to survive. Not anger, not hatred — which are discouraged in our collective relgions.

Surrendering one to the other. Trusting.

See, I told you it was futile.
What went wrong?
Walking tightrope high
over moral ground,
seeing visions of 

falling up somehow

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mad River

Dory screams at me lately, louder and louder: Just keep swimming.

Not figuratively, as in, It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn! Don't give up!!


Just keep swimming, or you'll lose your momentum and will. Keep swimming or your calves will seize into painfully useless meatballs. Keep swimming or you'll get left behind. Farther behind, anyway.

Lock into the groove, rely on muscle memory, check arm and hand movement once in a while. Roll hips, not too much. Relax. Count strokes. Don't look back, don't look around, don't even look ahead if you can help it. Whatever's coming up behind you probably won't hit you, probably won't hurt you, anyway.

Don't stop for food or drink. You don't really need it.

Just keep swimming.

Good ol' Disney®™-fied fish.

With Dory's clarion call I could enter the strange waters of Humboldt Bay Sunday and join the inaugural Humboldt Bay Critter Crawl.

Sarah and Bill dreamed it up. I first met Sarah virtually, another facebook™® swim friend who shared my passion for the open water and could answer my questions about whether people can swim in Humboldt Bay (yes!) and what the water's like (cold!). I met her and Bill in person at the 24-hour swim relay in Aquatic Park in February.

When I heard about their proposed never-before swim, I had to do everything I could to join in. Nancy and I made it a weekend and toted the kayak. There we reacquainted with some other facebook swim friends, Cathy and Lisa and Rob and Allison, and met new swimmers.

Billed as a 4.5 mile swim on a strong flood tide, the Critter Crawl began at the entrance to Humboldt Bay on a spit of beach, and ran along the shoreline edge of the city of Eureka into the marina at Woodley Island.

The swim came at a good time. A trio of diehards (I'm the reluctant one) has been doubling, tripling, and once a week quadrupling the distance of our daily swims at Lake Natoma. I'd moved on from stopping multiple times, drinking at eating each stop, and plodding from one end of the lake to the other in more than three hours once a year — to eschewing fuel and reaching the end of the lake in about two hours and 20 minutes once a week.

Just keep swimming.

I missed the cold, too, which Humboldt Bay offers. Our usually cold lake near Sacramento is in the low-60s, and Humboldt Bay still lay in the mid-50s, I was told. The day was gray and purple and cool: My kind of summer.

My game plan: Do what Dory says.

"How fast is the tide?" I asked Bob, a kindly volunteer related by marriage to this whole endeavor, a fundraiser for the North Coast Marine Mammal Center. Bob is a lifelong resident of these shores, and a long-time fisherman.

Bob smiled. "Take a look," he said.

On cue, a fishing boat headed into the open ocean had stopped and set itself adrift right off our starting point. The boat began twirling at a fast clip back toward the marina.

It'll be a big flood tide, Bob said, filling the bay eight feet. It'll ebb just a little and flood heavily some more. Bob checks the tide charts when it's important to him, and today was important to him.

After a fireboat saluted the first small group of short-distance swimmers with a fountain from its nozzles, it was our turn. Into the mad river, filling the bay. One copse and then another of cypress trees whizzed by, then this pulp mill and that wood mill.

Just keep swimming. The water was cool and welcome at the start, not cool enough to stop me short, and gradually warmed as we neared the marina. I just keep going. Poor Mary who agreed to kayak alongside me must have been a bit out of sorts when I told her I didn't have any food or drink she had to keep for me. I watched her with every breath, enjoying the day on the bay.

Nancy, who thought she might have to paddle around the marina on her own while the swimmers made their way up the bay, instead got to be part of the flotilla in case extra help was wanted. She had practiced heaving the kayak up on our roof and lashing it down, just in case she was by herself.

Commercial fishing boats chugging out to sea tossed us about. I worried about Nancy out in the waves for the first time, but she said it was fun to bob along.

I sighted on a boat way up ahead, hoping it was part of our swim. I wouldn't know one landmark from another, so I just followed the crowd. I suppose I should have minded where the water was flowing, but I figured if the leaders weren't being led astray, I'd be all right.

