- Vote, Water, Weed
- Little Dog
- Altered Man
- Hotel Willits
- Park Revitalized
- Khadijah Search
- Women's Coalition
- Elk Inn
- Ed Notes
- Yesterday's Catch
- Combining States
- Modern Education
- Hersh Memoir
- Ranked-Choice Voting
- Library Events
- Fortune Biz
- Supe Fortunes
HOW TO FIX THE VOTE COUNTING PROBLEM
by Jim Shields
You’re probably asking yourself, how long does it take to count votes in Mendocino County?
The answer is: Longer, much longer than it should ever take in a county with only 90,000 people.
I liken this situation to the old saying about justice. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Obviously the voters deserve better treatment, not to mention a little bit of respect.
The problem started back in 2006 when then Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder Marsha Wharff made the move to close most of the county’s polling places and converted 201 of the 235 precincts into mail-in only precincts.
Prior to the closure of almost all of the old “walk-in and vote-by-machine” precincts, the Elections Office routinely had complete ballot counts done within a few hours past midnight on election day. The morning after election day, the voters actually knew the outcome of the election. Imagine that.
Sometimes, the old way of doing things is the best way.
Since fixing something that was never broke in the first place, counting ballots is now a complete mess. For example, the November 2014 election took a total of 17 days before the tally was completed.
Then in 2016 — a presidential election year — a new record for slo-mo vote tallying was set when it took 22 days to count 38,730 ballots, which was the total turnout in Mendocino County. That amounted to 75.89 percent of the 51,035 registered voters, an outstanding voter showing.
As I write this, we are now on day 9 of an incomplete ballot count. Two days after the June 5th Primary, the Elections Office sent out the following statement:
“Mendocino County Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder Susan M. Ranochak announced that as with every other election, there are ballots left to be processed as part of the official canvass. Mendocino County has 14,354 Vote By Mail ballots to process, and 410 Provisional ballots to review and process. Of the outstanding ballots left to count: the 3rd Supervisor District has 2,883; and the 5th Supervisor District has 3,828 ballots to count. Mendocino Coast Health Care District (Measure C) has 5,165 ballots to count; Fort Bragg Rural Fire Protection District (Measure D) has 1,835; Coast Life Support District (Measure E) has 814; and Southern Humboldt Community Health Care District (Measure F) has 31 ballots let to count. Per State law, we have 28 days to complete the canvass. The Statement of Vote, which breaks down results by precinct, will be available at that time.”
Since that update, there has been no further information released on election results.
Not to get preachy, but this is no way to run an election, but there is a simple solution to remedy that problem.
Following the November 2016 election, UDJ Editor K.C. Meadows wrote a series that examined the vote counting process utilized by the Elections Office. It read more like an illuminating grand jury report than a stock reporting piece. Her recommendations, if implemented by the Board of Supervisors and Elections Office, would solve, at hardly any cost to taxpayers, a two-decade problem of bureaucratic-erected barricades that unduly delay the counting of votes. Both the voters and the candidates deserve — and should demand — their basic right to a speedy election.
Here’s what Meadows wrote in 2016, and her recommendations are just as relevant an on-point today.
The Clerk legally has 28 days to complete the vote count. If Ranochak finishes Wednesday, she will have taken 22 of those 28 days to get it done. That’s a very poor result and having watched the process this election cycle I can tell you there is no reason for it.
Ranochak got 31,794 mail-in ballots in the November election. Of those, about 6,000 were voted before the election. A couple of days after the election, she sent out a press release saying she had a little over 25,000 ballots left to count. Most of those mail-in ballots – about 20,000 of them – she had on hand before Election Day. If the elections office had gotten all those mail-in ballots counted before Election Day, we would have had a clear – if not officially final – result election night.
One way to do that is to have lots more people opening and inspecting ballots before the election, and lots more doing it during and after. We could know who the winners are with some certainly election night, and almost finally within a couple of days of the election.
