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Cucumber, Hold the Maraschino (February 9, 2000)

I ate a chicken salad at the Yum-Yum Tree in Willits three years ago. Last Thursday afternoon the Yum-Yum Tree’s chicken salad ate me.

I think I almost qualify as an authority on chicken salad, at least from the consumer’s end. No restaurant makes a chicken salad the same as any other restaurant makes a chicken salad. You don’t believe me? Go eat at ten different restaurants and report back.

The Yum-Yum Tree’s original version of my favorite road dish was slices of boiled chicken on a heap of shredded lettuce. They trusted me to choose my own dressing from the Big Three: vinegar and oil; Roquefort; blue cheese. It was a good chicken salad. Right to the point — chicken and lettuce. 

Three years later, the Yum-Yum chicken salad has become bite-sized pieces of what might be fowl, but might also be pork, beef, or hunks of soylent green. The “chicken” part of the salad is now deep fried and covered with so much sweet glop that the glop’s sugar crystallizes on the mystery nuggets. The dish came with a merry garnish consisting of a thick slice of cucumber on top of which sat a maraschino cherry. The Yum-Yum Tree had clearly adjusted to the local palate; if it isn’t fried and dipped in sugar, it isn’t food. 

The maraschino cherry threw me completely. So severe was the cognitive disconnect represented by the button-sized red object on the cucumber slice (I’d recognize a cucumber anywhere!), I had to ask my companions what it was. “A maraschino cherry obviously,” one of the two said, a hint of exasperation in her voice as if maraschino cherries and cucumbers were the Abbott and Costello of Willits’ cuisine.

Deep in the meal, the waitress overheard an alienated remark from our table that Willits ought to somehow take advantage of the natural beauty offered by the five streams that bisect it because the town could use some serious cosmetic surgery, the waitress commented, “And you know what? They all run backwards. I mean west to east, instead of vicey versy.”

And, as it turned out, so do certain persons with whom we argued at the Willits Library about Who Bombed Judi Bari.

The meeting was in the Jack Reynolds Room adjacent to the main part of the new-ish structure. I knew the late Jack Reynolds whose daughter Lee is a contributor to this newspaper and whose wife, Rosily, is one of the few senior citizens in Anderson Valley with whom I enjoy cordial relations. I liked Jack, and I was happy to be back in his company, however remote.

Mary Moore and Irv Sutley had arrived before me. As a joke (I hope) they’d arranged the chairs in a circle, always a fundamental error in Mendocino County because it confuses the many outpatients and mystics among us. They sit happily facing everyone else talking about whatever odd obsession it was that ran them off life’s tracks, heedless and uncaring about the ostensible subject matter. If the subject is, say, marsh birds of Mendocino, but the chairs in the room are circular, someone will inevitably talk about the Kennedy Assassination and someone else about how meditation got him off crank. 

Never, ever do circles in Mendocino County. Put the podium up front, yourself behind it, the audience in front of you. Make it clear that you will talk first and they can speak only when called upon. Kinda rigid, you say? No, kind actually. Crazy people, like very small children, feel a lot more secure in a rigidly structured setting, and in Mendocino County, so long as you stick to the old processes, a productive public gathering is much more likely to occur. 

Circles to me are like the skull and crossbones on the poison bottle. If I see one up ahead, I move rapidly in the other direction. But I couldn’t flee this one because I’d called it.

Despite the circular arrangement of the chairs, all of the original meeting attendees seemed in full possession except for one hostile, hatchet-faced guy in a baseball cap who turned out to be with the, ah, inevitable disturbed persons who arrived about an hour late to make the case for an FBI murder conspiracy against the late Judi Bari.

A Miss Tree was the first of them. She’s very young and very full of herself. She entered the room as if she owned both it and the meeting, trilling, “Oh. Am I late?”

Of course you are, Miss Tree. 

“I have a name, you know.”

Yes, Miss Tree.

Miss Tree sat down, pulled out a tape recorder, turned it on, and commenced to talk a lot. She wasn’t convincing, or even plausible. She lied, denied the contra-indicating documentation shown her and ignored the new information about the case she was apparently hearing for the first time. 

Although she said she was “very afraid” of Irv Sutley, a totally non-threatening individual, she posted herself near him. 