The bubbles of my wake were squarish somehow, and silvery, and flowed ahead of me. Nearer the city, I could pick up the sharp sweet smell of creosote, coating the pilings.

All I really remember from Sarah's instructions were to look for a green-and-white research ship and the statue of a fisherman. That's where we'd stop.

Just keep swimming.

Well before I expected it, the ship and statue appeared. We were done. A crowd, including caretakers from the marine mammal rescue center who had driven an hour-and-a-half from Crescent City, cheered us on from the opposite landing as we reached the edge of a dock. The hardest part of the entire swim was trying to heave myself up a small ladder onto a deck. Photographic evidence of this struggle did not flatter me.

Harbor seals, we were told, followed us into the marina.

Stroke count — how I measure time and distance — told me this was equivalent to a three-mile swim. We were moving fast. I finished in hour and 15 minutes; my typical 4.5-mile swim at Natoma is another hour longer.

We bounced around the marina parking lot, talking and laughing in the weightless joint relief of having completed the endeavor, to have been part of something new, something done well, something we want to do again next summer.


Mad River, the town (as far as most travelers know) is a bend in Highway 36, consisting of a bar/grocery bookended by a hamburger stand operating out of a travel trailer at the west end, and a taqueria working out of a trailer at the east end. The trailers don't appear to be going anywhere. Each one is under a roof. A trailer court hunkers in the dark shade in back.

Forensic research (meaning I clicked through Google™® maps) shows the burger bar was there first, and a sign suggested the taqueria had been there for almost two years when we drove in Saturday.

It was well past time for lunch on our way to Eureka. We had feared the windy highway would not yield any place to eat, when up popped this daydream.

For no other reason than we were in that kind of mood, we opted for tacos. We had parked at the other end, though, before we even knew what was what and who as who, and walked across town, 150 feet. Though the servers were kind and chatty, the taqueria's shaded picnic tables stank of garbage or a dead animal nearby, so back across town we walked, to an empty shaded table a good shout away from the burger bar. Twosomes and foursomes sat indolently at a few other tables in the hot afternoon, room for everyone.

It wasn't until Nancy went to throw away our lunch trash that the daydream ended.

A door slammed open on the burger bar trailer, a figure hidden by the shade.

"You need to throw that trash in the taco trailer's cans. You didn't get that from here," the voice shouted. "And for future reference, these tables are for the Burger Bar. I don't want you buying your stuff over there and eating it on this side."
"Don't worry, ain't gonna be no future!"

"'For future reference!' That's the funniest thing you've probably ever said."

"Who are you, the Chamber of Commerce?"

"Who are you, the director of first impressions?"

"Sorry to impose on your overflow crowd!"

"Don't you believe in the co-mingling of trash?"
And other assorted Walter Mitty witticisms we told each other later in the car, following the rest of 36 to the coast.

What we did in real life was stare for a brief moment, and move on. Nancy said aloud, "She probably wouldn't want me using her Porta-Potty®©™, then."

To which a teenaged girl sitting nearby said, "No, she'd probably take your head off for that."

We decided in our sweet-lemon state that we had done exactly what we should have, let the shrill anonymous woman launch her dud of derision, never to give her satisfaction. Kind of like the woman long ago who simply waved each time I flipped her off (yes, I did!) for cutting me off. I got nothing from the transaction, except the lingering chagrin.

We decided the cool coastal breezes would wash us clean.


It's been so long since we last stopped through Eureka, I had forgotten how prevalent homeless people are. I can't pretend to know why a somewhat isolated city in the far north of California would attract homeless, so cool and wet so much of the time, but there you go.

On a country FM station broadcasting San Francisco Giants games (one up on Sacramento, Eureka!) and their mad river of loss, a sort of commercial played. Though it sounded like a political ad, it carried no attribution, no candidate, no interest group. The woman in the commercial called for the "need" to distinguish between the just-plain homeless and homeless vagrants, and urged vagrant crime to stop, though it didn't say how.

I imagined a processing center where officials would assign the homeless one color armband and homeless vagrants another. Now, where have I heard that before?

After the swim, Bill pointed across the harbor to the Eureka shoreline, describing historic buildings and redevelopment that's been going on for some time, with more to come.

Like everything else, he said, it needs a river of money, an economy to move again with new energy.


