Monday, December 23, 2013

Epilogue to Buzz Kill, Part Five of Fish and Game Series

I stewed all the next day about my conversation with Warden Meyer
(see previous entry, Buzz Kill)

NO, I couldn't collect rocks here because it's against the rules, he said.
DON'T do it or your illegal behavior will be punished by a big fine.

He had to be wrong.
He had used two words I've hated since childhood.
He had better watch out because, even as a child, I was a very dangerous...

The detested "N" and "D" words above played a critical role in my childhood development, starting when I was about five.  At the time, my mother would occasionally drop off Little Johnny (me) to visit Aunt Ruby and her family, all very much against my will. She had two daughters, one my age and another several years younger.  I couldn't understand why my aunt decided to have a girl, let alone two.  For that matter, what was my mother thinking when she abandoned me there, sometimes for several days at a time?

Truthfully, it was more like a few hours but seemed much, much longer.  Girl cousins--really?  They were nice enough as relatives go, but at the time they suffered from a bizarre attraction to dolls and make believe mommy/daddy scenarios.

Now Aunt Ruby (actually a cousin) always made me feel important, as if she could've been my best friend were she not for some strange reason my mother's age.  I've often told myself it was never my intention to hurt her or my cousins, Kimberly and Karen, and wish that over the years there had been opportunities to spend time with them.
How could they know at the time, they were dealing with Johnny "Bad Seed" Richardson?

Bored with girl pursuits one day, I discovered a strange device in my aunt's hallway.  It was small box mounted halfway up the wall and made me think of gadgets I had seen in science fiction movies.  I was jumping up, trying to touch this thing when I noticed my aunt watching me from down the hallway.

Instead of yelling at me, she called us all to lunch.  I  was learning that Aunt Ruby's family had "rules".  Well, mine did, too, but none so perplexing and challenging as my aunt's. For example, we had to carry our dirty dishes to the sink after lunch and rinse them.  The girls were dismissed that day to do more girl stuff, but I was asked to stay and help dry the dishes. Not a problem.  I had spent many fun hours washing dishes, laughing and goofing off with Sharon, my adopted sister (also my cousin and, NO, the Richardson's are not all inbred cousins).   Finishing off the dishes this time somehow seemed not so much a chore as a punishment, or a prelude to one.  I must have broken some other rule.  And sure enough, as soon as we finished the dishes, she asked me to follow her.  I was going to be spanked here, now, and probably a second time when my parents found out my infraction, whatever it was.  But  I followed without protest as my aunt to lead me down the hall.

"See this box, Johnny?" She pointed toward the mysterious box.
"Yes, Aunt Ruby."
"Don't touch it, ever."
"No, not ever"  
"Why not?" I  asked.
"My Aunt's eyes widened.  She had yet to experienced the "joy" of having a "boy" and was perhaps unaccustomed to fielding that kind of question from her two girls.  And I certainly don't blame her for what happened afterwards.  Who among us has not resorted to hyperbole?

"Why shouldn't you touch it?  I'll tell you why not, Johnny... because the house will blow-up!"

Threats of violence, destruction and mayhem weren't new to me,  a combatant in an ongoing war with a spiteful older sister and annoying little brother.  What really fried my baloney sandwich was her use of those distasteful words, "NO" and "DON'T".  A bad mistake, though Aunt Ruby could never have known it, because those words always brings out the worst in me.

So I pondered my aunt's words for a long time, at least several visits, thought hard about her explosive prediction--and plotted.  I was hopelessly fixated on that strange box with its black and red numbers and, worse yet, was the enticing lever on the bottom which cried out for me to flip it.  Later in life I would learn it was a thermostat, a device unfamiliar to my less progressive Okie we-all-gather -around-swamp-cooler family.  I was mystified and intrigued by this new thing and implications of playing with it.

Really?  The house will explode?  No way!

Looking at my dilemma with the box another way, nothing can be true until put to the test.  The lesson of Adam and Eve, forbidden fruit, and their subsequent punishment?  The necessity of disobedience.

Only by breaking the rules can we prove we have autonomous nature and prove the existence of free will.

Want to be certain that your child will eventually insert legumes into his nostrils? 
Just say, "Don't stick beans up your nose!"

 Obedience has no savor (or meaning) unless one has tasted the fruit of disobedience, an ongoing cycle of development that plays itself out in the mind of every child, generation after generation.

And this is the kind of crap I like to tell myself when I think about the tragic potential when I made my choice back then...
After one particularly trying afternoon with my cousins, I lurked around the hallway to make sure nobody was watching.  Ready, set, go!  I dashed down the hallway to the mysterious box, jumping up and down until I managed to swipe the lever all the way to one side.  The bomb was ticking now. I sprinted through the front door (already open because young psychopaths know the importance of thinking ahead) and then straight out into the street where I was luckily not obliterated by a passing car.

And with my hands cupped over my ears, I waited...
And waited. 
And then I waited some more.
Nothing! No bang, no explosion.  Eventually, I lowered my hands in disappointment.
But my life as a rebel had begun...
So did my growing realization that adults did not necessarily tell the truth,
And a lifetime haunted by the knowledge that by the age of five, I was capable of a triple homicide.

"No?"  "Don't?"  Yeah, right, said a new and very jaded voice from the dark recesses of my mind.

