Archive for June, 2019

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Over the weekend I was looking through my bookshelves when I came upon a volume I didn’t know I had: The Superior Person’s Second Book of Weird & Wondrous Words by Peter Bowler. An inscription revealed it had been left behind for me by the late Marge Piaggio, who with her daughter Rose had been my houseguest for several months two decades ago.


The book was a reminder of how many “big” words I don’t understand. For example, galeanthropy. As it turns out, galeanthropy refers to a mental condition in which one believes he’s become a cat. This rare condition can be manifested by adopting feline mannerisms such as purring, affectionate nuzzling, and pouncing.

And then there’s castrophenia, the belief that one’s thoughts are being stolen by enemies. The illusion, however, is not as bad as nastrophenia, the belief that one’s thoughts are not worth stealing.


My wife Lynn writes poetry and reads it to me. I enjoy listening to her read a few of her poems — but not too many in succession. I fear this leads Lynn to suspect I suffer from metrophobia, a morbid dread of poetry, which I don’t have. I’ve read that “many people first develop this phobia in school when overzealous teachers encourage them to rank poems according to artificial scales, break them down, and search for esoteric meanings.” Lynn does not do this. She just wants my opinion as I hear the words.

We seldom use the word succussion, which means shaking, although Jerry Lee Lewis originally wrote his magnum opus as Whole Lot of Succussion Goin’ On. He changed it when the League of American Matrons objected because they mistakenly thought succussion referred to “an indelicate form of sexual congress,” Bowler’s book notes.

And what’s a remontado? It’s someone who flees to the mountains and renounces civilization. I’ve known a couple of those guys.

Of course, sometimes a listener’s confusion results from word order, not inadequate vocabulary. In 1957 singers Johnnie and Joe and in 1963 singer Bobby Vinton had hits with Over the Mountain; Across the Sea (“there’s a girl, she’s waiting for me”). One line, oddly enough, seems to contain an off-color double entendre: “Over the river and beyond every cloud, she’s passed the wind that’s blowing loud.” The singers seem pleased that they can hear her cut the cheese.

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“Angel’s Truck Stop” by Lt. Colonel Angel Pilato, US Air Force (Ret.) was first published in 2011 and is now in its third edition. It was updated last year to include stories from some of the airmen Pilato writes about in her memoir.

Angelica Pilato at 25 being sworn in at the Air Force’s Detroit recruiting office.

Known as “Angel,”  Lt. Colonel Pilato served five and a half years in the US Air Force at the time of the Vietnam War, the last year (1971-72) at Udorn Air Base in Thailand.

Her memoir is an engaging mix of a personal history, wartime adventure, and a look at the difficulties faced by a woman officer in a male institution.

Pilato attended Officer Training School in San Antonio, where she was taught, among other things, “military protocol, etiquette, and how a WAF [Woman in the Air Force] should conduct herself in formal and informal situations.”

The next stop was Open Mess School in Ft. Lee, Virginia, where the sergeant assigned to assist her “tried everything he could to get me to sleep with him. I kept saying no, which to him seemed to mean, ‘Try again’…. In 1967, no policies existed against sexual harassment or hostile work environments. The unwritten policy was simply, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.'”

Angel Pilato today, living in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

After graduating from Officers Training School as a lieutenant, she was assigned to Offett Air Base in Omaha, and was subsequently assigned to run the officers’ club in Seville, Spain.  However, when she got there, the base commander in Seville took away her club-manager assignment, gave it to a male officer with no food experience, and made her a keypunch operator.

Since Pilato was a Food Management graduate from Rochester Institute of Technology, she questioned the decision, only to have the base commander flatly state, “I’m not going to have any woman run my Officers’ Club. It’s as simple as that.”

Fortunately, the commander’s tour soon came to an end, and a new base commander made her the club officer. Eight months later, she was assigned the post of club officer in Bitburg, Germany.

The F-4 Phantom Fighter jet (such as this one in Bitburg) was “the hottest fighter at the time — the one every fighter pilot wanted to fly,” Pilato writes.

After Lt. Pilato was able to make the Bitburg Officers’ Club more profitable, the wing commander rewarded her by letting her take a flight in an F-4. Once the jet was airborne, she was allowed to take the stick and do a couple of rollovers. Pilato called it “a thrill of a lifetime.”

The Udorn Officers’ Club, which came to be known as Angel’s Truck Stop.

From Germany, Pilato, now a captain, was posted to Udorn Air Base in Thailand where she managed the Officers’ Club. Pressured by the wing commander, the lieutenant managed to add a fancy patio to the club. The project forced her to hire laborers under false pretenses — as if they were parttime cooks and servers — to do the job since no construction-worker positions had been authorized. Nonetheless, the commander was pleased.

Article in the military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper.

Udorn was home base for fighter pilots heading to North Vietnam and Laos. She writes about the “bravado and confidence” felt by pilots “flying the hottest planes on the planet.”

