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Mendocino County Today: Saturday, April 12, 2014

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by Kym Kemp

Katherine Rominger’s voice was low, her words catching in the tangled memories of her childhood. “My mom had locked us outside and we could hear her screaming,” she said in a recent interview.

For years, Rominger and her younger brothers were witness to the abuse her mother faced from her partner. She was 8, she thinks, the first time she witnessed the violence. “Me and my two brothers we were locked out of the house so he could beat her in private. We knew what was going on and we wanted to get back in so we could protect her.”

Rominger found a place where she could look through a window. “I could see my mom cowering next to a dresser and he — he put his foot through a TV about four inches away from my mom’s face. I thought he was going to put it through her face. I didn’t think he would miss,” she said.

“He” has no name when Rominger describes her childhood. There’s usually just a pronoun and the raspy tear of her voice pulling back from the word.

After witnessing her mother’s abuse, Rominger herself became the victim of an abusive relationship. “That chain is hard to break,” she said. “You think it is OK for you to accept it… . [My mom] stayed with that man for 13 years until I was 15. She was still in that relationship when I got into a relationship with Josh.”

When Rominger was just 13, she started dating Josh K., a man who later became her husband. “I moved in with him when I was 14 because I was running from my home life,” she said.

Seeing your parents or caretakers engage in domestic violence is the strongest risk factor for passing that behavior on to the next generation, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“[Josh] was extremely controlling before I moved in with him to the point he would punch holes in the wall,” Rominger explained. “I thought that was because he wanted to protect me. … I didn’t know any better.”

What she didn’t know then is that attempts to dominate are a common precursor to domestic abuse. Now she recognizes that the violence she experienced from Josh K. began as he attempted to force her to behave in ways he deemed acceptable. “It started by controlling,” she said. “If I smiled at someone in the grocery store, he would yell at me and tell me I was a whore. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup or curl my hair. I wasn’t allowed to be feminine.”

Though there is no one way domestic violence occurs, abusers often engage in insults and attempts to isolate the victim from friends and family. They also use intimidation and threats of violence to loved ones to control their partners. (See below for signs of domestic abuse and numbers to call for help.)

Josh liked “making me cower,” Rominger explained. “He would get over the top of me and act like he was going to hit me.” That lasted a couple months, she said. When she was pregnant with their first child, he progressed to threatening other people if she didn’t do what he wanted. “He would say my actions were going to get other people hurt,” she explained. “I took that pressure on. I kinda shouldered it. He also said he would kill himself — he was physical with himself if I didn’t act appropriately.”

Eventually, the threats got more violent. “Then,” she said, “if I went to ask if I could go watch TV with someone else, he would get a knife out and threaten to kill them.”

He began escalating the attempts to make her feel humiliated. “He began kicking me in the behind as I would go backup the stairs. It didn’t really hurt. It just made me feel small.”

The violence increased. “It started out with little bits of shoving and taking my power away, then [progressed] to open hand slaps,” she said.

Eventually, she left and hid from him. Describing how he eventually caught her, Rominger’s voice sounded detached, almost dull except for occasional cracks. “When I was running, I hid from Josh for about a month. The one time he did catch me, someone had to bring out a shotgun to get him to let go of my throat,” she said. “They had to pull a gun on him to get him to let go of me. That was in front of the Honeydew store.”

When he got hold of her again, she said, it was terrible. “And then when he found me, he drug me up the road by my hair.”

She fought back. “I hit him in the face with a Maglight because I was scared.” Eventually, she made it home and called to her mom for help. Her mom sent the sheriff.

And Rominger was arrested.

“Because I had left a mark on his face, I went to jail,” she said. Rominger doesn’t blame the officer. “There wasn’t a way for the sheriff to know what was happening. I didn’t show him my bruising. I didn’t do that because I knew that domestic violence charges don’t go very far. It would have been his first [charge] and he would have walked. Then it would have been revenge. I knew he couldn’t get me in jail.” She felt that he would kill her if she didn’t somehow get away. Jail seemed safe to her.

“It is a very difficult call for [law enforcement] to make,” said Brenda Bishop, executive director of Humboldt Domestic Violence Services. “Lots of times they don’t get the full story. Police say those calls are some of the worst they get.” In Eureka, there is an effort made to get a client advocate to ride along with police. These advocates can help victims get out of an abusive relationship.

Bishop explained that victims in a case with a client advocate are more likely to follow through with leaving the abuser, more likely to fill out restraining orders, and more likely to follow through on making charges against the abuser.

