Double-packed Books

Finding Pleasure in Books

The author in her all-time favorite reading chair.

Picture books, art books, how-to, science, adventure, biography, history, humor, and all those stories! What an array of fun and information. Now is a great time to explore all there is! Project Gutenberg has thousands of free digital book ready to download. Many libraries have eBook lending programs. You can read your free eBooks on any number of free eReaders, available on line. Check out the links at the end of this article. It is all free.

The photo above is of a proto-reader, me, in my all-time favorite reading chair. I wasn’t reading, not quite yet. I was warming the chair up, in anticipation of the splendid travels I took during my youth, sitting in that chair, reading books.

As my older sister was learning to read, I felt some pressure to do the same. I recall feeling not quite ready to make the effort. Yet one evening, at the age of four, there I was, ‘reading aloud’ to my mother while she showered.

“Sandy ran down the street. He looked and looked. He wanted a home.”

Mom was impressed. I turned the page and basked in her approval.

“Sandy ran down the street. He looked and looked. He wanted a home.”

Her hair tucked into a plastic shower cap, Mom peeped around the white plastic shower curtain. I concentrated on the picture. What was the next sentence?

“Sandy ran down the street. He looked and looked. He wanted a home.”

She laughed. Caught—and holding the book upside down, too. I knew I wasn’t reading; my act was over. While my older sister practiced real reading, I memorized a portion of the plot. But not enough. How mortifying!

I was lucky. In our household, reading was part of the landscape. You might even say it was the landscape. From the earliest age, Mom and Dad read to us. We all loved stories. In the right mood, Dad made up stories about Eek and Ike, two mice who lived in our plumbing and had adventures.

The author’s father reading aloud to her brother and herself, bookshelves in the background.

These are some of the stories we loved: Ant and Bee; Every Jug Has Two Handles (a favorite of my brothers); Babar; Winnie the Pooh; Pepper and Salt; Wind In the Willows; Curious George the monkey; The Jungle Book; Pippi Longstocking; Heidi; and Bob, Son of Battle—an engrossing tale of sheepdogs and their owners.

From the My Book House series, a multi-volume collection of stories for kids, from youngest tots to the oldest, there was: King Arthur, Robin Hood, Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, The Quick-Running Squash, Shingebiss, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rumpelstiltskin, and Baba Yaga—an old woman who lived in a house that walked around on chicken legs.

As I started reading to myself, I returned to the fairy stories and the Baba Yaga stories most. A house on chicken legs? I loved it! Family friends introduced the engrossing fairy story collection where each book is a color: The Red Fairy Book, The Blue Fairy Book; there are twelve of them.

The Weekly Reader magazine became a part of our curriculum in 5th grade. Several times a year, books were offered for sale. The excitement of pouring over pages of available books, studiously combing through the plot descriptions. I marked every book I would buy, if it were a perfect world. Then I would pare my wishes down to the books I HAD to have, and convince Mom I would die if I couldn’t have this totally minimum selection.

Then the open-ended weeks, waiting for the books to arrive. Some kids showed no interest in books. This I couldn’t understand. A portion of the class would buy a book or two. I was the one with the big pile. What joy! Eight or ten books, stacked near my desk. The day-long wait for the luxury of holding each one, taking my time deciding which one to read first. Balanced carefully home on the school bus, they were my treasure. My brother and I agree, one of the best was The Lion’s Paw, by Robb White.

At first, and for some years, I couldn’t imagine reading a story without pictures. Pushing against my resistance, my older sister finally convinced me that books without pictures were worth a try. She was right.

Upstairs and down, there were book shelves all over the house. One day I discovered that the upstairs shelves with the paperback novels were double-packed. Behind all the books I’d already read or didn’t care to read, a whole new trove appeared: Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, C.S. Forester, and many more.

Since 1908, our town had a wonderful library: The Gunn Memorial Library. In the 1960s it was still in its original stone building with the over-sized red door. Across the street was the old water trough for horses. Inside, illuminating the arched ceilings, were the most opulent, spell-binding murals of Greek mythology. The books lodged in dark wooden shelves and how I loved to browse through them.

