Archive for April, 2009

Water, water, everywhere

I didn’t get a chance to watch all of Obama’s press conference on Wednesday.  Too busy wrestling with our well booster pump, visiting Dr. Thacher for our annual inspection, and soaking up the beautiful Ojai spring wonderland.

Our booster pump went south about ten days ago.  For the uninitiated, a booster pump forces water up the hill to storage tanks where it is eventually gravity fed back down to our house.  Since water has yet to learn how to run uphill, once your storage tanks empty you’re done, fini, over, dry.

When I tell people that we get our water from a well, their first reaction is “Wow, lucky for you that you don’t have to pay those rates charged by Casitas Water.”  Then, I recite the litany of costs associated with owning a well and they quickly move to a new subject.  Booster pumps are the least of it. 

Ralph has been struggling with the pump for over a week.  Dragging it from its cozy home, analyzing why it failed, looking for replacement parts (which aren’t available) and finally, admitting failure, ordering a new pump from Fresno.  Now we wait patiently for the UPS man to arrive with reinforcements.

We’ve got this high tech gizmo that tells us how much water is left in the storage tanks.  It’s in our laundry room and I pass it twenty times a day.  My head snaps 45 degrees to catch a glimpse of the digital readout every time I walk by that green eyed monster.  It’s a habit I can’t break.  Seven feet of water in the tank.  Then six, five…   During the day I mentally calculate the remaining available water.  “Let’s see, one foot of water in an 8 foot tank holding 5,000 gallons equals about 600 gallons per foot.  There are three tanks.  But one-third of the tanks is reserved for firefighting.”  My head spins.  I wonder when Ralph will arrive with the new pump.

Even when the well behaves, we don’t take water for granted.  I regularly wonder if/when the well will give up its last drop.  I review the consequences of living in a waterless environment.  I see sprinklers caressing the grapevines over at Dwayne’s ranch.  I think about county officials urging us to stop flushing toilets…while 80% of California’s water is guzzled by agriculture.  I wonder why we need strawberries that look great but taste like the Ojai Valley News.  I think about life without oranges, avocados, and, god forbid, wine.  I muse about Kevin Costner’s Water World and that lonely tomato plant.

We haven’t turned on the irrigation for almost two weeks.  A lifetime.  The olive trees seem happy.  But you never know with those guys.  They can look beautiful but then refuse to bloom or set olives.  Not enough water?  And even if they do, the fruit fly lurks. Our tiny, guilt ridden, patch of lawn hangs in there.  Wonder if we need it.  I think about crushed aggregate, mulch, astroturf…ugh.

Funny how being being cut off from something that’s always been there makes you sit up and pay attention.  I begin to understand why folks go to war over water rights.  Two hundred and sixty three rivers either cross or demarcate international political boundaries, in addition to countless aquifers.  According to the Atlas of International Freshwater Agreement, 90 percent of countries in the world must share water basins with at least one or two other states. Major conflicts such as Darfur have been connected to water shortages, and lack of access to clean water.  Israel and Jordan took time off from calling each other names to forge an agreement over the Sea of Galilee. Oil is a minor irritant compared to drinking water.

Much of the world is allocated the grand total of 2.5 gallons of water a day.  As usual, the United States gulps more than its fair share at 1,430 gallons per day.  But don’t feel overly guilty.  Personal consumption is only about 100 gallons of that amount…and most of it is used outdoors.  We turn the spigot on and wait for a gusher to emerge.  What if it just drips…slowly?

I’m thirsty.


There’s no place like home…

It’s that time of year.  Planting time.  Time to perform the annual rite of sticking little green plants in the ground and hoping something good comes of them before the critters get there.

We’ve tried lots of different veggies with varying degrees of failure.  The only ones that keep us coming back every year are tomatoes and basil.  Even the tomatoes rebelled last year and showed up with deep chasms in their skin and a less than dynamic harvest.  The basil grew into a forest and we made pesto that now resides in cute little muffin wrappers in our freezer.

We drove down to Ventura via the 126 and got off at Victoria.  Traffic was jammed as we approached the County Government Center.  I did my usual “what the hell am I doing here routine” as Sweetie cautioned me to be patient.  We approached the seat of government and were greeted by what appeared to be circus performers lining both sides of the avenue.  Flags flew, funny hats were in abundance, and some painted faces poked out at us.