Rominger wasn’t safe in jail for long. “He bailed me out…and made sure I went home with him,” she said. Why would she go home with him? She still feels like she didn’t have any good choices. “I didn’t have any place stable to go. It was either that or go to an abusive home with my mother.”

Also, like many victims, Rominger thought he would stop the abuse. “I was pretty headstrong,” she explained. “I thought I could change him. I really thought I could change him. I thought if someone loved him through it all, he would change.”

The reality is that abusers have trouble stopping. In one study, 62 percent of abusers arrested were rearrested within two years of their release.

Lt. Steve Knight of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office explained that it isn’t uncommon for the abuser to feel badly afterwards. The abuser might apologize, he said, or send flowers, but when “another triggering mechanism occurs, violence results.”

“It often doesn’t get better with time,” Knight explained. “It escalates.” Knight points out that law enforcement does have tools to help the victims. There are emergency protective orders that buy the person five days, giving the victim time to get temporary restraining orders. “No actual injury is required,” he said. “Only a slight physical contact out of anger or disrespect is needed.”

Domestic abuse cases made up a little over 7% of all arrests and bookings in Humboldt County last year. More than 750 people were taken in on one or more domestic violence charges in 2013, for an average of more than two per day, according to online information from the Humboldt County jail (gathered from LoCO’s Booked by Hank Sims). That number is up from 679 booked in 2012. (A sampling of numbers taken on April 8 has 32 men and four women being held in jail on those charges.) These kinds of numbers require a substantial investment of money and manpower by local law enforcement.

“Abusers many times come back [to the jail] three or four times,” Knight said. With that kind of violence reoccurring in the victims’ lives, why don’t they leave? “Sometimes it is not as easy for the victim to leave as it would seem,” Knight said, explaining that the abuser often has control over the family’s income and sometimes threatens to harm children or pets if the victim leaves.

Bishop agreed. Women’s shelters will take children but usually not animals, she said. “Survivors often won’t leave if they have to leave their animals behind.” Bishop explained that Humboldt has an unusual program — the Jennifer Bushnell Memorial Fund. Named for the daughter of Southern Humboldt resident Angie Gillam, this fund provides money to shelter the victim’s animals while the victim stays in a safe place or domestic violence shelter.

Gillam’s daughter, also from Southern Humboldt, was shot down in a 2007 domestic violence incident in Flag City, Calif. Gillam believes that her daughter might have left her abuser in time if she had known that her dog Gucci would be safe.

JenniferBushnellJennifer Bushnell, her dog and her abuser. This photo is a snip from a preview of a video about domestic violence. Gillam starts telling her daughter’s story at the 2:40 mark. Warning: there is very real violence shown on this excerpt.

Gillam explained that family members often feel helpless to intervene. “You feel like a worthless parent because you can’t protect your child,” she said.

Now she accompanies a video on domestic violence to school presentations. Kids entering high school are particularly open to breaking away from domestic violence patterns if approached correctly, she explained. The pain of watching the graphic video is offset by her sense of doing something to help. “It is kinda hard to watch Jennifer being shot seven times in one day,” she said quietly. But, she added, “If we can save one life, then it is worth it.”

Bishop said there’s a limited number of beds for survivors of domestic abuse in Humboldt County. The exact number is “kind of tricky,” she said, because there are lots of private ones provided by churches, and WISH in Southern Humboldt also provides shelter for domestic abuse victims. But Bishop’s organization has less than 12 emergency shelter beds. “We’re looking into purchasing another shelter,” she said. “We have so much demand.”

Rominger, who was only 19 at the time she was arrested, didn’t even think about going to a shelter. She thought she had to go back with her partner to their remote property in the coastal hills of Humboldt. But within a few weeks, Josh beat her so badly she bears the damage to this day. At one point in that assault, she said,

“I take off running. He grabbed me by the pony tail and dropped me to the ground. I was on my knees begging for forgiveness. He drop-kicked me in the face with boots on. The metal piece on the boot ripped the skin and I almost lost my eye.

“He drug me in the house up the steps and pulling me by hair — up the stairs bouncing on my behind. That is how I have hip problems now. When he got me in the bedroom, he made me strip naked and he beat me with a 308 assault riffle for about four hours.”

He would alternate yelling and beating.

“I had bruises on the back of my head, my tailbone, all over. My hair was matted with blood. Somehow after he beat me for hours, I found a soft spot in him and begged him to take me to the hospital.

“He put me in the bathtub and tried to scrub off the blood and wash the bruises out. He tore the skin under my eye more. After that he realized the bruising was permanent.

“After hours of me begging, telling him I was dying, he took me to the hospital.”

