Yorkville Highlands, 1971

Two nights after we'd established our raucous brood in Mendocino County's serene summer hills, not far from the unsuspecting hamlet of Boonville, we got our first lesson in the psycho-pathology of the pre-pube criminal, the immutable psycho-pathology of the pre-pube criminal.

The delinquents occasionally acted like the children they were, and when they did we were reminded that as demented as their behavior often was, they were still kids, chronologically considered. One of the few wholesome, age-appropriate exertions we could get them to make was night hikes, and even these excursions couldn't be too strenuous; the delinquents wouldn't do long uphills so we had to plan the walks as if their crippling mental wounds were also physical handicaps.

None of them had ever been any place that wasn't paved, let alone out at night for a non-violent walk to explore the non-neon world. So there we were strolling along under the moonlight disturbing whatever nocturnal fauna there was to disturb when a frog suddenly appeared on the path before us. In one instinctual leap, six delinquents jumped out to stomp the amphib flat.

“Why'd you do that?”

The frog killers stared back with “we-did-something-wrong?” looks on their faces.

There's no cure for the frog stomping personality; the head doctors would say it's the inevitable consequence of a traumatic childhood. I'd say frog stompers are born, not made, and here they were.

All day every day, and long into the night every night, we fought to maintain a semblance of order, or “structure,” as the theoreticians of delinquency called it, but in reality, even on our best days, all we accomplished was damage control. Every waking hour was a struggle to keep the little nutballs from harming each other or from destroying our leased premises; there was no time left over to steer them in the direction of functional citizenship, which, we, being products of the great turmoil of the sixties, weren't much committed to ourselves.

The delinquents were quick to exploit the contradictions.

“You tell us not to smoke marijuana and you smoke it.” Etc.

Yes, we were wholly unprepared for our hopeless task. Worse, we lacked practical skills, such as the crucial one of large-group food preparation, certainly a full-time job in our harried circumstances. We could hardly take time away from the exhausting supervision of the delinquents to grab a peaceful bite ourselves, let alone prepare three hearty nutritionals every day. Of course one of our sub-delusions was that if we substituted wholesome foods for the negative food value fuel preferred by the delinquents, they might at least be less energetically delinquent.

Wrong.

Tofu or deep fried tacos, the delinquents remained delinquent.

We called down to the employment office in San Francisco for a full-time cook. We knew we'd be lucky to lure anybody north for a job slot like ours so we euphemized the position as “Live-in organic cook for rural child care center. Free room and board.”

A job counselor said she had just the couple for us with just the right experience. “But,” she added ominously, “Scott and Emily are different.”

“Different,” as applied to the generic American citizen of 1970 was already an infinitely elastic descriptive, having come to include everyone from freeway killers to people who deliberately wore mismatched socks.

But our job offer was far from ideal employment, what with guarding the knife drawer from underage psychos while trying to prepare three healthy meals a day in a primitive country kitchen three hours north of San Francisco.

Desperate, we hired Scott and Emily sight unseen. We were getting two cooks for the salary of one, the job lady assured us, and our eager new employees would arrive the very next day by Greyhound. 

They did, too.

The first chef off the bus was a large, shirtless man with a weightlifter's upper torso whose shaved head looked like a topo map, scars forehead to nape. Wherever the guy had been, he'd been there often, and he'd been there head first without protective head gear. And he'd obviously had regular access to a serious weight pile.

Chef Scar Head, his eyes averted, ignored our extended hands and welcoming grins as he dismounted the Greyhound, but he did grunt what could have been interpreted as a greeting.

Behind him appeared a plump woman of about 30. She was togged out in a granny dress and an old-fashioned wagon train bonnet. She greeted us with what sounded like, “bok-bok,” but could have been “awk-awk.” Either way the sound seemed as non-committal as her mate's grunt. Mrs. Scar Head either had a serious speech impediment or she was crazy. Assessing her entire presentation, from her mid-19th century outfit to what we hoped was a speech impediment, we assumed Emily was at least as far off as her man, Scott, the world's strongest cook.

Last to appear was a little girl of about six. The child was togged out in a pink chiffon party dress and wore shiny black pumps on her fat little feet. She looked like she was going to a birthday party, circa 1950. We hadn't expected the child, but she merely punctuated what we already knew was the huge hiring error we'd made with her parents.

The Greyhound spent the night in Fort Bragg before it returned southbound through Boonville the next morning. The odd family would be with us overnight. Looked at objectively, the Scar Heads weren't that much wackier than we were, and besides they'd just arrived. Just because they looked nuts didn't necessarily mean they were nuts. Hell, if you went only by appearances, half the population of the Anderson Valley looked like they'd benefit from face time with a mental health professional.

Scott and Emily's luggage consisted of a bulging backpack lugged by Emily, and a two-foot square metal ammo box toted by Scott that spelled G-U-N. The family traveled light for people who'd taken on a live-in job.

