Artemis Comes Home

Artemis is to be cremated today and finally gets to come home to rest. Hard to believe she’s gone. I still get kinda weepy whenever I think about her and I know the pain that Don and Jean and Linda must be feeling today. I wish I could do something.

Because I’ve been there before. Sugar, my little adorable mutt, was shot in the leg by some asshole when we were taking one of our usual walks in the woods behind our house in the country east of Duncan when I was 13. We took her to the vet, but short of major surgery (with no guarantee she could walk again) and expense (which we didn’t have), there was nothing that could be done. She had to be put down. I bawled and squalled and left her lying there so the vet could do the deed. Truly one of the worst experiences of my life. It still has the power to hurt me some 27 years later.

Losing Artemis is certainly worse. Just as losing Bayley will be. Unlike Sugar, he came to me as a puppy of just seven weeks old and we’ve shared close quarters ever since. With the exception of my travels (the longest of which was two weeks), we’ve spent every day of almost 10 years together. Don had the same thing with Artemis over 14 years. Sugar came to me as a mutt and I had her maybe two years or so. Losing Artemis is so much worse, almost like losing a child.

Dog non-lovers, like my family, will never, ever understand it, even as they condescendingly dismiss it or lash out at it. Yes, they are ‘just’ dogs, but they’re also so much more than that. And until you’ve experienced that unconditional love and support and dependence and trust, you have no right to talk.

I suppose the deed must done by now and she’s safely back home. I can’t believe she’s gone. Beagles are getting extra hugs today.

Cough Getting Better

The cough is finally better today. I think the key must be the inhaler. Is my asthma actually going to be this much worse up here? If so, gonna be a long year-and-a-half. Also helping is Actifed and cough syrup.

But geez. This is the third round of this mess I’ve had since we moved here. There must some native flora that massively disagrees with me. I’m really sick of this stuff.


I had a vivid dream this morning. We lived in Palm Springs and so did my parents. Frank and I went out for our anniversary dinner and I asked him if he was having fun. He said, ‘Eh,’ and I got upset and left.

We drove over to my parents, who we thought weren’t home. I began making coffee, and then suddenly Scott drove up in a TransAm and started talking to us. Suddenly my dad came out of the bedroom and was talking to himself, then he left.

There was a cobweb infestation all over the front garage of their house. I took a broom to the webs, but they were respun almost as fast as I could clear them. Scott and Frank were just sitting in the living room talking.

I think my mother came in, and then I woke up.

I’m sure Freud could have fun with that one.

Farewell, Artemis the Sweet

Picture of Artemis of the Hunt

The rainy weather here in Ann Arbor is appropriately weepy this morning. It is with a very heavy heart that I have to note the passing of Artemis, the sweetest, most wonderful black lab in the world.

Artemis’ dad, Don, called me this morning from Oklahoma City with the news that she left us Friday after an exhausting battle against cancer. She was 14.

Artemis of the Hunt was born in Bristow, OK, on 23-Dec-89. I remember when they brought puppy Artie home to Duncan; she was so sweet, with those big paws and gangly legs. We had so much fun. I always referred to her as my one and only girlfriend. It was extremely sad when they moved away in 1992; but we still got to see each other fairly often even as I moved around the country, and she would sometimes sleep with me on the twin guest bed, which was always a fun experience having a very large and heavy lab jump on your legs in the middle of the night. I miss that feeling.

We saw Artie-moose last August, on our way from San Francisco to Ann Arbor. She was as sweet as ever, just showing the effects of her age. She still was able to jump into the back seat of Don’s car when they got ready to go somewhere, happy and eager to get on the road. It was wonderful to see that again.

She was always wonderful with Bayley, only once putting him in his place (and he certainly needed it on that occasion). He’s not much on other dogs, but with Cousin Artemis, he was pretty content.

She spent quite some time in northern Michigan near Traverse City with her mom, Linda. Galloping through the forests and swimming and canoeing and sailing, she always had a spectacular time up there and loved Michigan.

I’ll never forget the joyful abandon she displayed when jumping into water. My fondest memories of her are when she jumped full-tilt into Clear Creek Lake near Duncan while we were sailing, while fetching sticks. And the shower of water that cascaded off of her as she shook herself after getting out invariably doused everyone and everything within miles. Those were grand days.

But now, after a very full and long life of giving everyone around her such joy and happiness, she’s finally at rest, no longer in pain, having been the bestest black lab ever.

And we send warm hugs and sympathy to her dad, Don, and to Jean and to Linda, who will all miss her terribly.

Thank you, Artemis. We’ll fill the holes in our hearts with the wonderful memories you gave us. Sleep well, my girlfriend.

Some Sad News

Just got an extremely sad e-mail from Donpy … Artie-moose isn’t doing well. Sudden tumor growth, bad cancer. Should know on Wednesday whether she’s going to make it. But since she’s approaching 13, it doesn’t look good.

I just burst out bawling tonight and am still kinda crying. It’s extremely sad. She was the best puppy dog in the whole world and the sweetest. And it’s horrible for Don and Jean … and Linda. But it also reminds me of Bayley and the growths he has and that he’s 9.5 years old.

It had been an extremely good day … scored 720 verbal and 570 math on the GRE this morning. Other nice things had happened too. Birthday cards and $41 from Mom and Dad. David told me of all the nice DVDs and presents he sent us. And so on.

But this is kind of a kick in the gut. Tragic.

Your Travel Guide to Baghdad-By-The-Bay (2002)

‘I sat in the Delhi airport and watched the big electric clock in the departure hall that tells passengers when to board. I thought I imagined that time was moving in fits and starts: 1:12 a.m. for fifteen minutes, then 1:27 for another twenty, 1:47 … Closer inspection revealed that the clock was not plugged in, and its digits were being flipped manually by a little man in gray overalls whenever the mood took him.’

— Jonah Blank, Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God: Retracing the Ramayana Through India

‘SF is what the freedom-inducing utopian metropolis was mapped out to be: which is to say, more open, tolerant, funked-out, colorful, strange, unorthodox, thoughtful, nature aware, baffled, contradictory, and kaleidoscopic than any other city in the nation. It is equal parts beautiful and annoying, frustrating and wonderful. Perhaps this is why we seem to be so hated by sundry hunks of ‘Merka. We get it right, even in how frequently we get it wrong.’

— Mark Morford,

Hmmmmm. Slumming in SF for a vacation. Interesting choice. If you’re lucky this summer of 2002, you might arrive just in time for both « Barry Bond’s 600th career home run » or « Oakland’s 70th murder of the year ». Or maybe both.

My first advice is that, SF being just like downtown Washington, DC, where buses tend to wipe out the old and the slow, be very careful crossing the streets. Our smack-the-pedestrian rate is down this year, but still appears to be trying to keep pace with Oak-town’s homicide rate. And, as always, one should certainly watch out for those DWA’s (I’ll let others explain that acronym to non-Californians), to wit:

True story: This afternoon, I was sitting in my chair, doing what I do every afternoon at 3, namely, scattering resumes from « Seattle » to « Vermont » like so much bird seed while being endlessly amazed at just how much trouble « a little boy named Beaver » can get himself into, as well as endlessly pondering what would possess a woman to vacuum while wearing high heels and a string of pearls (not to mention allow her youngest child to be named after a swimming rodent – and just why is Ward always so friggin’ uptight?), when I heard a short screech, followed by an almighty and hellacious bang.

