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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sorry, Had To Share

Who says you can't grow tomatoes in San Francisco?

Sure. We don't have the best weather for it, but some of us are lucky enough to have a little bit of sunlight, even when the rest of the city is cold and damp with fog. We're also lucky we ended up with neighbors who've allowed us, for the last 7 years, to take over a majority of the deck that's shared between us with plants.

These babies are Early Girl tomatoes, which do better than most tomato varieties in cool weather and short seasons. I've tasted a few and, boy!, are they sweet!

Oh, and just the smell of the tomato plant that attaches to every part of the plant you touch. Why, I could just eat the leaves, stems, and all!

Only I would be dead (or at least very sick).

Still, I probably could buy those nasty bland ones you find so often for sale and run my hands through the plant while eating one. It may just help.

Hey Cookiecrumb! If you need advice on growing tomatoes, I'll be happy to jot down some tips for you! (Oooo! BURN!)

When tomatoes are this good, there is only one thing to do:

This year is my first year growing edibles, and I've done amazingly better than I first thought. I'm especially pleased with the jalapeno peppers.

I've already thought about what other peppers I could grow next year. Only, I'm not really sure what to do with all of the ones from this year, yet! One thing's for sure, if I don't end up giving them away, someone's going to be yelling "fire in the hole!" for the next several months.

(And that, ladies and germs, is what we call "Classic" scatalogical humor.)

Besides the tomatoes and peppers, I've also been pretty successful with rosemary, sage, marjoram, oregano, (somewhat ok with) basil, and...


Some of which I've dried and infused with salt. The rest, I'm not sure what to do with yet, though I'm certain I can figure something out.

Bruce planted some Bergamot, though I think only for the visual aspect, not the herbal or tea one.

Oh, and what are those other plants, you ask?

Well, what serious Bacon Press carnivore would be complete without just a few carnivorous plants?

Welcome to MY GARDEN!

The weather where we live has been especially kind to Sarracenia, Drosera, Dionea, and Darlingtonia californica (which we killed last year, oops!).

These lovely savages get plenty to eat on their own. In fact, it's a little creepy to walk by them around dusk to hear "buzzz, buzzz, buzzz!"

Translation: "help me, help me, help me!"

I'm not kidding when I say this but, yes, I have actually, mercifully, rescued a fly once or twice, simply because I felt sorry for it.

But like I said, these plants are voracious eaters. If they could try out for the IFOCE, it would be a slaughter of competitive eaters.

These carnivores are citified, and unlike their country cousins, they dine at the most exclusive places. One day they could be dining on a fly who just ate at Jack Falstaff; the other they could be eating from Bacar.

Indian food, Thai, American, Italian, and now, even upscale Vietnamese: our plants are the true gourmands in our household.

Frankly, I'm just a little bit jealous.

Oh, well.


PS: I've come across some new websites that I have to share.

1. Foxy Librarian
Not really food related, but who cares! I'm always down with librarians, and they've helped your's truly more than once with food-related questions pertaining to posts written for my blog(s). Besides, this blog is just, frickin', cool! The lawn darts entry had ME ROOLLLING!

2. Ambien recipes from the New Yorker
This link may not last long, so click it wit a quickness. My friend Seth sent this to me, and now I know why. Everything you wanted or had to know about cooking with Ambien, including a Vietnamese dish that utilizes beef jerky and Gatorade!

Say no more: you had me at "hello"!

3. Fallen Fruit
Larrybob sent me this one, although I had heard of it previously on Evan Kleiman's radio show. These folks are awesome! Now THIS is urban foraging. And who knew L.A. was so abundant in anything other than sillicone, celluloid, and celebrity murderers?

LA...your stock is rising.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Stand and Deliver

It's cold and grey in the downtown today and I'm drinking hot coffee to warm up a little. The outer edges of my ears are cold, as is the tip of my nose.

Welcome to Summer in San Francisco.

You wouldn't know it now, but last weekend it was hotter than 10 rednecks in a Volkswagen. Hot for San Francisco is anything above 85. However, for the rest of California, 85 would've been a welcomed cool-down.

I know, because last weekend, for some reason or another, Bruce and I decided to venture outside of our naturally cooler environment to check out the whole Harvest Time in Brentwood thing.

You should know that there are two towns in California called Brentwood. One Brentwood - the Southern California Brentwood - is the scene of a very famous murder. The other Brentwood – the Northern California Brentwood – is the scene of murderously good produce and Bing cherries.

Our Brentwood is a small town 55 miles east of San Francisco that historically was, and to a much lesser degree still is, a community of farmers and ranchers. Harvest Time in Brentwood is marketing strategy conceived over 30 years ago by the local farmers and town boosters to bring people to the farms to purchase produce directly from the farmers. Often this means that you can come and pick your own produce, and many farms/orchards advertise themselves as "U-Pick".

We learned of the Harvest Time in Brentwood thing last year, accidentally. After a visit up to Mount Diablo, we decided to keep driving east, to see where we ended up. Thus, we arrived, eventually, in Brentwood. After noticing the numerous orchards and produce stands, some of which had signs saying "Harvest Time Member", I decided to do a little internet research when we got back home. "Whoa! How cool," I thought after finding the Harvest Time website. It was then that I made plans to someday check it out.

That "someday" came eventually last Saturday when we borrowed a car with air-conditioning from a friend and made plans for a Brentwood day trip. When we left the city, everything was as it was – cool and breezy. By the time we got into Brentwood, specifically the El Gallito Drive In for a bite to eat, it was like walking into a furnace.

Rarely do I have the sensation of wilting like a flower under the high heat of the sun, but out of the microclimate of our air-conditioned car, I felt every drop of moisture squeezed from my pours and evaporate from my body. This was around noon.

And I wasn't expecting heat like this. Had I used my brain and did a little more research, I would've learned that it's normal for the temperature in Brentwood to be above 100 degrees at this time of year. That day it had reached 108F.

Tomatoes love this kind of heat

After a fine lunch at El Gallito, we headed towards our first farm/produce stand.

However, before I go any further, I think it's important to jump to the chase here and share with you my tips for a successful and fun trip to Brentwood for Harvest Time.

