Friday, August 26, 2016

The Blue Van Blues



The other day i saw blue Super Shuttle van I-5.  Made me mad all over again.

See, I drove for Super Shuttle between 2002 and 2004 in Sacramento when the company switched its drivers status from employees to independent contractors. This resulted in all expenses, including maintenance, dispatcher services, insurance, lease payments, uniforms, taxes and airport fees, amounting to about $6000 per month, being passed on the to driver, including a requirement that drivers commit to a minimum of 60 hours on the job six days a week for a 10-year period.  In the words of a black cabbie I knew, "Sounds like life on a plantation."

We were not allowed to take the 10-year contract out of the Sacramento office for review by an attorney, even though the Los Angeles office encouraged drivers to seek legal counsel before signing.  A further stipulation required that the independently owned contractors' vans, not those leased from Super Shuttle, be no more than four years old, and that the contractor pay Super Shuttle the cost of the van's paint, livery and decals -- all at inflated prices.  Super Shuttle also had a pipeline to Ford, Chrysler and GM dealers for new vans at a fat markup.

As for maintenance, Super Shuttle mechanics in Sacramento would replace drive wheel tires with recaps, which is illegal for vehicles used for public transport in California, and resulted in one van being totaled on I-5 from tire failure. I picked up the frightened but uninjured passengers.

There in no limit to the greed of Super Shuttle's Phoenix-based owner/owners.  The company's compensation plan is based on the employment laws of the misnamed "right to work" state of Arizona with its union busting statutes.  A class action suit was filed by former drivers for back wages in 2008. The drivers won.  My share was $500, a token amount considering what I'd paid for employment with Super Shuttle -- the worst company I've worked for in my 50 productive years before my blessedly slothful retirement. 
'
I've noticed that nowadays most of Super Shuttle drivers seem to be recent immigrants with little knowledge of English and even less of labor rights. God help them. God help their passengers, and I thank God I'm an atheist

Maybe things would have worked out better for me if I had been a Blue Man for a Blue Van. 

Naaah.  Super Shuttle owns the rights to its special blue paint.  I would've been charged a monthly user fee.  

-oOo-

E-mail comments, critques and snarky corrections to tomatomike@aol.com
Whoopie!  Another insight into your past. Blue vans, super shuttle, limos, taxis and who knows what else, Sky Taxi?  Good to hear another story and thanks for including me. -- Kent
Thanks for reading it  MB
_____  

Sometimes you just have to say something.   Well seriously.   I'm sorry that integrity isn't a mainstay with everyone, and that the bottom line is not the same across the board.  No one should have to be forced to do the right thing, either.  Writing this stuff down should be therapeutic at least, and hoping for poetic justice or something else satisfying is understandable. I've SO been there.  So what do we do now?  I will join forces with you against 'em or bring something fun and inappropriate to take our minds off.   Send instructions. -- Zoey

Just vote with your business, your cash and your credit card.  -- MB
_____

I get up and check my email and what do I see?...an email from my friend Pomidoro Mike!....Have a great day ok Mike?...you tomato man you :-) Qbman
_____

If I see these in operation around here, I'll put the word out.  This should never have been allowed to happen in the first place and I am sorry it did to you.  -- Rusty

Well, that Asian driver might be supporting his and his wife's parents plus his own offspring. Super Shuttle's fares are still less than half what a Seattle-Tacoma airport taxi charges for a trip to either city. I used SS even after I left the company.  Got to meet some old buddies and catch up on company gossip. -- MB

Tuesday, August 23, 2016




Right to left.  Don Simons, Karen Simons, and a slightly unstable bald guy in a vanity cap wondering where his bifocals are, at the Weatherstone Coffee House in Sacramento, 2014.  

