Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On the Job

It happens every week. Deadline, Wednesday at 5 p.m., descends upon me like a crapping seagull. At around 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, the shit hits the fan. I huff. I grumble. I swivel in my office chair and say, "This is the day I give up."

I know it's coming. And yet, I can't seem to make my week play out any differently.

The moral of this uninspired story is this: I have a ton of writing to do today about boring things like grand jury findings and downtown business assessments. So I will likely not be writing a proper blog entry, as I'd hoped.

Instead, I offer to regale you with a couple of my favorite photos taken On the Job (at least of the ones i have on my home computer). And the winners are:

Were these high school hellions throwing garbage at passing cars on a Wednesday afternoon? Young hippies making a statement about recycling? Think again. This Christian group was making a cross out of trash to display at a busy intersection in downtown Manteca. They couldn't exactly explain the connection between the trash and the savior - and believe me, I pushed - but they did muster something about Christ taking all of your garbage and making it into ... I don't remember, pancakes or something.

This Republican booth was at last fall's pumpkin fair (we grow pumpkins here). Poor Hillary took it again and again. Unfortunately for Hillary, she was a 10-year-old girl; the mommy and daddy Republicans were off eating corn dogs somewhere, quite dry.

Bet the principal didn't
expect to see a pimp in his school's Halloween parade. The school begged me not to run the photo in the paper, but I just couldn't help myself.

This was one hell of a day.

And here's me in the office. Don't I look like I have it together?

And I'm off!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Two trips to the park

Bailey and I decided to venture into San Francisco on Saturday. It was a beautiful day - about 70 degrees and sunny, no wind, that kind of rare spring day that makes everyone dig on their summeriest duds and lie in the sun for a while.

The city was buzzing, especially for someone with an adorable, love-happy puppy in tow. We meandered through street fairs, where Bailey gladly let kids grope her; past drum circles, where her ears perked up, shocked at either the vibrations or the hippies; and past dozens and dozens of every make and model of dog there is, all frolicking with their owners in the lazy Saturday sun.

Bailey was so happily overcome by all this that she could hardly stand herself. She zigzagged down the beach, manically licking the face of every dog she saw. She yanked incessantly at her leash, begging to go faster. I let her run free once, and she bolted - straight off a sand dune and down to the beach, coming to a tail-wagging halt at the heels of the first person she saw.

Even in her craziest of frenzies, everyone - with the exception of a prettier-than-thou surfer dude and a bulldog that was probably nowhere near as grumpy as he looked - was happy to stop and make friends. It was social hour. It was a party. And we were working the crowd.

The next day, Sunday, we were back in Manteca. Again, a gorgeous day. It was about noon, and because Bailey doesn't let me sleep past 7 anymore, I had already crossed every errand off my list and we were up for an adventure. Of course, I thought - the park! It'll be jammin' on a day like this! Social hour, take two, I thought, let's go get us some more Bailey love!

Nope. The swings weren't swinging. The picnic tables were clean. The entire, lovely, 5-acre park was still. There was not a single freakin' person there.

"What the shit?" Bailey asked, incredulously.

As we walked home, dejected, I started to notice the constant racket of barking coming from behind the homes on our street. There were dogs behind those houses, banished
from one another's view by tall property line fences, pacing back and forth like wild animals at the zoo.

Bailey, still high off her Bay Area love-fest, wanted to say hello. It didn't go over well; the dog went ballistic, and Bailey got her feelings hurt. And if it hadn't already, that froofy feeling of community, so tangible in the city, piddled away.

We got home and settled down into our own fenced-in backyard. And I started to wonder - what does it say about a place when its slivers of communal land sit empty on a beautiful Sunday afternoon while its dogs pace like maniacs in these fenced-in, family-sized cages?

I decided it's because in Manteca, as in most places, we've got capitalist dogs. That quarter acre is their kingdom, dammit, and it's their sole purpose to protect it with all their might. It's all they've got; hell, it's all they can even see.

I'm sure there's some joy in protecting their boundaries, and knowing they could rip the throat out of anyone who threatens it. But you've gotta wonder if it's worth it, if they wouldn't rather be spending their Sundays licking strangers on a beach.

So, yeah. Dogs. They are what we make them.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Thanks, Blackwater

Good music in the Valley? Not a chance, I thought.

I stand corrected. Not only did I witness three hours of outstanding original music last night, I did so in a great Stockton dive that surpassed most bars I frequented in my hipper Chicago and Northampton lives.

The place was the Blackwater, a cafe/bar in a desolated residential block that, once upon a time, may have been a bustling little downtown. The bar itself is full of rope lights, trashed, decades-old kitchen equipment and scratched-up old chairs in no particular arrangement. It was fairly empty on this Friday night. I think we were the only ones there that weren't regulars or with the bands.

