Last Wednesday, the 13th, I plunked down $16.95 at the Mendocino Book Co. on School Street in Ukiah for your book, Teach Your Dog to Shoplift, along with another $7.40 for two over-priced Valentine’s Day cards for my two roommates (well, actually, I plunked down my American Express card to charge them). I did this based partly on Michael Koepf’s glowing review in the January 30th edition of the AVA, partly on reading your column in the Sunday edition of the Daily Journal over the past two months that I have been living in Ukiah, and partly because when you’re new in town and you want desperately to fit in, it’s helpful to know what the best-selling local author has to say about this town that you and he share.
There’s no denying that you are a good writer—I can’t disagree with Michael on that (or any of the other people who have bought and read your book or who read your column). I also want to express my condolences to you and your family on the death of your brother. It’s obvious that you loved him a great deal, that you miss him tremendously, and that you are all still experiencing a great deal of grief about losing him. I would ordinarily refrain from challenging the rants of someone who is still in a mourning period, but I just felt a compelling need to respond to your criticisms of life in Ukiah. It would seem to me that, other than people like me who buy it out of curiosity or because it received a positive review in print, most of the people who have bought or are buying your book are people who feel exactly the same way you do.
I first tried to move to Mendocino County in 1992, when I submitted applications for teaching positions to the school districts in Ukiah, Willits, and Fort Bragg. I was not granted an interview in any of the three towns, so I remained in the Central Valley, where I continued to live until mid-August of last year, when I moved to Clearlake. Trust me; you won’t get any arguments from me about the wisdom and good sense of leaving Lake County for Mendocino County. Then, exactly four months later, in mid-December, I responded to a classified ad in the Daily Journal for a room to rent in a house fairly close to the downtown area of Ukiah. With no references, no job (and hence, no income), a suspended license, and a criminal record, I was still taken in under a six-month lease (all of which I paid in advance) by my current landlord/roommate, one of the kindest men it has ever been my privilege to meet, let alone live with.
This man is the first in a long string of people in Ukiah who have bent over back-wards to make me feel welcome, and to feel that I belong here. The list also includes: the entire congregation at Unity Church; Margo at Mendocino Ballet, who is helping me get in shape with her class on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for the ridiculously low cost of $3 per class; Enid and Lauren at Lucky Deuce and everyone at AA Ukiah Fellowship Group, who are helping people make good choices about how to live their lives that won’t land them in court and either in jail or doing community service (again); all of the staff at local restaurants and convenience stores (within walking distance of where I live), who are so cheerful about receiving my business; MTA drivers, who will take me anywhere in town I want to go that is too far to walk for only $.60; the staff at the public library (even though you would have them be unemployed), who help me find constructive ways to spend my time between AA (ending at 1:00 p.m.) and Lucky Deuce (beginning at 5:00 p.m.) on alternate Wednesdays; and finally, my other roommate, who is not even 21 yet, but is one of the most polite people I’ve ever known, and who is out on the streets every day saving lives as an EMT. I’ve only known these people for two months, but they are my support group, and already feel like family to me.
Actually, Tom, I’m happy to hear that Ukiah has a good public assistance system, because I may need to take advantage of it in the very near future. Unlike you, who has a job and a paycheck, apparently doing something you enjoy (writing), I have been unsuccessful at finding employment in the field that I had to abandon over a decade ago to attend to family business (settling estates and caring for sick relatives). Apparently, school districts and county offices of education don’t consider that “real” work because there are no references that they can contact to see how well I did it. So, despite the fact that I have a Master’s Degree that I paid $12,000 to obtain (not to mention time away from my sons for those crucial final years before they moved 400 miles away from me in opposite directions) and 15 years of experience as a teacher, I am “unemployable” (even for an Instructional Assistant position) because I am now 62 years old and have been out of the job market for over a decade.
So, while looking for work, I am trying to make what little money I have left from the sale of my house (at ⅓ of what I paid for it in 2007) stretch far enough to keep me in this room in this house that I love with people that I love in a town that I love while working on a second unpublished manuscript and writing the occasional article for the AVA because Bruce and Mark, bless their hearts, seem to think that I have talent. So excuse me for not joining you in your rants about what’s wrong with Ukiah, because, even in my current dire financial straits, I am exactly where I want to be, surrounded by “the kindness of strangers.” If you hate it here so much, perhaps you should move to somewhere you like better—I would be happy to take over your job at the Daily Journal.