More trouble on the horizon…

The 21st century is a frightening and uncertain time. It seems the unimaginable can happen in the blink of an eye and throw our lives into chaos. The world has become a playground for terrorists, street gangs, bands of Republicans and (shudder!) golf clowns.

Perhaps I should explain.

(Sure, why not?).

Trouble started a few otherwise unremarkable Fridays ago as I motored placidly down Highway 29 approaching the strategically unimportant Napa County Airport.

Suddenly, an oxidized red Ford Escort lurched onto the highway in front of me. Hanging from one screw was an unregistered, personalized license plate reading “HAHAHA.” In the rear window of the battered mid-1980s compact were a pair of size 29 shoes, a red fright wig and what appeared to be a mutant sunflower attached to a hose – trouble for sure.

I radioed the newspaper’s photo editor and described the southbound apparition.”Looks like a clown and it looks like he’s turning onto Highway 12 headed for S’lano County…” I reported as the Escort darted back and forth between a wine tanker and a tow truck.

Our photo editor, whose middle name is “Danger,” knew this could be a big, big problem for the county.

“Oh, maaaaaan, we don’t need that. We’ve already got a clown – and an opera company, too. Can you get the Highway Patrol to stop him before he crosses the county line, or maybe just nudge him into a ditch?” the photo editor asked, an edge of urgency in his voice.

Before I could reply, however, the battered compact had disappeared.”

I lost him, I lost him!” I wailed in despair. “I dunno where he went. The only place he coulda turned off is … Oh, no. This is bad. It looks like he pulled off at the Chardonnay Golf Club.”

The photo editor was silent for a moment, then sighed.

“A golf clown. We really don’t need one of those. He’ll squirt a few players with his big sunflower, distribute a gross of rubber golf clubs and exploding balls, then come hooting over here to wreak havoc on our courses. By their very nature, S’lano County golfers won’t notice anything different until it’s too late,” he growled unhappily.

I knew what he was talking about. There used to be a small California town called, if memory serves, Tafano, just north of Milpitas. The town had a prosperous camcrusher factory, a small tomato processing plant and, of course, a pristine golf course.

What, you’ve never heard of Tafano?

Of course you haven’t. It’s gone. The golf clowns came and all that remains are several hundred weatherworn size 29 shoes.

(This is, like, a true story. I heard it at the old Black Watch bar in Los Gatos, and anything you hear there is totally righteous.)

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this whole situation is the fact that these pie-throwing, flower-squirting troubadours of chaos are only the tip of the iceberg for Solano County’s golf courses. What invariably follows a golf clown infestation is even more horrific:

Golf mimes.

Saints preserve us…

Originally published June 26, 2005

Jadiasuvs threaten California highways

I was motoring peacefully down Interstate 80 with my old ’60s sidekick Sapper not too long ago when a king-sized sport utility vehicle lumbered onto the freeway in front of us, slowed to 45 mph, drifted back to the road shoulder, sped up to about 70 and then shot back to the center divider before stabilizing itself between two lanes and drifting east like an overburdened Lithuanian freighter.

“What’s wrong with that guy?” I muttered.

“It’s jadiasuv, bro, jadiasuv. Been goin’ on for years and it ain’t gettin’ any better, either,” Sapper declared, enthusiastically gnawing on a large slab of beef jerky.

Sapper, I should point out, isn’t always easy to understand.

Forever lost in Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentified herbs near Bolinas in 1968, his communications can sometimes be on the cryptic side.

“Jaddasoov?” I asked.

“Na, bro – ‘jadiasuv.’  It’s one o’ them words you make up out of letters from other words that mean something. You know, an acrimoniouszym.  It stands for ‘Just Another Doofus In An SUV.’ What we just saw was a jadiasuv.”

The phenomenon, he continued, has been around for more than a decade, “ever since SUVs got popular with dot-com yuppies with more money than brains…”

Suddenly, he continued, the roads were filled with motor vehicles the size of aircraft carriers driven by pointy-headed little folks whose previously most challenging automobile had probably been a 3-year-old Toyota Camry.