We stayed at a KOA®™for the swim, not wanting another hotel expense but not wanting to fight for a state park campsite on short notice. Easily 40 years have passed since I last stayed at a KOA. My parents seemed to prefer them on summer vacations, the motel for trailer folk — always a site, always on your route, easy to reach.

I loved them as a kid. A general store (not that I remember buying anything at it), pool tables or ping pong in the next room (not that I remember playing, unless my dad felt sorry for his shy son), a playground.

We always had a trailer when I was a kid. Then as now, I realized, the world favors trailer folk. Trailer folk slid into their spacious slots, arranged at precise slants in the middle of the camp, each with precise slants of green lawn precisely beneath where their canopies unfurl. We watched couples walk their dogs in the trailer area, laughing and gesturing as if they'd stepped out of one of those "let's go RV'ing" ads.

No such equivalent for tent campers, who got the perimeter against the fenceline, spaces not much longer than a car nor much deeper, each site separated by a curling half-sheet of plastic landscape lattice nailed to fenceposts, a square picnic table, a concrete block sometimes recognizable as a firepit.

We began to wonder what we'd done to tick off KOA®™.

Kids didn't bother us, even the mad river of kids that ran around the park into the night as bats began to roam the tree canopies. Kids reminded us of our own (although we'd have hauled them back to our site long before nightfall, and not let them run around by themselves); kids reminded me of the labor camps in "The Grapes of Wrath," an oddly comforting thought.

Ah well, it was a place to stay, and we only needed the tent space for the night. We had gone to dinner at Samoa Cookhouse with Lisa and Cathy. The restaurant out on the spit across from Eureka is supposed to be an old lumberjack's cookhouse, and customers eat the same meal together at long tables topped with red checked oilskin tablecloths.

I tossed and turned, dreaming when I could of the next day's event.

Just keep swimming.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It rhymes with July

(Another baseball post. Best move along. It's only fair: I ignored your World Cup. Who won? Never mind.)

Now what?

What now?

Do I spend the next three days in grief — or relief — over the loss of baseball?

And don't say "All-Star®™ Game." We've been over that before. It's three more days without baseball. Period.

The horrid, tailspinning San Francisco Giants finished the first half of the season — really closer to two-thirds — in one microcosmic, orgasmic, spasmic show of promise Sunday.

They did something unprecedented in Major League Baseball — their starting catcher (Buster Posey) and starting pitcher (Madison Bumgarner; no sniggering over the name) hit grand slams. The broadcasters, tired of narrating long days of loss, let it all go over the air, screaming as the home runs screamed into the bleachers.

Similarly, the crowd went wild.

But the Giants also threatened to give up the huge 8-1 lead until the relief pitchers, performing against type the last month and a half, shut down the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-4 (the worst team in the division by far), ushering in the All-Star©® break.

What team will emerge on the other side of the break, after this dark time when baseball resumes Friday?

Will the Giants put it back together again? Will the starters all pitch strong through six or seven innings? Will batters whack those crucial two-out singles and doubles, robbing opponents of oxygen? Will fielders keep it all contained with brilliant plays, and relief pitchers conspire to keep foes off the bases?

You know, like the Giants did in the opening months, lovely April and May?

Or will it be this horrible June Swoon which has become a July Swoon? Will Marco Scutaro, out for much of last season and this with a bad back, return to win in the clutch, like long ago, or will his back take him out again? Will this inexplicable (though probably plain as day) collapse continue, August and September swoons of dismaying descent?

This time last year, the Giants were similarly hamstrung, so to speak, centerfielder Angel Pagan out with a hamstring injury. It was so weird for the Giants on Saturday to distribute bobble-head dolls of Pagan sliding in home for an inside-the-park game-winning home run — the same play that put him out for months.

Pagan is out again this year, bad back this time, which is usually much worse, and information about him has gone dark. No timetable for a return.

Statistics show the Giants play better and win more with Pagan. But his fragile body gives scores of tormented fans on talk radio reason to suggest the Giants move on without him.

If only the Giants had someone to trade, someone in the farm system to take his place and his lead.

Team President Larry Baer told radio interviewers last week the cavalry isn't coming. A savior is not on the way.

