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Monday, December 24, 2012

Buckminster & Amber - 20

Well, here I am home again and I must admit it feels pretty good.
I’ve never really understood this Santa thing, but I want to believe.
Wishing you all a very happy holiday season and a prosperous new year.
Christmas Cat

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Buckminster & Amber - 19

Amber Waiting 2

I slept by the front door last night, and was here this morning when the house-woman left for work. I expected a shriek when she saw Bucks, but there was nothing! What?! Has something happened to him? The Coyote?! Don’t panic, I tell myself. He slept under the deck last night and should have been safe there. The  Coyote is never around in the daytime . . . still. . . .
The house-man’s in the kitchen making . . . coffee I suppose, but wait. He’s coming. Taking out the garbage.
“Bucky!” he exclaims as he goes out the door. “Where have you been, you bad boy?” House-man picks him up, gives him a hug then, “Yuk!” He plops him inside the house and closes the door, leaving us alone for a moment.

“Where were you earlier?” I ask.
“I took a nap in the hedge,” he says. “It was hard to sleep last night.”
“My God Bucks, you’re a total mess.”
The house-man comes back in. He picks Bucks up, walks to the kitchen and deposits him in the sink. I don’t want to watch. He’ll probably freak out. I go into the living room but don’t hear any protest from him. Guess he’s glad to have a bath for once. I hear the water running. Fifteen minutes later he comes padding in, still damp, but happy: I can tell.

“It’s good to be back,” Bucks says.
“I’ll bet! That was the craziest stunt you’ve ever pulled!”
“Well, a cat’s gotta do what a cat’s gotta do. I’ve seen some wondrous things. You can’t imagine what it’s like out there. I’ll tell you later, first I’m heading for the food bowl. I’m a little hungry. Lived on mice these last few days.”

“You caught a mouse?”
“Yeah, sure. No problem. I’m a natural born killer.”
“But, no birds I hope.”
“No birds,” he says. “I left the birds for Boots. Tom’s name is really Boots. He’s not a bad guy really.”

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Buckminster & Amber - 18

Oh my God! He’s seen me and he’s coming for me. I can feel my hair stand up on end, which makes me look a lot bigger than I really am. A bigger target. This is it. No trees that I can climb in time, and it’s a good 30 yards to the back fence where I used to live. I’m frozen-catatonic! I can’t move and having crazy thoughts. Sweet memories of Amber. How I wish I told her that I loved her . . . and admitted sometimes I ate from her dish. Too late now. This is the end. I wish. . . .
Oh, Wow! It’s Boots. His coming faster than a speeding bullet  from around Coyote’s rear, then runs in front of him and races back to his place so fast he’s a blur. The Coyote chases after him, but won’t go past his house’s fence. And even if it dared, Boots has his cat-sized doorway. Boots is safe. And so am I! Already streaking for the backyard where I used to live when Coyote turns to look for me again. I leap the six foot fence with ease. A beautiful jump, I must say. Cleared the top by a foot. I trot around the corner, and up three wooden steps onto the deck and sliding glass doors where I used to watch the squirrels with Amber. And she’s here now!
            “Bucks! I heard something crash outside and came to look.”
            “Wind blew off a bottle that was sitting on the fence. It hit the concrete. No big deal.”
            “You look a fright,” she tells me. “Mud all over, and your fur’s all tangled.”
            “Yeah. It’s rough for longhairs on the outside, but I do all right.”
            “Umm. So, I guess you like this new life.”
            “Well, yeah . . . sure, but I’ve been thinking of coming back. I mean . . . well to tell the truth I’ve been missing you Amber.”
            “Oh Bucks, I wish I could open this door for you. The servants are asleep. I could go wake one up but I don’t think they’d get out of bed.”
            “Forget about it. I’ll be by the front door in the morning, hiding in the hedge. I’ll let the servants find me. Do you think they’ll want me back?
            “The way you’re looking now it could go either way. I’m sure they’ll want you, but I’m also sure you’re going to get a bath.”
            “Yeah. I can handle that. I’m a pretty tough cat you know. It’s not easy out on the streets. I’ll sleep under the deck tonight, and tomorrow I’ll give you a good chase around the house.”  