Sutley, if you came in late, is the man Miss Tree and a dozen or so other self-interested persons claim orchestrated the murder plot for the FBI against the late Judi Bari. Miss Tree became a protégé of Bari’s as a 17-year-old runaway from a well-to-do home in Sacramento. She arrived in Mendocino County during Judi Bari’s post-bomb, neo-show biz period beginning in 1991. 

Nine years and several nose rings later, on a Thursday night in Willits, Miss Tree is one of the stars of the Mendocino County’s 50-person “activist” cadre. She said she was a paralegal and a paid employee of the Redwood Summer Justice Project, a fund-gatherer for the ten-year-old federal lawsuit filed by the late Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney against the FBI and the Oakland Police Department. The Redwood Summer Justice Project operates out of a Sonoma County Post Office box. It has collected many thousands of unaccounted for dollars over the past ten years. RSJP’s letterhead has lots of famous names on it who think their illustriousness is being put to noble purpose. 

The Bari-Cherney federal lawsuit has been amended many times over the years and is now honed to what is basically a false arrest action. In its earlier versions, Bari and Cherney were depicted as victims of a murder conspiracy whose logistics were arranged for the FBI and/or corporate timber by Irv Sutley, a Sonoma County man who was walking picket lines four decades before Miss Tree was born.

Miss Tree, when she isn’t walking point for Bari and Cherney’s $17.7 million law suit is also a KZYX talk show host, an Earth First!er, and a member of Food Not Bombs. She once announced that she’d feed Ukiah’s foodless once a month if they’d call the Mendocino Environment Center to arrange a meal before they keeled over from starvation. She’s also a singer and guitarist. Her work for the Redwood Summer Justice Project is believed to be the first paid job she’s ever had. Hours seem to be flexible. Miss Tree probably doesn’t own an alarm clock.

Miss Tree immediately said Irv Sutley was never mentioned in the lawsuit.

Sutley read the oddly-composed passage from the second version of the suit where it describes him by name as the “cat’s paw” of evil forces.

Miss Tree replied by saying “Irv is not charged with anything in the suit.” 

Irv? Sutley let the familiarity slide.

Nick Wilson and his wife, Nicola Boynoff, entered the room. Wilson is the well-known Little River polymath. He said he found Professor Foster’s analysis of the Lord’s Avenger Letter “sophomoric and full of pop psychology.” The Lord’s Avenger Letter was written by Mike Sweeney to expand the suspect pool in the failed attack on his ex-wife, if it was an attack and not some insane, awry scheme Judi Bari and Cherney had cooked up to aggrandize themselves. The author of the letter built the bomb that exploded beneath Judi Bari in Oakland about noon on the 24th of May, 1990. The Avenger letter was received by Mike Geniella of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat five days after the bombing. Professor Foster, a well-known scholar who teaches at Vassar, carefully examined the Avenger’s prose and concluded it was much like Mike Sweeney’s. These days Mr. Sweeney directs Mendocino County’s garbage policy.

Professor Wilson also dismissed Foster’s essays attributing a disputed 16th century elegy to Shakespeare as unfounded. 

The literary world awaits Professor Wilson’s paper on the problematic poem.

A deranged woman strode into the room and sat down near Miss Tree, the Bari-ite’s leader for the evening. At random intervals, the deranged woman bellowed, “This was a political assassination plot!” We will note here that unhinged persons often seem to think their unhappiness is caused by vast, complicated political plots against them, which is a lot grander than simply being a nut.

Naomi Wagner’s husband, Ron, perhaps the most consistently abused domestic partner of either gender on the Northcoast, videotaped the event, presumably for the little lady.

“Get that tape, Jim, and get it to me two minutes after 9pm! I’ve got the pliers and you’ve got the testicles, if you get my drift.”

Miss Tree said Judi Bari’s former husband, Mike Sweeney, had been investigated and “cleared” by the FBI. Major Mark Scaramella, USAF (ret), wondered out loud at the obvious contradiction of alleging that the FBI tried to kill Judi Bari and is lying about their role in the plot, and then saying Sweeney’s in the clear because the FBI says he didn’t do it. Miss Tree smirked.

Irv Sutley said that Darryl Cherney had called him an FBI agent just a few months ago on KMUD radio, Garberville, and various other persons had been calling him an FBI agent for ten years now. Miss Tree, with a knowing smile on her face said, “Oh, Darryl” in a voice that suggested we’re all supposed to understand that the Earth First! troubadour is irresponsible. Miss Tree seems to think Cherney is at least as cute as she is.

