Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Fruit Flies

When I was a sophomore in High School one of my classes was Biology. The teacher was a great guy and it was a fun class.

One morning he started talking about his "pet project", which was developing a substance that could be disolved in water and sprayed on fruit flies, to render them sterile.

He had a little brown vial of stuff that looked like clear jelly. I sat in the front row.

When he went to the back of the room to do something, I sauntered up to his desk, opened the vial and took a good whiff. It had a very strong, rubbing-alcohol type smell, and I started feeling warm. From the back of the room my teacher shouted, "Steve, put that down, it's very toxic."

I replaced the cap, set it down and went back to my desk. Just as I sat down a charge of "electricity" went up my spinal cord to the back of my head, and I passed out for a couple of seconds.

My teacher asked if I was "OK". For many years I wondered if I was sterile, and happily that was not the case!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Body Shop #4

The last body shop I worked at was also in Berkeley, and was considered "top shelf". It too, however, was a den of mischief.

They got all the BMW dealership's work, and the "shop image" was first rate. However, the owner lied 80% of the time. He would loan out a customer's car to another customer, or send me to pick up parts with a customer's car. He would borrow money from a loan shark who looked like a 60 year old Prince Valiant with his black-dyed page-boy haircut, and he told me once he was a lieutenant in the "organization".

He would give me $1000 in hundreds every so often to deposit in the bank, with a pre-filled in deposit slip. One time he miscounted and I brought him back the extra hundred. This honesty on my part freaked him out so badly he went in the office and closed the door for almost an hour.

He paid off insurance adjusters and his shop was always full. He'd put broken parts on cars before the adjuster came in to write the estimate, and then put the unbroken ones back on afterwards.

His head painter, Bernie, was my boss, of sorts. He belonged to a group called the "Disciples of the Devil", which is 180 degrees from what I believe. One day I was praying because things were just too weird, and I said "God, he goes or I go, and I need this job so I should stay."

A little later Bernie decided to put a hex on me, which is something he did periodically -- he put one on his brother in law for some reason. He told me when it was going to happen, and a couple of the details. I told him that since I was a son of God he was out of luck this time (I John 4:4). All that week he was tired, irritable, cranky (a few years later I was talking to a former practicing warlock who explained the why's and wherefore's of this).

Come Saturday night my hex did not arrive (I was watching a W.C. Fields movie). Shortly thereafter Bernie quit (he had been there 4 years). A few months later I quit to go do something else, and Bernie came back. A year later I came by and borrowed a paint polishing machine from him.

Many years later I was talking to my old boss (see "Body Shop #1") and found out that Bernie had been shot in the face and killed in a dispute over a horse he was boarding on his ranch for someone.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Body Shop #3

One body shop I worked at for about a month was called "Baron Von Freier". It as mostly run by the Baron, a short, fuzzy bearded guy who smoked a pipe. The bowl of the pipe was usually resting deep inside his beard and I was always waiting for the day when his face caught fire.

He didn't use body filler (or "bondo") to fix dents. He used lead, like the old days, and I truly enjoyed watching him work as this is a lost art form.

We reworked bath-tub bodied Porches, got a Ferrari or two, Alfa Romeos, a Bentley. However, the Baron was a little off.

There is dust in a body shop. The Baron was bald. The dust had settled on the sweat on his bald head, and in the evening the sweat would dry and the dust would still be there, in a pattern of sorts. This pattern never changed. The dust was never removed. He did not bathe in the month that I was there, and believe me, I checked out his "dust pattern" every day.

His son would come in around 11, read a magazine or two and leave about 3. Did no work. The Baron and I could not get the through put necessary to pay all the bills, so he was taking money out of savings to pay me. This made him angry.

One day he told me to hit the road. But I was set to hitch-hike cross country and was ready.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Body Shop #2

Another body shop I worked at, in Berkeley, was no bargain. The owner and his cousin were from a gang (some said on the run from) in NYC. Turns out their coke-selling business was run from the office. The owner had no regard for anything decent. His two brothers were worse. The cousin would routinely put dish soap in the coffeepot to give people the "runs", when he was angry with the owner.

