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Notes from Here, There & Nowhere

Ukiah is a city of 16,000 with a median household income of $47,000. 

This is what some city employees earn in a year, including benefits, overtime pay, “extra” pay and whatever coins they find under sofa cushions in the coffee break room:

• JUSTIN WYATT, Police Chief: $329,000

• SAGE SANGIACOMO, City Manager: $320,000

• MEL GRANDI, Electric Utilities: $294,000

• TIM ERIKSEN, Public Works Director: $289,000

• SEAN WHITE, Water Utilities $263,000

• CEDRIC COOK, Lieutenant, UPD: $266,000

• SHANNON RILEY, Deputy City Mgr: $258,000

• DOUG CRANE, Mayor: $5,879

(Source: Transparent California, 2019)

More than 100 city employees bring in compensation packages in excess of $100,000. Retired, they’ll be lushly compensated for many decades.

Just sayin’ is all.


An uplifting nightly concert comes our way at 8 o’clock sharp via distant chants and howls in support of front-liners in the Valley.

These west side shrieks and “ow-ow-owooos!” begin promptly at 8 and run 60 or so seconds. Whoever is responsible please step forward, take a bow and accept a warm embrace from a weary town. We are surprised and amazed that after all these many months, some cold and rainy, you few still carry the torch.

We salute and appreciate the lusty shout-outs for hospital workers, supermarket cashiers, nursing home staff, motel cleaners, and anyone else in harm’s way.


At the rate mail is delivered to my house and those of friends, I expect Christmas catalogues to start rolling in around mid-January.


One random morning a couple weeks ago, after I’d answered the phone three times in five minutes and all were Robocalls, I started keeping track. We had a dozen fake calls regarding computer alerts, funding for retired cops, free roundtrip vacations and other audio junk mail that I presume you also get until, finally, the day’s first telephone call came from someone we know.

Twelve Robocalls, one legitimate call.

Why are we subjected to this abuse and harassment? My theory is that people in power who could address the problem don’t care about Robocalls because they’ve never had one. Do you think Nancy Pelosi has answered a single call in the last 20 years and heard a recording offering 50% off to replace windows in her home?

Has Jairhead Huffman been given a chance to increase his credit card limit? Has Gavin Newsom picked up a phone to learn he’s eligible for an extended warranty on household appliances? 

No, never. Not once has a hotshot official heard from sad charities (cancer survivors, abandoned dogs, underpaid columnists) seeking modest donations at 6 a.m. on a Sunday.

Politicians have teams monitoring their incoming calls and have no idea what the peasants are even complaining about. I don’t know how it will get fixed, but don’t wait for elected representatives to do it.


It’s a few days before Christmas and I’m in line at the Post Office, chewing my teeth and closing my eyes for 60 seconds at a stretch wondering what in the world the two customers at the head of the line are trying to accomplish that, to this point, has consumed no less than 15 minutes. Each.

If everyone took 15 minutes at the Post Office counter I’d still be there. What are they doing? Applying for jobs? Asking if the tuna special includes a salad? Asking Vickie if she’s a Sagittarius and offering to do an astrology chart?

The queue is 75 feet of package-laden mules standing six feet apart. The guy who just squandered 17 minutes of Vickie’s life departs, having mailed a Christmas card to Hopland. Steve patiently endures the woman with a thousand questions who has now been at the counter 20 minutes. No, 21.

Boy do I want to roll on the floor and have a tantrum. Man am I tired of one person asking about the complete history of glaciers while dozens are trapped in line exchanging warm breath with each other.

She leaves! I mutter dark unpleasantries to myself about inconsiderate selfish people as the line shuffles ahead.

She comes back! Arrrgh I cry silently as she goes to the counter. “I found these in the parking lot,” she says, waving a pair of glasses.

I slap my (empty) shirt pocket, see the familiar spectacles she’s holding up, claim them meekly and thank her profusely. What a nice lady, I marvel.

Dear reader, there are many, many lessons to learn from this and I have spent a long, lonely lifetime not learning them. You can do better.

(Tom Hine has written his “Assignment: Ukiah” column in the Daily Journal since 2006, using TWK as camouflage.)

‘Happy To Be Here’ (An Autopsy)

This is a story of the favorite book I ever wrote that was also the worst failure of anything I’ve ever done, with the possible exception of when I quit my job at The Plain Dealer to take a job at the Cleveland Press and then quit that job so I could be a hippie and live in California and wound up in Ukiah.

Top that.

But the failure of ‘Happy to Be Here’ is a flop instantly recognized, unlike the never-ending, decades-long disaster of the rest of my life. The book sank like a rock in a bucket of hot urine.

If ‘Happy to Be Here’ was a movie it would be ‘Ishtar.’