Well, I thought, it’s someone else’s turn to visit « the fine UCSF trauma center », rated the eighth best hospital in the empire! Sure enough, David came panting up the hill shortly thereafter; he had been in « a Muni bus » down the hill coming home, when a little old DWA man decided to make a left-hand turn from northbound Seventh onto westbound Lawton.

From the far right lane. Across four lanes of traffic. On a red light. In front of the northbound oncoming #44 Muni bus.

While the bus driver had quick reflexes and managed to stop the beast in time (thus sparing us all a scene of neighborhood carnage), the oncoming southbound cars on Seventh did not. Result: Squished Daihatsu and simply higgledy-piggledy afternoon traffic – the loony bin – er, I mean ’« Laguna Honda Adult Rehabilitation Center »’ – having just let out the shift change of Nurse Ratcheds – er, I mean, ‘mental health care professionals’ – a few blocks south.

Yet, undaunted by the scene confronting him, the Muni driver waited for the green light and then simply maneuvered his bus gallantly around the accordioned Daihatsu, let out David at the appropriate stop around the corner and went on his merry way. Which is possibly the first time in recorded history that a Muni driver was concerned about keeping to schedule. But I digress.

Not knowing where (or indeed if) you, dear reader, visited in SF before, I have a few suggestions:

First, take a look at « SFGate ». They always have something there interesting for turistas.

Even better, be sure and investigate « The SF Bay Area Guardian’s ‘Best of the Bay 2002 ».’ There’s a plethora of recommendations, including, if one is so inclined, the best nude beaches.

Hint: One of the best of the nude beaches is just to the west of the GGB and goes by the name of « Baker Beach ». Just be sure and remember the BB rules:

First, the beach runs below a high cliff, on top of which are tourists with cameras and binoculars who are supposedly there to ‘catch the spectacular view of the GGB’ [wink, wink]. If you don’t mind possibly ending up on the internet, well, then go ahead and « doff the CKs ».

Second, the beach is segmented by groups. Running from west to east, with the furthest eastern section being the closest to the GGB, you will find: First, clothed families and SF’s very few, very lonely Republicans; Second, clothed adults (moderate twenty-somethings who recently moved here from the Midwest and are still too inhibited to visit the areas to the east); Third, unclothed straight people (evenly divided between true believing nudists and folks who are obviously uncomfortable but determined to push on regardless – oh, and don’t be scared, but this group enjoys playing volleyball); Fourth, unclothed lesbians and their retrievers; and Fifth, unclothed gay men. Those fully clothed people walking east along the beach visiting each section are just engaging in prurient and surreptitious plain old ogling.

Then there’s that secret sixth section, over the rocks and snuggled up against the bridge, but what happens there would, if described in this missive, probably highly annoy the Imperial censors. Not to mention scare you. Let’s just say that there are more reasons than the sunsets why the view off the western side of the GGB can be quite spectacular. Unfortunately, the western sidewalk is usable only by bicyclists – no pedestrians, no gawkers with Nikons and telephoto lenses – despite what I alluded to above.

Just remember that San Francisco beaches are notoriously deadly affairs; a few months back, an « entire Japanese youth tour group », standing with their backs to the Gate at Baker Beach (the western, Republican, end) for picture-taking purposes, were swept out to sea by a large rogue wave, which only the camera man saw approaching. One of them did not return to shore and has never been found. Kinda like those Alcatraz escapees back in the ‘50s.

The western side of SF is « Ocean Beach », but the gray (yes, I said “gray”) sand is often unappetizing, and the notorious cold, riptides, rogue waves and the occasional shark or angry sea lion combine to … well, rival Oakland’s homocide rate. In short, beaches are for sunning, dog walking, frisbee-flying or kite flying, not for swimming (see above photo).

What else? Well, I always recommend the drive up 101 to Santa Rosa, where you can have great « Tex-Mex at La Cantina » (on the courthouse square downtown) and « visit Snoopy’s home ice, the Redwood Ice Arena, opened by Charles Schulz in 1969 and which now houses a Peanuts museum and gift shop ». This is where Sparky hung out when he wasn’t drawing. « This past weekend saw the grand opening of his great new museum ». It’s a dilly and will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

While in SR, there’s also « a nice indie bookstore, Copperfield’s, » in downtown SR that gives much-needed relief from the big, bad corporate chains like Bore-doors and No-Brains & IgNoble. One can also drop by McDonald Avenue, the fairly unchanged neighborhood seen in Hitchcock’s 1943’s « Shadow of a Doubt », as well as « Scream » and « Pollyanna ». (What an interesting trio that is. A friend just bought Pollyanna on DVD; beyond the shadow of a doubt, it made me want to scream. Hyuck. Hyuck. Hyuck.)

Anyway. The stairs down which Joseph Cotton pushed Theresa Wright in SoaD are said to still be there, relatively unscathed. Santa Rosa was more recently the locale for the excellent Coen Brothers’ noir-ish « The Man Who Wasn’t There », starring Billy Bob Thornton and Frances McDormand. It didn’t have a body being pushed through a wood-chipper in mid-winter like « Fargo », but it did have an execution, drunken hog-riding, and a roll-over car wreck caused by a blowjob. So hey.

If one’s visit stretches out toward the end of August, one shouldn’t miss the Tall Ships sailing through the Gate, part of the « Tall Ships Challenge », which will feature sailing vessels from around the world. It started Aug. 8 in Richmond, BC, and concludes Sept. 14 in San Diego, with simultaneous celebrations in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

I always highly recommend « Fort Point », the 1850’s fortress underneath the GGB. It’s a well-preserved fort with spectacular views. Just don’t stand too close to the edge of the Bay. The rogue waves which hit the tourists at Baker Beach hit Fort Point sometimes too. And no, you can’t get to Baker Beach from there. A chain link fence prohibits what happens on the west side from being viewed by the tourists from Dubuque on the east side.

Fort Point is most famous as the spot where Kim Novak jumps into the Bay and Jimmy Stewart has to rescue her in Hitchcock’s « Vertigo ». Those steps are still there. And by the way, ain’t no way Jimmy coulda rescued that crazy wench; either she would have been immediately swept out into the Gate, or he would never have been able to hoist her back up the steps – I mean, lord, he was a thin thing and she was a rather … buxom woman.

Love ice cream? Well, one can hit four legendary ice cream stores, which were recently « part of a unique, only-in-San-Francisco, bike-around-the-city-and-eat-ice-cream, tour ». Yum, yum, yum.

Like to skateboard or rollerblade? Well, one might just have the brand-new, half-a-million-dollar skate park near the Cow Palace all to one’s self. Built recently for ‘boarders who were tearing up city sidewalks, it’s now being shunned by them: ‘It sits in a wind-rush so ‘hella cold’ that it’s been dubbed ‘The Chilly Bowl.’ Most boarders still prefer the broad sidewalk near Pier 7 on the Embarcadero, next to the ritzy Waterfront restaurant. Which, of course, is hella illegal.’

By the way, « ‘hella’ is a California colloquialism » which I first heard from high school girls on the aforementioned #44 Muni bus (‘That was a hella rave last night, Britney!’ ‘I know, LaQuisha! That Ecstasy gave me a hella buzz!’). ‘Hella’ can be used in other situations, as well: ‘That flight was hella bumpy!’ ‘That flight attendant was hella rude when she threw that Salisbury steak at me!’ And so on.

