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"Easy, Cowboy": The Big Uncle Tim California Adventure

July 27, 2014


"Easy, Cowboy": The Big Uncle Tim California Adventure

Whenever I've done something with Uncle Tim it has been an adventure. Helping to resolve his estate after he died wasn't any less so.

What's the big deal with flying out and running a garage sale and cleaning a house, you wonder? Oh, nothing much. I just hadn't done anything like it before. I was in over my head. It was intense. Sink or swim. Every day a new emergency. So, as it happened, it turned out kinda interesting for me and my friend John, who came along. You have your leaps into the unknown in a few ways, your "strangers show up in a new town" angle, plus family dynamics and mystery. Let's see what you think.

The news of Tim's death was sad but we knew it was likely. He'd called me a few days earlier and sounded the same as ever: sketchy in health but fine in spirits and thinking clearly. Actually, it was almost the only time he ever called me. I'd always called him. So there's that.

What struck me after he died was that a life is like a story. It's made then finished. It can say something, do something, but it has an end. And even if it's short it can be good.

Tim Ten Brink was of Dutch stock by way of Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of a carpenter and homemaker. He made it to age 68. That doesn't seem like much, but his life seemed full, to me, even if the end was a few years of sitting in a chair watching re-runs. He packed a lot in before his decline. Anyway, didn't the Buddha say that a man alone in a cave could change the world? I enjoyed knowing that Tim was out there, relishing his classic western movies and keeping up with this year's ball-players.

Tim was a tall, handsome, rangy guy, stylish and clever. Laconic -- had a drawl. He was someone who seemed neat from a distance then neater if you got to know him, but he was a cool cat, reserved. So what happened to him? I guess you could make it short and just say "Booze and smokes." But is it really that simple? You might as well say "Life." It happens to us all. It's what we do along the way that might matter.

Here's a little video I made of him the last time our family road-tripped out to visit him and Seneca, his gold-mining ghost-town bar:



Tim did do a bit of a "Leaving Las Vegas" on his loved ones, though drawn out longer. But he didn't complain or seek treatment or seem to suffer. We did the suffering. Our choice. We knew we'd miss the rascal when he was gone. We never really could figure out why he didn't try to stay. Maybe it was kind of an acceptance of fate and it would be bad form to resist, struggle, put up a fuss. Tim was a talker but when there was nothing to say he would just look. He was a liver but sometimes just going with the flow must've been his way.

Now, this report is about our adventure in his tracks, but he figures in, too, of course. Maybe that's what a ghost really does.

Our extended family didn't stay in touch with him. I'd told them stories about him and told my friends about him. It seems like my friends remembered the stories better. Martha and the kids and I visited him twice on roadtrips and the kids liked him and his world. Martha, too, though they didn't stay in his house -- couldn't breathe -- they set up the tent in his yard. To me his house always smells soothing.

His big brother, Kent, though, who lives in Hollywood, talked to him on the phone most evenings their whole life. So there's a connection for you.

We can say that he was independent. He never got married or had kids. I've even heard it questioned whether he did anything positive with his life. I wrote a eulogy for him elsewhere, but maybe you'll wonder about that angle yourself as you read this. Positivity...is life an equation? It's something, all right. It's not always easy to tell, though.

I do remember him and Kent, during the late nights of jazz we shared, suggesting to me that Keith Richards was a lightweight. One of their friends had already succumbed to their pace.


*The Scenario*

Tim lived in the foothills of the Sierras. And owned a gold-mining ghost-town and bar an hour away in the mountains at the bottom of a river gorge. Seneca. ...Accessible only by a narrow switchbacked dirt road with a thousand-foot drop. A beautiful place of history. We'd just sold it a few months ago in a spotlight of global media attention that started last fall, but that's another story. Oh, OK, I'll mention it. I posted a Craigslist ad for it that went viral. Reporters dug into the story and it ended up on a half dozen front pages, the national TV evening news, talk radio, and NPR. On the web, a USA Today story about it got 1200 comments. It once got most of the front page of the "LA Times." Tim enjoyed chatting with reporters every day for a month. And the reporters told me that they had fun visiting Tim, sometimes driving up and spending an afternoon with him as he sat in his chair. ...A nice capper for a different kind of life.

Tim was a respiratory therapist -- who smoked 5 packs a day of filterless. And he was a car mechanic who could work on any make, model or year. He preferred Citroens for himself, having a half dozen at one point. Quirky guy, eh?

But "quirky" isn't right. Smart and appreciative might be better. Citroen was astounding. In googling it I see that the DS is rated "Product of the Century" by an industrial design group. Consider their line-up: Traction Avant, DS, 2CV, and H-Van. (Toss the SM in, too.) World class through the whole range of vehicle design. Who else achieved that? It'd be like if Lincoln had also made the VW Bug, Jaguar E-Type, and F-150 pickup. Then there's the beauty in each model. Each one so innovative, creative and successful. Sheesh! First FWD, first safety car, first aerodynamic car, first indie suspension, first air suspension, first unibody. ...There's more than quirky here.

Tim didn't travel in later years and never did fly except for one funeral, his mom's. And he lived out of the way. So family just didn't visit and getting to know someone just over the phone might seem weird. Although he had such an interesting way of conversing that I'd think the phone might've been enough. He had a way with words and a nice drawl and seemingly was always ready to engage. He was God's Own Democrat, as they say. Maybe our family could've made a connection over the phone, but maybe that's just not realistic. If you asked him about something he was likely to have knowledge and insight about it, no matter what. He'd been around and kept his ears open and memory sharp.

Uncle Kent and Tim were best pals. But Kent isn't getting any younger, and doesn't travel well anymore. So he turned to me for help in cleaning out Tim's house. "I want you to have the guns. But the sheriff has them now so if you want them there will be forms to fill out, long waits, expense, and maybe multiple trips involved. And you can have the cars, too. Sell or keep them, and sell or keep anything in the house. It needs to be cleared out. The property, too. It's a huge mess. You'll need to be there for weeks. You'll need help. Make plans to come out soon. I hope you can do it."

It turned out there weren't any valuable or running cars. And after the house was given a quick look-over by a realtor, along with the downtown acre it is on, it was determined to be worth "not much," about the same as any run-down house in any small town. No California mark-up.

The house would be tough for anyone even to walk through. Tim was a mechanic, a fine one back in the day. But the garage couldn't even be SEEN through. Impenetrable. The yard and outbuildings were full of metal junk and overgrown brush.

There likely wasn't going to be much profit from all the work of clearing the place. It might just be a lot of work over a bunch of junk.

...But there might also be adventure.


*The Team*

How was I available to help? Well, the acorn doesn't fall too far from the inspirational tree. I'm self-employed myself, publishing the OutYourBackdoor.com website and eBay Store of the same name -- it's the only outdoor sports specialty bookstore that I've heard of and a whole lot more, such as upcycled vintage bike luggage. Like Tim, my lifestyle is economically scrapey. Unlike Tim, I have a tolerant wife and two teens. So I just turned off my webstore and took my own time out.

My two younger brothers were initially interested in joining the mission. One had vacation hours he hadn't used in years. The other is another chip off the uncle-ish block, a freelance contractor with a young family who could get away if a project beckoned. But in the end the benefit/effort ratio just didn't seem worth it for either.

So I asked John, my carpenter neighbor and new friend in outdoor adventure. He said "I'm in!"

John wanted to see the Sierras, to see Seneca. He'd followed the stories. I told him I'd cover expenses with a little on top. He said fine. He wasn't afraid of a little work. We'd never worked a big project together yet, though, so who knew what was in store. He had helped us out of the blue to rebuild our septic field in the middle of winter -- that tells ya something. And I did ski the longest day of his life with him, and he'd held up fine. And we'd floated around on a swamp in the middle of the night laying in the bottoms of our two canoes looking up at the stars. It would probably be fine.


*Action & The Pattern*

So I started phoning. I rented a truck. I lined up a dumpster. I figured out there was metal recycling, and a dump. Then I bought airplane tickets.

We shipped our bikes out a few days early. ($60 each way via FedEx Ground.) Then we flew out in perfect order.

John and I kicked off the pattern of our upcoming adventure right away.

On the flight I mentioned to him about how I first met Kent and Tim in the lobby of the glamorous Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. I'd never been to such a place. I was a teen and our family had roadtripped out. And there they were. Mr. Big (Kent) and his rangy, stylish brother. Tim was wearing a Panama hat, Ray Bans, and a seersucker jacket that day. He was 28. It impressed me. Then I mentioned to John that among the many weird things about this project that it was my first inheritance experience. Someone was giving me something. And I was working on an estate.

And then the in-flight movie started. ...The Grand Budapest Hotel. It's a good little movie. ...About a hotel lobby and an estate inheritance. John and I looked at each other. It was a bit shocking.

We arrived in Reno and picked up a big rental pickup. Headed downtown for lunch.

We picked an old Basque sheepherder restaurant because they're the ethnic food of the region that you just don't find elsewhere. Tim and Kent and I are big fans of the style. There aren't many left. They're one of the fading vestiges of the Old West. It's family style eating with a free carafe of red wine and an emphasis on lamb. Old restaurants by the railroad tracks with slow-spinning fans on tin ceilings and a poster of Miguel Indurain over the bar. No TVs.