BACON PRESS'S TEN "Harvest Time in Brentwood" TIPS (plus 1)

1. Bring a map.
The Harvest Time website has one in PDF that you can print out. However, you want the real, folding, hard copy map, so ask them to mail one to you. We picked up a free one at the Smith Family Farm stand.

2. Disregard most of the map.
For some reason or other, the Harvest Time map is wildly inaccurate in that many businesses no longer exist (or at least appeared that way). Along those lines, the map doesn't indicate which ones are closed for the season – or for good. Further, some operating produce stands aren't on the map, such as the one at the corner of Walnut and Marsh Creek Road, opposite from The Farmer's Daughter stand. If you're really concerned that a place you're interested in might not be around any longer or closed for the season, call first.

3. Go early.
Farmworkers usually start their day around 4 or 5 in the morning. You might want to sleep in a little, but you should plan to arrive in the town around 8 or 9. Most places are closed by 2:30 or 3 PM. Plus, if you decide to pick your own, take a practical, common sense lesson from the farmworkers – you won't see them out in the orchards after 10 AM.

4. Eat when you get there.
Patronize local Mom and Pop restaurants. In this case, El Gallito is a good choice. Unfortunately, much of Brentwood has devolved into a soul-crushing, characterless, subdivision, box store, chain hell (I should be careful – those are the only places people like me can afford to buy now). However, El Gallito is precisely the part of Brentwood that gastronomists and "counter" revolutionaries like us seek out.

Brentwood? Or just another generic town?

5. Buy things on a whim.
You've made the trip to buy produce direct from the farmer, so plan on spending money on things you aren't sure what you'll do with and worry about it later. We kicked ourselves really hard when we passed up a huge box of tomatoes for $7, thinking we would see similar deals at other stands. We didn't, and we also had no idea that we were at one of the best stands. That's a lot of homemade canned tomato sauce we'll never see.

6. Know what's for sale.
The map is very helpful for this and I'll elaborate on each farm stand later. But what you should know at this moment (as of late July): berries are still in season and prevalent, as is stone fruit and cherries.

7. Think Seasonally.
Like I mentioned above, berries and stone fruit are in season now. Not all places listed as "U-Pick" are pickable during certain times of the year, even though they are open for business.

8. Don't look for organic.
We saw one stand that sold organic produce. The rest, I assume, were conventionally-grown or non-certified. Perhaps we didn't look hard enough or failed to ask the right questions, but only one place, Lon's Farm Stand, actually had "organically grown" on their sign.

9. Don't look for deals.
Though deals are to be had, many of the prices across the spectrum of stands we stopped at reflect standard supermarket prices. For example, corn at most stands were sold 3 ears/$1. Some were 4 ears/$1. At Whole Foods, at the corner of Harrison and 4th in San Francisco, conventionally-grown corn is for sale (not "on sale") for 4 ears/$1. Still, who would you rather buy from? Personally, I prefer buying straight from the source. And in the not-so-big scheme of things, $1 for 4 ears of corn is cheap.

10. Beware of non-locally grown produce.
I didn't see obvious violators of this rule, though I had to wonder some times. It's best to ask if you're unsure or concerned. I know whenever we visit the Central Valley roadside produce stands around Manteca, Escalon, Riverbank and Modesto, I often see bananas, mangos, and tomatoes out-of-season. Even fruit and produce grown in season, and obviously not from tropical environments, can seem suspect about whether they are actually locally-grown or fell off a truck from Mexico (or worse, Southern California….I kid). I don't know the reason for this type of situation, but if any of you do, I'd appreciate finding out.

Plus 1. Burst into spontaneous song.
After a visit to the Smith Family farm, back in the air-conditioned car and giddy from the heat, living in the moment, I suddenly burst into a rapturous round of Hee Haw-inspired song.

"Harrrvest tyyme in Brentwood
Sangin' blah, blah, blah, bluh-blah
Harrrvest tyyme in Brentwood
Sangin' blah, blah, blah, bluh-blah
Harrrvest tyyme in Brentwood
Harrrvest tyyme in Brentwood
Harrrvest tyyme in Brentwood all day law-wong"

Now, you may be more of a "diamond in the back, a sunroof top, diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean" type, or even of the "on s'fait des langues, en Ford Mustang" persuasion, and if so, go with what makes you happy whilst living in the moment.

Our first stop after eating at El Gallito was the Smith Family Farm.

This place, like the place after it, was certainly off the beaten trail and far from any housing developments. This was also the place we found a good deal on tomatoes, and other things as well. There were a variety of mostly vegetables and some fruit, ranging from eggplants, summer squash, red onions, cantaloupe, "Anannas" melons (I believe this is the same as a Persian melon), and garlic.

I liked the open feel of this place as it felt, in hindsight, like the most user-friendly of all of the places. I think it also had the most outgoing and nicest people working there (with the exception of Lon's).

The second best stand we found in Brentwood was called Dwelley Farms, which seemed to be the biggest competitor of Smith Family Farm. It's prices were about 50 cents cheaper. This stand was in an old barn and, like the SFF, was really user and people friendly. As we were there, one or two farmworkers were still bringing in and restocking produce.

Dwelley Farms had an impressive variety of fruits and vegetables I rarely see for sale, such as yellow zucchini (as well as the standard yellow crooked neck squash), really thin and small green beans, lemon cucumber, and blackberries (which were pricey).

We left with several purchases, including those green beans and zucchini, and headed towards more farms on the map. Only, they weren't there. Numbers 11, 40, 31, and 28 were nowhere to be seen. Instead, we were mildly entertained by someone's front lawn sculpture garden.

Next we headed down to the farms/orchards south of Balfour Road, the majority of which sell peaches and cherries. Again, no Numbers 5, 26 (closed)19 (misplaced on the map), 32, 23,17, 24, 22, 3, 9, 37, 25, 4, 20, 39 (all either closed or nowhere to be found).

However, we did find Number 7!

So we stopped by Tachella Family Farms, which is definitely the most dressed up place we stopped at (although we didn't stop at the Farmer's Daughter, since that place just looked too...hmmm...how should I say...too much overhead?). Tachella came complete with grocery style cold case displays and fancy-schmancy tiling on their counters. It was a little too dressed up (they even had an ATM machine) for my vision of a produce stand, but then, that's probably what the masses want.

