Thursday, June 30, 2005

There is a God.....and She has a sense of humor....

Brendan just called from Prague. He is in the middle of his first big winetasting for his wine import company. He and his buddies are trying to import California wine to the Czech Republic: Czechs like Americans; there are 70,000 Americans living in Prague; Czech wine sucks, basically.

Anyway, they have some nice wines on their list: Gruet, Santa Cruz Mountain, Morgan, Mount Eden, Lockwood, River Ranch, Talbott, Kit Fox, private label stuff from Bruce Shipman, Alan Silvestri’s new wine, Mark Cheesebro’s new wine (recently the winemaker for Bernardus), etc.

All of the Czech print and film media are there at Brendan's bar, the charmingly named ''Eight Ball''. All of the big restaurant guys. Maxim models thick on the ground. And, Mr. Big….the number one importer of wine into Czech. Halfway through the tasting, Mr. Big clutches his heart, and drops like a sack. Heart attack.

Brendan called immediately: “What do I do?” Call an ambulance, roll him on his left side, and give him a fucking aspirin….

They hauled him outside and laid him on the cobblestones to wait for the EMT’s. I called back a minute ago. “How is everything?”

“Well, we got him in the wagon, and he was still breathing. Now I have all the media here to deal with, and the prick had nine more wines still to taste!”

Such compassion……such concern for his fellow man. Must be genetic

At the same moment I heard from my Mr. Big….my attorney Big Rich. Three years ago we were evicted by the Housing Authority from our kitchen of fourteen years, on 24 hours notice. Seems they had magically discovered that they were renting to us (and the two caterers before us) without a use permit. (The fact that we were defending the diabled tenants of the project from Housing's Brown Shirt labor camp tactics had nothing to do with the eviction).

When we lawyered up to stall them so we could find somewhere to move to….and they filed suit. We lost in court in front of my favorite judge, O’Farrell…..(who was reversed on appeal the last time I had him)…… Judge O awarded Housing something like $24,000 in legal fees. We appealed locally (the judge of the appeal board was the former ATTORNEY for the Housing Authority, and saw no conflict of interest THERE....) and lost. The only recourse was to kick it up to San Francisco to the Court of Appeals. Big Rich was not hopeful, and with a thousand hours invested already in a losing battle, basically gave up. I am paying him in baby back ribs, and was looking at buying part of Nebraska to fuel the fires of lawyerly passion for barbeque. I agreed, and Rich filed a one page brief that basically said: “My client got fucked. Figure it out. We quit.”

We incorporated, sold the business, and waited for the call from the bank…..Today, the Court of Appeals ruled: “Yup, your client got fucked!” Miracles never cease.

Now we get to sue THEM! That will be a lotta damn back ribs……

Now, Lord…..about that sense of humor……

And, speaking of which: After a post blasting all Culinary Institute graduates as lame asses and useless pricks.....the Google spiders have awarded me five links to Culinary Schools.....Sheesh!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy: to feed the hungry; to give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked; to harbor the harborless; to visit the sick; to visit the imprisoned; to bury the dead.
Matt. 25; Tobias 12

This could be the restaurateur’s code….well, with some exceptions. Clearly, clothing the naked is NOT part of the hospitality code at this point in time. In fact, nakedness may be next to godliness in California. And Florida…..And wherever Hooters operates….

Yeah, well…..long weekend: Cachagua Fair (fish tacos for 500, donation); Produce growers 80th birthday party for 100+; Sunday Brunch; film shoot….breakfast, lunch in deep Big Sur, three days….(5am call in Big Sur daily); Monday Night dinner...overbooked at 65. Great.

And the landlord trips out (wrong mix of meds) and tries to close the bar at 11pm on Saturday Night….see previous post about ball bats. Angry confrontation at midnite does not bode well for that 5am call. AND the prick is there at 6am to continue the battle…..what kind of meds are these and where can I get some?

Sunday night: clean up from Saturday. The college kids are not into unloading, scrubbing and reloading. Must be a union deal. Oh, and prep for the 5am call. Oh, and prep for Monday Night dinner.

Ten pm Sunday rolls around, and I am packing the van for the 5am call. A pickup truck drives by, slams on the breaks, backs up and pulls into the lot. It is a camper guy…..long hair, intellectual, probably a musician….probably an instrument he made himself. “Is there any hot food?”

