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The Inconvenience Store

“We’re out of oatmeal,” my wife tells me about every third morning before breakfast. “And I need more paper towels, and the dish soap is running low, so…”

“I’ll get it all. Anything else?” She thinks for a moment and adds another item or two. And then I’m out the front door to our tiny garage. It holds plenty of junk but has never held a car and lately has become…

…our Inconvenience Store. Ignore the t-shirts, the disassembled store fixtures, unlabeled plastic tubs, cardboard boxes waiting to be recycled, and so much more.

Because the left-hand wall is now our go-to resource for all our domestic needs. One the rude shelving sits pasta, oatmeal, grains, canned food in colorful variety, boxes of cocoa, jars of peanut butter and apple sauce, powdered milk, bottled water, household cleaning supplies and, of course, toilet paper. We just added teff to the inventory.

The vast oversupply of paper towels? We will not speak of it. It’s leaving soon. I swear. TP supply is holding at a 60-roll surplus. We’ll keep it there awhile.

We are no doomsday preppers. The Inconvenience Store is a pass-through surplus, not a cache. We restock our kitchen from it daily, making sure each week that the lumbering truck from the supermarket leaves just a little more than we require. And thus the surplus grows.

Someday we’ll let the stock dwindle. Someday the Inconvenience Store will close. But not today. We’ve needed it this past year. The coming year will require it as well.

You know about the pandemic — let’s just call it a plague. Supply chain disruption, panic buying, hoarding: many types of food were difficult to get, especially if you were old and wanted to avoid crowds of people who didn’t all wear masks.

Beyond that our state continues to suffer severe drought. The drought brought power cutoffs designed to avoid forest fires, and finally the forest fire itself: a giant that burned 80,000 acres and licked at the edge of town. It turned the sky the color of blood oranges.

Life wasn’t great, even if your house didn’t burn down; you could always sit in the dark for a days-long power outage while your food spoiled.

Actually, life was frightening. We stayed in our house, but we had to set up contingencies to evacuate beyond the river. The fire couldn’t jump the river — right?

In the end, we were fine. But the drought and fire risk remain. Even COVID-19, now in retreat in this country, rages elsewhere in the world.

A plague’s not unlike a forest fire: if you don’t extinguish it everywhere, it could well roar back. All those mutant COVID-19 strains: they could learn to evade the vaccines. Who knows what they can do?

It was when some journo published the phrase “the mutants will soon invade the United States…” that I knew we were living in a bad science fiction novel. The mutants are invading! Actual mutants! That they’re microscopic is of no consequence.

So life will remain science fictional and dangerous — inconvenient. The Inconvenience Store is here to stay: in the end, for who-knows-how-long. I confess that all my wife and I have suffered so far is fear and inconvenience. For others, it has been much, much worse.

And the author of this disaster novel is… civilization itself. For building a world where a world wide plague was absolutely going to happen, and not preparing for it. For spawning global warming, and droughts, and famines. For not allowing forests to burn naturally, so that when fires do take hold they are fierce and fast merciless and deadly. For favoring the privileged and leaving the poor in danger. And I admit that I am somewhat privileged: white, college-educated, a homeowner, a boomer, retired. We built monsters, or allowed them to be built — and took no responsibility.

Last August, Cedar Rapids IA was devastated by tornadoes — and nobody cared. The media ignored the suffering of a town of 130,000. Because it’s Cedar Rapids — important to no one on the coasts. I sent a donation to the Cedar Rapids community foundation, with the dedication “From your fellow disaster survivors in California.” Because we’ve been through a few.

And four days later, we were on fire. And the fires will burn until we all realize that our self interest lies, first and foremost, in the well-being of others and of our planet.

WHERE’S JOHNSON? Your Compleat Weight Control System

The Body Mass Index is completely evil. It tells hundreds of millions of people that they’re fat and unhealthy, even if they’re not.

The BMI’s a quick, easy way of calculating how overweight you are. Everybody uses it because it’s simple. It’s on government sites like the NIH.

And it’s evil. It is designed to make you think you’re overweight. Or way overweight than you really are.

No, that’s not right. The BMI was designed, 150 years ago, to gauge the average fat percentage of a large population of European white males. For purposes of broad studies of a population’s health. (And in days when food could be hard to come by, a little fat was a positive thing.)