The child's parents, our new cooks, hadn't introduced themselves other than Mom's cryptic “bok-bok,” so we weren't surprised that they never did identify their daughter, who was also non-verbal. When we greeted the child, she replied with a cheery “wook-wook.”

We would call her Little Wook-Wook and her parents The Bok-Boks. But we certainly didn't need three more disturbed persons added to our volatile population of marginally competent adults and junior criminals, but here they were, and a deal was a deal. It might even work out. Maybe they were just shy.

The two-and-a-third chefs climbed into our van for the six-mile trip to the ranch, Scott gripping his ammo box, Emily soundless beside him, the child on her mother's lap, attentive to the country scenery.

Assistant chef Emily responded to our attempts to get some recent work history out of her with affirmative “bok-boks.” We couldn't speak bok-bok but were encouraged that bok-boks seemed affirmative. Chef Scar Head ignored us. He stared straight ahead, his big hands cradling the ammo box. The little girl, spotting some sheep, sang out, “wook-wook.”

When we arrived at Rancho Loco, Emily tossed the family backpack into the indicated cabin and, still without speaking, all three Bok-Boks walked on into the kitchen for an introductory tour of their work site. They  always moved single-file, like a family of Dyaks on a jungle path: Scott and his ammo box, then Emily, Little Wook-Wook bringing up the rear. Two of us fell in behind the child, wondering why we were following our employees rather than leading them.

At our appearance in the shed-like mess hall, the delinquents, as usual raucously arrayed around a battered pool table, went silent. Children who have been raised on the violence principle of force or the threat of it know at a glance who's dangerous and who's not. The delinquents knew in their estranged bones that the big scary-looking guy who'd just walked through the door could and would stomp them at little or no provocation. He wasn't just another harmless, neo-hippie doofus like the rest of the so-called adults at this rural juvenile hall; no, the new cook presented a clear and present danger to all living things, as randomly hazardous as any two-legged predator roaming their old neighborhoods in San Francisco and Oakland.

“Settle in, look around, meet the boys,” I grandly invited the cooks without meaning it, hoping that Scar Head's unspoken menace didn't manifest itself in tangible trouble before I could get the Bok-Boks back on the southbound 'hound the next morning.

Ignoring all attempts at communication, Scott and Emily began throwing open the doors of the storage shelves hauling pots, pans, cooking sheets, and number ten cans of government foodstuffs down out of the cabinets. They soon had a pizza assembly line set up with Little Wook-Wook at the finishing end where she was soon diligently sprinkling a concluding garnish of olives on the pre-oven product. The Bok-Boks had produced institutional pizzas before, and we knew that the institution probably had bars on the windows.

There were soon four pizzas in the oven and a dozen more ready to go, way more than even our dedicated junk food eaters would down in a week.

I asked the Bok-Boks to stop making pizzas. Then I asked them to please stop making pizzas.

The Bok-Boks went on making pizzas.

I knew something very weird had kicked off.

A delighted delinquent yelled at me, “Whatcha gonna do now, big boy?”

I knew I couldn't handle Scar Head one-on-one and my colleagues, still high on The Summer of Love, were all committed to non-violent conflict resolution — doubly, triply committed to the path of the Mahatma when they saw Scar Head. I'd thought about trying to get the drop on the big psycho with a two-by-four but worried that (1) the board would bounce off his head and then be used to beat me to death, (2) the mayhem would reinforce “inappropriate behavior” in the delinquents. I was, after all, a role model.

Forty or so pizzas later, our new cooks had started in on what became an even five hundred bulgar and molasses cookies the size and texture of frisbees. (We'd been baffled by bulgar, the wheat-like grain we'd vaguely associated with 19th century Russian novels. We had bags of it but no idea how to make it into anything we could eat.)

On the cooks cooked.

Little Wook-Wook, exhausted by her long bus trip up from the city, then her task as pizza garnisher, then arranger-of-endless-cookies-on-tinfoil, stretched out on the cement floor and went to sleep. With piles of pizzas and cookies surrounding the unconscious child where she lay at her laboring parent's feet, she could have been a living shrine to the junk food gods.

Her parents soon moved on to more complicated dishes in what had become a full-on cook-a-thon that wouldn't end until there was nothing left to render inedible.

The delinquents had been mostly silent for the show, happy at the subversion, but wary because they couldn't quite fit it into their precocious portfolios of aberrant adult behavior. After a couple of hours of serial food prep, and as delighted as they were at our impotence in the face of the crazy cooks, the delinquents wandered off to bed, pleased with the day's events.