This is the really weird, tense, interesting, exasperating time of baseball. The Giants, still only a game out of first place behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite the free-fall, are one of those teams that will consider big moves to win it all this year. They will indeed search for the savior they said won't arrive.

That means sacrificing part of the team's future for something expensive and immediate from the teams that have already lost hope for the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the deep-pockets Dodgers will do the same and haul in the big finds to win the division and move on. Expect a David-vs.-Goliath showdown, exceedingly relatively speaking.

It means gambling that the payoff works this season and doesn't hurt the team too much in the next few years.

For — a trophy? More money? More butts in the seats? Our deathless devotion? I guess so.

They got mine. The race resumes Friday. What's gonna show up?

Three more days I wait.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Best logo ever, Rockin' Down the Highway Division

Ideal at any speed.
The road is no place for a good logo.

A logo is art most immediate. It must stab you through the heart, convince you instantly. But you have to see it first; you need the moment to consider it.

Good luck if you're also trying not to wreck on the median at 70 mph.

Naturally, most companies who depend on the road for your attention don't even try. Disqualify the Coca-Cola™®s, the McDonald's™®, all those marks that trigger your visceral "consume me!" nerve. They didn't have to rely on the highway to stab you. They've had your whole life to do that. Logos for their ilk on the sides of trucks need no extra effort to attract or repulse you.

I'm talking instead about businesses whose business are the highway, they who transport, whose products and services almost subserve the road. They don't put much design effort into a lost cause, because you can't see them and you aren't the ones buying their services, anyway.

Exceptions are few. Yellow Trucking got known by not being yellow, for example. Its trucks were the color of macaroni and cheese, a thought I thought to myself every time I saw one of its trucks. Yellow has merged with other companies and now goes by YRC Freight®©, and uses two acute triangles to form a road receding beneath its name.

May Trucking — good on a signet
ring or a shirt pocket
Geometric shapes forming roads — a go-to solution for a lot of trucking companies.

May Trucking Co.®© has a catchy monogram, but you'd have trouble placing it out of context.

Old Dominion©®'s interlocking O and D looks like a college emblem.

Knight Transportation™®'s logo begs consideration. That's the trouble: Such an intriguing logo redesign deserves a good long look — anywhere else but the madding freeway.

A knight's profile forms the negative space in a capital K. A lance appears and disappears in the mass.

What could be the reflection of his shoulder armor, or the gathering of his cloak above his armored arm — is also the stylized head of a fierce horse. It's a gem hidden at high speeds, redesigned by a firm called Summation. The old mark simply used a charging knight atop a sans serif K.

Most small-scale trucking companies are variations on airbrush Kar Kulture script — fancy but clean, but sending no more than the message, "I own this truck and I'm damn proud of it."

The along comes Oldcastle®™, a maker and seller of building supplies, an American subsidiary of an Irish company. I passed a truck bearing the logo on my farewell trip from Oregon last month, and wanted time itself to stop.

Seeing how it didn't, the logo won me over anyway, even at high speed.

It's road tested.

I first noticed the strange calligraphic "O," thick below left and above right, thin above left and below right, just as a wide pen nib and a slanted stroke would render it. But sharp and angular. I had to look closer.

Then I saw the simple but mesmerizing image of a castle tower, two cuts into the skewed rectangle and its shadow to create a battlement, a castle tower.

Then, in a moment, the lovely optical illusion: The tower casting its shadow left — solid, stately … or the tower uplit, casting its shadow onto a ceiling or forest dark to the right — dreamy, progressive?

The designer used a simple Helvetica black (or 95 neue) {thanks, Bob Dahlquist!} for the name, timeless and clean, to support the mark rather than draw the eye away.

The name is made up (nothing wrong with that), and the design has a story behind it, which is rare. The story is brief and yet oddly satisfying.

The logo, says Oldcastle® company literature, was designed by the daughter of the company founder. If it's the same person based on my Internet research (and the Internet is always correct, so I needn't worry), the designer is now a popular sex advice columnist and author in the United Kingdom.

Though formally trained in graphic design with her own London design firm, she is quoted in a news profile as saying it wasn't her "idea of fun."

I see her point. Still, being able to create such elegant design, enjoyed at any speed, I might have reconsidered for the briefest moment.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Great moment in journalism

• or, Are You Sure This is How Bob Woodward Got His Start?