And all of this Freudian angst brings me back to yesterday's encounter with Warden Meyer .  Or was it Dwyer?  Maybe, McGuire?  Or liar?  No, not that.  The man was so professional and confident!  Misinformed, possibly, maybe new to his job but definitely not a liar.

But he did basically say,  "No, don't collect rocks--any kind, anywhere?"  This was a problem.

By late afternoon, I had a plan.
I got in my car and headed up the coast.
As hoped, I located a Fish and Game vehicle on the side of the road.  The occupant, who I assumed to be the aforementioned warden, was talking on his cell phone.  Averting my face and swooshing past him, I tried to imagine his conversation.  Maybe he was talking to county dispatch, signing off and heading in the same direction his vehicle was already oriented, south.  Then again, he could be talking to his wife, apologizing because he would be late due to some last minute paper work. And after ending the call, he would cruise south to Cambria, Mozzi's or West End Bar and Grill maybeand put down some cool ones with fellow wardens. 
But I couldn't count on either possibility. There was too much at stake.

I watched as he disappeared in the rear view mirror.  No sign he recognized me or my coastally ubiquitous Honda Element. Still I slowed down, making sure he didn't "light 'em up" and make a dusty last second U-turn.  He didn't so I sped up and tried to put some serious distance between us.  After all, he might be wily...

But not as wily as me.  I parked away from my actual destination, gathering my gear and dropping quickly into a shadowy ravine.  I deployed my rope but didn't go down it. Instead I went further south where I could scramble down unassisted by a rope.  From that point, low tide would make it possible to pick my way over several reefs and arrive at the actual collection site.

Once there, I quickly finished unfinished business and afterwards allowed myself to explore.  More good stuff.  Thinking that enough time had elapsed since I'd last seen Mr. Warden for me to be featured in the viewfinder of his scope, I used my new misdirection trick:  pick up, feign throw, palm and pocket. A paranoid perception of being watched persisted, so I decided even more wiliness was in order: I traveled further south until I found an arroyo and climbed the cliff's above it.  Tentatively, I poked up my head, remembering an old arcade game which I used to play with my kids, the purpose of which was to hammer down prairie dog heads that popped up in unpredictable places.

I would be the one to get hammered in this case and by a multitude of federal and state fines--possibly even arrest. As it turned out, the coast or at least this section of it, was clear.  But if my warden friend crested a nearby ridge, I would have zero time to eject my geological contraband.  And if caught, it would be hard to claim slack-jawed ignorance after our lengthy encounter just the day before. So I discharged the contents of my pockets in the brush along the fence.  A  small bush across the highway would serve as my landmark, I decided, and with empty pockets returned my backpack to the car.

I congratulated myself on being so devilishly tricky.  But dusk was coming too soon so I hustled to nearby cliffs where I retrieved my "red-herring" rope, after which I ambled south along the edge of the road until parallel to my landmark bush and the memory of where I discarded my booty.  It was gone!  I walked up and down that section of fence cursing the weak winter sun, the similarity of bushes, and chlorophyll life forms in general until complete darkness and a dramatic drop in temperature overtook me.  Time to give up, I admitted.  Sure, I could get a flashlight from my car and continue walking the fence.  But along that notorious section of the coast, I might as well swing a neon sign: "Disabled veteran and marijuana smuggler.  Will trade panga boat for ride."

I went home, a little down, but telling myself that the rocks would still be there (and much easier to find) in the morning.  Only coyotes on the prowl would come near my stash.  I got busy the next day, however, and had to leave for Visalia the following morning.  My rocks were still out there, I told myself.

But I sure outsmarted that warden!  Nobody tells me "NO" or "DON'T".

Epilogue to the epilogue:

Since my encounter with Warden Meyer that day I've done extensive research on the question of  whether collecting rocks in that particular area was in fact "breakin' duh law" as Judas Priest might put it.  I combed the internet for the next few days, studying every code and regulation that might enlighten me as to the degree of my criminality. Next I called people from a multitude of bureaucratic agencies, asking for names and some confirmation as to whether my interpretation of all this legal gibberish was correct.  Finally, I was ready to call the dark side, California Department of Fish and Game, and report my findings.

I was surprised to learn that people of the D of  F&G were helpful, polite, and called me back in a timely manner.   Call on a Friday, get a call-back on Sunday of all days.  Call someone higher on the food chain Monday morning and get a response by 4:59 pm of the same day--in this case by Warden Don Wells. When I professed my astonishment at receiving a call so close to when most of his department must have been packing it in he chuckled, "Just half way through my fifteen" (whatever that meant).

Anyway, after I provided my new friend Don a summary of the codes, subsets of codes, and all amendments relevant to the "taking" of rock in protected sanctuaries and the areas adjacent to them (and providing longitude and latitude numbers to delineate their boundaries), Uber-Warden Wells conceded that it was unlikely I had broken any laws, rules or regulations.  He also promised to further research this issue on my behalf and get back to me.  And I expect he will.

In the meantime, I'm ready.  Should  I again be stopped by a representative of the California Department of Fish and Game, I will produce a stack of printouts, all carefully highlighted and sorted by federal, state, and local jurisdictions.  I might even drop the names of a few superiors and highly place bureaucrats.

 But if all this fails, I will resort to a deadly solution learned in childhood:

"If you're thinking about writing me a citation, Mr. Warden, DON'T!  Bad warden--NO! NO! NO!"