This post isn't really about the Blackwater, believe it or not. But before I move on, let me say this to the place and its people: Thank you for last night. Thank you thank you thank you. I had given up hope that people like you live here, and you've proven me wrong.

Here's how it happened that I was at this random locale last night. Last week I got a press release from a PR guy for Shelley Short, a 28-year-old songwriter from Portland. Normally these press releases go unnoticed, but I did a double-take on this one. A Portland musician, coming here? A Portland musician whose bio dribbles with names like M. Ward and the Decemberists? Coming here?

I quickly racked by brain for a way to justify covering the show for the paper. As luck would have it, the timing couldn't've been better. The Blackwater show was this Friday, and next Friday Shelley is playing right down the road in Modesto. Since my paper prints on Fridays, that means I could cover the Stockton show and print a miraculously-relevant article the following week. Kismet!

I was atwitter. I mean, I do interviews every day - (pause: I hate the formality that the word "interview" implies; I stopped planning my questions in advance ages ago, once I figured out that it makes for a much more organic story and a much more pleasant time when you just TALK to people instead of extracting bits of information from them) - I got over the nerves thing a ways back. But this was different, because in the secret corners of my mind, being a music reviewer is high on my list of dream jobs.

The nerves were for naught. Shelley was very chill; we talked over my beer and her tuna sandwich in a corner booth of the cafe while another band was setting up. Turns out she grew up in Portland but lived in Chicago for a few years, so we had plenty to talk about.

What I found most fascinating about her story was the ease with which she's stumbled into her musician life. I guess I've always had this hideously wrong idea that musicians are born, not made. They're a different sort of person, I thought - like hobos, or fashion models - and only a very specific, very lucky type of person can break into their world.

(Sidenote: This reminds me of something my dad once told me. I was probably 17 or 18, and talking about whether I should work in theatre, or, I don't know, insurance, when I grow up. I was surprised to hear him vote for theatre. "They're a different type of people," he said. Ain't that the truth.)

Now Shelley is incredibly talented. But she didn't pick up a guitar until the age of 21, and seven years later she's released three CDs, is signed to Hush Records and is touring the west coast. She hasn't been planning this all her life. One day she picked up the guitar, and that led to some songs, and that led to some friends, and that's the way this shit gets done.

The interview was fun. We chatted about her music, her plans, and her influences, and after we were done I watched four bands play their hearts out for a dozen fellow performers in this great, gritty little cafe in Stockton. And I'm not shitting you - these folks were good.

But the best thing I took away from the night was this thought: Just do it, Sarah. You don't have to be a rock star or a bestseller. But you're going to live a happier life doing those things you love, whether or not you succeed in any conventional meaning of the word. It's a lightbulb moment I've had a bunch of times, but every time I get a little closer to believing it.

Then again, maybe I went into last night searching for that message - and, like the magic of horoscopes, saw what I wanted to see. I say that because two nights ago - after FIVE YEARS of talking about it - I purchased this online.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bailey, and her junk

Oh god. I'm one of those.

I have a club card at Petsmart. I can tell you what kind of a poop day yesterday was. For the splittest of seconds I entertained the thought of going to a Doggie Birthday Party tonight.

Who could have done this to me?

Meet Bailey, my gimpy new sidekick!

I got Bailey three weeks ago from the Stockton Animal Shelter, a simply delightful place.

Driving up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was immediately sobered by the sight of this dead animal drop-off point. I had to wonder, how many awkward conversations did the shelter staff have with Dead Animal Droppers before they decided to just install the box?

But past the dead stuff was Bailey. She was in a kennel with her big sister, who -- and I think Bailey would agree with me here -- was a total retard. She kept jumping all over Bailey and spilling stuff and wagging her tail. Seriously, what kind of dog is happy in a death camp like this? Didn't she see the box?

Bailey, on the other hand, must be brilliant, because she was completely miserable. The whole time I was there she didn't budge from this bowl. Come to find out later, that was also probably because she had a busted knee.

But how could you not love that face? Doesn't it just say, "Do what you want, I don't give a shit?" I love that!

After lots of pacing and several phone calls, I decided to take Bailey home. But first, I was told, she had to have her lady bits removed. Yes, it is a legal requirement, if you want to adopt from an animal shelter, to remove the dog's reproductive organs.

Shit. Look, Bob Barker, I'm not a huge fan of tossing puppies into rivers. I probably would have gotten Bailey fixed eventually anyway. I'm just saying, it's WEIRD that we are forced, by law, to render this animal biologically useless. (Of course, once you get thinking, everything about domesticated animals is weird, so I'll move on. Right after I mention that when I picked Bailey up from the vet I was given a piece of paper that declares her sex as "S.")