This mass did buy a pretty nice, cheap, and delicious half box of strawberries (3 containers) for $4.50, with cash. I don't want to come down hard on the Tachellas for trying to make things nice and earn a profit. Considering they're competing with ruthless, corporate grocery chains, I respect the fact that they've tried to go a little beyond being a wooden shack on the side of the road.

However, I like those funky wooden shacks.

Funky shacks like this one, TK's Best Produce, which wasn't listed on the map.

At TK's, I bought some cucumbers while Bruce bought a canary melon. Despite it's ramshackle appearance, prices here were comparable to most of the other stands we had visited. This place was also pretty busy, probably from being off of Walnut and in the main farm stand district.

After TK's, we headed off in what would be a futile search for Number 39, Olio Bello d'Olivo, which we figured would have some type of storefront or business presence. After passing it twice and ending up way out in the boonies, we gave up figuring that those olive trees we could see from the road must be part of someone else's farm.

We eventually stumbled upon Lon's Farm Fresh Produce stand on the border between Byron and Brentwood, which was the only stand that advertised itself as "organically-grown". There was only one person working there and he was sweating up a storm. By this time of day, it was wicked hot and the bucket of sunflowers standing in water beside him were sadly wilted and drooping over. Most of the cut leafy greens were also wilted from the heat.

Nevertheless, the guy at Lon's was super nice and didn't seem to mind standing for so long in the heat. We probably should've tried to get use to it as well, since jumping in and out of a cold car into the outside heat eventually made us tired and gave Bruce a migraine.

We asked him where the olive oil place was and he pointed to the olive trees we had passed, although he knew nothing of it being a place for people on the "Harvest Time in Brentwood" tour to just drop in. Later, after reinspecting the listing on the map, it did say to call for a "tasting appointment". Still, this is kind of lame. Why even list yourself on the map if folks just can't drop by?

Anyway, I ended up buying a huge, organic beefsteak tomato, and had I known we were out of eggs at home, I would've bought some of the farm fresh ones for sale at Lon's.

Basil growing next to Lon's stand

After a few more stops (nothing special), we concluded our harvest time in Brentwood and made our way home, back to the cool city by the bay and out of that damn heat!

We'll definitely be back, and hopefully some of the places that were close will be open. If you go, good luck – and I hope my tips will be of some help.

If not, you can break out into song anyway.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Spectacular Clearance Sale!

(Static, then a loud popping sound)


(clears throat)Uh, is this thing on?...

Uhhhttention BP shoppers.

Attention BP shoppers...

On aisle 5, now through Friday, we are having a blowout clearance sale on toothpaste, charitable events, and Janet Jackson's latest single.

Please proceed to aisle 5 where a BP associate will assist you with your latest food bloggerfic chari-tainment*, as featured in last Sunday's Reader's Digestion and Ladies Homefries Journal.

*This is an in-store promotion only. Tax, shipping, and batteries not included. Void where prohibited. All purchases are subject to various state rules, taxes, and regulation. Only one coupon per customer per purchase. Non-transferable. Toothpaste and Janet Jackson single may cause stomach bleeding, cramping, vomiting, nausea, anal leakage, bloating, headaches, and feelings of vertigo. Not recommended for children, senior citizens, pregnant women, or person with a history of heart problems. Please consult your doctor before trying BP brand products.

This sale will not last much longer, so hurry now, noW, nOW, NOW! for the best deals. For quick service, please proceed to the checkout counter where a cashier is ready to assist you with your purchase.

Thannnk you for shopping at BP! Please come again soon.

Is this thing off? Jesus, I need a new job!


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Mike O'Neill: RIP

I lived with Mike and Karen and the dogs for several months back in 1992 (or 3?). Until then, I never knew anyone who smoked 3 packs a day.

Our morning routine usually involved waking up late (I think they had cigarettes poised in their mouths and lighters in their hands when they woke up), drinking coffee, playing Tetris, and later eating some of "the shit" - an eggplant stir-fry dish/grub.

For some unknown reason, out of the blue, I thought about Mike the other day - about him washing dishes at Pizza and Subs during Guavaween, while him, Chuck, and I were dosing on acid....and freaking out accordingly. He was just working that night for the extra money, and we were getting our asses kicked. But amidst all of the chaos, noise, flying dishes and pizza sauce, it was great to have him there.

Mike wasn't great to hang around - he was great to be around. He was someone I knew I could speak honestly to, someone who could listen, and someone intelligent enough to know when saying nothing was the best thing to say.

I've heard and read some things in the last day or so about Mike not being in a very stable place, you know, mentally and emotionally. But that's not the Mike I remember.

The Mike I remember is the Mike I will always remember, and never forget - the Mike that still occupies a chaotic, smoke-filled, psychedelic pizza, and yes, happy corner in my every-other-day thoughts.


Mike's Obituary

Mike's My Space site (from which the above post was censored)

See below:

Jul 23, 2006 7:56 AM

I loved yer story...

...I felt I had to delete it because Mike's nieces and family visit the site everyday and didn't think they would appreciate the drug references. That's just not cool. You described him to a tee. I used to smoke a pack of cigs seconhand during the five years I played with him cramped in the back bedroom on Mulberry with windows shut because of the noise. Hee hee.

Please post something else.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My Life To Go

Technically, 14 years old is the minimum age one can begin earning and claiming wages in the United States. In most states, a work certificate must be acquired in order for a person under the age of 18 to work and his/her hours must be limited to a maximum per day and week.

I started working at the age of 15, which I believe was the minimum at that time, with the exception of working on your family's farm, and then it was 14. Of course, I had been getting paid to cut the neighbors yard years before I had my first interview and landed my first real paying job, so it wasn't like I was just sitting around. Still, nothing would prepare me for just how bad the real working world was.