When we returned to the cafeteria in the morning, Scott and Emily had the countertops covered with dozens of congealed fried eggs, some forty meat dishes assembled from the mysterious contents of cans labeled “Beef, U.S. Government,” and they'd blended every available vegetable into gallons of home brew V-8. Little Wook-Wook slumbered on where we'd last seen her the night before, the center-piece of the junk food shrine.

Every pot, every dish, every possible container had been deployed in an all-night cook-in. Or cook-off. Or nut-off. Scott and Emily had transformed a month's larder into unappetizing piles of whatever it was now, food maybe. A kid muttered the consensus opinion: “No fuckin' way I'm eatin' this shit.”

Still not a word out of either of them, not even a bok. And here they were, day two, casually posed in a calamity of dirty pots and pans calmly smoking post-culinary cigarettes.

We called the cops.

The delinquents, energized at the mere possibility of violence, and silently jubilant at the chaos of the overnight food frenzy, now eagerly anticipated Scar Head's interface with law enforcement.

In the Anderson Valley of that time, law enforcement consisted of a young resident deputy, George Simon, occupying his first cop post. Inevitably, the deputy was locally known as, “Simple Simon,” although like the rest of us, his gifts seemed securely in the middle of dull-normal range.

Deputy Simon was soon on-scene.

We explained that two city screwballs had cooked up all our food, that we'd fired them because they wouldn't stop cooking and now they wouldn't leave.

“I'll be damned,” Deputy Simon said.

His game face on, the deputy strode authoritatively up to Scott, who still lounged at the sink with a cigarette, he and Emily looking off at a kitchen wall as if it were more interesting than the arrival of law enforcement. The little girl was on her feet, fully awake. She peered out at the deputy from behind her mother's billowing skirt.

“You've got to leave,” the deputy said, without the usual cop preliminaries like, “Hi. How are you today?” And so on through the appraising protocols until the showdown demand for the perp's identification. Given Mr. Scar Head's obvious potential for  instant violence, we thought Deputy Simon had been recklessly bold.

“These people want you out,” the deputy said.

“No, we don't,” yelled a delinquent..

Scott, cradling his ammo box, stared silently back at the deputy. Emily, clearly a veteran of rejection, issued a defeated sigh. The child continued to peer out at the deputy from behind the ample pioneer cover of her mother.

The deputy repeated himself.

Scott, Emily and Little Wook-Wook, like three deaf mutes, gazed back at him.

We anticipated the worst.

A three-minute stare down ensued until the cooks, communicating in perfect sync in ways we couldn't see or hear, suddenly strode rapidly past the startled deputy, past us equally startled spectators, and into their nearby cabin, the little girl slamming the door behind her.

“He's probably got a gun in that ammo box,” a delighted delinquent speculated.

“I hope he does,” shouted another.

“I've got a gun, too, don't I?” Deputy Simon said, dramatically unholstering his .357 as he walked to the Wook-Wook's door.

“Come out of there. Now!” the deputy yelled.  Silence.

“You,” the deputy ordered me, “get that two-by-four and stand over there. Knock the shit out of that nut if he comes out of there with a gun.”

The delinquents, beside themselves with anticipatory joy, eagerly moved up hill from the cabin for theater-seat viewing of whatever came next.

It seemed to me that the deputy's orders were tactically defective. If Scar Head came charging out of the cabin, gun (or guns) blazing, the deputy and I were arrayed so closely on either side of the door that I would have hit the deputy in the head with my two-by-four while he simultaneously put a big hole in me with his hand cannon.

For the next several minutes there wasn't a sound from inside the cabin. The two-by-four, which I held over my head in “knock the shit out of” mode, grew heavy. The weight of Deputy Simon's .357 caused him to shift it from hand to hand where it was usually pointed straight at one of his feet.

The deputy whispered to me, “I'm tired of this bullshit. You better go in there and have a look around. See if you can talk to them.”

Entering a small, dark room occupied by a deranged weight lifter seemed more in the deputy's job description than mine. Besides, wasn't it wiser just to wait them out, let them make the next move?

As we debated cabin-extraction tactics, the Bok-Boks burst out the door in their habitual single file. Sure enough, the deputy's gun was pointed directly at his foot, and I was so startled I stumbled backwards, my two-by-four uselessly clattering behind me on the cabin porch.

Looking straight ahead, our two-and-a-third food prep specialists set off for the west hills at a fast walk, a very fast walk. Any faster and they'd have been jogging.

We stood speechless at their retreating forms, Little Wook-Wook's pink chiffon party dress vivid against the summer's golden browns.

The delinquents cheered. The Bok-Bok's flight promised to prolong the drama, now approaching its sixteenth hour. Of course the show would have been a lot better if the deputy had cranked off a couple of rounds at the Bok-Boks' departing forms, but they did seem to be leaving and gunfire was not called for.

