A Tree Grows in San Roque

SB's Outlaw Tree - our own Ankerwycke Yew

In 1836 a nine-year old Irish kid named John Power landed in Manhattan with his hopeful parents, disembarking the Ellis Island Ferry in a teeming nondescript swarm of other exhausted immigrant pilgrims making the exodus from the darkling wars and privations of the Old World to the glowing blank slate of the New. The little guy was likely clinging to his mother’s skirts as his family and hundreds of others spilled into a million-gabled New York City with its jammed tenements and dark alleyways and uncertain promise of reinvention.

John’s kid-dreams and kid-potential would soon carburate into a combustible mix as the excited and largely untethered nine-year old fell immediately in with the sort of mischief-making toughs that have ever been the heartbreak of stressed parents everywhere. Running amok in a rapidly metastasizing 19th century Metropolis, John would be raised not by his mom and dad, but by his pals in the Bowery – an unlikely derivation of the Dutch word bouwerij – meaning farm – from an earlier time when the fallen New York district, whose name would become synonymous with drunken debauchery and sordidness, was named for the pleasant boundary it effected between the city and the farmsteads the wealthy Dutch had built just outside of town.

By his teens John Power was a product of the Bowery and Hell’s Kitchen districts, as attractive and ruthless an urban animal as big American cities of that time produced, a self-possessed charmer and gifted horseman whose charisma and loosely fastened moral center would serve him well in an adulthood based almost entirely on adventurism. When the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846 and a call went out in New York for volunteers to head west and help the U.S. cause, John and a bunch of his friends eagerly grabbed what was to them a brass ring; a one-way ticket to an unsettled frontier Shangri-la where you could do whatever you wanted and have a good chance of getting away with it. John Power in particular would use the expedition as a springboard to self-rewarding naughtiness, to use the salty frontier language of the time. Once out west he began calling himself Jack Powers, and his bad behavior would find its culmination, and the beginnings of a denouement, seven years later at the base of a Sycamore tree near the corner of State and Ontare, here in Santa Barbara. You know, near Jeannine’s bakery.

Powers’ Company F of the NY Regiment made their way to Santa Barbara the old fashioned way, sailing around Cape Horn. When they arrived in Santa Barbara they found that General Fremont and his men, in a daring storm-battered surprise attack over the San Marcos Pass (costing Fremont many men and horses owing to a nasty combination of torrential rain, mud, and cliffs) had already driven Mexican forces out of Santa Barbara. The newly self-christened Jack Powers took a languorous look around and saw that the possibilities were pretty much what he’d imagined. Once he’d been discharged (honorably) from the regiment on whose coattails he’d happily arrived in California, he wasted no time and booked it up to San Francisco, already the mayhem capital of the West, where he gambled, schmoozed and murdered his way into a kind of awesome infamy up there. When he left the City by the Bay, he fled just ahead of a lynching.

He made it back down to Santa Barbara and got a great gig with the highly respected de la Guerra family as their horse whisperer and all-around equine caretaker, a job he would leverage on the sly. It was like putting a bank robber in charge of 30 getaway cars. With de la Guerra’s horses and a network of entrepreneurial cutthroats Powers soon made the stretch of Camino Real between Santa Barbara and SLO one of the more suicidal routes in the state.

But they could never quite pin anything on the guy. Known for his crazy cool horsemanship, both in handling and in sheer velocity, Powers had once set a seemingly impossible land speed record for the day, riding 150 miles in six hours, unheard of at the time. Naturally he brought this talent to bear on No Good. He would keep fresh horses watered and fed at well-concealed strategic points between the highly profitable Santa Barbara-to-SLO route and L.A. When a rancher would turn up riddled with bullets and stripped of his cattle, area lawmen would naturally get their collective dander up and go looking for Powers. To the grudging admiration of many, he would typically be found 90 miles away in Los Angeles, quietly sipping a Shirley Temple in a local saloon with a book in hand and a choirboy’s “Who, me?” expression.