So it’s not the BMI that’s evil. It’s the doctors who tell you to worship it. They’re fairly ignorant about nutrition, and the BMI gives them an easy out to say, “You should lose some weight.” Without knowing what they’re talking about.

Here’s a case in point: I lost 50 pounds over the past year because I had to stay home and eat healthy food. I’m six feet tall. I’ve got pecs and big arms. I wear pants with a 36-inch waist. You can see my veins. And the BMI says I’m overweight. Nah. Just nah.

Now, I have been very overweight, and also very light. I’ve seen my body change. My experience has given me insight on a far, far better snap weight calculation than the miserable BMI. I’ve tested it from experience, and it works on half the human population of the globe. I call it:


I’m a guy. I have a penis; I prefer the slang term “Johnson.” If I get naked, stand up straight and look straight down, I can see my limp Johnson in top profile: a sort of lump that sticks up an inch/inch-and-a-half over the general contour of the bod.

But as I put on more fat my belly grows — that’s where men put it — and it increasingly blocks the view of my pubes, and my Johnson.

You see where I’m going, right? My Johnson and the pubes above it, are a sort of dipstick for body fat. The less pube and Johnson you see, the more overweight or obese you are. Simple, right? Useful? I think so.

There are no calculations. Everything’s relative to your own size and height.

Okay, if you regularly lift extremely heavy objects your belly may thicken from muscle alone but that’s what, 2 percent of the population? And you know who you are.

So, if you have a Johnson, it’s time to:

  1. Strip naked.
  2. Stand erect with shoulders squared but not thrown back.
  3. Look straight down, and…
  4. Ask the question: “WHERE’S JOHNSON?

Well, where is Johnson? The answer is one of these:

I CAN’T SEE JOHNSON! You’re quite obese. You’re wearing a nice thick overcoat of fat, unless that thick gut is all muscle. Or you have a microjohnson. Sorry.

I CAN SEE PART OF JOHNSON! This was me at 260. I was carrying a lot of muscle, but I could have stood to lose 50 pounds or more. Call it less obese.

I CAN SEE ALL OF JOHNSON, BUT NOTHING ABOVE IT! If you can see all of Johnson but you gut overhangs the rest of your pubes, you’re pretty overweight but probably not obese.

I CAN SEE ALL OF JOHNSON AND SOME OF MY PUBES. You’re average-overweight. You could probably stand to lose a fair amount of weight — like most of the rest of the population.

I said, “probably.” If you can see pubs and abs above Johnson, you need to fine-tune the results with a hand measurement:

  1. Lay the forefinger of your left hand (or your right, if you’re a lefty) straight across the root of your Johnson.
  2. Slide your thumb up your abdomen until the bulge of your belly begins to hide your thumbnail.
  3. Hold your thumb and forefinger in that position and examine their position relative to each other. The closer together they are, the fatter you are.


That close together? You could stand to lose some. Truly.


CONGRATULATIONS! YOU’VE attained FLAB! Yeah, you’re in the normal range. You’re just not lean; you don’t look like an athlete. Who cares?


You’ve got a flat belly, except for the natural bulge of the stomach muscle and a bit of healthy pudge. You’re a 20-year-old with a nuclear metabolism. Or, you eat way too healthy and fast 16 hours a day or run 20 miles a week. Feel free to not do this.

Everybody’s built different, so all the proportions used in this test are relative: including the size of your hand, your belly, and your Johnson. If you’re smaller, they’re usually smaller, too, in absolute terms.

WHERE’S JOHNSON is imperfect. But who could argue that a missing Johnson is a sign of trouble? Or that a near- unobstructed view of Johnson and your pubes is a rare and precious thing. And a luxury.

So, strip. And learn something. Hey, JOHNSON!

T-Shirts from the Collection: A Heady Brew from Mormonia

I’ll probably stay in Santa Cruz forever.  Sometimes, though, I research other parts of the country to retire to; it’s just for fun.  And of all places, Salt Lake City presents well as a candidate.  Reviews portray life the City of the Saints as cosmopolitan, even sophisticated.

I sure hope so. Because the owners of the Wasatch Brewery are really pushing it:


“Bring some home for the wives… Hah!”  Mormons aren’t supposed to drink alcohol, it says here.  Well, Mormon men aren’t supposed to engage in polygamy, either, but there are those Mormon colonies in Mexico where polygamy is  practiced. By American citizens, no less.

IMG_2676It may be awhile before we see the first Mormon brewpub. But I’ll bet a few of these t-shirts find their way into dresser drawers, next to the “Doctrine and Covenants.”




