Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pit Bulls and the Art of Communicating With People Who View the World through a Haze of Pseudodigitization

Not my picture. Uncredited photo from Internet. Growl bark snap bite.

Rule 22 for communicating with right-wing pseudodigitizers of complex analog phenomena: 
Always bear in mind that they tend to be EXTREMELY literal-minded. Case in point: I recently had the opportunity to participate in a discussion among quasi-acquaintances about whether one should shoot pit bulls, or if stabbing is a better idea. Yeah, an entire discussion focused on tactics for dispatching menacing pit bulls. Some guys apparently stay up nights planning their next possible dire dog dilemma. I actually have some first-hand experience with dog aggression and biting. True, it was decades ago, and the dogs that bit me were well-trained and under the control of a handler, but I've actually been bitten more times than the average person. Hundreds (thousands?) of instances, three of which involved protective equipment failure and/or mistakes on my part that resulted in emergency room visits. Canine behavior is canine behavior; the control of humans over dogs is an operational model that complements the innate behavioral template of the animals; it does not replace it. That's the whole idea--you don't train an animal to display behaviors that are absolutely out of its hardwired repertoire; you modify and shape pre-existing behaviors.

Yes, there are some very definite differences between an aggressive and uncontrolled dog attack and a law enforcement K9 operating under human control to neutralize a threat. Under the most commonly encountered circumstances, uncontrolled dogs are much more likely to break off an attack in the face of substantial resistance than is a highly trained K9. A well-trained and dedicated police K9 will sustain his use of toothsome force in the face of extreme resistance by the suspect. He will keep biting even if stabbed between the eyes while the knife remains embedded in his skull, missing his brain by mere millimeters.

The horror stories about pit bulls confer powers beyond doggie possibility: "Locking" their jaws, automatically going for the cojones, and other myths. Yes, some of 'em are very aggressive and won't back down unless incapacitated. These are a small fraction of the total population. They can be threats to other dogs and to children and small adults. They can pose problems for large adults, too--don't get me wrong. I'm just saying that the relative risk of dire pit bull attack to the average person walking around, although real, tends to be grossly overstated. Back to the original topic--right wing ideologues and the binary, either-or manner in which many seem to view the world. This characteristic must be taken into account when trying to communicate with them, because if a person sees no shades of gray in much of anything, it's hard for him or her to interpret nuance. In the discussion about plans for every possible pit bull contingency, I offered the following bit, which I'd written several months before in the style of the  tradecraft tips offered weekly by the Michael Weston character in the TV series "Burn Notice."  I don't always go around reciting things I've written and memorized, but when I do, I try to be entertaining. People usually remember the "hits" and forget the frequent "misses," and I am generally regarded as possessing an adequate sense of humor.

Pit bulls, Presa Canarios, and Rottweilers are the dogs of choice for drug dealers, tin pot dictators, warlords, and mob bosses. If you find yourself on the receiving end of an attack by one of these brutes, sacrifice your non-dominant arm and use your other hand to press your thumb and forefinger into his eyes. The key is to do this quickly, before he's had a chance to chew through your tendons or get your radial artery. If he gets your radial artery, reflect back the muscle with a broken beer bottle and cauterize the end of the severed vessel by removing a round from your gun, opening a cartridge, pouring the powder into a piece of that paper they use to pick up donuts at the donut shop, rolling the powder inside the donut paper, placing it into the artery, and igniting it with a Bic lighter. Or...skip all of those steps and just press your wheel gun right up against the mad dog's eye and send him a .38 Special delivery along the same route the optic nerve travels to the brain.

Okay, admittedly it's not all that funny, but if you're thinking at all, it's pretty obvious that this was an attempt at humor, not a serious answer. However, several people though I meant it seriously. I should've just told 'em that going on and on about their plans to dispatch pit bulls and avoid persecution by one of their most hated and feared adversaries, the "liberal media," doesn't exactly inspire confidence in their reasoning abilities.

Today's Advice

You should not allow a tailgater to provoke your anger. Anger leads to ineffective decision making and increases the odds of dangerous escalation. You should not flip up your mirror to hide the offender from your view; although this act reduces stress and makes escalation less likely, it also increases the probability of collision, because important stimuli will be excluded from the process of response elicitation. Do not walk into your house with the assumption that just because it's supposed to be empty that it is empty. Do not go noodlin' for giant flathead catfish in Arkansas or wherever the hell they do that while drunk off your ass to the point of losing all feeling in your extremities. Do not eat the Mystery Meat with congested sinuses and taste buds rendered dysfunctional by boiling coffee from a tin pot. Do not steal fruit from roadside stands. Do not shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Do not tear the mask off the ol' Lone Ranger and do NOT mess around with Slim. Remember, you do not talk about Fight Club. DO NOT talk about Fight Club. Hunt feral goats in the fetid, damp, moldy forests in the ruins of Arco Sleeptrain Amphitheater Arena and stare at those goats, stare at 'em with eyes jaundiced by too many Hee Haw reruns and Barbie Benton repeatin' rumors while simultaneously denying it in that annoyingly vapid manner, and I'll bet she's from Rio Linda, not Bakersfield like Merle Haggard or that one cross-eyed guy. Do not laugh uproariously at people who masticate loudly in movie theaters; just move to a seat on the other side and watch Steve McQueen try in vain to warn all the stupid adults that The Blob is real. Don't put too much stock in the fevered ramblings of crazy people inside your TV. Don't watch TV. Do as I say, not as I do. Or not. 