Me: “Well, check the bar. The pizza guy is playing cribbage with the bartender. I don’t know if his oven is off or not.” Clearly, the bar crew has passed from service to cribbage. Union thing. No hot food in Cachagua at 10pm on Sunday.

I see the poor guy climb back into his truck. “Hey, if you don’t mind micro-wave, there actually IS hot food.”

Guy: “Well, what about Carmel Valley or Carmel?” “At 10pm on a Sunday night? Remember, Carmel is: “Newly Wed, and Nearly Dead….I can hook you up with what WE eat in a pinch: Marie Callender’s Chicken Pot Pie…..$2.50…”

The two basic values of food service are OTM, and OTF.....Other People's Money....and Other People's Food.....and if it winds up being Marie Callender....or Annie.....or Betty Crocker...or Aunt Jemima....bring it on: They are Other People, too. You can't ALWAYS be on task, and cook for yourself.

Anyway, the guy buys in….He has been camping in Miller Canyon for three days, missed the turn and walked halfway to Sikes…..had to schlepp back out without food or water. Marie C is FINE!

It turns out I have just pulled the Lundberg basmati rice out…..and there is a ton of split asparagus…..So I hook the guy up….Marie C., organic saffron basmati with currants, sunflower seeds, punkin seeds toasted in the new Morrocan 1000 year old tree oil….grilled organic asparagus from Central Avenue in King City….Give him the Sunday paper…..He gets an organic goat yoghurt……Real china and silver… him a glass of Gruet I have open anyway…….I figure $5.00. He leaves a buck tip…….Twenty percent!

Anywhere else in ……..well, no. Anywhere else in groovy-faux FoodAmerica, the staff says: “I am sorry, sir….we are closed.” And if they feed him, it is forty bucks…..

There was a time…..before neon and hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Travellers were at serious risk. The only way humankind made it through the 40,000 years of intinerancy that precedes the condo and HMO era…..The rule was: if you are traveling and see a fire, you can stop there, and they will feed you. This basic assumption has made all commerce possible. Donald Trump take note.

On this simple, fragile strand I base my weekend: no more than four hours of sleep possible till Thursday. New 8 mpg van….$100 in gas at least…..twelve meals spread over hundreds of miles of coast so rugged it was unsettled for 40,000 years…..

But….the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy: First is feed the hungry. Feeding the hiker gave me enough energy and mitzvah to get through the week……..I may be channelling some guy in Nottingham Forest in 700 AD.

It is possible that this cooking thing is genetic…and inescapable.

That is my story…..and I am sticking to it.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


It is getting so weird, so fast....I am having trouble keeping up........Rove's comment about liberals (buddy Ian and buddy Horace....actual military heroes...demanding a blogresponse...may I just say that the only two American cities actually ATTACKED by terrorists voted NINETY percent each against Bush?)....our clients.....The Store........The one quality I feel I lack most is....... a ball bat. Is this wrong?

My first Italian was: "Non! Non! Non il ginoccio!!" I heard this at the back of the Veal Truck on 59th Street in Manhattan in 1972......Thirty minutes to clear the truck, cash talks, bullshit walks.......and my F&B had somehow dropped the ball. Ball bats.....very simple. Guy dropped the ball........I used to see him after that on 59th, in a walker....."Mangare!!! Mangare!!"

Psychotic landlords…petrol thieves…..Piranha Citi Bank Indian fuckheads.....West-Coast-Ivy-League proto-terrorists emailing me for direction....Hero warrior friends, scalded by the real injustice of our Cowardly New World……

I feel like Richard III:

"For want of a nail a shoe was lost......

For want of a shoe a horse was lost....

For want of a horse a regiment was lost.....

For want of a regiment a battle was lost.....

For want of a battle a war was lost....

For want of a war a kingdom was lost...."

I am sure I have this wrong....but....

Indirectly ask Brother Tom......Note the utter absence of commas.......

Find that fucking nail, boys!!!!

More posts soon........,




Monday, June 20, 2005

The Last Word on Father's Day

When your kids are cool.......Every day is Father's Day.

Thanks to Brendan, Conall, Dylan.......Jocelyn.

And Ollie, Pants, Chloe, Adrian, Tall Paul......

Like that.....