T-Shirts from the Collection: Mule Deer from Hell

Let us be clear: I dislike mule deer. On California’s Central Coast, I am not alone in this.  Mule deer (their ears look like mule ears) throw their bodies in front of your car.  Mule deer knock people off bicycles. Mule deer will charge you if they’re in rut, or if you try to get close to a Bambi when her mother is nearby. Mother is always nearby.

Mule deer pillage gardeners’ prized roses, and just about every other garden plant.  The nurseries sell  “deer resistant” plants that deer might avoid. But a truly hungry deer will eat about anything.

So while the Central Coast Chapter of the Mule Deer Society made a fine t-shirt, I was unimpressed.  The society’s charter includes population control, but here’s the word: they fall short.

Mule deer are everywhere in my county: in the hills, in rural neighborhoods, crowding the edges of town, and especially on the university campus where they lurk at the roadside among the trees and burst across the pavement at random intervals. I’ve left a lot of tire rubber on  the pavement.

My favorite mule deer story: I was driving away from the university in thick fog when a deer loomed out of the murk perhaps 100 yards ahead.  He was a magnificent buck, large and stately with a full rack of antlers.  He leapt a five foot fence at the side of the road with thoughtless ease.  Then he stood there on the shoulder, appraising my approaching car.

“Don’t you, I say DON”T YOU EVEN MOVE,” I shouted at him through the windshield. And I drove past him without incident, except for a blood pressure spike.

I looked into my rearview mirror in time to watch him jump over the hood of the car behind me.  It was the single most beautiful athletic feat that I have ever witnessed: a poem of grace and power and elegance.  And I’m sure it turned the driver’s hair gray.

They’re aliens.  I’m sure of it.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Out of the Past

Sometimes a t-shirt just jumps off the rack at me. It’s usually a t-shirt that touches on my own past — on things that I used to know, but haven’t remembered for years.  Here are a few.

Western Airlines

Western Airlines Alumni Tee

This 90s-era t-shirt made my eyes cross.  I hadn’t seen “Wally Bird” in 40 years.  And I grew up with him.  He was the television spokes-bird of Western Airlines when I was a kid. And I watched a lot of television.

Back in the midcentury, Western Airlines was the luxury line  of the Western States.  Western tewardesses served free champagne on every flight (21 and over only).  Steaks, cigars, punch “volcanoes” made with dry ice (on the Hawaii runs),  typewriters in the sky for the use of passengers: You got what you wanted on Western.  Hollywood stars flew Western down to Mexico, up to Canada, over to the Rockies, west to Hawaii and even to the East Coast.

“Wally Bird” was an animated bird who’d given up flying because it was much more fun to let Western take him there.  He appeared in endless cartoon commercials. In all of them, Wally relaxed on a pillow propped against the tail fin of a Western airliner in flight.  A cigar or champagne glass dangled languidly from Wally’s hand while he spoke with the rich assurance someone who knows the Good Life. .

Every commercial ended with this slogan: “Western Airlines,” Wally would intone, “the o-o-o-only way to fly….”

I lost track of Western in the ‘80s; I took my eye off it, and it vanished.  Well, not exactly.  During the era of airline deregulation, Western merged with Delta Airlines.  Delta flew the East, Western flew the West.  The marriage made sense. When the deal was signed, Western employees put on Delta uniforms . The planes were repainted in Delta colors. Life went on.

But there were no more punch volcanoes in the sky.  And no more Wally.  Rumor has it that he’s been seen atop a Singapore Airlines 787.

This tee was produced by the Western Airline Alumni, a group of former employees who hang out on Facebook and remember the days when flying was glamour.  Or at least fun.

Sista Monica

Back in the ’90s, “Sista” Monica Parker was a high-powered recruiter for talent-hungry Silicon Valley companies.  But she dreamed bigger than that.  She was a big woman with a big voice, and she loved to sing: blues, soul, jazz, gospel.

Santa Cruz Sista Monica Tee 1

For a lot of years she was everywhere on the Santa Cruz music scene.  She never became a big name, but she toured the world, recorded CDs, and lived the life.  She self-promoted like nobody’s business, kept high-tech money coming in the door, and, in the end, fought cancer for years.

I heard her sing.  The wife and I were video-taping a service at the Unity Temple, one of those success-and-positive-thinking ministries that looks like a Christian church but isn’t exactly.  The minister gave me a tarot reading once.