Anyway, this was sweet, demure Bailey, minutes after I brought her home . . . and two weeks later, the lazy, loose monster she's become.

Eh, let her do what she wants. She's fixed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Breaking and Entering: French Camp

Welcome to French Camp!

French Camp, CA (not to be confused with French Camp, Miss., population 393) is an unincorporated area north of Manteca and south of Stockton. About 4,000 people lived there at the last census, almost twice as many men as women.

Wikipedia tells me that French Camp is the oldest community in San Joaquin County,
the end of the line for French-Canadian fur trappers working for Hudson's Bay Company from 1832 to 1845. Yup, French Camp was where they dumped those bags-o-beaver, put their feet up and slammed some brewskis before getting back to the grind.

Today, French Camp is full of orchards and quaint farmhouses, a beautiful old brick school surrounded by a crapload of portables - and a lot of smokestacks. Dog food factories, chicken farms, "food processing" plants ... If you don't want to think about where something you're eating came from, it might have come from French Camp.

And chances are it was cheap because of the migrant laborers that helped make it. I've never been able to find the camps where migrants live in French Camp, but they're there - the school is on a special calendar to accommodate all the kids who are dragged around as their parents follow, not beaver, but produce.

But on to the first in what will hopefully be a long, fruitful, arrest-free series: Breaking and Entering.

Right in the middle of French Camp, on a stretch of farmland nothingness, is this great old boarded-up house. It's surrounded by acres of gone-to-seed farmland, a falling-down outhouse and plenty of broken glass from people prying their way in.

It's called the "Dutch Point House," per a bronze memorial sign out front. Here's what some book author had to say about it:

"On French Camp Road near Union Road stands the Dutch Point house, commemorated by a plaque placed by the Native Daughters of the Golden West. A public house was built here in 1849 and was well situated on a roadway with sandy soil that made travel possible in the winter. The two-story brick house is privately owned."

Clearly this house has had its heyday, although there's another sort of flurry of activity within its walls these days. A Vagabond Renaissance, if you will.

Now I'm no artist, but I think there's real talent in whoever turned this big old paint-chipped portion of wall into a doobie-smoking bad-lookin' dude with hair (?) growing out of his ears (?).

For this green fellow below, if you took pause and connected tags "Fag Mob" and "Scared Ass Hoes" with my last post, two points to you! And bonus if you noted that I am standing in the path of that rather well-depicted spray paint ejaculation.

Lastly, can anyone tell me what this thing is? The cross between a clothespin and a vagina with a straw? Because I thought I was relatively knowledgeable about drug paraphernalia, but this one escapes me.

Well, there you have it. Breaking and Entering, French Camp style. Except for the nagging feeling that a tweaker was going to leap out and beat me to death with a broomstick, it was a great time.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cheers to you, Urban Sprawl

Here we go, folks -- or folk, depending on how many of you join me on this maiden voyage. This is a blog about a 27-year-old, white, educated woman of humble-ish roots and meandering ambitions as she navigates the tiny little chunk of the universe in which fate has plunked her down.

That chunk is Manteca, CA.

Picture San Francisco on a map. Let your eyes wander about an inch straight to the right, halfway to Nevada. Along the way your eyes have squeaked throu
gh the Altamont, a mountain pass that cuts through the rolling hills of the Diablo Range. If your eyes made this trip in January, those hills are lush and green and purring like mad in the brief surge of wetness. If it's July, they're brown and singed, and you have to wonder how those random cows that line up on the hillsides are finding any water -- but don't ask. Nobody knows.

The temperature also went up about 20 degrees when your eyes crossed those hills, and you bid adieu to the food co-ops and rainbow flags and independently-owned-anything.

If you're a Commuter, you sat in traffic for about two hours in rush hour because only one highway cuts through those hills, and your cell phone reception cut out like it does every fucking time, and you're going to miss your kid's youth football game and what for? Because, Commuter, you wanted five bedrooms and a wall around your neighborhood and the words "planned community" on your deed because that's a promise that you're never, ever going to have a mobile home inside those walls.

Or else you're a Native: you grew up in Manteca and your family is here and your suspension-lifted F-150 is here, and you make ends meet just fine, thanks. And you know new homes mean a new Target and you're hella stoked about that. But you can't help but hate these rich-ass people with their huge-ass houses that shat all over what used to be the miles and miles of almonds and alfalfa. You can't help but hate them, and the libs, and the fags.

The Central Valley: It's like a thunderstorm here, but both the warm and the cool fronts suck. We'll see which one is standing after this market crash.

I'm riveted.