On the way to the hospital, he created a scenario to explain what had happened to her. “I told the sheriff I was gang beat by a bunch of girls,” Rominger said. “They believed that story.”

Neither medical professionals nor law enforcement made Josh leave her alone while she told her story, she said. He was there watching every word she spoke. According to her, he helped tell the story to law enforcement. “Basically he told the sheriff I brought it on myself by mouthing off” to the non-existent girls.

Medical personnel in Garberville put stitches underneath her eye at the top of her cheekbone. She still has a scar. She had to be taken by ambulance to Fortuna for severe head injuries.

“Josh refused to let me ride and he drove me at this time,” she said.

He was still angry with her and on the way from one hospital to the next, he began beating her more.

“[He] slammed my head into the dashboard and broke open the stitches … . He stopped at the Eel River bridge and was going to throw me off and I fought him off. Middle of the 101.. . It was night. It was late, no traffic.”

“The swelling was so bad that my brother and my dad did not recognize me,” she said. “My kids would not come to me. They just screamed and I was still expected to cook and clean. If I tried to nap, he would punch me in the head… . He knew that I very possibly could die any time he punched me in the head.”

After that, she said, she wasn’t “allowed” to be alone. “When he went to the city, I had to go with him.”

Several times, she said, he told here he already knew where he was going to bury her body. One day, when they went to the city, “I thought he was still sleeping. I went upstairs to the lady whose house we were staying in. I called my mom and said I needed help.”

Then she heard a noise and turned around to see Josh standing behind her. He had woken up. “I knew I was dead if I didn’t get out of there,” she said. He made her pack up to leave, but before they got out of the house, the sheriff showed up. “I told the sheriff that I wouldn’t talk unless he put me in his car and got me out of there,” she said.

Once in the sheriff’s custody, with some pressure, she told law enforcement about a murder committed by Josh. He was arrested and she testified against him. He’s still in jail.

JenniferRominger3Rominger is recovering. She’s remarried, gone to school, and her children are with her. “I have my kids; I’ve got a dog,” she said. “Basically, I just turned it around. I turned the negativity into the power to feed my success.”

“A lot of my healing came from working on domestic violence projects,” she explained. “I felt like my story wouldn’t be a waste — like I could save someone else with my words.” She speaks the screams of her mother and herself.

Thursday evening, Rominger spoke at the Candlelight Vigil at the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center.

“Life is a lot better now,” she explained in a firm voice. “There is life after domestic violence.”

Humboldt’s Domestic Violence 24 Hour Crisis and Support Line can be reached at 707 443 6042 or 1 (866) 668-6543

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Signs Of Domestic Abuse:

  • Telling you that you can never do anything right
  • Showing jealousy of your friends and time spent away
  • Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing friends or family members
  • Embarrassing or shaming you with put-downs
  • Controlling every penny spent in the household
  • Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses
  • Looking at you or acting in ways that scare you
  • Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do
  • Preventing you from making your own decisions
  • Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children
  • Preventing you from working or attending school
  • Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets
  • Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons
  • Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with
  • Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol

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CONTRADICTORY HEADLINE in this week's Fort Bragg Advocate: “No formal charges have been filed by the Mendocino County District Attorney's office against members of the Love In It medical marijuana cooperative that was raided March 4.”

THAT'S BECAUSE THE DA hasn't yet filed charges. A major Mendo dope op is unlikely to get away without, at a minimum, a major fine. The local cops already have more than $60,000 in cash they confiscated in that raid plus a military assault rifle.

SHERRY GLASER, Love-In-It’s den mother, is a serious exhibitionist, best known for baring her breasts at little to no provocation to make unsupported (sic) political points. Ukiah can expect lots of frontal nudity on the steps of the County Courthouse as this one clamors into court.

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WEDNESDAY afternoon, at about 4:15, I stumbled into a fast and furious production of Wild Kingdom with me as Marlin Perkins. Suddenly, all around me, three large animals were fighting. Two coyotes were seriously attacking a dog. Since it had instantly become a flurry with me at its center, catching me even more unawares than I usually am, I instinctively went into Marine Corps pugil-stick mode, brandishing my handcrafted (from Navarro madrone) Kustom Kalantarian Kudgel and inanely shouting, “Hey! Hey! Hey!” As I waved my walking stick at the mêlée, I had a crazy thought that I soon regretted. “I wondered if Ricky Owens' Boonville pit bull could handle these two coyotes?” And, more worrying, was I spiritually descended from the Gold Rush barbarians who paid to watch grizzly bears fight mountain lions?