 It’s going to be a very long night.

On Leaving America - Part 34 B


            I decided to repaint the hood over the engine—not sure why. I had it painted and all put together except for the latch which held it down. I was going to bolt that on when I got to wherever I was going. The hood, as you see above, was a flat shaped thing and at almost a right angle to the road, like a sail with the wind blowing against it. Seemed obvious the wind would only want to push it the thing down. But crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, an odd gust of wind blew it straight up. It broke off its hinges and flew back over the top of the van, onto the bridge which was full of mid-day weekend traffic, six or eight lanes as I recall, fairly dense. I hit the brakes . . . Ran back and got the damn thing, threw it inside and took off. I don’t know how an accident was avoided  . . . small miracle.

            The van had bells. They were in tune. It took me years to get it right, five of them. Every time you hit a bump or made a turn you’d hear ‘em—ting ting ting. So nice. I meant to take the bells off but had only removed one before the sale. It was from Thailand, given to me by a very beloved aunt. Just as well maybe. Don’t know what I’ve had done with the others.

            I traded the van to my father for his Buick Wildcat after my divorce. It was a faster, cooler car and I was still young, living in Illinois then. He had it for seven years during which it did not age. My father would park blocks away from his destination in order to park in the shade. We traded back when I decided to return to San Francisco. I could get everything I owned inside the van those days. I didn’t know how nice that was . . . but we get older and buy houses . . . and more stuff.
Returning to San Francisco. Van was blue then.
And I had hair!

            I thought it would be painful, getting rid of the van. But I hardly ever used it these last days . . . a trip to Home Depot to buy lumber, or something big, or to help someone move. It sat outside in the Seattle rain for these last fourteen years, but had a good paint job, its third—new tires, and good brakes. But every time I drove it this last year (helping me move again, this one last time) something new would seem a little bit off or go wrong. The gaskets were shot around the doors, rain water leaked in and it rains a lot in Seattle. It’s been raining for the last eight days!

            It never let me down, that van . . . in all those years, but taking the cover off the engine last week was scary . . . so much rust. I’d thought of being buried in the thing, just put my body in the driver’s seat and fill it with tar. But selling was more practical, and it doesn’t feel too sad . . .  losing that steering wheel worn by my father’s hands as well as mine. Dad also loved that van. I think it made him feel young. The guy that bought it’s going to give it to his father, a birthday gift. I think he has money, but I let him talk me down to $300 less than what I asked. He says he’ll spend $5,000 it back in shape for every day practical use. That sounds about right. I’m glad it will go from son to father once again—feels good . . . and sad.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On Leaving America - Part 34

On Leaving America – Part 34

I sold the van today, My 1971 Ford Econoline. I bought it new. It’s lasted all these years. I couldn’t see shipping it to Sweden, though I might have made money on the deal. There are a lot of Old-American-Car freaks in Sweden. They have shows and clubs.