•• or, How I Almost Kinda Sorta Died Two Miles from My Home for the Sake of My Wannabe Career 

Dry hot summer days trigger a memory of when I interned at my hometown newspaper during college. I learned all too quickly how hometown newspapers operate.

Mine, like most I'm sure, had struck a Faustian bargain with the town's auto dealerships, dearest among the newspaper's advertisers.

Our bargain was this: Each week a different dealership got a feature story, usually touting one of its latest models, though on rare occasion a paean to a dealership's remodel or a new salesman. After seven weeks I completed the cycle of dealerships and got halfway through the second round before heading back to school.

Who else but the rookie reporter snags such a juicy beat?

Each week I went out to the designated dealership, where the owner or the floor boss would have a slick press package from the car maker for the featured model. Fattening the full-color folder would be full-color and black-and-white photos of the car — regal on a rain-slicked mountain road, the ocean heaving in the background, you know the type. I'd give those to a photographer to set up for publication.

News releases and fact sheets — engine size, fuel economy, number of froozits, high-tensile fargle-bargle, rack and pinion feather, whatever — padded the press kit.

My job was to get the package, get a quote and transform all the corporate whosy-whatsit into a story back at the office.

"It's a great car, good for going to the office or cruising out of town with the family," the owner/floor boss might say, by way of a quote. Or, "We at Chad Furger Chevrolet©® are proud to deliver the new Foogle™®. The best just got better™!" Or, "Can't you find a good quote somewhere in this stuff and just put our name on it?"

Can I ask some questions first?


Can I take the car for a test drive?


Can I see it?

"Look, I don't have time. That'll be in the Friday paper, right? Next to our ad?"


Having tossed my dignity into the desk drawer with the chewing gum and rubber cement, I wrote in cheery terms about cars I couldn't drive in car-speak™®© terminology I didn't know and couldn't have cared less about.

So it went, until the one day the guy at the Saab®™ dealership said he'd take me for a ride.

Yeah, it sounds as ominous as I meant it.

I think the guy was the owner's son. The Saab®™ dealership was downtown, walking distance from the newspaper, in an small old building meant for something else, certainly not for showcasing cars, not like the newer expansive dealerships on the fringes of town.

The owner's son was in a mood, like he'd received a "Dear John" letter, which should have alerted me. All I heard, though, was that he'd take me for a ride.

Finally, a chance to report firsthand how a new car performs! Unfettered from the chains of public relations doublespeak!

Owner's son took the car on H Street, the main drag, and up the hill out of town. He headed toward Harris Grade, which separates the Lompoc and Santa Maria valleys, where Agnes, the ghost of our childhood nightmares, roams.

Past the intersection of Harris Grade Road and Burton Mesa Boulevard, owner's son picked up speed as the road rose and wound to the rise. I was just noting how close we were to my parents' home, when owner's son said:

"Watch what this can do."

We were going about 70 mph by then, 25 mph above the limit, when owner's son veered off the road onto the wide sloped sandy shoulder. He never took his foot off the gas.

It was like riding in a cement mixer, the rocks and branches and trash roaring and scraping and banging against the undercarriage as we hurtled along, the view outside a beige fog.

Owner's son was telling me above the noise that Saab™® was built to withstand such maneuvers — and I have to admit, for all the commotion we did seem to be riding smoothly toward our deaths — though his laughter like a worn starter motor indicated he didn't seem to care whether the car pulled safely back onto the road.

He might have said between laughs that even if we did wreck, a Saab™® is designed to save us. He might have used the phrase "crumple zones." He might have told me Saab©® made fighter jets, for whatever reason.

Just as smoothly as the car left the road, though, it found it again, and owner's son made a u-turn at a dirt road instead of ascending serpentine Harris Grade, and dropped me back off at the dealership.

It was a short uneasy walk back to the newspaper, for which I was grateful.

If I wrote anything about the misadventure at all, it was brief and circumspect, something perhaps about being able to handle the occasional need to drive a Saab™© onto the shoulder. Owner's son probably knew I couldn't report on this toady's wild ride.

I think of that time every time I see a Saab™®.

