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There are times when even the most-puffed-up newspaper editorialist is hungry, thirsty or late for an important date. At these times, they spin out 10 paragraphs about good or bad events that don’t merit a full-length exposition of their impeccable logic and unbridled ego.

They have a standing name for such columns with cute dualistic names, or at least names that someone at some dim time in human history may have considered cute.

A few such titles are “Hugs and Bugs,” “Kisses and Misses,” “Flowers and Glowers,” and “Tips of the Hats and Kicks in the Ass.”

I want to write a few about the Fourth of July weekend, but my cuteness tank is down to empty. So I’ve settled upon the title for the following column as “Goods and Bads.” Sorry. Next time I will watch cute kitten videos for inspiration.

A hand with thumb up and one thumb down

And so:

Good: The U.S. women’s soccer team won a third World Cup by beating Japan 5-2 in the final. I am a casual soccer fan and prefer watching women play because they don’t flop and fake injury as much as rough-tough male players. In the first 16 minutes, the U.S. team scored four goals with an offensive burst only comparable to the New York Knicks on a good night.

Bad: There were so many unnecessary explosions of fireworks late into the night in my south Salinas neighborhood that our cat Gracie huddled under my bed for hours before I found her and used a broom to scoot her out from under there in case she needed to use the facilities. She didn’t and ran to another hiding place.

But the worst fireworks story came from Maine where a young man died instantly after using his head as a fireworks launch pad — once. I leave it to others to make tasteless wisecracks about this.

Bad: The reigning U.S. hot dog eating champ was defeated after gorging his way to nine straight previous championships. I find this “sport” to be disgusting and was dismayed to see there was a local contest held in Monterey. I say keep the pros out of over-eating. Amateurs have the sport well-covered.

Good: The skeleton of the original Grateful Dead played three sold-out shows that set attendance records at Chicago’s Soldier Field. Drummer Mickey Hart told the audience after the last freedom-loving song to “Please, be nice.”

That’s sweet, but is a far cry from the band’s origins in San Francisco’s hippie scene where “Turn on, tune in and let’s get naked and weird” were the watchwords. However, being nice certainly has its upside.

Bad: GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump kept beating his drum so loudly against Mexico that unofficial reports had his people feeling out a possible deal for a piece of the exploding Mexican market for Donald Trump piñatas. They would be made in China and spill droplets of bile when cracked open.

Good: Vice President Biden went to Vancouver, B.C., to watch the World Cup championship match and didn’t get caught in another one of those overly affectionate poses with any women who happened within 15 feet of his devilish grin.

The most memorable display of affection came when U.S. veteran star Abby Wambach ran to the stands and hugged and kissed her wife moments after the final whistle — a touching moment.

For hours afterward, Wambach embrace videos were posted and reposted by people trying to score political points about LGBT rights. For heaven’s sake, there were seven –SEVEN! — points scored in the games. Isn’t that enough points for one day?

Bad: A friend, feeling inspired on a visit to the Lincoln Memorial, posted on social media his dismay at a father proudly telling his son that the subject of the memorial wrote the Constitution.

That’s really dumb, of course. But then I thought the father may have been:

— Testing his son’s knowledge or Wikipedia-look-up speed,

— Telling him a good-natured fib like the Dad always did in “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strips,

— Taking pre-emptive action to keep his son from growing up to be one of those annoying know-it-alls who write columns entitled “Cherries and Raspberries” or “Winners and Losers Who Throw Up During Hot Dog-Eating Contests.”


I recently took out two books from the Steinbeck Library in Salinas. Now that I’ve secured your full attention with a riveting opening sentence, let me tell you what I’m hear to talk about: Carmel, the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary, whether Robert Frost was a good neighbor and, should the need arise for serious column padding, the latest ultra-cute hijinks of my two cats, Gracie and Lucy.

It happened that both books cite Carmel, or as it is officially known as California’s most hyphen-rich municipality, Carmel-by-the-Sea.

In a previous column, I analyzed how Carmel (shortened form is preferred here because of threat of Typing Fatigue Syndrome) is treated in one of the books. Those of you who didn’t see it, don’t know what you’re missing. By the way, I’m sorry for the condescending snootiness of the preceding sentence. It just slips out with some subjects. Obviously, you don’t know what you missed if you missed it. My bad.

The other book is the new memoir by Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann entitled “Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams and Drugs with the Grateful Dead.” I am a sucker for memoirs of old rock musicians. By the way, if you don’t know what the Grateful Dead is, you don’t know what you’re missing, or you were seriously dosed a long time ago.

Kreutzmann’s tale is one of the better books of the genre. Perhaps, it’s because drummers don’t beat around bushes. It’s a ratta-tat-tat tale of music, drugs, guns, dynamite, multiple marriages, multiple rehabs, pyramids, band dysfunction, softball losses, scuba diving, funerals and knocks on Bob Weir’s cowboy songs.