We ate with people on either side of us. I told John I was going to try an experiment. I then asked the older folks to one side if they'd ever heard of Seneca, a bar in the mountains. They said No. I asked the older folks to the other side if they had. The guy paused a moment then said "You know what, I got chased by Harley bikers up there once. It's real remote, right? Like a cabin. We rode our motorcycles up in there and I had a few beers. I woke up on a couch with my arm around a lady, then had to escape from her boyfriend out the bathroom window. That was awhile ago." I gave John a high-five and said "Score!" We were off and running. ...The first people we'd met on our trip after getting off the airplane had had a wild time in Seneca.

Not to spill the beans, but that kind of thing kept happening to us every day from then on. What's up with that? We kept waiting for it. Every day: the new thing we weren't expecting. In other words, "You couldn't make this stuff up." It kept happening. What does it mean?


*Forward, Ho!*

We made the drive north to Tim's town of Susanville up through a couple hours of high desert country. John was looking around. So this is what's it's like...

We opened the windows as we drove and let the sage wash over us.

I was wondering how it would feel when we got to Tim's. It would be my first time there without him.

When we arrived sadly his chair was gone. That lessened the impact but not in a way I wanted. The main floor was clean and tidy, thanks to the help of Tim's longtime friend, Marge, and their friend Noreen. They'd already hauled many loads to the dump and had cleaners come in for serious scouring.

Tim's carpet felt good underfoot. It always did. He'd abused it for 40 years and it still was nice. They said it was the best money could buy in 1974 when he moved in. Of a grade that couldn't even be bought today. It had cleaned up nicely. Sure, some cinder burns here'n'there.

Wall-to-wall isn't done anymore so we'd thought the first thing one might do to freshen up the place is tear up the nasty old carpet. Well, what do you do about a carpet that instead of turning you off feels like some kind of home?

The beds were made. I'd wondered what it would be like to sleep in Tim's bed. Could I do it? John took the guest room.

The Gun Room door could barely be opened against the junk. The ladies said they'd only started on that last room. The garage was a sight -- as was the acre of yard and outbuildings.

The old calendar of naked Hawaiian girls still hung in the garage, same as I remembered it in 1987. Now a faded pink and light blue.

We headed out to dinner at the old Pioneer Bar which was Tim's favorite back in the day. It used to have a snooker table. High tin ceiling. Classy, dark back bar cabinetry. It had a special gambling license, unusual for California, and there used to be card game alcoves to the side with a cash cage halfway down the place.

Now it had been renovated and turned into a hip microbrew and bistro. It still had the old wall art, though, and the old 36-foot long bar. The artwork covered the whole back of the bar above the woodwork: the names and brands of local ranches were carefully hand-lettered across a 10 foot by 50 foot expanse. No TV screens. Several cherished bullet holes. Vestiges of the Old West.

We ordered food and beer and I studied the wall until I finally found it: the name of the ranch belonging to Tim's old friends, the Lavers. I helped them do a round-up in 1986, the only one of my life. That was some real work. That early morning in the mountains, after driving in 5 miles of two-track I'd gotten to the corrals. Only a few people were there. Then through the rainy mist from the other direction, over the mountains came riding a half dozen cowboys on horseback, wearing yellow slickers, with cowdogs running alongside them. Dang, just like in a Marlboro ad. We worked hard all day, roping, branding, vaccinating, doolapping, dehorning and cauterizing the big year-old calves.

The beer and food at the Pioneer were good, the people young and lively.

As we were getting ready to leave, two young guys walked in. With their shirts buttoned up and their hats on. Sunburned. Dusty from the trail. Looking dehydrated. Squinty, but a little vacant-eyed. Like they'd been on the trail for a month and hadn't seen people. They were the toughest two dudes I'd ever seen, with something extra on top. Still wearing spurs.

Yeah, there's something about a cowboy.

What they had about them was the air of honest work. It was like here are two guys who just got done working directly with life, hand to hand. Sure, everything is life. But this was the real deal. It seemed beyond construction work or the like. It was timeless. From the last century unchanged.

I've seen pro athletes and they have a toughness plus a glint in their eye of acuity and fine-edged attention.

These two cowboys had toughness plus direct contact and honesty. Maybe they'd only made $100 but it was the best $100 anyone could make. That's what it seemed like. A way not done anymore. The old sleep out under the stars in all weather, riding a horse on the range.

They stood out.

I nudged John. Holy smokes, take a gander. He did. He saw the difference, too.

We'd arrived. We were in the real West. Well, it wasn't entirely the West anymore, but there were traces.


*Hit the Ground Running*

The next morning I took photos of items to put on eBay then went to use my laptop and line up our dumpster. When I came back a few hours later John had landscaped the entire front yard. He hit the ground running, all right. Wow!

There was a mountain of freshly cut brush and the sidewalk along the street in front of Tim's house was swept. It was the first time that sidewalk had seen the light of day.

The new guys had arrived.

We met Tim and Marge's longtime friend Noreen. She had some distance from Tim's decline. She was a friendly blast from the past. Energetic and still working as a nurse. She told us a lot about the house and stories of old days.

In the afternoon John and I started filling the truck bed with metal for the recycling center. A few hours and a ton later we made the first of dozens of trips, each haul netting us $100.

John did literally tons more metal hoisting than I did. I'd be on the phone or down at the Burger King on the wifi and would come back and there'd be a mountain of engine blocks and transmissions waiting to be loaded into the truck. John isn't a big guy, but, step aside, he can heft big chunks of metal for hours. In fact, if there's something big, bulky and heavy and it takes two to move it, he'll usually still prefer to do it himself: "It just works out better that way. I may not look like much..."

The next day we re-directed our recycling efforts toward clearing the garage enough so the public could move around in it safely at our upcoming garage sale. Time was flying. We could work on the yard later, it was time to switch over to prepping for the sale.

Every day we worked for hours in the heat, taking a quick break for a sandwich, pounding a dozen Mt Dews a day, then having a burger and beer at night at the Pioneer.

This region has been in a drought for 8 years. And it was hitting the 90's every day. But it was a dry heat. The sun hurt when it shined on you. We tried to time our work with the movement of the shade.

Since Tim's was a smoker's house and was dusty and it was so dry that John and I had reactions early on. Crusty, bloody boogers jammed our noses. Sheesh! Our hands and lips dried and cracked. I remembered that from other visits. But we eventually settled into the climate.

Noreen put up posters for our sale around town and told us how to publicize it on the local radio station and community web pages.

The most valuable things we found were a 1969 Cadillac Limousine that was parked up in a forest in the mountains. (He used it to chauffeur people afterhours from the Pioneer Bar in town to Seneca in the hills. Yeah...) Also Tim's 1970 Citroen ID19, a glorious car like the DS, only non-running. But a beauty to see even just sitting there. ...And the speakers.


*The Speakers*

The speakers... Tim owned a pair of Altec Lansing "Voice of the Theater" A7's. Google it. Considered by many to be the all-time best speakers. Superior for home, theater and concert use. It's what they used at Woodstock. But at home they're like heaven. They are famously efficient. They are huge. Over 150 lbs each. 5 feet tall, 3 feet wide, 2 feet deep. With a welded metal horn on the top of each one. Tim got them from a crazy friend, then Kent had them over 3 moves, then Tim got them back. They used to be behind Japanese screens at Kent's house when I heard them for the first time when I was young. I'd never heard jazz before. Tim and Kent and I and their pals would go out every night in Hollywood to the jazz clubs. (We'd go out for dinner, then after an evening at the clubs we'd go out for dinner again. Two dinners a night. That was something.) And when we were back Kent's house afterward we'd listen to music on those speakers. Kent would say "This is God talking to us." Speakers...sometimes something speaks, doesn't it.

They only need a tiny bit of power to make a lot of sound. And the sound they make isn't what you'd call loud. It's just all the sound that was made when the artists played the music that was being recording. All of it. Washing over you. It's just like having Billie Holiday in your house. Or a whole big band. Fats Waller playing a piano. It's such a thorough sound that you can bask in it ... and if you go outside it sounds like a house with a band playing inside. More clear than that somehow. It sounds like Ella Fitzgerald singing just for you. Just you and her.

OK, maybe we got a little carried away. We would stand outside Tim's house and marvel at the sound of his speakers. We backed up into the street and marveled. We went out into the intersection and were astonished at the clarity. You could still hear the sax player breathing between notes. We backed up the street. The music still sounded good -- like, better than it does inside most houses -- 100 feet away.

The stars were overhead. And from horizon to horizon. Well, except for Diamond Mountain rising up down beyond the end of Tim's side street. It stood black against the starry night. We'd stand outside with our beers, listening to Art Tatum & Ben Webster tinkling the ivories and blowing mellow horn, and admiring the Milky Way as it rotated across the sky.

...Then the neighbors hollered and we turned it down.

We tried a little rock'n'roll. It didn't seem the same. These speakers wanted singing and instrument playing. Not a Wall of Sound.

I'd listed the speakers on eBay. People were emailing questions about them. I was posting more photos. They were valuable. Audiophiles loved them. Pick up only. No way to ship these beasts. Would anyone click the Buy It Now for $1000? Guys were offering $500. I was considering it. We hadn't sold anything yet. Here was our first big ticket item.

I googled them and read that they're still considered the best all-time speakers for presenting singers, a piano, horns...breath. It's the big 20-lb horn-shaped welded-metal tweeters. They're 1500 watts! Or not. I saw some info that said they were designed for 20 watts. They do only seem to need a trickle of power to make them lure your ears into heaven. Altec just re-released the "VOTT" A7's as part of their attempt to make a comeback: $6000 each.