William Twist was a guy with a mission and, it must be said, a cool name; though the coolness factor may have been lost on the waxed mustache set. Twist had also come over to Santa Barbara as a volunteer with New York’s Stevenson Regiment, but that’s about all he and the overripe Jack Powers had in common. Their paths would cross spectacularly. Powers and his Louseketeers had holed up on someone else’s property in Santa Barbara, overtaking an abandoned building in San Roque Canyon, underneath the present day Foothill Rd. Bridge over Steven’s Park. Powers and his frat rats would not allow themselves to be evicted through the normal paper-shuffling means, and so it fell to the recently appointed Sheriff W.W. Twist to head over there and take out the garbage, as Stallone or someone might say.

Like everybody else for a hundred miles, Twist knew Powers by his habits and assembled 200 or so men, a posse, to help him get the Powers gang off the land. Powers, though, a fan of the “One Step Ahead” school of personal betterment, sent some guys over to where the posse was assembling, the Aguirre Adobe at today’s 27 East Carrillo Street. Powers’ tactless tacticians showed up waving pistols and a couple of them were summarily shot off their horses by the riled-up posse, but one of the bad guys got to Sheriff Twist and put a knife in his back, inflicting a wound that didn’t kill Twist but took him out of the picture for the coming drama on Ontare.

The steamed and self-righteous posse raced over to Powers’ San Roque redoubt, and as they approached the outskirts of the stolen fiefdom they were of course met with a hail of bang-bang and Powers’ explicit warning that should any one of them cross a line denoted by a large sycamore tree there, that hapless posse member would be immediately ventilated with flying lead. The tree in question is now believed to be one of the large Sycamores around 134 N. Ontare. In the event, the posse demurred, turning their horses around to schlump back to town.

But enough was enough. Within days the governor of California ordered a U.S. Navy warship to toddle down the coast from Monterey and drop anchor off West Beach. “Shall I order the Marines ashore, Mr. Powers?” Powers had also learned of a seething gang of pissed-off vigilantes from SLO coming down to turn the lights off. Ruthless and brave and cunning Powers was. A moron he was not. When several days later a jittery messenger arrived with an instrument of negotiation, Powers greeted him warmly and signed the paper.

And the story ends with a spoiler alert. Jack Powers, following years of variously tickling the locals pink with his charming exploits and then shooting them in the back for their gold, was eventually hounded out of the area by a fatigued victim pool. He became a successful rancher in Mexico and then, not completely predictably, was shot to death in a fight over a woman and his body fed to penned wild boars. No kidding. And Twist? After more so-so law enforcement in the American Riviera Twist was finally made to resign as Sheriff. Why? Here’s the scene: a Native American gentleman has been found guilty of murder and is due to be hanged, though interested parties and friends have petitioned the California governor for a commutation of the sentence to life in prison. A ship is said to be coming down the coast at full steam with the signed commutation but the hanging party can’t wait and begin to string the fellow up. At the last minute a guy races up on his horse and, using a roughly hewn species of Parliamentary hooha, argues for a temporary stay of the execution on the grounds that the commutation is likely aboard the ship that is set shortly to arrive. Twist grumblingly allows the stay, the ship arrives with the commutation and the nearly hanged gentleman is remanded to life in prison. This time Powers had used his vaunted speed on horseback to prevent a killing, and the frustrated townspeople of Santa Barbara fired Sheriff Twist for capitulating.

Ain’t life grand?

 

 

Magna Carta's Meeting Tree

 

 

Expurgated version published in the SB Sentinel Vol 4/ Issue 4/ Feb 21- March 7/ 2015

Charlie Wakes Again

charlie and us

Charlie lays his head to rest and cries
nothing works the way it should, it’s all a big disguise.
He’s staring at the ceiling of his room;
bothered by a promise broken
angry at a love unspoken,
Charlie lies in darkness with the moon.

Everyone must find the time to dream
then they wake to find that things are not the way they seem.
Charlie falls in silence through the night,
visiting a thousand places,
there to find a thousand faces

…traveling a million miles away
these strangers to the day,
“Oh, the funny things they say!”
The sun is shining bright at half past ten
when Charlie wakes again.

Punching in the time cards as we go
it’s hard to change the picture
don’t you know,
never see what’s coming from behind,
no wonder all the clocks are running slow.