Needed Changes: More Balloteers
Before the election, Ranochak limits the number of people (who work in teams of two) opening and inspecting mail-in ballots to six (three teams). As the election neared she increased that one day to four teams and one day to five teams. She needs 10 or 12 teams at a minimum. She says she can’t do that because she doesn’t have the space. But she does. There are several large conference rooms in the administration building where this could be accomplished. Ranochak says she needs them close to her where she or Bartolomie can be ready to answer questions and supervise. Nonsense. Clearly they have, right now, about four people who have been doing this for years who could easily supervise groups of what I have named the “balloteers” in a large setting. You just need to train the balloteers and have people who have done it before, supervise closely. With four experts in the room you could easily have 20 teams of two going through mail-in ballots quickly. They would get about 100 ballots an hour opened and inspected. That would be 2,000 ballots an hour. In a couple of days all the mail-in ballots could be opened and readied for counting.
Remake Inspections Overkill
Part of the opening and inspecting process is looking over each ballot to see if there are any marks, tears or other things marring it that might cause the voting machine to spit it out. Those ballots are set aside to be “remade” by balloteers in teams of two at another time, after they have been inspected by Ranochak or Bartolomie. It seems to me this is an unnecessary step. While watching the voting machines in action I saw ballots being spit back out all the time – clearly not all marred ballots are caught by the balloteers. But more important, if the ballot can’t be read by the machine, it will spit it out. Why not just let the machine tell you which ones it can’t read rather than having groups of people guess which it can’t read and another group second-guess that guess before it even gets to the voting machine?
Use More Voting Machines
As for counting the votes on the ballots, again, Ranochak limits the number of people using the voting machines to two, maybe three. She has 11 voting machines. She says she won’t use more because it’s a small room (so move to a bigger room) and she’s afraid the machines will overload if used continuously. Sounds like time to get newer, more efficient machines.
And that brings me to another point. According to two county supervisors I have talked to during this election process, Ranochak has never asked for more funding to hire more balloteers or buy more, newer, or more efficient voting machines. It appears to me that she simply likes doing things the way she was taught to do them and doesn’t care that it takes almost a month for her to let the voters know who won an election.
As I said, these much-needed suggestions could be carried out without much impact on the county’s budget. Keep in mind, this is a county that thinks nothing of spending several million dollars every year to hire outside consultants and engage professional services for all sorts of — sometimes — questionable tasks and activities.
Surely, the voters are entitled to some small return on their taxes that would be spent to actually benefit them whenever they exercise their right to vote?
Who can argue with that?
* * *
Water Tax Abandoned
Gov. Jerry Brown on June 8, abandoned a bone-headed idea that would have taxed water for the first time in California history.
The proposed tax on drinking water was deep-sixed as part of a state budget compromise.
The proposal would have generated roughly $110 million per year through a 95-cent monthly fee on home water bills as well as taxes on businesses of up to $10 per month. Another $30 million would come from higher fees on agricultural and dairy businesses, industries whose chemicals contribute to the problem of contaminated groundwater.
I said it was a very bad idea because it was the proverbial camel’s-nose-under-the-tent: It surely would be the first step towards more taxes on public drinking water.
I also said there was money available from other sources — such as the state’s general fund — that could be used for contaminated groundwater remediation. The straight-line answer to this problem is that the people who caused the contamination are the ones who are at the head of the line to pay for its remediation.
Turns out I was right.
In reaching the deal to abandon the universally unpopular tax, Brown and legislative leaders agreed to spend $5 million from the general fund to deal with lead in drinking water at child care centers.
They also plan to allocate $23.5 million from the general fund for “safe drinking water actions later in this legislative session,” according to a Legislative Budget Conference Committee report released last week.
* * *
Trump Supports Pot?
OK, all you Trump haters out there, what do you think now about the One-Percenter In Chief?
According to Cassandra Powell, of CMW Media, President Trump delivered another blow to Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week — telling reporters he would support new bipartisan marijuana legislation.
Addressing the media at the White House before departing for the G-7 summit in Canada, Trump said he would “probably end up supporting” the recent bill circulated through the Senate by Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
“I really do. I support Senator Gardner,” Trump said. “I know exactly what he’s doing, we’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”
The legislation, which was unveiled June 7, would not legalize marijuana. Instead, it would protect people who chose to use the drug according to state and local laws, and block federal prosecution. The bill, which amends portions of the Controlled Substances Act, also states that buying or selling pot would not be considering drug trafficking.