But as John and I sat on the couch in the evening and listened to those speakers we were swept away. And we started to wonder: How could we get them home?

If you want to capture some of the spirit of Uncle Tim's world, especially how his house seemed to us when we first arrived, get yourself that wonderful Tatum/Webster CD and put it on your hopefully nice sound system and ponder Tim's sprawling Eternal Man Cave of the Sierra foothills with its low-timbered ceiling and densely-plush well-preserved (against all odds) wool carpet. That CD was the only one in his player when we got there. The last music he heard. Prepare yourself with a Manhattan and be seated before the first song starts. Do this in memory of Tim, the classy ol' cowboy and jack of all trades.

I had never heard Webster play before. He's so much about the breath. Well, it was overwhelming for me, I must say. Tears. But since then that music has just been a lovely gift.

Kent tells me that back in the day he and Tim would wander around Hollywood finding jazz of an evening. They would be always sure to find trumpeter Jack Sheldon every week wherever he might be playing. For some reason Sheldon had chatted with Tim and asked him what he did. Tim was the sort who made you wonder. Tim said "Nothing." And I'm sure blew a jet of smoke. Every time after that when they'd come in Sheldon would announce "And here's the guy who does nothing!" Sure, it's a bit sad but it's a double message, I think. Tim had freed himself in a way.

Early on after leaving Michigan he had picked up a Respiratory Therapist's license in LA. Then he took over the operation and contract at a hospital. He was flush. He shopped hard at Kerr's, the elite sporting goods store in Beverly Hills, favored by Groucho and Errol. He bought a beautiful 30-ft wooden cutter-rigged sloop and a slip in Marina del Rey, home of the stars. Then he saw the chance to get to the real hills with the freedom revolution, like other 60's people were doing, and he moved to the Sierras with his bird-dog and got the contract for the whole hospital in Susanville. He had it for 10 years then the place was bought by a doctor from India and everyone let go. Thereafter Tim did odd jobs. Enough to get by. He got by. Mechanic and farm-hand, occasional bartender (his bar had a wonderful elderly lady as mainstay). And the man-cave prospered as a gathering place, a place for pals to live when they needed a shelter from the storm. He helped his friends. They all got by. Good times. Hunting, fishing, enough firewood for winter. He wasn't ashamed of the "nothing." It was rich. They were too busy living to worry.


*At Home*

When I first walked into Tim's bedroom I saw his hat on his dresser. His hat. With the paisley band. It wasn't Western style, but a Panama Gambler. Ancient and brittle. It was nice to see it again, even though it hit me hard.

Tim's house had always been my favorite. I have to say it. I feel at home there.

We slept great and sprang to the easel each morning at 6am.

(Kent's house is like that, too, in the Hollywood Hills. And used to be more so before they got air-conditioning. Their stucco and tiles hillside home was such a nice timeless getaway. It felt like a direct connection to the days of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. AC messed that up. The rooms set into the hill stayed cool but damp, like a boat, and had a great smell, with simple 1930's appliances. Not so convenient as you become elderly, so I do understand why the change. The zoning board also messed 'em up. Kent and JoAnn had a couple outbuildings they'd turned into quirky apartments. Great hangouts. They got turned in and had to tear them down.)

It suddenly occurred to me that Tim's life was that he and his pals went off to deer camp one year and never came back. That's what his house was like. Not fancy. An oldtime actual ranch house. Cool and shady in the heat. A refuge. With pole-barn and outbuildings on an acre in the city. A den of eternal twilight. A timeless zone in the middle of a bright-sun high desert town. Dog kennels, chicken coops -- the wild animals liked it, too. Old pigeon coops. Vestige of a fenced area for goats. Mule deer now rest most days out back under the big old apple trees. Quail live in the tall dried-yellow grass. It's a place to hide. ...But you had to be careful not to go too far astray yourself.

Whenever I used to show up there was always a good movie on. Good conversation. Food and booze in the kitchen. A card game getting ready to happen. Apples to be picked. A dozen ancient trees gave such tasty apples.

Tim's pals were good old boys. They each brought something to the table. When they played cards they only played one game: 500. Idiot's Bridge, they called it. It's a kind of bridge that if you're a bright boy you can play it with a fifth of whisky at your side, and that's how they played it. Tim's pals were a wide range of guys but they were all like poker players who played bridge. A couple were car mechanics. Tim had his Citroens. Doug preferred Rover 2000's. And there was an old sailor and a rancher.

They also loved to play pool. But their game was snooker. Do you know it? It's pool but on a 6x12-foot table instead of a 4x8. And with smaller pockets. And smaller balls. And the use of the bridge for most every shot. And scoring based almost entirely on defensive play, meaning where your ball stopped was as important as where it went. It was pool on subtle steroids. After you get a feel for snooker you can clean a regular pool table without breaking a sweat. Snooker instead of pool. Bridge instead of poker. That's how Tim's gang rolled.

And when Tim's pals needed a port in a storm they moved in with him.



*Backstory*

Tim and Marge were in love. But at one point she gave him the choice: the bottle or her. She lost. Yeah, this story is a tragedy. In the end she took care of him. Helped us have him for a few more years, though he didn't seem to care. When it was all over, she was more than done. So we didn't see much of her.

Tim fixed a lot of cars. But after his friends finally all died or got busy with families he threw in the towel and stopped going out to the garage. No decision to quit, it just stopped happening. Stuff piled up. All the undone projects. Citroens in the back yard. He finally sold those off. Oh, he did work now and then. So other cars piled up. The city finally had enough and raided them away. He got fines for not mowing, for fire hazards. He started hoarding.

He did keep a good attitude and steady keel up to the end. He wasn't a mean drunk.

He was a fifth a day man and five packs of filterless. Then it was handrolleds, after the tax law changed. When he couldn't breathe or walk anymore he relented to our begging and stopped smoking and immediately put weight back on and regained strength. But after a couple years he started smoking again and the decline redoubled.

John and I stumbled onto a VHS cassette of the movie "Choose Me" and watched it one night.

Tim particularly enjoyed "Choose Me" because it was clever and it featured some mechanic inside talk. He liked character actors. It was hard-core romantic: unflinching steaminess on a street level. It had a nice sax soundtrack. He had a hand-me-down DVD projector from a family friend who had died and watched movies on a big pull-down screen.

As we sorted through the stuff of Tim's life John kept finding little things. Sure, we were planning to sell off what we could to make the work worth our while. But we were each building boxes of nifty things to send home. If we found some jackknives we didn't want to sell, I'd keep some and John would pick a favorite, too. John loves metalwork. We found a 3-foot section of hand-forged large-link chain. We can't sell that. John put it in his box. He said Tim had some neat things, "But ya know what, I'd trade 'em all for the chance to have met him. He seems, even just from his things, like he was quite a guy."

We sorted through thousands of books. Basically all the European thrillers and mysteries ever published. And histories and medical books. I set aside his OED. He and Kent each had a set.

Tim was always interested in medicine and science. He knew to stay away from doctors if at all possible. His view, like that of a doctor pal of mine, was you'll either get better or you won't. Doctoring mostly deals with comfort. Tim could handle his own comfort.

Tim was 15 years older than me. He was the adult in our family I was closest to probably because our generation gap was the narrowest. He was old for a hippie, and I was young for one, but we both bracketed that age-group -- though Tim rejected the hippie angle as soft. Still the freedom angle it brought was his, too. His brother Kent and I are close, too, but Kent is my dad's age, so a couple age-groups older.

Interestingly, I'm 15 years older than John. And Kent was 10 years older than Tim while I'm 10 years older than my brother Kelvin.

Tim and Kent represented the 60's to me, but with more Chet Baker, jazz, and foodie thrown in. Tim brought in an extra dose of adventure, with his sailing, as well as Western flair, due to his Old West contacts and context.

But I have to tell you that he never used the Internet. He never sent an email. A friend gave him a subscription to Vanity Fair. He read the paper every day. Never got wired. He had a laptop. He was going to fix it, any day. He woulda liked Google. Oh well.

Tim was quite the bird hunter. He was a Brittany Spaniel man. And he preferred a .410. See? Everything was done with a twist. He was deadly with his little gun, too, which is hard for me to imagine. He also favored the Savage 99 for, well, its superior design and its long range ability, suitable for out west distances. The 99 was kind of the Citroen of rifles. Sexy and advanced. Tim had other cool guns. He hadn't shot them in years, but when he had needed money and his brother urged him to sell guns he told me, "If I sold my guns I'd kinda feel like I was dead." So that was that.

When Tim died the sheriff got his dozen or so nifty guns for safe keeping, but under new law would need someone to get official background clearance to come pick them up. There's the usual quick background check for buying a gun, but the sheriff's check was special: it might take 3 months to get cleared. It was a project I'd been working on already for a month. I went and visited the sheriff as soon as I got to town. So the office people could put a face to the voice that had been pestering them. The lady in charge was away for the week. Doh! Still, she left word there might be something they could do. I was on tenterhooks!



*Three Muskateers*

Before I left for Tim's I'd emailed an old friend from my sailing days in LA and my skiing days in Breckenridge, Colorado. Mike, the Strappin' Dude. Joel and Mike and I were a dynamic trio back in the day. Joel had recently died, the first of my gang to go. But I knew Mike lived in the Sierras a few hours from Tim's.

In the hecticness of prepping for our first garage sale Mike called out of the blue. "Hey, I got your email. I'm thinking of driving up." Wow! I had no idea that he really might. "Yeah, I could come on the weekend or next week." I told him we'd be swamped this weekend with mad-dash metal recycling and garage sale running, but that next week we'd go visit Seneca in the mountains for a little hiking and biking and R&R after our first big week of work. Mike said he'd see when he could come.