Friday, June 17, 2005

Side Note

To those few of you who actually read this all the time:

We signed up with Google Ad-Sense. Supposedly, their spiders crawl our site, and develop ads based on our content. Because I am an ignoramus, the ad links are way down at the bottom of our site.

Turns out, the Google Spiders impression of our site is way funnier than the site. It has gone from ads for Czech hotels and bars to ads for Republican websites to ads for Wagyu beef to ads for how-to-courses on right now, ads for jobs in the culinary field! Based on Momie Hilde's obituary!

I apologize for being to task-oriented and dull to pick up on the relationship which is probably the most informative and amusing part of this whole excercise. I encourage you all to check it out.......Way down at the bottom......

Nature vs. Nuture

This honor of the incoming college crew: virgins, and bitter veterans annoyed at the naivete and stupidity of the virgins....I posted "Alternative to Summer Catering".....a BBC news item about ritual sacrifice among Africans in London. Seems virgins are in high demand as a cure for AIDS in London. Not that catering virgins are necessarily of much use in that regard.........

People ask me all the time if our ''chefs'' or ''me'' have been to ''Culinary School''. I respond with some bitterness........Abso-fucking-lutely not. We prefer to troll in untroubled waters.

Case in point: We have long had a connection with Portola Valley, Alpine Road, Sand Hill Road and that area. One of our clients was Mrs. Lane of Sunset Magazine: the sweetest, smoothest, most knowledgeable food, service and garden lady that ever walked. Think MFK Fisher for the middle class masses. Just because her son was a complete fucking idiot.....(see the Hawke a Loogie post).

Mrs. Lane's house was built for parties: big decks, open public rooms, two butlers' pantries, two kitchens (fore and aft). One of my cousins was one of her editors, so we got the inside track and she booked us for two back-to-back dinner parties. Same menu, same number of guests.

The first week I hired this guy from the Culinary Institute of America.....This is the culinary big time.....the Yale and Harvard of food. So....Bob Larman (you know how adverse I am to using real names). One of the dishes was Pommes Boulangére: white potatoes halved, thinly sliced from above, tiny slices of Bermuda onion slid in between the slices.....hotel pan....chicken stock and cream.....cover and bake. Cheese at the end.

In the middle of the chaos of the actual party I turned to Larman and said: "Put in the potatoes." He went back to the prep kitchen and put the hotel pans in the Eisenhower era ovens.....They did not quite fit. No worries. He just closed the doors as far as they would go, set the temperature and walked away.

An hour later, the potatoes were still raw. We had to individually wrap them in plastic and microwave them in droves....burning our fingers.....Jolly Green Giant molten condoms.....Fuck.
Fired Larman....with prejudice, as they say in the CIA.

Next week, to fill in.....I hired my brother-in-law: Michael McKenzie Monckton. Michael was known as Trips...not necessarily for the triple M thing. Michael used to babysit the dog of a major LSD importer from Holland on his ranch in BumFuck Cachagua (there was a landing strip). In exchange the Dutch guy would give him film cans of LSD jelly slivers from the sheets of acid. This was useful in Michael's normal job of Union Laborer: pulling nails from boards, carrying bags of cement, driving fork-lifts.....Long hours, low stimulation...provide your own, right?. Michael worked on The Aquarium.....they took him off the forklift when he hit the wall with a hug stack of sheetrock and the whole structure swayed for a while.......

So......Larman came with a nice chef coat with his name and some intials on it....None of which were CDF....for Complete Dumb Fuck.....Monckton came with a flannel shirt and hobnail boots. Monckton ran the Webers....and whatever. In the chaos, I turned to him and said: "Fire the potatoes....." Forgetting the previous week. Forty minutes later, I panicked and realized I was facing the same fuckup as last week.

I ran back to the service kitchen. Monckton had realized that the pans didn't fit. He went out to his truck, got some duct tape, found some aluminum foil, stuffed rags in there......AND MADE THE OVENS BIGGER! The potatoes were perfect. Which guy do YOU hire?