One should not assume these are different things.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The sounds of a barely passable collection of mostly nonsense winding down to nothing have finally ceased.

© Pseudocognitive

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Panning for Zen

There's probably some Zen in a pan of frying crickets, but I have no interest in looking for it. My interest in a pan of frying crickets is not getting popped in the eye by a drop of boiling olive oil. Eating the crickets once they've been cooked, all the way through the guts to kill the tapeworm larvae, is also on the list. That's pretty much it.

The main Zen deficiency of a pan of frying crickets is that they don't chirp. Sizzling, popping and whistling like chitinous little teapots is a poor substitute for chirping. The sizzle, the pop, and the whistle are produced by phase changes in the stuff that crickets are made of, but these changes occur without any deliberate participation by the crickets themselves. Chirping is different. Chirping rate is a neuromuscular response to the cricket's physical environment. A male cricket chirps faster when the air is warmer. This change is probably not a very deliberate act on the cricket's part--it's a function of poikilotherm physiology--but the act of chirping itself directly affects cricket 
reproduction. It attracts female crickets and warns away competing males. A popping, sizzling, whistling cricket in boiling oil does none of these things.

So where is the Zen in a pan of frying crickets?
I don't know. If forced to look more deeply into that skillet, I might say we need need not assign meaning to every whistle and pop we hear, nor to every drop of hot oil that stings our eye, in order to appreciate the connection between the change we impose and the change we experience. But that would probably be a bunch of crap. I suggest you consult Steinbeck or Huell Howser, because I have no answers for you.

© Pseudocognitive

Apologies for the out-of-focus picture. It's the only original one I had, having lost the others.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Circle of Life, or: How not to hate them murderin’ herons

My happy ex-fish Bob never developed pond smarts.
I blame myself; while other aqua-garden stewards were schooling their fish in the art of stealth and avoidance,
I treated him like a happy farm pet.

Introduce predatory persistence and skill of the highest order to the equation. Death from above...

And now Bob, raised from a pup in our pond, Original Bob, tenure of more than a decade on this earth, dispatched but not engulfed (for lack of sufficient pharyngeal diameter). Dropped unseen by the piscivore into a thicket and found six days hence. More than a fish. A symbol, a shared experience, a touchstone of calm and fluid serenity in a stressful world. Now he feeds the microbes.

© Pseudocognitive

Friday, January 20, 2012

Plucking the Stone

The deep mind underlies the superficial mind. Much as the stones on the bottom of a clear, swiftly flowing stream are blurred by the rushing water above, the deep mind can be detected, but not directly experienced except by tactile sensation. It forms the substrate over which the everyday mind blithely and blindly courses. When the irregularities of younger, less polished rocks–perhaps recently kicked into the stream by a startled deer or careless hiker–produce increased friction with the water, creating a minute disturbance of flow almost too small to detect and perhaps bloodying the plantar surface of your wading feet, you take more notice, but the visual input is no more clear than before. Mind you, the water is extremely clean, but the current obscures detail.

Imagine now that you could halt the downstream flow, just for a second or two. What would you see? That’s the deep mind. You can find it by carefully moderating your relentless speed-surfing of neural circuits. Slow, or even stop the current, and pluck one smooth stone from the bottom.

•  •  •

Note: None of this applies to Petaluma. 

© Pseudocognitive

Monday, January 2, 2012

Babs Delta Diner in Suisun City: Way better than Petaluma

Find this diner in the parking lot next to the boat harbor in a nice little city that can't decide whether it's a small delta town or the northeastern outpost of the Bay Area. They have good food and they serve it to you with a plainly manifested honesty that takes me right back to my youth in the analog days.

I like linguica and will eat it whenever I get the chance. This place does not serve quite as many permutations of that theme as Cook's Station up on Hwy 88, but there are several ways that linguica can be had here and it is always in ready supply. They keep the coffee coming. Their eggs are just fluffy enough, perfectly moist without even a rumor of runniness, and there are no hardened ova nailed to the wall as warnings to others. They use eggs from the great Sacramento Delta region, not Petaluma (remember please that Petaluma Poultry does not sell eggs, and if they did, they would be better than the rest of the eggs laid in that scrungy little mental prison town).

I've never been to Babs' on a weekday. I assume that from Monday through Friday the spot is occupied mainly by locals and commuters. I will discuss the commuters first, to get them out of the way, as I do not enjoy thinking about people who are rewarded materially for all the wrong reasons. Do you detect some bias? Good. 

