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the Rest of the Badger Story

May 20, 2012

 

A calm and cool American Badger (dig those beady eyes)

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(This is continued from the last post; Building the “Badger Reputation” where I just finished my first sign)

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A few months later I got a knock at my door in the late night. It was Marty the sign maker, an old Los Gatos friend who was one of the original wood chucks, but he was already doing signs when we first started hanging out at the Broken Egg. He came up with the original logo for Mountain Charley’s and some of early opening places in town. The famous painting of the naked lady at the top of Charley’s bar was done by Marty.

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Marty had abruptly left town a couple of years earlier and no one had heard much about him except that he was now living in Santa Cruz somewhere. It was quite startling to find him knocking at my door close to midnight.
“What’s up?” I asked him as I let him in.
“I heard you were getting into doing signs,” he said as he looked around my cottage. He’d never been there before.
“Yeah, I’m still banging nails but since no one has taken your place, it seems a good fit for me. I cut wood better than you ever did, anyway,” I tell him as I open a couple of beers.
Marty is making himself comfortable right off the bat and is perusing my half done signs on the table and the “clip art“ and “type font” books tucked up on the bookshelves. He shuffles a couple of drawings out of a pile of proposals and says “not bad,” eying the sheets. Marty and I had been pretty tight in the earlier days but he abruptly and strangely pulled out of town and quietly disappeared into the mountains.
I look out the windows and see his truck parked a half a block down the road.
“Hey, what’s with the midnight ride and all this?” I say rolling my eyes to the distant truck. He smiles mischievously, and shrugs his shoulders.
“I got caught screwing too many of the guy’s old ladys. Some of them are really, really pissed off at me. I only sneak into town every so often.” I was quite taken aback. I never considered Marty a lady’s man though he could be charming and funny as hell.
“So, are you screwing the ‘old lady’s’ over there?” I ask, a bit seriously.
“Yep, just a little more discreetly,” he tells me with a big, childish grin. As long as I had known him he never had a relationship with any of our feminine counterparts. Marty now stood in a rather distasteful light before me. To do it once or twice was understandable, but to make it a full time hobby, that didn’t sit well with me at all. The word “sleazy” was on the tip of my tongue. When it comes to relationships, I’m a very low key guy, I take them pretty seriously. But, certainly I’m not a prude, just don’t be married or ultra “hooked-up.”
Marty and I spent the night talking about sign techniques and I came to realize how much his help had accelerated my evolution into the sign business. However, after a few more late night sessions, Marty slid back into obscurity. And, the signs never came to be my sole source of income. It remained sort of profitable hobby for me. It was a way for me to make money from my sculpting. I had several of my big time clients offer to set me up as a real sign business, a commercially viable one; I always turned them down. While my essence is of an artist, if I was going to make good money, it would be with the technology.

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In my day, if you were middle class and aspiring to be an artist, it was drummed into your head that you would never make money as an artist. So, unless you were raised with a good wad of family wealth, you always had a “day job” as the rock and rollers say, a reliable means to support a family that had not much to do with art. For me, the day job was my technology stuff. Besides, as long as I wasn’t incarcerated in a five foot high cubicle and dealing with pedantic bean counters, I enjoyed the tech stuff.

