Saturday, June 17, 2006

Hillybilly Bocce Madness, Part I

Our crew of Old School Cachagua residents, affectionately known as “The Crack Heads”…..even though our regulars have graduated to Bud 12-packs only……They kind of look like crackheads.....but don't make jokes: they are running on the pure and natural Anheuser-Busch and they will beat your ass if you so much as hint otherwise. This is the same crew that pretty much did all the work on the Memorial Day project: Jay, and Fred….and Grant, and Silent John, and Horseshoe John, and Ed the Hippy Pot Grower.

The boys have taken over our lighted horseshoe pit and turned it into Hillbilly Bocce. Hours of work smoothing the DG….hours carrying in the buckets of stolen DG. It is a really nice spot: Cachagua Creek flows by a couple of feet away, our herb garden is right there, there are lights, and ice cold Newcastle drafts about 15 feet off. Eat your heart out, Del Rey Beach.

Bocce is the Cachagua National Sport…..and religion. The boys can be found there at most hours that the fish aren’t biting. It requires no investment, and there is no time frame. The difference between Cachagua and Florida shuffleboard: our guys are completely non-competitive. Rolling balls down the DG court is a form of meditation, and a profoundly social endeavor.

Last Sunday, during a break from Sunday Brunch I was sitting by the Creek. The Boys were on break, and having a cold one on our back patio. They were discussing the rumor that the old Rex’s Bar in the Prince’s Camp trailer park….the most notorious bar in Monterey County in its time…..was going to be turned into a church.

There was a church here until the floods in ’87, just up the creek from The Store. There is a long, conceptual story about the church and the church’s septic tank that we inherited. Anyway, apparently God recognized the inherent godlessness of Cachagua and smote the believers right the fuck out of here.

So, the re-appearance of a church here would be a big deal….and a church at Rex’s….would be like the O’Farrell Brother’s flashlight club in The City being turned into an Orthodox Synagogue.

I wondered what The Boys would say. I crept closer, under the guise of turning the compost.

Silent John said: “Who would worship at a church at Rex’s?”


Grant: “It is obvious:

Crystal Meth-odists…..”

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Tears and goosebumps.....

The process of creating the crosses went as follows: I downloaded the casualty list from and shipped to Will Chesebro. Since we couldn’t figure out how to turn the list into labels automatically, Will and his brother had to hand enter each name into the Avery label program.

Then Amanda and the little princesses of Cachagua took the sheets of labels and pasted them to the center of 3” x 12” cardstock at The Store. The process of facing each of these deaths individually began to take its toll even on the twelve year olds. So many. So young.

At the beach, Amanda and her crew took the piles of cardstock and stapled them to the survey stakes. The vineyard crew from Chesebro and Silvestri wineries laid out the grid under the direction of Mark and Brendan. A dozen or so volunteers took armfuls of crosses and placed them while others pounded them into the sand and straightened them. The crosses wound up completely randomly scattered. Oh, well…..such is volunteer labor.

I took a turn at all the jobs. Pounding in the stakes was the worst. It took five blows of a heavy mallet to sink the crosses, all the while looking at the name, age and date of death of the soldier. I tried saying Hail Mary’s with each cross…..’pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death….’ and right there in front of me was the date and hour of each poor kid’s death. After an hour it became overwhelming, and I had to work from the other side of the crosses so that I could not see the names.

The boys were ruthless. The lines had to be straight and even, despite the enthusiastic incompetence of the volunteers. The mantra was: “Do it again. Make it straight. This is someone’s life we are talking about here….This was a kid” This coming from twenty year olds. Every scrap of paper and bit of trash was policed up as we went.

The work was daunting…..the area kept growing and growing until it filled the entire 13th Street cove out to the tide line. The pile of stakes was immense and didn’t seem to shrink. When the cove was filled we were only half finished. Still, we kept up the rhythm and overflowed the lines out to each side down the beach and by 9am we were finished.

We hadn’t really looked up to see the work as a whole until then. It was stunning. I walked up the stairs to the bluff to get the overview. Wow. And everyone coming up the stairs, or walking along the path on the bluff was in tears.

