A Ballsy Idea

It’s not often that two people get into a fight over a giant bra ball. In fact, my research suggests it’s happened only once in the history of mankind.


Ron Nicolino


Emily Duffy

The kerfuffle started in the mid-1990’s when San Francisco Bay Area artist Ron Nicolino began collecting bras for “Bras Across the Grand Canyon,” a performance art piece to condemn sexism. Alas, the feds would not approve the venture, and he was left with tens of thousands of bras that had been donated by women from all over the world.

What to do? What to do?

duffy2jpgHe took his plight to the San Francisco Chronicle, which published his desire to donate the bras to a worthy cause. Emily Duffy, another Bay Area artist, answered the call and offered to take a few hundred. She would use them to make a car bra for her “Vain Van.” But Nicolino wasn’t interested in giving away just a few—he wanted to unload his entire inventory.

I know what you’re thinking—right there should have been a sign that trouble was on the horizon.

Later, Duffy claimed that during their initial phone conversation, it was her idea to create a Giant Bra Ball. Nicolino claimed the idea was his. After all, most of his bras were already wrapped around a giant spool. A spool is a ball-like form, right?

Nicolino apparently didn’t get any warm fuzzies during his conversation with Duffy or from her subsequent letter where she proposed they collaborate on making a ball. He started rolling his bras toot-sweet.

At the time, Duffy had only 10 bras. How could she possibly compete with his collection of 20-60,000? (The estimates vary widely.) I’m thinking—but do not know—that Nicolino grossly misjudged her tenacity. Within weeks, she emailed a bunch of friends and quickly procured 15,000 bras.

The Giant Bra Ball War was on!

They each retained a lawyer. From that moment on, they never referred to each other by name. Duffy called Nicolino “the other artist” and he called her “the individual.” Duffy’s lawyer sent a cease and desist letter. Nicolino’s lawyer fired back a claim that a copyright cannot be held on a concept of sculpture.

nicolino2I don’t know about Emily Duffy, but I do know that Nicolino hauled his Giant Bra Ball to the Mendocino 4th of July Parade in 2001. At the time I was still adjusting—after nine years—to living on the Mendocino Coast and was shocked by the number of women who reached inside their shirts to unhinge their bras and toss them onto the back of the flatbed towed behind his 1963 pink Cadillac. I would later regret not having been brave enough to rip off my bra to donate to the 14,000 or so hooked together to form the five-foot diameter ball.

BraballWhen I happened upon Nicolino after the parade, he gallantly posed for a picture with his creation. (His smile was tempting, but I retained my bra.)

For some years—although I am unable to determine how many—Nicolino towed his Giant Bra Ball in parades and parked it outside the Pier 23 Café in San Francisco.

Nicolino died on July 7, 2009 at the age of 69, three weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. A few years previously, he’d moved to La Conner, Washington, and started a casket-making business. At the time of his death, he was working on his own casket, which featured a clown face. An artist friend finished it for him.

After he died, his mother hoped that some organization would take the 1,600-pound bra ball.

Alas, in all my research and email inquiries to strangers, I am unable to find out what happened to Nicolino’s Giant Bra Ball. Duffy’s ended up in the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

It’s unclear whether Nicolino took his Giant Bra Ball with him to La Conner. Given his mother’s wish that someone take possession of it, I imagine the ball stayed—like my son’s international Starbucks mug collection—in her garage.

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The Purity Survival Guide

Tip #1: How to make a thumb splint from comfort food

_DSC8890When I think of comfort food, my mind gloms onto Cyrus O’Leary’s Chocolate Cream Pie. Then I think of The Purity. Before I know it, I’ve grabbed my car keys and it doesn’t matter if I’m in my pajamas, I’m on my way to the store.

A recent surgery to remove a hooty from my left thumb placed me in need of a mild sedative, daytime sofa lounging and comfort food. Forty-eight hours into recovery, I went to The Purity to buy a chocolate cream pie. A couple of hours after returning home, I had an epiphany—in addition to putting heft on my backside and a few dabs of plaque on my arteries, that pie could save my life.

thumb2I’d been instructed to remove the impressive-looking thumb wrapping two days after surgery. I hesitated. That covering made me look like I’d been through something horrendous and garnered much sympathy.