On Friday as we launched into the most intense prep for our sale Mike rolled in. He'd showed up for the hard, sweaty work portion of the fun! "Let's get to it, lads!" he shouted. He pitched right in. We were the Three Muskateers all over again.

It was especially nice having Mike there because he knew Tim, and Kent, from back in the day on the boat in LA.

Don't get me started on The Boat. Actually, just google it. Its story is here on my OYB site. Tim abandoned his yacht to his friends when he moved north. They got tired of it and I ended up with it. Those were some good times. (The Red Hot Chili Peppers also had it for awhile. And even invited me to a 4th of July party before I knew who they were!)

John was our fresh eyes. He was seeing these traces out of the blue and kind of soaking in their background. The depth behind the junk, even with the dysfunction piled on top, seemed to keep him engaged. He did marvel that Mike and I each remembered totally different things. Memory...it's strange. Yet in this case, I think it came across as still about the same person, just different views.

I was sorting through Tim's old clothes, looking for keepsakes and for things to sell. I came across a stash of vintage Seneca t-shirts. One for each of us! Score! That's what we'd wear during our sales. For luck.

Mike started to dig into the mystery of mysteries: the Gun Room. He came out with an armload of old cowboy boots. And one pair that were still fine. Where did they come from? They were oxblood red. I recognized them. Low heels. Tim often preferred the low heel. I think they were the same boots from the jazz summer I spent in LA with Tim and Kent. How were they still in such good condition? ...They fit me.

The other boots were trashed, had holes in their soles. Some were quite deluxe but all done for. We stashed them here and there in corners of the house, for looks.

We found Tim's old longbow from teen years. It was a stout one. Still in good shape. I propped it out by the wood stove. We all wanted to have Tim's presence with us.

My clothes were dirty. Tim's fit. I was soon wearing his freshest jeans and cotton shirts. And those red boots. And his hat.

I wore 'em to keep the spirit alive and coz they looked like I wanted to look. (I'm still wearing them when the time is right. When I want to represent.)



*Time to Sell*

The next morning before we raised our garage doors we were setting up tables of stuff and a neighbor kid walked over. I'd heard about the neighbors. They'd helped Tim. The young man introduced himself to us. Kyle. He said he remembered seeing Tim working on cars when he was little but when he got a bit older he noticed that he'd quit. After that he would bring Tim his newspaper from time to time and help with firewood but that was about it. He was wondering if we were selling any tools. We said "Only about 1,000 of them." He said he was going to become a mechanic and would be needing tools. I took a look at him and said "Sure, we're opening up soon, but you can look around right now, if you like. If you find things you like make a pile and we'll settle up." He got the first pick.

This struck me. I might've been the last person to talk to Tim. He'd called me and it turned out that he died a couple days later. He had never called me before! I always called him. He'd said "One thing I wish had happened was that a young person had started hanging around. So I could show him what I know and then when I was too useless and stove up I could sit in a chair and give advice while he worked." ...And there he was. The young person becoming a mechanic. Maybe because of things he saw across the street when he was little. Dang. Ships in the night.

Well, Tim could've chosen to stay. But still. The path of tragedy is not easily diverted.

After a careful hour of digging, Kyle had his pile ready -- good, key tools, some shop infrastructure type stuff, an impact wrench and the like. Well, what would I take for all of it? I told him, "Kyle, it's yours. From Tim to you." He was happy. John nodded.

We made $500 the first weekend. Hmmm. Well, it's a start. A hundred people showed up. They were boggled. They didn't even know what to think. A brand new deluxe apple press? And what's this grinder thing? And, darn, that's a big vice. And look at the size of that cart, why it has 5 engine blocks on it. Is it for sale? What about those matching Honda motorcycles in 90cc and 110cc? Whattaya want for those? Do they run? What kind of car is THAT?

We were mobbed, overwhelmed. But people weren't shopping that hard. It was 25ยข per tool. We sold hundreds of tools and had a thousand more. We were hauling suitcases of medical equipment up from the cellar. We hadn't even started hauling out Gun Room stuff.

After the sale, as we drove to the Pioneer for R&R, we passed kids jumping off of cliffs into the local Susan River. Just what we needed. So us old-timers joined the kids and cooled off. Every day that was a scorcher found us jumping off the rocks with the kids into the river at the end of the day. The kids let us in.

John might've been the reason why. He is laid back and has a Duck Dynasty beard and wears wrap-around shades. We'd show up and the local teens would say "Wassup, dawg." I don't think they were talking to me.

John was a life-saver. He knows tools, electronics, equipment. I was hustling things onto our sale tables while he would shout prices to people. We tried stickering our best items but we made hundreds of instant deals. "How much for this 3/4-inch socket set?" "How much for this hydraulic jaws of life?" I had no idea what these things were worth. John would say "a quarter," "$5," "$40." He knew the differences and knew what it all was. He would also marvel at the things we kept finding as we dug down through the layers.

Someone bought the speakers on eBay for $1000. That night we played them for Mike. We all sat in the living room, sipping the last of the Evan Williams jug we'd found in the cupboard out of Tim's oblong crystal rocks glasses, and listened. Tim had another pair of speakers and we hooked them up for comparison. They sounded good. Then we hooked up the "Voice" speakers again. Darn, it's like we've gone to heaven. What the heck? Then we went outside in the street and listened. John said "I'm not even sad but I'm getting a little teary just hearing these speakers." (I had more than a few tears listening to Lucinda.)

We decided: I can't sell the speakers.

But how can we get them home? Where would we even put them in our house?

After the weekend Mike got a phone call from his wife that the water well at his house had run dry. They rent several cabins on their property. He had to get home.

I then got a call from Martha that the bathroom wall at our house had caved in and revealed that it was completely rotten behind and so we'd have to redo the whole tub and shower area and replace the old window there. She was stressed and alone. And needed money.

Yikes.

But I also got a call from a Michigan friend who said he heard that I was trying to figure out what to do with some crazy speakers. His brother had a warehouse a couple hours away. Maybe I could call and see if he could store them for me. I made the call. His brother said "Sure, bring 'em down!" Yes! They were a step closer to being saved. ...But still 2000 miles from home.

Then John and I drove up the mountain a ways to take photos of that old limousine that we'd heard might still be worth something. We found it on a friend's property along with a bunch of other old cars belonging to the friend plus a wrecked old trailer home.

John started jumping around.

He saw what he wanted most: a 1981 Toyota 4WD pickup in great condition. He saw THREE of them. He couldn't stand it. Oh man, I gotta see if I can buy one of these! Or all of them! This is MY TRUCK! I need it! We can't get these in Michigan and I've been looking for years around the country. Do you think Tim's old pal would sell one to me? I called Al and asked. "Yeah, I'm not driving them anymore. Yeah, they're still really good. Great trucks. And, yeah, I do need the money bad." ...Well, now we're cookin'!

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? John and I looked at each other. ...He's going to come back and buy one of these trucks and drive it home. ...And he can put the speakers in the back!

I called Martha and asked. She knew the speakers were special. She said OK. (My bro was helping her with the bathroom.)

The next day I listed the limo on eBay and contacted the guy who had bought the speakers. He hadn't paid for them yet. It had been 3 days. In fact he had sent me a message saying that he couldn't pick them up until autumn since he was in Europe for the summer, was that OK? I cancelled the sale. Who needs $1000? I was keeping the speakers. Heaven rejoiced.

I had a thought about those speakers. It kinda seemed that whenever anyone heard them that they were given a gift. I had the feeling that if our two teens could hear the speakers they might really be inspired. To hear that music really can be helpful. Such music can give you guidance and improve your bearings, it seems.

John and I figured they probably could fit in our livingroom somehow, but if they couldn't we could put them on a pallet in the garage and bring them out for special occasions so that they could spread their goodness when needed.

I was also keeping the DVD projector. We could play backyard movies with it. It had a maximum display size of 14 feet. Martha said she'd just bought a 10-foot professional screen at a garage sale. Various stars aligned.

I was checking in with Uncle Kent most nights, letting him know how the work was going.

When he heard about the speakers he asked weren't they old and ratty by now? When he heard how inspiring they were he relented. He said "Do you know the story of how they got up to Tim's? The Lavers bought some a Chianina bull from Italy and it was shipped around the Horn to LA Harbor. So they drove down in a cattle truck and loaded up the bull then they drove that truck up here into the Hills and wrapped those speakers and stashed them in with the bull and drove them back to the mountains for Tim. That was something watching them load those speakers in with that wild animal." ...Maybe our plan isn't so crazy after all.

"But whatever you do," Kent said, "make sure they're gone when I get there. I can't see them."

Music was a big part of Kent and Tim's lives together. As was good food and drink. Hunting, sailing and adventure.

After each work day John and I went for hikes around town up in the hills, to see what we could see. The town has a National Forest coming right up to one edge and it has a huge park on the other side, with maybe 30 miles of trail. We hiked up a wide creek valley through flowers and pasture. New smells in the night air, new birds. Jackrabbits, quail with dangly things on their heads, big-eared mule deer. And big sky. We'd get summit fever once we started and always kept going up and up until we got to the view.


So far, every day that we'd been working at Tim's we had visitors and gawkers. People of all kinds would stop in and say similar things about Tim: he was quiet but stood out. He was a good guy. He was interesting to have a word with. He never did anyone a bad turn.