Most of these commuters wear suits and drive German vehicles designed to let the rest of us know what  miserable existences we endure since we don't have gold dust rubbed into walnut surrounding our instrument clusters. They read about Wall Street and hatch their little intra-office intrigues while they eat, and then they bluster off to the southwest so they can sit in Bay Bridge traffic while they shave their smarmy, entitled faces. Maybe their Muffy or their Biff stays home for the kids, but more likely they drop the offspring at daycare (where the teachers likely know more about their children's development and personalities than they do),  return 12-14 hours later (after happy hour), and make grand and condescending entrances. Their lives are important, and they want to make sure you know it.

Maybe the real locals think the commuters are idiots, and if they do, I agree with them. If I had to choose one group or another to hang out with, it would be the locals--the people who work for a living and the retirees. Not the retired transplants in their polyester pants and Winnebagos. A Winnebago killed the oldest oak tree in Chico back in '76 and I am still mad at them, except for Jack Rebney, the Winnebago Man. He's not a spandex-waisted blowhard. He brings it with a reckless train wreck abandon and to hell with those nimrods who want to claim otherwise.

The true locals live and work in the area, and if they are retired, it is from honest jobs not more distant than ten or fifteen miles from the Suisun City waterfront. They hunt and they fish. They know how to bait a hook with a blood worm or pile worm without getting bit, and if they wear Dickies they do so in an honest manner.

Don't get me wrong, these locals are far from perfect themselves. Some, but by no means all, of them are hopelessly rigid in their desire to let Fox "News" tell them what to think, but a decent conversation can generally be had as long as you avoid politics. And anyway, there are plenty of them who don't fit that mold.

Everyone in town goes to Babs' place. It's more than a hangout; its a social hub, but not in that phony southern California way that seems more and more widespread as people flee northward from LA (they've stolen most of our water and now they want to co-opt our regional culture, I guess). These customers are real people.

Look, come here or don't. Babs does brisk business at her diner. The place is thriving. They don't really need your business, but they'll welcome it nonetheless, and they have never disappointed me.

EDIT: Sadly, Babs closed her doors. I do not know what occupies the space now, but I severely doubt it holds a candle to what Babs gave to her customers.

Breaking news!!!! Babs may indeed be OPEN. As in OPEN AGAIN, or STILL OPEN. Trying to confirm details. Stay tuned, my tens of semi-loyal readers.
Super-Meta EDIT:
Babs sold the place. It no longer exists. There's no longer any reason to stop in Suisun City. Ride through it on your way down the old road to Cordelia.

© Pseudocognitive

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Osmoregulatory strategies of marine, freshwater, and euryhaline teleosts

Click for larger image

I wrote a paper with that title, but that was over three decades ago on an old Smith Corona electric typewriter.
I could hardly be expected to hold on to that damned thing for all these years. Have some trout. It's what's for dinner.

© Pseudocognitive

Meatball Photography

I'm not sure why, but I like this image. It was selected from the thousands I have that range from very, very ordinary to downright bad (with the occasional good exception) that I shot during brief stops on motorcycle rides within a 200 mile radius of home (no, the geographical limit is not imposed by an ankle monitor and a parole officer, although my grandmother, still alive and spry at 98, was a career parole officer for the State of California until her retirement in about 1975). In "M*A*S*H" (the Richard Hooker novel and Robert Altman film, not the TV series, which was okay for the first few seasons but went downhill fast when Trapper John left, Henry was killed en-route back to the States, and Hawkeye evolved into a sanctimonious caricature), they referred to their brand of intervention as "meatball surgery," a term that has remained in my head for decades. They operated on soldiers with horrific injuries under primitive conditions and did the best they could and then sent the survivors to a rear area for better treatment. I have used this as a metaphor for all kinds of completely unrelated processes and phenomena throughout my life, mainly because once something gets into my head I can never, ever get it out of there. I call my style of picture-taking "meatball photography" because I do it with basic gear,  under extreme time constraints (ride, ride, ride, that's the thing; stop for a little while at some spot that looks like it might be interesting and rip some shots off real quick in a state of semi-photographic pseudo-concentration, in between snacking briefly on some kind of gluten free vegan Kosher thing called a Lärbar), then ride off again. Once in a while, this method produces something that seems to be enhanced, rather than compromised, by my peculiar procedure. The gritty, contrasty qualities of the above photo were influenced by this method. It's a state of mind, I think. I want to really go off the deep end and make some connection to Steinbeck's peepholes in the fence and how your choice of viewing portal shows you "...whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches" or "Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men." In other words, the same thing. I will avoid that particular exercise in grandiosity right now, though, and simply say that once in a while my fractious mental processes work to my benefit to some degree, and I count myself lucky if that happens for maybe one shot in every thousand. That's why I like this particular picture--its imperfections mirror my own.

•    •    •

Originally posted 6 August 2011

© Pseudocognitive

State of the Unfocused Blog: Random Spew No. 222

A motorcycle rider on a road near Rio Vista, March 2009
On this, the arbitrary first day of a cyclical series of phenomena, I make (for a legion of imaginary subscribers) my 3rd Annual State of the Unfocused Blog address. Bear with me, please. It’s brief.