THE TWO COYOTES were a little bit larger than the dog, and a lot quicker. They seemed to simultaneously keep an eye on me as they dove at the brown and white dog and kept up their coordinated assault on the dog. The two coyotes seemed a lot larger, although the experts say coyotes don't get much over 50 pounds. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought they were wolves.

THE DOG fought a purely defensive fight as he skittered away up the hill towards his owner, a crone-like woman of advanced age. She looked on, spectator-like, with her leash in hand. She was about 40 yards from the fight that would have consumed her pet if he'd hadn't gotten away as quickly as he did.

THE COYOTES did not pursue the dog as it ran uphill to its owner, but instead lay down and took up a watchful position on the golf course side of the service road that begins at the north end of Mountain Lake. I could see them from the top of the hill where the crone and I stood chatting. “I don't think I'll come back this way,” the crone said, snapping her leash back on her dog. I saw her the very next afternoon in the same general area. Her dog was leashed, as it and all the rest of the coyote's decadent canine descendants are supposed to be leashed in San Francisco's public parks.

Mountain Lake Park, Presidio, San Francisco
Mountain Lake Park, Presidio, San Francisco

FRISCO coyotes fear no man. They're better adapted to the urban milieu than most of us are. Of necessity, we move through the fraught city environment with our senses on full alert. Coyotes attack only when they or their young are in danger. Us humans, as America goes medieval, are subject to round-the-clock peril.

I OFTEN SEE coyotes in my city neighborhood on the edge of the park-like Presidio where there's plenty of convenient cover for these beguiling creatures, and I, for one, am happy they're there. But I wonder how quickly they'll multiply and graduate into full menace status, a menace to dog owners anyway. The Dog People are San Francisco's largest and most militant political bloc. No officeholder messes with them. And lots of them are already demanding that the coyotes be killed.

THE TWO COYOTES I distracted Wednesday with my silly flailings of my walking stick, were large and healthy, and since coyotes mate for life, I assume they were husband and wife with a den of little ones nearby. That dog must have strayed too close to the family home.

THERE are now coyotes all over San Francisco. Accounts of them, along with worried letters-to-the-editor about their potential danger to people and pets, are regularly featured in the San Francisco Chronicle. I often see coyotes as I walk through the Presidio where the Presidio meets the Pacific not far from the Frisco end of the Golden Gate Bridge. I usually see them in the early morning hours but lately also in the afternoons. A couple of weeks ago I saw one nonchalantly trotting across the back nine of the Presidio golf course maybe 30 yards from a party of duffers. The golfers barely glanced at the magnificent wild creature nearby because, I'm sure, they too see coyotes on or near the course all the time.

I'VE LIVED in Mendocino County for 45 years. In all those years and many hundreds of foot miles in the hills, I've seen maybe four coyotes, three of them for nothing more than glimpses. One, however, once engaged me in a thrilling stare-down from one end of a big drain pipe on the north side of the Boonville cemetery. I was at the other end of the pipe. That went on for minutes until I finally walked off into the wilderness of Anderson Creek. (Mendocino County can be dramatically wild just off the pavement.) That coyote, I was sure, was laughing at me, as well he might, but he was definitely messing with me, and I came away from that experience with a fresh understanding of the ancient reverence Indians hold for the coyote, which can seem like a fully sentient being and perhaps is.

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I would like to propose an informal readers poll. I for one, would gladly pay $1.25 for a 12 page AVA rather than see the paper diminished. I hope others will make their feelings about this known to you.

Karl Schoen, Little River

PS. As far as reading the AVA on line— Forget it!

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Thank you for printing my note about Matt Gilbert and his sheep shearing and wool business. I'd originally sent it to the foodshed group, but somewhere along its path to your paper some vital information was omitted - Matt's contact information. He can be reached at 972-9144 or e-mailed at His facebook is Thanks for this correction.

Bev Elliott, Floodgate

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49ERS QUARTERBACK COLIN KAEPERNICK denied reports that Miami police were investigating him in connection with a “suspicious incident” at a hotel. A woman told police that she blacked out after drinking and smoking marijuana in an apartment in the company of Kaepernick and two other football players. The report does not allege any crimes. Kaepernick, 26, has been doing off-season workouts at a center in Miami. In posts on his Twitter account Friday, Kaepernick thanked his supporters and blasted reports that erroneously said he was being investigated for sexual assault.

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ERIC BRANCH OF THE CHRON REPORTS: “The unnamed 25-year-old woman at the center of an ongoing police investigation involving 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was taken to a hospital by the Miami fire department and, once she was there, a rape test was used to determine whether she had been assaulted, the Miami Herald reported.

The results of the rape test have not been released.