And we had kids. Kids all day every day. We saw kids everywhere riding around town on bikes. Also riding past our house. Then they'd turn our corner and sidle up to our sale and ask what we were doing. When we had sale days they would flock around in packs. One boy bought a chainsaw for $5. The next day he came back and said he got it working already. When the littler ones tried buying jackknives we told them to get a note from their mom.

Danny was the cutest. He had glasses and always wore his camo-colored X-games bike helmet. He came over every day. He'd jump off his bike and help us with little things. He was 8. He had a raspy little voice. He was serious. When we'd be setting things up he'd join in and say "So what do we do next?" He included himself in the team. If we were leaving he'd ask "What should I do while you're gone?" And we'd say he could sweep up a certain pile of dirt and haul it away in a wheelbarrow and when we got back the dirt would be gone and the tools put away. I'd give him a pop or a dollar if he did this or that.



*Head Up to Seneca ... and the Sierras*

After the weekend we hit the trail to Seneca. The switchback road down into the gorge seemed edgier than usual in the tall 1/2-ton pickup. I think John was impressed. Think it's scary? "It would be scary for normal people, that's for sure." What huge vistas. We could see for miles up and down the gorge as we descended. We could see Mount Lassen all snowy in the distance.

When we got to Seneca an old miner was walking around the parking lot. He hadn't been there in 20 years. You could tell he was letting old days sift over him.

John and I hiked around. John wants to mine gold some day so we hiked through the old Chinese mine tailings. Their remains are 15-foot tall walls of stone winding up through the trees into the mountain. It's like the Halls of the Mountain King. The river was gorgeous. It was a cool day so we didn't jump in. We climbed ridges and scouted more recent mine-works. A huge fire had torched half the region a couple years ago, opening up the skyline even as it took away so much. But it spared Seneca and the old cabin bar with its huge porch and towering Doug Fir growing up through the roof. We wandered around the old ramshackle cabins and trailers of Seneca. We found a couple of the neat orange newts with red spots in the ferns by the water. Just 10 feet away it was bone dry high desert timber. Then we built a bonfire and watched the stars up the through the trees.

John marveled that he was really there. He'd loved the Seneca story since he first read it. It's a mythic place.

(There's a lot to the story. Like how they had a music festival there for a few years in the early 70's that drew thousands of people. Naked hippies tenting in the forest all around. It was called "Woodstock of the West." I have pictures. You can't make this stuff up...)

The next morning we rode our touring bikes up the steep dirt switchbacks to the other side of the gorge until it got so steep we couldn't pedal any more. Then we blasted down on our slick skinny tires for about a half hour of solid descending.

So did you know that most of the gold is still in them thar hills? The last serious mining was in the 1800's and their methods were terrible compared to today. They went for nuggets and veins and missed the bulk of the small stuff. Recently they'd been suctioning it from the rivers, but that method had been banned just as gold took off. Nowadays one could wander around with just a pan and make a good living given how expensive gold is now. There are all sorts of interesting new ways to get the gold. John said he really wanted to go for it someday. He'd been reading up on it. And right there, in Seneca, was Ground Zero. He was jumpy with it.

The people who bought Seneca haven't actually closed on it yet. But they've hinted that they'd be open to others running the bar. They've hinted that they just want the land as a "getaway." So who knows what might happen still. John is a roadie for an event company. He thinks it would be amazing to run the bar, to host events there. He gets worked up. Everybody likes him. ...Maybe he should move out there and get it cookin' again. Open the bar, pan a little gold, see what happens. Rent Tim's house cheap. : ) I think he felt at home there, too.

After a day of driving around the valleys around Seneca, exploring as far as our truck would go up the narrow logging roads, we drove out and into Chester where we visited Bodfish at his bike shop. He's a legend of mt-biking and gave us tips on a couple hikes and bikes we could do, so we did. We hiked through snow up Mount Lassen nearly to the top until we were stopped by a gate -- rockslides barred the last little way. At 10,000 feet Lassen towered above other area peaks, its top blown off in an eruption early last century. It was still a "ripe" area for volcanic activity. We visited hot bubbling sulphur springs. Then we did Bodfish's "breakfast ride" straight up another valley for another solid hour of climbing.

This region is gorgeous but it doesn't get the tourist pressure that Yosemite does. It's in-between country. It's not exactly Sierras nor is it the Cascades. It's river gorges, big hills, and a few towering volcanoes. With some cowboys still, and a bit o' lumbering, and a touch of gold mining. Not too much of any one thing. Low key.

Back in Susanville we had dinner at the Pioneer where I eventually said Hi to the guy sitting next to us and so we met Galileo, a guy who played the scientist in performances at Ren Fairs throughout California. OK...



*A Whorehouse?*

Back at the house we noticed that people kept asking us if we'd found the whorehouse bar. Huh? Oh, c'mon. Will the craziness ever let up even for a day? So we were told that Tim's house used to be the Weeping Willow Whorehouse back in the 'Teens and 'Twenties. It had six little bedrooms whose walls had been torn down to make a more regular house. The madam had lived on one side. It was like a duplex, that's why it had two front doors. Now it was opened up and had a 40-foot long front room.

Whoa, so Tim owned a ghost-town AND lived in a whorehouse? I never knew.

The old whorehouse bar was reputed to be stashed somewhere. We looked in the attic where we found neon signs for a bar called the Amador Cafe', complete with two big martinis with olives. Then we looked in the cellar. And, lo and behold, wired up into the floor joists were a bunch of long panels. We lugged them out into the sun and took a look. We realized that we had all the well-preserved pieces of a 30-foot mahogany bar with a bright blue upholstered front "kick" and 18-foot long planks of mahogany 20" wide and an inch thick. Whoa! We immediately re-pieced the bar back together, positioning it alongside Tim's side street so it could be an accent to our garage sales. It was a beauty. Who'd-a-thunk! He never mentioned it to me.

I noticed the locals never said "brothel." They corrected us to "whorehouse" every time. Well, some stumbled a bit, especially if kids were around, and muttered "house of ill repute."

A neighbor said that Tim bought the house from an old Basque couple who'd brewed wine in the basement for "ethnic reasons" during Prohibition. They had card games down there, too. We couldn't see how. There was a little area excavated where there was head room, but the rest was crawl space. They had a Model T that they kept in the front side-shed and used for driving into the mountains to get firewood all the way into the 1950's.

Well, we appreciated having the bar. It was certainly the best bar in town, with the best view. Down at the end of the bar was Diamond Mountain. At night we'd go out and sidle up to our bar and listen to our glorious speakers and gaze at the stars.

One night we *almost* talked a group of young people at the Pioneer into having a drink at OUR whorehouse bar and listening to music like they'd never heard it. One of the guys was a DJ and when he heard what speakers we had he said "I haven't had to say this to anyone before, but your speakers are better than mine."

I visited the Historic Museum and chatted with the town elders. I learned about the local guy who wrote local history books and I emailed and phoned him about the brothel. He never did reply.



*The View*

The next day after hauling metal I said "Let's go climb Diamond Mountain!" Time was flying and we had to grab our chance. I packed a quick picnic dinner and we jumped into the truck and powered up the hill. For 45 minutes we drove the winding dirt road at high sliding speeds up that mountain through the forest until we topped out in a meadow and couldn't drive any further. Then we started hiking straight up in the crystal clear evening light. We hiked a fast hour with each ridgetop revealing a higher line of meadow and rock. Up, up, up! We realized that the 3 points of the mountain that we could see from town were actually laid out along an amphitheater that arc'ed for over a mile. We finally scrambled up a 50-foot nub of rock that was the highest point and found a bronze medal inset that said 7800 feet. Town was at 4300 feet. We could see everywhere just as the sun set. I looked for snowy Mount Lassen, the biggest peak in the region that was an hour and a half away and saw it nearly on our doorstep. Beyond it, in the distance, loomed an even snowier peak, a perfect cone jutting into the sky: Mount Shasta. 150 miles away. 14,000 feet. Clear as a bell. Pink and white in the sunset, completely towering above all other earth forms. It was like Mt. Fuji or Rainier. It wasn't a peak among similar peaks. It was like Olympus.

Back down in town we were walking into the Pioneer and noticed an unusual creature flying around a flower box: it was a Hawk Moth and it was feeding and hovering just like a hummingbird. Amazing.

Big things and little both have been amazing us on this trip.

Each night we watched a different Uncle Tim sort of movie on our big pulldown screen. "The Misfits" was a window into Tim's bygone world. ("What, do you want to work for wages?" "We had a good thing going and then they changed it on us.") "Mon Oncle" had his observant wit. "Under the Volcano" showed that even a tragic drunk can notice things...maybe seeing things clearly provokes the sensitive to drink.

I attended Tim's probate hearing at the courthouse. It was a formality with a phone conference, but it's a public event so I sat in. There was a case before ours, also on the phone. The judge said Hi to the lawyer. The lawyer then introduced himself as...John Flaherty. That's John's name! Weird. The case involved a resolution of custody. A young mother and grandmother were standing in the docket, clinging to each other. The other lawyer had his say. Then the judge spoke to the women. He resolved that the baby would go to the mother. The women collapsed, thank you thank you. Important things happen in courts.

Tim's case then came up and was resolved as proposed, no challenge, no complication. Kent would be executor.