Trump’s remarks put him sharply at odds with Sessions on the issue — who, by contrast, has ramped up threats of federal prosecution and has also lobbied Congress to reduce current protections for medical marijuana.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, and is also the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org.)
LITTLE DOG SAYS, “Father's Day came and went. I asked for the day off but the boss said no, and he wasn't very nice about it. ‘You have a kid somewhere? Prove it!’ So I showed him a baby picture of Murph, my oldest. And he says, ‘I need more than that, LD. Get back to work’."
BIG RESPONSE FOR ‘ALTERED’ MAN AT CAMP NAVARRO
The scanner said (Sunday, 12:05 pm) the Anderson Valley Fire Department and ambulance, CalFire, the MCDH (Coast Hospital) ground ambulance and air ambulance CalStar4 were dispatched to Camp Navarro, 901 Masonite Industrial Road for the report of a 34-year-old male “Syncopal episode, altered.” The air ambulance should arrive to the site @ 12:25 pm.
Medical Definition of “Syncopal…” “Syncope is due to a temporary reduction in blood flow and therefore a shortage of oxygen to the brain. This leads to lightheadedness or a ‘black out’ episode, a loss of consciousness.”
REMEMBER WILLITS: HOTEL WILLITS
Long known as the finest hotel north of San Francisco, Hotel Willits opened on March 23, 1902. It was reported in The Willits News, October 1904. “Fred Roosevelt, cousin of President Teddy Roosevelt, had lunch recently at Hotel Willits.”
There were few dry eyes among older residents of Willits on that cold day in February, 1955 when the hotel, a social mecca for northern California, when wrecking crews tore it down.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES!
Thank You, Thank You, Thank You to all the volunteers and donors supporting our LOVE YOUR PARK DAY!
It was an amazing success thanks to everyone coming together to make a BIG difference. We couldn’t have done it without each and everyone of you doing your part, dedicating your Saturday to a remarkable feat!
Come down to the AV Community Park (next to the AV Health Center in Boonville) and experience for yourself what a difference a day makes!
Stay tuned for future Park Events & Activities! In the meantime, invite your friends and family and come down to enjoy our newly revitalized picnic and play areas and have a wonderful summer at the park!
THE SAD SEARCH FOR MISSING COVELO WOMAN CONTINUES…
LOW BUDGET CAMPAIGN TRAINING
Record number of women running for office. This is your chance to step forward. All School Boards and College Boards have elections. All City Councils have elections. The Coast Hospital Board has 4 seats. Filing opens on July 16th. Are you ready?
Mendocino Women’s Political Coalition is presenting a low budget campaign training on June 23 at CV Starr at 9:30 am and Part 2 on July 21 at the Fort Bragg Senior Center at 9:30 am. Now is your time. Give us a call to register. Val Muchowski at 895-3543 or email@example.com.
This isn't a wave, it's a sea change. We've been preparing for this moment for 30 years — recruiting, training, and laying the groundwork for a historic number of women to run and WIN!
The Mendocino Women's Political Coalition is a local multi-partisan organization working to build women's participation in the political process and increasing the number of women in elected and appointed positions, by recruiting, training, and supporting women who seek those elected and appointed offices.
CONTACT: Val Muchowski
BEEN TO ELK? Inn’s reopening shines light on sleepy Mendocino Town
With a $10 million remodel of the historic Harbor House Inn, which includes a stunning restaurant headed by Chef Matthew Kammerer, Elk stands to become a destination for North Coast travelers.
ED NOTE: Greenwood wasn't settled until after the Gold Rush.
GEORGE DORNER NOTES: "Somehow, 57 other counties get the votes done sooner than Mendocino, despite the tedious excuses given by Ms. Ranochak. Our only conclusion can be a suspicion of incompetence or indifference."
DIRK LARSON should have been elected Clerk Recorder Assessor, our 3-in-1 office whose tasks include the vote tabulation. Larson is a no bullshit guy who promised to speed up the count which, incidentally, could be done by simply swearing in 15-20 temps to get 'er done as the temps pick up a little pocket money. Which the Supes have said they would fund. But nooooooo! Nobody paid attention to the County Clerk's office, which has been badly in need of a shake-up for years, which Larson promised to do. And here we are again with the slowest vote in the state.