Last fall I was at an Olive Coming Out Party down the mountain from my house. The olive place was perfect, and everyone who was anyone was there: Carmel people, Hasting's scientists, wine geeks, rednecks, pathetic socialites, etc. We face north, though...and it got cold, quick. People became uncomfortable and started to leave. This funny teenager (bored son of one of the guests) noticed, and built a fire in the courtyard. People stopped leaving and started gathering around the fire. Some of them were old, and were tired. The kid picked up on this, went to the barn and started hauling bales of hay out. He made a ring around the fire, and soon a dozen or more people were sitting on hay bales on the chilly evening, having a great time. I hired the kid for the summer on the spot.

Now, you ask, why did I say ''this funny teenager''? Well, he had an awful sense of humor, but he also had cerebral palsy, and only half of his body really responded to commands. He walks kind of funny. One arm is questionable, at best.

This past weekend on the beach, the kid....heretofore to be know as Will Cheesebro....hauled three tons of equipment down the beach, and across seventy yards of sand. Learned how to grill with charcoal in twenty minutes, and never lost his smile. When the event planner came up to me and said, "So, we are ready for our wine talk now." I kind of stared for a talk? Oh shit. She: "You were going to bring an expert on Carmel Valley wines......" Will stepped right up: "That's me!" The kid did twenty minutes with eye surgeons about the estoteric aspects of wine-making in Carmel Valley in the new millenium. (His dad is a winemaker....but still...)

Have I mentioned that he is 16?

He comes from a hard-core is Granny: "Will, you are going to have to sit down one day soon and face the fact that you have a SERIOUS handicap.....and deal with it!"

Will: "Handicap? Screw you Granny, I can do anything anyone else can do. I don't have a handicap!"

Granny: "Will, face facts....You are hopelessly handicapped: you are a Teenager!"

Nature? Or Nuture?

CIA trained .......or Life Natural?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Momie Hilde is gone.....

Momie Hilde has moved on…..

Our restaurant godmother, Hildegarde Kalmus, passed on to the next sphere tonight at 8pm. I cannot muster any real sense of sadness: Momie had wanted to go for a long time. The great love of her life, The Chef, had passed on twenty years ago…..and none of her remaining friends, from her generation, or mine, or even my kids….could really muster up to her standards. She was alone, and lonely…and over the whole thing. Her fierce pride somehow kept her trapped in the house that had become the museum of the vast skills and knowledge that she and The Chef accumulated in a lifetime. She didn’t teach, she didn’t visit…..we were not worthy. She was absolutely right. We are not……they broke the mold two generations ago for people like Momie…..and the world will never recover. They say when an old person dies, we lose a library. Well, tonight we lost the Alexandria library all over again….

Hilde was the first woman chef in Germany. Her father owned an old castle on an island in the Elbe River in Germany that they ran as a day-trip establishment between the wars…..Boats would come out from Berlin with revelers…..Hilde trained there from the time she could walk in all aspects of hospitality. They had great food, great music…think Strauss waltzes….big ballroom…all that stuff. They had only a few rooms: for the well to do and reasonably sober, there was Heaven…nice rooms up above….For the broke and drunk, there was Hell…..a big room in the basement to sleep it off till the next boat.

She told us stories about their walk-in: a big tunnel in the rock basement. In the winter they would go down to the river and cut ice, and stack big blocks floor to ceiling in the back of the cave. By spring the tunnel would be full, and the walk-in would be really close to the kitchen. By the end of winter……well, it gives the term “walk-in” a whole new meaning. You were really walking in…..

Her parents had split up early on……Dad was the classic restaurant guy: incredible hard work…even more incredible hard play. Momie went to Berlin to live with her Mom from time to time, and Dad’s connections got her jobs at the city’s elite kitchens…..Vier Jahre Zeit (the Four Seasons). She was the ultimate salade/garde manger person. She and her Dad wound up running their day spa.

When the war broke out she was in love with a dashing Luftwaffe pilot. Oops. He lasted months. Dad’s life style took him out at the same time. Momie told me the ultimate restaurant HR move: “Micah……I needed a chef… I married one!” Her Chef was Werner Kalmus, certainly one of the most skilled and intelligent chefs of the last century. Together they worked in Berlin, in Sao Paolo, New York, Minnesota, and finally, Carmel. They worked as a team at the Highlands Inn in the Ramsey era, then opened with Walter Becker the famous Marquis, the San Souci, the Petite Marmite, and finally Fernand’s in Carmel Valley Village (where the Corkscrew is now).