They would borrow employee's cars, have duplicate keys made, and then later steal their cars. They had 2 dobermans that would guard the shop that were very psycho and had to be avoided.

I was fired once for not taking crap from another painter, but re-hired again for a bit when I was going to college.

Some years later I learned that the two brothers had gotten killed in car accidents or something. Some 20 years later I was doing a software contract in a building across the street, and one day went and stood at the entrance of the old body shop (now an auto glass shop), peered in and pondered life's twists and turns.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Body Shop #1

When I was 19 I worked in an auto body shop in East Oakland. Was working on a car owned by a guy who reminded me of "Youngblood Priest" from the movie "Superfly". He had a reaaaaaal low voice, he was really thin, wore a full length coat and a wide brim hat, and he would stop by and see how progress was going each afternoon.

We were talking one day and he asked me my name. After I told him I asked his. His reply: "Robert, but the bitches call me 'Hollywood'". Well, I couldn't argue with that so I kept on water-sanding the paint (this makes it smooth by removing a very thin layer before applying a clear coat). He said, "What are you doing?". I told him and he told me I should be putting the paint on -- not taking it off.

The day his car was to be picked up he and his partner hung out in our "break" room, and proceeded to polish off a fifth of Tequila and snort some coke. By the time 5pm rolled around they were feeling no pain, but were very loud. My boss' brother (who had been shot in the stomach in the spray paint booth a year earlier -- I forget why -- and now carried a gun), had stopped by.

He took offence at the customers' loudness, an argument ensued, he pulled his gun and threatened to "shoot your black asses." (These brothers were from South Carolina and about 1 step removed from the KKK).

At any rate, no one was shot and the car was delivered. And I started thinking about a career change.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


It was a harsh "reality" to go from Molokai to Lahaina, and even more so returning to the SF Bay Area.

Since I am working on a software contract that allows me to work from home, I haven't ventured out too much in the past week. Trader Joe's, basketball, take the dog for a walk.

A big change, all over of course, is that you take your life in your hands when on the road. People who shouldn't be driving anyway now do so while on a cell phone, and this is madness.

Perhaps it is a plot to kill off America? Give people with marginal driving skills cell phones, Ritalin, Viagra, stress, junk food, and Bud-lite -- and have them pilot 2-ton vehicles with random abandon in close quarters?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Heading Back

The boat trip from Molokai to Lahaina, in the afternoon, is choppy. Had to fight off seasickness and my stomach didn't settle till the next day.
Kaunakaki Harbor, Molokai

It was a bit of a transition to go from Molokai to Maui. I was really enjoying the calm kindness of many of the people on Molokai, and back on Maui the number of people, tourists, less polite service (although these were mainlanders working in the restuarant, not locals) took adjusting to.

Don't think I will visit Maui again in August. Too many tourists that get in the way of a beautiful place. No doubt the locals feel this way too!

Next stop: California.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Molokai #2

I stayed in a condo called Molokai shores -- see for details. No A/C, but that is pretty standard. But lots of fans.

Down the street is Hotel Molokai, which is quaint and has an activity center, a restaurant, a bar, and live entertainment.

Dave's Ice Cream is, just, well fantastic! Stanley's has good food, lattes, and $6 an hour internet access.

Morning in Molokai

Didn't get time to explore the wild and beautiful East-end, so that will have to wait. Did go fishing with John Reich (, and caught some tuna, a barracuda, but lost a lure because something big hit our line. I recommend this guy!

Like all the islands, each has it's own flavor, it's own rhythm, and I was glad I visited!

Molokai #1

Took the ferry from Lahaina to Molokai. Met a guy who was hired to run a drug counseling program -- pot, alcohol, and "ice" (methamphetamine) are prevalent. The island has 7,000 people, 70% of which are on food stamps, welfare, etc.

No Ice!

Molokai does not want to sell it's island land to outsiders, and tourism is rather low. Life is slow and after a couple of days you learn to enjoy little traffic and the low activity level, and of course the lack of annoying tourists who haven't left their mainland attitudes back home.

There are a few hotels, resorts, etc. Kaunakakai is the main town. On Maui, you can pretty much jump in and snorkel. On Molokai you must go to certain places. Winds and currents affect the shorelines more.