“They buy a lot of Eddie Bauer shirts, too – the scratchy wool lumberjack kind, ya know?” Sapper added.


Many, he intoned ominously, are suspected of being golfers.

“Real rugged outdoor types, Pebble Beach pioneers. Ya know they’re diamonds in the rough because they’ve got, like, heated passenger seats and dual climate controls…”

Sapper was getting somewhat agitated, evidenced by the fact that he had abandoned his beef jerky and was gnawing industriously on his shoulder harness.

The rest of the conversation was a little hard to follow, but Sapper did point out all the danger signs of being in close proximity to a jadiasuv.  I’ll share then with you because it’s way better than climbing up on a broken chair to try, unsuccessfully, to fix the clunky newsroom clock again today…

* You’re in the presence of a jadiasuv if the vehicle next to you on the interstate is roughly the same size as your neighbor’s duplex.

* You’re in the presence of a jadiasuv if the vehicle next to you is so next to you that it’s two feet into your lane (reach out and tap on the window to let the alleged motorist know that you’re there).

* You’ve encountered a jadiasuv in heavy snow or rain if all you can see of the vehicle is its stationary basketball court-sized roof because the driver thought engaging his four-wheel drive would allow him to drive through 12-foot deep floodwaters or through an 18-foot snow drift.

* You’re behind a jadiasuv if it’s doing 35 mph in the fast lane of the freeway.

* You’re in front of a jadiasuv if it’s tailgating you at 80 mph in the slow lane of the freeway.

Happy motoring, amigos…

Originally published November 9, 2003

Some stuff you should never do

Each year as summer drifts gently into fall, Solano County’s lively rattlesnake population slithers into mainstream suburbia for a month or two.

For some reason, this tends to alarm citified yuppies who have moved here to get closer to nature – but not closer to noisy, venomous snakes.

So, being a responsible newspaper, we periodically tell people what not to do when they encounter a rattlesnake.

We try to keep abreast of all the latest rattlesnake-avoidance techniques as well as what to do if bitten by one of the playful but notoriously short-tempered reptiles, and to share the information with our readers.

Invariably, readers find some holes in our rattlesnake lore and call to tell us what we’ve left out.

(Things like, “When my uncle Elmo got back from the Ko-reen War, he figured out you could keep rattlers outta your backyard by tossin’ a grenade back there every couple of days…”)

I have to admit that I recently left out one very important tip when I presented the newspaper’s rattlesnake report this summer.

I neglected to mention that you should never, ever, play golf with them.

Perhaps I should explain.

(Sure, why not?)

I became aware of the golf-rattlesnake dilemma a few years ago while attending a fish fry at the old Benicia Arsenal.

A well-fueled individual there buttonholed me over a plate of smoldering smelts and, for no apparent reason, informed me that he loved golf but hated rattlesnakes.

It seems that the bourbon-addled Benician had been playing a round of wilderness golf somewhere near Ione earlier that month when he followed one of his balls into the rough and found himself standing in the middle of a rattlesnake den.

“I had my nine iron with me – not really sure why, old chum – and I laid into them with great vigor and purpose,” he informed me while bleaching part of my shirtfront with his breath.

“I was triumphant, with eight dead rattlesnakes at my feet and nary a bite.”

My 90-proof golfer explained that he was going to simply retrieve his ball and get back to the game when he remembered that people sometimes make belts and hatbands and wallets out of rattlesnake skin.

“A rattlesnake hatband would be deeeeee rigueur at Pebble Beach,” he related woozily.

“So I picked up the lot of ’em and tossed ’em in my car.”

As luck would have it, my newfound friend hadn’t exactly killed all the rattlesnakes with his trusty golf club and, before long, he found that he had a scaly companion with a bad attitude and a worse headache slithering around in his car while he attempted to negotiate a winding country road.

“I tried to reason with him, but you know how rattlesnakes are,” my new acquaintance declared in apparent exasperation before launching into a long diatribe about ditches, fence posts, roadside trees and tow trucks.

