Twenty Years Ago Today

RoZ and I on our first “date”, October 1, 1993…

Obbie and RoZ take a little boat ride on a lake outside Kansas City, MO on October 1, 1993.

Obbie and RoZ take a little boat ride on a lake outside Kansas City, MO on October 1, 1993.

While living in Philadelphia, I used some vacation time to visit some friends in Kansas City. I stayed with a couple who took me to an event the night before, which was where I met RoZ for the first time.

On our first full day together, the four of us (five actually, as they had a toddler that came along) took a drive into the country, where we found a couple of boats available for paddling around.

We’re still as happy as we were that day, even though we’ve never been in a rowboat since.

Class Reunions – Who Got Fat, Bald and Divorced

About the time I started high school, my father was planning to attend his twenty-year class reunion, and my mother had two things to say about these affairs. First was that people go to them “to find out who got fat, who got bald, and who got divorced.” A rather cynical outlook, I thought. But as I’ve grown older, it makes more sense, and says a lot in a small number of words.

The other thing was that “everybody just breaks off into the same little cliques that they were in during high school.” That seems natural to me, as we would want to first connect with those we spent the most time with. Regardless, I’ve been told that each reunion gets a bit less cliquey.

At any rate, early this summer I received an invitation to the latest decennial gathering. I can recite a lot of really good reasons that I never go, most having something to do with cost and logistics of getting there and back. But in reality, I have to admit that a class reunion is not something that I get excited about.

Read on

Marketing the Revolution – My 13 Years at Zendik Farm

“How do you put thirteen years at a commune on a resume?”

I started asking myself that question shortly after leaving Zendik Farm in 1991. Since early 1978, I had been a prominent member of that community and at times a highly visible public spokesman. But after hitching my identity to Zendik for over thirteen years, I suddenly became just another long-haired thirty-something with no money, no job, and a very long gap in my employment history.

During the early 90′s, a friend pointed out that what I had experienced was equivalent to a divorce. I had severed my social and emotional connections with an extended family I had lived with for many years, including a handful of children I’d helped raise who I would never see again. Just as in the end of a marriage, that it worked so well for so long is hard to reconcile with how it went so wrong for me in the end.

Read on

Sympathy for the Klutz

We’ve all had incidents at work that we’re not very proud of, but they’re the kinds of incidents that inspire a lot of good-natured banter with our co-workers. The day the wrong file was deleted, or an armload of dishes was dropped, that kind of thing.

A utility worker in the Arizona desert had that type of experience late last week. As he was trying to fix or replace a finicky piece of equipment, he flipped the wrong switch or cut the wrong wire or something, and all the lights went out from Orange County to Tijuana to Arizona.

As much of a disaster as that was, I’m willing to cut the poor worker some slack. We’ve all had our own experiences creating disasters, but things got fixed, and now we laugh about it with our coworkers in the lunch room. Read on

Decennial Anniversaries

RoZFirehole.jpg

I put up a new banner image tonight. RoZ is sitting next to the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park in an image captured exactly ten years ago (give or take a day). At this time in 2001, we were finishing a road trip of a lifetime through the western United States, and we would soon be preparing to spend two months in Europe.

In the coming weeks and months, we will release a new project that will tell a much more complete story of this life-changing experience. Until then, the web site we published while we were in Europe is still online, but that will also be incorporated into this new project. Stay tuned.

Twenty years ago this summer, in 1991, I was living in my step-van in Austin, Texas, slowly getting back onto my feet after leaving a commune I had been with for the previous thirteen years (yet another story that’ll be told in full, someday).

Thirty years ago, in the summer of 1981, I was living in Isla Vista, California (the student ghetto of UC-Santa Barbara). I was essentially in exile from the commune, but I had my own bike, a PO box, food stamps, a place to keep my stuff, a cozy place to sleep in a secluded piece of an overgrown park, but no roof.

Even though I was essentially homeless for about six months, I have fond memories of that summer. It helps that it never rained. But I also became part of a whole community of young hippies that populated the low-rent houses of the neighborhood, and together we participated in the Diablo Canyon blockade, one of the biggest anti-nuclear actions ever conducted.

The summers of ’91 and ’81 could be considered traumatic life-changing events, but in retrospect they were memorable and enriching experiences. The summer of 1971 was spent recovering from physical trauma: a serious bicycle accident that had me in the hospital for a few days in June and licking my wounds for the rest of the summer.