Most of the shopping is for locals, and as such, many prices are actually less than on Maui. Kona beer, internet time, phone calling cards, and meals, are cheaper.

I had excellent food on Molokai. The "pizza" place has great food of all kinds; Dave's Ice Cream is phenomenal; the Cookhouse is supposed to be "ono", but I didn't get there. Draft Kona beer at Hotel Molokai is $3.25. The only chain restaurant is a "Subway", which I ate at twice and was very tasty.

No traffic lights, not one, on the island!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Next island please...

Time to leave for Molokai (first visit). Got a lot of excellent snorkeling, long swims around rocky points to the next cove, etc. Beautiful weather.

Entered a sand-castle building contest, and only came in 2nd place with this*. First place had a bit more detail. Maybe next time...

* just kidding

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Golfed at Wailea with my 18 year old, and 2 guys from Texas who were pretty funny. One had a $15,000 astro-turf putting green in his house or yard (they do things big in Texas!). It was a great time and at the end the putting green guy said to us "you were going to get paired up with two Japanese homosexuals, but you got stuck with us."

Afterwards drove to Makena beach which was fantastic as always (big shore break). Haleakala was beautiful to look at while floating out in the water.

Shave Ice

Usually we drive out to the far end of the island to get shave-ice from a lady we've been seeing for many years. This time she was a little "spooky". We were enjoying our treats when she warned us in serious tones about the bad luck that befalls tourists who take sand (or rocks) home from the island. She said her daughter works for the Post Office in Hilo, and they get lots of sand and rocks mailed back saying "please put this back, I've had nothing but bad luck".

Now, I'm not for having a good chunk of the islands moved to knick-knack shelves in Iowa and other parts of the mainland. However, in my most serious voice I asked her "what about the sand that is stuck to my boogie-board and comes home accidentally?" She told me that I would be exempt from bad luck in this situation. Naturally I don't take any of this bad luck talk with grain of sand, I mean salt. When I get home I am tempted to mail pack a single grain of sand from my boogie board and ask her to put it on the beach at Mile Marker 16.


One of the pleasant changes to Hawaii, at least to the cove next to where I stay, has been the increase in the turtle population. These gentle creatures swim the cove early in the morning, and during the day can usually be found resting between some rocks on the bottom. They range from a little over 2 feet to well over 4 feet, front shell tip to back.

A few have "barnacles" growing on them. There is some discussion as to the their cause -- pesticides, other impurities in the water, etc. I've read that in some parts of the world institutions pull the turtle out and surgically remove them. Why do some turtles have them others do not? They're not like humans, who can decide to spend their lives eating junk food and then wonder why they have a cholestoral of 300. Turtles have no bad food choices. Or do they? Is there turtle junk food?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Departure (addendum)

Once inside the terminal one of course waits. As I was patiently sitting, waiting for my turn to board, a flight officer (pilot or co-pilot? he had 4 stripes on his epaulets) was in the hallway talking on his cell.

Apparently he had been scuba diving 5 days in a row, and while driving somewhere afterwards fell asleep at the wheel, hit something and put a hole in his BMW's radiator. I only hoped that if he was my pilot he had not been diving recently.

I discovered later that 4 stripes means "pilot", and as it turned out he was indeed the pilot of my plane.

Monday, August 01, 2005


One of the most challenging hurdles was obtaining a large duffel bag in which to put boogie boards, snorkels, mask, etc. I had a wonderully made one, just the right size, but my son found a greater need for it.

So, after going to Costo, Target, REI, Any Mountain, K-Mart, SportMart, Walmart, and I-don't-know-what-else-Mart, I went to Bonanza, in East Oakland.

Several lifetime's ago I was an auto-painter at 39th Ave./E. 14th (which for some reason is now "International Ave.". Bonanza is this fine surplus store, and the last time I was there was 1973. It is still there, same owner.

Across the street was a small (I think it was his kitchen) Mexican restuarant -- Otaez. Used to sell me food off his stove -- after I looked at what he was cooking. Now it is a major eating establishment, many times larger. Unfortunately I didn't have time to go in and eat, but I will!

Oh yes, Bonanza had the duffel (although not as nice as my old Jansport) that was big enough.