Charlie pulls the covers to his eyes
rain is on the window and there’s lightning in the sky,
slowly, though, our Charlie floats away
laughing in a thousand places
smiling with a thousand faces

…traveling ten million miles away
all strangers to the day,
“The amazing things they say!”

a whipoorwill is singing now and then
and father’s reading Wall Street in the den
and the sun is shining bright at half past ten
when Charlie wakes again.

 

 

 click on the <songwriting chums> photo to hear a live club version of this baum/wing tune

 

 

J&E

 

 

 

Charlie Wakes Again © 1985 baum & wing

Stars Look Stupid

starslook stomb8c112d874d2e9d527009801bf8179dc

Stars look stupid
and I’ve some advice for cupid,
stick to what you know, pal,
dispense with the afterglow, pal,
please.
What’s the use of swooning?

Moon looks dirty
but only since seven-thirty,
when someone who shall be nameless
took liberties with this flameless fire,
a siren and her blameless lyre –

Aurora Borealis is a sham
filet mignon might just as well be ham.
Some claim that love is blue.
What I wouldn’t trade for that drab color.

de Milo is disarmed of all her guile
the Seven Wonders wander out of style.
Some claim that love is blue.
What I wouldn’t trade for that drab color.

What else is new, dear?
I’ve nothing in mind but you, dear.
Patience my favorite virtue
in time he can only hurt you; true.
When he does, we’re through
we two.

click on the <songwriting chums> photo to hear eddie’s instrumental
version of this baum/wing tune

J&E

Stars Look Stupid © 2005 baum & wing

NASA Rules

who do you think you are

don’t unscrew your gloves while outside the vehicle.

don’t “drive” the spaceship. the sleep-starved guys on the ground in their crewcuts and short-sleeved shirts, hands frequently folded behind their heads in terrified attitudes of phony repose? They are driving the spaceship.

relax, but sleep lightly with one hand near the Charles Nelson Reilly thrust actuator. like you need to be told that.

keep the earthworms fed and watered and happy and no more games.

don’t get uppity, you have the ass of Captain Kangaroo in that dumb outfit. this isn’t Gemini.

ignore strange sightings or at the least don’t report them, we’ve got enough going on.

we saw your eyes tearing at the pre-launch press conference; wtf. one more of those and you’re out. keep the lid on.

don’t jawbone about The Wonder in an unguarded moment. wonder is a sandwich bread. we’ve been over this.

Don’t pull an Aldrin.

The fecal evacuator is not a toy. we won’t tell you again.

godspeed.

We dream in a winsome swoon

anything could happen but generally doesn't

What is it
I’ll tell you what it is

my daughter turned that corner
and there is naught to do

a fantastical moonshot
made flesh, and me staring like a stone

We dream in a winsome swoon;
childhood,

age of the single bandaged miracle,
and every stumbling nincompoop romp

through a field of dead grass becomes
an emerald-framed painting of Then

we gaze at the lilliput epoch
with wondrous half-smiles

did that all really happen
yes, bird-brain, it did

and it ‘happens’ yet
stop looking wildly around the room

why do you not now
scratch the wall

with loving pictographs
of yourself reaching for the ketchup

starting the car wrong
and flooding the whatnot

running embarrassedly
from little foaming dogs

let the spelunker’s lowbeam
trace the startled slate

this is the second childhood
with beards and breasts

the intoxication of a recalled moment
from its moribund oxygen-tented future

or is it just the morphine drip
and iso-tank silence of the ward

your now is incalculable. You don’t feel it
always looking back, a guy headed for a tree

today is your fever dream
seen from tomorrow

recalling through manageable tears
the gold-leaf normalcy of these turning days

the kids still at home, still kids.
their high voices and lovely needs

kid-arguments a piercing symphony
o to pick up their socks and flung notebooks

just the one more time, 8 minutes back there
would do it, Hawking make this happen

This is your past, you dingdong
happening in a real time

you will one day haltingly grasp
through the ping of sustaining machinery

closets full of junk and dishes to be washed
but sunlight is bathing

the parks and stucco strip malls
and seems thick as syrup

feel the elegy this morning
drill into your stupid hardened khaki shell

remember all those graying adults
looking down from the ceiling (they were all graying!)

