Don’t do as I do; don’t do as I say, either

I may not be Northern California’s answer to Ann Landers, but I think I provide my share of heartfelt and carefully thought out advice, gently telling readers to shaddup, get a life and never, ever mix gin and malt liquor during the dark of the moon.

Unfortunately, I seldom follow my own advice and my cavalier attitude toward my own quite reasonable rules for living frequently gets me into a bit of a sticky wicket.

How many times have I advised readers to never even consider going back to work immediately after dental surgery? How many times have I sagely pointed out that dental surgery usually leaves you numb, goofy and unable to communicate on even the most primitive of levels?

And how many times have I told myself, moments after leaving the dentist’s chair, that I ought to be able to slip back into work for a few minutes without mishap?

Alas, I should listen to myself sometimes.

Just last week my dentist was giving me the usual cautions after stomping around in my mouth for two hours – something about taking my painkillers and not moving.

But, hey, I thought, if I don’t drive or have to talk to anybody, I should be able to prop myself up at my desk for a short time and do some quality journalism before calling it a day.

Silly me.

Having gobbled a handful of prescription painkillers, I’d been floundering at my desk for only a few minutes when my unshaven, ham-fisted city editor demanded to know where I’d gotten attendance figures for an adult education story I’d written.

“From 400 to 12,000 students in five years?! Whadda they doing, givin’ away free toasters? C’mon, c’mon…” she growled.

“Goomph – ferhshu pthpour, loffguh. Caw-caw,” I responded.

“You are so weird,” she muttered.

There was, of course, only one way to remedy the situation – call the Vacaville Unified School District and ask for the correct figures.

No easy task, amigos. Let’s face it, obtaining information from any public agency in California on a Friday afternoon is kind of like spitting into the wind – it doesn’t get a helluva lot accomplished, particularly if you sound something like a crippled helicopter slamming into a hog farm.

And this is where I have to hand out kudos to the half dozen courageous school district administrative employees with whom I spoke.

Although I doubt that even I would have talked to me that afternoon, they listened patiently and somehow translated “Gurff thrffsnar thuh tippfo soussed freph, reepf a gorra treef ahchuff meh?” into “I think we may have a typographical error in the figure we have for your current adult school enrollment and I wonder if you could possibly check it for me?”

Not only did they translate, but the school district folks patiently pointed out to the crazy person with the mouthful of marbles that, yes, his figure were off by about 11,000.

I later told a colleague how helpful the school district personnel had been, but she simply shook her head.

“Helpful? I heard that conversation, pal, and if you ask me, they weren’t being helpful, they were terrified. You sounded like a really nasty combination of Humphrey Bogart and Cindy Brady,” she asserted.


Like I said, never even think about going into work after dental surgery. Really..

Originally published March 31, 2002

Neighborliness can be dangerous

The newspaper recently endorsed old-fashioned block parties as a great way to promote neighborhood safety and togetherness.

These informal gatherings, such as the increasingly popular “National Night Out” observance, allow neighbors to get to know each other, share new ideas and strange casserole recipes while presenting a strong, united front against crime, chaos and itinerant religious zealots.

On the surface, this all seems like a genuine example of the much-touted win-win situation – have a good time, make new friends and scare undesirables away with the aforementioned casseroles.

Unfortunately, I can’t quite share my newspaper’s enthusiasm for these neighborhood get-togethers.

For reasons I have yet to fully ascertain, it seems like every block party I’ve ever been foolish enough to attend has evolved into what international peacekeeping forces usually refer to as an “incident.”

(“Incidents,” it should be noted, customarily involve clouds of oily, black smoke, people screaming in Urdu, lots of overturned vehicles and, er, really bad casseroles.)

Whenever somebody mentions throwing a block party, my mind is drawn back to a once quiet street in San Jose where a trio of counterculture commandos known to regional law enforcement agencies as “Those damn King boys!” used to mark the end of each work week with 48 hours of neighborhood trauma.

The three brothers – Larry, Reb and Goose – lived in an old Southern Pacific railroad shack across from the Baptist church on Sunnyside Drive and they believed in sharing the good times whenever they decided to celebrate.

A typical block party weekend would begin about 7 a.m. on Saturday with the brothers’ three German shepherds – Sam, Zeke and Lookey Lou – enthusiastically pursuing a large, unidentified rodent through a half-acre of discarded malt liquor cans left over from Friday night. The barking dogs would eventually awaken the three hungover brothers, who would proceed to wake up the rest of the sleepy suburban neighborhood by repeatedly bellowing “Shaaaaaaddup!” at the frisky canines.

Once the boys were on their feet – about 4 p.m. – a block party liquor store caravan would be organized and, a short time later, the barbecue fires would be lit. The latter activity traditionally involved large quantities of gasoline, a blow torch, lots of cursing and a Hungarian guy named Tibor repeatedly falling out of a tree in the front yard. Sam, Zeke and Lookey Lou would gleefully abscond with whatever had been tossed on the barbecue grill while the King Boys painstakingly orchestrated another liquor store mission.

By 8 p.m., we could count on the beginning of the neighborhood block party argument.

Predictably, the King brothers would return from the liquor store, find the barbecue grill bare and blame Tibor for eating all the food – despite the ribs and drumsticks protruding from the German shepherds’ mouths. Tibor would begin shouting in Hungarian and everyone would wind up throwing punches and rolling around on the steps of the Baptist church.

By midnight, the neighborhood block party would have become the focus of a valuable lesson in community law enforcement from the Police Department and another warm, educational neighborhood get-together would have drawn to a close.

Until, like, Sunday…

Originally published August 26, 2001