Trying to constrain myself to topics and styles of expression that might provoke the interest of large numbers of people has produced no tangible results. Instead, I’ve spent several months posting stuff I’ve already written, much of it nothing more than episodic thought convulsions that sound much better inside my head than on a page. For some reason, my need to have others read the stuff  I spew randomly on this blog continues unabated, which should probably tell me something about myself I don’t really want to know.

Cobra slash-cuts on my old bike
My  ex-fish Bob, eaten by a heron
Locke, California
I could go pseudo-scientific and try to apply some kind of ridiculous Freudian model to this perplexing need, but to what end? I’d just end up making excuses for myself. No, the simplest model is generally the best place to start.
I can write and take photographs just well enough to know how deficient I am in both skill sets. I can look at a photo and describe the characteristics of technical proficiency, compositional artistry, and subject matter context that make it work (or not work) for me as a viewer, and I can occasionally produce something better than a snapshot myself, but there’s a wall separating me from excellence that is every bit as robust as the one that divides decent little league players from Hall of Fame big leaguers. I’m generally able to write a sentence that’s more grammatically correct than not, and I can occasionally turn a phrase that describes or expresses something in a unique, effective, or meaningful way, but that’s it. No cohesive whole has ever emerged and it never will. My need for public approval is probably a result of finally realizing that truth. 

That way
Read this stuff if you want – it’s a good experience to have others pay attention to what I say (and I do appreciate those who have done so already). But if there’s just too much chaff to sift through for the two or three tiny seeds you might find, feel free to skip it. From now on, I post for the audience of me, which is probably the way it’s supposed to be anyway.

Hood, California.   38.368302, -121.519232
Leaving Hood

Click for larger images.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chasing the Zodiac, Part II: The anniversary of the Lake Herman Road murders

Mt. Diablo, from the scene of Zodiac's first attack.  
Click for larger image    © Pseudocognitive

Originally posted on December 20, 2010
I wrote the following report after visiting the scene on the 40th anniversary in 2008 and amended it the following September. This report holds no new information of interest to anyone who’s followed the Zodiac murders with any significant level of attention over the last several years.  It’s simply a description of my own experiences visiting one of the crime scenes.  This is the second part of a series on Zodiac (read Part 1 first). The sequence of these two reports is opposite the order of the actual crimes because this is the order in which I visited the scenes. Before I begin, allow me to restate in no uncertain terms that this tale in no way seeks to celebrate the acts of such a depraved waste of oxygen as the Zodiac killer, nor is it an obsessive or misguided attempt to "investigate" the crimes.

My brother and I set out early on the morning of the 40th anniversary of the first murders that can be indisputably linked to Zodiac. We planned to get over to the site, take a few pictures, and be gone before the crowds who take this stuff far more seriously started showing up. I exclude myself from the ranks of the truly obsessed because my case is one of mild and intermittent manifestation. Almost all of my doctors (and most of the time, my wife) agree with that assessment. Once again, however, I warn you that this kind of thing isn’t for everyone, and I am fully aware of the fact that some of you may find it rather bizarre that a person who’s been drawing breath for over half a century spends any time at all visiting a site of an infamous crime. All I will say in my own defense is that I know it’s a bit strange, but I only have a high degree of interest for this specific case (for reasons described in the first installment of this series), and I do not allow this mild obsession to interfere with real life. Still, I’ll grant you, it is offbeat.

Enough already with the apologetic tone. Stop watching Hollywood movies that depict such things. Put down your true crime novels. Turn off those shows on A&E like “The First 48.” Sell your Stephen King books at a garage sale. Then tell me I’m weird.

On the frigid night of December 20, 1968, Zodiac killed high school sweethearts David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen in a little dirt turn-out on Lake Herman Road, about 2/3 of the way from Vallejo to Benicia.

Zodiac approached the victims–who were seated in David Faraday’s car–on foot. He shot and killed both young people, and the crime provoked intense media attention from the start. You can Google this and get tons of hits, so I won't chronicle all the details. All you really need to know is that on a dark, cold winter night 40 years ago, a psychopath murdered two young people on a lonely road.