RETIREES would be perfect help with the vote since they probably know how to count. Ms. Bartolomie, who just won elevation to the County Clerk's top spot, is a both a Nice Person and a nice person, perfectly capable and so on, but she learned the vote-count process from the retiring Susan "Sue" Ranochak. We understand that under Ranochak the vote was indeed partially tabulated by part-time ladies from Ranochak's mahjong club or wherever — Sue's buddies hired at election time to help out. Which is fine with us, but Sue always needed more help than a few palsy walsys. We'll be talking about a slow vote count again in November. Count (sic) on it. (cf Jim Shields in today’s post.)
* * *
RECOMMENDED VIEWING, which I'll amend to riveting, binge-inducing viewing, as I spent most of a Saturday in the grip of the true crime series The Staircase, a French-produced documentary 16 years in the making on the saga of a repellant character called Michael Peterson, a novelist living in Durham, North Carolina on trial for the murder of his wife Kathleen. Peterson claims his wife died in a staircase fall in the couple's home. He also claims his marriage to Kathleen was "perfect" and "loving" while he meets gay caballeros on-line for, I guess, perfect and loving sodomy-thons. And whaddya know. A woman friend of Peterson’s died in an identical staircase fall 16 years prior to Kathleen's fatal fall. The documentary covers the case from every possible angle, including the bogus (my opinion) "science" of blood spatter analysis. The Peterson case, which has garnered national and international attention, is similar to the Peter Keegan case here in Mendocino County in that the women the smarmy, insufferable narcissist Peterson dispatched via dual staircase homicides, if you will, as both suffered repeated non-staircase fall blows to the tops of their heads, as did Susan Keegan bludgeoned to death in the Keegan home by the late Peter Keegan, her husband of thirty years.
* * *
A SMART GUY misses it completely. Carl Jung on Ulysses:
"Ulysses is a book which pours along for seven hundred and thirty-five pages, a stream of time of seven hundred and thirty-five days which all consist in one single and senseless every day of Everyman, the completely irrelevant 16th day of June 1904, in Dublin — a day on which, in all truth, nothing happens. The stream begins in the void and ends in the void. Is all of this perhaps one single, immensely long and excessively complicated Strindbergian pronouncement upon the essence of human life, and one which, to the reader’s dismay, is never finished? Perhaps it does touch upon the essence of life; but quite certainly it touches upon life’s ten thousand surfaces and their hundred thousand color gradations. As far as my glance reaches, there are in those seven hundred and thirty-five pages no obvious repetitions and not a single hallowed island where the long-suffering reader may come to rest. There is not a single place where he can seat himself, drunk with memories, and from which he can happily consider the stretch of the road he has covered, be it one hundred pages or even less… But no! The pitiless and uninterrupted stream rolls by, and its velocity or precipitation grows in the last forty pages till it sweeps away even the marks of punctuation. It thus gives cruelest expressions to that emptiness which is both breathtaking and stifling, which is under such tension, or is so filled to bursting, as to grow unbearable. This thoroughly hopeless emptiness is the dominant note of the whole book. It not only begins and ends in nothingness, but it consists of nothing but nothingness. It is all infernally nugatory."
I'M NOT GOING to pretend I ever sat down and read it straight through, but I'll tell you that Ulysses is (1) often very, very funny (2) always brilliant in even the smallest observation, a book I've read around in for years, kinda like many of us read around in the Bible, the New Testament anyway.
* * *
SHERIFF ALLMAN told a Gualala audience a couple of weeks ago that he has issued 3,000 concealed weapons permits this year. 3,000? 3,000. About one in twenty adults here in wowee zowee land are carrying a rod. Most places a cwp/ccw is almost impossible to get because the cops rightly assume there are already enough crooks and homicidal maniacs walking around with unregistered guns without permitting everybody and his bro to carry weapons. The Mendo licensing process includes formal training in the use of firearms, but count me among the many people who think more guns is 5150.