The Simons hijacked the bald guy a year later and moved him, lock, stock and bifocals to San Diego in a U-Haul truck.  Being San Diegans themselves, they considered the move as protective custody, installing Mr. Bifocals in a secure condominium with no sharp edges they just happened to own, in exchange for a very token rent and occasional service as a house and dog sitter when they are out of town.  

They also leaned on him to be a tuxedoed usher for live performances at the university theater and as a guest at the outdoor venue in Balboa Park, occasionally hauling him off to lunch and/or bringing relief supplies from In 'N Out Burgers, which is the finest fast food chain in the known universe and probably beyond.

Okay, the condo is great, the San Diego climate worthy of paradise, my blessedly quiet neighbors have an amazing ability to mind their own business, and anything I might think I need is within 5 miles.  Hell, I don't even have to drive to get it.  If it's small enough it will fit in the basket of an electric scooter the Simons gave me.  

But there is a downside to scooter travel. Being an ex-biker, I'm well aware of the hazards of two wheeled travel in traffic where aged motorists tell the cops, "I dunno, officer.  He just came out of nowhere" as the biker's flattened remains are rolled up and stuffed into a rubber bag.

The only other problems I've had were self-inflicted.  Still are, and ain't that always the way?  I've managed to kill off not one but two tropical fish by not reading the directions that came with the water purifying chemicals for the small aquarium.  That oversight purified the aquarium of fish as well as algae. Twice. So now I have a low maintenance fishless aquarium that looks rather nice, a light illuminating the multi-colored gravel along with the plastic grotto scenery.  I'll suppose I'll get another fish and seek the fish person's counsel about proper care and feeding, but not today. 

The latest crisis occurred yesterday when the ghost of a previous tenant and maybe a troublemaking banshee hid the keys to my condo, my car, my storage locker and what remains of my mental balance.  The bill for the locksmith, the locks and replacement keys has me on a bland diet with headache and constipation supplements.

Well, it could be worse.  I could be fishless in Sacramento where the triple digit August heat makes mere breathing an Olympic event.  So here's to the better weather and good friends in San Diego.

                                              -oOo-


Address comments, critques and snarky suggestions to tomatomike@aol.com

If all else fails, let the muck take over the aquarium and raise frogs or salamanders. Say you did it deliberately.  -- Brat
_____

As always, a nice thing to get mail from you.  It seems as though my friend Mike has appropriate thankfulness for a pretty good life.  I really appreciate the thought of you being in nice digs with good people around you, and events of the days making your brain workin' good and your heart laying back warm.  I say that "brain workin' good" stuff in spite of your lost keys portion and for a very good reason.  I, too, have lost my keys and my little packet of ID cards, debit cards, health cards, irretrievably vanished into thin air.  I refuse to chalk that up to any sort of brain fade so I can't accept that for you either . Instead, I prefer to think of these things as a life challenge and character builder, and right off, an exercise to see how many expletives I know.   Keep the words coming, Mike, and be well, keep California Dreamin'.  -- Zoey
_____

Awww love it! -- Julisari
______

I, too,  am glad you're out there, but still no report on their famed zoo. I also want a review of that "In 'n Outburger place which I've heard so much about. We don't have one here.  Are they as good as their hype?  Take care and keep writing. me.  -- Linda

As far as I know, In 'n Out burgers are geographically limited to California.  And  yes, they're very good.  -- MB
_____

Sounds like you are doing swimmingly and, as for the fish: highly overrated unless they're plated.  Always good to hear from you!  -- Ellen




Saturday, May 28, 2016

Death Of A Salesman -- Almost.



A friend wrote asking if I remember a failed southern Californija real estate development named California City, located smack in the middle of a desert north of Los Angeles.