My first job was at Captain D's, a fast food seafood chain similar to Long John Silver's, but mostly based in the American South. I'm not sure why I picked that particular place to work, though I'm sure it had something to do with fast food restaurants being the easiest, most prevalent places for working-class youths with no skills to find work. Since my Dad was a watch and jewelry repairman and my Mom a secretary at a stock brokerage, I couldn't exactly find an entry-level position where they worked.

So, full of excitement at joining the work force, partially due to encouragement from my parents to find work, I interviewed and got the job. Being young and naïve and not as quick in the mental department, I would say, were my best selling points. That, and the fact that I didn't have to feed a family making minimum wage, which at that time was around $3.35 an hour (a full-timer, after taxes, couldn't even crack $100 a week).

In other words, I was the perfect candidate for Captain D's.

My manager was this grossly overweight white guy who presided like Boss Hogg over his crew of predominantly young, black kids. Until then, I had never met another human being who so utterly disgusted every single ounce of my body and soul. He was a fat, repulsive, loathsome, lazy, pig-dog who would drool from the sides of his mouth while barking petty commands and pulling young women workers onto his filthy lap.

God! The sexual harassment suits that could've (should've) been filed.

Needless to say, I enjoyed my working hours more whenever he wasn't around. Work consisted of restocking supplies and helping clean up in the kitchen. The work hours weren't long, but they were monotonous enough to have planted the first seeds of disenchantment with the "real world" of working in my head.

The working conditions in the kitchen were archaic and dangerous. Amidst huge vats of oil hot enough to deep fry a piece of fish in a matter of seconds, young cooks crowded into a kitchen that was so small it required one to get intimate with his co-worker every time one needed to move around. Between squeezing by your co-workers, who were cranking out fried fish and hushpuppies as quickly as possible, you had to take care not to touch any of the hot vats that lined both sides of the kitchen.

Of course, accidents will happen, especially in conditions where the bottom line demands placing workers (especially young ones) in the conditions that I've mentioned above. At a certain point, so-called accidents cease being accidents and just become inevitable crimes of negligence.

My "accident" happened one night when restocking supplies in the kitchen. While standing next to a vat, the guy standing behind me turned around and reached for a metal water pitcher that was placed precariously on a shelf above me. He goofed, it fell into the vat, and hot oil splashed out, covering my exposed arm from just below the short-sleeve of my work shirt to the tips of my fingers.

Second-degree blisters spotted my arm in a matter of minutes. At that point, it was decided in my best interests to give me the rest of the night off. So thoughtful, don't you think?

Later, when my Dad picked me up, I told him what had happened and he told me that I didn't have to go back if I didn't want to; I could quit. In hindsight, this seemed like a rather insufficient response. That fact is, the working conditions at Captain D's were as such that if something like that didn’t happen to me, it was bound to happen to someone else. Perhaps it had, and perhaps it still does.

So, it was back to mowing yards for a little while longer. During this time, I was into skateboarding and hanging out with my friends at Dog's house. Dog's real name was Eric but, when he was a kid, he was bitten by a dog and his white trash family thought he had contracted rabies. From then on, he was simply "Dog", except for when his mother needed him to buy cigarettes or do something for his little sister, and then it was "Errrric!"

The whole family smoked and dealt weed; from the brain-dead father, the lazy mother who never left the couch, the older brother, and even the skanky, not-pregnant-yet little sister. The room Dog shared with his brother Mike was like a little pot dispensary where various guys would come and go, and where we would smoke a couple of leftover roaches while Dog attempted to play bass guitar along with Metallica's "Master of Puppets" blaring from the stereo.

"Errric! Can you turn it down? I can't hear the TV!"

Along with hanging out with Dog, there was also Patches, whose real name was something like "James Arthur Something III", but who became known to his family as Patches when his mama nicknamed him after the hit song by Clarence Carter. Patches' family were the real deal hillbillies, with lots of young'ns living in the house, all screaming for their older brother "Pay-chees!"

Around this point I turned 16, had an old car that my Dad gave up (he began to take the bus to work), and started working at Little Caesars Pizza (LCP), which was considered a cool job at the time. It was a lot safer than working at Captain D's, that's for sure.

Unlike Captain D's, the teenage and adult management and staff at Little Caesars were all white, better paid, and working in less dangerous conditions. Being white, born and raised in the South, one doesn't immediately recognize these differences and assumes this is just how the world works. It didn't dawn on me that fast food work (like many jobs) may have been segregated and that the most dangerous job I had worked (though only for a short while) was the one that had an almost all-black workforce.

The work at Little Caesars was pretty relaxed and easy. You clocked in, you clocked out. You wear your uniform (mine went unwashed for days). You keep the district supervisors and the franchise owners (who popped in occasionally) happy, and that was it. Eventually I was opening and closing the store. I made dough in the morning (no school days, of course). I washed dishes in the afternoon. I did the books and deposits at night.

Working at Little Caesars was something I could brag about to my friends, and in fact, eventually Dog and Patches came to work there with me. They brought in their other friends and eventually everyone not only worked together, but also hung out together. So many people I knew filtered through that place.

Of course, despite being an outstanding worker, I was fired from Little Caesars by the district supervisor for being absent 3 days in a row. Despite begging for my job, she fired me because she could, and because a teenage workforce is expendable.

Around this time I went to work at McDonalds because two of my girl friends (one of whom was dating the manager) were already working there. Also, by this time I was making car payments on another used car, so I couldn't afford to be without work.

This particular McDonalds was more racially mixed, though it still was a step down from LCP. Unlike Captain D's, all races and genders were equally shat on. Like LCP, there was the obligatory uniform. Unlike LCP, you had to sit through a stupid training video that attempted to beat into your brain a corporate McDonalds monoculture.

It was such an eye opening experience. Is this the same McDonalds I fondly remembered as a child, whose Pop (grandfather) would take on a Saturday morning and buy him an Egg McMuffin? Is this the same McDonalds that from my earliest memories had played some part in my own personal history?

The memories of my Mom and I having conversations while waiting to pick up our food in the drive thru; the memory of my Grandmaw (who couldn't drive) and I moving uncontrollably backwards downhill towards a busy intersection because Pop had forgotten to put the car in park while he dashed inside to pick up our food (we were saved by a parking block); the memory of learning how to use chopsticks from a Chinese Chicken McNuggets promotion; and the memory of singing "if you want my body and you think I'm sexy" to all of my giggling friends while I stood on a chair in the middle of McDonalds' lobby; all of these memories, McDonalds memories.