* * *
SUNDAY’S PD ran a story based on CHP reports purporting to show that most DUIs are the result of people drinking at home or at a friend’s house, not bars, restaurants, tasting rooms or brewpubs. The story was teased as “The answers may surprise you.” But it’s not a surprise at all. How many drinkers can afford to drink tasting room wine or craft beer or bar-tab booze? (Or very much of it?) The PD story completely ignores the cost angle. How many drunks can afford a limo with a tour guide/driver to get drunk with? How much $60 a bottle pinot are you willing to buy to get drunk with? Of course most drunks get drunk on cheap booze at home. Duh. Throwing those numbers into the stats to demonstrate that tasting rooms et al are not much of a DUI problem by comparison produces skewed results. All the story really proves is that well-off people seldom get DUIs. Of course the PD would want to downplay booze boutique drinking problems because they derive much of their revenue from that industry. (— ms)
* * *
RIGHT ON, ART! (You’re not alone in your bewilderment.)
“When will the BOS take control of the county? The voters made a decision to vote for you as leaders of Mendocino County. Why do you let the CEO control it when in my humble opinion she is only qualified to treat patients as a nurse? Why don’t you investigate how a surplus was discovered? And how many managers or CEOs of other counties earn $310,000 per year? I think all the BOS should take simple courses in basic accounting so you can understand where the money comes in, and where it goes out! And not rely on the CEO or auditor. If you can understand the budget for a population of 97,000 people you can see why I am disgusted! — Arthur E. Juhl”
CATCH OF THE DAY, June 17, 2018
MARTIN BALL, Ukiah. Protective order violation.
YVETTE BERGAMO, Brooklyn, New York/Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
SONO CARRIGG, Willits. Parole violation. (Frequent Flyer)
CHRISTOPHER CARTER, Covelo. Shooting at inhabited dwelling, grossly negligent discharge of firearm, firearm discharge from vehicle at person, conspiracy.
JOSHUA CHAMPION, Willits. DUI, domestic battery, carjacking.
JAVIER RAMIREZ, Ukiah. Petty theft-bicycle, probation revocation.
WILLIAM RETZLOFF, Redwood Valley. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
JESUS RODRIGUEZ, Calpella. Assault with deadly weapon not a gun, domestic battery, criminal threats.
BELINDA SCHAFER, Ukiah. DUI, trespassing, vandalism, probation revocation.
Rather than split California into multiple states to achieve better national representation, among other reasons, we should consider combining other states to reduce theirs. For example, the two Dakotas and Carolinas could become single states, as could Alabama and Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee, Nevada and Utah, and Arizona and New Mexico. It would be easier combining states than taking them apart. I appreciate that this will never happen.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
Like Carlin used to say, “Head start – left behind, looks like someone’s losing ground.” I have been fortunate to have had school age children since 1995, and being the homework Dad then and today I had and continue to have a front row seat in the theater that is education. It was bad and has gotten much worse. They started out with a whole language program in 1996 that destroyed the ability of two grades of kids (now 30 year olds) who could not and cannot spell today. The math consisted of tricks to find answers and the methods today are contorted and once the students move on they cannot recall how it was done last year, so they do not really learn math, they simply pass tests. There is no history and my 6th grader spent one day learning about the religions of the world and four days studying Islam. So much of the class time is spent on social engineering and “non-traditional” family issues that when my daughter got to 6th grade, all the kids were choosing where they fit in on the QRSTLMNOP sex charts, even though they were all still inexperienced sexually. They changed categories frequently and I can see just about zero happiness in the sexual regard, but much confusion and stress. Fortunately for my girls they were always taught at home by one of us parents and always had one of us around instead of the drop off at camp/daycare types. I am not simply being negative here – these young people, for the most part – are seriously fucked!
“ONE OF THE BIGGEST REASONS I left Elkton Hills was because I was surrounded by phonies. That’s all. They were coming in the goddam window. For instance, they had this headmaster, Mr. Haas, that was the phoniest bastard I ever met in my life. Ten times worse than old Thurmer. On Sundays, for instance, old Haas went around shaking hands with everybody’s parents when they drove up to school. He’d be charming as hell and all. Except if some boy had little old funny-looking parents. You should’ve seen the way he did with my roommate’s parents. I mean if a boy’s mother was sort of fat or corny-looking or something, and if somebody’s father was one of those guys that wear those suits with very big shoulders and corny black-and-white shoes, then old Haas would just shake hands with them and give them a phony smile and then he’d go talk, for maybe a half an hour, with somebody else’s parents. I can’t stand that stuff. It drives me crazy. It makes me so depressed I go crazy. I hated that goddam Elkton Hills.”