            [I already see this is about a love affair between a man and his ride. Women will probably not understand.] I’ve had this van for over 40 years. We’ve shared some wonderful times. Just two seat’s–driver and passenger. The rest was open space, enough to hold a double-bed mattress perfectly in back. There were wonderful visits to Harbin Hot Springs, a couple hours north of San Francisco. Harbin had pools filled by natural springs and acres of deck . . . soft wood grown warm under a cloudless blue sky and beautiful people, all naked. It was like a Maxwell Parish painting. You didn’t go there if you were fat. I never saw anything sexual happen there; though I’m sure a lot of it happened.
Harbin 1980
            The perspective van buyer asked why I had an airplane’s level gauge bolted to the dashboard. It was because if I parked on even a one degree slope, people would feel like they were always slowly rolling out of bed. So I took care of that, and had some incredible nights relaxing with lovers. Vans were parked near a creek at the end of a trail that led uphill through the woods, to three large pools fed from the hot springs. Cabins could be rented by we always stayed in the van. The peacefulness was ecstatic . . . floating in pools surrounded by trees and woods. Moonlight and stars reflected on the water. Nights inside that van . . . I was still in my thirties then.
            A few years later I was working contracts, Job Shopping it was called. Some jobs required moving one state to another, and if one agreed to relocate they threw great chunks of money at you. Some big company had fallen behind or made a big mistake and needed help fast. Chevron, Litton Ships and Monsanto . . . I did gigs in all of these. The minute the job was done all contractors became unemployed. It was kind of like prostitution, but I enjoyed it. Had no children and was single most of these years.  I did a few months St. Louis, Portland, Oregon . . . a year in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  Can you imagine a bunch of California guys spending a year in Pascagoula Mississippi making more money than most locals ever dreamed about? And some of these California guys were black.
            Things were different down south. A buddy of mine and I discovered this really cool negro bar just outside of town. It was so nice, dim lit and crowded with maybe twenty people . . .  small place. We were the only whites inside. I asked the bartender if it was cool for us to be there and he said, Yeah. Sure. So we sat at the bar and ordered a couple beers. By the time our bottles were empty the place was empty. The customers slipped out left so quietly we didn’t notice till we looked behind us.  They must have wondered what the hell is going on? Who were these white guys? Cops? We were probably the only whites ever in this place, before or since.
            They had great food in Pascagoula. There was some big farmhouse we went to for lunch. It was run with by fat ladies who knew how to cook. There was mashed potatoes, gravy, beef and ham and biscuits, corn, tomatoes. Salads and fried chicken . . . all incredibly delicious—and inexpensive.
            The van’s automatic transmission was sticking in second gear when I was in Pascagoula. You had to kick it up to forty MPH or more to make it drop into high. We been to a very nice restaurant along the beach and I’d had a few martinis. On our way home I went roaring past a pair of cops waiting in a squad car in the shadows of a grove of trees in a small park. The cop’s car left the park to follow, lightbar lit up like a pinball machine. The pulled me over.
            “Step out of the car, please.”
            I tried, but missed a step. I fell out of the car, and was taken directly to jail. My wife was relatively sober and they allowed her to drive the van home. The ticket was for seven hundred dollars. The jail cell was cold and dark, two metal bunks with no mattresses. A drunk was yowling from another cell. My wife was back with the cash in an hour. It seems like there was always lots of cash in the house. No time to spend it. We were working ten and twelve hour days and Saturdays. I came across the arrest record papers while sorting through the Ford files yesterday.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hong Kong-Cat Street

Hong Kong
Cat Street

            I’m still converting slides to digital and came across this one of Upper Lascar Row, better known as Cat Street. It’s lined by antique shops now, a long steep alley that was once frequented by sailors and thieves. Thieves were known as Rats, and people who bought from them were called Cats—thus the name. When I was there, almost forty years ago, the alley was lined with guys and women squatting on the sidewalk selling stuff from piles of junk—all kinds of stuff. You could find anything: old plates, false teeth, lamps, paintings, pots and pans, toasters, knives, fans, eye glasses, coins . . . .

            It was this coin that caught me. One of the oldest cons there is, and I know it, but I still can’t resist. It was this U.S. silver dollar, dated 1797. The guy wants $10 for it. I know it’s probably a fake, but if it’s not this coin is worth a couple thousand—or more. It’s kind of like buying a lottery ticket. And I’m thinking, this is Hong Kong. Maybe this Chinese guy doesn’t know anything about American coins. Somehow it just turned up from God knows where and he’s tossed it in his pile of junk.
I bought it of course. Took it home with me and took it to a coin dealer—who laughed. 
The coin was bogus. I was not surprised.


The following was written by Carl Crow

"Every fine morning you can see these ancient playboy merchants trudging to their favorite corners carrying their precious cargo with them. There they assemble their stock, carefully separating rusty screws from crooked nails, and there they sit all day in the sun. It is a pleasant life. They see the moving picture of the crowds on the street, pass the time of day with an acquaintance, chatter with competing merchants, and once in a long time they may actually make a sale. But these old merchants do not have to worry about their customers or make any reports on sales volume. A son or a grandson provides them with bed and board and they keep shop for the fun of the thing, just as old gentlemen in other parts of the world play golf or pitch horse shoes or go to offices where they are no longer needed. If that is the way they want to spend their time, their children see that they are allowed to do so, for in China the whims of babies and of old men are always gratified."