Mrs. Hoadley, the librarian, could usually be found behind her desk by the door. Now and then, she would make a suggestion, and off I would go, devouring a new author; after all their books were read, I ‘shopped’ the shelves again, looking for new stories to snare my imagination.

Today, it’s so easy to search online for books and authors, though I recommend the serendipity of discovering something unexpected while perusing a real bookshelf. On Librarything, readers and authors put up their personal libraries, so you can enjoy them virtually. Goodreads has tons of book suggestions and information from people who love to read, and from authors. These sites are free to join. If you really catch the bug, write your own book. I did!

Free eReader apps: recommended Android eReaders

Other options, including apps for Apple devices

I use the free FBReader. As I prepared to publish my eBook Murkey’s, A Rabbit Noir on Amazon, I downloaded the free Kindle app.

For thousands of free eBooks: Project Gutenberg

Check your local library. It probably has an eBook lending program. The San Francisco Public Library is part of Overdrive, which coordinates eLending for libraries. Use your library card to borrow eBooks from the San Francisco Public Library

See a few photos of the original Gunn Memorial Library here: The Gunn Memorial Library. Go to my LinkedIn page, where I posted some of my photos of the ceiling murals seven months ago.

How I Became A Deckhand

Lou traveling down the Alameda Estuary, delivering a ferry to the shipyard.

Outside the Sailor’s Union of the Pacific, the time is 7:45am. I haven’t been up this early for months, not since I joined the ranks of the unemployed. It’s a cool morning and the light breeze is humid. At Harrison and 2nd, we are on Rincon Hill, four blocks from the San Francisco Bay. Normally at this time I would be in bed, considering more sleep, a few added minutes of respite before another day of sending out resumes.

A handful of men mill about. We are all waiting for the union hall to open at 8:00 a.m. I wonder what has brought them here today. Are they all looking for work, too?

I am the lone waiting female, 80% awake after my twenty-minute bicycle ride from home. Desultory conversation floats by. I can’t tell if any of these men knew each other before this morning or if this camaraderie sprang up as they wait for the same thing.

Small snippets come to my ears:

“…got up at about 3:30, 3:45.”

“…pot of coffee.”

“I got that way drivin’ truck. Thirty years. Gotta built-in alarm clock.”

The truck driver has driven down from Ukiah. For the day. A trip of one hundred fifteen miles, one way. My twenty-minute bike ride shrinks to insignificance.

An inspection of and discussion about the nearby parking meters ensues. The meters are new and have a digital time readout rather than the tried and true printed dial meters. The new meters aren’t working. Does anyone know why? Do they have to get “turned on” to work?

They do. This is inconvenient and potentially expensive for the person who needs to start early and cannot wait around for meters to start.

The truck driver says something like “How bad can a ticket be?” to another guy who drove up and parked about the same time he did. They have been examining the meters together. The other guy informs the trucker that parking fines are $50 dollars. The truck driver is incredulous.

“Fif-ty dollars?”

The other man chuckles and replies, “This is San Francisco, man.”

They walk slowly to the loose group near the doors. There are two personal-size Playmate coolers; two red backpacks. One cell phone is extant. This is right before cell phones get big. Pagers are on the way out. As a result of joining the union, I will get my first cell phone, sooner than I expect. I will need be reachable for last minute deckhand jobs.

It nears 8:00 a.m. and the ‘stand and chat’ group edges toward the center door of the many doors arrayed across the grand building entry. A paper sign has been taped up: Use This Door.

I am a silent sitter on the cold stone steps that lead up to the doors. A fellow sitter off to my right watches the group hover near the door and mutters to himself, “…think it’s a rock concert, or somethin’.”

Some of these people are certainly here for the same reason I am — the 3–1/2 day class. To join the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific and work as a ferry or tugboat deckhand, you need to pass the class. To be in the class this morning, you would have visited the union hall in the past year or so and had your name and contact information written down on a page in a notebook. This is The List: interested potential deckhands.