SEYMOUR HERSH'S MEMOIR IS FULL OF USEFUL REPORTING SECRETS
The best of his generation writes a how-to that undermines the industry of Access Journalism
by Matt Taibbi
DUMP RANKED CHOICE VOTING
Letter to the Editor of the SF Chronicle
Regarding your June 14 editorial (“The city has spoken”) on what you called the “impressive breadth” of London Breed’s support: Let’s look a bit deeper into the numbers: Breed, the moderate, got 36.6 percent of first-place votes. Is this “impressive breadth”?
What percent of first-place votes did the two progressives, Mark Leno and Jane Kim, get? Together they got 46.8 percent of all first-place votes. Hardly an impressive “mandate” for Breed. More voters wanted a progressive mayor.
This shows the flaws in ranked-choice voting, especially in races for citywide offices, such as the mayor.
To elect a true representative of the majority for citywide offices, we should return to a top-two-runoff system in races when the leading candidate in the first round gets less than 50 plus one of all votes.
This Tuesday, June 19th, 4-5pm is the Bibliotherapy Book Club for Teens. The Ukiah Library has partnered with Tapestry Family Services and Project Sanctuary to create a new book club for teens (12-18). Once monthly meetings focus on a variety of "tough topics" including anxiety, depression, grief, sexual abuse & rape, racism, to name a few. This month’s book is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. To sign-up or for more information, contact Melissa: 467-6434 or firstname.lastname@example.org
* * *
The Ukiah Library is excited to announce the return of the very popular Kids’ Farmers Market this Wednesday June 20th 12pm-2 pm. Kids, bring your homegrown produce, eggs, honey, and handmade crafts. Learn math and money handling skills while also learning to display and sell your products. Have fun with other young farmers too. Contact Jen at 463-4490 to sign up.
* * *
Saturday Summer Storytimes from June 23rd to August 4th. Join us at the Ukiah Farmers' Market at 10am AND at the Ukiah Library at 11 am. Come to one or both for an hour of stories and crafts!
Join us for a hands-on learning experience exploring the power of the sun. This event is sponsored by Mendocino County Library, free of charge and for ages 10 and up. Sign-ups in advance are required. Call the Ukiah Library at 463-4490.
THEY SAID I'D NEVER MAKE A FORTUNE
They Were Wrong:
by Erik Sinclair McMahon
So many cubes of braised tofu, countless Hunan broccoli specials; turned out they could legitimately be written off and called research. Frequenting of Sino-American eateries, from an IRS perspective, had been strictly recreational — until the Ding Ho job.
The assignment got ladled into my wok in completely unexpected fashion. Prior to that serendipitous recruitment, I’d mused idly on occasion about what sort of characters came up with cookie fortunes — the oracular statements you'd crack free, extract, and post-prandially peruse in Chinese restaurants.
In those uninitiated days, my guess was they were not individually composed, but rather turned out in copious quantities by some People’s Fortune Collective, a half-spruced up sweat shop specializing in vague prognostications and aphorisms to go.
All that changed when my friend Doug, a brilliant but chronically cash-challenged painter lived and worked in a studio boasting one of the Mission District’s least desirable addresses, rang up and said he had a potential freelance gig for me. “You're going to like this one," he promised, cryptically.
We tried to help each other out, when opportunity arose, promoting our respective (nobly stagnating) careers.
Only months before, I'd hooked Doug up with a lucrative short-term contract that involved drawing waterfront container cranes and making them look like a galloping racehorses. He railed against the job with a bitter passion, reiterating revulsion throughout the process, although he was not slow to cash the check.
Doug told me to come over to his studio. The proposed employment was right across the street. Go figure, I shrugged. Other than a parking garage which served also as a crack house, dump, and homeless encampment, the only businesses active on that side of the alley were a commercial linen launderer/distributor and a fortune cookie factory. It was hard to imagine what applicable skills I could bring to either.