Oh yes. I remember California City and its ad campaign very well. The developers saturated the L.A. airwaves with commercials in 1959. I was 15 when the development was being promoted, with offers of free info. I thought my parents might like to read about it, so I called the number on the screen for the brochure, giving our address, as I thought the info would be mailed. To my horror and my parents bewilderment, a salesman showed up with a big fat briefcase full of shiny booklets and thick contracts. He wasn't your basic annoying salesman, either, but some young guy obviously struggling on a straight commission existence. Everyone was embarrassed. Well, not my mother. She was not embarrassed. She was royally steamed. That's when I learned that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

A few years ago I was a door-to-door canvasser and telemarketer setting sales appointments for several heating-air-insulation-window companies. We insisted that the homeowner and spouse be present for the presentation. If the man of the house  said "I make all the decisions," we would not schedule an appointment.

That's because the man of the house would suddenly be stricken with psychic castration when the sales guy showed up. “I'll have to talk it over with the missus” he'd say. That would be the last we'd hear from that person. So we always emphasized that both household decision makers had to be present when it was dotted line time with a salesmale.

The same applied if the missus said she made all the financial decisions, only she could not castrate herself if the deal went south. Instead she'd become a shrinking violet who needed permission from her lord and master before spending a dime.

Being a door-to-door canvasser can teach one a lot about human nature. See, we were ordered -- not just told but ordered – to knock on doors with "No Soliciting" signs. "That means the homeowner has no sales resistance," said the sales managers.

Wanna bet? I never knocked on doors marked No Soliciting. We worked between 4-9 p.m. when the someone-who-makes-all-the-decisions was likely to be home -- and it was bad enough when the knock was answered by someone with a chicken drumstick in one hand and a can of Budweiser in the other, or tucking in his shirt and zipping up his fly after coitus interruptus. Not a hot sales prospect, he.  And those were the homes without No Soliciting signs on the door.

There were several communities around Sacramento that had what are called Green River Ordinances, named for Green River, Wyoming, which banned door-to-door soliciting in 1931. The idea spread like a prairie fire to other western states. There's also a band named Green River Ordinance. Probably former canvassers.

The nearby city of Davis had such a ban, so naturally we were ordered to canvass Davis. I think we lasted about 30 minutes before the Davis Police Department escorted us out of town with full military honors. I quit canvassing after several more similar incidents and one dog bite later.

Guess I was paying a karmic debt for my misadventure with California City.

-oOo-

Snarky comments and lavish praise may be sent to tomatomike@aol.com.

Sorry I was late with my reply. My fall the other night has kept me away from the computer. As always, glad to see you back on the small screen. I love your stories and style of writing. Very readable. (Very important.) – Beaty
Thank you. Please don't take another spill. I need all the readers I can get – MB 
 Gee, brings back memories, remember when EVERYONE came to the door? The ice man, milkman, Jewel Tea guy, Avon Lady, the guys who sharpened knives, vacuum cleaner salesmen, magazine people, Mormons- -but for door to door solicitors it was a tough way to make a living. You've had some interesting jobs  -- Lynda

The Mormons  still make house calls, but usually by appointment. The Jehovah's Witnesses canvass without warning.  I'm unfailingly polite to them.  See, a JW family invited me inside on a cold wet night when I was peddling dual pane windows. They brought me a cup of tea and some cookies, offered me a chair next to the fireplace, and listened to what I had to say, which wasn't much through chattering teeth.  They did not commit to a sales visit, but nor did they proselytize about religion. The subject never came up. They were too busy being Christians to talk about it unasked. I've been especially polite to JW people ever since. – MB 

I read this thinking of the times I've had strangers at my door holding papers. Papers about vacuums, sales, neighborhood parties, church events, and saving of my soul - as if saving my soul could be done by the reading of a pamphlet. I've also come home to stuff hanging on my door knob and stuck in my door frame. I've also picked up papers on my mat, had them taped to my front door, and even had stuff rolled up and thrown up to my balcony. If I wanted this stuff, I'd ask for it. I guess asking for it in present-day is just having an address. It's the nature of business (and  saving souls)  to get things moving in any way you can. I am retiring soon and have a desire to solicit my labors doing artwork or writing or singing a bit more. Hm...I'll bet I could make some flyers -- Zoey