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About five years after these several all nighters with Marty, I was sitting in Carry Nations after a good day’s work. It was a nice spring afternoon and it was a very thin crowd at Carry’s, maybe 4:30 in the afternoon and there were two very attractive ladies sitting in the center of the bar with no one sitting near them. After about a half an hour of exchanging glances and smiles with the best looking of the two, I bought the pair a drink. The one that had been smiling at me came over to my end of the bar and asked if I was Marty the sign maker. I practically fell off my stool.
“No, but he was a good friend. How do you know him?” There were several of woodchucks who had dark brown hair, were short and had full beards who people would often confuse for one another. Marty and I were of that group.
Her name was Candace and she was currently living in Aptos, on the coast. However, she was from San Jose and she spent her formative hip years in Los Gatos, a member of the female contingency of the woodchucks. We had about a million friends in common and we had flirted when she was making long fringed, hippy leather clothes at a shop in Old Town. Within two weeks or so Candace and I were a XXXXXX. We got going hot and heavy but with limitations; she had a son who was approaching his fifth birthday and Candace refused to have the young guy get all confused about the men in Candace’s life. I only went over to her house when the child was spending time with his dad. On the weekend of the boy’s fifth birthday, Candace and her son had a party in Aptos.
On Sunday of that weekend, Candace and I had been hanging out for about six months now, I hosted a picnic at Vasona Lake for Candace, me and Jonathan, the son. I finally got to meet him. We went canoeing, where he freaked out when he got in the canoe, afraid of it, then he freaked out when we got back to the dock, he wanted to stay in and float around for the whole day. We rode on the Billy Jones miniature railroad, we played Frisbee and we “wrastled” on the fresh cut grass and got all itchy. We had to pack up half the food I brought as it could have fed an army. But in the end, the little brat HAD to ask the big question, in the middle of a large crowd of people:
“Mom, do you like Ed?” he asked in a yell.
“Yes, Jonathan, I do”
“But Mom, you are bigger than him!!!”

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Candace and I were in a very “on-again, off-again” relationship for three years or so.

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About a year after son Jonathan’s fifth birthday picnic, I went to pick up Candace in Aptos for my birthday dinner which we had been planning for a couple of weeks. (my birthday is June 15, it always falls near Father’s day and/or the last day of school, I’ve always preferred the last day of school). She wasn’t at her house and she wasn’t at work. I called her best friend, Jenny, who seconded as her preferred babysitter. Jenny told me that she had Jonathan and that Candace was supposed to be at her house waiting for me. Remember, cell phones were still at least a dozen years in the future. I called Candace’s sister who lived in nearby Soquel to see if she heard anything. She hadn’t, and she called their parents in San Jose, to see if they had any other information.
Now, everyone was taking this “missing person” situation very seriously. While I would drive over to Candace’s house between each of these calls to make sure her car hadn’t shown up, Candace with it, all of these other people were at their homes and were frantically exchanging calls to trying to contact Candace or someone who might know her whereabouts. It became very serious. We were all very worried. Her parents called the police and they told the parents that they couldn’t file a missing persons report until 24 or 36 or however many hours had passed. We all went nuts. There was a small post office at the end of Candace’s block. I called all involved and told them that I would park in the post office’s parking lot, which was in clear view of Candace’s house and driveway and wait for some sort of activity. As soon as she showed up, I’d spread the word.
Needless to say, I got no sleep that night, just exhaustion. She never showed up. Just after sunrise the best friend/babysitter pulled up next to me in the post office’s parking lot. She told me she not only had Jonathan but she also had the key to Candace’s house. As Jonathan was still on schedule and not informed of our concerns, she thought it best to install him in his house and keep him uninformed. She told me I looked like a train wreck. She would take over and I was supposed to get some rest. She would keep me updated, like the rest of the family.
I simply put myself on “autopilot” and drove over the hill and put myself to bed in my Los Gatos cottage. At that point, even my adrenalin didn’t help much. I truly was running on fumes.

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I had driven back to Los Gatos on Saturday, my birthday, which I ignored, of course, for my exhaustion. I usually did anyway; I never paid much attention to birthdays, just getting out of school. On the late Sunday afternoon, now this was Father’s day, Candace called me and told me how sorry she was, how she had an old friend show up just before our date, they went for a quick drink and she got super sick. I told her it was OK, just get well, I told her. She wanted me to come over to her place on Wednesday night and she’d have a great dinner for us to make up for it.