The Chef deserves a whole other book: suffice it to say that he was drafted into the German Army, captured in Poland, and interned in Russia until 1949. Momie was bombed out, and moved into Berlin…..she kept her whole neighborhood alive. She walked miles every day into the Tiergarten for firewood….and we won’t talk about how she used her kitchen skills (Tiergarten means zoo in German). When the Russians finally came, she took her infant son up to the roof of her building as the Mongols charged the block. They murdered and raped all the old women and girls in the building but never got to the roof, where Momie stood with Gerhard….poised on the precipice, ready to toss the baby, and jump after.

When I first met Momie and The Chef, in 1976 they took me in as the idiot I was (I spoke French in the job interview…in Carmel Valley Village in 1976….never realizing they were German. Hey, everybody speaks French in kitchens, right?) The Chef was already fading…..the Russians used to break the prisoners’ knees with rifle butts to keep them from escaping: it was cheaper than wire. And the cesspool was the drinking water, so parasites took a kidney, his spleen and most of his intestines and stomach. Werner leaned on one arm on the line, and cooked his beautiful, perfect food with one hand. He was the master of prep, and would set everything up for Momie, and fade at 6pm. She would then put on her wig, greet the guests, buss, do all the dishes….oh, and cook the food. With one waiter, two on Saturdays, we would knock out 50-60 covers. There was never a hair out of place, and the food was always perfect, and she always smiled, and took care of everyone. She was Momie.

The Chef did not do well with retirement. His incapacity fascinated and frustrated him. The skin of his fingers and hands went soft like a baby’s. He tried to cut his own throat, out by the pear tree he used for his pear schnapps: he was too shaky to adequately sharpen the straight razor, and too shaky to adequately cut the right veins and arteries. I carried him into his deathbed from the car when he got out of the hospital……He weighed nothing.This is the place for Robinson Jeffers (see the next post)……..only I was too much the pussy to actually give him the release he sought.

Even in retirement, Momie was too brutal for prime time. Well, brutal and loving. She loved us, but it was clear we were disorganized, lazy, and……well, disorganized and lazy are capital crimes. One day she had all the caterers come over to do yardwork. We busted ass: digging, hauling…..sawing pine branches amongst the powerlines. When we bitched about the current running down the saw, through us and into the ladder, she scoffed. At lunchtime we had salmon and saffron soup, salad with Momie’s dressing, rouladen, and parfait Souchard au rhum in silver cups. Beer, white wine, champagne and schnapps, of course. We staggered out to the lawn and collapsed like dogs after. Momie looked at us in amazement: “We are only halfway, mensch! Let’s go!! I FIRE you!!”

We brought Momie out to The Store for brunch last winter. This was a state occasion, mensch. I hired one of the crackheads to come in at 6am and help me remop the whole place to get it to her standards. Of course, this was the day that the temperature went to 10 degrees, and the waterlines froze. No water to mop, and the place was not Momie proofed. What to do? We built a fire under the waterlines. We emptied the ice machine and boiled the ice and mopped with that. When Momie got there, we were not quite finished. She walked into the kitchen, looked into the stockpots on the stove full of melting ice: “Ach! Eis suppe. Very good. In Berlin in the war, we made STONE soup!!” As brutal as she was, she never lost her sense of humor…a true Berliner.

I hope that she found it in her heart to be a little proud of us, lazy and disorganized as we are. We are already working on the THIRD generation of kitchen people. I got the torch first, but I am already getting like The Chef….I notice how soft my fingers and hands are getting (when the shakes start, I am going for the razor EARLY!). Brendan has his own place in Prague, and is working for the kitchen gods in Spain….Ollie can hang tough now (You must vip it, Ollie! You cannot tickle ze hollandaise!)….and now the little girls at the Store: “Mensch!! You can VIPE ze plate…..but iss it CLEAN?” We repeat this mantra with every plate.

No, Momie…… but we do our best. We miss you and love you, and are so happy you are back with The Chef and your Dad.

Do I have to speak French for our next job interview? And why do I feel like you finally DID fire me?

Poem for Momie and The Chef....Robinson Jeffers

Hurt Hawks

The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days: no cat or coyote
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.
He stands under the oak-bush and waits
The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom
And flies in a dream, the dawn ruins it.
He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
The curs of the day come and torment him
At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,
The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.
You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him.


