Monthly Archives: February 2016


I was invited over to the Gilb Museum of Arcadia Heritage to join a group of about seventeen old-timers in the city who had been asked to look at several photographs that the museum has collected . The people and places in these photos had never been identified . Could these long-time city residents help ?photographer 1938

I am not an Arcadia old-timer . I’ve been living there for twenty years , which makes me the new kid on the block , a newcomer , a newbie  .  I was promised lunch , too , along with the group . The lunch ,  catered from The Corner Bakery ,  would be good , so I went . Besides , it might be an interesting event .

Some of the people there have lived in Arcadia since the 1940s ; none before that . They walked around the room , from table to table , diligently looking at each photo . Some recognized long-gone businesses that showed up in  backgrounds . A few knew who people in the photos were. ” That’s S0-and-So ,” announced the former Arcadia  police officer in the group  . ” She was the first woman on the force . ” Others tried to place locations , or to identify clues in the shot that might determine the year.

They made some identifications . Some were disappointed that they couldn’t’ve recognized more .

I asked about the area south of First Street that is covered now with rows of apartment houses and condos . They all seem to have been built in the 70s . No older structures that may have been there survive .  ” Was it all agricultural land ? ” I asked .100_2559

” All the chicken ranches were along Huntington , ” a woman who lived near there as a child said . She was unclear about the vast area south of there . Yes , she conceded , there were crops in that area ; but she didn’t seem sure of it . I read later that there indeed were chicken ranches along Huntington , but they had been outlawed by a 1960 city ordinance . They all seemed to have been gone by 1959 .

I was thinking about a party that Ada and I attended years ago with my mother . Her friends were old-timers then , and Ada and I felt out-of -place at first , like young party -crashers at an old-folks’ party   .Richard Brautigan wrote a story called ” The Old Bus ” , in which a young man steps up onto a city bus and the entire world skips a beat , comes to a sudden stand-still .   All the people on the bus are old . They stare at him and he feels awkward ,  like he didn’t belong there .  I first read the story in the early 1970s , and I identified with the young man . When I read it again it’ll all be changed ;  I’ll be sitting on the bus .

” Time changes everything but something within us which is always surprised by change. ” —Thomas Hardy


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Merle Haggard, Dave Alvin & Emmylou Harris – Kern River

Just a little California Country .

The Immortal Jukebox

‘I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river is a strong brown god – sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.

The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities – ever, however, implacable,
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By the worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.’

(T. S. Eliot – ‘The Dry Salvages’)

The river is a strong brown god.

In our lives we all have many rivers to cross. And, so often, we can’t seem to find our way over. Over to the land of milk and honey. Over to the land of lost content. Over to the home we are…

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go fish

I bought cod and raw shrimp for ceviche recently  . I think I paid about six dollars a pound . Maybe . Five ninety-nine , or something like that , as I remember . I could be wrong  because I’m not a very good shopper and I don’t know prices.

My friend Bill bought a little fish yesterday for $ 45 . It couldn’t have weighed more than about a pound . Coy .

Funny , but back in college my roommates and I bought fish because it was cheaper than beef . Turbot was the cheapest . Turbot — whatever that is . It tasted good . Now , of course , fish ain’t cheap . And you gots to worry about sustainability issues , and health issues , and farmed -or -wild questions ………..

Bill now has six or seven fish swimming around at the bottom of his swimming pool . He likes to watch them , especially in the moonlight . The new one , the $45 one , is platinum . Not silver ; not white . Platinum . I’ve never before seen a platinum fish . Neither has Bill , and that’s saying something . WEISSMUELLER

But , ” Come June , ” I asked , ” what will you do with them ? ”  Come May or June Bill would be swimming , I assumed . I had a couple of silly suggestions for him .  ” Do you have a plan ? ” I asked , for the future of the pool .   To make a long story short , no , he didn’t have a plan. He pretended to , started some doubletalk ; but then gave up . No plan .blog stuff garden house 042

” I don’t mind swimming with the fishes ,” he said . It had overtones of Italian mafia , but he didn’t mean it like that .  IOW ( in other words ) , Bill didn’t have a plan . So far , so fish !  And they can live fifty years , he told me . Bill knows fishes .

” Don’t be koi with me , ”   I said. ( No , I didn’t ) .

Bill’s the guy who cared for a wild baby parrot for a few weeks , syringe feeding it , at first , skillfully nursing it back to health , until the parents came and got it at some point . That’s what Bill said . The parrot parents came for their baby and the fledgling flew off with them . Not even a ‘thank you’.

Now that I’m thinking about it , I’ll have to ask Bill what happened to the two turtles that he had in the pool a few months ago . Maybe the raccoons finally got them . The raccoons come around at night and watch the fish , hoping for a delicious meal , but the fish stay quiet and still down at the bottom of the deep end .   “They actually sleep ,” Bill said . How he knows that  I’m not quite sure . I asked if they snore and , of course , Bill denied that ; but he said they fart and knows that because he sees the bubbles sometimes .

