Tuesday, February 28, 2012

365 Jobs: Paddy O'Sullivan

Saturday, September 29, 1979 to Sunday, July 22, 1991

On a Saturday afternoon in 1979, I was working outdoors with a pick and shovel, making steps out of railroad ties on the hillside below my house.  A jolly man staggered slowly up the driveway.  With long whitish hair and beard, he looked like Santa Claus.  Holding out one arm, he said, "Can I lend you a hand?"

I stared down at that arm.  He had no hand.

"Oops, sorry," the man said.  "I meant the other hand.  This one was eaten by a tiger."

Paddy at Apple Jack's, 1978

That was my introduction to Paddy O'Sullivan (Padraig or Padreic or Padreac — I've seen it spelled each of those ways).  On that particular day, he actually helped me move one railroad tie before he realized that I wasn't a soft touch for cadging a drink.  

Paddy was by nature a performer.  He claimed that his career began at the age of four as a character in the "Our Gang" movies, tipping his hat on film with the same gesture as he tipped at age sixty-four.  Whether or not he truly started as a Little Rascal, he became a bigger one.

He could show you a newspaper article from 1957 with the headline MAN HATCHES OSTRICH EGG.  That man was Paddy.

His mother had a theatrical career, or so he said.  He had a pair of pistols called the Naked Ladies.

In San Francisco Paddy had been living with the poet Bob Kaufman in North Beach, just across the street from City Lights Bookstore.  Kaufman was an improvisational jazz poet who would riff and recite on sidewalks, even sticking his head into people's cars.

Bob and Paddy both were in a downward spiral.  A young woman who had befriended Paddy finally got him out of there, drove him to La Honda, and set him loose here the way people abandon dogs and cats hoping somebody will adopt them. Those dogs and cats often wind up on my doorstep, so it's fitting that Paddy appeared there as well.  Don't blame the young lady, by the way.  She gave Paddy "a couple years' worth of re-invigoration," as she put it.  "He had really crawled into a shell when I met him.  He gave me a couple of years of entertainment, and that's what he was, basically, all his life, an entertainer."

For a while in La Honda, Paddy was a squatter in Ken Kesey's old cabin, which was vacant, floorless, and basically unlivable at the time. Then he rented a garage and promptly got kicked out. He ended up occupying a trailer below my house.  The trailer was owned by a man who was preparing for an invasion by space aliens.

Paddy wore a cape.  He published a thin chapbook of poetry: Weep Not My Children.  Though he'd lived for years at the world center of beatnik culture, he insisted he was not a Beat.  Similar to Bob Kaufman, Paddy would recite anywhere at any time.  He once barged into a private birthday party, stood on the table with the cake, and recited wretched poems until he was finally shoved out.

 Paddy spent most of his days and nights at the bar in Apple Jack's where a photo of him, full color, framed, hung on the wall.  Claude and Kayla, the owners, kept a benevolent eye on him.

The last time I interacted with Paddy was in 1991.  A hot July night, sleeping with the windows open, around midnight I heard cursing from the street below my house.  At 5 a.m. I heard more cursing — and a voice crying "Would somebody please help me?"  Outside, at the base of those railroad tie stairs, I found Paddy lying tangled in blackberry vines: confused, lost, unable to stand.  He'd been there since midnight.  "Why did you fill my home with brambles?" he said.

"You're not in your trailer," I said.  "You're in my blackberry patch."  

I couldn't raise him to his feet by myself, but a patrol car pulled up.  The sheriff's deputy said, "Is it Paddy again?"

The deputy stood over Paddy and said, "You're getting too damn old for this shit."

Paddy said, "I only had a couple of beers.  I think I had a heart attack.  Flutters.  There's a respirator in my trailer.  Just take me home."

"Paddy," the deputy said, "last week you got lost in your own woodpile.  I'm calling an ambulance."

In retrospect, I'm amazed that Paddy helped me move that one railroad tie back in 1979.  I must be a pretty good contractor to have gotten that much work out of him.  He'd been hoping for a beer, but I had none to give.

Paddy could only be happy at the center of a three ring circus where he could read his poetry while wearing his cape and hat.  La Honda is a one ring circus, but it was the best he could find. 

Paddy, I'm a little late, but this beer's for you.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Guest Blogger: James Adams, cabinetmaker

Moon Rocks
The town of La Honda is populated by a remarkable collection of erudite cranks, of whom James Adams is a prime example.  James is a cabinetmaker by trade.   I've worked several jobs with him.  James can tell you tales about riding a Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle, about psychedelic research, about 30 years of coaching soccer (he was the model for the character of the Harley-riding pistol-packing soccer coach in Boone Barnaby).  He's also an astronomy freak with what is probably the biggest home-made telescope in La Honda.  Recently he wrote about a job which didn't involve me but that fits well with the themes of this blog: pride of craft, fatherhood, the random humor of life.  And moon rocks.  Here's how James tells it:

Some completely unremarkable junk, except that it came from the moon, has gone missing. Well, a very small weight of the stuff was presented by the U.S. Government to various screwball heads of state, Fascists and/or totalitarian and/or democratic leaders who were at the time considered "our friends."

Appropriately to how these deserving elder stewards of democracy valued these unique and timeless gifts from the most advanced and powerful society the world has ever seen, the rocks became paperweights, doorstops, and, frequently, trash.

One such treasure was rescued from a burning foreign government building, moments before being bulldozed. Had it wound up in the landfill, it would have disappeared like snow on the water. Unfortunately, it was rescued by someone who realized its intrinsic worth.