I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk; but the great redtail
Had nothing left but unable misery
From the bone too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.
We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, but still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance. I gave him the lead gift in the twilight. What fell was relaxed,
Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear
at its rising
Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.

Robinson Jeffers 1928

Momie's Dressing

Momie’s Dressing

1 egg
1 yolk
4z strong white vinegar
1bu parseley
1bu green onions
4z H20
5 cloves fresh garlic

Blend like hell

Dribble in oil till the blender fills….

No, there is no avocado. No there is no anchovy………

Hotel Del Monte Ballroom Copyright 2000 Ian Brown Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Dial M.....for Marijuana, or Moron

As I watched CNN’s coverage of the Supreme Court decision about marijuana laws…….An ad came on for the newly reopened Morongo Casino. As in Moron, Go! ??? Jesus, help us. Where is the god of Irony?

Lord, please help us…..when Clarence Thomas and William Rehnquist are two of the only three on OUR side of the pot issue. Keep in mind: this is Billy Rehnquist the former prosecutor, and former proponent of the No Knock Laws that sent a larger army of protesters to the streets in the sixties than the bombing of Cambodia. I am quite sure that the fact that he has terminal cancer had nothing to do with his new thinking…..Thanks, Billy! Everyone should send him a pot brownie. Send to:

Chief Justice William Rehnquist
Supreme Court of the United States
Washington, DC 20543

Return address suggestions:

Rick Santorum
One Tower Bridge, Suite1440
West Conshohocken, PA 19428

While the Reality Mirror continues its bizarre warp…not only are we joined by Judge Rehnquist and Judge Pubic-Hair-on-the-Soda-Can Thomas….but PAUL HARVEY came out for legal pot. On this morning’s broadcast he was close to vitriolic about the decision: “The decision is a stinging rebuke to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who promised us a more compassionate Justice Department…..” I thought I was listening to KPIG, and Travis T. Hipp for a minute. Then old Paul went on to slap the Bush administration hard about stem-cell research. “America is being left behind……..” Duh.

I have always been a secret Paul admirer (hey, I like Merle Haggard, too….. And Ann Landers….whose Purity Test did more for teenage sex in the 60’s than The Pill….) Paul is that Mormon dutch uncle that hates commies, fags and hippies…..when he is sober. I bet there is a bottle of cooking sherry over the refrigerator, though…..and those production assistants might have to step lively after Paul’s post-broadcast medicinal glass. Just a theory. Just kidding. I hope that Paul’s dual broadside at Bush doesn’t mean he has BOTH Parkinson’s and cancer…….Maybe Paul is a closet stoner after all…..I mean…those Bose Stereo ads…..Really.

Paul’s email address: Please say “thank you” to Uncle Paul.

Send Paul a brownie:

Paul Harvey
c/o WLS Radio
190 State Street
Chicago, Illinois 60601

Return address suggestions:

Charles Hurwitz
c/o Pacific Lumber
Box 37
Scotia, CA 95565

Anyway, the local context to Big Government and Marijuana, grace á Friend Ian.

The Del Monte Hotel was the precursor to Pebble Beach….and helped put the Monterey Peninsula on the map. Ignoring of course the fantasy scenery, mellow weather, 25 feet of topsoil and things like that. Old Sam Morse built this gorgeous hotel in Monterey…..only to have it burn down twice. The second burning, in 1924….came just as Monterey was being discovered by the Hollywood crowd, and played hell with Sam’s new real estate project….the aforementioned Pebble Beach. Heads would roll…..the goddam hotel had to be back up and running…….right now. Time is money.

Sam called in all known resources, and one of the most effective was his buddy Louis B. Mayer, who may or may not have a hand in the till. The hotel had to be rebuilt in ten months, max. Louis rallied his troops and the grips, electrician and carpenters pitched in.

Among the many showcase items of our Central Coast jewelbox was the Grand Ballroom. The original had large hammered copper tiles for the ceiling, gorgeous stuff. This all melted, of course….save three sheets. The new builders opted to make plaster casts of the old tiles, and hang theseinstead of getting all involved with the time and expense of waiting for copper replacements.

The grips, electricians and carpenters built the ceiling of the new ballroom to be fully retractable….an elaborate system of pulleys and hoists can raise and lower it on demand.
They ran into trouble with the casts of the copper tiles, though. The plaster had no internal strength, and kept shattering when attached to the machinery. The tiles clearly needed strengthening. What to do? Time was short.