My bibulous buddy survived the reptilian confrontation, but his car didn’t.

There is, of course, a lesson here for everyone, and I should have brought it to readers’ attention long ago: If you insist on golfing with rattlesnakes, make ’em ride in the trunk…

Originally published October 5, 2003

Get happy, get oily, get a fish…

Want to beat the baby blues? Devour a herring – or two. And keep a six-pack of anchovies on hand for emotional emergencies.

According to a recent Associated Press report, a new British study shows that the conscientious ingestion of extra oily fish – such as herring, sardines, tuna or salmon – may keep new mothers and new-mothers-to-be from getting depressed.

Oily fish may even keep new moms from becoming irritated, annoyed or excessively forlorn, although the jury is still out as to exactly how much oily fish the average woman has to consume on a daily basis to keep an even keel.

God only knows why staid British scientists one day decided to start feeding out-of-sorts pregnant women large quantities of oily fish – or how many of them were severely pummelled for their efforts – but the initial results seem to equate emotional stability with regular doses of slippery seafood.

The key seems to be the omega-3 fatty acids found in the aforementioned ocean dwellers. The more of these fatty acids a pregnant woman consumes during her third trimester, researchers found, the less likely she’s going to become depressed.

And besides, everybody loves sardines, right?

Take it from me, amigos, this is only going to be the tip of the iceberg. If yummy bits of oily fish can be used to keep grins on the faces of mothers-to-be, those same well-lubricated tidbits can probably be used to keep all of us a little more happy-go-lucky.

Why complicate your life with pharmaceuticals and spend a small fortune on pricey prescriptions when you can motivate your sorry self down to the fish market and find inner peace with herring-on-a-stick?

Of course, oily fish researchers will first have to conduct in-depth studies to determine specific dosage criteria for different sexes, ages and levels of emotional stability.

A 23-year-old mother-to-be with a slight overbite, for example, might require a considerably larger dose of oily fish than, say, a 35-year-old amusement park clown with size 24 shoes and a squirting carnation.

(Whaddya mean ‘What?’ Some of us just know these things…)

The average middle-aged Republican golfer, on the other hand, will most likely require an intravenous herring drip simply to keep him from periodically gnawing on the fenders of parked cars.

And then there’s the perennial question that’s haunted piscatorial practitioners for decades: Are three sardines too few, six anchovies too many?

This is important, because overuse of any substance can quickly turn to abuse.

A little oily fish bliss is great – even for angst-ridden Republicans – but too much happiness can lead to dangerous levels of euphoric enslavement.

Anybody who’s ever stumbled across a grinning, semi-conscious derelict lying amid a pile of discarded herring tails knows what I’m talking about…

Originally published June 8, 2003


Everyone should drive an aircraft carrier

Sport utility vehicles – don’t ya just love ’em?

There’s no getting around it, SUVs are the automobile of choice for today’s trendy motorists. If it weighs 87,000 pounds, looks like a bank vault on wheels and costs more than your kid’s tuition at Stanford, you’ve just got to have one in your driveway.

Everybody seems to want one, but the reasons behind this unprecedented wave of SUV popularity are rather elusive.

Admittedly, some SUVs have been purchased by golfers who’ll buy just about anything as long as you can convince them that they’ll be able to stuff just one more set of clubs into it. Others are driven by federal marshals who need a tough, reliable vehicle to deport escaped Republicans and crazed serial killers to places like Wisconsin.

Many SUVs also have been purchased by thirty-something couples who have a dozen kids, three golden retrievers and a riding lawnmower, all of which they take with them wherever they go.

The rest of the nation’s eager sport utility vehicle purchasers, however, are a bit of a mystery. They seem to be driven only by a desire to spend $40,000 for an aircraft carrier on wheels that has all the nimble maneuverability of a dead rhinoceros and the fuel efficiency of an oil field fire.