Faraday's Rambler -
That road and the surrounding countryside have changed little since 1968. No development has occurred along that stretch, and some of the original ranch houses stand exactly as they did before. The turn-out where the victims parked in David Faraday’s Rambler is also pretty much the same, save for the addition of a guard rail, a few traffic warning signs, and a new gate across the gravel road that leads to an undisclosed location. Pictured above is the scene in 1968, the morning after the murders.  Note the location of the victim vehicle.
Same place, 40 years later (12/20/08) © Pseudocognitive
Rambler had been parked near where the motorcycles are.
Click for larger image    © Pseudocognitive
Detective Les Lundblad at the crime scene the next day.
Much has been written about this case over the years.  Some of it is solid reporting that excludes or at least limits any groundless speculation, but a lot of it is sensationalistic tripe.  Given the choice between a simple explanation and one so convoluted that it may attract the attention of a former practitioner of editorial cartoonerism and prompt him to write a yellow-jacketed book that will sell millions and millions of copies despite its many factual errors and outright fabrications, I choose the former. That is, unless and until I write my own book, at which time I might decide to shift strata a bit, since nobody buys books that promote reason and judgment. Here’s one explanation for why Zodiac chose this particular crime scene (besides the obvious reasons that the road is dark and semi-secluded and young people in the area were known to park at night in its turn-outs): Supposedly, Zodiac had a fascination with Montaña del Diablo, and that very place is readily visible from the Lake Herman Road site. Somebody came up with the idea that this symbol,

which Zodiac drew on his famous Halloween card to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery,            

matches up with the profile of  Mt.Diablo. Let’s check:

© Pseudocognitive

So much for that.  Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.

We spent about thirty minutes at the site, taking pictures and observing sullen, muddy horses walk back and forth in the pasture on the other side of the road.  

We left the Faraday/Jensen site shortly thereafter and rode over to Fresno Street in Vallejo, stopping by the house once owned by the man whom many still consider to be the best suspect among those identified as potential Zodiacs, Arthur Leigh Allen. Whereas Graysmith’s second Zodiac book, “Zodiac Unmasked,” and the 2007 film “Zodiac” portray Allen
as the guy, there’s no physical evidence linking him to any of the crimes.
In fact, his DNA did not match that which was found on one of the stamps stuck on a confirmed Zodiac letter. Still, there are intriguing facts that seem to point to him. His status as a potential Zodiac notwithstanding, Allen, who claimed that law enforcement hounded him mercilessly and who died of natural causes over a decade ago, was a very bad guy. The crimes for which he was imprisoned were sufficiently heinous to dissuade us from having any sympathy for him whatsoever. In other words, the world’s a better place without him.

I didn’t want to bother the current occupants of the house, so I parked very briefly in front and took a couple of photos. These do not appear here. As I was framing the  final shot, my brother advised me that someone was peering out at me, and I observed what appeared to be a brindle pit bull of placid affect silently watching through a big picture window. At that point I began to feel guilty for intruding, so I packed away my camera, put on my helmet and gloves and rode off down the street, expecting that my brother was on his way as well. He did not follow, however. I figured he was writing in that little memo book he carries, the one in which he has recorded every last drop of petrol he’s fed the red and chrome Triumph Rocket III beast, so I stopped and waited. What he was actually doing was talking to the owner of the house, who had come out to move his car down the street in order to produce a less cluttered photographic milieu.

That’s the sequel. I am not proud of stopping in front of dead Allen’s ex-house (I must take steps to ensure that act will serve as the absolute limit of my obsession), for, although I was there for only three or four minutes, I know exactly how I would respond if someone stopped on the street and began taking pictures of my house. I wouldn’t move my car to give the photographer a better view, that’s for sure. I suppose the guy figured that it goes with the territory of living in a home once occupied by a man suspected of being the Zodiac killer, and he didn’t seem bothered by any of it, so no harm, no foul, I reckon.

After we finished in Vallejo, city of one cop for every 100,000 residents, we dodged 4-wheeled bullets on I-80 to Fairfield, ate some tasty giant cheeseburgers at Nation’s on West Texas Street, and then slabbed on home to beat the cold. I still feel somethin’ in my marrow, though, and it ain’t exactly warm.

•    •    •

Update: Ten months later
The number nine is or is not important in Zodiac symbology, according to one or two things I may or may not have read. That made September 19th a perfect day to lose my ambitions for a longer ride to the coast (instead of allowing people to believe that I simply lacked the endurance for a longer trip due to my characteristic idiopathic slackerdom) and instead revisit one of the sites covered in previous reports. And to try out the new Nikon D5000, which had languished in its box, unexamined, ever since the big brown truck delivered it the week before. And because a major national travel magazine had expressed interest in paying me to write a series of hastily written semi-factual articles. The preceding statement is not true.

There was nothing of interest to be found at the Berryessa Zodiac site, which was expected yet still disappointing, especially after I had gone through the trouble of persuading the friendly personnel staffing the gate to the camping area to let us in for free. The only item of note is that the place heretofore referred to as Zodiac Island is now a campsite. There’s a picnic table and BBQ pit right there at the scene of Zodiac's attack on 9/27/69. No replacement trees, 90-something degrees. Water level dropping to near subterranean levels. It was not an attractive place to set up camp. I will not show you any pictures of this place because it is now so utterly devoid of interest. Also on account of the fact that, in my usual state of impatience-inspired idiocy, I forgot to change the factory default setting for JPEG quality on the D5000 and everything was shot at “Normal” instead of “Fine.” And because my efforts were not very productive that day anyway. I make no excuses. Except for the idiopathic malaise, ADD, and the heat. And a creeping sense of dread, because the next day was Monday Eve.