If it was a political candidate it would be George McGovern 1972, who virtually got killed in 49 of the 50 states, or else RFK ‘68, who got killed, period.

If it was a car it would be a Yugo and if a food it would be New Coke. Had it been a marriage it would have been any of the first several, and if it had been employment I might have been elected Mayor of Cleveland.

This is a book that tanked magnificently and thoroughly. Nobody bought it.

But it was just a flop on a teeny-weeny local Mendo-mini-scale, unlike the above-mentioned products like Yugos and Ishtar that went into a flaming dumpster big-time, nation-wide and for all to see, including bosses, co-workers, parents, children and the stock market.

The only witness to my book collapse was me. No one else even knew it was published, and that’s why it sold like 12 copies, six of which I gave to friends who never said Thank You and probably didn’t read it. They certainly didn’t offer to write a review. That might have been a good thing.

We’re talking Bomb with a capital F, dear readers.

And luckily I laugh because it really didn’t matter. I never had a single fevered dream the book might sell more than a few hundred copies, which is what its predecessor (‘Teach Your Dog to Shoplift’) sold.

‘Teach Your Dog’ found about 400 readers willing to pay, I think, $17.00 a copy to be insulted about the town they lived in, the booze they drank, their spouses and their wardrobes. But this being the jolly world of self-published books, selling 400 meant I lost money on the enterprise. Who Cares? So What?

I knew the new book, full title of which was ‘Happy to Be Here (Tall Tales of Fact & Fiction)’ would run a deficit. Big deal. Some people retire and build birdhouses or travel to exotic lands, and those people don’t turn a profit on their ventures either. I’d further guess that when they realized they lost a bunch of money on designer birdhouses and fancy trips to far-off Covelo, they said “So What?” It’s what hobbyists do.

So I spent a little money on ‘Happy to Be Here’ but when it was done I liked what I had. Stories that I’d fussed over for, in some cases, years, plus photos by Steve Caravello, with formatting from Torrey Douglass at Lemon Fresh Design in Boonville. It added up to a book that looked good and read good. So I turned it loose.

I dropped off a couple dozen copies at the Mendocino Book Company a year or so ago, and now when I walk past everyone ducks and turns off the lights because they’re afraid I might try to dump some more. I think J. at Village Books still has the three (autographed) copies I left him; they’re on a “25 cents” table on the sidewalk.

What went wrong? Well, leaving The Plain Dealer for starters, ha ha. But ‘Happy to Be Here’ is a tougher question. Thinking back, four or five stories were mistakes to include, but that means 30 or so weren’t mistakes. Another 10 or 12 were outstanding, said the author modestly, he being in position to grade his own papers.

Sales stalled at around 100, or perhaps have even reversed as people bring them back and demand a refund. The 100 includes precisely zero from Amazon books because although it’s listed there it can’t be purchased.

Screw Amazon. The book, thanks to my genius and Torrey Douglas’s careful nurturing, is good-looking with a terrific cover. So what did Amazon do with this lovely creation?

Amazon anti-nurtured it, squeezing all the back cover’s well-spaced and lively quotes into a single unreadable small-print paragraph. I called and talked to someone in Amazon’s anti-customer anti-service department who listened to my reasonable explanation of the problem, and said “Nothing we can do.” That was that.

So I discontinued online sales. Take that Amazon! We’ll see who blinks first.

Because who cares? Not me. It’s not like I’m 35 years old and this is my second book and if it doesn’t sell 40 million copies I won’t get that $500,000 advance for my next book and I’ll have to kill myself or, worse, go teach English at Ukiah High.

But we all know how this will turn out, don’t we? The brilliance of ‘Happy to Be Here’ will be discovered and celebrated in 20 years and critics will acknowledge it as an undiscovered masterpiece, a long-neglected work of genius. Scholars will weep.

I still have leftover copies in the trunk of my wife’s car which are, of course, first editions and will eventually land in the hands of my greedy children. By 2045 Sotheby’s will auction off the last few originals in existence, while publishers vie to print a second edition, which will have “Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture!” splashed across the cover. Starring Paris Hilton’s son as me, I hope.

And my kids, rich as Pashas, will retire to an exclusive gated community in Covelo.

By then Amazon will have gone out of business, climate change will have made Covelo a beachfront town and Tom Hine will have had a monument built in his honor that angry leftwing mobs tore down three weeks later. TWK will write the definitive biography of George McGovern.

One Comment

  1. Lazarus January 9, 2021

    Wasn’t it you, TWK, that coined, “The Remcoid’s” and the Willit’s nitwit merchants in the same paragraph? If so, that pissed off a lot of people in town, but I secretly thought it was hilarious…
    Be Swell,

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