People exclaimed, “What happened to you?” I’d respond with a dismissive wave, “Oh it’s nothing” when it was truly something. I’d had surgery! My thumb throbbed in pain. It throbbed! All the attention made me feel like a warrior woman—so brave and strong.

If I replaced the wrapping with a couple of wimpy latex bandages, nobody would even notice. I would suffer in silence.

I obeyed the doctor’s orders and took off the bandage. My thumb, forgetting it had a major gash running the entire topside length, started to bend. Up to that point in my life, I’d not given much thought to how it might feel to have a nail driven through my left thumb knuckle.

Now I know.

PieI needed to splint the back of the thumb to prevent it from bending and tearing the stitches. But I had no splint or substitute. As I mulled over a solution, I pulled the chocolate cream pie from the refrigerator and started eating. Whatever chemicals—I mean, natural ingredients—they put in these pies to supercharge brain matter allowed me to come up with a brilliant idea.

In case you ever find yourself in a similar situation, let me share my step-by-step instructions:

1. Buy a Cyrus O’Leary’s Chocolate Cream Pie (or any other variety, but chocolate cream is the best).
2. Have surgery on or do some serious damage to your thumb.
3. Write some gibberish on your hand with purple permanent ink. (Mine vaguely resembles the former USSR flag or an upside down Ritual Coffee logo.) (If anyone asks, say it’s a tattoo you got in the 80′s while in prison.) (After a certain age people stop talking about you, so it’s imperative to devise new and interesting ways to keep yourself an object of gossip.)thumb3
4. Take the cardboard thingy off the pie. (I’m certain it has a name, but who cares?) Cut off the front section.Pie2
5. Fold it a few times.
6. Apply it to the back of your injured thumb.thumb4
7. Place some gauze on top of the wound.
8. Wrap tape around the whole caboodle.thumb9
9. Enjoy your new hokey—yet still impressive—bandage and the attention you’ll receive for another week until you go to get the stitches out and the doctor asks what the hell…?
10. Eat one Cyrus O’Leary’s Chocolate Cream Pie a day until you’re completely healed.

After I'm finished with this pie, I'm out the door to go buy another!

After I’m finished with this pie, I’m out the door to buy another!

Bye Bye Bank of America Pie

Ouppy1Members of Occupy Mendocino Coast gather in Fort Bragg every Friday from 3:00-5:00pm to wave signs in protest of corporate greed. These dedicated souls stand at the corner of Main and Laurel Streets, encouraged by occasional honks from passing cars. On Friday May 30th, they celebrated a milestone—the closing of the Fort Bragg branch of Bank of America.

They served pie.

It’d been a long time since I had pie and even longer since I hung out with a bunch of hippies. How could I resist?

Occupy2I arrived in the middle of a festive atmosphere, as protesters—like ladies at a church social—carried a variety of pies to card tables, exchanged light banter, displayed literature on an ironing board, picked up signs, and waved to honking cars—all amid the backdrop of a moving van parked beside the doors of Bank of America. Occupy5

Occupy6The hippies were a welcoming bunch and everyone I asked let me take their picture without questioning my intent. One woman allowed a photo as long as I swore I wasn’t from the CIA.

I was offered a slice of berry pie. “It’s sugar-free,” the woman said, “except for the crust.”

One woman wore a cute skirt with peace symbols stamped on it. Occupy7I asked where she got it and she proudly said she’d made it. She said she was running for State Assembly and encouraged me to take one of her home-made campaign fans.