Those two enterprises adorned that pungent, potholed stretch of asphalt with unusual byproduct — tiny tumbleweeds of lint and fiber fragments from the laundry, and wisps of bleached white sugar expelled by the bakery. Small balls of thread and miniature drifts of glucose crystals snaked spookily along the sidewalk at all hours, undulating in the ground-breezes.
Wind got a grip on the loose fortunes too, often depositing them under front doors up and down the block. Residents viewed this as a perk, akin to getting a horoscope personally delivered each morning.
The cookie factory had a stark, weathered, peeling stucco facade. It was emblazoned in letters and characters, " Ding Ho," which I later learned meant something like "the very best."
Doug fraternized with a youthful, assiduously Americanized Chinese couple who had inherited Ding Ho, and he soon gleaned they had ambitious goals for the company.
There was no problem with Ding Ho cookies themselves. They retained a simple recipe. Inside, the fortunes needed help.
Currently, their crudely printed slips were old-fashioned and repetitive. They were ungrammatical and riddled with typographical errors. The new generation of Ding Ho directors desired an update, a makeover, a Great Leap Forward, incorporating a fresh corporate identity and classy business cards. Thanks to Doug, I had been billed as just the person to produce those items.
Our first meeting took place within a cramped and cluttered office, partitioned off from a corner of the factory. Everything in or near that building smelled like cinnamon buns toaster-ovened too long. All unprotected surfaces were subtly shellacked with sheath of seared sugar, a molasses-based glaze.
Along with the ordinary litter strewn across the metal desk in this curious headquarters were reams of pastel colored tissue paper: stacked sheets of uncut fortunes — three column format, bearing 54 or 60 portentous predictions per page.
Cropped single fortunes were scattered all about as well and four or five yards beyond, in the production area, a staff of compact, diligent, impassive middle-aged Chinese women toiled at the business ends of vintage cookie machines.
Cookies-to-be shot out relentlessly in circular, embryonic form, sizzling discs, and workers lunged, stabbing at them at once, using special forks to fold hot dough expertly into the traditional shapes. Fortunes were tucked in concurrently and the whole procedure was performed at an absolutely astonishing pace which was of necessity replicated again and again.
The machines were steel but so worn with use that their glow suggested the paler patina of zinc. Cookie folders hunkered, wearing shapeless garments, tall as their mechanical collaborators. Molten discs fired out no matter what. Stuffed and shaped, marketable cookies were tumbled deftly into tall cardboard drums to cool, while the tossed rejects filled cartons on the floor.
Ding Ho’s latest executives were an unusual pair. Dalton was imposing, a beefy specimen with evident occidental blood and dramatic, moused up pompadour. May, the heiress, played it elegant, old world, but petite, soft-spoken and chic, very chic. It was May who ran the meeting and clearly made the decisions.
"We want to preserve tradition," she declared, "but we can improve on some old obsolete ways." She passed over a sheet of fortunes. The typeface was archaic, and the text offered the likes of: "Best to have wise and chartable nature," and "Flamily quit and accomplish great deal without noise." Another predicted that, "You will be awarded a medal for disregaurding safety."
As I handed the five dozen fortunes back without comment, May disconsolately shook her head. "They're hardly ever spelled right," she lamented, "and even when they are, they don't make sense very often. Not to me."
I mentioned that some consumers considered that customary, appreciated a certain amount of naive charm, but she said it didn't need to be so, not anymore.
"We want something new and different, honoring the past but still without mistakes," she insisted.
May’s sulking husband then soberly explained that Ding Ho represented the number two producer in San Francisco. The company would never — could never — overtake its lead rival, Infallible Fortunes. Dalton used a palm to pat his armored coiffure, as he described a Byzantine, time-honored pastry hierarchy, which even now held sway over fortune cookie territory and turf.
He referred to the dominant firm formally and with unfailing respect, except when recounting that it had introduced a series of risque "x-rated" fortunes. Most Ding Ho production, it turned out, was destined for markets far from the factory. Top targets included St. Louis, Atlanta, and outlying suburbs of Los Angeles.
May asked whether I thought I could create a batch (more like an avalanche) of modern and intelligible fortunes — maybe 4,000 to 5,000 of them. "I don't see why not," I replied, overconfidently. She swiftly sealed the deal and adjourned our confab by handing me a pillow-sized, twist tied plastic bag full of Ding Ho cookies. They were not the rejects either.
