WanderingDan’s Weblog

Docking station…California
September 13, 2008, 2:16 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I have always been told the older you get, the more burdens you have to shoulder…the more responsibilities to hold you down.  This has not been the case for me.   Most days of late I find myself doing heavy labor around the property, mostly “constructive” landscaping…but it doesn’t feel like work.  It is more like playtime, seriously.  Mentally and emotionally, this Van Nuys docking station is providing incredible therapy.  I am decompressing years of amassed stress, enjoying and embracing the plethora of free time I have to contemplate the successes and failures of my life until now, and figuring out how I want to live the rest of it…or at least the next chapter…which could in fact be the rest of it…if these damn black widows keep crawling up my leg.  But that’s another story…


The shovel sinks two inches into the ground…then bends!  What the hell?   I thought this was sandy soil? Oh my god, this is solid, dry clay.  It’s like digging into an adobe brick.  Will anything be able to grow here?  Angela, my dad, and grandpa Dave (actually he’s my great uncle…but everyone else here calls him grandpa Dave, so I started to as well) are all telling me Angelo used to have a garden here…in this same area, with tomatoes, mint, and other lovely plants, and it thrived!  However, this was close to 40 years ago…hmmm.  I need to get creative.  The top two inches of adobe brick loosen up on what I plan to make the strawberry bed.  Dave mentions that some people here soak the clay to make digging easier.  I give it a whirl.  Wow, this clay makes perfect mud.  I mean PERFECT mud!  Smooth, slick, and ideal for playing.  As I look at the two large bean shaped sections I have marked off to be the garden’s interior, a mischievous smile spreads across my face.


It’s been a week since I first began planning ‘mudfest 08’.  I spent several days out in 110 degree Cathedral City visiting Angela and the gang.  Now I’m back, and ready for more fun.  It is still cool out this morning, around 65 degrees, with clouds.  But I’m sure they will burn off like clockwork in about an hour, inviting a 90 degree sunny, southern California summer day of paradise.  I dig up more adobe clay soil…it takes me a couple hours of digging to finally get both pits six inches deep.  Then I fill them with water and break up the clay underneath.  Ohhhhhh baby!  This mud is AWESOME!!!  By now Donovan has joined me in the digging and mud making.  The consistency finally becomes perfect in one of the pits…completely smooth, and ready for occupancy.  It is not long before I am rolling around like swine in the lovely filth, joined in succession by Donovan and grandpa Dave.  It is relaxing and hypnotic…all we want to do is lay here, submerged in this slick ooze, content to let the world go about its business.  “Hey” I say to the boys, “we should build a permanent mud pit out here!”  Approving nods confirm my ambition, which prompts my usual entrepreneurial follow-up comment  “we could advertise this in the neighborhood and charge admission!”  This spawns a short, but lively ‘business-plan’ discussion about how we would draw in customers and make a small fortune.  Then we return to the silent reverie of mud-soaking, completely at peace, content, and carefree.


Everyone has heard the age-old adage: use the proper tools for the job.  Well…what do you do when you don’t have to proper tools?  Some people will wait until they can acquire them.  Some people will just abandon the project or find someone else to do it.  And then there are those of us who creatively improvise…or maybe that is just a nice way to say we just punish ourselves in bouts of impetuous fervor.  So what tools would you use to remove and cut up a tree stump a foot and a half in diameter at the base, embedded in dry clay which resembles concrete more than dirt?  Would you do it with weathered shovels, half-dull hand saws, a multi-purpose hacking kitchen knife, and a six-foot iron bar?  Armed with such tools, raw energy, and idealism sufficient to look past our short-sightedness, Donovan and I take on the stump.  Many hours, blisters, exhaustion, flesh wounds, and sun burn later, the stump finally falls.  Looking at the fallen beast, we smile with satisfaction, raise up our half-ass weapons, and let out a war cry of victory…then look at each other: red, greasy, filthy, bleeding…and we just start laughing.  What the hell fun would this have been if we had the right tools!?

The next task to apply our skills of ‘Scottish style’ demolition is the freezer shed in back.  Once again, our arsenal of tools is unorthodox and crude.  We sport the same iron bar used on the stump, a short aluminum softball bat, and large granite rocks.  That’s it!  Again, our greatest assets in this project are short-sided ambition, youthful vigor, and a love of destroying things.  We carefully remove the random collection of age-old knick-knacks, tools, and empty bottles from the shed, watching closely for black widows.  Donovan only finds one, surprisingly, since this past week we have been seeing them everywhere!  Once cleared out, the granite rock starts flying.  The forty pound iron bar cannot be swung with great speed, but causes incredible damage even at a low velocity.  The aluminum bat is light and quick, a perfect finishing tool for stubborn wood and stucco! It is really hot today, the sun is beating down on our pale skin, and now after an hour we are drenched in sweat, caked in dust, grease, and wood chips.  Breathing hard, every throw and swing becomes labored.  Barely able to stand up straight, we resign to take a lunch break… Another hour of pounding on this cement-covered shed and it finally falls.  The next five hours of breaking up the damn thing just about kill us.  The late August sun is relentless.  The concrete foundation, held together by rebar can only be chipped apart by thrusting the iron bar down on it over and over and over and over again.  We take turns, having to switch off when we can no longer lift the bar, or when it becomes obvious the pounding is yielding little result.  Finally it is all broken apart and sifted into piles of wood, cement, and shingles.  Gathering what little energy we have left, and finding extra stores somewhere within, we decide to finish the days work by breaking up the lumber into burnable pieces.  Since we have no axe, we prop up pieces of wood against the old, dead freezer now lying in the middle of the back yard, and use the granite rocks to crush them to pieces …caveman deconstruction at its finest!  Throw after throw after throw, we stagger to pick up the shards of wood and stack them by the back fence, to be later used for campfire barbeques.  Every muscle in my hands, arms, shoulders, and back aches.  I am dizzy and have a headache from dehydration.  I smell atrocious, and must look so too…yet all I can do is smile with satisfaction.