Some genius came up with the perfect solution. Hemp. Grows fast, and grows well on the Central Coast. Gardens were started….supposedly on the Hotel grounds. However, Sam Morse owned all of deep Carmel Valley and Cachagua through his Pacific Improvement Company: I am thinking his hemp gardens were here. (Of course, I have no PERSONAL knowledge to back this up…….Research may be required). Anyway, it worked. Hemp reinforced plaster casts were the bomb, and came in on-time and under budget, and continue to function to this day.

The rest of the story is that Old Sam moved his scene to Pebble Beach, and donated the old Hotel Del Monte to the US Navy. It is now the Naval Post Graduate School, and the Ballroom remains as it was in 1924……Next time you are in, cast your eyes to the heavens, take a deep breath…..And say a small prayer to the God of Irony. Alberto Gonzalez take note: you, sir, are sitting on a major stash.

I knew there was a God…..and I love Her sense of humor……

Monday, June 06, 2005

Grant Risdon's Flat Earth Roadhouse

Tonight’s menu is named after a local legend and outlaw, Grant Risdon. Grant showed up today at the store with Rose, our folksinger. He is going to do a prose set tonight: “A Whale of a Tale” and play castanets for Rose. Grant was born and raised in the Valley, but has stayed away for years to avoid bad company and temptations. It seems the bad guys are all dead or in jail, so it is now safe for him to go back to the hills.

The first Grant Risdon story I heard was from Lance McClair, the former mayor of Seaside. Lance was a psychiatric social worker forty years ago and had the Risdon brothers as clients. The experience helped him immensely in his future career: on more than one occasion, Lance arrived to find Shone holed up in the barn and Grant in the ranch house, exchanging gunfire. As soon as Lance appeared, they would both shoot at Lance! Luckily they were usually so self-medicated that their aim was terrible. Still, Lance learned to drive his VW Beetle crouched down by the clutch, yelling: “Goddammit, Grant! Goddammit Shone!” Lance had an irrepressible sense of humor (Don Butts always called him the black Howdy Doody) and never bothered to call it in. I think he was proud of the odd bullet holes in the Bug. Nowadays there would be SWAT teams everywhere.

Grant finally fell majorly afoul of the law a few years later. His girlfriend (!!) ran off with a 19 year old kid. Grant laid in wait across from Wills Fargo and took a shot at the kid. He missed, as usual. In frustration he fell back on his trusty hatchet and ran across the street and whacked the kid once or twice. He then jumped on his horse (!!) Cachagua and rode away into the hills.

This was a relief to local bartenders: both Grant and his horse had been 86’ed from all the local watering holes. Grant and the horse got along so well that Grant would forget that they were two different creatures and ride right into the bars. In another famous pastoral moment, Grant and Cachagua rode into the health food store in the Village, where upon one of them took a dump next to the register. The hysterical owner was not mollified when Grant pointed out how organic the steaming pile really was.

Grant was hiding out in the hills for three years after the hatchet incident, living in the Indian caves of the Church Creek divide. He is probably the number one authority on the many petroglyphs there, if anyone ever cared to ask him. He avoided the law, but was no stranger to the locals, trading rattlesnakes and venison for hay and supplies. Finally, his teeth got so bad that he allowed Jim McNeely to negotiate a surrender: dental care for incarceration.

On the big day, Jim and Lizzie got Grant mellowly lubricated. Unfortunately, the Sheriff took forever to drive out to Jamesburg, and Grant left the mellow place behind, and started to think about reneging on the deal. The arresting deputy was Luther, one of Monterey’s original two black sheriffs. The other black deputy was Pat Duval, famous for his singing voice and his diplomacy. Luther was known for neither.

The final confrontation found Luther, grumpy and pissed off at the long drive from Salinas, facing a staggering Grant who was slashing at the air with his Bowie knife: “Goddamit, Luther! Go away! I’ll take out my own damn teeth!”
“Get in the goddam car, Grant.”
“Luther you take one more step and I’ll make a wetsuit outta you!”
Luther just smacked Grant upside the head with his pistol and that was that.