A lady asked why Miss Tree didn’t invite Bruce Anderson on to her radio program to debate the case. Miss Tree, incredulous, asked, “Would you?”

The audience yelled back, “Yes!” Miss Tree seemed taken aback, but only briefly. “Well, I have much more important things to talk about,” she said.

I began to feel sorry for her. It was like arguing with a ten-year-old, and not a particularly intelligent ten-year-old at that. She’s in way over her head, and my contempt for the Bari-Cherney legal team grows with each encounter with their surrogates.

Miss Tree said I had faxed some documents to the FBI. I asked her to send copies of them to me so I could get some independent verification of her claims. She replied by saying that I was an FBI agent or informant. Maybe I should apply. I’m getting old and I could use J. Edgar’s medical and retirement plans.

A woman who said she’d taught the Bari-Sweeney children in the little school out on String Creek Road east of Willits said she remembered the post-bomb divorced couple as harmoniously committed to the educational welfare of their two children. I said I was tired of hearing wide-eyed adults saying, “I just can’t believe he’d do that” and suggested the lady do some background reading before she popped off in public about the case. She called me an “arrogant asshole.” 

I thought I was in love.

It went on like that until 9pm when we could all escape. 

Mary Moore was patient and reasonable. Miss Tree, like the rest of the local PC Platoon, assigns all criticism of them and the fraudulent case they’ve lived off for ten years now to varieties of personal vendetta. She accused Moore of being a “bitter” enemy of the late Bari. Mary Moore isn’t a bitter person, and she never was and is not now an enemy of Judi Bari. Moore tried to reason with Ms. Tree by gently asking Miss Tree, “Can we speak woman-to-woman here?” Miss Tree changed the subject. 

Sutley has been steadily maligned by these people and their no-show lawyers for ten years now and they’re still thumping on him at these events. He somehow manages not to get angry with these violently unhappy apostles of “Gandhian non-violence.” Judi Bari steadfastly refused to meet or debate Sutley, always saying she “was still too fragile” to argue her allegations with the guy who, along with the truth, was their primary victim. At the same time she was saying she was too fragile to confront Sutley, Bari was leading “direct action” demonstrations all over Mendocino County, and even once led a physical takeover of the premises of public radio KZYX in Philo. The true reason she wouldn’t debate the guy was because he was useful to the Bari-Cherney money machine as all-purpose villain.

Bari herself was good at picking her acolytes. She surrounded herself with the dim and the credulous who would never dare raise the contradictions even if they were aware of them. The choir has always aped their mentor’s worst personality defects without being aware that JB had also read a book or two, had held real jobs, had done real work, had been out in the real world, was very smart, and had a robust sense of humor. But she also had a very big secret she needed to hide all the way to the grave, and she needed dummies to help her carry it there, hence the Redwood Summer Justice Project.

At one point Miss Tree screeched, “We’re being trashed.” 

Mommeeeee! The meanie faces are talking back to me.

That’s not an argument, Miss Tree. 

A friend of mine says the Little Tree “activist” types, male and female, suffer from what she says is a known psychiatric disorder “quite widespread in Mendocino County” called “Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or DSM-III. They’re very needy, Bruce; that’s what you don’t understand.” 

But politics isn’t therapy — or shouldn’t be — and the forces of darkness couldn’t have devised a more convenient set of foils than the Little Tree-MEC-KZYX Axis. 

What’s striking about the Summer-Justice-Project types is their obliviousness as to how they’re perceived by other people. Smirking stupidity wrapped in an impenetrable piety doesn’t get it when you’re trying to convert the undecided to your side of an issue, especially when you don’t have any part of the truth to begin with.

A show of hands Thursday night would have gone about 30-5 for the skeptics over the cultists.

Meredith Rinehart was Mike Sweeney’s love interest at the time of the bombing. She apparently still lives in the Ukiah area. Ms. Rinehart could be a crucial witness in the case when it’s revisited, or finally gets into court, whichever occurs first. Sweeney has told conflicting stories about his whereabouts in the 24 hours preceding the famous event. When I began asking around about Ms. Rinehart, who used to work at the Ukiah Co-op, people who know her became unnaturally nervous. I hope someone is looking out for her.

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