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Jonathan Garrett

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THE MULLET DIES IN SANDERSON [27 Nov 2018|01:11pm]
It is a sunny Saturday afternoon in the fall of 1988. I am heading back to college from Thanksgiving vacation with my two best friends, Mark & Chip. I have known Mark since high school, and Chip even longer. They are good company for a drive.

We are moving down the highway in Chip’s new baby: a 1980 Volvo station wagon with a metallic, mint-green paint job. Chip's dubbed it, "The Mullet." It is a glorious vehicle. Chip has even been kind enough to let me drive it. I am honored. Although it’s almost December, the day is still hot. Chip has the stereo up loud, so we can hear it over the wind rushing in through the windows.

We were heading back from vacation a day early to see the annual FSU – UF football game. At that time in our lives, there seemed nothing finer and more natural in the world than descending into the frenzied, beery, carnival atmosphere of the contest. And we would arrive in style—Mark’s roommate had waited in line that week, and had three tickets waiting for us at his apartment when we returned. It was good to be alive.

A little bit west of Jacksonville, on a lonesome stretch of I-10 hard by the side of Osceola National Forest, The Mullet suddenly lost power. Not electrical power, mind you, but engine power—torque, oomph, thrust, guts-- whatever you want to call it. Even with the accelerator mashed down onto the floorboard, our speed dropped from 70, to 40, to 10. The Mullet was gasping for air.

Fortunately, we were just short of the exit for Sanderson, Florida, and managed to limp onto the off ramp just as the engine croaked. I steered the car over onto the shoulder and turned off the ignition. Then we looked around.

Those of you who have driven Florida’s highways in the modern era may find this hard to believe, but we found ourselves at what must surely be one of the few exits in the state not ringed by gas stations, fast-food joints and the like. Instead, all we had was a two-lane road lined by scraggly pines and fire ant mounds poking out of the sand..

We got out of the car and popped the hood to inspect the corpse. Lets just put it this way: we were not exactly a mechanically inclined bunch. The entire sum of our knowledge regarding the internal combustion engine was exhausted by checking the radiator hose for leaks, and making sure the spark plug wires were still connected. Once we were done pretending we had the slightest idea what we were doing. there was nothing left to do but lock up The Mullet and start walking for town.

We came to the "town" of Sanderson about a mile up the road. There was little more than a few trailers up on concrete blocks, and an all-purpose general store that looked like it might have a phone and running water. We headed for the store.

The inside was heavy with hunting gear and knives, and it was almost exclusively decorated with Polaroid pictures of hunters standing proudly next to dead black bears sprawled on the hood of their pickup trucks, or lying in the back of their pickups, or posed behind the wheel of their pickups wearing "Diesel Cat" baseball caps. They let us borrow the phone to call a tow-truck, which met us at the store about 20 minutes later and gave us a ride back to The Mullet.

Now, "Cooter" and "Clem," as I am want to call the tow truck operators, were nice enough fellows. But I am willing to bet they weren’t really used to a Volvo-driving clientele. I say this because once the hood was popped, they, too, stared down at the engine with the innocent look of a newborn baby. It was as if they had just seen an engine for the first time, and though they hadn’t the slightest idea how it worked, they knew it was something beautiful and powerful—yet completely alien. Then they checked the spark plug wires to see if they were loose and …

We soon learned the nearest shops that could work on a Volvo were either back in Jacksonville, or in Lake City up the road. This being Thanksgiving weekend AND the night of the FSU – Florida game, we were not exactly confident about the prospects of finding a willing auto mechanic at 6 pm—let alone a sober one. So we asked the obvious question: "How much to tow us all the way?"

Cooter turned to Clem and smiled. "You wanna go to Tallahassee tonight?"