If one is into movies, check out the venerable, ever-fascinating « Castro Theater » with a terrific and eclectic, ever-changing series of great films, the movie fan’s Mecca. It’s located on Castro between 17th and 18th, which is, by the way, the geographical center of the queer universe. If you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to a performance of the Mighty Wurlitzer, the restored organ which rises out of the pit before some showings. The Castro was completely restored to its original glory not too long ago; it’s worth going just for the architecture. It also had a role in a scene of « EdTV »; Matthew McConaughey chased Jenna Elfman into one of the Castro’s restrooms. (We natives laughed at that scene; those crazy LA movie people had the chase begin in North Beach and end in the Castro – it would have been an uphill foot race of over five miles lasting, on-screen, about 30 seconds. I mean Matthew’s in pretty good shape, but I doubt he’s in THAT good shape.)

More standard, touristy suggestions:

« 1. Walk the Golden Gate Bridge » (do it now; they’re considering charging walkers $1 a piece in the future, and the toll for drivers will soon be raised to $5 bucks a car – charged to southbound drivers only). Walking the GGB is always fun; you can feel it bounce and sway as cars and trucks fly past you at 75 miles an hour close on one side and, on the other, there’s that sheer drop down to one of the world’s most treacherous ocean currents.

I admit that the bridge is beautiful and makes for perfect postcards; however, the charm and wonder of walking it escapes me. I find it about as thrilling as walking along, say, the Metro bridge over the Potomac in DC – while Orange line trains come at you from both directions. But hey! If you’re lucky, you might witness one of the many deadly head-on collisions that happen on the GGB all too often, or maybe even one of the estimated 200+-a-year suicide plunges into the Gate. Those in the know report that impact forces do the deed, not drowning, and that most victims end up, how do we say this? Several inches shorter than they were in life. Now THERE’S a vacation story to tell the folks back home!

« 2. Take the $23 Alcatraz After Dark tour ». It’s a totally different place in the sunset, less tourists, more mystery, more shadows. Colder than Laura Bush after she’s dragged Jenna home from yet another bout of underage DC bar hopping, but still well worth the trip. Be sure and go to D block, where the isolation cells are; a ranger puts you in a cell and closes the door. Fun, fun, fun. I wasn’t aware that dark could be so … well, dark. Not recommended for those afraid of blackness, tightly closed and confined spaces, 60-year-old toilets, or large, indigenous rodents. Or the ghosts of Al Capone, ‘Creepy’ Karpis or the Birdman of Alcatraz.

Bonus attraction in D block: Shrapnel and bullet scars from the 1941 prison takeover are still visible, created by an all-out Marine assault from the Bay on the rioting prisoners. Also be sure and see the papier-mache’ heads used in the Clint Eastwood movie, « Escape From Alcatraz » and the spot where ol’ ‘Scarface’ Capone gave haircuts.

Also, if you’re lucky, one of Alcatraz’s aging inmates might be on hand with a few interesting tales. The night my NorthPoint Field Operations field engineer trainee group and I went, we heard, from a nice man who was 90 if he was a day, an interesting (and surely physically improbable) tale of how one becomes a prison ‘bitch.’ Needless to say, some of the more … less-travelled … engineers were a bit … startled at the tale.

« 3. Visit Golden Gate Park » (in my neighborhood). Stay on the paths and try not to look too closely at what goes on in the bushes. GGP is safer than DC’s Rock Creek Park (at least during the day) – you’re unlikely to run into the bones of dead Congressional interns (although I do hear that Mr. Condit is back home in nearby Modesto during the Congressional break, so you just never know).

It’s also home to the « California Academy of Sciences », where you, too, can stand on a platform and experience what it felt like during the « 1906 earthquake ». In other words, it jiggles you up and down really fast and makes your lunch come out of your nose. No word on whether they also drop bricks on your head and then set you on fire so you can experience the aftermath of the 1906 ‘quake as well, but that might be included in upcoming museum renovations.

Afterwards, you can sit in the Japanese Tea Garden to collect your wits, or even use the pedal boats or canoes on Stow Lake. Caution! A dead elderly man was discovered floating on the lake face down a few months back, so, if one has a heart condition and is 88, one probably shouldn’t be pedaling or rowing boats around Stow Lake.

« 4. Shop the newly rejuvenated Union Square ». After a multi-year, multi-million-dollar face lift, the center of all things shopping recently reopened to tourists and its usual contingent of mimes and bums. It’s all there: Disney and Prada and Macys and Saks and Levis and Niketown and North Face and Virgin Megastore … as well as the piquancy of fresh bum urine and tourists buying every piece of made-in-Taiwan schlock they can get their hands on as they wait in patient herds for the « Powell Cable Car line ». (Hint: Catch the « California Street line » in front of the « Hyatt Regency Embarcadero » near the « Ferry Building » on « Market Street »; no lines, no crowds, few tourists, much more spectacular views. From the Ferry Building, a relaxing ride on the « Golden Gate Ferries line » to « Sausalito » or « Tiburon » is also a very wonderful thing.)

Union Square is where, by the way, a year ago this week I was dodging some x%x*^&# tourists from Dubuque and severely sprained my ankle. While it was potentially embarassing, none of them apparently noticed that I was sprawled on the ground; they either thought I was a bum or they were too busy craning red necks upwards, sayin’, “MA! Look at all them tall buildin’s!”

« 5. Take a walk down Second Street from Market to PacHell Park, home of the Giants ». This was my commute every morning when I was still actually part of the American work force. I love this quote in the article linked above about the area on the south side of the building where NorthPoint was located: ‘Look up the word “bleak” in the dictionary and this is what you should see.

Still, at the end of the road is PacHell Park with it’s « SF Giants » store and museum and tribute to the Say-Hey Kid, « Willie Mays » (if you’re into baseball). It’s a beautiful facility, and unlike the corporate welfare given out to sports teams in the rest of Amurrica, it was built entirely with private funds – particularly from that evil phone company, hence its name.

Proud recent moment: « SF supervisors just voted earlier this month » not to sell out to corporate interests the right to rename « Candlestick Park ». The Park, ugly and nasty as it is, was built and is maintained by the taxpayers of the city. A rare, proud moment: Principle triumphing over the almighty corporate dollar.

« 6. Sixth Street ». Here is where you will find a richly layered, multicultural experience with sights, sounds, tastes and smells unparalleled anywhere.

It’s a veritable bazaar: Need a serial-less firearm? We got that. Counterfeit Nikes? We got that too. Cheap whores made up to look like Princess Leia in “Star Wars: Episode 4” and of indeterminate gender? Got ‘em in spades. More pharmaceuticals than Bayer, Wal-Green’s and « SF General Hospital » combined? Oh, yeah. Human drama? « Colorfully decorated pimp mobiles »? Movies which you can enjoy in the privacy of your own personal booth? Expert tutellage in « Ebonics »? We’re down with ‘em all, baby. Come see us.

Lastly, please allow me to offer my services as tour guide/chaffeur, if so needed. Lord knows I have the time. Just remember I drive as if the very demons of hell are chasing me and they’re rather hacked off about something or other. And you’re welcome to visit a rather more sedate tourist spot: My apartment. It’s not as exciting as Sixth Street or Baker Beach, not as famous as the « Crooked Street » or « Coit Tower », but it’s a heckuva lot calmer than all of the above. The most dangerous thing here is the « Beagle’s breath ». And the occasional DWA.

So, take your shoes off, set a spell. Ya’ll come back, now, y’hear?