No, Zoey. God, the government and Cisco Corp invented the Internet specifically to keep you from papering your neighborhood with flyers. So show a little gratitude, willya? – MB

Great stuff, thanks for sharing – BSRS

If I had been your mom at that moment, I may have bought a share and shipped you to live there.  Did you at least get grounded? --Tammy

No, but when I joined the Navy my parents seriously considered moving and leaving no forwarding address. – MB

Wonderful, as always – Julisari

Your bribe is in the mail, along with some Oreos. -- MB

Thanks for keeping me on your mailing list. Just read your piece about almost-death of a salesman heheh You are a wordsmith to be sure. Sorry we never connected while you were nearish. Glad you're loving San Diego. My hometown, ya know.
Keep me in the loop! – Kaa

Really? I thought you were an island born wahine. Must've been your surfing background. I know that you don't get much surf in the Napa Valley. but hey, you're in the midst of some swell wineries. – MB



Thursday, May 12, 2016

Good News Bad News


First, the good news:

Here's my new world headquarters in the Mission Valley area of San Diego owned by Don and Karen Simons.  Last year they forcibly uprooted me from Sacramento and transplanted me in one of their rentals for a very token sum, which they claim is a needed tax write-off.   Riiiiight.  Considering the rental prices for comparable places in this Southern California coastal market, I feel like a bandit.   Not that I'm inclined to reform, mind you, but I have just enough of a conscience to feel mildly guilty now and then.

Not shown is a Great Big TV and a balcony the looks like a miniature Hanging Gardens Of Babylon.  Karen Simons is a gardening demon and doesn't understand people with black thumbs, like me. 

Anyway, I'm as happy as a clam at high tide here.  And with San Diego's maritime climate, I won't wilt as I did during the triple digit summertime temperatures in the Sacramento Valley. 

This must be karma, of sorts.  Maybe I earned it by not shoving the elderly down elevator shafts in a previous life.

Now here's the bad news:  Cracker Jack will no longer include paper toys in its bags of caramelized popcorn, and I bet you'll find fewer candied peanuts, too.  It was bad enough when Cracker Jack stopped including plastic and sometimes metal prizes and substituted paper ones in its boxes of sticky delight, but now -- are you ready for this? --  Cracker Jack prizes are going digital!   

An outrage!  Worse, Crackerjacks aren't even in boxes, but in environmentally harmful plastic bags that take a thousand years to biodegrade, pollute beaches and strangle Harp seals! Okay, I made up the part about Harp seals. Only plastic beverage rings do that.  But still, does Crack Jack management have no shame?  No sense of history? 

 Well, here's some history I swiped from Inquisitr.com:

"Cracker Jack was the invention of Frederick William Rueckheim, a German immigrant known informally as “Fritz,” and his brother, who sold popcorn in Chicago beginning in 1871, according to CrackerJack.com.

According to an urban legend, Rueckheim produced a popcorn confection and presented it to the public at the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago’s first world’s fair) in 1896. The sweet confection became even more popular and associated with baseball when Jack Norwith penned baseball’s anthem, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” urging baseball-goers to “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks,” during a 30-minute subway ride in 1908. The music to accompany Norwith’s lyrics was written by Albert Von Tilzer."

Whenever I get bad news or my cable bill, I feel like sulking in my tent, like Achilles.  Only I don't have a tent. I have a very nice place in a really swell city with some built-in friends.  Makes it hard to sulk that way.  Same with felony snacking.

And now I want some Cracker Jack -- even if it's in a sad droopy bag instead of an All American stand up carton.  Now, if Donald Trump really wants to Make America Great Again, he should buy Crack Jack from Frito-Lay and put it back in the box along with some real prizes.




If you care to comment/encourage/criticize or insult, e-mail tomatomike@aol.com.