After agreeing on a price for the tow, they hooked the Mullet up to some cables and dragged it up onto the rear flatbed of their tow truck. We were almost ready to go when a problem arose: how to fit 5 adults in the bench seat of a tow truck. Cooter suggested that perhaps we could just ride in the Volvo, if we were inclined to do such a thing. We were. There was a cooler of beer in The Mullet.

And so, as the sun finally set after a long afternoon, we found ourselves doing the unexpected. We were seated high, high above the road, in the back seat of a driver-less Volvo, drinking beer and rocketing down the Interstate, strapped to the back of a flatbed truck driven by men we didn’t know.

It was actually a nice view, sitting way up there. And with nightfall, the air had cooled to a pleasant chill. We turned on the radio and tuned in the game just in time for kickoff. The miles flew by.

We finally pulled into Tallahassee about 8:30 pm. As we drove down West Tennessee Street, the road was nearly deserted. Everyone in town was either at the game, or hunkered down in front of their television sets. Unfortunately, though, the site of a tow truck ferrying a green Volvo with three people seated in it did not escape the notice of the local police, who pulled us over by the Popeye’s just east of campus.

After checking the license on the tow truck, they decided to let us off on one condition: we could not get back in The Mullet. So we made a quick decision. Chip would ride in the tow truck to the auto shop where he planned to leave the Volvo. Mark and I would run the mile or so back to his apartment and hopefully find the game tickets waiting for us. After all, it wasn’t even halftime yet.

Mark’s apartment was only a few blocks away from the stadium, so we started heading in that direction. Even from a half-mile away, through the thick limbs of live oak and pine, you could see the stadium lighting up the night sky. The faraway boom and rumble of the marching band drums echoed across the deserted campus like thunder. And every so often, a great cheer would erupt from the crowd, like the sound of a giant wave breaking in the distance.

As we neared the stadium, we could see the crowd gathered on the Pensacola Street bridge. In a certain place, the bridge was elevated just high enough so you could peer in through the corner of the stadium and see a wedge-shaped slice of the field. It wasn’t a great view, but it was a view. And for people who didn’t have tickets—or couldn’t afford them—it was a time-honored spot to stand and watch the game.

We got to the bridge and were able to watch the last few moments before halftime. This was still back in the day when you could leave the stadium at the half to go back to your car, or apartment, or wherever it was that you had stashed your liquor. It was an enlightened policy. We figured if we were quick, we’d still have time to run back to the apartment, pick up our tickets, and be back in time for the start of the 3rd quarter.

Unfortunately, though, the tickets were not waiting for us at the apartment. We searched high and low before deciding that his roommate had probably decided to sell them. Mark decided to watch the rest of the game on TV, but I wanted to go back to the stadium and soak up the excitement. FSU was winning the game, and I wanted to be there for the end.

As I walked up to the stadium, I saw that someone had dropped a ticket stub on the ground. I walked up to the gate, and they let me right in--as if I was returning from halftime.

As I made my way out of the bowels of Old Doak into the stadium lights, I found myself swept into a sea of 75,000 joyously inebriated primates celebrating one of the most lopsided wins in the history of the series. Final score 52-17.
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MINORITY WHIP [15 Sep 2017|02:09pm]
If you produce an adult film set at a political convention called "Stirring Orations," you should have the minority whip give the stirring oration.
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SQUIRREL CHEWIN' [08 Feb 2017|08:59pm]
We have an old shed in the backyard. The exterior is made of the same brick as the house, and its covered with a metal roof. It originally served as a shop and well house, and the old well pump is still in there, as well as the original 350 gallon galvanized steel tank (which I plan on using to store rainwater, or beer, in the future).

For its age, the shed is overall in decent shape. The termites chewed up some of the framing over the years, and two window panes are cracked. It also has about 300 miles of spiderweb up in the rafters, but that doesn't bother me much. (The far scarier thought is what the world would be like WITHOUT spiders).