Many of the men had “tealocks,” as lovers were called in Thailand, even if the lovers weren’t Thai. Pilato over time had several, including two wing commanders, and eventually had to reluctantly fly to the Philippines for an abortion when the father-to-be declined to marry her while overseas.

Perhaps the most emotional section of ‘Angel’s Truck Stop’ tells the story of Capt. Roger Locher (center), who was shot down over Laos and hid for 23 days until he could be rescued. The rescued pilot’s arrival back at Udorn was celebrated throughout the air base. Famished and thirsty when found, what he wanted first was a Coors beer and Spam. 

Capt. Marty Cavato made his own moving appearance in the book and for the latest edition contributed an account of his own.

The fighter pilots heading for Communist targets generally gave little thought to the lives they were taking. Getting themselves and their crews home safely was their main concern. Capt. Cavato, however, provided a heartwarming exception.

“The altitudes and speeds we flew and the usual presence of a jungle canopy prevented us from actually seeing the enemy,” the captain wrote. But on one unusual day, “we were startled by what we saw on the road.

“It took a while for it to sink in — there was an enemy column in the middle of the road.” To Capt. Cavato’s surprise, the soldiers took no shots at the aircraft but just kept marching. “Then another thought came to me: they’re marching home.

“In less than a month I’d finally be heading home…. I pulled our F-4E up sharply and turned west. I finally told my [radio operator], ‘They look tired. They’re marching north. They’re going home. I’m tired too. I’ll be going home soon too. Let’s just let them go home….’ As time goes by, I think about that column of soldiers more often. I got home, and I hope they did too.”

“When a man becomes inebriated, any modicum of mild-mannered virtue that he might have had turns into mayhem and mischief.” — Lt. Colonel Pilato

A captain and a lieutenant colonel attempt to dunk Capt. Pilato in a bowl of ice water after losing out in an Officers Club raffle.

The North Vietnamese were using Russian MIGs, and when the US pilots shot one down, it was cause for a major celebration. As a prank, the crews began driving trucks into the lobby of the Udorn Officers’ Club — jamming a truck in the doorway on one occasion. All this led to the club being nicknamed Angel’s Truck Stop. The phrase “Shit Hot!” painted on the truck was a common fighter-pilot expression meaning “wonderful.”

Despite periodic rowdiness by pilots in the club that made her job more difficult, Pilato generally retained her poise. Officers could get smokes in the club, which prompted this photo captioned: “Should a gentleman offer a lady a Tiparillo?” The line is from one of the cigar’s commercials.

Pilato had arrived in Thailand excited about her assignment, but the deaths of airmen she knew, her reluctant abortion, and the chaos of her work led ultimately to her hating the war and her role in it.

Angel’s Truck Stop is a must-read for anyone interested in the treatment of women in American society, especially in the military. The memoir is alternately humorous, grim, and uplifting. <>.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

It’s a strange week. At 2 p.m. today the thermometer at Mitchell cabin reached 101 degrees. Just after 3 p.m. I received a recorded telephone alert from the Sheriff’s Office saying there was a vegetation fire in West Marin but that so far no evacuations had been ordered. That was pretty vague, so I checked the fire department’s website which said: “Units are responding to the Drake Fire, a fire along Inverness Road near Limantour. Currently, the fire is approximately two acres in size with a slow rate of spread. One structure threatened.”

Sheriff’s photo of the Drake Fire.

No one seemed to know where “Inverness Road” is, but around 4 p.m. the fire department posted that the fire was in the National Seashore, was near Vision Road (not Inverness Road), was 50 percent contained, and had been held to less than three acres.

My wife Lynn, who’s the Point Reyes Disaster Council coordinator, urges everyone to sign up for and The sheriff, via Alertmarin, has your home phone number, but you need to register your cell phones. You can hear about such things when you’re over the hill. Nixle will reach you on smartphones; she automatically received messages that way today, while I received the home robocall. And, she says, check the Marin County Fire twitter feed (you don’t need a twitter account). If you have no internet devices, tune in to KWMR on the radio for current information. 

The Drake Fire, which was started by a tree limb falling on a powerline, follows a small fire Sunday on Mount Tamalpais near Panoramic Highway and Muir Woods Road. A PG&E transformer has been blamed for that fire.

Meanwhile, the Sand Fire in Yolo County has burned 2,200 acres and as of Monday afternoon is only 30 percent contained. Smoke from that fire drifted over West Marin Sunday, and made Monday’s sunrise particularly dramatic. (Photo by Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park)

Snake handling. As I started up our road Saturday, I spotted a  three-foot-long gopher snake stretched out across the pavement sunning itself. Lest another car run over it, I stopped, got out, and grabbed the snake around its neck just behind its head. Holding the tail out with my other hand, I carried it uphill to a grassy area and released it. The snake quickly slithered off. It was the second time in the last year or so I carried a snake off the road. This time I didn’t get at all nervous.

Different species cohabiting at Mitchell cabin. A flock of wild turkeys casually walks past a doe and young buck, which hardly notice.

A wild turkey hen guides her chicks along the edge of the field.