Kaepernick, 26, and two other NFL players — 49ers wide receiver Quinton Patton and Seahawks wideout Ricardo Lockette — were named in a Miami police incident report in which the woman says she blacked out in their company in an apartment at the Viceroy Hotel on April 1 and woke up in a hospital bed. The woman said she smoked marijuana and drank shots before blacking out when she was naked on a bed, where she had been with Kaepernick. She said they did not have sex, but had done so in the past.

The woman arrived at the Viceroy at 9pm and the Miami fire department was dispatched to the hotel at 12:32am. The Miami fire department was summoned to the hotel by the police, who had been contacted by the players, the Sacramento Bee reported.

The players have not been charged with crimes. The investigation is being conducted by the Miami Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, which investigates sexual battery and other serious crimes.

“We have to examine evidence and wait for some tests to come back, including toxicology reports,” Police Chief Manuel Orosa said to the newspaper. “We can present it to the state attorney and they can decide whether to continue … It’s too early to determine what the evidence indicates.”

Thursday morning, Kaepernick, via Twitter, blasted an initial report that claimed he was being investigated for sexual assault and thanked those who have supported him.

“The charges made in the TMZ story and other stories I’ve seen are completely wrong,” Kaepernick said. “They make things up about me that never happened. I take great pride in who I am and what I do, but I guess sometimes you have to deal with someone who makes things up. I want to thank all of the people who have shared their encouraging sentiments. I assure you that your faith is not misplaced.”

Kaepernick’s agency, XAM Sports, issued a statement: “We stand by Colin 100 percent and are fully confident that the truth will be evident once the facts come to light regarding this matter. We thank you for supporting Colin.”

Given the ongoing investigation, public relations expert Sam Singer said Kaepernick made a misstep when he took to Twitter this morning. Singer, the president of Singer Associates in San Francisco, said Kaepernick’s agency should have been the lone voice speaking out.

From a legal standpoint, he said, Kaepernick should stay silent, even if he’s only guilty of questionable judgment.

“They should have kept him out of this until there’s more clarity to the story,” Singer said. “Once there’s more clarity he can step forward and say ‘Thank you for sticking by me, I’m sorry I couldn’t talk about this, but there was police investigation going on.’

“It’s not tremendously harmful to Mr. Kaepernick, but it’s not the fully professional, thoughtful thing to do in this situation. And it shows a bit of amateur behavior by people who are paid a lot of money to be pros.”

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There is a man who travels around the world trying to find places where you can stand still and hear no human sound. It is impossible to feel calm in cities, he believes, because we so rarely hear birdsong there. Our ears evolved to be our warning systems. We are on high alert in places where no birds sing. To live in a city is to be forever flinching.

— Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation

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The old guy put down his beer.

Son, he said,

(and a girl came over to the table where we were:

asked us by Jack Christ to buy her a drink.)

Son, I am going to tell you something

The like of which nobody was ever told.

(and the girl said, I've got nothing on tonight;

how about you and me going to your place?)

I am going to tell you the story of my mother's
 Meeting with God.

(and I whispered to the girl: I don't have a room,
 but maybe...)

She walked up to where the top of the world is

And He came right up to her and said

So at last you've come home.

(but maybe what?

I thought I'd like to stay here and talk to you.)

My mother started to cry and God

Put His arms around her.

(about what? 
Oh, just talk...we'll find something.)

She said it was like a fog coming over her face

And light was everywhere and a soft voice saying

You can stop crying now.

(what can we talk about that will take all night?

and I said that I didn't know.)

You can stop crying now.

(Kenneth Patchen)

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Until the Mateel Community Center can abide by all the rules and regulations they agreed to and were set by this Planning Commission, then NO, they should not be allowed to increase the size and scope of Reggae on the River from 2013 until they have complied with those conditions.

It would seem, after hearing what the Mateel Staff stated at the Planning Commission on April 3rd and what was stated in their Post Event Report for 2013, the fact its only the Mateel that wants Reggae on the River at French's Camp and having to comply with CEQA and a long list of State and County agencies is creating a “financial hardship” for the Mateel is ludicrous and hypocritically ingenuous.

Its the Mateel that wants it back at French's Camp. They knew up front how much money it was going to cost in CEQA studies and reports, which I might add was never required by State Parks at Benbow. Now can you see why they should have kept Reggae on the River at Benbow! Not only environmentally, but economically and financially.

With the amount of infrastructure the Mateel has completed and more they plan on constructing, they are building a town and creating a municipality on the River down at French's Camp, not a temporary 4 day music festival. The Mateel should look at the long term effects, not a quick way to make a buck at the expense of the environment. Sure sounds familiar.