On the next Wednesday I show up at Candace’s house and the dinner wasn’t that special, the tone wasn’t the usual. She sends Jonathan to bed early. I offer to help with the dishes but she sends me into the living room to find some movie on the cable.
The air was thick. I had to ask, `what’s up here?`

Candace turns off the rinse water as she finishes washing the dishes. She turns off the kitchen lights but stands as a cautious silhouette in the frame of the living room door. What is going on here? I’m sitting on the couch where we usually both snuggle up on to watch movies, but, for all that is unknown this night, I’m sitting upright and rigid. Breaking out of silhouette mode, Candace walks into the living room and purposefully turns down the TV, leaving the picture running. She doesn’t join me on the couch. She stands in front of the TV and just looks down at the carpet on the floor.
Now I am really on edge. I decide it is simply best to wait, obviously she is sorting something out.
“Me and my family suffer from a disease.” she starts out. I loosened up a little.
“The disease is alcoholism . . .” this takes my breath away. I’m not sure how to respond. In my world, drunks are generally a bummer and I specifically and intentionally avoided them. Is this what she was talking about? What WAS this all about? She proceeds into a litany of her dead father dying of alcoholism. Her step-father is one. Her mother and sisters are as well, in fact one of them is a smack freak. Candace had never stayed sober for as long as she had since she had met me but . . .
But . . . in the end she told me what I was waiting to hear:
“So, last Friday, on your birthday, an old friend showed up at the front door and offered to go out for a drink for old time’s sake, just real quick. I saw no harm in it, so we went for it. It was so early.”
I just listened.
“I hadn’t seen this person for so long, I just got carried away, I couldn’t stop.”
Remaining silent, I was trying to maintain an open mind,
“So, OK?” I said, waiting for a little more . . .
“THE FRIEND WAS MARTY THE SIGN MAKER.”

It took every atom in my existence to hold my rage,
“but is was the alcohol, it was a one time thing, right?” I query. Man, I was really working to find some positive aspect in this.

Her answer was not a good one,
“I don’t know . . . “ her eyes dropping back to the carpet.
My whole brain bent into a new mode, this was all, way, way too new to me. Marty fucked his friend’s women, Candace and her entire family were drunks, I was a ridiculous fool, Candace and Marty must have been laughing at what a naive fool I was. Self recriminations and foolish drama exploded throughout my head. Physically, I shot off of the couch and landed some twenty feet across the room. I really don’t know how that happened. I was in a daze. Somehow I told the woman “I don’t do this,” and I left the house.
I was demolished but I got it together. Every six months or so I’d get a call from Candace telling me was in AA and she was feeling confident this time, she could lick it. All of my friends insisted I cut her loose, even mild mannered Rick Tharp. So, I quit talking about her, but I gave her a few more chances, stupidly. She never got right as far as I know. However, there was one time when I have to give her credit.
Marty hit on her one more time. She refused him and he gave her a whole lot of grief. She told me this but I had pretty much given up on her credibility. But, it stewed on my back burner for a very long time. What a jackass he was. Marty was a sleazy asshole and I could never forgive him. Of course, nor could I ever deal with Candace again.