Nowadays Grant lives down by the Wharf in Monterey, and is clean and reasonably sober. He has a 27 year old girlfriend who is “built like a shit-brickhouse”. Obviously, given the size of the shiner Grant is sporting today. Grant still plays piano and guitar, and has a good following as a painter. His brother Shone did not make the 72 hole cut: he was found dead in his cubby under the Wharf last year.

Grant is being booted from his apartment by the Housing Authority next month for too much piano and too much sarcasm. He is off to see the world….rumor has it that it is not flat after all, and Grant wants to experience this first hand. I am not sure the world is ready….

Sunday, June 05, 2005



This week my second son Conall graduated from college, and is leaving for LA tomorrow; my oldest son Brendan left for good to open his bar in Prague, and then on to work at Mugarritz in San Sebastian; I lost my wallet; my cell phone inexplicably died with all records and fotos; and the water main sprang a huge leak and flooded the best part of our wine cellar; Conall’s newish Ford Tortoise that he was taking to LA blew up after 50 miles…..OK, Mr. Buddha…..I get it! I get it! Detach from things of this world!!

The kid separation thing is hard, but the multiple leavings of the last decade have prepped me. Brendan's girlfriend Chloe alone has had a dozen wrenching, tearful goodbyes in airports with Brendan, and she is only 17, and only been here for two years! Conall will be back…his job doesn’t actually PAY yet, you see.

My wallet, though. It was not the money that hurts. It is the mementos lost: My dead brother’s last business card, that I looked at every time I pulled out a credit card; a thousand lira note; two tickets to the Via del’ Amore (the footpath that runs in Cinqueterra from Vernazza to Corniglia that Caroline and I hiked. I could have saved one ticket separately…..but it takes two to walk the Path of Love, right? Apparently so……….

Also I lost my Rescue Diver’s Card… me out of a few speeding tickets, showing that one as I “fumbled” for my license…””Rescue Diver” in large print…..The best was at Oakland Stadium one time when I didn’t have my driver’s license….you have to have ID no matter how old and decrepit you may be. The beer lady demanded photo ID, and I showed her the Diver’s License. She said: “What the fuck is this?” “That is photo ID….that is my Diver’s License, birthdate, picture, everything……” “Diver’s License…..huh. How much beer you gonna drink?”

And the wallet itself was from Firenze in 2000….simpler, happier times. Clinton was still president, and the City was just opening up to us in that special way that the great cities do to those that may be worthy…….I had that wallet already in my pocket for the worst hangover of my life: Dinner and much wine and grappa at Aquamatta on November 6 2000……When I awoke George W. Bush was president. No amount of aspirin seems to help.

George Carlin, along with the Buddha, tells us to free our Selves from our Stuff….but these little things did not seem like burdens. They were more like buoys, or channel markers……acupuncture needles to restore the chi on a regular random basis. I guess the discipline is supposed to be there to do it on my own.

The wine cellar leak was a major bitch. On my only day off. The locals rallied quickly, though…..Amish barn-raising style. Dorn Coburn came right over to repair the leak. In true Cachagua style, he had no ¾ inch copper pipe….but he had a garden rake with a ¾ handle. His rake is now our water supply. He worked for two hours in the mud at 6pm on his day off….and asked for thirty dollars. City people take note. We gave him sixty and a bottle of ’79 Clos du Val cabernet.

Mike Coburn also came over, with milk crates and piles of clean rags. It was like chapel restoration in Venice. He brought his son Kenny, the Great White Hope of the new generation of Cachagua kids. Mike and Kenny worked with us for three hours in exchange for a fencing lesson for Kenny. And a half bottle of ’83 Mouton Baronne Phillipe (no girlfriend right now…hence the half bottle). I love Cachagua.

The always lurking Irony is that on the moment of Conall’s graduation from college, the leak was already spraying water all over the collection of wine I bought for him at his birth…….1982, no less. The soggy labels probably ran down his net worth by half….and the ultimate indignity: his first free moment with Dad before leaving for Sundance was spent covered in mud, lumping soggy fifty pound boxes of his inheritance out of the cellar. Welcome to Our World, College Man.

And Our World is………Well, it seems like now the Work is done: the kids are gone, the wine is wrecked, the mementos are just that. I have come through the experience clean….that is, with nothing to show for it personally but………I guess, who I am. The skills and values I have accumulated in the process of raising these boys……are my reward. Now….. can I be happy with that? Stay tuned…….