What a LOVELY PLACE! I love San Diego! So happy that you have such a nice place, Mike! -- Tab

An uncannily timely message!  Just TWO NIGHTS ago, Vern, Anthony, and I were eating Cracker Jack, 6 boxes of which I had purchased at 3 for a dollar, as we watched the Blues beat the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup playoffs. We marveled at the cheesiness of the new prizes, and Anthony downloaded the app or whatever that makes the little paper "prize" animate on the screen or whatever in the hell it does. I remember when Cracker Jack toys were real and touchable and... and... made of things like REAL PLASTIC.


But on to the first, and more important, part of your mail. WHAT A GORGEOUS APARTMENT YOU HAVE. And I can think of no one who deserves such a living space more than you, my long-time Tomato friend. I'm so glad you have good friends who actually live close enough to you to hang out in person. Wish I had the same privilege! 
-- Margie

Wait a minute. Crackjacks are still sold in boxes? I am verklempt. – MB 

It does my heart good to see you in this beautiful place – Lynda

I love your new home and the people who were kind enough to drag you out of your valley inferno. As for Cracker Jack(s), I was a fan until I got a peanut. I didn't like them mixed in with my caramelized corn. Glad you're writing on a more frequent basis!
-- Beaty

Great digs!!!  Hugs to the landlords for kidnapping you. I am calling dibs on the chair in the corner when I come to visit. – Tammy

Do your friends need any more friends?  – White Sport Coat

Sure, but I think they're out of condominiums. – MB

Niiiiiice digs! I eat neither sugar nor corn, so the Cracker Jack thing doesn't offend me, one iota. – Ellen

You're no fun.  -- MB

The good news is splendid! The bad news funny:) Sooo glad your living situation is amazing! – Julisari

Plastic bags get ingested by sea turtles who think they're jellyfish. I kid you not. Screw Cracker Jacks. Werthers now makes a caramel popcorn. It's reallly addicting. Came across it at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Tad bit more expensive than CJ, but definitely better. Did I mention addicting. I don't know about other people, but I can finish one off all by myself, no problem.  If you get bored, and feeling adventurous, I have a caramel popcorn recipe that's better than CJ, too. You can burn the caramel sauce and it will taste a lot like CJ. -- Brat

Please send. MB

First, nice digs, Mr.  I'm so glad you've got a good place to sit and write these great pieces and to do stuff.  It's important. Second, for cryin' out loud.  Not only do I now have to remember that when I was a kid my great-uncle Billy gave me an entire tin stuffed with all of the GREAT old Cracker Jack toys he had saved - and then I squandered them away, AND I have to face it that now I'm allergic to peanuts, I can't even get a damn BOX of Cracker Jack, throw out the peanuts in favor of the admittedly mediocre present-day "prize" – but I won't now get a prize at all?   WTF?  The world just sucks sometimes, and sometimes Cracker Jack makers have questionable sense, I just want SOMETHING to stay like it was.  No change.  Same toys, same peanuts, same popcorn, same box.  Would it kill you to just leave it alone?    Tsk.  A travesty. – Zoey.

That's tellin' em, Lady Z – MB 








Saturday, May 7, 2016

Neighbors

Among the gifts Don and Karen Simons bestowed on me when I moved to San Diego was a great big jungle plant with great big leaves. It's on the balcony along with the rest of the flora that's somehow surviving my unintentionally lethal black thumb. One of the great big leaves had enough of my alleged care, and it up and died.  Then it fell off and landed on the neighbor's balcony below mine when I pruned it.  I thought I better retrieve it to avoid having the neighbor think I was letting my jungle shed plant stuff on his or her property.  Wars have started over less.  Down I went and rang the doorbell.  A half-nekkid short guy whose muscles had muscles and whose muscles had tattoos answered the door and triggered my o shit alarm.  I explained my mission, saying I was there to retrieve a zombie leaf that had landed on his balcony.  He just waved me off with a smile and said he'd get rid of it himself.