Our second weekend of garage sales took off like a rocket. I also started selling some of the unusual items on eBay and people were showing up to haul them away. Like an 8-wheel "KID" ATV that Noreen used to use to plow the back roads of Diamond Mountain. It looked like a wreck but the buffs were in a fever about it. And an old green Jeep trailer. It looked like a wreck, too, but was actually a monster of a little trailer. The apple press found a good home. Locals didn't always know what to make of our goodies, but people drove in from hours away.

Tim had a lot of GOOD junk, too.



*Shake & Bake*

Nathan Howard came around a couple times, hovering around a big, homemade 12-ton bottle press and an old brake lathe. Finally he said, I don't have the cash, but how about this: I'm a local race car driver. I'm first in the standings. I'll put whatever name you like on my car, as a sponsor in trade for those tools. John and I looked at each other. DEAL! Nathan came back with his family in tow and a big trailer and a poster showing his car and his victory clippings. He had a bunch of other sponsors, too, but we could get pole position among stickers. I said how about OutYourBackdoor.com? He said "How about across the back of the car?" Great! Then he asked about our metal recycling. We knew we weren't going to be able to get it all. We said if he wanted the rest of it he could have it -- in trade for another big sticker that said "Tim Ten Brink." Deal! He and a pal showed up again that evening with the trailer and in a few hours they had it loaded to the gills. Whew, that was a piece of work. Care for a beer? We were getting along with the locals.

Later John said "Ricky Bobby." Yeah! I'd been thinking "Nathan Arizona, Jr." But, yeah, also: "Come at you like a spider monkey!"

The last day of the garage sale was pedal to the metal. Everything must go! Running chainsaw -- $5. Duck and goose decoys -- $1. Like new 1980's ten-speed: $20.

A couple old cowboys stopped by. Bowlegs, belt buckles and sweaty hats. How much for the socket set? $5. How about $4. Everything we said they countered lower. How much for the drafting set? $2. How about a dollar. It was comical.

We counted the money in our money-belts at the end of the day. $3000 in cash. Whoa! I'd been piling each day's take under the mattress. There was a lump in it.

Tim had never had a key for his house. After he died Marge had locks installed and we'd been locking up, what with all the traffic we were attracting. Still, it was a very porous house.

We'd been making deals for 2 weeks straight. On each of our sale days we made hundreds of 2-second deals. We didn't have time to price anything. We'd have 20 people buying stuff at once sometimes. We were winging it lightning fast. (Thanks, again, for John who knew so much about tools!)

We were a honed machine and it almost seemed like the 2 weeks went by in 2 days. Seamless, constant, full-on. Every day, like clockwork, without an alarm, up at 6, coffee, cereal, hit it.

We had one character who lurked around every day. We learned to manage him. He was a mechanic. But an OCD one. Grumpy and fidgety. He had known and admired Tim but they had different styles and didn't get along. He was our little troll. We were warned that he'd been busted before for theft. We got to know him and just adjusted our habits. He was probably fine at this point, just another of the quirky ducks we got to meet.

Susanville is a depressed town. It has an industry and a lot of jobs but not enough and maybe the jobs were the wrong kind. It has 3 prisons. And a casino. Bad karma.

It has 18,000 people. Not big. But a couple rural highways intersect there. A half dozen mountain communities nearby use Susanville as their Walmart hub. So it seems bigger and busier than it is. Maybe transience, passing thru, is an issue, with pro's and con's. I'd say the con's are winning, pardon the pun.



*What the Heck is This Place?*

It used to be something of a hippie town in the 60's. When the "back to the land" movement hit, the hippies left the Bay Area and settled in backwoods towns. This was one of them. Tim and his friends were part of this migration. But the hippies lost. And the Mormons won.

One neighbor picked up any stray leaves out of the road near his house. I saw him leaf-blowing the street the morning after I saw him pick up 3 leaves. He'd called the city on Tim's Citroens in the back yard. He told us he wanted to buy Tim's back lots. When we said they were 75 feet deep he said No, they're 71 feet 3 inches deep. But I think Tim had him beat. I doubt he noticed that the dirt from Tim's yard had steadily encroached on the street, taking over a swath about 8 feet wide and 200 feet long.

Sure this town had some normal folks. Also the semi-Amish behaving Mormon families walking in large flocks here'n'there. ...And then plenty of toothlessness, tattoos, sweatwear, obesity. Not to diss the town, but it was a bit scary.

Hardly anybody looked at the books during our sale days. Or the records. Or the espresso maker. Or even the full set of LeCreuset pots and pans I accidentally left out all day on the Free table. $500 worth.

But don't get me wrong. We got along with folks all right. I appreciated their skills. We rocked the metal recycling facility. The neighbors were mostly fine folks. We bonded. There were gaps but we crossed them. Sometimes people even remembered our names.

Ironically, Tim's lady neighbor across the street was hauled to the hospital while we were there. Too much drink, not enough food. She'd retreated to her chair, too. I wonder if they'd known each other.

And, bizarrely, the day before I left, there was an outrageous murder of a prominent local large-animal vet, apparently he stumbled onto a break-in at his office. (No real leads, as of a month later, either.) Plus a man's body was found along the river under a bridge a few blocks from Tim's house that I biked over every day, in the sprawling ghetto zone. I saw a street-type people argument there the previous day. So many local people looked so close to being actual street people.

Susanville just built 25 new miles of singletrack mtbike trail. It could become a destination resort for biking. A new bike shop was opening up. Nice guys who also built choppers. Susanville is affordable. Unusual things can happen there.

John and I biked the trails on our touring bikes. It was sketchy "underbiking" out there, but fun to slide around the bermed switchbacks. One night I climbed up about 20 switchbacks during a long golden red sunset. ...But we were the only bikers we saw out there one Saturday after our sale hours.



*The Old Gang*

I'd wondered if I'd see one of Tim's last old friends. He'd raised a family in recent decades and grown apart from Tim. We'd all played 500 together and had good times. I'd once come out and spent a month watching the World Series, my only time doing so, trying to get Tim to go down to the sailboat to show me the ropes. He'd said "After the games. It looks to be a good one this year." 1986, Red Sox versus Mets. It was good. I'd enjoyed the savvy commentary during the games. But after the Mets had won the next day Tim saw some football come on and said "Hey, the Lions look like they're doing pretty good this year," and I said "We're leaving tomorrow!"

Ron the rancher, is who I was wondering if I'd see him. I hadn't seen him since that month long ago. I didn't even remember what he looked like. Then near the end of our last sale day I saw him. "Hi, Ron." "Well, howdy." He and I walked through the house together. He was weathered and older. He reminisced about old times. I showed him photos we'd found showing him and his brother playing cards with Tim, looking good and young, and gave him the best one. It was nice talking with him. Refreshing. We'd been bumping into quite a few sour sullen types.

Ron is a rancher who has his wits about him and notices things in great detail and isn't fearful. It was nice experiencing someone of the *caliber* who used to gravitate to Tim's house back in the day. He helped me to connect back to then. It had started to seem like maybe it had never happened.

I asked Ron where he lived and we found a map and he showed me. He swept his thumb over a few inches of map. Then he said but his house was there, and the driveway went this-a-way for a half mile. How'd you like to wave over a county-sized chunk of land when answering people as to where you lived? ...It was a bit like The Misfits movie where, when asked where he lived while driving along, Clark Gable answers "Here, there, this whole land!" gesturing to the hills beyond his truck.

In addition to ranching in more recent years Ron had worked at the prison. Many farm people did and do. He was involved early on in a "cons rescuing mustangs" program.

Tim had other pals in his declining years. We met a couple. They tended to show more signs of tragedy themselves. One had been with Tim quite a bit in the final years but he only mentioned Tim once, the rest was Did we find this or that item of his as we cleaned. "I had a ladder." He did say that one thing about Tim, though only as it related to his own travails. His own troubles were nothing to sneeze at, so I won't pile on. So, Tim would get sheets to the wind and this pal would offer to help and in return get a sidelong squint and a low, drawled "Easy, cowboy." It was his saying. Yeah, come to think of it, I remembered that. It meant, careful, I can deal with this, it might take me awhile to steady out against this wall, but it's OK, you don't just go grabbing people. Shades of Clark Gable's "Misfits," again. I think I only heard it once. But I sympathized with the old pal who had endured it many times, no doubt. And I appreciated being reminded about it. It's hard to mention the pitiful aspects of the living or dead. It's hard to be fair. It's private. I'm not going to grind my family into pigment, as it was said of the classic painter. Does it add anything to mention it? In this case, I think so.

We found many traces of old days during our cleaning.

Tim didn't write anything or create much. But he kept the rest. We found old folders of paperwork here and there. We found documents about Seneca.

We found a folder about Tim's fun, generous, wild friend Jerry Goldwater who had found security at Tim's house before going off the deep end. Some papers showed that Tim had been made Jerry's custodian. Jerry was the first of the old gang to blow up. OK, I'll tell it: He'd been sober 5 years, lined up a new job in a library, was going to move from Tim's into a little trailer in the country (people questioned that), got an inheritance, celebrated, drank, and died the next day. See, was that worth relating? I don't know, but it's something. Something Tim had to deal with.

We found Tim's "Conscientious Objector" files and interview transcript. The FBI had interviewed dozens of people in his life when he was of drafting age for Vietnam. It was interesting getting that look into that era. Vietnam defined a generation. And not everyone was willing to kill Chinamen.

We found commemorative clothes and a medal from when he was a mechanic for a friend's race car team at the Carrera Panamericana race from the north to the south of Mexico.