I capitalize The List because of the way it is used. As in, “You have to get on The List first.” Or, “Are you on The List yet?” The List is step one in the process to work on boats. At the hall, they tell you that the union will mail out letters to notify the next 100 names on The List a month before the class. When? There is no set time for this. Letters are sent out from zero times a year to three. When jobs become difficult to fill, The List is opened. A very small percentage of the 100 ever show up at 8:00 a.m.

And here we are, on this April morning. Later I learn that some waited eight and nine months or more. I know of one person who waited a year and a half. And there are some who hardly wait at all. My wait was 6 months, much of it spent sending out resumes to companies advertising commercial interior design and/or Auto Cad drafting jobs.

8:00 a.m. The doors are unlocked. We sitters follow the standers inside. Those here for the class walk into a very large, double-height almost empty room. This is the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific hiring hall, a building completed in 1950. Our footsteps echo off the plaster walls and terrazzo floor. We take seats at beat-up round tables grouped at the far end. The end wall is filled with windows that have not been cleaned recently. They provide an uninspiring view of a dusty parking lot and downtown. The hall is lit by the grey light coming through these windows. In the near future, a large, dark apartment building will block what view there is.

We are: nine white guys — aged from 20-something to 40-something; a 20-something Asian man; a 40-something Latino; a 40-something African-American man; and one 40-something white female — me. We are joined shortly by another white female, looking to be in her 30’s.

The class moves into gear about 8:30. There are 3 late-comers: one at 9:05, a middle-aged African-American man, snarled in traffic. The second, a younger African-American man, arrives at about 9:10. He slides quietly in, saying nothing, choosing to sit in the instructor’s chair. He is informed of the fact and slides into a nearby chair. That one is also taken, though at that moment it is also empty. The meter feeders are out at the meters, which are now “on.”

I watch the silent comedy as he tries another meter-feeder’s chair, and then finally chooses one which has not been claimed. A white man pops in about 9:30, with a stage whisper to the instructor that he called ahead to say he would be late.

The late-comers get the hand-outs and the class continues.

Class is stricter now. Late-comers are kicked out immediately. For a job where your “office” sails off on schedule, lateness is not tolerated. It will get you fired.

But on this Monday, we total fifteen students and three instructors. Two of the people I had thought were students are actually instructors. The older of the three runs things in a relaxed yet ship-shape style. This is Chuck. He has done this more than once. I learn later that he designed the class after more and more people without maritime experience began to join the union.

Chuck’s best tip of the week: a good crew makes your day a joy; an **shole on the crew makes the day a torture. Don’t be that **shole. Some years later, when I bid on a crew where Chuck is the lead deckhand, I learn that for me, Chuck makes a good crew mate. But not everybody would agree. A crew is like a bunch of chemicals: sometimes the strife on a crew is terrible. But a day on the water is always better than a day chained to a desk.

We begin with pages of vessel terminology. Throughout the week, we will spend a lot of time on fire classification, fire safety, fire prevention and fire extinguishment; learn to tie three basic knots; and generally get introduced to the life of the sailor through stories and examples.

Now and then, the other two instructors pipe up with comments or get up to do their own scenes. The echoey hiring hall makes it a challenge to hear. This union hall, at 450 Harrison, is home to several unions. People in between deep-sea jobs come here to hang out with their friends and wait for deep-sea jobs to be posted. They resent being asked to pipe down.

We watch the 10:15 job call. The “casual” IBU members, those without steady jobs, come in to “bid” for the jobs called in by the companies around the bay that hire union crews. A casual deckhand substitutes for the regular crew member, who is out for one of various reasons. Sick, on vacation or out on injury are the most common.

You start in the union as a D Card, an apprentice at the bottom of the shipping list. Above you are the A, B and C shipping cards. The hours you work build up into “deck time.”

With seven hundred and twenty hours of deck time, you join the union as a full book member and get your C Card. As you build up your deck time, you move up the shipping list. High shipping cards can work fairly steady through the winter months when jobs are scarcer.

Lou gets her “A” Card

After lunch break, the class goes down to the docks. We prowl around boats that are not in service. We study vessel layout, draw locations of fire safety equipment and rescue gear. We work with the m.o.b. (man overboard) equipment and practice tying up the lines. We go below to explore the engine room: two engines — just one of them is as big as my first car; two generators; steering gear; various valves, pumps, batteries and electrical panels.