Turned out to be folks protesting taxes.  It was the Great Tea Bag event emulating the 1773 Boston Tea Party that complained about being taxed without the benefit of elected representation.  This 2009 Tea Bag protest was promoted by Republicans, conservative talk show hosts and Fox news.  Big surprise.

About half the protesters were teenagers and small children.  They can be excused for not realizing that we actually have elected representatives.  Like Audra Strickland, whose major contribution to government was her recent effort to introduce religion into the public school system, the young folks probably don’t read much (especially the Constitution, Supreme Court decisions or a newspaper).  So they can be excused for not knowing that we currently enjoy the lowest taxes of any industrialized nation.  And, that Obama has further reduced the taxes for 95% of them.

We slogged through the traffic created by the event and pulled into Green Thumb.  The wind was blowing a ton.  After grabbing a couple bags of tree netting intended to slow the onslaught of various chipmunks, gophers and other creatures of the night, we arrived in the vast vegetable colossus.  As is my custom, I walked down the rows of tomato plants, skipping the “heirlooms.”  After consistently failing to produce either quantity or quality heirloom tomatoes, I have taken every opportunity to denigrate them to anyone who will listen.

I stared at the tomato tags trying to decipher the codes, VFFA, VFNT, etc. that tell you which variety is the least likely to die of plague before you get them home.  Giving up, I tried to recall which of last year’s varieties were least offensive.  Was it Celebrity, Champion, Big Boy, Best Boy, Atta Boy?  I grabbed at the nearest plant, the one without a caterpillar or dried out planting mix.

“Excuse me, sir.  Have you got any Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes?”  The man in the Green Thumb shirt said “If we do, they are with the other cherries.”  I should have known there weren’t any but I stared at the labels with my rapidly deteriorating vision.  No luck.  I should have known.

Proceeding to the bastion of basil plants I searched for Sweet Basil.  Now for those you who know anything about basil, you know that Sweet Basil outsells every other plant including Acapulco Gold and Cambodian Red.  I found two small basil plants that looked like they wouldn’t make it to the checkout stand.  “Excuse me sir, do you have any more Sweet Basil?”  The Green guy said “Come back Friday.”  I should have known.

Enough.  Rolling our dreary purchases to the checkout stand we were pleased to see that two were without customers, just waiting to serve us.  I sized them up and picked one.  But, as the ancient knight in the Indiana Jones movie The Last Crusade said when the bad guy drank from the poisoned cup and dissolved bones and all…”He chose poorly.”

The Green shirted checker ignored us.  After dutifully waiting for any acknowledgement of our presence, Sweetie, as only she can do, said “Are you busy?”  We concluded the transaction in an air that can only be described as icy.  We walked to our car intoning “never again.”

“Why don’t we go to that cute little nursery over on Baldwin Road.  What’s it called?  Mountain View, Mountain Meadows, something like that.  It’s on the way home.  Maybe we’ll get lucky.”  And we did.

Sun Gold Cherry tomatoes.  Enough to forest all of Ventura County.  Sweet Basil that said “Take me with you.  I promise to be good…very good.”  Stuff that looked so fresh that we even dared to buy peas and beans.  “Take that, you pesky critters.”

And what a check-out experience.  The nice woman actually said hello and smiled at us, like she meant it.  Then she apologized about a lack of cardboard boxes to pack the stuff.  Apologized for having to give us a plastic tray.  We stared at each other.  We thought we had died and gone to plant heaven.  But we hadn’t.  All we did was stay close to home.



Sweetie and I dragged our camera gear down to Meiners Oaks Elementary yesterday.  Amy Hagen was teaching a violin class for the kids.  Getting up earlier than usual is tough for Sweetie, but she finds that gazing at the kids faces is worth the loss of sleep.  Well worth it.

The Bravo  program is sponsored by the Ojai Music Festival.  It’s designed to introduce school-age kids to the wonders of music.  We’ve had the pleasure of photographing them and their mentors for several years.  At elementary schools, the junior high, and performance venues throughout the community.  You’d think that by now we’d seen it all.  That we’d become a bit jaded looking at cute kids with brown and white faces.  You’d think they must all look the same by now.  But no, we’re still captivated.  We still look forward to the next opportunity.