I don’t know what kind of life-changing event – if any – 2011 will bring. I’m willing for this year to be the one that breaks this decennial pattern, but if something big happens this summer, I hope it’s something good.

La Crosse Tornado

Today a tornado touched down in our neighborhood. In the Grand Scheme of Things, it was a relatively minor tornado, but it did some strange things to our neighborhood.

Our situation: We’re OK, and our house is OK. There’s a small corner of our metal roof that’ll have to be nailed back down, and some pieces of our neighbor’s maple tree that need to be picked up, but our “damage” is minor compared to others within a block or two of us.

Read our storm story after the jump, and look at our photo gallery of the aftermath.

Read on

Harmon Killebrew – When Baseball Players were Heroes

I grew up about 80 miles from Metropolitan Stadium, which is where the Minnesota Twins played during the 1960s. Our local TV and radio stations played Twins games, so they got more of our attention than the Braves, who played in Milwaukee at the time.

One day we were watching the highlight reel on the six-o’clock sports report, and I saw a grainy film of Harmon Killebrew hitting a home run. But this wasn’t just another home run floating over the fence; it was a line drive that rocketed into the nosebleed seats high above left field. At over 500 feet, it was one of the longest home runs ever hit.

A summer or two later, my mother bought a pack of baseball cards for each of her five kids. My sister’s pack included a Harmon Killebrew card like this one. I don’t remember how I got it from her. I probably stole it. I don’t know where it is any more. I wish I did.

My life as a young baseball fan was all about rooting for Harmon Killebrew to hit home runs, and he did so often enough to hold my interest for several years. Even though a lot of people have hit more home runs than he did, only Babe Ruth exceeds Killebrew in consistency. When he wasn’t hitting home runs, he was hitting doubles off the outfield walls. He didn’t hit many triples… he couldn’t run fast enough. Like Ruth, he struck out a lot, but that’s what happens when you’re swinging for the fences all the time.

In my early teens, a group of friends and I were brought to a Twins’ game by our fathers. There was a chance we’d see Killebrew hit his 500th home run, but we had to settle for a line-drive single. The only home run we saw was a game-winner by Tony Oliva, which barely snuck into the bleachers as it hooked into the right-field corner.

But the highlight of the trip was sitting in the cheap seats on the third-base side, looking to my right to see home plate, and then looking to my left and high up to the vast pavilion in the sky above the left field wall, where all the seats were painted green except for a small cluster in the middle that were painted red. The red seats marked the landing spot of that massive home run, and I could not fathom a ball getting hit that far. The distance looks a lot different when you’re standing there than it does on TV.

The best thing to remember about Harmon Killebrew is that he had massive upper body strength without the need for steroids, and that he played at the top of his game year after year without getting full of himself, trash-talking or taunting. Even when he developed into the older player that Jim Bouton called “the fat kid,” he was a fat kid that pitchers had to take VERY seriously.

It’s too bad that baseball no longer produces the kind of players that kids can revere the way that some of us revered Harmon Killebrew, who became the model for the silhouette of Major League Baseball’s logo, and who was rumored (not true) to be the model for the “Arm and Hammer” logo. Harmon Killebrew represents a baseball era that – sadly – is long gone.

Ben Masel – Professional Activist

Ben Masel addresses the crowd from the north steps of the state capitol during the 1995 Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival in Madison, Wisconsin.

This weekend, Wisconsin lost one of its unique and colorful characters with the passing of Ben Masel.

Ben and I used to shadow each other during the late 80s and early 90s. I was selling propaganda for a commune I belonged to at the time (a long story for another time), making the rounds of college towns, Grateful Dead concerts, political rallies and festivals. Ben would show up at these same venues advocating for cannabis legalization, selling propaganda and merchandise while promoting his own rallies and festivals.

We first met at an Alpine Valley Dead show in 1987, where he was making a spectacle of himself cruising the parking lot handing out handbills for the Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival. This was an event Ben put together each year, where advocates for cannabis legalization would gather in Madison. They’d march down State Street from the university to the state capitol, then there’d be a rally with music and speeches.