Fargle bargle.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

In dependence

Following tradition, this day we will find our son wherever he may be, and play for him John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Liam could not wait to be born on the Fourth of July 24 years ago, so he showed up July 3. We celebrate the red white and blue today, and the holiday everyone else celebrates tomorrow has since seemed like dull aftermath.

It was easier to find him back then. We'd wake him up earlier even than he had planned to wake himself, and play the song as loud as we could on his little primary-colored Fisher Price™® tape recorder with the cartoon karaoke microphone attached.

That's how we presented him with this birthday gift when he was three, by showing how loudly it could play "Stars and Stripes Forever."

It's a bit harder to reach him now. Cell phone will have to do, and a CD in the stereo in the living room, loud enough for him to hear over digital space. He's with friends at a cabin for a long holiday weekend he had planned. Somehow, sometime today we will subject him to Sousa.

I don't think Liam will mind if I hijack a chunk of his day to talk about this country with whom he (almost) shares a birthday. Because this country confuses me.

Funny to say that now, with two-thirds or three-quarters of my life done — who's kiddin' whom? — but I thought I'd have a better idea.

Sweet land of liberty. Funny how liberty, and freedom, get carried around, as weapons. One person's freedom turns out to be another's limits. Freedom isn't free, goes the overused aphorism; someone has to pay. Though not in the way that adage is meant.

We wander in retrograde, me and my country.

The Supreme Court this week ruled that Hobby Lobby and other privately held businesses don't have to provide employees certain kinds of birth control through the Affordable Care Act if it violates the employer's religious beliefs.

Hobby Lobby supporters hailed the decision as a victory for religious freedom. I don't pretend to argue the particulars, though I find them silly. I note how the freedom of a relative few — the owners of these businesses — means the loss of freedom for many, the employers who would use these certain items of birth control under federal health care. The freedom of some becomes the undue influence into the private lives of many.

This is a narrow ruling, or so I read, though I also read the ruling isn't really so narrow and I can't believe it won't open the door for other monied interests to exercise various interpretations of constitutional freedoms while in the same sweep taking away the freedoms of others.

Target®© stores this week told gun owners they should not bring in their weapons for all to see, in states where owners are allowed to carry them out in the open. Angry moms had to tell the stores this is a stupid idea, apparently; Target™ couldn't see that on its face.

Gun owners couldn't see for themselves this gesture of exercising their interpretation of rights is a bad idea? That they have responsibility not to scare hell out of shoppers, who don't know whether they're gun lovers with some kind of exhibitionist complex, or angry people with easy means and opportunity to carry out grudges.

Last month I helped out a family in need — help in the loosest, most ludicrous meaning of the word: We bought the gas for their car. Which was also their home. For a lot of unsatisfying reasons, we weren't able to help more.

The man in this family of adults works a full-time job, but can't afford a place to stay. He and the other two take turns sleeping in the car. Other factors may be at play, I'm sure, but how can it be someone works a full-time job in this country and can't put a roof over their heads? How is it my dad, a generation removed, worked the sole job and bought a home for his family, and fed his family every day, never wanting?

Irresponsible gun owners overshadow responsible ones. Monied interests trump our votes, better feed our elected representatives — literally and figuratively — direct our daily lives, make up our minds for us, drive our foreign policy, send us to wars, make us poorer in spirit and fabric.

Or so I gather.

That's just it: I don't know what I know anymore.

I read, I listen, I watch. I could be a better devourer of news, but I suspect the ingredients. I distrust what I'm devouring.

Name one thing you know about the United States that you didn't get from some form of entertainment, and these days I include most so-called news outlets as entertainment.

I carry with me a Disney®™-based view of America, spawned in youth. I'm being unfair to Disney®, I know, because it alone didn't establish that idealized state of mind, that "Morning in America," golly-gee-whiz, Vaseline®-on-the-lens, sunnier-than-all-reason, greatest country in the world. Norman Rockwell did his part too, but Rockwell circled back on his national view and reacted to and amplified its deep flaws too.

The news I get about my country assumes that sunnier-than-thou state. It's almost all good, except when it's bad, then we are to gawk at it for entertainment. If it's too hard to explain, news explains it poorly or interviews Scarlett Johansson®™ about her new movie instead.