The message on the back of the fan urges the reader to “Stop global warming & the need for war” through five points:

1. Legalize marijuana, grow everywhere for all it’s uses [gasoline, non-toxic biodegradable plastic wrap for food, hydro & nuclear energy, parents for baby trees, clean air, food, water, failing economy & environment.
2. Charge one cent state, federal, county tax every dollar transaction instead of current form to increase tax base.
3. Governments should buy what they want through private business rather than waste taxpayer’s war dollars stealing it.
4. Give business & landowners tax deductions, exemptions only for a portion money spent researching & employing people restoring our earth.
5. Divert money now wasted on taxpayer’s non-profit organizations [defense, space research, charity to other countries, unneeded building], to grants to be used only for restoring earth & Inhabitants.Occupy8

I returned home, rifled through stacks of paper to locate my mail-in ballot, and voted for her. (Sadly, she did not win.)

During my half hour spent with the protesters, no one claimed that the group was the catalyst for the closure of the BofA branch. However, their presence over the past few years has certainly highlighted the nasty practices of multinational financial institutions and encouraged people to take their business to locally-run banks.

Occupy9The flip side of the giddiness on that Friday afternoon is the economic blow to the half dozen people who will be added to the ranks of our town’s unemployed.

The loss of this branch also creates anxiety and sadness among the older members of our community who were forced to change banks. I know people in their eighties who have had accounts with Bank of America for 70 years. They were overwhelmed by the process of moving their accounts.

“What’s the big deal?” you might say. “At most, I only go into a branch a couple of times a year.”

My older friends remember a banking system far different from what it is today. They don’t do ATM’s or on-line. They do face-to-face. A trip to the bank is considered a social outing. They write checks for petty cash and keep valuables in safe deposit boxes. Of course, they can still do this, but now they must adjust to the system of a different bank.

Oh well. Times change. What’re ya gonna do?

I’m going to have another piece of pie.

Noyo Harbor Treasure

DSC03355A few weeks ago, I took an informal tour of the Grey Whale Inn. Later, out of curiosity, I went to TripAdvisor.com to read guest reviews. While the vast majority are positive, one review stated, “Stayed there last minute as we were passing though the awfull (sic) place that is fort bragg (sic), the hotel is a old hospital built 1919 with ghosts whom must have been cleaners the place needs a good scrub….”

I feel sorry for this person. (Not really—I only say that because it sounds more mature than revealing my true desire to punch him in the face.) If he had worried about getting stuck in “awfull” Fort Bragg, he should have stayed in Willits (which is actually spelled with two “l’s”).

DSC03352For the most part, Fort Bragg is funky and we’re proud of that. According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one definition of funky is “odd or quaint in appearance or feeling.” Awful is defined as “extremely bad or unpleasant” or “the person who wrote that grammatically-incorrect, nasty review of the Grey Whale Inn.”

One of the areas that best illustrates Fort Bragg’s funkiness is Noyo Harbor. It is a working harbor where commercial boats land fish to be processed. It’s also home to restaurants offering good food and magnificent views. At the far south end is Sportsman’s Dock where people can board charter boats to cruise the Pacific Ocean and watch whales or catch fish.

DSC03393I’ve been to the restaurant at Sportsman’s Dock many times, but have rarely spent time wandering around the area. The dock was built in the fifties by Richard Lucas (father of my friend MW) and his cousin Ray Welch to provide a recreational spot for sports fishermen.

On a recent sunny afternoon, Lucy and I decided to go on an explore.

Gary: “Where are you going?” Me: “Sportsman’s Dock.” Gary: “Why?” Me: “A voice inside my head commands me to go.” Gary: “Have fun.”

As I snapped pictures and Lucy sniffed seagull poop, a couple pulled into the parking lot and got out of their truck. The man shouted, “How much you want for that dog?”

“A million dollars.”

DSC03396After exchanging some banter and Lucy petting, he introduced himself as Dusty. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a Dusty I didn’t like. This one was no exception. He graciously took Lucy and me on a tour of the World’s End Rowing Club and Dock Services. He talked about the Lost Coast Chapter of the Traditional Small Craft Association and led us behind the scenes where the boats are built.

DSC03385We went to a fenced-off dock where he encouraged me to let Lucy off leash. I was being overprotective, worried about her wiggling through the slats in the fence (she is, after all, a blog celebrity). He said, “She won’t jump into the water. She isn’t stupid.”