There’s no new Zodiac info in this addendum to the sequel to the report on Zodiac. That’s due partly to the fact that I have already explored the Zodiac deal to the point where there’s very little left to interest me, and mostly because the only reason I’m posting at all is to tell you that the best rib eye steak I have ever eaten is available a short distance south of Zodiac Island at Cucina Italiana. With pepper sauce, made with whole black peppercorns. And roasted fennel on the side, and all of the bread and really excellent Balsamic dipping stuff you want. Want to know just how good it really is? I’m sitting there, with my D5000 in the saddle bag just outside the window, and some guy comes in and says, “Stefano, I got a buck, dude! Come out and see it!!!” As the guy with the old “Good Chevrolet, Sacramento” license plate frame and Chef Stefano go out front, I’m thinking about the cool shots I could compose if I could talk the hunter into taking the deer out of the truck and propping him up on the seat of the Rocket III while my brother lies inert under the front wheel of the red behemoth. I’m starting to get motivated to put some effort into picture-takin’, but then I look back down at that rib eye and decide that nothing is gonna pry me away from it. It was that good.

With just the right level of attentiveness from Chef Stefano and his business partner Sharyn, we continued our excellent dining experience. I am telling you, I have never been disappointed by anything I have eaten at Cucina Italiana. Let the crotch-rocket riders patronize those places farther south and east—all they need is bread, sandwich meat, and beer and then they’re off on their next double-yellow scofflaw Team Berryessa adventure, like a flock of angry, buzzing mosquitoes. You want real food? Go see Chef Stefano.

On the ride home we gassed up the bikes and then observed the strange behavior of locals and travelers at the Chevron station at the east end of Winters. It is not rumored that this place has some significant connection with Zodiac lore. I just missed an opportunity to get a shot or two of Winters PD in the process stopping a red car with two occupants, but they were past my vantage point before I could raise the camera. All I have to show for my efforts is an unprintable snapshot of the physical environment. There was a dire warning inside the gas station, though:
© Pseudocognitive
And that’s the word.¹

¹Apologies to S. Colbert.

© Pseudocognitive
RELATED POSTS: The Zodiac Killer on the pages of Pseudocognitive

For detailed information about all of the Zodiac crimes, I recommend Tom Voigt’s The discussion forum can be over the top at times and is best sampled as an entertained observer, but the information on the main site is extensive and well-organized.

© Pseudocognitive  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mob captain's severed head found - Zodiac Killer involved?

Wed. Dec. 28, 2011 5:57 am Winters, CA (AP)
The severed head of reputed mob captain Ralph “Ralphie” Cifaretto was found in a steel drum behind a gas station in this sleepy northern California farm town earlier today by seekers of Richard Brautigan’s unique insights into the road habits of sheep. Police refused to speculate on Cifaretto’s viability as a Zodiac Killer suspect except to say that Ralphie would have been 17 at the time of the first Zodiac murders. Zodiac Internet “investigators” were not deterred, but they are some crazy motherfuckers.

Editor's Note: Please understand that the term "crazy motherfuckers" as applied here is not an insult, nor does it necessarily imply actual craziness. For one thing, "crazy" is not a medical term. Neither is "insane" (it's a legal term). Second, we too are crazy motherfuckers, each in our own way. We obsess on millionaires who wouldn't give us the time of day as they throw, carry, and kick a pigskin around a grass field, for example. All of us have our little obsessions, and as long as they harm no one and don't rule our lives, who are we to judge someone else for being a slightly different type of crazy motherfucker than we are? You'd do well to heed this advice: Judge ye not other crazy motherfuckers. Keepeth your own shit in line.

© Pseudocognitive

Saturday, December 24, 2011

SEVERELY excellent Italian dining at Cucina Italiana at Lake Berryessa, Napa County, California

Cucina Italiana is a must-stop for anyone of responsible temperament who happens across Lake Berryessa’s western shoreline in Napa County, California. If your idea of a good food stop includes excessive alcohol consumption, rowdy behavior, and burnout sessions in the parking lot, then find your way over to one of those other places, the ones with dozens of sport-bikes lined up outside. If, however, you enjoy a pleasant atmosphere in an informal yet tasteful setting, an interesting, technically and artistically proficient host (Chef and owner Stefano Gusberti, whose CV includes training in Parma and experience at Masa’s in SF), and if you hunger for some really excellent, authentic, reasonably priced Italian eats, this is where you need to go. I personally recommend any of the several types of ravioli. Best ravioli I have ever had, period. There’s lots to choose from, including various pasta, pesce, carne, and pollo dishes. 

Stefano also serves up a mean rib eye. With pepper sauce, made with whole black peppercorns. Vegetable of the day on the side, with all the bread and excellent Balsamic dipping stuff you want. Want to know just how good it really is? On one visit, I’m sitting there with my camera in the saddle bag of my motorcycle parked just outside the window, and some guy comes in and says, “Stefano, I got a buck, dude! Come out and see it!!!” As they go out front, I’m thinking about the cool shots I could compose if I could talk the hunter into taking the deer out of the truck and propping him up on the seat of my brother’s bike (a massive, 2300cc chunk o’ steel  known as the Triumph Rocket III) while my brother lies inert under the front wheel of the red British behemoth. I’m starting to get motivated to put some effort into picture-taking, but then I look back down at that rib eye and decide that nothing is gonna pry me away from it. It was that good.

