12 may 1999



the big valley

As a consequence of marriage, I have relatives living near Fresno which, as everyone knows, is the Midland, Texas of California. This means on an average of every couple of years, usually due to some holiday, we get in the car and drive north through the verdant Great Central Valley of California, America’s Breadbasket, or maybe it’s the Fruit Bowl or the Vegetable Bin, I forget. Four hours later we arrive in the town of Clovis, Gateway To Yosemite.

When I was younger and not yet married, it was important on these visits to put my best foot forward because it was inevitable that the impression I left would be communicated via the jungle drums to every leaf on Viv’s family tree.

Now, after knowing Viv for more than twenty years, I have a tendency to put my feet back in the car soon after our arrival to just drive around a lot. While I recognize the importance of staying around for gossip because gossip is an adhesive in the social order, its liberal application can actually cause entire limbs of family trees to fall off. For everyone’s safety, I get in the car and go driving.

On my first little jaunt this weekend I ran across a Babe Ruth League baseball game at the local high school. The players at this level are very good and they exhibit a competitive spirit eclipsed only by some of their parents. I found a spot in the stands to watch a couple of innings and found myself sitting near a species of mother that I’ve been seeing since I was a tot. She was Queen of the Sports Moms, enthroned at the geographical center of the bleachers, cheering and jeering as loud as the pattern on the blanket that covered her. In her mid-forties, with lots of rings and big hair, she barked orders into a cellphone for some flowers to be delivered the next day, Mothers Day. She had no qualms about letting fly her credit card number, and became irate when the florist called back a few minutes later to tell her the card was no good. She insisted that it was good, of course, after all, it was beyond gold or platinum, Kryptonite, I think, and she reran the number past all of us again just to make sure the florist got it right this time. She peppered her request for orchids and mylar balloons with shouts of "Good eye, McGinley!" and "Oh, Jesus, that was waaay off, ump!" I don’t know which would be worse, being her husband, or being her kid.

When I run across people like this my day becomes an anthropological expedition. Just what's at work here? How far back can we trace the stimuli for this sort of behavior? I like to listen to their speech patterns and find the telling tone in their laugh, the small giveaway that bares their need for attention or conflict.

People aren't born jerks. It's an acquired lack of taste.

After a few innings I headed out to a more rural setting. Out there among the vineyards and fields I found the Jensen Market, a typical corner store sitting at an intersection in the farm grid. I really wanted a picture of what I found behind it, but going in for the photo seemed dicey. Out back, hunkered around a few beat up sofas under a tree, was a group of about a dozen farmworkers drinking beer and wearing hats. A few yards away was a woman sitting behind the wheel of an Olds Cutlass Supreme, just parked there with her infant in the car seat next to her. She didn’t move, but just sat there watching them through her rearview mirror. There seemed to be a story there.

From the looks of it, after farming, the second largest industry in Clovis is yard sales. There were squillions of 'em. I drove by one and saw this item sticking out like a sore pinky amid the usual domestic effluvia and pulled over for a look-see. So I made a purchase. G'head. Laugh. Normally, I don't do this sort of thing. Ask Viv. She'll tell you I'm allergic to garage sales. But when in Rome...


I've got more darkroom work to do today, in between supervising homework, taking Amy for her swimming lesson, and attending a dads group meeting tonight. And there's grocery shopping I have to fit in somewhere. And anybody who thinks I'm putting a meal together tonight, well, they're dreamin'.


today's music:



today's wisdom:

"Only that traveling is good which reveals to me the value of home and enables me to enjoy it better."

- Henry David Thoreau


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