I'm thankful to have an agreeable neighbor. Years ago I heard a radio preacher (I had the Sunday morning shift at a station on the north coast) say that God was trying to convert a non-believer whose name I've forgotten.  As usual, the Almighty made threats of plagues, pestilence, rains of toads, etc., but the sinner remained  unmoved.  Then God played His ace in the hole, His holy hole card.  He threatened the sinner with bad neighbors.  That tore it.  The sinner converted right there on the spot.
 
I liked that Sunday morning gig.  Not much to do.  Lotta recorded religious programs including that awful overblown Mormon Snaberwackle Choir.  My relief at noon was Dean Elliot. 
 
I've written about Dean;  AB, MA, Hamilton College; Ph.D, Northwestern; Phi Beta Kappa, OSS service in WW2;  polyglot linguist, musicologist and godson of Rudyard Kipling.  How he wound up as a $500 a month engineer and record spinner at a small station in a minor market is another story.  He was in his 60s when I knew him.
 
Dean was not happy about having to pull a record shift.  He'd show up wearing a surly attitude, a  Beethoven sweatshirt, and carrying a shopping bag.  The bag contained a 40-ounce bottle of Rainier Ale, a bag of Fritos and the current edition of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.  It was best not to talk to Dean then.  Just brief him about any tech problems, but otherwise keep quiet, wear beige and get lost.
 
There was a live broadcast on Dean's shift, a  Pentacostal preacher bought an hour of time to preach the gospel and raise money.  He  was especially moved  by the Holy Spirit one day,  pounding the table below the microphone while telling the tale of his conversion. "There I was in the  wilderness of sin BLAM! Then something happened to me BLAM!" Each blam caused the transmitter meters to spike, and Dean to get increasingly annoyed.  "But THEN, brothers and sisters BLAM, something happened to me! Yes!  BLAM.  Do  you KNOW what happened to me? BLAM BLAM BLAM."
 
At that point Dean was thoroughly miffed.  He opened the control room microphone and asked, "You ran out of money?"   
 
Well, there was a quite a contretemps in our little studio that day, let me tell you!    The preacher complained to the station owner in a stuttering rage. But the owner, a nice and long suffering man, could only let Dean go at the risk of the station's financial and technical peril.  Dean had made many modifications to the ancient Collins transmitter --  but kept the plans in his head.  Upshot:  No more live religious broadcasts on Sunday.  All records and tapes.  We even taped the pastor's sermon when Dean wasn't around, and Dean kept his job.

Now if I can just figure out how to resurrect dead plants.  Maybe I should find a Pentacostal pastor and get some resurrection lessons, but then, the pastor would see what an unrepentant sinner I am and want to water me in a San Diego Bay baptismal ceremony.  Well, maybe then I could empathize with the plants I water. Throw in some scented bubble bath or something. But until then I'll remain a comfortably dry atheist, thank you.     
 
-o0o-


Comments? E-mail tomatomike@aol.com.

Loved this, thanks for sharing. – Julisari

Enjoyed that. As usual. – Ldywrtr0

I envy your sentence structure.  So very readable!  -- Galen

Aw shucks, lady.  High praise indeed from a published author and world renown academic. -- MB

I am not so sure what to call myself in the belief department - I mean, if I have to have a label.  I do know that I can keep my assorted balcony flowers alive all spring and summer every year, but if I bring a house plant here, it dies as soon as I shut the front door.  "Oh, this variety will grow ANYWHERE" I have been told while accepting a clipping of something or other, and no matter where I set it or what it's in, it wilts, it yellows, and then it dies.  If it could, it would have screamed "Don't leave me here!"  I am not sure, but I think there might be some sort of analogy here.  Do yo suppose God just comes around every so often to watch me through the sliding glass doors, knowing full well I'm messin' up in here?   I love your writing, always, always.  I hadn't received any for a long time, and I was starting to get the shakes.  <smile>  -- Zoey

Not that I'm an expert, but I must say, this was one of your better pieces. Have you been practicing? Well done! Whoo whoo! – Beatsyr

Quite the opposite.  I've been a sloth.  That's why I had to edit and re-edit the piece, even after initially posting.  So thank you.  -- MB

Laughed out loud, Mike.  -- Thea

Friday, April 22, 2016







Reprinted from a Facebook post by Robobc on 4/22.