A Few San Francisco Links:

Arts and Culture
• Asian Art Museum
• Exploratorium
• Music Conservatory
• SF Bike Coalition
• SF Museums
• SF Opera
• SF Pride
• SF Symphony
• Zen Center

Government | Industry
• C of C
• Police Dept.
• Port of SF
• SF City Gov.
• SF Fed. Res. Bank
• SF Library

• 1906 Quake
• SF Stories

• Bay Area Guardian
• SF Examiner
• SFGate
• SF Magazine
• SF Weekly

• SF 49ers
• SF Giants

• Alcatraz
• Bay City Guide
• City Guide
• Conv.&Vis. Bureau
• Golden Gate Bridge
• Golden Gate NRA

• Bay Area Transit Info
• SF International Airport
• SF Muni

• City College
• Stanford

• Live Cams
• SF Weather

A Eulogy for Brooksie Belle Ketchum Booth, My Grandmother (2001)

I wrote the following passages in two separate sections over two separate days.

Part I – 2:00 a.m. San Francisco Time, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2001

The call I was dreading came just ten minutes ago – an unhappy, middle-of-the-night call – word from my exhausted and grief-stricken mother that her mother’s long battle was over and that she was at peace, finally. The call was more than simple news of a passing; it also evoked a curious mixture of grief and relief and joy and tears. Grief that a beloved woman, who was in part responsible for my existence on earth, had reached the end of her long and hard, but fruitful and accomplished life. Grief for the hole torn afresh in my chest, next to the three scars left after the departures of my other three grandparents. Stating a trite obviousness: Losing family is never nice nor easy. I also carry scars because I never had the priviledge of growing up and getting to know my uncles, Leon Ramsey and Jay Pollock. Yet, somehow, there was some relief that the imprisonment of that lively and articulate brain had ended and joy at the thought of all that she must be experiencing right now – in particular, a much-anticipated reunion with her husband and the healing in her heart of the missing of him.

I’m happy for her; but you’ll have to forgive me, I’m also a trifle perturbed – she was, after all, either supposed to hang around a lot longer or at least take me with her. But good for her anyway. I’m really not that selfish. Okay, maybe I am. A grandmother is something truly special, of course. Irreplaceable. And now both of mine are gone. I have a simple question today: How do you breathe after this? My throat was constricted after Mom’s call (it still is), and I relived the nightmares of 1988 and 1992 and 1993 and the loss of the other three grandparents all over again. As a matter of fact, the moment that stops my heart completely this morning is a memory which came rushing back at me with an overwhelming force after Mom’s call: In 1993, when I arrived at Meme’s house that cold January evening and approached Granddad’s bed and Grandma lovingly cradled his head, woke him up and with a big smile said, “Look who’s here! You know who that is?” and Granddad turned his head and lit the room for me with a huge grin and said, “Well of course I do! It’s Stevie!” And then I saw the tears in her eyes as she looked at him and bathed his face with a wet wash cloth, the knowledge that she was about to lose him sneaking up on her inexorably. The love there was suddenly naked and unabashed and I had never seen it quite like that between them before. These were not demonstrative people. Their 60th anniversary kiss was quite a production, as I recall.

I have to belive that, right now, Grandad’s returning the favor for her, welcoming her home, holding her tight as she adjusts to her new freedom. Just think about how she feels. No more pain. No more loneliness. Together again. And best yet, free from her mind prison of the last eight years or more, able to think and speak coherently again, calling him “Daddy” and asking if he still dips snuff, trades cars every two weeks and how many yards has he taken on to mow?

Because that’s the thing. The pain of loss is sharp, but bittersweet since you remember certain happy things and know other things and that makes it okay. In the first place, she deserves the peace and tranquility and family reunions and everything she’s experiencing right now even as we sit around her body, scarcely able to breathe. She earned this. Years of back-breaking labor over the stove, the ironing board, the cotton field, the cash register at the store at Central High. The labor of five pregnancies. And the price she’s paid and the hurt and confusion she’s endured over the last eight years of one of nature’s most cruel diseases – it was intolerable – both for those who were able to see her every day and those of us who were far away from her physically, yet always had her in our thoughts and hearts. Folks, she was unable to look at a picture and call it a picture; it came out that it was a cow. She could say, “Well, there you are!” oftentimes without being able to recognize or articulate who you were. And so now she’s at peace, whole again, rejoined with her husband and other loved ones who went before, rejoined with her mind. Joy unspeakable is hers and who am I to be selfish and piggish and want her here in the flesh? If anyone deserves what’s she experiencing right now, it’s Brooksie, our mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend, mentor.

She’s gone. And I personally hate it. I think it stinks. I’m a selfish lil snot. I so want her here. I want the consistancy she represented – she was as immutable and constant as the Rock of Gilbraltar. And sometimes just as stubborn and unafraid to get up in your face if you needed it. Especially if you and your cousin Jeff are playing with the porcelain spinning squirrel in the glass bookcase for the nine-hundredth time that day and she’s told you before and you’re gonna break the thing and then where will you be? I also doubt if she’d much appreciate me referring to her as Brooksie through some of this narrative. I’m sure to hear about that eventually.

Brooksie’s daughter, Janis Wynona, my momma, says I may be about to turn 38, but she is, after all, my mother and she has spoken and I better hop to it. How high, Mom? And if circumstances are just right, I might hear echoes from Wynemia Jenell, Joyce Lee, Patricia Jane and George Oval Jr. Now, do you think that Janis Wynona, daughter of Brooksie Booth, learned how to keep me in line by reading some book? Not on your life. Nope. She and Grandma had me tag-teamed before I was capable of rational thought processes and halfway coordinated motor skills. There is also some limited video evidence that certain aunts knew these skills also, before I could even feed myself, while I was still known as Porky Pig. By the way, I have to report here that grandma’s disciplinary techniques also work on beagles. Not even a halfwitted beagle like my Bayley can mistake the meaning of the phrase, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out,” delivered in my best Grandma Booth voice and intonation. He minds me quite well after that.

Her kids did turn out pretty decent, I s’pose. Meme showed me how to keep an immaculate house, feed hummingbirds and turtles and how to care for others under conditions which might make Mother Theresa sit up and say, “Whoa! No way Joe!” She hasn’t had a hair out of place in my lifetime. And that’s the one thing I can’t possibly hope to emulate her on; my hair hasn’t been in place since day one. I’m just not willing to make that kind of commitment to hairspray or gel. Her generosity of spirit is awe-inspiring.

I’ve written something about Mom, Janis Wynona, but might not be able to read it. Her inner beauty is in fact her inner strength. This is an intelligent woman who sacraficed herself to serve the elderly of her community for over 25 years – she paid a dear price for it, but I promise that there are stars in heaven because of her. She’s saved lives, both figuratively and literally. And it is due to her and Dad that I have everything I have and am who I am. Speaking of Dad, I congratulate him on his good taste in swallowing hard and taking the vow back on April 10, 1955.

Joyce Lee, always the rebel – after all her slogan is, “The South gonna rise again!” taught me to have fun, not take life quite so seriously and, as David Niven says in Please Don’t Eat The Daisies,” “I shall yell tripe! Whenever tripe is served!” Too bad she yells it for the rightwingers and I yell it for the leftwingers, but she’s such a remarkable woman, I can overlook that rather otherwise glaring fault. I shall never forget the day she gave her Herman the Lion monologue followed by the Ladies and Gentlemen speech in the crowded dining room of Mrs. Hap’s Smorgasbord Restaurant in Clovis, NM. I pray for the day when I find that kind of courage.