In any event, I've been hoping to spruce it up a little bit and so called over my good friend Pat, a handyman extraordinaire. As we were going over some of the work yesterday, we discussed putting in a new light fixture. I told Pat that I'd had an electrician out to look at it, who'd said the wiring setup in the shed was clearly a vintage job, but basically sound.

Not three minutes later, Pat was poking around the upper portion of one of the walls where the termites had done their worst damage. Right next to that area were some rounded holes that clearly had been chewed out by squirrels. Pat pulled away a board to get a better look at the damage, and we saw that the insulation for the primary electrical wiring running out of the breaker panel (which was hidden from site ONLY in the area behind the board) had been chewed on by a squirrel down to the bare wire. In fact, it's pretty clear that chewing that wire was that squirrel's last earthly act. The positive and neutral wires were completely exposed for four inches, surrounded by sawdust and squirrel nest detritus--nature's finest kindling.

"That might have been interesting," I said, "waking up in the middle of the night and wondering what that crackling sound in the backyard was."

"And all that flickering light," said Pat.

Then we turned off the circuit breaker.
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RAIN [30 Nov 2016|11:19pm]
It rained. If finally rained again.

All summer long the thunderstorms arrived on schedule in the afternoon. It was a world of green and dripping moss and buzzing insects. You could hear the grapevine and greenbrier snaking through the camelia beds.

And then Hurricane Matthew rolled up the east coast and snatched it all away. A switch had been flipped. Every day was perfect blue skies and hints of autumn. It was pleasant to be out at night.

Two weeks.
Three weeks.

The grass grew crunchy and pale yellow.

Four weeks and we were pulling long watering hoses across the front lawn.

Five weeks and the newspaper ran an article. Longest dry spell in two decades they said. There are no more tree frogs on the kitchen window.

Six weeks. Wildfires across southern Appalachia. Leaves are drooping. 60 year old azaleas wilt and beg for a drink. The sweet gums turn orange and the sumac turns crimson.

Seven weeks. A sprinkle in the morning and then nothing. You hope. You fear. The air is warm and moist and you can feel it being sucked north from the Gulf of Mexico. It practically smells like fish.

And then tonight it rains. A good rain that leaves puddles. Slick tires hissing on pavement. Water dripping off the eaves. This is always when Tallahassee is at its best. At night after a rain.
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THE GOLDEN STATE AND SUNSHINE STATE [18 Feb 2016|09:36am]
A huge difference I notice between living in California and Florida is my environmental outrage. But not for the reasons you might think. Certainly, California deserves its reputation as a leader in many areas of environmental stewardship. But what makes it so seductive is that the really horrible damage in California was done more than 100 years ago. Nobody living there today watched salmon runs disappearing from San Francisco Bay (or the creeks of Oakland for that matter). Nobody living today saw hydraulic mining operations washing away mountainsides, or watched as 95% of the Bay's wetlands were filled dredged, or diked. Hell, San Francisco's water supply was made possible by drowning a valley in Yosemite National Park.

But here, some of the Truffula Trees are still standing, and land rape is still up close and personal.
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THE ANGEL OF DEATH [21 Dec 2015|09:22pm]
California is famed for its freeways, and in the San Francisco Bay Area the mother road is Interstate 80. Actually, there are no fewer than seven flavors of I-80: the 280, from San Francisco southward; the 580, 880, and 980 in Oakland; the 680 and 780 out to the northwest by the Carquinez Straits; and the 380 connector by the S. F. airport.

The place where I get on the freeway is a stretch of 580 about two minutes away from what is known affectionately as “The Maze,” a collection of flyovers and ramps all converging on, or splitting away from, the Bay Bridge. Merging into traffic here is not for the faint of heart. For one thing, perhaps one in twenty Californians uses their blinkers to signal a lane change. So even if you’re using your blinkers correctly, nobody believes you’re actually signaling your intentions. Rather, they figure you hit the blinkers by accident while reaching for your cannabis vaping pen. In fact, it may be that more California drivers use cannabis vaping pens than use their blinkers.