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A contractor friend was making some additions to one of his neighbor’s houses up past the summit. It was a small job and he only needed one helper. He asked if I was interested. I could use the extra bucks, sure. The neighbor on the mountain wanted to add a big garage but off from the main buildings on his property. We had to pour a heavy cement pad and then frame up a sturdy structure on top. Not a hard project, in fact, quite standard. My contractor friend laid out the pad and we prepped it. A cement mixer came up to the mountain site and pumped in the concrete. It sat for two days and never fired off. This site was set in a deep redwood canyon with no light. It was too cold for the cement. We had to dig out all the mushy, unresolved concrete, shovel full by shovel full. It was a very un-fulfilling job pulling out thousands of pounds of concrete that is supposed to have worked very normally. Not only is it a failure, but with every shovelful, you have to admit once, then again, then again, these are all failures, until there is no more bad concrete. This is hard on the ego, so many little failures. This job site got to be a very grim and unwelcome place.
We ended up doing two more pours on this site until a geologist friend told us that the pad was being poured onto a big “clay pot,” a spot in the mountains where clay soil would pool and hold a high density of very wet clay, full of water. Potters would pay big bucks to hear about these clay pot locations. There would be so much water in these “clay pots” they would suck all the heat out of the cement, making it impossible for the chemical reaction necessary for the hardening of the cement to ever take place. My contractor friend wanted to change the formula of the cement compound and reposition the new garage and he asked if I would was willing to work this one more attempt. I told him I wasn’t sure. I truly was finished with digging out unresolved cement. In the past week we had shoveled several tons of it, shovel full by shovel full. It wasn’t productive work. It was way too frustrating. The entire job should have been done two weeks ago. I was in a very bad mood; tired, hurting, pooped and frustrated, really not wanting to see that job site ever again. It had become a nightmare even during the day.
This particular contractor, his wife and I had been friends for a good many years. He was embarrassed about the clay pool under our job but it wasn’t his fault and there wasn’t much he could really do about it. I was still deciding if I’d continue on to the fourth pour or not. The contractor’s wife invited me to dinner and when she did so, she brought out what we called “Martoonies,” very large martini’s in these big canning jars instead of martini glasses. There were at least three or four martini’s in each jar. It was already dark in the mountain canyon and I turned down dinner as I was frozen to the bone and not real hungry. For weeks now, I had been wondering why I was still relying on all this construction work when I had planned to be revving my computer consulting. I was stewing in a pool of frustration from many sides.
I came off the mountain all in a huff. I was driving my pickup, Gray, and I was just cussing at myself; forget this construction stuff, get back on the pony, learn the new personal computer technology, forget the mainframes, learn, learn the new stuff, you can’t afford to be so stodgy. Hells Bells, get with it. Blah, Blah, Blah . . . self recrimination after self recrimination.
I pulled into town and made a point to stop by Carry Nations and find someone to help pull me up from my bummer. My long hair was flying around like an “Afro” because the concrete dust was full of electrolytes that made each strand of hair stand on end. I was wearing one of my mountain jackets that had a lamb’s wool lining, a leather shell with a high collar. I was wearing the same work boots the forestry service used which were gnarly to start with and now they were covered in concrete splashes that made them look twice as nasty as they actually were. Basically, I looked like some mountain berserker twice as big as I really was, and I hadn’t even seen myself yet but my mood was really befitting this appearance.
On entering Carry’s I saw my Italian friend who was a small man’s clothes horse. He was the wiry little Italian guy who you would love to call gay but he was just too snotty to be that cool. I sat down at his small, solo cocktail table and the first thing he said to me was “How’s Marty?” All of my pent up frustrations, a couple of Martoonies, the Candace bullshit and its Marty hatred all spouted right out the top of my head with that question. I had come off the mountain as an ultra-ready hand grenade and this idiot just pulled the pin.
I ordered a drink for him and a triple Wild Turkey for myself; I was just pouring gas on the fire. This Italian friend’s name was Paulo. Paulo asked me what we going to be doing tonight and I churned my eyebrows and I told him “we are going to find your buddy Marty.” I’m not sure that Paulo had ever met Marty, but for all my complaining about the guy, Paulo did know the name, and he knew how volatile it made me. Well, Paulo just ignited the nuclear bomb I’d been carrying around for a couple of months.
I don’t remember how I got Paulo into Gray, but we were flying over Highway 17 at Warp factor 100. We started at the Crow’s Nest, where, on this Friday night, I threw open the double doors and glared at all of the people lined up for their dinner reservations. I scowled a few times and everyone backed up to the walls and opened a clear path for me to go upstairs. Paulo, smiling at my foolishness, was in my wake.
I got to the upstairs bar and slowly scanned every face in the place. If you were someone who even knew Marty, you were in my sights. I saw no sure target.