Santa Cruz Sista Monica Tee 2

Nobody was more positive than Sista Monica; she’d been invited to perform that day, and she ripped out a version of “People, Get Ready,” the old Impressions hit, that just about curled my hair.  You’ll have to take my word, because I no longer have the tape.  She never sang “People, Get Ready” for the camera again that I know of.  And that’s a shame, as I’ve never found a better version.

Sista Monica passed away around 2010.  I won’t say “she’ll never be forgotten.” But no one’s forgotten her yet.

Spenger’s Fish Grotto

Spenger's Fish Grotto Tee

This t-shirt from the early ‘80s came from Spenger’s Fish Grotto in Berkeley, California. Spengers was a venerable seafood restaurant much beloved by my parents’ generation.

Mom and Dad dragged me there a time or two in the ‘60s for fried cod or clam chowder.
Spenger’s wasn’t fancy, but neither was the Bay Area in those days.  Really cool, but not fancy.

In the early ‘80s, when my Spenger’s t-shirt was printed (a t-shirt’s vintage can be determined by its collar tag),  I worked just a couple of exits down the Nimitz Freeway from the restaurant. My co-workers and I would lunch at Spenger’s sometimes when we could give ourselves an excuse.

I remember the souvenirs tor sale behind the cashier’s stand; among the toys and dolls sat stacks of t-shirts.

This brings us to one of those circular moments in collecting: it is conceivable that the Spenger’s t-shirt I found at the thrift store was in one of those stacks. The shirt was made in the early ‘80s, and I visited Spenger’s in the early ‘80s.

Thus it is not beyond the pale that, after I left Spenger’s, the tee went its own way for 36 years and then placed itself into my hands.  In mint condition, too.    Stranger things have happened.

Spenger’s was bought by an out-of-town seafood restaurant chain in ’99 when the last Spenger retired; fried fish was out, ahi tuna was in.  The new Spenger’s never really clicked, though; Spenger’s closed for good in 2018 after 130 years in operation. That’s a lot of codfish and fries.

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break


I found the above on at Goodwill for a fast  $2.99: a framed needlepoint portrait of William Claude Dukenfield, aka W.C. Fields. The great man glowers across a poker hand at the world, like some shifty Buddha.

I had to have it; needlepoint is a home craft, mainly, and a painstaking one.   My wife the knitter tells me that she can knit ten stitches in the time it takes to pull the yarn through one hole in an embroidery canvas.  So what inspired all this, instead of “God Bless Our Home” over a bunch of flowers?

You don’t hear the name W.C. Fields much these days, but the ‘60s and ‘70s were different.  Nostalgia was in; attitudinal superstars from the ‘30s and ‘40s became superstars again: people like Bogart, the Marx Brothers,  and yes, W.C. Fields.

I’d have ignored Fields even so, if I hadn’t had to watch “The Fatal Glass of Beer” 300 times. Conservatively.

“The Fatal Glass of Beer” is a 20-minute parody of morality fables and Yukon Territory adventure movies. Fields made the short in the early ‘30s.  It fell into the public domain and ended up on a 16mm reel of “family friendly” shorts and cartoons in the late ’60s.  The pizza restaurant I worked in as a teen played it over and over for the customers.  After awhile, the kitchen crew could repeat entire sections of dialog.

But it was funny stuff: Fields as a settler in the snow-blasted Yukon, cutting through the badly rear-projected snow with sled dogs whose legs were too short to reach the ground.  Fields, singing a long, awful song about the loss of his fine son to the city, where he drank the “fatal glass of beer” and turned into a ravening criminal who stole a fortune in bonds and went to jail for it.”  While Fields’ audience, a roving mountie, blubbers uncontrollably.

And every time Fields opens the door of the cabin to look outside, he lugubriously drawls, “And it’s not a fit night out for man nor beast!’ And a grip, off camera, hits him in the face with a cloud of fake snow.  We kitchen slaves would say the line along with him, adding a “sploosh” on the end for sound effects.

Of course his son comes home, released from prison, and promises to never stray again or drink another drop.  His parents greet him joyously. And, quietly, ask him if he still has the money he stole.  As it turns out, no: he burnt those horrible bonds to disavow his sins.  At which point, Fields and wife accuse him of coming home to mooch, beat him senseless, and throw him out into the blizzard.  The End.