But I digress.

Last week I was driving on 580, just at the point where it merges with Highway 24. This stretch of the highway is elevated, so you are rocketing along between the rooftops of houses and commercial buildings. Off to my right I see a cherry red, late-1960s muscle car heading toward my lane. I can’t help but crack a smile. In a land full of late-model hybrid vehicles, there is something pure and elemental about a big, bad gas-guzzling whale on its home turf. It is bouncing on its shocks and has a nasty scrape along the left front quarter panel.

I catch a glance of the driver, who appears to be a 19-year-old girl with heavy mascara and a punk rock aesthetic from circa 1985. It is a pretty bad ass combination, the girl and this muscle car. In another time and place, it would have been a Bikini Kill album cover.

I merge over to the far left lane and in another 20 seconds am steering through the beginning of the S-curve that will drop me down into the approach to the Bay Bridge.

EXCEPT A TRUCK IS STOPPED DEAD, DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF ME IN THE CURVE.

I hit the brakes hard and come to a stop about six feet short of the truck. Three feet away in the adjacent lane, traffic is moving at 65 mph. I realize instantly that there is a good chance that I’m about to be slammed from behind and look in my rear view mirror. It is then that I see my angel of death. And it is a 19-year-old girl looking through the steering wheel of a big red muscle car bouncing on its shocks. It all makes sense. This is how I am going to die.
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TO THE MOON FOREVER [15 Sep 2015|01:06pm]
I wrote a lot about the San Francisco housing bubble back in the day. Compared to prices now, though, the absolute top of the last bubble would have been a great buying opportunity. Prices are now $350/square foot more!

And that is why I have purchased a house in Florida, in the town where I used to live. For less than half the price of my current rent (in OAKLAND, mind you, not even SF), I get a beautiful place on three acres, lakefront, with good schools. So long California. Fun while it lasted.

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MURDERED BY THE KKK [25 Jun 2015|09:51pm]
just learned today that Joseph Shoemaker, my great-great-grandfather's brother, was murdered by the KKK outside of Tampa in 1935. His crime was being a socialist and trying to organize an independent political party, the Modern Democrats, to take on Tampa's corrupt political machine. He and two others were kidnapped after being held by police, who were working in concert with the Klan. The kidnappers drove him outside of town. His right leg was held over fire. They tarred him, and beat him until he was partially paralyzed. He died nine days later. It was national news.

The Tampa chief of police was subsequently indicted as an accessory after the fact for covering up the department's involvement. Amazingly, several of the policemen were convicted, leading the American Civil Liberties Union to declare that it was "a victory for civil rights in Florida and the beginning of a new drive against the Ku Klux Klan." But the verdict was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial. During the retrial, the judge's actions were so suspect that the prosecutor requested that he be removed. The policemen were subsequently found not guilty.

This book chapter covers the story in some detail.
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[06 Jun 2015|08:31pm]
I have become Ahab. Hollow on the inside save for hate and a clear sense of the inevitable. Rushed on by an unseen agency that has enslaved me to the race. This whole act is immutably decreed. Twas rehearsed a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates' lieutenant; I act under orders.
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CALIFORNIA STEAMING [23 May 2015|01:59pm]
Last month we came exceedingly close to purchasing a house back in Fla. The place was nice enough--a Colonial Revival built in 1953. But it was the land we were after: a one acre lot with dozens of azaleas and mature pines, and a cabana in the back with ceiling fans. It was gorgeous. We offered pretty much the full asking price.

Unfortunately the owner, who was selling it himself, was an unbelievable jerk from start to finish. I did not want to give him my money so much as dispossess him of his property. We agreed on price, closing terms, closing date, everything. Except that when it came to singing the standard disclosure form, he wrote "don't know" to every question, including whether or not the house had ac or heat, how old it was, etc. It was a big F-U. The next day he sent a message saying "the house is sold to someone else," and that was that.