It was last Thursday or Friday when grandpa Dave asked me out of the blue if I liked John Fogerty. “Hell yeah! I grew up on CCR!”. Today we are driving to Antelope Valley to see him perform at the fair. John Fogerty performing live…I am stoked!  We pick up David around 1pm, and head north. It’s about an hour drive, so we take a partial scenic detour on the way since the fair doesn’t technically open until 4. It sort of looks like Pendleton in eastern Oregon, but smells like 29 Palms…memories begin surfacing.  We find the fairgrounds in Lancaster around 3.  They let us in, and the place is completely dead.  Although we really only came to see Fogerty, the concert doesn’t start until 7:30ish…that gives us about four hours to kill.

The three of us wander to the livestock areas…and I feel like a foreigner traveling in a strange land.  What is this world of showing off your pigs and goats and sheep and cows?  Both fascinated and repulsed by the display, I walk from aisle to aisle watching the animals, locking gazes with the goats…mesmerized by their creepy but fascinating eyes.  David wanders off somewhere in the livestock walk, so grandpa Dave and I head over to the freak show animal strip.  Signs of the world’s largest pig, world’s smallest horse, and giant alligator are put up to lure passers by to pay 50 cents or a dollar to see nature’s freaks.  Who can resist the impulse to see the world’s largest pig?  We can’t.  50 cents later we get a look at the most grotesque looking chunk of bacon I’ve ever seen.  Wilbur, an 1,100 pound, 7 year old tank of a pig with gnarly growths over I don’t know what the hell part of his body, is a disturbing memory I will not soon forget.  Next is ‘Tiny Tim’, a self-conscious midget horse.  I can’t look at him long, because I get the distinct feeling he doesn’t like to be stared at.  Poor beast.  We leave him there licking a block of salt, feeling the depressed energy he is emanating.  The last animal is a 14 foot alligator, 65 years old, who looks utterly bored.

Normally I wouldn’t sit down to listen to a polka band, but comparing its entertainment value to what I have experienced thus far, I welcome the change.  Their songs are pretty funny, and mostly about beer.  One song they perform is a remake of ‘Do, Re, Mi’ from ‘The Sound of Music’.  The lyrics go something like this (you have to sort of sing the tune along in your head):

Do….what you need….to buy some beer.

Re….a golden drop of beer.

Mi….the person….I buy beer for.

Fa….a long way to the store.

So…I think I’ll have another beeeeeeeer.


Ti….no thanks, I’ll have a beer

and that brings us back to Do, Do, Do, Do

All this sung by a group of middle-aged men, one with a strong Austrian accent (real or not I’m not sure), jamming on accordians, flutes, and other instruments.  It is quite entertaining.  After getting our polka fix, the two of us set out for the pig races.  While the actual event is less than enteraining, the guy in charge is hilarious and quick-witted, making the races an odd, but alluring attraction.

We finally hook back up with David right before heading to the concert, after drinking a couple of ridiculously priced beers.  We make it to the bleachers as the sun starts to set and the summer high-desert breeze kicks in.  Ahhhhhhh.  The breeze, mountain back drop, emerging stars, and falling sun make this a breathtaking scene.  Ofcourse by now the fair is no longer dead, just the opposite actually, as hundreds of people scurry to the bleachers to score a good seat for the concert.  Around 8pm the band takes the stage.  No cover band, and free seats (aside from fair admission anyways)…Fogerty opens with ‘Travelin Band’, one of my favorite CCR songs!  With the warm evening breeze and a bag of kettle corn, I am in heaven.  The concert lasts for two hours.  When it concludes half of the crowd is either drunk or buzzed, myself included, and everyone is completely stoked…John Fogerty live…good times baby!  I feel a lot of people tonight reliving their 60’s and 70’s youthful memories.  Walking away from the concert area with Grandpa Dave is a cool experience in itself.  At least a dozen people approach us with ‘cool man’ nods, and ‘hey man’ dialogues.  Hippie magnetism I guess.


2 Comments so far
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Your great grandpa, Angelo, used to use organic fertilizer in his gardens. Hmmm

Comment by Dan

Hey Dan, nice pictures.
We’ve been eating your tomatoes and blueberries up here in Portland. Take care.

Comment by Sam

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