If you ask these folks why they need an SUV, you’ll be met with a nervous giggle and a blank stare, followed by several fistfuls of cash thrown in your general direction in an attempt to make you go away.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of this trend is that many wet-behind-the-ears SUV owners have virtually no knowledge of sport utility etiquette. They’re just bouncing down the freeways like BBs in a box car without the slightest clue about how to behave in a vehicle that weighs as much as the average three-bedroom home.

Here are a few tips to keep you SUV neophytes out of trouble:

* Turn signals – These are an outdated, leftover option from a bygone era. Don’t waste your time with them. If somebody can’t figure out that the Titanic has just drifted into their lane, they probably ought to stay off the road.

* On the interstate – Always use the left, or “fast” lane on freeways and try to maintain a speed of roughly 50 mph while simultaneously talking on your cell phone, swatting your kids and sipping a latte. (Swatting your latte and talking to your kids is an acceptable option). Don’t worry about the 18 motorists stacked up behind you, they’re just admiring your SUV and wishing they had one.

* Traffic lanes in general – Hey, for what you paid to get that SUV you deserve to use at least a couple of these – simultaneously.

* ‘Compact only’ parking – If you play your cards right and maneuver your millennium mammoth with care, you’ll be able to take up three of these spaces. The same goes for handicapped parking spaces if you don’t mind putting up with a lot of silly whining.

* Entering traffic – Whenever possible, bounce out of driveways and side streets with plenty of enthusiasm, then come to a dead stop, blocking one of more lanes of traffic while you fumble for your mineral water and squash racket (Jack Daniels and ax handle if you live in the Allendale region…).

* Sidewalks – Hey, they’re your playground, amigos…

Originally published February 18, 2001

Sorry, this is not a really safe trend…

There’s a rather alarming concept sweeping the Northern California real estate market these days and it’s not an unexpected proliferation of musical lawn dwarf landscaping.

It seems as if everywhere you look, some enterprising builder, developer or realtor is cheerfully trumpeting the benefits of “Golf Course Living!”

Uh-huh. This is, like, supposed to be a selling point?

Call me a skeptic, but why would anybody other than a (shudder!) golfer actually want to live on or near a golf course?

Golf courses, as attractive as some of them may seem at first glance, are basically gigantic lawns dotted with the occasional brackish pond (they don’t even stock ’em with trout!) and a sand pit or two.

The latter are kind of fun if you’re one of those people who occasionally enjoys dressing up as a grizzled prospector and crawling across them on your belly croaking “Watah, waaaataaaah…” to the alarm to startled spectators, but otherwise they’re rather useless.

Worse, golf courses in general tend to attract a rather hardy form of suburban pest that has proven virtually ineradicable in recent years – the golfer.

And herein lies the average homebuyer’s dilemma: Is the cry “Golf Course Living!” a selling point or a warning?

After all, this is a place where high velocity projectiles are just another part of the environment.

Those hard little white orbs don’t always land on the green. In fact – considering the skills of the average S’lano County golfer – they’re liable to land with considerable force just about anywhere, including right in the middle of your first Ramos Fizz of the morning.

Then there are the golfers themselves – club-wielding maniacs in funny shoes who scurry hither and yon through the countryside vehemently cursing those inoffensive little white orbs.

Who exactly are these guys?

Not somebody you’d want to live next door to, that’s for sure, amigos. I checked it out.

Remember when everyone used to joke about wealthy, leisure-loving medical doctors spending an inordinate amount of time puttering about on the golf course?

Sorry – that was just another one of those silly urban myths that seem to surface from time to time.

I did some research. I drove out to VacaValley Hospital and nosed around for a couple of afternoons. The place was full of doctors performing all sorts of medically related tasks. Not one of them was wearing funny-looking shoes.

Next, I made my way over to the S’lano County Hall of Justice in Fairfield. Despite an exhaustive, 10-minute search, I couldn’t find a single organized crime kingpin – not so much as a third-string lieutenant for the Medelin cocaine cartel.

It doesn’t take a genius to put this one together. If all the doctors are over at the hospital and none of the region’s organized crime figures are in court, it’s pretty obvious how our well-heeled felons are spending their leisure time…