"Glad to see Trump's handlers spilling the secrets. But we need Trump as the Republican nominee and for those of you who think Trump is stupid, He's not. He's a smart man with a deep understanding of what stupid people want to hear. 


I love how those trolling here on the right refuse to see the signs all around them how toxic Trump is for the Republican party. His technique is to tell his supporters what to be afraid of and then who to blame for their fears. It works. 


So please, righties, if you're not too scared to leave your double-wides because of home grown terrorists, illegal immigrants, equal pay, ISIS, the liberal media, background checks, voter fraud, climate science, Assad, Acorn, the War on Christmas, Mexicans, activist judges, minimum wage increases, gay marriage, the Ebola virus, the ground zero mosque, the removal of the Confederate flags, Syrian refugees, the IRS, the new Black Panther Party, Planned Parenthood, Putin, Muslims, green energy, trade deals, death panels, anchor babies, the EPA, Syrian refugees, the Keystone Pipeline suspension, Obamacare and the Chinese, nominate Trump for the rest of us.


Then ride him all the way to 180 electoral votes in November. That'll result in a civil war inside the Republican tent between the far right fringe and the establishment conservatives after the GOP turns into a regional party of the old confederate south, the evangelical midwest, Texas and the others like the armed idiots who held the bird sanctuary hostage out in Oregon for no purpose and no result. 


Afterward you can return home and spend the next four years forwarding a whole new generation of right wing, conspiracy theory, chain emails to your outbound list when you're not too busy watching NASCAR, the WWE and Duck Dynasty reruns. We'll meet you back here again in 2020 to look over the next group of 17 candidates to scurry out of the clown car, when the lady President runs for reelection."


There.  I feel better now.



Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Day I Bribed Voters With Taffy.




The man appeared to be in his 50s.  He had a drinker’s rosy nose and watery eyes as he emerged from a bar in the strip mall where I had my field command post for voter registration and petitions entrenched:   two folding chairs, a small table,  a ration of coffee in a thermos and my lunch in a sack, plus a big dish brimming with wrapped taffy as bait for grownups with  sugar powered  kids in tow.
 
I recognized the man for what he was: an alcoholic.  Social drinkers are not half blitzed at ten o’clock in the morning.   I know.  I wasn’t a social drinker either, and I can spot a kindred spirit at 50 feet on a clear sober day.  I snipered his attention as he made eye contact and asked if he was a registered voter.

“No, I hate politics,” he said, emitting a fog of   80-proof breath.  My nose told he  was a scotch drinker, and not the good stuff either, but the kind  you can buy by the half gallon for under ten bucks.

I reached for a registration form and a term limits petition, asking if he was a resident of Sacramento County.

“Yeah, so?”

Fine. If he hates politics, then he’ll be interested in throwing the rascals out under the term limits petition I just happen to have right here. I told him to have a seat.

He sat down.  I explained that if is not registered, he can’t legitimately complain about Premier Hussein Obama of Kenya or Commissar Better-Red-Than-Dead Pelosi taking away our guns and forcing women to abort their unborn darlings if he’s a conservative, or about Lunatic Right Wing Evangelical Bliss Ninnies in Congress if he’s a left wing remnant of the screwball Sixties.

“I hate ‘em all.” he said.    I changed the subject.    You can only push an alcoholic so far, so I asked if he had been in the service, sensing he had.

“Navy,” he said.