The police came….but that is another story. Suffice it to say they were pissed, and helpless. The volunteers went home, and Conall, Will and I stayed to watch over things while Alex and Brendan went back to The Store to prep for Monday Night Dinner.

The only media on the beach was one reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Michael Katakis ( ) who happened to be on in Carmel on vacation. He ran back to his place and got all his gear and spent the day photographing the crosses and interviewing people. Michael spent three years photographing and interviewing visitors to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. and produced a book. He did the invaluable chore: giving perspective to the boys….and to me. Over and over he repeated: “Do you understand what you have done? You have changed the way people relate to the war. You have changed the way they relate to this beach. These ghosts will be here forever.” Eventually it sank in.

Around noon, Michael ran over to me: “You have to come check this out.” A group of young people had been walking up and down the rows for more than an hour, and were gathered around one cross. Turns out that they were vacationing from Fresno and happened upon the Memorial by chance….like everyone else. The pretty young pregnant girl had lost her brother, Lance Corporal Chad Maynard, last June and had found his cross. She was there with another brother and a cousin, both Marines. By completely random chance….or something else….his four best buddies were the crosses in the row next to him. They were all killed in the same explosion. What do you say? The young people got rocks and flowers to decorate the crosses, and raked the sand flat in the row. The young Marines carved “Semper Fi” in the sand in front of the five crosses. Try not to cry.

An hour later we noticed a huge Dolph Lungren type guy walking the rows: 6’4”, 240….pecs like slabs of granite; brush cut, board shorts. Conall went to interview him and no doing. I took a nap in the shade for an hour and when I woke up, the guy was still there walking the rows back in the back of the cove. I knew how easy it was to miss a name in all that white sand and all those white crosses, and thought we could help.

I went over to him: “Did you find your buddy?”

He gave me a completely dead look.

“All twelve.”

Saturday, June 03, 2006

How I spent my summer vacation.....

In our weird life you never know when you are going to be busy and when you will be dead. We worked every day in November, for god’s sake……It stands to reason that outdoor caterers in California will be busy when it stops raining, but last month was nuts. We did not just work every day……we worked dawn to midnight every day. Customer service went to hell…..but I tell my brides up front: “We are Jimmy Stewart, not Martha Stewart…..and it is a World War II black and white bombing movie……” We can no longer pretend to care about matching the exact hue in the blood oranges in the first course salad to the bridesmaids’ dresses or the cover linen on the tables.

The May Pace only cost me two old customers and friends: one of fifteen years, one of thirty. I always hold out this faint hope that my friends and my customers, and especially those that are both, will understand (especially after more than one or two or three decades) that we focus on one event at a time, and just in time. We are really good at what we do, but if you need hand-holding…..up your medication. And if you choose to bitch at us, and get demanding and lay on guilt trips……get in line behind Ameriquest, Jaguar and the I.R.S.

Because we don’t get deliveries in Cachagua I have to personally pick up all of my food. It involves a lot of driving, since we are forty minutes from town….at best. Since there is no decent music radio on the Central Coast, I listen to KRXA 540 AM progressive radio…and KGO, and KCBS….and a little KPIG. A lot of radio… least three hours a day and sometimes six or eight.

Working as much as we do there is perverse expectation that should be some justice in the world. We try to fight for decent and sustainable fish and meat and produce, and despair at our workers’ (and our own) idea of health care planning and retirement: don’t get sick….. and die on the job.

This may be the 21st Century, but Charles Dickens would be right at home on our jobsite.

Anyway, back last winter I saw a foto of a gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. It was of a kid from Rhode Island who had been killed in Iraq on the day before his 21st birthday….and his birthday happened to be the same as my youngest son, Dylan. April 18th, 1985. The kid’s buddies try to make sure that there is always a can of Budweiser on the kid’s grave……

First off….fucking Budweiser? In a can? Jesus wept……

Anyway….I was really moved by the image. I have spent the major portion of my life trying to engage young people in the world: soccer, cooking, catering, cars, motorcycles, foreign countries, music, art…..(my crew MADE beer for their high school graduations....Porn Star Porter…..). The image of this kid fighting for his country…..and dying….before he could legally drink a beer in one of the commercial establishments he was fighting to protect…..just flattened me.