We get further introduction to the sea life and hear more sailor stories. I am entranced by all of it.

Deck-handing is not for everyone. On Tuesday our group is 11. People have begun to self-deselect. The class moves to the library, a smaller room. It is much easier to hear. On Wednesday only 8 show.

Thursday, the last day, is the half day. We students are now seven: two white females, and five males: one Asian, one African-American, two whites and one Latino. We take the written test, prove we can tie our knots. Everybody passes.

We join the line at the 9 am registration session. We pay our first dues and get our D Cards. Each card is numbered. A date stamp shows when dues were paid. We can now bid for jobs at the daily job call.

Spring is a good time to join the union. ‘The Season’ is just starting. The Season runs roughly May through October. Ferry runs are added to handle the summer tourists coming to the Bay Area, and boats are chartered for summer parties.

After registration, there is one more class section. Labor union history. Mostly this is a video. The people deeply involved with unions speak of the importance of unions for working people. These rights are slowly being eroded, but just remember: unions brought us the eight-hour work day, two-day weekends, sick pay, holiday pay and more. (*see link below)

As I started this new life, I thought, if work is slow or I don’t like it, I can always go back to drafting and design work. But I never did. No fresh air, sitting all day at a computer, I couldn’t face it anymore. Working outside, rain or shine, suits me fine.

And every day, the San Francisco Bay is beautiful. On a day when my lead deckhand hates me and is making life miserable, I only have to stand outside on the deck and look around. The petty humors of humans recede in the sweep of time and beauty that is the bay.

That first year I made $13,000 and went through my savings. Unless I am on a job, I go to the 1015 job call five days a week. In the first six months, I work enough to get my C Card. Only a few members have done it faster. I am inordinately proud of this. And my new cell phone? Always on, waiting for last-minute calls to work.

On my very first job, my lead deckhand, who worked in a bank previous to decking, told me something his uncle, also a deckhand, had said: Sooner or later, all the crazies show up down at the wharf.

“Fabulous,” I thought, as I wiped off handrails and benches wet with dew. “Finally, someplace to fit in.”

*Working rights that unions fought for but which are slowly being eroded in the past decades for more and more people: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2012/5/15/1092027/-Thanks-a-Union-36-Ways-Unions-Have-Improved-Your-Life

What Is Rabbit Noir

[2-minute read]

Humor in the midst of trouble. This comes to mind first when I sit down to schmanylize* what I mean by ‘Rabbit Noir’. Humor is the base. Noir is the tone.

In “Murkey’s, A Rabbit Noir,” the world surrounding Murkey’s Diner is not bright and cheery. The weather is bad, the fog terrible. Everything in the city is for sale to the new money pouring in. The lovely funk and depth of the city’s history is being sold off, wiped out by this money flood. But the Guys—Bunz and his intellectual spider pal Webbs, fight back. The story evokes the feel of a city that, in spite of all the destruction, retains some funky pockets of its past.

The day I came up with that tag Rabbit Noir, I laughed out loud. My main character, ex-Pie Inspector Bunz, is a rabbit with a dry sense of humor, and a  serious love of pie. Murkey’s is old-school. It has been around for decades and that is exactly why it is still the best place in town for pie and coffee (and donuts!). The story becomes noir when the two bad Guys, Moose M’Boy and Smilin’ Moose, threaten Murkey’s. In the process of writing what became “Murkey’s, A Rabbit Noir,” the noir and the humor came together. In a dark, dark world, humor keeps us going.

While noir is not usually matched with humor, there are cases. If you haven’t watched these movies at least a few times, I can recommend: The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not, and a personal favorite, Cry Danger.

*Schmanylize, v.: to come up with an on-the-spot theory about something without spending time investigating or analyzing; to smoosh together at-hand facts; the devising of theories before spending any time studying the numbers or doing actual research;

Note: sometimes no more facts are available and ‘schmanylizing’ is the best you can do.