Same here.  We compared sea stories and swapped lies for a few minutes.  He relaxed and I started asking questions and filling out forms, giving the man what alkies want as much as they want booze:  attention

He wound up registering as a Republican and signing all four of my petitions: the term limits for state legislators; the dedication of vehicle registration fees to road repair; the limiting of state park admission fees to the upkeep of state parks; and a sin tax on tobacco that ups the cost of a pack of smokes to over six dollars per pack, supposedly for cancer research.  I say supposedly because, for all I know, the tobacco tax monies will be siphoned off for bullshit executive conferences in Nassau.

We both had a feeling of accomplishment when he left after doing his civic duty and boosting his blood sugar with a handful of taffy.  I was also four dollars richer.  I may be a lifelong Democrat/Indepedent/Commie Pinko Kneejerk Liberal, but I'm also a flinty-eyed realist.  The Republicans paid a dollar per signature.  The Democrats paid twenty-five cents, the cheap sonsabitches.

Next a nice lady of advanced years and bottle blonde hair, clad in a leopard print jacket and matching shoes, strolled by.   I recognized her as a volunteer at the branch library where I pay my overdue fines.  I asked:  Candy, little girl?

“Mike!  What are you doing here?”

Being a nuisance.   Sign my petitions or no taffy,

“What are they for?

I explained each one.  She liked the term limits petition, which she signed, but declined the taffy.   In return, I promised to run up another overdue tab at the library. That’s my small way of  helping to keep the system open, since library funding is always the first to be cut when the semi-literates in local government go on budget cutting sprees.

I really did not want to stop the next man who walked by.  He was and elderly black man wearing an I Heart Jesus cap and what appeared to be a five pound silver crucifix on a chain around his neck.   I figured I might be in for an ecclesiastical mugging right there on the sidewalk, but I stopped him anyway.

He did not preach.  He did not proselytize.  But he did sign my petitions and invited me to attend Sunday services at his AME Baptist church.

“We have a young Caucasian minister, no more than 30 years old, ” he said.    “He sticks to the Bible and doesn’t act like a fool in the pulpit.  The deacons didn’t want to hire him at first, on account of his age and his race, but now they all like him.”

He declined my taffy offering, but slipped me a schedule of Sunday services and resumed his journey to Calvary, or maybe just across the parking lot.  To him, I imagine, they were the same thing.  I supposed he was on his way to Calvary and redemption every day, every   hour and every minute of his life.

Another Christian stopped by later, drawn by the taffy heaped in my Holy Ashtray Of Wrapped Candy Offerings.  He was also black.  He appeared to weigh about 250 pounds and had the wide permanent smile and vacant look of a mildly chronic mental defective.

"Hey, O.G!” he said, meaning Old Gangster or Original Gangster, a polite term young blacks use to address old farts like me.  “Are you a Christian?” he asked.

No.   Not at all.   But I did not say that.  I just asked if he was registered to vote.  His mind was elsewhere anyway. judging by his answer:  “Is that candy free?”

Sure.  Help yourself.

“What are the yellow ones?”

They’re banana flavored.

“How about the blue ones?”

They taste like Windex

“Huh?”

Those are licorice. I don’t know why they’re blue.

He pocketed a handful and smiled down at me for a minute or two.    I said nothing.   A group of teenaged girls accompanied by an adult woman with a baby carriage began setting up a cookie kiosk nearby. Girl Scouts, dammit.  The little dears have a way  hijacking my potential petition signers.  But this time they rescued me.  I made eye contact with the saintly blockhead and nodded in the direction of the cookie Scouts.    He took the hint and left to make a raid on their thin mint stash.  

I was left alone to contemplate what Christ said about the least of His bretheren and the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus.  But I did not think that any road to salvation, and especially to Damascus these days, is lined with taffy and cookie vendors. That would make slow going for pilgrims seeking green pastures, still waters, and a house of many mansions.
 
-oOo-