Yes, Fields was right for the ’60s. The man held nothing sacred, respected no conventions.  His most famous persona was that of a florid con man or huckster who threw bombast in all directions but was nowhere near as sharp as he thought he was.

The character did had a subversive comment for every occasion: “Start every day off with a smile and get it over with,” or  “If a thing is worth having, it is worth cheating for.” And of course Fields named his final film “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.”

For a while, you could see old Fields movies everywhere, but that passed.  This needlepoint pattern is from the ‘60s or early ‘70s; it’s long unavailable. Back then I had the same image, as a photo poster, on the wall of my bedroom.  The only more popular poster image at the time was Raquel Welch in a fur bikini from “One Million Years BC.” I couldn’t get that one past my parents.  I wonder if you could get it in needlepoint.

Original Caption: W.C. Fields in typical poker face pose.  Undated photograph.

But in looking at the Fields needlepoint, and the image it came from, something strikes me: take away that stovepipe hat and add a thick, artificial wave of orange hair. With Fields’ scowling face, you have a pretty good approximation of Donald Trump: a man who takes seriously all the things that Fields made fun of: greed, low cunning, lechery, excess.

About his on-screen persona, Fields himself once said: “You’ve heard the old legend that it’s the little put-upon guy who gets the laughs, but I’m the most belligerent guy on the screen. I’m going to kill everybody. But, at the same time, I’m afraid of everybody—just a great big frightened bully . .”

Fields knew that his screen persona was a joke. But Trump doesn’t; he’s playing to it perfectly.  It’s his gospel.

Sadly for him: every day, a little more of the audience is starting to laugh.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Electric T-Shirts

Vendors to the construction trades love to give away t-shirts.  They run heavil to penis double-entendres (“Our doors are well-hung!”); flames and fire; giant tools; studly men holding giant tools; and big-breasted women.

Give workers a tee that they want to wear, and you’ll get all the job site advertising you can eat. That’s the idea. But I’d never seen a gimme shirt like this one from Ilsco, a California electrical components vendor:

Ilsco Electronics by Duane Flatmo

A horned centaur/fish holding a  mystery tool with electrical contact points on its horns? Say what?  Then I saw the artist’s name: Duane Flatmo.

All became clear. Flatmo is a working artist and gearhead from California’s North Coast.  He paints and draws; he builds things.  His seminal influences include Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, cartoonist-of-the-grotesque Basil Wolverton, and Pablo Picasso (heavy on the Guernica).  Maybe you sensed that.  If not, here’s a t-shirt design he did for IES, another electrical distributor.

IES Milwaukee Tool Duane Flatmo

Flatmo’s best known for his kinetic sculpture: self-powered art vehicles that roll, hop, or sail .  They love him at Burning Man, where his El Pulpo Mecanico  is legendary a 25-foot-tall tentacle-waving, flame-spewing, traveling octopus. Check out this video.  There’s a Ford 250 under there somewhere.

I first heard of Flatmo on an old reality TV show called “Junkyard Wars.” Flatmo and his kinetic-art friends would built wild machines to compete in games with some other team of gearheads.  The other side would be uber-competitive, while Flatmo’s mob would just enjoy the sunshine and fit pieces of junk together in aesthetc ways.  They usually won, too.  But gears aren’t all that his art is about.

Duane Flatmo Tangerine Beer Tee

This one’s more Picasso, but les Guernica. A sweet piece, and something special to stare up at you from a beer bottle.

Some day I hope to talk to Flatmo and ask, what’s with the ram’s horns?  I’d also ask why he does so many t-shirts for Ilsco and IES (he does many), but I can guess: they know him.  How many actuators and miles of conduit do you think he needed for El Pulpo? He’s probably a good customer. They may even sponsor him.

That leaves the question: what makes  electrical supply companies want Flatmo’s odd designs on gimme shirts for Joe Electrician?
Dwayne Flatmo IES Milwakuee Tools 2
My working theory: “special” companies hire special artists.  Take IES, Independent Electric Supply.

The tee below (which may or may not be by Flatmo) touts  special sales events at IES warehouse stores.  You know how those things usually go: hot dogs in the parking lot, a ball player or two for autographs, some custom cars, and a sweepstakes drawings.

IES Lucha Libre Demonstration

But not  with IES. Their big draw was: live Mexican wrestling! Lucha Libre, baby, with the capes and masks and all.  Right in the parking lot!