These degrading effects are not created by music, they are created by the thousands and thousands and thousands of people the Mateel Community Center sells tickets to and allows to park, camp, cook, eat, poop, shower and shave on the River, River Bar and River channel, which is itself is a living community of wildlife habitat, aquatic resources and eco-systems.

I am asking you, speaking for the species that have NO voice, that cannot speak for themselves, to stop this madness. This venue site is not the appropriate place to honor or protect mother earth with song and celebration.

The South Fork Eel River is a state and federally protected Wild & Scenic River, it deserves better than this, we as a species can do better than this. Just say no!

“Denial ain't just a river in Egypt” ~ Mark Twain

Ed Voice & Voice Family, Garberville

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‘He’s Not Heavy Father, He’s My Brother’

by Jim Gibbons

After digging out of the Big Snow of ’75 I checked in at the Mendocino County unemployment office in Ukiah because my six months of $31 a week had run out. I was asked about my last job, and told them I was repairing wooden boats in Sausalito, but willing to take any carpentry or labor job. Within a few weeks I was sent to Laytonville for an interview for a CETA job.

CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) was a public works relief program that Nixon signed into law in December of ’73, not long before he left office in disgrace because of the Watergate Scandal. Like Roosevelt’s CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) my dad worked on in the 30s, it was established to train workers and provide them with jobs in the public service. The main difference was Roosevelt’s CCC was only for unmarried men 18-25 who were from needy families. But let my dad tell it from an interview my niece Renee did in 1988 for a high school history project regarding someone who experienced the Great Depression. My Dad, Bob Gibbons, was born in 1915 and died in 1990.

“I went in 1933 when I got out of high school. They sent me to Lost Corners, Arkansas to build fire trails up in the Ozark Mountains. I was there for 15 months. I got $30 a month to start, $5 for me and they sent $25 to my mother to help with my two younger sisters. It was just like an army camp, in fact, we wore old clothes that were from World War I. The War had only been over for 14 years by that time. Anyhow, we were fed well and treated decent and it was a good experience.”

On the morning I was to report for my interview I woke up early, determined to get there on time, which I did, but it was a struggle. It was still dark when I went downstairs to make some coffee, and although I lit a kerosene lamp for some light, I didn’t see a clean cup so I reached into the darker sink and AAHHH! It felt like a sliver of glass went into my finger. I quickly grabbed a flashlight and pointed down to see a scorpion waving his tail at me, with a taunting “you-want-another-piece-of-me attitude.” His stinger was stuck in my forefinger and it burned like hell!

I had heard their stingers were poisonous, and won­dered what the effects would be, as I continued to get ready to leave, still determined to get to the Laytonville yard by 7:30. When I arrived I walked in holding my painful, still throbbing finger, and met Walt, the yard boss. I told him what happened and he seemed impressed that I still made it on time, but told me these northern scorpions are not poisonous like the ones down south, which I was tending to believe anyhow, since it had already been over an hour.

I was to report to work the following Monday to join a crew of nine other newly hired locals to build a path along Branscomb Road from just east of the yard to town, less than two miles. Locals on this Laytonville crew were made up mostly of back-to-the-land guys from either Spyrock or Bell Springs Road, though one guy came all the way down from Piercy. Chas, our crew leader, was the only one from Willits. When we moved from Covelo Road to Sherwood Road that Summer I would drive the six miles to town and meet Chas in town, then he’d drive us the 24 miles to the Laytonville yard, chatting all the way. Chas had a good sense of humor, a beautiful wife, two young girls, and a nice house in the Little Lake Valley. But he complained about the wife and her live-in father, so it didn’t surprise me when they split up and he eventually moved back to Utah.

What did surprise me, while writing this piece just the other day (March 28, 2014), was getting the Willits Weekly and reading a front page story about a “48-year-old Willits woman and her 68-year-old boyfriend” who were arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing a minor under the age of 11. Chas was arrested and is awaiting extradition to Mendocino County from Manti, Utah.

Back to my dad’s 30s: “I started high school in 1930, when the depression really started, and graduated in ’34. Avoca, Iowa was a small town and we had a class of only 34 people. It was a pretty rough time, for exam­ple, farmers were getting 10 to 12 cents a bushel for corn, and you could buy a big chicken for a quarter. In fact, we didn’t have meat very often…mostly on Sunday. My mother’s small home was heated by a pot-bellied stove and we had a wood burning cook stove. We were in a small town, like I said, but we had outdoor plumb­ing. In that part of town there weren’t many people who had sewage. It was a rough go, but everybody was in the same boat, so you never felt poor.”