 Mr. Knopinski would have been amazed.  Arthur was my band teacher at Chicago’s Von Steuben High School.  I played the trumpet.  Not great, just well enough to get by.  I often think of those four years.  It sticks with you forever.  Even if sometimes it was a drag.  Arthur was a slight, mousy guy, sitting behind his music stand.  Beating time with his baton.  Not a guy you’d want to have a beer with.

The Bravo men and women express a flair and dedication that Arthur seems to have missed.  You can see it in the kids’ faces.  They’re riveted.  No shifting in chairs. No doodling.  No punching the kid next door.  They’re not perfect.  But they’re more into it than they would be in Arthur’s bandroom.

Meiners Oaks is, on a good day, middle income.  The neighborhood kids could tell us stories that would rival many TV soaps.  And that’s what’s so gratifying about Bravo.  It brings light to the eyes of kids who might never have the bucks or the opportunity to attend a concert, much less play a musical instrument.


When we walked into the classroom we were greeted with the sight of twenty-five kids playing the violin.  When I was in grade school, Phillip Ruder was the only kid brave enough to lift a bow.  And these kids could actually play the darn thing.  Itzhak Perlman or Sarah Chang they weren’t.  But someday.  The class ended and twenty-five new kids trooped in and picked up a violin.  Fifty.  Amazing.


They love having their photos taken.  “Hey mister, what are the pictures for?”   “They’re for the Bravo program.  You’ll be helping to promote it.  You’ll be famous.  Smile.”  And they do.  A lot.


I pledge allegiance…

My good buddy Harry forwarded one of those e-mails you get from unhappy, dumped-on people.  Harry wasn’t the author.  He’s usually chipper even if he sounds grouchy.

No, this e-mail came from one of his bagel buddies at Noah’s.  It’s a ritual.  Harry shleps to Noah’s and plunks himself down at a long wooden table that he once had the pleasure of refinishing for the management.  Got some free bagels for his generous effort.  At the same table you can find, depending on the day, six or eight congenial folks.  Even the Republican munchers are congenial, even if they are wrong.

During our all too infrequent visits to Livermore, Sweetie and I have enjoyed the company of the munchers.  We haven’t been there since Obama took over.  For eight years we had the pleasure of arguing with the Republicans at Harry’s table.  I’m sure the worm has turned.

You’ve probably seen e-mails like the one in question.  They typically focus on what’s wrong with the country, the bastards in charge of it, and what we should do about changing it.  Facts aren’t important.  Getting even is.

The e-mail in question proposes a new preamble to the Constitution.  A mighty effort since the document has been revised only twenty-seven times in over two hundred years.  And ten of those amendments are the Bill of Rights.  We wasted two of the other seventeen by thinking we could ban booze.  The e-mail author is to be congratulated on his determination.

 His new, somewhat abbreviated preamble, then my take on what he really means.

I. No one promised you a new car and a big screen TV.

…quit your whining and pay the slumlord his due.

II. You do not have the right to never be offended.

…don’t complain when I criticize your religion, color, sex, or place of birth.

III. If you stick a screwdriver in your eye, don’t blame the guy who made it.

…even if the guy who packaged the peanuts knows they’re full of ecoli bacteria.  A buck is a buck.

IV. You do not have the right to free food and housing.

…even if you’re out of work because some greedy boss took the profits and shut the place down. 

V. You do not have the right to free health care.

…even if we spend twice as much of our GNP on healthcare as any other industrialized nation, and have worse outcomes.  A buck is a buck.

VI. You do not have the right to physically harm other people.

…and we’d just love to fry your ass.  After all, we’re the only first world country that still has the death penalty for parking violations.

VII. You do not have the right to a job.

…especially if you are from some other country.  Makes no difference that I wouldn’t do that dirty, backbreaking job.

VIII. We need to get rid of all idiotic laws passed by people who don’t understand the Bill of Rights.

…good, let’s start with the prohibition against gay marriage.

IX. This is an English speaking country.

…after all, look at all the trouble you’ve caused me by speaking Spanish.

X. You do not have the right to change our country’s history or heritage.

…this is a Christian country…and don’t you forget it.

So shut up and eat your bagel.




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