Now that’s special..
IES Lucha Libre Demonstration 2

T-Shirts from the Collection: T-Shirts from a Long-Age Commute

Santa Cruz is a t-shirt-heavy town. We print tees for all kinds of activities.

Few have been printed, though, for the tens of thousands of poor slobs who daily make the mountain-vaulting commute on Highway 17 from Santa Cruz to Silicon Valley, just so they can afford to live here in Paradise.

But I have t-shirts that remind me of what the trip was like, back in the ‘90s when my wife Rhumba and I commuted to the Valley together.  This one is from that era.

Emily's Bakery Santa Cruz Zebra Tee 1

Emily’s Bakery has been around for almost 40 years; and for almost 40 years it’s been the only place to get a good coffee and pastry to go at 5:30 in the morning.  We had jobs in Milpitas, 40 miles away, with a 6:30 AM start time; the early schedule cut 30 minutes off the commute each way.

Emily’s was our launch pad; around 5:40 am, we’d pull into the brightly-lit  parking lot and run in for coffee and a bag of rolls for the road.

In the pre-dawn darkness, Emily’s was the only spot of light and activity on Mission Street: a strange, busy depot that fueled not cars, but people, for the long trip over the hill. Andd it was decorated with images of zebras.

Cars came and went constantly, headlights gleaming. Person after person in business casual  trudged through the door under the sign “Relax. You Have Plenty of Time.”  You lie, Emily, or we wouldn’t be coming to you for caffeine and sugar before the sun comes up.

On leaving the lot, almost every car headed north on Mission, to 17. We went with them, sipping coffee and munching rolls as we ascended and descended the mountains and swore at the other drivers.

Emily's Bakery Santa Cruz Zebra Tee 2

Twenty-odd years later, we no longer commute.  Emily’s still opens at 5:30 am, without us. I imagine that the early commute is more popular than ever, and that those who drive 17 in darkness still launch from Emily’s.  They don’t seem to sell t-shirts anymore, but zebras are still the bakery’s icon.  Emily liked zebras, from either end.

Moving on: a commute over 17 is a wrenching 30-something-mile journey over a twisty, moody four-lane mountain expressway. The road climbs and descends 1800 feet in a relatively few miles. High-speed performance cars dominate the inside lane; slow semis, the outside lane.  If you’re neither, it can be Hell.  This t-shirt represents part of our Hell. King Crane 1

King Crane was a Santa Cruz-based crane rental and lifting services company.  Several times a week in the early morning, red-and-yellow King Crane truck-mounted cranes would grind up and down Highway 17 at 25 mph for an assignment in Silicon Valley.  Other big trucks moved slowly, but few seemed as slow as a King Crane.

Getting stuck in the slow lane behind a King Crane was about the Fifth Circle of Hell (anger), because breaking into the fast lane meant braving the German sports sedans hurtling along at 75 on a road meant for 50 MPH max.

Many’s the time we were making okay speed in the slow lane only to round a turn and find ourselves rushing up on a crane truck. You had about two seconds to make a choice: either slam on the brakes and accept your fate, or check the side mirror, say a Hail Mary and swing into the fast lane.

Once you squeezed in, there’d likely be a beemer on your tail flashing its lights in the 30 seconds you took to pass the truck and merge back over again.  God, I don’t miss that.

That was a long time ago; the King Crane company since moved to San Jose. I doubt that their red-and-yellow monsters still haunt the morning commute. I’m sure, though, that some heavy vehicles just as slow has taken their place.  Is the Spring Water tanker still making the trip?

Highwy 17 Almanack Tee

Finally, this: a t-shirt from the ‘90s touting a magazine about Highway 17.  Highway 17 is dangerous enough to be notorious, and yet it’s also Santa Cruz’s lifeline to the outside world. Someone thought that a magazine of Highway 17-related content was in order: The Highway 17 Almanack and Gazeteer.

They were wrong.  It lasted three or four issues. I skimmed a copy once; but after you’ve commuted on 17 for a few weeks, you know just about everything you need, or want, to know.  I’m just glad that I don’t have to know it anymore.

T-Shirts from the Collection: A 5K at the Edge of Empire

Bastion Full Moon Run

Welcome to Part Two of Running/Footrace t-shirts.  It will not surprise you that our boys in blue, navy, green, and green are avid runners.

The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines each have a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation command, or MWR.  MWR’s job job is to keep service families together, keep the troops and dependents occupied in their spare time, and help maintain physical, mental, and emotional wellness.