Better for him that it had sunk without a ripple. A U.S. Government Agency was on the case. End of story, there.

My connection: in 1970 I was working in Mountain View for a cabinetmaker, an older guy who had been a woodworker all his life, and who belonged to the WIC, the Woodworking Institute of California. This allowed him to do work for the U.S. Government and NASA Ames and such. 

We did jobs for the Atomic Energy Commission, non-magnetic fasteners throughout, mostly vertical-grain fir, classical joinery, like that. Don Sigman, the owner, assigned me to build a shallow box, covered inside and out with plastic laminate [think, Formica]. Maybe 42" wide, 24" front-to-back inside, and maybe 12" deep. With black wrought iron legs.

I was to deliver it to NASA Ames Research at Moffett Field, which was located about two miles from our shop.

The Marine guard wouldn't let me in because I had long hair. I asked him to give me a note to give my boss saying that he wouldn't let me in.

When he asked his superiors, of course, he had to pass me. Looks to kill.

Cut to 1974, taking my stepsons to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. There's the display case, with a plastic lid, with the moon rocks on display!

Oh, la.

J. Adams

Note from Joe C:  Has anybody been to the San Francisco Exploratorium lately?  Are the moon rocks (and the display cabinet) still there?  I wish I had a photo.

Edit: March 25 2012  If you want more, I've added a profile of James Adams.  Here's the link.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

365 Jobs: Oops

Tuesday, November 29, 1983

As the final task of a 10 hour day, I install a cheapo lock on a sliding glass door which requires drilling a ¼" hole.  I have to guess how far the glass is set into the metal frame because of course I don't want the drill bit to hit the embedded —


Did you know that if a drill bit nicks the corner of a 3'x6' sheet of tempered glass, the entire pane shatters into tiny pieces and falls at your feet like a mound of crushed ice?

Mrs. Klein, the homeowner and a very nice lady, tells me that they had to replace another sliding glass window, and it cost $250.  She seems truly distressed that I'll have to pay.  She already feels guilty that I'm spending my time working for her instead of writing the Great American Novel, which she assumes I could do.  But of course the broken pane is entirely my fault and my responsibility.  

I'm angry.  With no one to blame.  My total earnings for 10 hours of work was to be $250.

Back home I have two ways to deal with anger.  First, I decide that this would be the perfect evening to refinish the kitchen floor on my knees with a belt-sander while the stereo is blasting loud rock and roll.  The music is essential as it becomes embedded in the oak floorboards along with the finish oil to create special thumping patterns of grain.

Secondly, I write a poem.  Don't underestimate poetry as a way to cope with anger — especially nonprofessional, nonacademic, sadly not-up-to-critical-standards poetry which of course is my specialty.  I compose poems the way most people sing karaoke: as an amateur, with gusto.


In one second a calm pool of glass freezes
crackling under my feet
a day's pay
in one second the slip of a drill bit
Minnesota sunrise
shocked like a duck I stare
what became of my pretty pond?
My feathers ruffle
I squawk
I wish I could fly south
anywhere but here with Makita drill in hand
smoking pistol
decoys in a line bobbing
glass explodes
in my hair, my shoes, down my neck
hard shards
I wish I could shake like water off my back.
What evil hunter
do I blame
in this ambush?
The next morning as I report for work in my tool belt, Mrs. Klein greets me at her front door:  "I talked it over with my husband, and we agreed not to charge you for the broken window.  He says the house insurance will probably cover it."

"Probably," she said.  I love that.  Every homeowner's insurance policy has a deductible, and it is surely higher than $250.  Bless you, Mr. and Mrs. Klein.

What I get out of the whole incident are a long day's pay, a refinished kitchen floor and, for better or worse, a poem.  And one thing more: the kiss of human kindness.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Boone Barnaby is now an Amazon Kindle

Same story as with Babcock.  Now The Adventures of Boone Barnaby is available as a Kindle edition from amazon.  For $0.99.  You can order it with this link.

For those rabid amazon-haters, rest assured that The Adventures of Boone Barnaby  is still available as an eBook from smashwords, too, though the title on smashwords is listed as simply Boone Barnaby.  Same price:  $0.99.

In a week or so, I'll also make Danny Ain't available as an eBook at both amazon and smashwords.  My only digital copy of Danny Ain't is in an old format which will require days of twiddling before it can be uploaded.  I'll need strong coffee and strong eyeglasses to get through it.

Together with Babcock, the three books are the San Puerco Trilogy.  Each book can be read independently of the others in any order.  If you want to follow the actual time sequence of the books, the order would be:

The Adventures of Boone Barnaby
Danny Ain't

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Babcock is now on Amazon Kindle

Though most of my books are already available as ebooks from smashwords, not many people seem to know it.  The first place most people go is amazon, and if they don't find it there, they assume it isn't available anywhere.

I can't swim against the tide.  So now Babcock is available as a Kindle edition from amazon.  For $0.99.  You can order it with this link.

For those rabid amazon-haters, rest assured that Babcock  is still available from smashwords, too.  Same price:  $0.99.

In the next few days, I'll also be making Boone Barnaby and Danny Ain't available at amazon as Kindle editions.  Together with Babcock, the three books are the San Puerco Trilogy.  Each book can be read independently of the others in any order.  If you want to follow the actual time sequence of the books, the order would be:
Boone Barnaby
Danny Ain't
The bookcover painting is by Shane Evans.  I wanted to acknowledge him on the amazon listing, but the only way to do that was to list him as the "illustrator."  The book has no illustrations inside, but I thank Shane for the excellent cover.