kindly smiles plastered, middle-aged chins
doubled with the effort of a down-tilted face

we were short but grew taller
broccoli becomes bone like mom said

and they were tousling our hair
why always the tousling

because the older ones are balding
men and women both. They want their hands

on any hair they can touch
without attorney involvement

while musing over cocktails
staring back through a lighted tube

conferring unspoken, graying temples inclined
around the vermouth

then staring down with over-eager smiles
which to us looked merely patronizing

oh these kids these kids
are they gonna be surprised.

Trader Joe’s and the Death of Froot Loops

TJ

I visited the Temple this past weekend. We needed milk. “Oh, we LOVE Trader Joe’s!” someone hissed with enthusiasm by the unsalted peanut butter.  “Oh my god, it’s the best!” her friend rasped in concurrence. When the conversation turns to the tingly pleasure of the TJ’s shopping experience, the votes are nearly unanimous. Nearly. The loving and loveable oddballs who staff the swank grocery store are a blessing, and the product line manages to be all things to all people. My fellow shoppers are the problem, and they are a monster of Joe’s creation.

In 1954, Stanford Business School hotshot Joe Coulombe, the “Joe” in Trader Joe’s, got a job doing convenience store research for Rexall, the aspirin and suppository giant. Coulombe so wowed his new bosses they were soon suggesting their wunderkind consider creating a convenience store chain in California that mimicked Texas’ all-powerful 7-Eleven. Joe jumped at the idea, got financing from Adohr Milk Farms and began building his blitzkrieg of grocery-hipness by opening a bunch of mini-marts all over the state of CA. He called them Pronto markets, and they were a hit. When the company that had financed his Pronto rollout acquired 7-Eleven, though, the handwriting was on the wall.

Casting about for a market segment he could call his own, Joe stumbled onto an article in Scientific American that pointed out that 60% of Americans who qualified for college were going to college, at that time a heartening and newsworthy factoid. In that statistic Coulombe saw (and in fact invented) a new species of grocery consumer; the self-identifying wise-ass who purchased lowly boxes of Froot loops only grudgingly and aspired to a boutique grocery-buying experience beyond the reach of the unlettered masses. And it had to be cheap. Or as Coulombe himself once put it, ”Trader Joe’s is for overeducated and underpaid people, for all the classical musicians, museum curators and journalists,” to which he later pointedly added “ I didn’t say smarter. I said better educated.” Bless him. His odd idea took flight and the flattered smarty-pants set came running. TJ’s took off like a rocket, initially selling everything from cereal to ammunition –  a practice that ended with the shooting of Bobby Kennedy in ’68. In 1970, thanks to another Scientific American article (it could be argued that Trader Joe’s fans owe a debt of gratitude to Scientific American Magazine), Coulombe was introduced to “Green” thinking, and an unstoppable grocery cult was born.

On a recent trip to the Trader Joe’s on de la Vina I took several minutes to soak up the atmosphere. Santa Barbarans bustled purposefully through the glass doors with brightened, wide-eyed expressions, the TJ’s crew skipped jauntily about, radiant with what always looks like tightly contained joy. It was, per the norm, a little unnerving. And of course the workers run the sartorial gamut. I’ve never been in a Trader Joe’s anywhere whose crew didn’t boast the sort of mad personnel mix typified by Star Fleet’s HR Diversity Handbook; here a Vulcan, there a Scotsman, over there a busty speaker of Swahili with a salt shaker in her ear. Many of the cashiers at Trader Joe’s could be your favorite uncle or aunt, if your favorite uncle or aunt were inked from ankle to jawbone. Some of the workers stocking the shelves look like they could play bass for Arcade Fire. Though TJ’s is today owned by a German grocery conglomerate, it still operates from a simple premise: rebrand bar soap and waffles as swinging, irony-exuding emblems of cool that gratify the shopper with a stylized sense of self. It works. Hoo boy. It really works. But.