Patricia Jane also taught me to have a sense of humor, and adventure, but most of all how to survive. Dolly Parton in my favorite movie has the line, “Why when it comes to suffering, that woman is right up there with Elizabeth Taylor!” Her courage and fortitude in the face of some of the cards she’s been dealt in life is an inspiration to us all.

And what can we say about George Oval Jr.? What did he teach me? Well, he showed me, for one thing, how you can beat your nephew at cards by making sure that his back is to a blank TV screen – that way you can read all his cards without him knowing it – until about 25 years later. I grew up thinking I was truly lousy at “Go Fish.” But beyond the silliness, George, Junior, Son, whatever you wanna call him, shows his deep and abiding faith and plays a mean guitar, drives a mean drag racer and taught me how to build models and whittle sticks and play in irrigation ditches. Not to mention those invaluable “Go Fish” lessons. His biggest asset, in my child’s eyes at the time anyway, was that he was big enough to torment my big sisters, thereby freeing up a significant amount of my time, most of which I used burying their cameras and barbies in the back yard. I owe ya, buddy.

Now see, there’s the rub. These people, all of us, are Grandma’s legacy. There are pieces of her in each of the people I’ve just described. They are the fine people they are because of her and granddad. Therefore, her life should be uproariously celebrated. Her death mourned, but her life, full of laughter and joy, celebrated. And the pain of today does heal with time. While there are still moments when I bump up against the scars created by the passing of my grandparents, it’s made easier when Grandpa Pollock’s voice sounds in my head, saying, “Whoooah Steveus!” or I hear Grandma Pollock saying, “Now, Curt!” and laughing over incidents on a vacation trip to Gal-vest-un, as she pronounced it. And hearing Grandad Booth swap stories with Uncle Charlie and Uncle John, then get up, jangle his keys and start talking about the well running – well, it’s just better when I hear their voices like that. It’s also a bit scary when I hear their voices coming out of my mouth, but we won’t go there. Let’s just say that I came by my ranting at political news on TV honestly – Grandpa Pollock’s favorite stock phrase when referring to anyone in Washington DC was “dern fool.” I’ve changed that to “idiots!” but I doubt that, if he was still alive, that anyone else would want to be in the room with us while the news was on.

The aforementioned Dolly Parton in one of my favorite movies says, after the funeral of another character, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion!” Truer words were never scripted for Dolly Parton. I don’t know if it’s my favorite emotion, but the bittersweetness of it helps assuage the grief and lets me breathe again. And that’s why we remember the good times today, the funny times, the echoes of her voice. Her voice is silenced in the physical world, but it lives on immortally in each of us. As a matter of fact, I think I can almost hear her now, telling me to “get on with it, you crazy thang.”

Part II – 28,000 feet over the Central US, aboard United 138, an Airbus A320, bound for Chicago O’Hare International Airport, 12:15-17:00 local, 15 Nov. 2001.

But what about Grandma’s life? She was a quintessential rural 20th century American with feet in both the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. Consider the events of the span of her life:

At some time in her childhood, possibly while a Serbian national named Gavrilo Princip was officially ringing the curtain down on the 1800s by shooting the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and dooming the new century to perpetual war, and while the killing fields in Flanders were running at full bore, for-real Indians in for-real costumes not made in Hollywood, rode up to the dugout the Ketchum family occupied near Duncan. The menfolk were up at Marlow, cutting firewood, and it was just Hettie and the little ones Dick and Brooksie facing down a couple of braves and their squaws. I’m pretty sure Hettie’s heart was pounding in her chest as she asked what the visitors wanted and was probably fairly concerned at the reply, “This is our land and you must leave.” But the natives rode off and never returned. And maybe quite a few of us sitting here owe our existence to their forbearance. And to Hettie’s brave determination.

Grandma saw two world wars and the infamous depression that would so color their lives. Her father died in 1917, supposedly due to complications as the result of an operation that today would be a 15-minute, out-patient “procedure,” after which you’d probably go ride a horse or play tennis. In other words, she witnessed the greatest and most rapid advances in medical science in human history. She started life in a dugout on an Oklahoma dirt farm, but later watched Walter Cronkite report JFK’s death in Dallas and Apollo 11 touch down on the moon in mankind’s one giant leap. People began flying at Mach 2 in three hours between London and Paris a few short years later.

On a more personal level, my earliest congnizant memories of my grandmother: Out at Dexter, apple butter spread on thick bread slices, the taste of vanilla ice cream from her freezer. Store bought vanilla ice milk. Never tasted the same anywhere else. But at grandma’s at age five – glorious. Her singing while puttering around the kitchen, whippin’ up some red beans and fried taters and cornbread for when Granddad comes in out of the fields. Snippets of conversation, “Well, Stevie, I’ll just tell ye.” The comforting whirring of an electric fan in her bedroom during a nap, a sound which still comforts me and lulls me to sleep every night. My friends think I have a fan fetish; it’s hard to explain that each night I’m able to evoke the security and peace of being five and lying in grandma’s bed with the soothing whirring putting me to sleep by having my own box fan going all night. Other things: The mystery of false teeth. The way my bare legs would stick to her green naughahyde cowboy couch in the hot New Mexico summer afternoon. A dip in the irrigation canal and a refusal, timid child that I was, to take a deeper plunge in the irrigation reservoir. In later years, narratives about Miss McGee and her parrot. I only recall meeting the woman once, but at the time, I possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of her goin’s, doin’s and spendin’s. It was our own personal soap opera, written and narrated by Grandma, with detail so rich no visuals were needed. General Hospital and All My Children may have been on the air longer and have a few Emmys on the shelf, but Grandma’s production of As Miss McGee Turns was a vastly superior and far more fascinating entertainment.

Grandma had some verbal expressions with obscure origins. She said them so often that I’m comforted now when I hear them in my head. She lives clearly and loudly in my memory that way. One example: “Hateful take it!” Well, sweetie, your English major grandson wants to know – what exactly does, “Hateful take it!” mean?! I suppose it’s the verbal equivalent of iodine – at least that’s my best guess. As in: One of the little grandkids falls down – “Well, hateful take it!” A toe is stubbed – “Well, hateful take it!” But whatever it meant, I do suppose it’s preferable to other things that might be said under such circumstances.

She and Granddad both were fond of the following – which has entered the lexicon of family legend, and which I find myself using from time to time. You see, I’m very much like my granddad. I get somewhere and then I’m ready to leave. Sometimes within the same minute. So my friends are sometimes bemused when, after a visit with them, I stand up, stretch, jingle the change in my pocket, and announce, all grandad-like, “Well, I guess I got to get home and turn the well off.” My friends’ expressions are priceless – the word “huh?!” written all over their faces. I know I’m imagining it, but I could swear that the night he died, I heard him whisper, “it’s time to go home and turn off the well.” Or maybe it was that he had to go ‘cause the lights on the car didn’t work. I sincerely hope God’s been allowing him control of the pumps over the last nine years and that there’s a rousing trade in automobiles up there.

I really can’t imagine the need for cars in heaven, but if there are (and I hope for Grandad’s sake that there are), I’m wondering how many he has traded for over the last nine years. Last Wednesday morning in heaven, after the reunion, Grandma undoubtedly had some comments to make about his latest acquisition, calling him “Daddy” and wondering why, if the battery was dead, didn’t he get a new battery instead of a whole new car.