At Cucina Italiana you get just the right level of attentiveness from Chef Stefano and his friendly, knowledgeable business partner, Sharyn Simmons. I am telling you, I have never been disappointed by anything I have eaten at Cucina Italiana. Let the crotch-rocket riders patronize those places farther south and east—all they need is bread, sandwich meat, and beer and then they’re off on their next double yellow line scofflaw Team Berryessa adventure, like a flock of angry, buzzing mosquitoes. You want real food? Go see Chef Stefano.

Cucina Italiana
4310 Knoxville-Berryessa Rd.

Lake Berryessa, CA 94558


GPS coordinates 
38°32.01 N, 122°13.62′ W

© Pseudocognitive

I just effing shot myself...revisited

He thinks he fuckin' shot himself (YouTube screen capture)

I originally posted this on my old blog back in July. It's old news now, but this guy still entertains me. Let me state up front that I give him credit for having the stones make the video in the interests of helping other guys NOT fuckin' shoot themselves.

•   •   •
This is a laugh riot. “After the shot went off, my training took over.” Yeah? You were trained to scream “I JUST FUCKING SHOT MYSELF!”? Adding to the entertainment value of this screen gem is the fact that when Quick Draw screams that he fucking shot himself, he does so in a trademarked John Wayne cadence. Here he is, Tex “Flesh Wound” Scrubner (Scribner? Scruvner? I can’t tell) practicin’ his quick draw against Michael Imperioli...

Unfortunately, this scenario feeds a negative stereotype. People who believe guns are inherently evil look at this and see a right wing lunatic fringe nutcase.
And there are some over-the-edge gun owners who believe that a vast government conspiracy to confiscate all of their guns is behind every effort to regulate some aspect of gun ownership, who believe that the 2nd Amendment means that every person (well, every person with whom they happen to identify) should be able to purchase and carry whatever firearm in whatever quantity they choose, anytime, anywhere. But there are also plenty of gun owners who do not fit that description. Videos like this one promulgate the stereotype to some degree (I cannot be blamed for promulgating anything at all by posting it here, except to the five or six people a month who accidentally happen across this blog). Stuff like this just gives more ammo to the flower-power nut-jobs on the other crazy end of the spectrum, the “guns are inherently evil and if we got rid of all of ‘em then everyone would get along and there would be no more violence” crowd–the Brady Bunch.

© Pseudocognitive

UPDATE: Here's the musical remix...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

All in all we’re just a…bunch o’ heads on The Wall.

Rio Vista, California is the home of an establishment I've placed on my list of “Shoot a rat with a .38, then say ‘Notify PETA’ in a sardonic tone” places. It's also on my list of “This contradicts my wildlife management opinions, but it’s so danged cool that I will allow myself a bit of self-serving hypocrisy” spots. The newest and biggest of the bar and grill’s silent inhabitants (a bull elephant, not pictured here because I was too busy eating my robustly satisfying medium-rare New York strip steakwich) was acquired in 1951. Lot’s of ‘em date back to the 30′s. There’s just something about chowing down under those watchful dead heads. Everywhere you look, there they are. In the long bar and in each of the dining rooms. Want fries with that glassy-eyed stare?

Find them at Foster’s Bighorn on Main Street in Rio Vista, the little city that may have  served as partial inspiration for the town of Charming in Kurt Sutter‘s Sons of Anarchy. Go there. And visit Gemma T's drive-in (less than a mile away) while you’re at it.

© Pseudocognitive

Part V: The Zodiac Killer is born. Self esteem in 1968. Good fishermen don’t steal from the dead.

There’s a gate here, but it’s not the original. Sturdy steel, clad in chipped yellow paint, it serves as the latest in a decades-old succession of useless structures designed to warn you that someone wants you to go back the way you came, but doesn’t feel strongly enough to do something serious about it. If you climb over the gate, or squeeze between its horizontal bars, or go around it to the left or the right (be careful of small dead mammals and used condoms and nails and rusty sheet metal screws and broken glass, and ticks who wait and wait, desperately clinging to the ends of quivering stalks on the off-chance that you’ll be their one true blood meal)--if you keep going and take this road, well then, you’re probably a damned idiot and I shouldn’t care what mess you find yourself in. I’ll warn you anyway, though, because I cannot bear to see a person run afoul of badness.

The road is made of dirt and gravel, and it runs south from the little turn-out on Lake Herman Road where Zodiac claimed his first victims in the cold waning minutes of Autumn in 1968. There are many stories about what might wait for you down this road, and most of them are as authentic as Carol Doda’s breasts. That is, they contain a lot of artificial filling, but are held in place by just enough truth to get the job done. It is within this zone of jiggling, fleshy semi-reality that we must complete our examination of Zodiac’s motives for his heinous acts. This little dirt road on the outskirts of Benicia is a good place to do it, but first you have to get here.