Like me, you probably get more and more of your daily information from facebook®© — more than you'd like to admit — from people you've only met online. Many share their view of the world, their particular opinions on it; most are supportive; some post inspirational posters, for coping with life. It's a strange meta-filter, because you don't know what — or who — you think you know. You take it on faith that what you're reading is what really is, and you try to assemble a puzzle from these pieces.

I get more and more confused, trying to figure out my country from what I know, what I aggregate. I try to reconcile National Public Radio©®, playing behind me as I write, with the newspaper I'll peruse in an hour, with more facebook®™ trying to sift truth from entertainment.

I wonder if the confusion keeps me — keeps us — from caring, keeps us from knowing, keeps the money in power, keeps freedom slavery. We seem to be going backward from that ideal state.

Or perhaps it's always seemed so. My country has gone through tremendous turmoil, most of which, of course, I have missed. Maybe the scale of our turmoil today pales in the face of what's come before.

Maybe my country is like a curveball, which arcs surprisingly through the air in the incessant battle for balance, high pressure below the spinning ball seeking roomy low pressure above. Maybe we're in the high pressure of this backward shift, and that enlightenment and reason will return.

It wasn't until our daughter Mo arrived in Ireland earlier this week and contacted us — our family astronaut, reporting back from the moon's surface — that I realized, like it or not, she was representing her country.

I wonder what her Irish hosts think of her country, of what goes on here. I wonder what she'll tell them.

Sally Fourth.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

It rhymes with June

It's my fault. I caused this.

Just three weeks ago, I may have said aloud — all right, I did say it, but in a muttering, hope-no-one-hears-me kind of way — that the San Francisco Giants were getting kind of … boring. They were winning every game so handily, nary a fight from opponents, that they were starting to lose their entertainment value.

I might have snorted audibly (no one was in the car with me) when the guy on the call-in radio show after a game said the Giants were good but still needed a better-hitting second baseman and more power hitting off the bench, and ought to make a deal RIGHT NOW!

What the heck for? I said to myself post-snort.

Three weeks ago — June 8 — the Giants sat high atop the National League West Division, 9 1/2 games ahead of the Dodgers. The radio snigger was that Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly was at risk of losing his job (a Yankee turned Dodger, so doubly black-hearted and hated), and that LA was in disarray, a bunch of individuals impersonating a team.

Then in San Francisco, something broke.
Like a cyanide capsule in clenched teeth.

The same team suddenly produced different results. Different saddening, maddening, aggravatingly familiar results. In three weeks, the Giants of 2014 became the mediocre Giants of 2013 — with a couple of dodgy new plug-ins.

Giants starters kept on pitching well — the dodgiest of them all, Tim Lincecum, even pitched a no-hitter, his second, joining the great Sandy Koufax as the only pitchers in Major League history to have at least two World Series rings, two Cy Young awards and two no-hitters.

Lincecum's no-hitter, though, was the only Giants win in the last seven games, one of only 10 wins amid 16 losses for June.

They had gone 19 wins and just nine losses in May. Was it something I said?

The starting pitching was good then and now, but the hitting and fielding and relief pitching has gone all déjà vu on us.

Now all the promotional commercials, of winning moments and ridiculous home runs and key strikeouts, feel like raw taunts from bygone times.

The Giants finished June in a tie for first with the … Dodgers. At least they're still in first — in the same way that a stone floats on water the nanosecond after you drop it from your hand.

Three weeks ago, I didn't think I'd have to trot out this illustration, which I had thrown high in the garage rafters, atop the box of Santa's Village figurines we never use. Not this early, anyway.

But here we go again.

June Swoon is sort of a tradition with the Giants — I don't know about other teams. The team had an almost identical record last June, but it was hobbling by then and never quite recovered. Something about that month turns momentum into so much steam and sunflower seed shells, and sometimes seals the team's fate.

Optimists are pointing to the fact that the Giants "banked" a bunch of wins before June swooning this year, so they're in better shape.

We'll see.

The second half of the season begins today, Giants hosting the Cardinals. Tough team. Nothing's easy. Maybe center fielder Angel Pagan will be back after hurting is back. Maybe first baseman Brandon Belt will be back sooner than expected after breaking his thumb. Maybe the team will remember how they did it in May.

If it gets any worse, though, I may have to start watching World Cup.


I can't say the Giants are boring anymore. Even if I could, I wouldn't.