And now I’m now sitting aboard an Airbus Industrie A320, a technological marvel of engineering and physics, flying at 500 miles per hour 28,000 feet above California’s newly whitened Sierra Nevada, headed for Chicago O’Hare, a flight of just three-and-a-half hours in duration, 1,843 miles in airconditioned comfort, being served a, well, United Airlines called it a “meal,” a dubious appellation, yet enough to keep you from passing out from hunger prior to landing. And we didn’t have to stop at the filling station en route; the gas tanks are huge and the potty’s actually right in the plane! To us, mundane. To my grandmother, a contemporary of Wilbur and Orville Wright, miraculous. She was 14 when Lindbergh flew the Atlantic solo, an achievement that was so mind-boggling and thought not to be within the realm of reality.
Not that any of this impressed her; I think the miracle of ice cream in an electric freezer, or television or an automatic washing machine were far more impressive for her. And she certainly would not have stepped foot on United 138 with me; her philosophy was pretty straightforward: When asked if she ever had the desire to fly, the reply was invariably, “Naw sir, don’t believe that I do.” When pressed, you might hear, “That’s for folks ain’t got a lotta sense.” Same as saying, “If God wanted me to fly, I’d have wings ‘twixt my shoulder blades.”

Well, honey, I’ve got news for you. Look over your shoulder. God does want you to fly – he wants you to soar, free and unfettered – no more fear and trepidation and no more worrying ‘bout what the neighbors might say. Just joy unspeakable … finally, joy unspeakable.

Finally, there was something that she would say, over the last few years before the onset of Alzheimer’s, just to me, especially if she saw me dressed up: “Well! How ‘bout you and me a-steppin’ out tonight?”

Sweetie, I’ll step out with you any day, any time, any place. You keep a space on your heavenly dance card open for me, will ya? I’ll be honored.

And, by the way. Thanks for giving life to my mother, and by extension to me. And all the rest of your progeny. A great woman you are and a great woman my mother is. I’ve been all over the world and there’s not a better mother or a better grandmother anyplace on the planet. And we owe much to you for that.
I love you very much. So long and thanks for everything. See ya soon, sweetie.

Love, Steve, who is proud to be your grandson.

The Mark Morford and The Morning Fix Saga (2001)

1-Apr-01 (but no, it’s no April Fool’s joke)

The Article That Set Me Off: « Suspends Three Staffers Over Column »

My E-Mail to the offender and many other Bay Area Media staffers:

An open letter:

I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire
They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

Robert Cauthorn
Vice President, Digital Media
San Francisco Chronicle /
San Francisco, CA

Mr. Cauthorn:

Regarding the article, 3 Staffers Suspended Over SF Gate Column, written by Dan Fost on, March 28, 2001 (with advance apologies for the length of this missive – but I have a lot to say):

The article states: ”[Mark] Morford writes an edgy column called Morning Fix that appears daily on the Web site and goes out to about 13,000 people via e-mail.

“The column typically offers humorous and controversial takes on offbeat news stories culled from The Chronicle and wire services.”

The article reports the fact that you indefinitely suspended Mr. Morford because he wrote an edition of the newsletter that you personally found offensive. You also suspended (without pay) two other staffers who prepared and approved the column for publication, even though they apparently had nothing to do with its creation.

With all due respect, sir, as a professional journalist and communicator (not to mention one of 13,000 Morning Fix subscribers and 250,000 SFGate readers), I am much alarmed at the spectacle of a corporate vice president not only censoring one of his professional staff journalists, but also indefinitely suspending him, as well as two other members of his staff who did not apparently share the executive’s personal concerns regarding Mr. Morford’s writing. And not only that, but also publicly and in print castigating Mr. Morford, while not allowing the readership to view the column in question, referring to his work as “grotesque.”

SFGate keeps me up-to-date several times a day on anything worth knowing about the Bay Area. I am a faithful reader of it and the Morning Fix. I will not defend or condemn Mr. Morford’s column; due to your censorship, I am unable to read it and judge it for myself. He’s written other things in the past that I think are more “edgy” than what the offending, censored column is alleged to contain.

Yes, Mr. Morford does indeed sometimes skirt the edge of propriety, as he himself acknowledges. A newsflash for you: That’s the point of the whole exercise! Mr. Morford crafts well-written, amusing and sometimes thought-provoking articles that do indeed push some boundaries. And that’s what makes the Morning Fix_special, unique and a de rigeur daily read. That same sort of style is also what makes _SFGate a unique, entertaining and worthwhile source of information, as opposed to dry, formal, “straight-up” writing found on other news sites. It keeps me coming back for more. And that, Mr. Cauthorn, is, after all, the real measure of success for your SFGate staffers.

What concerns me, however, is the rather extreme actions taken against three excellent staff members – actions which have the appearance, according to your own news article, of being wholly out of proportion to the offense. While I do, in fact, agree with you that Mr. Morford needs to mix freedom of expression with a commensurate level of responsibility, this is pretty ridiculous.

I was taught that the journalistic process goes something like this (greatly simplified):

1. Writer writes something.
2. Editors proofread and correct the copy, and use their judgement and discretion to decide to publish it or send it back to the writer for redrafting. If there is some question as to appropriateness/legality, others in the organization can be consulted, i.e., lawyers.
3. If the decision is made to not publish the article, the article is not published. Or, a rewrite is submitted, edited and published.

You’ll notice that nowhere in this description is there any mention of a process where, if a writer’s submission is considered inappropriate, that writer is not allowed a resubmission or told “don’t do that again,” but is instead suspended, his publication cancelled, and the writing criticized in public as “grotesque” by an executive of the company.

Are you just experiencing a failure of courage? Or is there something else going on here that we don’t know and that you didn’t print? If so, why did you give us just part of the story? With all due respect, you do an outrageous disservice to your readers, sir. If the content was inappropriate (and it may well have been – how do I know? You won’t let us read it), you should have allowed Mr. Morford to rewrite the column, or choose another subject to “riff” on. Or even, horrors!, allow the readers to decide for themselves. The majority of Morning Fix readers are smarter and more reasonable than you appear to think, and quite capable of deciding if we wish to applaud Mr. Morford effort, send him a canned ham in appreciation, delete it in disgust, write him an outraged, condemning e-mail, cancel our Morning Fix subscription or burn him in effigy on the steps of City Hall. Having the courage to allow the readers to make journalists accountable — what a concept!

If you get nothing else from this e-mail, please understand my main point: American journalism is increasingly co-opted and taken over by corporate interests which rarely coincide with public interests, or even with subscriber interests. (And, as an aside, I deny that a corporation should have the right to free speech – Supreme Court decision of 1886 be damned!) The Morford Matter is symptomatic of greater American journalistic disease and decline. Case in point (from the San Jose Mercury-News): “Jay T. Harris resigned… as publisher of the Mercury News, saying he feared that corporate budget demands could result in ‘significant and lasting harm’ to the newspaper and the community it serves.” Journalism is now considered simply a product to be pushed by executives who hop from industry to industry – the equivalent of toilet paper, toothpaste, a ‘plane ticket or a Big Mac.

Whether the press is liberal-biased or slanted-right is a smokescreen; Journalism, in fact, with rare exceptions, is now corporate PR, in most egregious and insulting form. And that, sir, is highly offensive, outrageous, dangerous and unacceptable for American democracy and society. If drawing a parallel between your Mark Morford decision and the decline of free press and journalism in America makes you laugh and think I’m overwrought, then you’ve proven my point and I rest my case and thank-you-very-much.