In contrast to the limited opportunities my dad had in the 30s depression era, the 70s offered plenty of opportunities, at least for young, healthy white guys like me. Yet, I was restless and bored, preferring the hippie lifestyle, eschewing money, full-time employment, and not really knowing what I wanted, but knowing dam well what I didn’t want. I guess you could say I tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. And that tended to mean what we now call going off the grid. Life is so different without being able to just flick a switch to turn on the lights and the heater. It almost seems like I was trying to find a lifestyle even tougher than my dad’s in the 30s. From the time I left Milwaukee for California in ’69, to ’78 when we bought a house in Willits, only two of those years we were plugged into the grid, or had indoor plumbing.

I walked away from some pretty good jobs in my life, jobs my dad would have been happy to get. For example, I got a job at the Sausalito Post Office soon after taking the multiple-choice test because I scored a 96 and they hired according to test scores. The reason I did so well on the test was because at that point I had spent most of my life in school taking tests. Then just two weeks before I was to get tenure, I was fired because I wouldn’t shave my beard and cut my hair, and accord­ing to my termination letter, they didn’t like the clothes I wore. But like the full time jobs I’d lost before, I felt relieved. I hated working full time, unless it was just half the year, with unemployment the other half.

But perhaps I should reveal the real reason I was fired. I was working the 2AM to 10AM shift with just one other guy. Sometime after 6 AM when other employees started punching in I heard laughter coming from the men’s room. I went in to check it out and saw the boss’s name stuck in the urinal. Of course I urinated on it and emerged smiling like the others, except unlike the others I knew my co-worker did it. Soon I was called into the boss’s office and told to shave my beard and cut my shoulder length hair before returning to work the next day. The urinal prank was not mentioned. I was so proud of my termination letter that I made sure it was included in my first (and last) published book of poetry, “Prime the Pump.” (1970)

For years after that my dad would say, “Jim, you should have kept that job at the post office.” I never regretted losing that job, or any job, though I did really like working at the Tides Bookstore in downtown Sausalito because of the clientele, and because it was part time. Richard Brautigan used to come in every so often just to see how his books were selling. Once Pro­fessor Irwin Corey, the comedian I had seen on the Johnny Carson show, walked in, looked at me and I spontaneously shouted, “Professor?!” His response was, “This aint no bar!” And he turned around and left. I stood there staring at the door, wishing I had kept quiet. The No Name Bar was next door, which made his reaction to me even funnier.

Another time one of my favorite poets, Gary Snyder, came in and after perusing the poetry section came over to the register with several books, including my book, which prompted me to introduce myself, telling him what a fan I was, and even invited him to go sailing with me the next day. After declining my invitation he told me he was living in Nevada City in the Sierra foothills, and had a small crew helping him build a house without using any power tools. He invited me to stop by if I was ever in the neighborhood, which I actually did four years later while on a mission with a friend to get fir poles for spars, booms, and masts.

A waterfront buddy named Chris had a big truck with a long bed and asked me to go with him up to the Sierra’s to get these poles. As we drove up this windy country road there suddenly appeared a big parking lot and a sign that said Ananda Retreat, which prompted my memory of Snyder telling me he lived next door. So we drove down this long driveway and voila. It was Gary Snyder’s place, with beautiful Japanese inspired archi­tecture, and several people in various small groups seemingly working on various projects. Suddenly Allen Ginsberg walks up and I introduce us and tell him about the time I met him in Milwaukee at Barbara Gibson’s place. He remembered and said how much he liked Bar­bara’s work, and showed us around. At one point we were invited into Gary’s meditation room, but as we attempted to walk through the door, Allen said, “Shoes, you must take off your shoes.” We had boots on and didn’t want to bother, and then declined his invitation to walk down the hill to see his place. We had to get going and thanked him, said hello, goodbye to Gary and his beautiful Japanese wife, and split.

In retrospect, I often feel bad about my dad’s only surviving son being such a hippie. I mean, I never thought of myself as a hippie, but old photos don’t lie. Like the summer of ’76 when I brought Eli back to Milwaukee during my barefoot phase. I had met Carl Carlson working on that CETA job and he turned me on to Tai Chi, which I liked doing barefoot. It felt so good I eschewed (I love that word!) shoes for months — unbe­lievable! I even boarded the plane back to Milwaukee without shoes on, no problem. There’s a family portrait of all of us, me sitting in the front row, barefoot. The photo also reminds me that my mother was more upset about my full beard, so I shaved it off, which made her so pleased — until a week later when she mentioned it was growing back and I said, “Mom, I shaved for you, but I never said I was going to shave again.”