There is an implacable phantom angst haunting Trader Joe’s happy-go-lucky aisles, like the creepy come-hither twins in The Shining, but vegan and scarier. Despite the mediating karmic glow of the TJs crew, the place at rush hour is a parade of Tension Hippies, mate-seeking tofu enthusiasts, wildly pierced Salsa unpackers, and the occasional bewildered housewife looking desperately for Clorox with an “I’m Lost in the Funhouse!” expression of growing confusion and terror. Will the misplaced maven raise her hands to her face and scream, like Patricia Owens in The Fly? I’m waiting for the day. For those who have yet to partake of a Trader Joe’s outing (are there still such people in our fair state?), I offer this portrait of a pilgrimage to the de la Vina store.

The layout of the place is a Feng Shui mishap that begins in the parking lot, where an expanse of slanted parking spaces as snugly patterned as herringbone already puts you on edge. You first thread the needle to get into the de la Vina lot, and there begin worriedly seeking a spot for your little buggy as glandular luxury SUVs stalk the car park like a herd of bulbous predators, their chrome grillwork grimacing menacingly as they hugely maneuver the hairpin turns of the overstuffed little acre. You finally manage to dock your car into a suddenly available little slot and as you pull in there is the inevitable TJ’s customer in hemp chinos, slowing his walk to a theatrical crawl and glaring dead-faced at the empty air because he is angry to have had to slow his gait, angry at your oak-strangling internal combustion engine, and angry that his braided, faux-nativist ponytail went out of fashion with Billy Jack posters and One Tin Soldier lunchboxes.

Inside TJ’s the cool-looking diagonalized aisles create a spiritual and spatial confusion that has artfully tattooed shoppers bumping into each other with pursed lips and clenched/enlightened souls. You pause to look contemplatively at a box of orange lentils for more than 4 seconds, and a Progressive with lavishly pierced nasal flanges and those big ear discs will park behind you and start belting out an aura the color of spoiled bean curd. You feel the New rAge with your spidey sense and allow the pissed off spirit-pilgrim to pass by pressing your back against the reconstituted old-growth-forest-favoring single-ply toilet paper. The soul pioneer breathes out in the yoga practitioner’s version of a disgusted sigh and moves through without acknowledging you.

You go to make your purchase and while in line an overcaffeinated pixie with a bag of Free Trade Shade Grown Madagascar Decaf chirps a rolling 4-megaton blast of happytalk at you that within one withering minute has turned your rigid organic banana to a useless tumescent throwaway not fit for purchase. If there are happier or more loquacious shoppers anywhere they need to be restrained and tranquilized. You leave checkout and enter the narrow little exit aisle where more passive-aggressive maneuvering stands your remaining hair on end as you clip hopefully toward the door. You pick your way back to the car, more frozen expressions glimpsed through expensive windshields as those attempting to park suffer your affronting pedestrianism. You slowly pull your car out of the tiny parking space, receive more blank-faced Califorbearance as you painstakingly steer through the swarming lot with the fingertip-lightness of a vascular surgeon. You get home and heave a sigh of gratitude, and having lusted for a bowl of Cap’n Crunch for two hours discover you bought soy milk by mistake. You weep.

Published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel Vol 4/Issue 3/Feb 7-21, 2015

Older Woman Waiting for a Ride on Sunday

Steenwijk_what a church

Though god sees mostly
through and inside us,
she is wearing her best earrings,
wielding a shiny purse chosen
for the occasion.
Though god at a stroke
swamps and destroys,
unleashes cholera on the already-ragged,
crushes to death
3rd graders in Haiti,
and In His Mystery
swipes with seeming anger
at luckless townships in Tornado Alley,
she shivers with the anticipation
of cozily hunkering down in her
pew among friends and loved ones,
all that stained glass,
the bath of color,
sunstruck pastels of the hereafter.
The dispossessed
and the well-fed
praise god;
one wanders tearily through diseased muck
clutching with starved paws
a mortally wounded baby
begging for God’s goodness,
one hugs herself beneath the vaulted architectural
dome of heaven,
pleased in her new earrings
feeling the beatific dullness of Christ,
daydreaming about coffee cake,
wishing the loquacious kindly pastor
whose words are meant to edify
would shut his trap.