Bill’s no spring chicken , either , and so I told him that he better decide who inherits the coy when he dies . They live fifty years . He agreed . I didn’t mean to complicate his life further . Life is full of complications .Japanese print woman in boat

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your tree my tree

Years ago a friend of mine and I were trimming branches from a huge avocado tree because they were sweeping up against and over my little house in Sierra Madre Canyon . My friend Todd was up on a ladder cutting and I was down below , making sure that the ladder didn’t do anything funny when Todd was up there .

Some guy came up close and stood watching Todd cut . He had a scowl on his face . I figured he could watch ; it’s a free country . He stood there a few feet away and scowled for a few minutes , and then he said , spitting out the words ,  ” That’s my tree “.

You have to kind of get a picture of the situation here , the lay of the land. My house sat at the bottom of a steep hill . Next to the house , on the downhill side  , where Scowler was standing , was a narrow dirt path  owned by the city . On the far side of the path , away from my house , was a bit of vacant land that stretched about ten feet to the edge of a ten-foot wide stone-sided wash that the city had  built in the 1930s . Upon this ten -foot patch of land  grew the avocado tree and a mass of thorny , weedy vines .

On the other side of the stone wash a large green house stood . The guy pointed over there and said , ” That’s my house . ”  Now , to get to the path beside my house , where he was now standing , from that house across the wash required hiking a few hundred yards upstream on his side , then crossing a footbridge , and coming back down a few hundred yards on the path . Brookside Road , the city calls the path , as if it were a road , and as if the stone storm drain were a brook .

I explained to Scowler that we were trimming the tree because its branches were hitting my house . I didn’t need to explain to him the legality of doing that . I didn’t want to argue with him about whose tree the avocado was ; but  it struck me as a weird suggestion that a tree on my side of the wash would belong to an owner on the far side of the wash . He seemed pretty certain , though , and determined .

There were no other words spoken . That tight-lipped little exchange was the entire conversation , and the dude turned and walked away . Maybe in a huff . Maybe he walked away in a huff . Let’s say , at least , that there was no apparent joy and lightness in his manner .

Todd came down from the ladder . ” What did he want ? ” he said .

” He wanted to help ,” I said , and Todd looked at me funny .

” You should’a let him , ” Todd said .

Later that day I went down to the city building department to see if the land between the path and the wash belonged to me , as I had always assumed , or to the uptight neighbor , as he claimed . There were maps at City Hall  that settled the matter .

In the old days , when the lots were mapped , a brook ran wild , changing somewhat year by year as streams do . There was no stone wash . They drew lots , squared off corners , with no regard for the changing meanderings of the then-free brook.   As it turned out , his lot includes the little bit of land on my side of the wash , although that bit of land is  nearer my house than his . Scowler was right , the avocado tree was indeed his tree . Imagine that !surveyor, sighting

So , by coincidence ,  a few weeks later the city sent me a notice to clean up the weeds on that little bit of land , or else . The fire department and the city would inspect and re-inspect and I had to clean it up or else I would be in big trouble . Fines . More fines .

I walked the notice down to City Hall . It was a good day for me , because without Scowler’s intervention I would’ve  been out there digging weeds in the summer sun on that patch of no-man’s land , desperately trying to avoid paying stiff fines , cleaning up property that wasn’t even mine .

” This land doesn’t belong to me , ” I told the city clerk as I handed her the warning notice .

” Are you sure ? ” she asked , suspicious .

” I’m sure ,” I said . ” It belongs to the guy across the wash . He has a big green house “. And a nasty disposition , too ,   but I didn’t say that .

Sometimes you’re the windshield , by hook or by crook , and not the bug .


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an English view of a founding father


thomas paine 1792thomas paine 2  1792Thomas Paine 1792 .

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the force

In 1917 , the Arcadia police chief , according to the newspapers at the time , dropped his revolver as he was bending over to check the tire of his car . The pistol slipped out of its holster , the reports said , and discharged . A bullet struck the chief in the jaw and exited through the back of his head . He died two days later at a hospital . It might have been a Pasadena hospital , if you go with the Sierra Madre News , or a Monrovia hospital , if you stick with the L. A. Times . I’m going with the local paper , the Sierra Madre News , although I suppose it doesn’t matter one way or the other .

A few years later , an Arcadia police chief was fired . The City Council , though , referred to the action not as firing , but they ‘vacated the position’.  I’ve had a few of my positions vacated in earlier years . I’ve vacated a few on my own , too . At Salem Wastepaper , in the 1970s , the owner vacated all of us . Vacate and vacation have little in common .COPs 001

But I digress . Back to the fired police chief .

After he was fired he took to throwing rocks at the homes of the City Council members who did the vacating .  The cops then took to staking out the councilmen’s homes . One night they observed a rock being thrown from a car at one of the homes being watched . They pulled over the rock-thrower’s car . Sitting inside were the former chief and his wife , both with loaded weapons and , I assume , a collection of rocks .