Paulo and I went from bar to bar, restaurant to restaurant down Soquel Avenue in Santa Cruz, and to a few places that weren’t on the Avenue, that night and we never found Marty. Just for the record, later on, Candace told me that Marty was at the first place we went to, the Crow’s Nest, and he saw me in my mood and he hid under a table.
The fact that my short, stubby, nasty, enfuriated self made such a spectacle that night, no one wanted to screw around with my bad moods ever after that. This was something that wasn’t worth dealing with. Obviously, this was a local version of the Tasmanian devil cartoon character, but in the flesh. There was no winning with that one. Let it go and leave it alone.
I’m not a violent guy, I’d never been in a fight. What is now called “drama” is something I hate; if you can’t be reasonable and logical, I will walk away from it. But, that night, I really almost became a berserker.
So, on that night, going to all these different venues. lots of people saw this short, long haired guy loaded and cocked, a lot of my friends saw him, but no one saw him go off. And no one had any desire to see him go off. And, in the end, luckily, he never did go off.

Soon after, I finally broke it off with Candace and swore to myself to only deal with women who were pretty well squared away. I’m too busy and too vulnerable to be a social worker.

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A few more years later, there were a group of us old woodchucks who had stop by Carry Nations for an after work brew. This was probably twenty years ago. We would sit in the corner of Carry’s where the door led to the parking lot out back. Folks called us the “Corner Club.” At most, it might include twenty guys, and never all of them at the same time. Some came in around four in the afternoon, some at six. No one usually was there for than two beers and we had all known each other for about a hundred years. It was a very comfortable and closed little union.
For awhile, there was this one fellow named Joe, about twenty years younger than me, who spent a lot of effort to become part of the corner club. He just didn’t have the history. The stuff we talked about on corner club evenings were things that were happening when he was still in elementary school. This guy just hung on, always sticking his nose into our conversations and dinner plans but having no traction into our history. All of us pretty much politely ignoring his impositions. Frankly, he was a young, arrogant asshole. He was lucky we were so polite. For some reason, be it my age, my long hair, who knows what, Joe really always gave me a hard time. I would just turn my back on him and move on to a new topic. As I said, I am very, very NOT into drama. I just shined this jerk on. I was always courteous to him, never nasty but he would make a point of putting static into my space.

One night Joe arrived at the corner club pretty snookered out. He definitely had more than two beers before he ever showed up. Actually, he was unacceptable, but, once more, we cut the youngster slack, just to keep the peace. He seemed to find it necessary to get in my face. I don’t remember why or how. Once again, I shined him on. But this time, he wouldn’t back off. He grabbed the back of my bar stool and swung me around so we were face to face, just an inch or two apart. In his drunkenness, he started threatening me. I still shined him on. The guy was nearly a foot taller and me, but, one well placed kick to side of his knee and he would be a wimp. Still, I shined him on. He got more insistent in his drunkenness and started poking my sternum (the breast bone) talking about things none of us could understand. He poked and poked and got nose to nose with me. I had never much interacted with this guy on anything. I had no idea what he was talking about. As Joe got louder and louder, more and more heavy thumping on my breast bone, more and more, the corner club got more and more silent, everyone waiting to see how this was going to get resolved. Finally, Joe thumped my chest one last time, with a lot of ferocity.
I am a really good fencer, training since I was eighteen years old. An old, unpracticed reflex kicked in and I grabbed Joe’s offending finger right at its base and abruptly jerked his entire index finger to some UNnatural angle. The big, young guy, Joe, was on his knees, pleading for relief. I just bent his finger some more. I was still on my bar stool with his remote control joy stick firmly in my hand. The young man was not comfortable. I didn’t go for full pain, but I let him know who was in control.
From a few stools down, my old buddy, Tony Lynott, who had seen me on that dramatic man-hunt in Santa Cruz, searching out Marty the sign maker, Tony says to Joe,
“Hey twit, don’t you know by now, you don’t screw with the Badger. The badger will tear the face off a Grizzly Bear if you don’t give him his space.”
And about six more guys chimed in,
“Yeah twit, no face.”

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A Badger, at ready . . .

I let him go and we never saw him again.

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