I even have a prom photo taken in, where else, a McDonalds parking lot.

That special day

When I started working there, it was as if the wool had been pulled from my eyes. The first thing I noticed was the food. Everything was frozen and came delivered on large pallets. The burgers were cooked a dozen at a time on something that resembled a large steam press, with hot plates on both sides. The amount of salt we poured over the already salty burgers was a joke. I learned from one of the other workers that, as a customer, the secret to getting a freshly made burger was to ask for something to be left off (like mayo) or added (like cheese). Otherwise, all burgers were manufactured uniformly, waiting for you to purchase them. Burgers that sat too long were tossed.

Although we threw away an obscene amount of food every 20 minutes or so, we had to pay for our own meals (though, at an insignificant discount). We weren't even trusted to make our meals ourselves. It was humiliating to go on lunch break and have to reach into your pockets to pay the person you were just standing next to 5 minutes earlier. Often times, after digging into my pockets, I found out that I didn't even have enough cash to pay for my meal. The fact that McDonalds was this huge corporation that was too greedy to feed its own workers wasn't lost on me, then or now.

I began sneaking food every chance I got. When no one was looking, I would walk over to the Chicken McNugget station, open the drawer they were kept hot in, and pop as many in my mouth as I could get away with. If I could've stolen something, anything, more, I wouldn't have hesitated. I remember often standing over a trashcan at the end of the night taking bites out of burgers, McNuggets, chicken sandwiches, or whatever else as I was throwing them away.

In fact, I think this is how Sonia "Black Widow" Thomas got her start in competitive eating.

After a month of the McJob, I felt completely demoralized. I was so desperate to get out, I went back to LCP and asked for my job back. Shortly after, my McCareer was finally McOver.

That experience didn't end my McDonalds eating experience, though it certainly put a huge dent in it. Now, finally, I refuse to step into one, despite the disturbing urge I get every time I walk past one. Like an addiction, the urge to spontaneously stop into a McDonalds for a Big Mac can sometimes seem absurdly strong, but like they say in AA, "one is too many, and a thousand is never enough".

Back at Little Caesars, demoralized from my previous experiences at Captain D's, my first time at LCP, and after McDonalds, after a huge build up in disappointment in the work world and riding low in the teenage angst/"no future" phase, I pretty much didn't give a shit about anything except getting high, getting paid, getting out of high school, and getting the fuck out of that town.

Fortunately I wasn't alone in the Life's Disappointments camp at LCP. First, besides Dog and Patches, both of whom were born into disappointment, there was my manager, Melinda, who found out her Dad was gay late one night when his best friend called her to come pick him (the Dad) up because he was drunk and hitting on him (the best friend) and wasn't taking "no" for an answer.

Then there was the assistant manager Cindy, who was obviously gay, but in the closet (this is North Carolina, after all) and whose parents, I later learned from a friend who was her neighbor, had sent her to numerous doctors and hospitals to try to "cure" her. Rumor had it that she was even subjected to electro-shock therapy. Thank God gayness can't be cured, because Cindy was the coolest, butch, countrified lesbian you could ever hope to meet.


There was also Faron, a diminutive, doughy, nebbishy looking man in his late 30s who had shot and killed (in self-defense) his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend who had tried to kill him in the front yard of his trailer home. For a murderer, he generally was pretty nice guy, a hard worker, and occasionally had a few profound words to add to the conversations we'd have over rolling dough or mopping floors.

There was Scott, a bi-polar freakazoid who eventually became a merchant marine, and Kelly, another bi-polar freakazoid who he knocked up, to the unfortunate surprise of her lower middle class parents.

There was the other Kelly, who was the one of the nicest people you could meet. It was sad then to know that she had severe psychological problems that caused her to compulsively twist out her hair, so that she had to be prescribed lithium and wear a wig.

Also working there for a short time was a guy who was a veteran of the invasion of Grenada, who delighted in telling me how great it was to kill the people he killed and how he absolutely had no regrets and how much he missed it. Standing before me then was the second human being I had met who, like the manager of Captain D's, disgusted me to the core of my being. I assume he moved on after Little Caesars and is at this moment happily massacring whole villages in a developing country somewhere. It would please me to no end to learn of his slow and painful death at the hands of an angry village mob.

But other than the random drifter, it was just us teens and young adults running the show...and most of us were on drugs of one sort or the other. If folks weren't coming into work high, we certainly were getting stoned out back. After the store closed, we usually sparked one up (which often made counting money a chore). I also have a fond memory of doing LSD and using the cold, stark darkness inside of the walk-in cooler to facilitate the seeing of colors and moving octagonal shapes.

We always made and took home as much pizza as we wanted. Nothing was off limits. In fact, probably inspired by either the munchies or a hangover, someone created a "secret menu" Little Caesars pizza that was a BLT pizza. Most mornings at the store were pretty dead, and it became the custom for a little while to make a BLT pizza for breakfast.

This involved taking a plain, unsauced pizza, laying on plenty of cheese and bacon and sending it through the oven. When it came out, we would cover it with thin layer of mayonnaise, top it with shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes, and slice.


I don’t' believe I ate anything else but LCP pizzas, "crazy bread", sandwiches and salads during those years. Frankly, I can't remember what I ate when I wasn't eating at work.

Eventually, I graduated high school and started working full-time. I desperately wanted to get on with my life and, to me, that meant leaving town. I had my sights on Los Angeles, but I was terrified of big cities, and for good reason. Though I had driven down to Atlanta occasionally for punk shows, and even slept in the backseat of my Volkswagen after shows there, I still had no idea of what life (or people) was like in a town that had more than the 50,000 people mine had.

God! I loved that car.

It happened that, at the time, there was a guy named Paul working there who was from Florida and not happy with life in Asheville. He wanted to move back, but needed a way to get there. It was decided then that I would go with him (from here it's a long story, but I eventually ended up, by myself, in Tampa) and I would drive.

Here is where I learned one of many of life's lessons: Be careful whom you confide in, most especially those you work with.