Please explain to myself and the 12,999 other Morning Fix_subscribers and 249,999 other_SFGate readers (preferably in print on SFGate) how your actions serve the causes of free speech, and creative, engaging journalistic free expression – as opposed to “Oh my god! Somebody might sue us or cancel an ad or subscription or be offended!” – i.e., corporate interests. Are you trying to protect me from something? If so, how did you know that I needed to be protected? Did I participate in market research of which I was unaware? When I subscribed to the Fix, did I thereby give my implied consent to place myself under your protection and abdicate my responsibility and privilege to think for myself? Funny. I missed getting the memo on that. Do I owe you a “Thanks for protecting my fragile little mind?”

Finally (aren’t you relieved), I must say I am not surprised by the Morford censorship/suspension, however. My colleagues and I have a long-standing bet about when A.) Morning Fix would be censored by the Chronicle_and even outright cancelled; and B.) When the fresh, original and funny writing on the front page of _SFGate would go corporate – dry, serious, disengaging and not worth a visit. It is with bittersweet feelings that I report that my guess of “sometime in the first half of 2001” appears to be coming true.


And shame on you.

Free (and Un-Gag) the Morford Three! Save the Gate!

Sincerely, Steve Pollock, San Francisco

(Note: I would be more than happy to give you my address and phone number for verification purposes, should you desire. Please reply by e-mail if you wish to have the information. And thanks for reading.)

Mark Morford’s Response to My E-Mail:

Incredible piece of work, Steve. Can’t thank you enough for your powerful and pointed defense. You’ve articulated a myriad of vital points not just about me and my columns, but about media and its spurious and often sinister corporate relationships in general. Marvellous. I thank you.

Remains to be seen how this mini-saga will shake out, whether or not my columns will survive. But with support like yours, I sure as hell know I’m on the right side of the debate.

Mark Morford

Carl Hall ’s Response to My E-Mail:

‘Hello and thanks for sending me a copy of your note to Gate management. You make some cogent points.

I am a staff writer at the Chronicle and also president of the Northern California local of the Newspaper Guild, which represents Chronicle employees and, by virtue of a new agreement with the Hearst coporation, most Gate employees. I just wanted to let you know that we will not rest until any and all injustices done in connection with this matter are corrected. You might already have noted in the Chronicle story that our member is not suffering any loss in pay.’

Robert Cauthorn’s Response to My E-Mail:

‘From: “Robert S. Cauthorn”
Date: Mon, 02 Apr 2001 00:34:05 -0700
To: AirBeagle
Subject: Re: Mark Morford and The Morning Fix

‘Mr. Pollack, [he misspells my last name]
Thanks for taking the time to write at such length about this incident.

For obvious reasons, I can’t discuss the details of staff issues with people outside this organization. However, please understand that I would never take such a step lightly and the column involved presented a serious problem.

It provides you any comfort with respect to your effort to cast me as some kind of soulless corporate hack — and from message I’m inclined to doubt that it shall — I happen come from the editorial side of the house and have worked as a writer and editor for more than 20 years.

Your description of the process is in part true, however it ignores aspects of the reality of web publishing. In normal publishing cycles before the page lands in your lap literally scores of people have seen it and vetted it. Web publishing’s accelerated pace means that sometimes no more than three people might have seen a piece before it hits the web. In this climate, matters of judgment become critically important.

I feel it would be a mistake to read too much into this with respect to the future approach of the Gate. The Gate’s unique voice and, indeed, its distinct flavor with respect to the Chronicle, is something we all savor.

Being edgy and risk-taking isn‚Äöt a binary condition it‚Äös not all or nothing. It just happens that in this case, the column went beyond the pale. Incidentally, unlike most _Fix_columns, this one was not intended as humor – it took an advocacy position and what was being advocated proved to be deeply problematic.

Best wishes,
Robert S. Cauthorn
VP Digital Media
San Francisco Chronicle

Frank’s Response to Bob’s E-Mail:

‘Typical corporate response, albeit a very slickly crafted one. It is the Special Variation 1A of the standard corporate response, that is, the "market populist deniability" response: I am not really a corporate hack, because I say I am not. Ergo, I am not. I am Big Brother, but I am not Big Brother, because I say I am not. Right = Wrong; Greed = Beneficence; War = Peace; et cetera.
He could be a speechwriter for Gray Davis. I.e.: from Davis’s remarks before the state party convention yesterday:
‘Davis promised convention delegates that if a rate hike proves to be necessary, ‘You can be sure of one thing from this governor: I’ll fight to protect those least able to pay, reward those who conserve the most, and motivate those who are the biggest guzzlers to cut back.’’" <LA Times, 4/2/01>

And finally, Mark has the last word on April 5:

Where opinion meets benign syntax abuse …

So it wasn’t really a vacation and it wasn’t really all that desirable a break but it all worked out in the end, I suppose, more or less, onward and upward, and for those who are interested in the Fix’s odd publishing lapse lo these past couple of weeks it was detailed in our very own SF Chronicleright here and noted again today here and for the record it was all rather enlightening and unfortunate and ethically sticky and not all that much fun, really, just like a thorny little journalistic brouhaha should be.

Overall a surprising and somewhat frothy, morally pregnant incident involving the Fix which was also picked up by various media outlets, everyone from KCBS to Romanesko’s Media News to the AP to the American Journalism Review and what a strange surprising mini-tempest it was, and me without my umbrella.

A rather tame and borderline pitiable fifteen minutes of fame for yours truly, and it ain’t exactly warming the heart of my cockles to think that a semi-scandalous blip regarding one of my columns may be the apex of the Fix’s rise to ticklish infamy and shimmery glory and free saki shots at area sushi bars, but what can you do.

But we’re all back on track now, more or less, and jiggling onward with one notable change for Fix readers, and it is this: the Notes & Errata column normally running every day in this space will now only run twice a week, to give the column more time for depth-plumbing and quality control and perhaps actual research now and again, with the other three days to be filled with obscure cookie recipes or bad teen poetry or whatever I can think of, or perhaps nothing, considering the rich panoply of glorious lickables the Fix already proffers. Ahem.

In sum: Morning Fix five days a week; Notes & Errata centerpiece column included twice a week (also running separately on the Gate). Edge and wryness and happyfun journalistic blasphemy fully intact, hopefully, only better and richer and more pointed but with the same grammatical gyrations and quirky innuendo and disparaging verbiage directed at the pope and Shrub and Jennifer Lopez, simultaneously. Thoughts, comments, who-the-hell-cares? Let me know.’

A Memory of My Grandfather (2001)

I am inordinately proud of all my grandparents, proud of their heritage and what they did and gave to us. All of them worked extremely hard under difficult circumstances to bring, in their own way, the basics of life, love and happiness to their families. We enjoy the blessed lives we have in no small part due to their sacrifice, courage and matter-of-fact commitment to making a better life for us.

My grandfathers, both, were awe-inspiring men. Flawed (charmingly, not fatally), down to earth; loved to laugh and loved life, didn’t put up with any baloney. Their gifts to us, both in genetics and memories, are legion. From my father’s dad, I got my bad eyesight, an impatience for ignorance in high places and the mouth to jaw about it – plus loyalty, integrity and an occasional impish sense of humor. And from my mom’s dad, the sweeter side of my nature, a dedication to work and friends and family and a wanderlust par excellence – plus a propensity to trade cars far more often than is healthy to the bank account. He was George Oval Booth, Sr., affectionately known as “Buck,” to his family and friends, and “Granddad” to his grandchildren. And he was the measure of a successful man.