I hate to disappoint Lucy fans, but she sometimes does very stupid things (like trying to catch bumble bees). I made a quick assessment as to who would dive the 30 feet into the water to rescue her and determined it would be me.

She stayed on the leash.

DSC03358I encourage everyone to take some time and stroll around Sportsman’s Dock. That is, everyone but the aforementioned TripAdvisor.com critic. I wouldn’t want him to write something “awfull” about it. The rest of you will find it delightful. I promise it will make you happy.


Grey Whale Inn

Grey Whale3

Photo from Grey Whale Inn website

On a recent visit to Fort Bragg, our son Harrison and his girlfriend Kasi recounted a television show called “The Haunting Of” which once featured the Grey Whale Inn. According to them, a psychic entered the inn and said she sensed that it had once been a hospital.

Wow. She probably hadn’t read the About page of the website which states, “The Grey Whale Inn started life in 1915 as the Fort Bragg Hospital.”

LM3The psychic also declared the resident cat to be possessed by a demonic spirit.

For a true encounter with the demonic, I invite the psychic to visit our house and meet our cat Little Mister.

Harrison, Kasi and I dropped by the inn to see what vibes we might pick up.


The local artist who makes these gets to keep the proceeds.

The cat’s name is Sweet Pea. As her name suggests, she is very sweet. Guests find her so appealing that many take home a ceramic magnet to commemorate the time spent with her.


Photo from Grey Whale Inn website

I had toured the inn before, but delighted in seeing it again. It has four stories (counting the basement and the Sunset Room set on top like a penthouse suite). Each room is decorated in an eclectic-country style. Though nicely appointed, the basement feels kind of spooky (but I’ve always been spooked by basements).

After we’d combed the place top to bottom, we ran into Mike, the proprietor.

GreyWhale2jpgMike has owned the Inn since 2000. During that time, he’s renovated the grounds by replacing the lawn with drought-resistant plants. A vegetable garden is harvested for use in the breakfasts he prepares for guests. He gave us a brief history of the hospital—how it was founded in 1915 by Dr. F. McLean Campbell, purchased by Dr. Paul J. Bowman in 1923, and sold to Dr. Mervyn Hamlin, another local physician, in 1966.

During the early 2000’s, I took my dogs Wilson and Tucker for runs in the nearby cemetery. We often encountered the retired Dr. Hamlin in the late afternoons. He always had a biscuit for the dogs and walked with us until he veered off to visit the graves of his wife and son.

He told stories of attending Stanford during the Depression. His tuition was $100 a quarter and he struggled to come up with it. Work in the food service department on campus helped support him. He made his way through medical school and to Fort Bragg where he practiced for many years.

Dr. Hamlin took this photo of the dogs & me.

Photo taken by Dr. Hamlin of the dogs & me.

The dogs and I missed him after he had a stroke and could no longer take walks. An online reaction to his death in 2009 states: “Medical practice in Fort Bragg has never been the same since this great man retired. One of my favorite memories of him was as he passed our house on McPherson St., he commented that we should not have our underclothing hanging out on our line to dry.”


The original nurses’ dormitory across the street is now an apartment building.

Mike shrugged off the ghostly findings of “The Haunting Of.” He hasn’t had a supernatural encounter in the 14 years that he’s owned the place.

To hear what others might have to say about spirits rattling about the inn, I went to TripAdvisor.com. I discovered a review written on July 24, 2013 by a teenager named Carl S. from Toronto, Canada titled, “An Odd Experience.” By way of introduction, he states: “I like to think that my family and I are very rational people and we haven’t been able to explain these situations in any natural way.”

Carl describes a distressing night of television malfunction, midnight organ music, and a mysterious caress of his brother’s butt while going to the bathroom. (Click here to read the entire review.)

Haunted or not, the Grey Whale Inn is a charming place to stay when visiting Fort Bragg. It reflects the unique flavor of our town—a dear combination of funky and pretty.

Photo from Grey Whale Inn website.

Photo from Grey Whale Inn website