US MWR Army Zombie Fun Run in Kuwait Tee 2

ARMY MWR Logo, off the front of a fun-run t-shirt.

And one of the things that MWR likes most of all, is a fun run: anywhere in the world.  It’s a nice distraction.  Distraction is their job.

Say it’s Halloween in Kuwait. How about a Zombie Apocalypse Run for the troops at Camp Buerhing? MWR is on the job.  And there are t-shirts for everybody.

US MWR Army Zombie Fun Run in Kuwait Tee

Or you’re a med tech at Guantanamo Bay Naval Hospital in Cuba, at the butt end of an island nation that wishes you’d leave.  What better to take your mind off your troubles that a marathon/half marathon in the Carribean sun? With a nice t-shirt.

Guantanomo  Hospital Pre-911 Fun Run Tee 2


Memorial Day 5Ks in Kabul, volleyball tourneys at counter-terrorism bases in the wastelands of Djibouti: MWR never quits and never will.  T-shirts for everybody!

Camp Lemonier MWR Lizard Volleyball Tee 1

It would be controversial to talk about what goes on at Camp Lemmonier, so the government mainly doesn’t. Blazing hot, too.

By the way, MWR activities are funded by profits from the base exchanges where troops and their families spend their money.  In other words, the troops pay for it all, not the taxpayers; not that they were asked. Support Our Troops!

My personal favorite is a t-shirt for a Cinco De Mayo 5k. In rural Afghanistan in 2013.  At night, under a full moon.   In a city-sized military base in the middle of nowhere. Which no longer exists.  With a t-shirt featuring …. Death Herself.

Camp Bastian 46th ERQS Guardians Cinco Run Tee

Pretty boss, huh? The hot babe is painted up like a Mexican calavera (skeleton totem).  Ignore the fact that calaveras have nothing to do with Cinco De Mayo, a patriotic holiday, and everything to do with Dia de Muertos, Day of the Dead.  Unless you mean that death is a woman, and if you’re a soldier you dance with her every day in Afghanistan.

And that may be the case. Because this t-shirt, and the 5K, is all about people who did.

Camp Bastian 46th ERQS Guardians Cinco Run Tee – Unit Patch

For answers, decode the shirt. The patch  on the left-hand sleeve is the shield of the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (ERQS), a US Air Force unit whose job it is to rescue wounded or stranded soldiers in dangerous territory and bring them back.

ERQS Guardians are the closest thing that the US Gov has to superheroes; the Air Force gave them a superhero name, after all.  Note the angel’s wings on the patch: guardian angels.

Guardians get two full years of grueling survival, combat, and rescue training.  They’re trained to shoot their way in and shoot their way out with the wounded over their shoulder, on foot, by parachute, by water, and of course by chopper. They operate under the Air Force’s somewhat obscure Special Operations Command.

If you ever watched the science fiction TV series “Stargate,” Special Operations would have been the outfit that was sending heavily armed airmen through an inter-dimensional gate to fight godlike aliens on other planets. The Guardians would probably be up for it.

Camp Bastian 46th ERQS Guardians Cinco Run Tee – Version 2To confuse the issue, your average Guardian is referred to as a PJ, short for “pararescueman.”  The troops may also call him a Pedro, after the choppers that many PJs fly in:   HH-60 Pave Hawks. “Pedro” is the call sign for all military rescue choppers, back to Vietnam.  That’s why there’s a stereotyped Mexican on the tee’s right-hand sleeve. PJs do use other aircraft as well.

The Guardian motto is “So Others May Live.” PJs are highly admired by the average soldier.  Somebody who scoops your bleeding body out of a trench and drags it to safety while shooting the bad guys? You tend to admire them.

Camp Bastian 46th ERQS Guardians Cinco Run Tee 2

And that’s what this t-shirt is all about: see this logo on the front of the tee, over the heart:

This 5K run in Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, was staged on behalf of the “So Others May Live” Foundation. And it’s not the first one that was.  I’ve got photos of a run that the Camp Bastion Marines put on for the foundation a few months earlier. There was one at the top of this article.  Here’s another:

Camp Basion Full Moon Run 2

Even superheroes die: in combat, in a chopper collisiion, in all kinds of ways.  The SOML Foundation provides aid to the families left behind. This tee bears the shield of the 46th ERQS because that squadron operated out of Camp Bastion, pulling wounded NATO and Afghan troops out of godforsaken fire bases and flying them home in its Pedros  to Camp Bastion hospital.