Time has a way of healing all wounds, softening all memories, but I can honestly say that my memories of Granddad don’t need softening much. When it came to us grandkids, Grandad was always in good humor. I never remember him being short or ill-tempered with us (perhaps he softened up as he got older). I remember his laugh, and his sweet smile. I remember the smell of his snuff and the feel of his somewhat boney shoulders as you hugged him, shoulders and a back bowed and bent after decades of hard scrabble in the tough soils of west Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, earning a living for his wife and five children. I remember drinking water out of his empty snuff glasses on hot days while playing in the hot New Mexico sun. And I certainly remember his singing, particularly, “Won’t It Be Wonderful There?,” the song that Aunt Joyce always thought was about her because it contained the line, “Joyously singing, with heartbells all ringing,” which she thought Granddad was singing, “Joyce Lee singing …”

And that wanderlust. I certainly remember his pacing, and jangling of change, and his excuses to get back home after a visit (“We got to get home and turn the well off”), even if they had only been there for a short time. I remember that mainly because it lives on in me. I can fully appreciate his sometimes acute need; the fun is in the journey, in the departure, in the moving from point to point, not the actual stay, which, while enjoyable in itself, means having to keep still, at which he and I both aren’t much good. This wanderlust is legendary in the family; mom and the sisters remember quite vividly leaving Roswell late on a Saturday afternoon after work, driving the 450 miles to Duncan, only to return late on Sunday night and be at work at sunup Monday morning. It was the only way he could see his family, particularly his mother, but there was certainly an element of restlessness to it, of always wanting to be on the go, the so-called “thrill of the open road.” I know, because I feel it keenly myself today, and think of him and smile when it happens to me. My friends are sometimes understandably confused when I stand up and stretch and say, “I got to get home and turn the well off.”

Granddad went through the entire lineup of automobiles produced in Detroit between the time he was old enough to drive and that final Oldsmobile in the ‘80s. Well, maybe not, but it certainly seemed that way at the time, particularly to my grandmother, Brooksie, who pretty much never knew what was going to be in the driveway and whether the key on her keychain was going to fit the ignition of whatever hot deal was sitting out in the sun. He was the quintessential American in that way; his car was his identity in some ways. It was a source of pride and pleasure – something to show for the hard work on the seat of the tractor. And hey, if a new car got a rise outta Brooksie, it was probably a secret little bonus for him. For some reason, I remember particularly a dark red Ford Torino in the ‘70s, and a journey through north Texas when he and Grandma took my cousins Jeff and Jami and I to Sherman, Texas, sweating in the hot back seat. This particular deal didn’t include an air conditioner. That car gave way to another in fairly short order.

His storytelling was often fascinating; one that sticks in my mind is most certainly aprocryphal, especially in light of subsequent research into the family tree. But he remembered it clearly and took it with some seriousness. One day on the family farm in Montague County, Texas, when he was somewhere around seven years old, he was in the field plowing with his father. A strange man came to the edge of the field out of some woods. His father stopped the team, handed him the reins and told him to not move. His father then went to the edge of the field, talked to the stranger for a while, then came back. According to Granddad, his father then said, “You know who that man was? That man was John Wilkes Booth.” Grandad’s sense of humor was sometimes quite subtle and easily missed. Either he had a grand joke on us, or his father had a grand joke on him. Or perhaps, who knows?

I remember the way he would punctuate a discussion with “why,” not as a question, but as a declarative (such as “well”), as in, “If he hadn’t done that, why, then …” I remember his devotion to watching the evening news with Walter Cronkite. The fact that the Depression of the ‘30s scarred him so deeply he lived out the rest of his life in fear of another one. How he loved taking care of his yard and mowing and watering. How careful and respectful he was of other people and their things. And the way that when he laughed he sort of bobbed up a down a bit, laughing whole-heartedly.

Shortly before his illness and death, he took a ride with me to pick up a package from the Roswell FedEx office. We had to stop in a farm implement store to ask directions; he knew the people inside. They brightened up when they saw him walk in the door. He seemed proud to introduce me and charmed the socks off the place, made the receptionist giggle and the counterman laugh out loud with some joke or comment which I have long forgotten. At that point, sometime in the early ‘90s, he hadn’t farmed in quite a long time, but they still remembered him. In his own quiet way, he made an impression.

Granddad lived a quiet, unassuming, unoffensive life. He was a bit timid about certain things, but never shy about things which truly mattered. He wasn’t perfect by any means. He could be stubborn, ornery, exasperating, sharp and no-nonsense, but the worst I ever heard said about him was that he spent too much time in car dealerships. And his wife was the one who made the comment and she loved him anyway. That’s a pretty good reputation.

This was a man whose life was proscribed inside a limited bit of territory, from roughly a line running between Houston and Oklahoma City, over to Albuquerque, down to Carlsbad and back over to Houston – in the jet age, a fairly small patch of the earth. Grandad lived much of his life in New Mexico, but didn’t visit the state capital in Santa Fe until the final years of that life. On that same trip, he saw the Grand Canyon and Phoenix for the first and last time. He knew every inch of every mile between Roswell and Duncan, knew when to plow and plant, how to read the weather and when to turn the well off, but never (to my knowledge) flew on a commercial airliner or toured the White House and never (also to my knowledge) saw either the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, although he did, I think, glimpse the Gulf of Mexico. He probably never went to a movie theater and certainly never crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.

But the richness of a man’s life is not defined by the title of his job, the money in his bank account, or the places he’s been or whether he’s bought cheap souvenirs at some tacky vendor’s cart in Paris. Rather, richness is defined by the job he did raising his kids and how much he loved his wife; it’s defined in the selflessness and devotion inherent in his daily life; it’s apparent in his reputation, his integrity and the love he gave and received. And in these ways, life’s intangibles, Buck Booth was wealthy beyond all measure.

Granddad was 85 years old when he died of cancer in 1993. He held his wife’s hand to the end and was surrounded by the love of his family as the final act of his long life played out. I arrived in Roswell several hours before he died and will never forget his grin and the spark of life in his eyes when Grandma asked, “Do you know who this is?” and he said, “Why, it’s Steve.” And not altogether without a flash of the old impatience, as if he was saying, “Well, of course, woman, I can see who it is. It’s perfectly obvious!” That scene is probably my most cherished memory; that when he recognized me, he smiled.

I watched him draw his final breath and felt acutely the sudden loss as that breath left his lungs, his spirit flying away with it, his body giving a final sigh as he finally attained the joy and peace he needed. We were all diminished by his passing, yet drew on the reserves of strength and love he gave us as his legacy to get through the ensuing period of grief. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him and wish he were around so that I could just simply listen to him. I’m sometimes angry that we can’t have our grandparents around when we’re older and can understand and appreciate them, but instead are ignorant, impatient youths right at the time when they have the most to give of themselves.

But at the same time, I know that much of what Granddad believed, the kind of person he was, and the legacy he gave lives on in his family. In a greater sense, he left the best parts of himself behind for us to benefit, and then laid down for the final long rest he so richly deserved. Pieces of him live on in each of us and we are humbled by the legacy. He was a grand old man.