At that point, we had a new store manager, Mark, who, though a doofus and sleazebag, tried to be cool with those of us who had been working there 3 years or more. After a while, I mistakenly became convinced that although he was a "manager", he wasn't of the management, if only because he was such a maladroit dumbass.

Big mistake.

I had decided that as my final coup de gras and final fuck you for that incident where I was fired a year or so before that I would leave Little Caesars high and dry, with no warning whatsoever. Foolishly, the day before I would quit, during a bit of small talk while making pizzas, I casually let it slip to Mark what I was planning to do.

Me, at this time (and acting silly), right before I moved to Florida

He freaked out, told all of my co-workers, and started calling people to see if they could cover my shift. My co-workers, some of who were my friends, were pissed and wouldn't speak to me the rest of the day (ok, and for good reason). I felt like a complete idiot and screw-up.

Had I not let it slip, the pressure would've fell on Mark and the management to cover me, since an employee had an easier chance of getting off the hook. That was my plan all along, but my loose lips sank my ship.

Thus my life in fast food ended as it began.


My life in food service continued for a short time after that, but by the time I came to California (other than working for a few months for a cookie caterer) it was over for good. Since then, I haven't seen nor come close to touching a commercial dough mixer, oven, fryer or slicer and for that I am eternally grateful.

In fact, I'm lovin' it.


Monday, July 10, 2006

Patriotic Road Trip - Part 2

Last you read, we two patriotic Americans were fleeing the pagan-heathen, un-patriotic, stench-den of unwashed, drug-addled, nappy-headed, tie-dyed, fucking granola-eatin’ hippy outpost that is commonly known as Bolinas in our Patriot Wagon – the car.

Nothing these days comes close to being more patriotic than your neighbor than guzzling a few gallon of gas on or near the 4th of July to really show your pride in America and all that she stands for. You could dress yourself in gingham, light your ass on fire, and parade yourself around town and still not come a-North-Korean-dictators'-tiny-dick close to my patriotism, fella.

Because when my county puts out the call, I answer with a rrrresounding turn of the ignition key! Va-va-varroom!

Of course, there are those among us who are of weak moral fiber and dubious parentage who "prefer" to stay at home or "walk" to wherever they're going. Worse are those extremists who demand to bicycle or take the insidiously benevolent-sounding "public transportation" anywhere they damn well please.

Excuse me, but I can't feed my kids on "foot power"!

They call, this, this thing they are doing “sustainable”. Lemme tell you: I’d rather lick the sweat from the ass cracks of Fidel, Osama, and Kim Jong Il than take a fucking sustainable walk over to Jacks Market to pick up my lotto ticket and bag of Cool Ranch Doritos!

Nevertheless, our drive was quite lovely once we left Bolinas and headed towards our destination: The Point Reyes Lighthouse.

Before we arrived, we happened to stop in the larger, and slightly less hippyfied, town of Point Reyes Station.

I don’t know if it’s my imagination or not, but in the last few years it seems as though the town has become more busy (read: touristy), with more operating storefronts. And I don’t know if it's the success of Cowgirl Creamery (whose headquarters and cheesemaking facility is located in the downtown) or what, but there are a lot more cutesy cow images on signs and places of business with the word “cow” or “cowboy” in their name.

My sister-in-law, Karen, was into the cow motif once when she was decorating her kitchen in her country-style home. But that was many, many years ago. In fact, cows haven’t been the new black since Garth Brooks sang country.

We stopped by Cowgirl Creamery because, if anything, I loves me a good factory tour. Unfortunately it was more store than factory, but you could see one lonely worker shuffling between the large, sterile, empty cheese making equipment and a few racks of freshly made cheese.

The store part was pretty crowded with people milling about and, in particular, a preppy gay male couple (sweater queens) who seemed to stare intently on the cheese selection as though they were watching a foreign language movie.

"Damn, Mary", I thought, "if you love it so much, why don't you marry it?" Oops! Can't do that either!

We also joined in the cheese gawking, but eventually decided that nothing immediately struck our fancy, well except for the 4-ounce jar of preserves that cost 15 dollars. Oh, and the Cowgirl Creamery aprons, t-shirts, and hats that cost a grotesquely great deal more.

One would reasonably think that by visiting the actual factory/store where the product is produced, thereby cutting out the transportation and middleman costs, that one would actually be able to get a better deal on one's Mt. Tam or Red Hawk*, especially considering that such a small percentage of goods for sale there are actually produced by Cowgirl and that the source of the sales revenue likely comes from the deli or the sale of other cheeses and goods.

However, one's frugal ass would be wrong.

*To purchase the same cheese online would cost you $30/12-ounces, not including next-day shipping (figure in another $30), as opposed to the retail price of $21/16-ounces – though you would get a pretty worthless “Cowgirl Creamery” box to keep.

It is no wonder the “elitist” argument directed towards the Slow Food movement keeps rearing its ugly head.

A long time ago, when selling records at a record swap, I learned rather quickly that when selling anything, you charge what you think people will pay*, not what you think or know it's worth, unless doing so would cause you to lose money. Often, the more ludicrous I got with raising the price, the more people were interested in buying what I was selling. Honestly, I felt a little dirty.

However, $300 accrued in the matter of minutes can do a lot for one's sense of shame.

*Hate to be the cynic here, but it seems to me that the whole ethical food market (i.e., labels such as "locally-grown", "organic", "natural", "cage-free", "free range", "artisan", "heritage", etc.) is vulnerable to this type of exploitation...er, uh, I mean capitalism.

Speaking of shame, it was a shame we filled our bellies up back in Bolinas, because the Pinecone Diner across the street from Cowgirl Creamery looked awesome! I peeked my head in and immediately saw a fully tattooed waitress, a cop sitting with other locals at the counter, and a hodge-podge of humanity sitting in old school diner booths. The place smelled of coffee and diner food and unfortunately I didn't get a chance to look at a menu before I stepped into the dusty old book store next door, but next time I will and report back to you.

Back on the road again and before we knew it, we were in, yee haw!, Oyster Country. Of course, this was after we passed many fields of dairy cows and towns, like Inverness, that were so small that if you blinked while driving through you could miss it.