And my former friend Nigel…..also a victim of The May Pace, come to think of it…..had sent me images of the Veterans for Peace Arlington West memorial on the beach in Santa Monica. One cross for each dead kid, in the sand, in perfect rows and columns….every Sunday morning. I thought that locally, where our kids die not by insurgent gunfire and bombs but by self-inflicted gunshots and hanging and car crashes….that we could use the reality check of the Arlington West.

I set out to find some partners in the project. Like a good caterer I laid out the project first. At the time: 2200 deaths. I figured a three foot cross with a twelve inch crossbar….figure six inches in the sand (I was thinking Carmel Beach). This came to 10,000 linear feet of wood! Fuck me. Plus the screws and the idea of packing and moving crosses. Fuck.

I thought the project might be an opportunity to bring together various disparate groups on the Peninsula. My main gripe with George Bush is his cynical use of wedge issues to divide Americans. Why could not the VFW get together with the Veterans for Peace (VFP) on a project? Shit they both fought and died together against common enemies….. Plus, CodePink and the VFP had issues, and the various flavors and colors of Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, and Peace and Freedom folk……And I am a Republican! There had to be other real Republicans that would be willing to memorialize the loss of so many young souls. Nothing like a single project to bring people together.

Will Rogers always said, “I do not belong to an organized political party: I am a Democrat.” No shit, Will. It was like herding cats…..

I went to a VFP meeting at the hippy bakery in Pacific Grove. I was nervous as a cat…..because I played for the other team: I may be a Republican, but I was an Irish Republican. The officers of the organization are, no surprise, officers. The moral voice of the group is Phil Butler. Phil was a prisoner of war in Hanoi something like four years longer than John McCain. Ed Leeper, performance artist and social conscience was there. Richard Miller, author, beat, surviving patriarch of the sprawling Miller/Houston clan was there.

Phil is not a Christian, and objected strongly to the use of crosses. Truly, what Jew or Muslim wants to be memorialized by a cross? I just was interested in the visual effect, not the religious. The human eye likes regularity: lines and angles, shadows and rows……offset by the sand and sea, and with Pebble Beach in the background….

It was suggested to use tombstones. I had seen some such memorials up in Washington State. To me they looked like Halloween….Death by Disney. It was Wiley Coyote and Roadrunner….but these kids were not coming back after the Acme dynamite went off…..

Richard Miller, God bless him, took the floor. Richard lost his voice box years ago, so he growls and belches….and to listen to him you have to really LISTEN: “One of the most brutal civilizations in history was the Romans. And the most brutal method of execution they could come up with was crucifixion. So it is not necessarily a positive image if you really think about it……”

Then the discussion went on to permits and liabilities and chain of command. Officers. They agreed to help if I got permission from the City of Carmel. Howard would call the Mayor, we would form committees. And maybe we should do it at Windows on the Bay….or the Pumpkin Patch at Rio Road. And no crosses. And maybe we should get permission to use the actual names of the dead, in case the families would object……

Yeah, well….Fuck that. The whole point of an action like this is to make people uncomfortable and shock them out of their day-to-day. And it must be visually and emotionally powerful.

Sorry guys. We just did it ourselves.

Two unemployed commercial fishermen who live in the trailer park near The Store and my sons and I said “Fuck it!” In the middle of our busiest month in years we figured we could do it. Our friends in Cachagua rallied around us and……

Margaret Mead said: "Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have."

No donations. No politics. No flags, banners or pamphlets. No permits or permission. Just the regular citizens these kids were supposedly fighting for……. recognizing their sacrifice.

In Cachagua we are geographically and philosophically close to the monks at Tassajara. We really did not care if anyone came to witness the action....creating the memorial was enough. Most of these kids were now resting, not in beautiful Arlington, Virginia....but in dry, windswept places like Plano, Texas.....and Grand Island, Nebraska. They deserved a day in the sun on the beach with their buddies, facing ''the most beautiful meeting of earth and sea....." a block from Robinson Jeffers' house. Carmel Beach is prized by the locals for its beauty, its peace, and the spirit of contemplation it fosters. Why not share?

There you go……

We had no idea what we were getting into…..

Friday, June 02, 2006

Posted by Picasa