The thing is, I suspect part of his being such a jerk is that he knew we lived in California. Thus, in my attempt to leave California, I am unable to do so because the person on the other end doesn't want to sell to someone from California.
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MEANWHILE IN SAN FRANCISCO [26 Mar 2014|01:06pm]
Minus two very brief pauses in 2003 and 2009, the San Francisco Bay Area has been in one continuous housing bubble since I arrived nearly 15 years ago.

The average one bedroom apartment now rents for more than $3,000 a month.

Some houses have appreciated more than $2 million since 2011. For example, this house appreciated at a rate of nearly $63,000 A MONTH over the past three years--with no renovations.

And we are now above prices set during the last bubble.

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WE WILL ALL BE TURNED INTO SOILENT GREEN FOR TECH WORKERS [03 Oct 2013|09:11pm]
In the past year, my family, as well as two friends of ours with young children, have been forced out of our rentals because of owner move-in evictions. One of those was in San Francisco. And two were in Oakland. The spectacular rise in house AND rental prices in the Bay Area has been on a trajectory that makes the last housing bubble look silly.

Yesterday, we found out that some more close friends of ours--also with a young child at home--were told that their rent was going to go up. A lot. Two years ago they moved into a two-bedroom house just before their son was born. It's a nice little place in a fairly non-descript San Francisco neighborhood. Until a few years ago, the area was mainly home to working class folks and their families. They have been paying $3,600 a month in rent, which I already thought was pretty insane. But the landlord has told them they have to cough up more, much much more, if they want to stay.

How much? 10 percent? 20 percent? Hell no, the landlord want $1,600 A MONTH more. This is happening all over. We are already making plans to leave, because the Twitter IPO is about to create another 1,000 millionaires. The median house price in Oakland is up 72 percent in the last YEAR (about $15,000 per month). There is an ocean of money out there, and a lot of people are drowning in it.
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ROOKY'S GOES GQ [31 Jul 2013|02:00pm]
Eight years ago I wrote about discovering Rooky Ricardo's Records in the Lower Haight. All these years on and the store has continued to blossom. So much so that the store was written up in GQ magazine this past week. As Dick would say, "I Looove it!"
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PULP FICTION, WOOD PULP [08 Jun 2013|08:57pm]
About15 years ago, when I was working for the State of Florida, we did a lot of archaeological / historic resource surveys on state forest lands. Sometimes we came across abandoned turpentine camps from the 1920s and 1930s. Other times we documented "skidder trails" where logs had been hauled through the forest. The most interesting, however, was a survey of an old cypress lumbering company town called "Centralia." I remember looking up information about the town in the state library, and coming across a fascinating typewritten manuscript entitled "Florida's Perpetual Forests." It was the memoirs of someone who'd worked in the lumber industry during the early 20th century--the peak years when Florida's old growth long-leaf pines and cypress trees were being cut out. It was full of interesting tidbits, such as how an experienced turpentine man knew when the processing was at the right point by the sound of the still. He talked about innovations in band saws, and about the rowdy, sometimes dangerous life in the forest "jook joints."

Fast forward to last week. I am going through a pile of old pulp fiction paperbacks that I've kept around for years (mostly as decoration because the covers are so wonderfully lurid). Lately, though, I've been trying to whittle down my stuff, and so looked at the stack with an eye to getting rid of them. I decided I might as well read a few first, though, giving each one a few minutes, and if it wasn't interesting, to move onto the next. The first one I picked up was called "The Iron Spiders" by Baynard Kendrick It looked like this:



To my surprise, the story turned out to be set in the Florida Keys during the 1930s, and was a really fun read. So good, in fact, that I thought I might share a copy with my family members back in Florida. Unfortunately, though, the paper was so old that the book was practically falling apart in my hands as I read it. So I decided to look online and see if I could find another copy.