Eventually we came to Oyster Camp Road, a one-lane white gravel road that runs alongside a small, grassy, inlet that also serves as an estuary. At the end of the road was a very unassuming, no frills small white wooden building that we soon found out was the operating facility for the Drakes Bay Oyster company – a small, sustainable, family-owned oyster farm run by West Marin natives, the Lunny family.

There were a few cars out front and a couple of rickety wooden tables on the side that were occupied by a group of people eating oysters and drinking cheap beer. Behind them, and behind the building, were guys dragging in bundled nets of oysters and hosing them off while Norteño polkas played on a small radio sitting in a shack next to them. The smell of the sea permeated everything. Near the edge of the water sat a group of small, individual bundles that I figured contained 50 to 75 oysters each.

Inside the building, a man and his daughter were busy explaining the oyster pricing to a couple of guys drinking Mickies straight from their 40-ounce bottles (a real high-class clientele). I impulsively wanted to buy some but there was no way of getting them back home without keeping them cold. And even though the owner offered to pack them in ice for us, we weren't sure we'd make it back before the ice melted.

Also, despite my foodie pretense, I've been pretty clueless, and somewhat frightened and apprehensive, about buying and eating oysters that don't come smoked and packaged in a flat, pop-top, can.

It's too bad I've waited so long, because these tasted delicious. I was given one to try (I offered to pay, but was turned down) and they were so fresh, with just a little salty-sweet flavor. Though I've got nothing against oysters, I've never been a huge raw oyster eater. However, these Drakes Bay oysters must have changed my mind because now I suddenly have the urge to seek them out.

Luckily, if I'm craving some, I don't have to travel all the way up to West Marin for a bite (or a slurp) since they are also sold at Swan Oyster Depot. Unluckily, they are also sold at Swan Oyster Depot, which is always packed and with a line out the door.

Whether they are bought at Swan Oyster Depot or straight from the farm, anyone seeking to experience the taste of these oysters better do so in the next 6 years, because by the year 2012, after more than 100 years of various commercial oyster farming (and possibly thousands more by indigenous tribes) at this location, Drakes Bay Oysters farm will be destroyed and the area will revert back into a (beautiful, but certainly not pristine) wilderness area.

Which makes you want to go "yayyy!" right about the same time you want to go "awww!"

Still, if everyone, including the Sierra Club, concedes that Drakes Bay Oyster farm is a sustainable, organic, low environmental impact business, it seems rather stupid to close it down simply because of a decision that was made at a time (1976) when the previous oyster operation used environmentally and ecologically disruptive and damaging oyster harvesting methods.

Kinda like throwing the baby out with the bath water (and many other cliché analogies that haven't come to mind yet).

Ok...moving on to the lighthouse.

By the time we got there, it and the steps down to it were closed. It was cold and windy as hell, parking was crazy, the bathrooms stank to high heaven, and we had to walk up a large hill on our way to the overlook.

Other than that, we had a blast!

Mostly we enjoyed the fact that the steps were closed and that we could see everything just fine from the overlook. Honestly, we just didn’t want visitors from other countries see us huffing and puffing our way back up the stairs from the lighthouse, since this would have proven everything they've suspected about Americans but were afraid to ask: yes, many of us are that lazy and overweight.

Happy now? In fact, just this weekend I seriously deliberated on whether to buy one of those plastic grabber things so that I wouldn't have to reach for the TV remote.

Right about the time I realized that I'd rather get punched in the gut than have to walk back up those stairs, some little boy shouted, “a whale! a whale! I just saw a whale!” which led many gullible adults, including myself, to stop what we were looking at and veer our attention towards the direction in which the kid was pointing.

Nothing. In fact, it was obviously futile to look so far down, over miles and miles of choppy ocean, expecting to see some speck of a whale’s hump and tail emerge for a second before disappearing into the great and deep expanse, but that fucking kid got us all worked up. The attention-hungry little bastard was probably just making it up for a few ounces of love from his emotionally-distant father, therefore sharing way too much personal information about his family’s dysfunction and distracting me from peacefully staring into the silver waves while communing with my Higher Power to suddenly straining my eyes looking for a fucking imaginary needle in a haystack.

This is why I’m in recovery.

After we left the Lighthouse overlook, we headed back in the direction we came, this time stopping by Marin Sun Farms brand-new old retail store. They had just reopened the day before after being closed for several months due to flooding.

They have remodeled the place and included a large and impressive wooden table to serve food at. However, the only thing for sale now is meat (including sausages) and eggs, since they are still in the process of working up a menu, which should be finished by the end of this month.

They envision people ordering simple menu items like sandwiches, sausages, and steaks (picked from the selection in the case and grilled to order). In addition, they also intend to have private dinners once or twice a week after the retail store has closed.

Good luck, MSF!

Winding down, we left beautiful West Marin county, left the cows, left the oysters, left the hippies and the damnable kids and settled on dinner in downtown Sausalito.

Ah, Sausalito.

I’m saving you for a rainy day.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Patriotic Road Trip - Part 1

Disclaimer: To assert my right to freedom of speech (which is preserved not through misguided military invasions, but by common domestic practice) on this American holiday, I will now begin this blog post with a rant sure to piss off more than a few, who probably deserve it. If you wish to skip it, go down to the spot that begins with +++.

Happy 4th of July to all my fellow Americans!

As you probably don't know, we celebrate the 4th of July each year to celebrate, not the throwing of tea over the sides of boats whilst disguised as Indians (how brave, no pun intended), not the preservation of the Union, nor the day America was discovered by Europeans, but the date the Declaration of Independence was signed 230 years ago.

Don't worry if you didn't know that, since two-thirds of you don't know the complete words to the National Anthem. And even less, much less, of you attempt to vote because of apathy or laziness or stupidity (you simply don't take the time to educate yourself on the candidates and the issues).

Also, most of you who can recite the Pledge of Allegiance don't know that it was written by a socialist Baptist minister in 1892, well after the War of Independence and the Civil War, and that the phrase "Under God" wasn't added until 1954.