Amid this chronicle of the iconic group now reassembled, after a fashion, for a golden anniversary tour, Kreutzmann notes that his attorney father, upon retirement, lived awhile in Carmel with his second wife.

In Carmel, the elder Kreutzmann kept a daily ritual of blasting a very loud train whistle out of doors. As his proud, Pranksterish son reports, “He did this thing where he used to blow his train whistle as loud as he could, intentionally disrupting the neighborhood.”

On Sundays, Mr. Kreutzmann (use of courtesy title here to differentiate from the younger Kreutzmann) would boom recordings of train whistles and chugging steam engines “into the ears of neighbors who were not thrilled.”

I was surprised to read that these sonic assaults allegedly happened weekly in a Carmel neighborhood in the 1980s, having not heard about them back then when I was in the news business fulltime. I recall earnest debates in the village about T-shirt shops and ice-cream sales at that time. And there was a publicity-hound health inspector’s ballyhooed raid on a steakhouse then owned by once and future Carmel mayor Clint Eastwood. More recently, a large statue of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in a Carmel front yard caused a kerfuffle, and the city has vowed to crack down on dog droppings at the beach. Yet, somehow the Wall of Sound renditions of train racket apparently didn’t ruffle a feather or pop a blazer button.

I suspect:

  • A. Mr. Kreutzmann’s neighbors were nostalgic, too, for times and trains past, or
  • B. His neighbors had very good sound insulation in their homes, or
  • C. His neighbors, like many absentee getaway homeowners, weren’t around to hear the darn whistle, or
  • D. the local media missed the story or saw it as undignified and beneath mention.

The anecdote brought to mind the twice-stated rule from the stern neighbor in Frost’s famous “Mending Wall” poem: “Good fences make good neighbors.” In the modern world that could be restated as, “Good sound-proofing makes good neighbors.”

But that attitude of lonely detachment causes Frost’s narrator to think the good-fence rule makes sense only if either he or his insular neighbor has cows.

Then the poem’s narrator playfully imagines — like a typical Deadhead — the fence is really meant to keep the elves out. Frigging elves! Trippy!

Maybe none of Mr. Kreutzmann’s neighbors, after all, minded the thunderclaps of train noise. Even in buttoned-down Carmel, there’s room for an elf or two.

Come to think of it, there are plenty of playful folks who, no doubt, would enjoy hearing a bone-shaking shriek on an old train whistle from time to time. Which explains, as well as anything, the long, not-so-strange run of Kreutzmann’s truly American band.


Meanwhile, Gracie and Lucy are doing what cats do best, fast asleep like a pair of coiled pastries. Neither is a Cheshire, but give them a lace bandanna to mess with, and you’ve got cats under the playful guise of video stars.


I realize I may be far more excited about the World Series, which starts this week, than many Americans. Already there are predictions the series will produce television ratings so low that the whole thing should be banished to the back of a minor-league bus rambling through the hinterlands.

But It is an intriguing matchup between Middle America and the Left Coast, as represented by the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants.

The Royals, whose fans have decked a decidedly red state in a prairie of blue (their uniforms are royal blue and cloud white), have captured the imagination of baseball cognoscenti throughout the land. They haven’t been to the World Series since 1985, and the current team plays defense with the speed, grace and will of Marvel super heroes.

The Giants, an orange-and-black mix of old hands, rookies, recycled pitchers and cool customers, are making a serious bid to become one of the greatest baseball dynasties of all time. They won it all in 2010 and 2012, and, by gosh, this is another even-numbered year, so the good vibes are vibrating for the team by the Bay.

Just the music that will be played around the edges of the game should be magical. Charlie Parker, the prophet of modern jazz, hailed from Kansas City, the destination of a thousand bands who’ve sung joyously of going to Kansas City.

San Francisco had its sound, and still has Tony Bennett singing about cable cars and stars. And yes, two members of the Grateful Dead likely will sing the National Anthem before one game with the Giants’ third-base coach. That’s just the way The City rolls.

And unlike the other two major sports, football and baseball, in which identified stars inevitably decide the outcome of contests for all the marbles, baseball’s World Series has a way of shining halos above the heads of the unlikeliest members on the 25-man rosters.

What other sport has a play as simple and, at the same time, as complex as the sacrifice bunt? It is the 120-year antithesis to the self-adulation that accompanies every sack in football and every alley-oop jam in basketball.

I could go on and on about the many dimensions of complexity just under the surface of a game where, at any moment, the players are either standing around or sitting on a sunken bench. But I won’t. Other writers and filmmakers have done it far better.

And again, the casual baseball fan’s two most common questions arising during the World Series — “Why do they spit and scratch themselves so much?” — will go unanswered.

But this World Series will keep baseballers in Northern California and the rest of the world transfixed over the next several days. And people who choose not to tune in, of course, won’t know what they are missing. Bush-leaguers.

My prediction: Giants in six.