December, '97 News

12/26/97: Just back from Xmas trip, where I had great fun but left a day sooner than I had planned. Mom was going on about how all of her friends were dead or dying and about how life seemed not worth living. Add to this my post-holiday blues and it was almost more than I could stand. I just didn't want to be there, so I made my excuses and hit the trail, even though I knew she wanted me to stay another day. Hollered a cheery Happy New Year as I left and that raised a smile at least... Gave Mom a call tonight just to chat and to let her know I made it home alright.

12/19/97: I'm catching up after returning from the fifth of six closely-spaced trips to the Bay Area; this last one on the occasion of the David Rose Estate auction. For all the gory details, link over to the latest issue of Steamboat Notes.

Trip #4 was to the annual meeting of the Thompson Folger Ranch. My stake in this family biz. is a fractional interest in some property located to the North of Stockton, CA, where we grow several varieties of grapes. Don't let anyone kid you: the "ag biz" is a bitch, even with cash crops like Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. To this day, we are STILL making payments to the bank for the money we borrowed back in '82: the year the grapes came in a bumper crop, but it rained unexpectedly two days before harvest. Mold eroded the sugar content to below that needed to produce wine. Did you ever wonder where grape juice came from? That's the stuff that isn't good enough for wine... As for the levees and occasional floods, I'll leave that to your imagination...

Earlier in the year, when the growing season was just getting started, a CalTrans truck full of weed killer happened to drive past our property, which straddles I-5. The truck was LEAKING pesticide and its brief passage killed 20 percent of the flowers on our crop (at least it didn't kill the root stock!). Well, The State admitted blame, the insurance company assessed the value of the crop destroyed (over a million buckeroos...) but instead of the promised compensation check the mailman delivered a notice saying that the state has refused the claim! Back to the bargaining table, the guy from The State is very apologetic: a mix-up has occurred, it's all straightened out now, the check is *really* in the mail, don't worry. Two days later the same thing: another "claim refused" notice from The State!!! Ah, the romance of country life, running your fingers through the soil, etc. etc. etc. Don't forget to wear rubber gloves, bring a lawyer and expect to get screwed anyway!

Long story short time: my plans to move out of my slum-by-the-sea have been put back yet another year. My cut of the profits (when there are any...) is a fraction of a fraction of a percent of gross-minus-operating-expenses (including that bank loan from '82) and this year The State is holding the difference between break-even and profit in its grubby little bureaucratic fist. Oh, I've got enough to pay the bills, but this time next year I won't be any farther out of debt. Rats! It looks like I can't put up a "For Sale" sign on the front of my wonderful house in the dreadful neighborhood and I won't move to the (slightly less affordable and certainly dreadful) hovel of my dreams, in a less despicable part of the state any time soon.

12/1/97: I had a sudden insight today, concerning what sells on the media, in particular television. It seems as if the two things that draw the crowds are people behaving like animals and animals behaving like people. The exception of course is PBS, which tends to show people behaving like people and animals like animals. I was reminded of a lecture by Allen Watts in which he observed that when a group of people were asked to "act naturally", some gibbered and capered about and some merely sat and observed. His conclusion was that the capering ones were trying to express what they thought they should do, whereas the sitting ones were doing what they actually wished to do. Humans are curious, but the media in their own curious way, seem bent on showing extremes of behaviour, rather than norms. Does this "distortion for profit" serve the people??

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