I asked him if early June might be kind of early to promote an event scheduled for October, and in the middle of a parking lot filled with license plates from everywhere in the country said, “So how likely is it that I’ll run into you again between now and then?” In my case, it turned out to be pretty likely, but I got his point.

Read on

Judge Nix and the SpokesnFolks Parade

We got word today that we lost an old friend.

Judge Nix addresses the crowd at the 1998 SpokesnFolks Parade and Festival.

We knew Edmund Nix as a municipal judge, a lawyer, and the father of one of our good friends. Before we knew him, he was a federal prosecutor and a Democratic congressional candidate, among other things.

RoZ and I first met Judge Nix in the courtroom, on separate occasions shortly after we moved into the area. Even though he found both of us guilty, that didn’t stop us from becoming friends.

We won’t talk about my case, but RoZ’s has a fun backstory.

Once upon a time, RoZ was part of a motley band of local activists that took a “Critical Mass” bike ride during rush hour on a Friday afternoon. The constabulary followed in their cars for most of the ride – some could say the riders were “escorted” – and at the end of the ride ten riders were detained and issued tickets for “obstructing traffic.”

The “La Crosse Ten” contested their citations in Judge Nix’s courtroom. After all the evidence and arguments were presented, he handed down his verdict. “You did obstruct traffic, so I have to find you guilty.” Then it got interesting. “Sometimes, I have to be innovative in sentencing, so what I want you to do… I want you all to do something legal and creative to promote your cause. Write letters to the editor, call in to radio talk shows, have parades and demonstrations – LEGAL demonstrations – and report back to me in 60 days on what you did, and I will likely waive any fine.”

As the accused and their comrades in the gallery approached to greet each other, one activist exclaimed in his flamboyant voice, “I don’t believe it! He sentenced you to be ACTIVISTS!” We heard the word “parade” in the judge’s list of suggestions and latched onto it. So on a rainy Saturday in September, 150 people marched in the first SpokesnFolks Parade (which always included a festival in the park afterwards), and Judge Nix declared satisfaction that the sentence he’d handed down was served.

It wasn’t long after that that Ed Nix retired as a judge, which made him available to join in on the fun. The SpokesnFolks Parade used prizes to motivate floats and colorful costumes, and we needed a judge to fairly determine whose efforts deserved those prizes. Judge Nix was more than happy to put his black robe back on and be a part of our parade/festival. One year, when it came time to hand out awards, he opened his remarks with, “Never have I been treated so well by people I found guilty.”

Obbie and Judge Nix confer on rewarding prizes at the 1998 SpokesnFolks Parade and Festival.

He totally enjoyed standing on the curb in his black robe, watching the parade pass before him. I’d stand by with a clipboard while he’d point people out. “I want to give that person a prize… and that one over there…”

Over the years we got to visit with the judge quite a few times. He knew that he could call me if he ever needed to talk to a computer guy, and we knew that we could call him if one of us ever needed to talk to a lawyer. Fortunately, we stayed out of trouble so he probably got the better deal out of that arrangement, though he did help us with some routine personal legal paperwork.

As a person and as a judge, Ed Nix was everything you could ask for. He was fair, reasonable, thoughtful, rational, and (most importantly) innovative. The SpokesnFolks Parade and Festival was an annual event for about five years, but it might have never happened at all without Judge Nix’s “innovative sentencing.”

We miss him.

Mayor Medinger, Santa Clause (Earl Grunke), Judge Nix, and Obbie Z at the press conference announcing plans for the 1999 SpokesnFolks Parade and Festival.

Update 12/2 5:30pm: Just found this interesting little tidbit here:

In 1961 [mobster Carl] Caputo was indicted for income tax evasion. He had reported income totaling $721.56 and had actually earned $31,000. This garnered him a 30-day jail sentence and two years of probation. U.S. attorney Edmund Nix had prosecuted Caputo. Ironically, Nix had once worked in a tavern owned by Caputo and was paying his way through Wisconsin-Madison Law School as a bartender.

The Cabin Fever Eradication Adventure

Sometime in early January, we began to feel overwhelmed by the winter doldrums. Later in the month we grasped for an explanation of why we were feeling this way. We observed that since Thanksgiving, we had not ventured more than 1.5 miles from our house. A change of scenery would be good. Just a weekend someplace else. It doesn’t have to be far, but it should be someplace we enjoy going. Read on