Funny thing, dad had a tough life, but I never heard him complain, whereas I shunned the good life and then complained all the time — and still do! When he was nine or ten his dad was run over by a milk wagon, or so the story goes, and his mom couldn’t feed the four of them on the $25-a-month widow’s pension, so he was sent to Boy’s Town. Back to Renee’s interview with grandpa.

“Before I started high school — you’ve probably heard of Father Flanagan’s Boy’s Town in Omaha. My mother was living in Omaha at the time and one aunt took one of my sisters, another went into a home, and my mother sent me to Boy’s Town. I was there from the time I was 11 to 13. Father Flanagan’s didn’t start until about 1916, so when I was there in ’26 he was the guiding light. They had a big farm outside of Omaha where we milked cows and grew our own food. I was there recently and I would never have recognized it.”

His mention of being there “recently” was in 1983 when my son Eli was ten and qualified to run the National Junior Olympics Cross Country Championships, which were held that year at Boy’s Town. The day after Eli qualified I called my dad and told him, so he flew down from Milwaukee to meet us there. I remember him saying he would have never recognized it, except for that statue of the two boys, one carrying the other one, saying, “He’s not heavy Father, he’s my brother.”

Let’s wrap this up with a few more grandpa quotes: “The Rock Island Railroad wasn’t too far from us, and they used the coal stored there for the engines to go to the adjoining towns off the main line, and that’s where we got our coal for heat. Usually we did are “shopping” in the dark, at night, if you know what I mean. But that wasn’t unusual either. The sheriff turned his back. He didn’t see anything and didn’t want to, and even the railroad detectives didn’t care much either.

“There were all kinds of ideas being tossed around during those times because of poverty, but I never got too carried away with so-called socialism. There are certain things that did develop out of it, such as social security and medicare for the elderly…well, the war was on the horizon, you could see it. There was a real nut in that Hitler. Anyway, in about 1940 business started picking up fast because of military work, and a lot of kids were going into the service…you could see that there was going to be problems, but no one ever dreamed of Pearl Harbor. Hitler was obvious, but the Japanese? I think to most people, except maybe scholars, that was a real shock.”

* * *


FOUND SAXOPHONE -- Caller in the 300 block of East Perkins Street reported at 3:43 p.m. Wednesday finding a saxophone. An officer took a report.

DOG IN TRUCK BED -- Caller in the 200 block of South Main Street reported at 5:24 p.m. Wednesday that a dog was in the sun in the back of a pick-up truck. An officer responded but did not find the truck.

DOG IN CAR -- Caller at Walmart on Airport Park Boulevard reported at 5:46 p.m. Wednesday that a large dog was locked in a car that appeared to be too hot for the animal. An officer responded but did not find the car.

PICK-UP VERSUS MAILBOX -- Caller in the 600 block of Talmage Road reported at 7:56 p.m. Wednesday that an older Chevy pick-up truck had hit a mailbox.

BARKING DOG -- Caller in the 700 block of Hazel Avenue reported at 9:23 a.m. Thursday having an ongoing problem with a barking dog. An officer responded and left a card for the owner.

VIDEO GAME SYSTEM STOLEN -- Caller in the 100 block of Barbara Street reported at 11:45 a.m. Thursday that a video game system was stolen from the house. An officer took a report for burglary.

DOG BITE -- An officer responded to the 700 block of North Spring Street at 3:10 p.m. Thursday and took a report for a dog bite.

SOMEONE CLIMBING TREES -- Caller in the 1100 block of North State Street reported at 8:16 p.m. Thursday that a transient was climbing trees. An officer responded and advised the person.

SUSPICIOUS PERSON -- An officer contacted a suspicious person in the 100 block of Talmage Road at 10:56 p.m. Thursday and arrested Ted Palmer, no age or hometown listed, on suspicion of possessing a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia.

The following were compiled from reports prepared by the Ukiah Police Department regarding calls handled by the Fort Bragg Police Department.

TRUCK IN TWO-HOUR ZONE -- Caller in the 300 block of North Main Street reported at 8:40 a.m. Wednesday that a red Ford pick-up truck had been parked in a two-hour zone for 24 hours.


  1. Jim Updegraff April 12, 2014

    While I read the online paper everyday I too would whatever is necessary to continue the 12 page print edition.

  2. Bill Pilgrim April 12, 2014

    I gave up my mail subscription due to the Postal Service’s maddening inability to deliver the AVA in any rational amount of time. So, it’s been store counter purchases ever since. Another quarter or more is reasonable if it means survival.

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