In recent decades Tim became reclusive. Yet even there we were surprised. We found an envelope of photos from 2008 when he was looking gaunt and thin but he was tending bar at Seneca still. A beautiful young woman gradually started appearing in the stack of photos, in various poses among the men at the bar. Odd. I flipped through. Were they photoshopped? No, she really was playing the bar's piano and really was lounging along the top of the bar. The photos were pro quality. Then the clothes started coming off. Soon the pics showed full-on stripper mode with Tim mixing drinks behind the bar and miners with huge grins on their faces on the barstools. A website was printed at the bottom of the photos. I looked it up. It turns out it's an exotic glamour photography studio that specialized in rustic locations. Well, that's what they found at Tim's bar!

I asked around later and heard that one day they had just shown up and asked if they could take photos and one thing led to another. ...That was the kind of thing that might happen around Tim. And it was good to see that the fun still went down even in his twilight years.


*Why Can't You Be Normal?*

Tim first went to California when he was a teen, following his big brother's footsteps in escaping from conservative Grand Rapids, Michigan. He took 2 cousins and 2 best friends with him. They had big adventures. They're almost all gone now.

A friend of Tim's once said "You know, I think Tim is the most Christian person I know. He gives all he has freely, helps others when he can, and judges no one. And he's an atheist."

Their gang was mostly lawyers, but also musicians and artists. These guys did lots of business deals, but they were also progressives. They helped start the first black art museum. They were defense lawyers for the oppressed. I heard that Kent served longer than anyone had at the Public Defenders office of LA, a place encouraging burn-out if anywhere did.

They organized the first Renaissance Fair in America. With the Pattersons. ...Huh, what? Yeah, it's kinda crazy. Bet you didn't see that one coming. They handled the beverages. (Checks out in Google.) ...More grist for the mill.

His sister, my mother, has an interest in psychology and human development. She has always wondered why some people take to the bottle. Is it just genetics affecting how we respond to life? Why weren't her brothers normal? (Kent is also a heavy drinker.) What makes people march to a different drummer. I think they see more than others do. People react differently to seeing more. Criminals and the insane are famously more sensitive than average. As are artists and geniuses. Leaders? They have a lot of insight, but they also the ambition to fit into things as they are. Also, they can be more like weather: a product. The Times throw up leaders that they're ready for. Effective leaders attempt only what their Times will allow. Artists go beyond what is supposedly possible. Some artists create with their very lives rather than leaving work behind.

A friend said to me, when discussing my uncles, and another genius alcoholic eccentric, Lucius Beebe, who my uncles enjoyed, that we're lucky to live when we do, now that differences are accepted. Those who were different, and sensitive, until recently suffered great guilt and fell far more often into addiction and depression. They suffered great oppression, persecution and violence in the US. They still suffer in so many places around the world. This is a change that has only happened in my lifetime. My uncles were on the other side of that line. Of course, there is still tremendous fall-out due to even worse psychological conflict, as both our leadership and our public become more depraved in sicknesses which are still considered acceptable, such as greed.



*Free for All*

Our last day was Free Day. Everything really must go. We had a few hundred goodies left. Take what ya want.

We'd been throwing stuff into the 30-yard dumpster every day as we went along. It was getting full. But nothing unusual happened all that final day. It was the first day without something weird. Then as we were getting ready to close a Suburban pulled up full of screaming kids. A pretty young gal got out. "How much for the books?" Free! "Really? My dad and I love to read. OK, can I just take the boxes? I'll load 'em up." There went Tim's marvelous library of classics and thrillers. She asked us how we were doing with our sale and who we were and how were we liking the town. We told her about our swimming fun. "By the way," she said, "the cliffs are OK, but if you guys want really good action you have to go further up the river. The holes are deeper and more people are hanging out. I used to go up there a lot before..." she gestured to the truck full of kids. "Oh, and my name's Treasure." John and I looked at each. Score!

Over the next few days, I noticed little posses of kids clustering around the remaining book boxes. ...The only people who were curious about them anymore. Suffer the little children...



*The New Old Team*

The next morning we were going to leave. But my Uncle Kent said he and 3 friends had finally gotten their ducks in a row and were driving from LA to hold a memorial service at the Pioneer. Kent called and said that I should cancel my flight and stick around. He'd cover the cost. And so I did.

That morning at 2:30am I drove John back to Reno for his flight home. It wasn't hard driving at such a wee hour because the crescent moon was rising below us as we drove along the side of the foothills with the desert beyond. And the stars went from horizon to horizon like they do out there.

We strapped the speakers into the back of the truck. I dropped John off for his flight then I drove to Truckee and met my friend's brother. He ran a big event production company and had a million$ in sound equipment. He was out spray-painting some displays, younger dudes hustling things here and there. Behind him was a huge warehouse, stacked 30 feet high with rock concert stuff. I'd never seen such a place. He thought my antiques were interesting and was happy to stash them for me among his other speakers. I wrapped and labeled them on the pallet and off they went on a forklift. ...Best wishes!

I dropped the rental truck off in Reno, but, yikes, I was cutting it close for the one daily bus back to Susanville! A mechanic drove me to the station with 5 minutes to spare. You try driving nonstop from 2:30am in strange mountains and strange cities with a strange huge truck, doing multiple missions and then get somewhere on time without getting lost. I didn't lose more than a few minutes the whole day, but that was close. Whew!

On the bus was a guy from Slovenia and another from Sweden. They were going to work at Thunder Mountain, a meditation retreat an hour further north on the highway beyond Susanville. Dang, just when I thought I thought things might get quiet and that I had the area figured out...

Back in Susanville I visited the sheriff again. My office gal was back in town. She said "The sheriff says you're good to go. Come back tomorrow and pick up your guns." I couldn't believe my luck.

Kent and the 3 other lawyers arrived. It was good to see them. They were lounging at Tim's when I got back from the sheriff's.

The Grumpy Old Lawyers were marveling that Tim's house looked like a real house. Even his front walk was swept. The garage was clean. The Gun Room empty. The unwalkable yard now just a yard.

They marveled even more when the next morning we dutifully signed all paperwork and the firearms were marched out to our trunk. Presto!

I then gave several guns away to old friends of Tim's. And I gave away the boar-bristle dart board in its cabinet, too, to one of the last old dart-players.

Two of the Old Lawyers could hardly walk. Kent used a big old cane I'd whittled for him out of Osage Orange, dark gold now with years. The next day we drove out to Seneca and wandered around, remembering old times. Then we scattered Tim's ashes in the river.

A group called the "Clampers" had installed a bronze plaque on a boulder in front of the bar commemorating the "Angel of Seneca," Tim's petite old bartender Marie, a French Canadian who had gone from Montreal to San Francisco then fell in love with a miner and ending up working the bar for 60 years, into her 80's. (She had served me as a youngster.) Who were these Clampers? Nobody knew. We'd seen another plaque at the entrance to the Pioneer Bar.

As we drove back through the next mountain town over, looking for a place to have a drink, we passed a biker bar that I noticed had a little sign in its window saying "Clampers Chapter." We wheeled around and settled in for refreshments. We learned a little about the Clampers as well. They're a fraternal group dedicated to drinking and preserving Old West history, but maybe not in that order.

I got a call on my cellphone. It was a guy in Australia and he bought the limousine and was going to have it hauled out of the forest and shipped overseas where he would fully restore it.

Tim wouldn't've believed it.

The Old Lawyers hardly did, either.



*Memories*

The next day was our memorial service at the Pioneer. The old lawyers have a reputation. If they love a place they let the owner know. They call him out. They praise it in detail. And tip big. But if things went wrong, if the staff didn't pay attention, brimfire! I thought things looked good. I'd arranged it all with my favorite manager.

They gave us the back half. We were sitting around waiting to start. App's came out. Someone had ordered a beautiful margarita a bit earlier. So my uncle and I ordered more. Ours showed up looking different. My uncle made a face after he took a sip. What's this? I didn't even turn around. Oh no, I'd forgotten! There was one bartender who had not hardly been able to do anything right for us the past two weeks. I'd order a Manhattan and get an Old Fashioned. We actually got a bow and a "Namaste" every time we had to go back and fix a mistake. Humorous, to us, then wearisome as the scene repeated itself over the weeks. But it wouldn't go over so well with The Lawyers. I asked for the manager. She asked if there was anything wrong with the margaritas. I said Yeah, but that wasn't the big problem. We were going to have a big situation if we didn't get a different bartender for our event, because I was right: our "special" friend had just come on duty and made those drinks. I impressed on her that glitches would equal trouble. Instead of big tips there would be loud roaring, literally. She said she'd take care of it. It was a close call.

I'd spent the afternoon putting together two photo boards of Tim. Jerry had brought up 100 photos I'd never seen. We'd been putting together our own pile of special papers and photos as we cleaned house. That day I looked in detail at all of them for the first time. I sat on the carpet while Kent sat in the last big ol' easy chair. I'd pass him things and he'd remember and tell me about old times. Times before my day, when everyone was young. Then I'd pin them up.

A new woman arrived at the memorial. She knew Tim from Seneca. She sat at a different table from the Susanville friends. I went and sat with her. She was well-preserved and fashionable. She had a photo album with her, of Seneca. She said she had other albums. She told stories. From when Tim and she were in their prime. I'd never heard of her. She kept saying how much she loved Tim and how remarkable he was, so smart, kind, gentle, capable and fun. It wasn't like "that," though, she said, they were just friends, but perhaps that was out of courtesy. Oh, he knew everything! Then there was the time they drove the Jeep straight up the tree! See, here's the picture! And there it was, a Jeep perched straight up against the trunk of a straight tall pine. Oh we had such times. But, of course, she had *those* times. Those who loved him in Susanville more recently had different times. Those who stuck with him during his years in his chair suffered as he declined, even though he never had a care in the world and hardly noticed his condition except to marvel that he couldn't hardly get to his porch for firewood anymore, fancy that.