That’s what Camp Bastion was for: to support NATO operations at hundred of bases throughout a large part of Afghanistan.

The British built the camp in 2006 in Helmand Province because Helmand was the most Taliban-free area that they could find.  There were British, Danish, U.S Marine and Afghan Army camps within Bastion’s eight square miles.  Thirty thousand people lived in what was called “the safest place in Afghanistan,” for its  multiple layers of electronic, physical, and human security.

Soldiers routinely ran for exercise on paths just inside Camp Bastion’s outer walls.  Why not? Bastion was a safe and busy place, with the hospital, a large airport, gyms, bars, public utilities and a police department, total Internet access and yes, Pizza Hut.

But things had changed.  By the time this tee was printed and this race was run, the 46th had pulled out of Camp Bastion; NATO operations in Afghanistan were starting to wind down.  After most of a decade of trying to stabilize a country that wouldn’t be stabilized — most Afghans had little reason to love their corrupt, Western-backed puppet government — the West was getting out.

Camp Bastion wasn’t even “the safest place in Afghanistan” anymore.  Its very existence and reputation goaded the Taliban into a suicide attack the year before this benefit run. A force of Taliban breached Camp Bastion security, blew up aircraft, and killed several people in an hours-long firefight.

By 2014, a year and a half after this tee was printed, NATO was out of Camp Bastion.  By 2016, most of Camp Bastion had been demolished and carted away except for one section still occupied by the Afghan Army.  And the miles of walls, and a few buildings that nobody cared about.

By 2018, the Taliban controlled half of Helmand Province and was on the rise thoughout much of Afghanistan.  The U.S. accepted “peace talks” with the Taliban in 2019 to find some compromise peace plan that would bring harmony to Afghanistan. Then President Trump decided to cancel them.

So, what was that all about, those 14 years in Afghanistan? All the money and the death and superhero PJs and Pedros in the sky, and international cooperation?  Stand outside the derelict walls of Camp Bastion, and perhaps Shelley would come to mind:

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

What are we doing in the world? Or to the world? Really? And for who?

Meanwhile, the 46th is off somewhere unnamed — probably Iraq —  heroically supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, the campaign against ISIS and in aid of rebel forces in Syria.

I wonder how Operation Inherent Resolve will turn out, in the end; according to the latest news reports, possibly not any better that things did at Camp Bastion.  The Guardians can’t rescue us from Washington.  Or Wall Street. Or ourselves.

Oh, what the hell. Who’s for a 5K?

T-Shirts from the Collection: Biting Humor

Health care professionals like to kick out the the jams with a good t-shirt from time to time.  Tell me, if you worked for the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP), would you have fun with that acronym from time to time?

Santa Cruz Out for Blood CHOMP Blood Center Tee

Of course you would.  It’s a natural for blood drives.

CHOMP Blood Drive Tee 2

CHOMP had so much fun with that first tee that they rolled out an even more extreme blood drive tee a couple of years later. Remember, giving blood doesn’t hurt a bit.

Community Hospital Monterey Coronary Dept 1

And why stop with the Blood Center?  CHOMP’s Pulmonary Wellness program has its own tee — an arty take on the cardiopulmonary system that you can wear right over the real thing.

On my side of the Monterey Bay, the boys and girls at Dominican Hospital Radiology Department declares its edginess with a skull t-shirt.

Dominica Radiology Skull Made of Bone Names Tee

Skulls are popular on clothing these days, for reasons I’ll leave to the experts today.  But this one is made up of the individual names of each bone in the skull, in proper position.  Very good.  Some have remarked that it’d make a fairly boss album cover.

Cabrillo College RN Program 2

Cabrillo College RN Program 3 – Version 2Down the road at Cabrillo College, the Registered Nurses training program offers a woman’s sleeveless tee. Its design symbolizes the components of registered nursing: Love. Medicine.  Hypodermic needles.  Of all nurses, only RNs gives injections.

I hate needles.  They don’t make me happy. Neither does the California Dental Association, which wants you to love a trip to the dentist as much as a trip to visit your dear old granny.

Cal Dental Association Tee

They made a cute t-shirt. Sadly, having sharp metal objects pushed into our mouths will never be as much fun as a plate of Granny’s fudge. Even though Granny’s fudge may _result_ in a trip to the dentist.