This guy and his wife later moved up to northern California . He went to work for the CA Highway Patrol .  Within a  few years he was shot and killed by a motorist whom he had pulled over .

At least a couple of other Arcadia police chieves  ( okay , just kidding ! ) chiefs  had their positions vacated , too , in the 1930s .  There was political trouble on the city council , lots of turmoil , and eventually two troublesome councilmen were recalled by a vote of the citizens .

I found , over in the secret room at the station , a photo labelled : ” The first bust of a still in Arcadia , 1930 “.    1930 . First bust ?  By the way , when they said ‘bust’ they meant bust . The equipment was all smashed up . The photo shows some cops and others lined up behind the broken still , all posing for the camera .COPs 004

As I remember from my Ken Burns history , Prohibition had begun ten years before this Arcadia incident . I will assume that the photo was not labelled correctly , but who knows ?  I will also assume that Arcadia in the 1930s , a small poultry -raising and citrus-growing town , was crawling with bootleggers , and probably had been from 1920 0n . Yeah , and illegal cock-fighting events too ; but that’s another story for another time .

And where were the cops all of those years ?   Handing out parking tickets ?

Don’t tell anyone I’m writing this stuff about out local police force . Word might get back to the wrong people and I might not be allowed into the secret room again . They’ll shake their heads and say : We knew it wasn’t a good idea to let that old guy in there .
They wouldn’t put me in jail , though . I was just kidding about that when I wrote it in a previous post . The jails are too full , of former sheriffs and the like , and they’ve started catch-and-release procedures in the county , where non-violent inmates are routinely released early .  And , anyway , some convicted criminals just walk out of the jails with fake ID or phony release documents .

If you look like you know what you’re doing then no one messes with you . How do you think I got to the secret room ?

And on we all go .







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the secret room

Lee Baca worked in law enforcement for 48 years . The last 15 years were spent as Los Angeles County Sheriff . He’s retired now . His pension is , I think , a bit fatter than mine ; but , that’s his business .

A few days ago he pled guilty to lying to the FBI . Two sheriff’s deputies had gone over to the house of an FBI agent , one of the FBI team who were investigating improprieties at the jails , and Baca’s  two deputies threatened the FBI agent . Baca told FBI investigators at the time that he didn’t know anything about the incident . He did know about it though , evidently .

Baca might have been sentenced to 5 years in the slammer , but his sentence was set  at a maximum of  6 months in jail . He keeps his pension . What a way to end a career , I think , but that’s his business .

A teacher friend of mine has a son who is a deputy sheriff . When his son  was starting out he was assigned to the jails .   One day a young prisoner noticed his distinctive last name and asked  : ” Do you know the R________ who works at Virgil Middle School ? ”  The deputy answered , yeah , that’s my  father . The prisoner,  looking at him from behind  the cell bars , made an L sign with his hand held against his forehead , and said dismissively : ” He’s a loser .”  One of my friend’s former students , as it happens , but evidently not one of his more successful ones.  Anyway , it’s a small world .

I arranged yesterday to go over to  the local police station storage room , to what we volunteers at the local history museum have always referred to as the “secret room”. The cops , evidently , keep a collection there of photos and police items under lock and key and don’t allow any outsiders in . I’m an outsider and I’m in , though . Sometimes I get lucky . I was imagining all sorts of wonders to be in there . The museum’s curator’s eyes light up whenever she mentions the wonders hidden away in the secret room , although she’s never seen it . So , here I was , being escorted into the secret room by the Community Relations officer. As my friend Bill says , it’s always better to be lucky than to be talented .

It looks a little like my garage , and my garage is a disaster . Ask Ada . But my garage , messy and packed with junk as it is , is way more organized than this place . And my garage doesn’t have several filing cabinets full of finger print files , or police helmets , or badges , or commemorative plaques . I do have one set of blueprints, but the police have several heavy rolls of them on tops of tables . Police Station blueprints . I do have an old police billy club , however , that I found on the street years ago , not knowing , at first , what it was . I didn’t go over the blueprints at the station to find the secret torture chambers , bomb shelters , basement beer bar and strip club ,  etc.  I’m no good at reading blueprints . Another time , maybe . 1912 policeman and crook

No one checked my pockets when I left . That surprised me . I know there are surveillance cameras all over the place , but I don’t think the local cops have x-ray machines to see what I might have slipped into my pockets . If I were still six years old I would have slipped a couple of shiny police badges into my pocket , maybe a lieutenant’s badge ,  or the gold memorial star badge worn for the 100th  year anniversary of the department ,in 2003 ,  and/or  maybe a motor officer’s badge for good measure . Not being six , though , I resisted the urge . Besides , they have a jail over there somewhere , too ,and I hadn’t arranged to visit  that place .  Another time , maybe . Jail la police museum 007



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