The next day we went to the local Italian restaurant. The lawyers raved about the food and called the cook out. I'd hoped that a sweet young waitress who'd served John and I in the weeks earlier would be there but she wasn't. She was our favorite. She could handle the whole restaurant by herself and miss nothing and still be thoughtful with everyone. She would've had a great time with the Lawyers. She would've felt even better about her work. And would've gotten a $100 tip, easy.



*Minding the Flow*

This whole estate experience, of course, had its stresses for me. I was juggling a dozen things each day that I'd never dealt with before. I paid attention to the pace. I noticed the changing levels of intensity. Glitches were signals to me. I made 7 mistakes of various kinds. Like, I left my phone at someone's house. No biggies, it's just funny noticing that kind of thing. I left a cash voucher on a bank teller's desk and walked 50 feet away before I remembered then thought "Careful, boy!" At home you just roll with it, but when you're running a big project on a razor's edge far from home, the little changes in tempo stand out, deserve attention.

Once John told a guy he'd sell a nonworking chainsaw to him for $10. Then the next day the guy came back again and John started fiddling with the saw and suddenly it started and said it was $40, probably not even remembering the guy. The guy swung to me and whined "He told me it was $10, he did!" It felt ugly. It was the fussy neighbor who picked up stray leaves and measured property...and who reported Tim's yard for being an eyesore. John was pissed. I told the guy, "Sorry, it's $40 now. It wasn't working before." "But he said $10." Then I thought, OK, let's make nice with neighbors. ...That was my rule. I'd been giving things to them. So I relented. We got over it, but it stung. When you do a thousand things without missing a beat, even a little glitch rankles. We worked hard to stay in our groove. We were a well-honed team machine.

Also, I never looked through the 20 years of Citroen Club Newsletters before shipping them off to an eBay guy. Mistake. The Citroen vibe was a big part of our experience. We'd pushed the car out of the garage and admired it every day. It was a centerpiece to our selling. It represented the kind of guy who was responsible for our predicament. I should've looked at them. Once they were gone, I kicked myself for missing out on the chance to soak in such a collection.

Noreen was our hero. She brought us lunch sandwiches. She demanded our dirty clothes and brought them back clean and folded. She knew Tim well, but didn't get the pain side Marge had. She had had her own troubles, though, with her husband, Tim's best friend. ...Whew.

The car hauler that the Australian hired was in daily contact with me then on the day we were going try for the extraction he bailed due to a death in the family. It was a close call with my rhythm because the Old Lawyers had announced they were visiting Seneca that day. So the delay was good. But he had also been uninformed about what would be needed to do the job. He didn't know it was a limo. Didn't know it was buried on rotted tires in a forest.

The quirky mechanic friends who owned the remote property said they had a plan and would take care of it. I told them if they pulled it off I'd give them the last car of Tim's, which they wanted and was also out there. Also, John wanted to buy that Toyota. So let's make this all go good, OK? Besides, I had to fly home soon. The new plan was to jack up the car, swap in fresh tires, then GET IT RUNNING and drive it onto the tow trailer. It had been sitting outside for 25 years, abandoned! Well, a week later I called and was told: It started and purred like a kitten! The new tires were on. They were on their way!

There are still things to be done there to make the house nice. But nice is relative. It seems like only someone quirky would want it. It will always have an air of deer camp. $70k cash and it's yours.

We never did prune the rest of the trees. There would still be a good 30 yard dumpster to fill of green wood. (Brush had to be loaded separately from the regular dump fill. It's only $9/yard compared to $70/yd for household.)

I still have the mahogany gentleman's parlor pool table to sell. It's in pieces, from when Tim bought and moved it from the Pioneer years ago. It has 3 super-heavy slates. And leather basket pockets. He had a lovely pool cue in a hinged case (now on eBay).

The house and property are now for sale, of course. Yeah, I talk bad about the town, and America. But there's a flipside to everything. The place has a lot to offer. A modern community college in a gorgeous setting with great views. The mtbike park. The National Forest all around. You really could use this place in the city as a deer camp without any trouble at all. Heck, it's just as quiet, even. So, let's say $70k and it's yours. Deal?


*Phases Three and Four and...*

I ended up shipping home a dozen boxes of keepsakes for myself. Yeah, I got carried away. I mis-estimated the postage. I thought each carton was $25 to mail home. It ended up being $50. Gulp! I mailed home Tim's old highschool trombone. Henry said he wanted some brass in his new band, so that made sense. It all made sense, a little. I mailed home Tim's OED. How could I not? That was only $15. It's better than the Web.

I sent home Tim's classy old rocks glasses.

What about the straight razor and strop and the natural whetstones? And seersucker jacket? How could I not.

Then there was the cash. Did I want to travel with pounds of bills? I turned them into money orders down at the post office. I stood in line then asked if they had any extra staff. Nope. Well, I hope you have a good way to count coz here ya go. And I laid out my piles of bills. They did have a counting machine. But it still took the lady 15 minutes to get a tally.

After the Four Old Lawyers drove back to LA things got quiet. But the next day I went and watched the dirt track stock car races to see Nathan Howard do his thing. Maybe he'd have the decals on his car! It was quite a hillbilly scene. It was neat hearing (and feeling) the earthshaking rumble of the cars. I said Hi to Nathan and his pals but he hadn't had time for the stickers. (He did get them put on, nice and big, the next weekend!) I was already feeling wistful about leaving town the next day. The desert mountains stretched away in the background in the evening light at the race track grand stand.

The next day I labeled all the cartons, some going to me, some to a Citroen mechanic in North Carolina who was also a jazz musician (nice!), some to John, some to Kent. Some by USPS, some by FedEX and some by UPS. All with pickups arranged by laptop. ...I hope you sense the orchestration here.

That last week I didn't have a vehicle. It was splendid blasting around town on my bike.

The next day I took the bus to Reno and flew into San Francisco. A fellow passenger on the bus jokingly said "You can get on if you like fly-fishing." Well, I came here to settle an estate and just sold my uncle's old bamboo fly rod because I have a better one, does that count? "Dang! What about bird hunting. You have to be a bird hunter." Well, I inherited his .410 over/under which he preferred for his favorite bird, quail. I think I'll like it, too. Does that count? "Welcome aboard!" He was an HVAC guy. HVAC is good.



*Not About to Let Up*

In San Francisco I met our pal David. He was getting his first day off in 3 months. He's buying a cafe' and had been busy. He was looking for a chance to party. Good timing!

I stepped off the plane and David picked me up and adventure #103 of the trip began. When we got out of his car in Berkeley and walked down the sidewalk, I felt pounds of pressure falling away from me. I'd just spent 3 weeks in a hardscrabble town. Now I'm seeing bikes that aren't DUI bikes. And cars that have hubcaps. What a relief! I didn't realize that the difference would strike me so much.

David was housesitting for friends whose house had a view of the Golden Gate and Mount Tamalpais. We picked our favorite refreshment zone from among 5 patios. Nice.

The next morning I got to the airport and went to get my boarding pass with my confirmation number and it turned out that I didn't have a ticket. I hadn't had enough points on my system to get the ticket. Yet I had gotten an email thanking me for my purchase! Then I was trying to log in to my account to add money when my computer died. I hadn't been able to log into the free wifi anyway. The counter lady said she needed my Pin Number to help me from her phone. I didn't have such a number, had only needed my password. Well, she said next time make sure you have a Pin and a ticket number in addition to your confirmation number. I missed my flight and had to spend twice as much money for a quick fix. And in the end I spent an extra 6 hours in airports. ...So had John! C'est la vie. I don't mind airports.



*Home Again*

When I stepped into the Michigan night at the end of that long day I couldn't even breathe. The air hung thick and heavy with no movement. A swamp. Welcome home!

In the end, I'd earned a lot of cash but a big credit bill was waiting. It came out almost a wash, sad to say. But I got some cool things. And had some good times. Who has as much fun as people? I sold a couple more things from home, after all was said and done.

A French Israeli in So-Cal kept trying to buy the Citroen for parts. No one else had made an offer, so I sold it to him. But he was obnoxious. He told me long pointless stories unbidden. We arranged for payment and pickup. But the time came and went and he didn't call back. At the same time the jazz musician Citroen mechanic from North Carolina who had bought some parts from me earlier said he was hoping to line up enough funds to haul the car back and restore it for his sons. Suddenly he said had the funds. I told him to hop on it, that I'd rather sell to him than to the other guy but somebody had to actually come up with money. He pulled thru. Hooray! He says he'll send me videos of his progress. So that was more karma and money to the good.

Then I met a guy in Reno who'd bought a pool table just to fix it up ... and he bought the whorehouse bar. He was happy. More money to the good. He said he wanted to come back up to Susanville to check out our pool table sometime. And the house, too.

...You never know what'll happen next.

It took me a few days to "come down" after getting home. No one could relate. Was it all a dream? Our house was still a construction zone from the bathroom repair.

A week later I saw John at a bike ride. "Are you still feeling it?" I asked. Oh yeah. Remember the speakers? Oh yeah. ...John knows.


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