But what could the cooks be thinking? What was their plan? The road to Boonville or San Francisco was to the east, not west, but Scott, Emily and Little Wook-Wook were headed in the opposite direction from Highway 128, headed into the back country. There wasn't anything or anybody until the blue Pacific, 35 miles away as the crow flew or the psycho walked.

None of us authority figures, and certainly not the deputy, were inclined to hot pursuit. We all watched the odd trio move at Sherpa-like speed up the first steep slope, marveling at the pace and apparent endurance of plump, bonneted, retro-matronly Mrs. Bok-Bok and Little Wook-Wook in her party pumps. The patriarch, we knew, had the double strength of the furiously insane. He could walk to Manchester and back without breaking a sweat because, in his teeming mind, he was the wronged party. He and Mrs. B had been hired to cook, he'd cooked, she'd cooked, and then they'd been fired for cooking. It didn't make sense.

We anticipated the worst. Maybe the guy would wait until we'd made a Safeway re-supply run; then the three of them would come back down out of the hills late at night and cook up all our food again. Or maybe Scott would come back by himself and strangle us all in our sleep, one at a time, and stuff our remains in number ten cans, the ones marked “U.S. Government Beef.”

Had the Bok-Boks done this before? Had Scott and Emily and Little Wook-Wook descended on other outback youth camps, cooked up all the food and then fled into the hills? Maybe the Bok-Boks were some new kind of cult, a secret sect of gastro-vandals! Why not? There were eccentrics of every description moving into the hills of Mendocino County in the early 1970s, many of them seriously whacked. And now there were two more screwballs in the hills — three more — if you didn't feel like cutting their child any slack. And, at that point, I didn't.

The Bok-Boks didn't leave.

They haunted us for the next month. The delinquents left food for them at pre-arranged drops designated by Scott and the lead delinquent, who'd been sneaking off to meet Scott ever since the cooks had taken off into the hills.

For several weeks, always at daybreak, we'd see the fugitives far down Rancheria Creek, the year-round stream that split the sprawling ranch's 320 acres before it met Indian Creek west of Philo to form the Navarro. During these long-distance morning sightings the child was a faint pink blotch against the tree line, mom a larger cloth ball, and dear old dad, shirtless and ominous even at two miles.

We'd shout out long, echoing hallos at our estranged cooks; they'd look up; then, as still as a family of deer, gaze back at us for long seconds before they'd turn from the stream and disappear into the woods, the three of moving single file.  We were besieged.

Our fugitive cooks were lingering in the hills to creep us out. Or worse.

Scott's liaison man, the lead delinquent, denied that he was feeding the fugitives, but his smirk gave him away. The cooks could easily spend the whole summer in the hills so long as they were fed regularly, and they would be fed regularly given the help they were getting from our treacherous band of 602's.*

We didn't know if Scott was hanging around to get revenge for his firing or if he and Emily hoped to make one last sneak attack on our kitchen to cook up our replenished supplies, frying up a hundred eggs, baking dozens of clandestine cookies, laughing at us as they rattled our pots and pans.

Then we didn't see them for a week, then two weeks, and we knew they were finally gone.

When Scott, Emily and their little one had first run for the hills, Deputy Simon had suggested to his high command in Ukiah that the Sheriff's Department mount a full-scale manhunt for the three fugitives.

“That's child abuse what they're doing to that little girl,” the indignant deputy argued, “making her sleep out in the hills. And I'm sure whoever that Scott guy is he has a gun in that ammo box and a whole bunch of priors to go with it.”

A manhunt was summarily rejected by the sheriff.

“If we start trying to run down crazy people in the hills of Mendocino County we'll be doing nothing else,” Sheriff Jondahl said. “There's an army of them out there. Besides that, from what you say about them, those people sound like they're deaf and dumb, handicapped people. Leave 'em alone, for crissakes.”

* (602 is cop code for juvenile offender.) 

2 Responses to "Yorkville Highlands, 1971"

  1. mr. wendal   August 9, 2018 at 8:48 am

    This was thoroughly entertaining and I hope you continue to share more of your experiences with your readers.

    Reply
  2. Richard   August 11, 2018 at 6:26 pm

    As a former mid-seventies delinquent 602 resident of a Certain Redwood Valley Group Home who is beginning to suspect, after a long, long period of painful self assessment of being in possession of the selfsame aforementioned average dull-normal intellectual capacity, I tell you we would have killed for anything half so exciting! The closest we got was a mild brouhaha over the quashing of flies with kitchen utensils. The staff, comprised of such star quality individuals as Crazy Ivan and Drunk Fuck AL never quite rose to the level of “Are They Going To Kill Me In My Sleep?” interest. Except that one night Drunk Fuck Al damn near assaulted me for being “a spy” sent from “the Man”, no doubt to ruin his lucrative gig of sleeping for money. To be fair, I did have precocious facial hair, and he was, well, drunk.

    Reply

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