There are various websites I use for finding old books, and I typed in the author's name and found that he'd actually written a couple pulp novels set in the Sunshine State. But that's not what really shocked me. At the top of the list I saw a book called "A History of Florida's Forests." Something clicked, and I knew, just *knew* that this was somehow related to the manuscript I'd read at the library all those years ago.

A few clicks later, and I found this.

"In the 1960’s, Florida historian Baynard Kendrick was commissioned by the Florida Board of Forestry to write a history of Florida forestry. His manuscript has been brought up to date by Barry Walsh and the resulting A History of Florida Forests, documents the importance of Florida's forests in the state's development for 500 years."

Serendipity is a really cool thing sometimes.
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GOLD RUSH ALL OVER AGAIN [26 Mar 2013|11:00am]
San Francisco rents in neighborhoods served by the Google and Apple employee buses are up 60 percent in a single year.
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[26 Mar 2013|10:47am]
A long while back, I wrote (prematurely as it turns out) about the closing of Adobe Books in the Mission District. Today we learn that even if they owners can pay the quadrupled rent, the landlord still wants them out. It's symptomatic of San Francisco these days, or at least those neighborhoods served by the Google and Apple employee buses. There's no room for book stores when your entire life is conducted on a four-inch screen. However, there is room for designer iPhone cases and $600 messenger bags. Ugh.
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SELLING ACURAS AND ESPN AWARDS [12 Jul 2012|12:19pm]
You may recall that back in February I wrote that a song that I played on was used in an episode of the TV show "Parenthood."

Fast forward to last month, and I am sitting at home watching late night TV. A commercial comes on, and I suddenly realize that the backing track is another song from the same album. You may have even seen it yourself: the Acura ILX "Airport" commercial.

Then this past weekend, I was watching Wimbledon, and a promo for the ESPN awards comes on ... yet another song from the album. I can't find the ESPN clip, but here's the song: "If You Want Trouble."
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BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON [05 May 2012|09:17pm]
It is the very definition of twilight.

I am rolling down the street on my bicycle in north Oakland. The lights are glowing in the bungalows. The gardens are thick with wisteria and the year's first roses.

A voice leaps from the shadows along the sidewalk.

"Who stole the moon!?"

It is a woman's voice. And from the sound of it, a big woman. No frail creature made that sound. I Keep pedaling.

"Where's the moon?!" she shouts again as I glide by.

I come to the intersection and can still hear her behind me. She sounds maniacal.

"OH! THERE IS IS! THERE'S THE MOON!"

I look up and see a huge moon glowing orange above the hills.

"WILL YOU LOOK AT THAT! WHOOOAAAAH!

Two blocks later, it dawns on me. How close I came to being killed. To having my flesh left in tatters on the concrete. To having my body discovered with steam still rising from a bloody rib cage.

She was definitely turning into a werewolf.
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A PRAYER FOR EASTER SUNDAY [07 Apr 2012|08:16pm]
It was seven p.m.

My daughter crouched in the tub, facing toward the drain, happily splashing her hands in the sudsy water.

She stopped splashing and put her hands at her side. A faraway look came into her eyes.

I knew what was coming.

I pulled the drain plug and yanked her toys from the water.

She sighed. She held her breath.

I watched the water draining. Draining.

She grunted.

I watched the water draining. Draining.

For it is one thing to have your daughter poop in an empty tub.

And another if the tub is full of swirling water.

That your daughter is standing in.

That she likes to splash in.

I watched the water draining. Dropping.

A little tornado circled the drain.

The water began to recede at her feet.

I said a little prayer. The parents' prayer. An ancient prayer.

...

It was over.

I lifted her free and put her in a towel.

An Easter miracle.
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THE OLD APARTMENT GOES UP FOR GRABS [20 Feb 2012|04:16pm]
And there it is, my old apartment renting for just $1,000 more per month than I was paying in December. I love that they proclaim it has a new refrigerator and linoleum floor, when neither is true.

Gotta love San Francisco real estate.
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