Click for larger image
We pick up the thread of the non-redacted and empirically deficient Zodiac Killer profile and pseudo-history where we left it: August 30, 1968. Zodiac was on that day some 43 crow-flyin’ miles to the northeast, enduring a blistering 106 degree afternoon mowing his cousin’s lawn-bowling court under an unforgiving Sacramento sun. It was the only work he could get after breaking nearly all of his fingers in a martial arts zydeco competition the month before. Before the day was out, Zodiac would adopt his now famous moniker for the first time, and to this day his cousin Biff wonders if perhaps he was the one who unwittingly set the whole thing in motion.

Zodiac left the River City determined to lighten his mood. Cousin Biff's self esteem was always sore, like it had just finished passing a stool of large caliber and insufficient moisture content. Biff never acknowledged this, since no one in 1968 even knew what self esteem was. On this occasion, he’d taken that permanently negative head-state and turned it on Zodiac, castigating him repeatedly for his unfamiliarity with power lawnmowers. Zodiac had been raised on the high plains of the Dakotas and knew only of the scythe and the goat as methods of grass management. He endured Biff’s taunts for as long as he could, then made as if to kill him with his boning knife. Biff fled to the neighbors’, and Zodiac took his car, a fine, ten year old glossy black Cadillac.

Zodiac drove that car in a style of
wild, anti-cognitive abandon, later  employed by Charlie Sheen as he piloted the craft that carried his boss, Mike Huckabee, to little country grocery stores and juke joints all across the south. This whip was a mighty fine automobile, and its twin dorsal fins cleaved the hot, dry air like glistening machetes slicing through beef jerky. Speeding south on Franklin toward the county line, he thought he just might outrace his demons for good this time.

Click for larger image
Rio Vista Bridge
Arriving in Rio Vista (a better town than Petaluma), Zodiac sought relief from the heat. He pulled off the main road and found a shady spot under the bridge just inside the city limits. A hobo named Bob approached and offered some advice: Stay out of the old part of town, because the police chief was an inveterate gambler who was always looking for vagrants to lock up, stealing their cash to place bets on the dog fights in Paintersville. Zodiac told the old bum he wasn’t a vagrant, and Bob replied that a vagrant was anyone the chief wanted him to be. He said this while picking at his scalp, and I am moved at this time to reflect that many luckless people seem to do their best thinking while using their sharp, unclipped nails to gently tweeze hemophages from their heads. I figure it must have something to do with patience, the time to exercise that patience, and the bitter beauty of self discovery so often rendered inaccessible to polite society. That’s a load of crap and you know it.

Bob’s home was under the Highway 12 bridge on the banks of the deceptively languid Sacramento. He had an old pink lawn chair and some fishing equipment and a good view of the river.

What he didn’t have anymore was his .38, having lost it on a bet with some bikers from Cordelia. Zodiac took advantage of the opportunity, putting four slugs from his grandpop’s Army Colt right into Bob’s smooth forehead. Damn, but didn’t that old man have an unnaturally smooth forehead before he got shot.

Afterward, Zodiac took Bob’s fishing rod over to the pier and caught a few undersized stripers, which he kept to eat later. Unbothered by the  conscience he didn’t have, he saw no difference between killing a harmless old man, breaking fish and game laws, and indexing the dominance hierarchy of gulls as they quarreled over bits of tuna sandwiches tossed skyward by a screaming mob of first graders shepherded by two harried teachers.

Given the choice, would you lead a simple existence under a bridge, free to fish for whatever swims beneath the streaking traffic above, beholden to no one, or would you keep accumulating useless things and sunbathing in the glowing accolades of your fair-weather friends for your ultimately insignificant contributions to society? Bob tossed all that aside, voluntarily. It’s a powerfully tempting thought sometimes, to just shuck it all and take up residence near a pier jutting into a fabled waterway, offering opinions to all who pass regardless of their political or religious affiliation, wearing a red boatman’s cap and calling boisterously to those rich bastards floating by on their mahogany or fiberglass-hulled dick-replacements. Warning them to tell the rest of their tax-dodging, hand-washing brethren that in the end they’re nothing more than maggot shit and rich fertile loam, same as everyone else. If I were to adopt the Way of the Hobo, I’d tell those property-grabbing bastards they don’t know how to kick-start a recalcitrant mule, let alone a V-twin motorcycle. I’d challenge ‘em to go ahead and stop that boat, and ahoy there you sons o’ bitches hop on up here and I’ll show you what real life can do to a man’s face. Pull yourself on up here, you pinched-face pikers.
I dare you.


Zodiac became Zodiac when he killed Bob and found an old, wrinkled horoscope in the dead man’s back pocket: “You will see a mountain, cloak a visage, master the photovoltaic arts, quarter a circle, and eat a mango.”

© Pseudocognitive