Only after tackling the project in earnest did I realize what I had gotten myself into — page after unforgiving page of "Confucius says" style squibs. It required a mighty application of discipline. It also called for a regulable variety of personality disintegration, dedicated descent to a level where there was no function, only form. Luckily, I’d had practice at that.
Tricks of the trade learned organically. Dropping articles essential; writing in longhand recommended. Solitude was critical; likewise, lowlight and frequent indulgence in restorative beverage.
Temporary assumption of guru-like persona came next, and assisted in me in scrawling such gems as, "You sift sand of dark beaches and climb dormant volcano," and, "Purple mystery of dawn no big thing for child of moon." Not to mention the moody, apocalyptic, "Clearing uphill may overlook thorns of descent."
More than once a solid quarter hour of meditative cogitation would yield only a pair of weak, desperate puns — "Gifts of hats will make your presents felt," for example, or "Wheels of overheated bicycle spoke softly." And I found evidence of the all-pervasive writer’s affliction, enduring brief but worrisome bouts of "Fortune block."
Out of consideration for the employer, I proofread everything scrupulously, steered clear of the more contemptible cliches and resisted the temptation to insinuate insulting efforts like, "Your dining companions secretly despise you."
Deep in, after considerable mental struggle and turmoil, my finest fortune was born, somewhere between numbers 2500 and 3000: "Hour from now, you will hunger again."
Market-driven mercenary I'd become, instead of retiring on the spot, I kept on producing terse abstruse chunks of fortune copy until contract terms got met. And once they were, pay was in cash: Crisp, non-sticky 20s from the center drawer of Dalton’s desk.
You couldn't find better clients. With no editing, they shepherded tens of thousands of my fortunes into print. They raved about the fanfold logo I’d designed, slapping it onto cards and letters, wholesale boxes and cookie-bag stickers. And each meeting ended with the ritual presentation of a stack of snacks.
Not long afterward, Ding Ho itself folded under cloudy circumstances. Was it a casualty, finally, of the generations-old fortune cookie war? Today, I've not had the pleasure (or perhaps it would be more of a chill) of being served one my own fortunes. For that to happen now, the cookie would need to be some kind of stale.
There is a memory instead, centered on stained sidewalks in a risky neighborhood. A placidiy of sorts occasionally came to visit. I’d encountered it by accident no longer late at night but extremely early on a weekend morning. So still all you could hear was hissing of the sugar snakes, amid waltzing wind, and the whisper of wind whipped fortunes.
* * *
(From a 1972 SF Chronicle piece about fortune cookie companies):
PS. SPEAKING OF FORTUNE COOKIES
(from Mark Scaramella’s Supes Report in November of 2009.
Basically, the only specific thing the public suggested with regard to tasting rooms during the General Plan update process was that the County should require them to get a minor use permit, just like barbershops, art galleries, or childcare facilities. A perfectly legitimate and extremely modest request given that the entire County is overrun with alcoholic grape juice and marijuana smoke.
The mere mention of possible wine industry regulation, no matter how peripheral, prompted (former) Fifth District Supes candidate and Mendocino B&B proprietress Wendy Roberts to leap to the microphone during public expression to, to, well, tell the Board about the ominous portend she'd just found.
“I went to lunch with a friend today at a Chinese restaurant,” said Roberts, “and I received a fortune that seems particularly appropriate.”
The candidate recited the wisdom she'd plucked from the fortune cookie.
“There's more to balance than not falling over.”
Ah, Too, save those little nuggets on the off chance they might be locally applicable. Here are a few of mine drawn from decades of Board of Supervisors meeting watching:
- Try to be wrong — that way you might be right.
- Plan not to finish. Then you might.
- Doing nothing by yourself is cheaper than paying someone to do nothing for you.
- Always ask for a consultant’s opinion before doing what you want to do anyway.
- Self-interest trumps public interest.
- Only ask questions about the small expenditures.
- If in doubt, complicate.
- When it comes to spending tax dollars act as if at least three zeroes are not there.
- Trivial discussions make good distractions.
- If you don’t want an answer, ask Supervisor Smith.
- If you don't want two answers, ask Carmel Angelo.