Dinner mates eating kibble. A raccoon and gray fox dined nose to nose on our deck last night, and neither seemed to worry the other.

A raven moistens bread in our birdbath to make it easier to swallow. God only knows where he found the bread, but then he’s always coming up with biscuits, cookies, birds eggs, and animal parts. Last week Lynn and I watched this raven kill a gopher in the grass and then tear it apart.

Protecting its nest, a red-winged blackbird (top right) repeatedly buzzes and pecks the raven (lower left) as it flies away.

“The population of the common raven is exploding across the American West, where it thrives on human refuse and roadkill,” The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. “As the large, strutting predators piggyback on the spread of human civilization, they are expanding into territories where they have never been seen in such large numbers. This expansion has come at the expense of several threatened species, including the desert tortoise, whose soft-shelled hatchlings and juveniles have been devoured by the birds.” Scientists are now trying to reduce the number of desert ravens by using drones to spray oil on their nests.

Two roof rats gobble up birdseed before the birds eat it all.

In addition to all that excitement, Lynn in the past week managed to photograph some of our more exotic wildlife:


An egret walking beside our driveway last Thursday.

One of our local bobcats a week ago heading toward our garden, which it traversed without disturbing any flowers.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Junior grand marshal. Heidi Gonzalez, a junior at Tomales High, was named junior grand marshal of Sunday’s Western Weekend parade. She earned the title in competition with two other young women by selling the most raffle tickets; half the proceeds were allocated to nonprofits and the other half to furthering their education.

The bagpipers in Sunday’s parade carried placards that read: “What’s on Our Streets Flows into Our Creeks” and “Please Pick It Up — Every Little Bit Helps.”


Dancing down the parade route was a group from Esforço Carnival, San Francisco.

Also dancing in the street were Aztec dancers, a highlight of every parade.

At the head of the parade was a procession of fire engines, as is also traditional.

The parade entry of KWMR FM won first place in the adult-float category of the parade. Four baby goats owned by truck owner John Roche Services, which uses goats to trim grass, were in the cage at right. In the center clapping is my wife, Lynn, a member of the community-owned radio station’s board of directors.

Coco McMorrow, 14, of Inverness was one of two deputy junior grand marshals of the parade.

Deputy junior grand marshal Hana Cassel.

The weekend was so packed with public events that I’ll spend a moment now showing snapshots of the main ones.

Point Reyes-Olema 4-H Club members get training Saturday for the rabbit-show competition in Toby’s Feed Barn where most of the festivities were centered. Back in the 1970s and 80s when there was more ranching in West Marin, horses and livestock were a major part of the “4-H Junior Livestock Show,” as the celebration was then called. No more.

Inside the Feed Barn’s gallery was a display of children’s arts and crafts. The caption on this display explains, “DeeLynn Armstrong’s 1st grade class at Inverness School, alongside Esther Underwood’s 5th grade class at West Marin School, created a rainbow mosaic using recycled plastic bottle caps.”

“Melissa Reilly’s kindergarten class at Inverness School studied animal habitat and made snakes from felted wool. The process starts with raw, unspun wool which is wetted with soapy water,” explained the caption. “The snakes are shaped by hand and once dry, the wood fibers contract and become felted. This project was facilitated by Jillian Moffett.”

A Saturday evening barn dance was held in — appropriately enough — Toby’s Feed Barn. With a band and a caller setting the pace, children and adults took part in a variety of line dances.

Angelo Sacheli (center) describes the low-cost-housing accomplishments by Mark Switzer (left) in naming him grand marshal of Sunday’s parade. Avito Miranda prepares to translate the remarks into Spanish.

Competitors in the junior grand marshal ticket-selling competition were (from left): Coco McMorrow, Heidi Gonzalez, and Hana Cassel. Miss Gonzalez ended up junior grand marshal while Ms. McMorrow and Ms. Cassel were named deputy junior grand marshals. Last year’s junior grand marshal, Mollie Donaldson (in back), hung the sashes on the three.

Ms. Gonzalez’s junior grand marshal recognition came with both flowers and a trophy.

After the awards ceremony, the dancing resumed.

Waiting for Sunday’s parade proved tiring for at least one youngster.

Mainstreet Moms, political activists who meet weekly at St. Columba’s Church in Inverness, carried placards urging people to vote.

Straus Dairy’s entry is always a hit because it gives out free cartons of ice cream. Dairyman Albert Straus is at left.

Petaluma dairy princess Amanda King and first alternate Camilla Taylor.

Bill Barrett leads the parade entry of the Coastal Marin Fund, which benefits local nonprofit organizations by selling artistic brass coins to use for local purchases and for tourists to take home.

West Marin Community Services, which runs the food bank and the thrift store in Point Reyes Station while also providing many other forms of assistance to low-income people.

Vern Abrams, who has been living in his car in Point Reyes Station, used a musical parade entry to remind parade goers of the needs of West Marin’s homeless residents.

The Inverness Garden Club, which maintains several public flowerbeds in Inverness and Point Reyes Station, handed out flowers as it proceeded down the street.