Frankly, I prefer the pledge as it was written: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." But then again, I'm not a fucking theocratic Christianist, either (nor Republican); whom by the way, have more in common with Ossama Bin Ladin and the late not-great Ayatolla Khomeini than they have ever had with Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison.

Again, don't feel too bad if you didn't know these things, because the 4th of July is really about two things: not working and barbecuing, something Americans really take pride in (uh, except for the 4.6%, or 10,806,983, of you above the age of 15 who are unemployed).


Since the 4th of July fell on a Tuesday, that gave me a super long weekend, since there was no way in hell my boss was going to come in to work on Monday, and because so, he gave everyone else the day off (unpaid of course) as well.

That was nice of him, don’t you think?

We tried to make the most of it, even though we did waste a lot time sitting around watching murder mysteries. While we love a good British murder mystery (we're watching Midsomer Murders), they can get a bit, dare I say?...boring after a while.

I think I just dared.

So on Sunday we took a road trip (yaayyy!).

Our destination: The Pt. Reyes Lighthouse.

We began our trip by driving up Highway 1, which winds it's way through Marin county and the small, sometimes exclusive, communities that dot it. It's like the fictionalized Cotswolds in Midsomers Murders, only less grand churches, less stone houses, about 500 years less old, less wet year around, and with most of the murders happening unsolved in Marin City.

But other than that, totally the same.


Eventually we came upon the little hippy town of Bolinas, and true to its reputation, it was hard to find and very hippy-dippy. Though, 40 years after the Summer of Love it seems like there's a real thin line between what is "hippy" and what is just white trash with Batik and knock-off Tibetan jewelry. And although it would seem as though these people and I would be fellow travellers, 10 minutes in the town of Bolinas made me want to drag out my black clothing, my Docs, and my grindcore/crust records all over again.

I don't know. I guess everyone has their orthodoxies. I, on the other hand, hate orthodoxies with a passion (even when I agree with most of the tenets).

Instead, Bruce and I ventured out onto the beach, which was pretty beautiful. It was a nice day and the tide was just coming in. We scoured the shore for pieces of beach glass and odd-shaped rocks and shells. It reminded me of when I was a boy and we would go to the beach in North Carolina, scouring the beach for shark's teeth and sand dollars.

Bolinas also has a few, nicely painted homes with some fabulous decks that jet out over the shoreline. These are probably not owned by the original Bolinas hippy colony, whom according to this Wiki entry, have all but abandoned the town or whose children remain, but as unemployed alcoholics and drug addicts.


Nevertheless, it was time to eat and we were starving. We decided to stop in to the Coast Café, since it looked like the best, if not only, game in town. The weather was sunny and we scored a nice seat out back on their patio.

Not long after, a very nice (non-hippy) waitress took our order. Bruce had the Avocado, Bacon (Niman Ranch), and Cheddar (or ABC) omelette ($8.95) and I had the Marin Sun Farms cheeseburger ($10.25). Our food was brought out shortly after our order.

Bruce requested some jam with his toast and was given a jar of Maddy's Jammin' blackberry jam, which was from Maddy's Jammin' shop right up the street. I taste-tested some of the jam and, though a little sugary, was pretty good. Looking at the label, I noticed a poorly drawn image of an Indian-looking woman with her jars of preserve.

"Is this suppose to be Maddy?", I said to Bruce. "What. Is Maddy fucking Pocahontas? No, I wanna know. She better be Indian or I'm going to be pissed. Don't fuckin' mock my people, bitch!"

I occasionally get on the "I'm a Person of Color" trip, though mostly in jest, since I'm 1/16 Cherokee Indian. Usually I do it when I feel like acting retarded or anti-PC because I'm soooo not a person of color. I'm not even ethnic white.

Later, the conversation drifted towards my burger.

"I know this is grass fed and 'grass-finished' and all, but I don't taste the difference in flavor everyone keeps talking about", I said.

"Yeah, but you're eating a cheeseburger. Look how much shit you've put on it", said Bruce.

"Yeah, but…" and this was true since I specifically asked for a side order of mayo because I usually don't trust that there will ever be enough on my sandwich.

And right then, I got the most terrific whiff of something nasty. I looked at Bruce and said "do you smell that?" No. After while, Bruce smelled it too!

"What is that?"

"I don't know? Is it the person behind me? Maybe they've sat us next to the compost pile. Is it the tide?" I said.

Ever so often I would catch this whiff, and Bruce caught it too so I know I'm not crazy, but it smelled like Stinky Tofu!

Anyway, other than that, the food was excellent and so was the service and when I come back to Bolinas dressed all in synthetic materials, except for my calf-skin boots, and a "The Dalai Lama is a terrorist" badge on, I'll be sure to stop by again.

Afterwards we stopped by The People's Store, which despite the pseudo-socialist name, was actually a fantastic little grocery. It reminded me of a mini-mini Rainbow Grocery, although with a better produce section and less vegetarian-lifestyle bullshit. The Bolinas Summer Faire was happening in the courtyard of the store and there was some dude playing guitar while a young woman sang something decisively folky.

Not folky in the Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, Odetta, Woodie Guthrie, The Weavers, pre-electric Bob Dylan sort of way, but more what you would expect from a Rainbow Gathering trading circle, and actually most of the 15-20 people assembled there looked like that's just where they came from.

We finally made it in to Maddy's and despite her round face, she didn't look ANYTHING like her picture on the jar. However, she was definitely jammin'; a Grateful Dead CD played in the background. Despite the fact that the woman on the jar was not the woman standing in front of me, I loved her selection of homemade jams and jellys and baked goods and when she told me that her quince jelly was made from local fruit, I couldn't resist buying some.

After that, it was get me the hell out of here! We jumped in the car and it was time to put a new CD in. I needed to de-hippify in a major way, like Meryl Streep in Silkwood, the part when she has to scrub her body in the shower after being exposed to radiation, and I scoured through the small CD collection we brought along. Had I known this would happen, I would've demanded we bring something other than Jimi Hendrix, The Fairport Convention, and The Beatles.

Luckily I found ONE 4-year-old drum and bass CD that went down like an aural cool, electronic, dissonant glass of water.

Thank Jah for pre-programmed music.