Soul Mate

I guide my grocery cart away from the checkout stand at The Purity. I greet a friend standing at the onion bins. A middle aged woman with dark auburn hair, stylish makeup and a Guatemalan shoulder bag enters the store and collects a cart.

As she passes, she gives me a shining smile and direct eye contact. I smile back, thinking I might know her, but realize I do not. She takes a few steps toward the first aisle before whipping a U-turn and nearly colliding her cart with mine.

She’s excited, like a racehorse anxious to be released from the starting gate. I suspect something interesting is about to happen.

“We were meant to meet,” she says in a conspiratorial tone, her face beaming.

“Really?” I say.

“Yes.” She’s nearly breathless. “I saw you walking your dog yesterday. Then today, my husband drove me to the store and we pulled up next to a car and I saw your dog and I said to him, ‘There’s that woman’s dog! She must be in the store!’ And here you are!”

“Wow.” I feel like a celebrity.

celestine_prophecy_B_ARTWORK.qxd:Layout 1She leans in closer, a little too close. “Have you ever read The Celestine Prophecy?”

I’ve read a lot of stuff over the years. I search my memory banks. “No.”

“It says that if two people continue to encounter one another, they either share a past life or have something in this life they are destined to learn from each other.”


“Don’t you see? I saw you yesterday and then again today. We were meant to meet.”

No one has ever been so excited to see me. “May I ask your name?”

“Lauren Conroy [not her real name]. I live on the corner of Lincoln and Whipple [not her real address].”

I hold out my hand. “Nice to meet you.”

She shakes my hand. “And what’s your name?”

“Kate.” I deliberately skip my last name and Google Map location.

She looks astonished. “Kate is the name I give when I make orders to go! You know like when you place a sandwich order at a deli counter?”

I nod.

“I give the name Kate!” Her dark brown eyes glisten.

As farfetched as I find this encounter, the fake name for take-out orders doesn’t faze me. For years, my Starbucks name has been Hazel. I receive many compliments on it.

“It’s so nice to meet you, Lauren. Thank you for stopping to introduce yourself.” I walk away, but not before noticing her expression drop into disappointment.

“Hopefully we’ll see each other again,” she calls after me.

I assume she’s a recent transplant. We live in a small town. She hasn’t learned that the chances of repeated people sightings are approximately 99.9%.

Lucy and I will have to start wearing hats and dark glasses on our daily walks.

Despite the potential danger of being stalked, Lucy cannot be talked into wearing a hat and sunglasses.

Cash Flow

In the summer of 2008, after numerous citizen complaints, the Fort Bragg city council passed an ordinance against panhandling. I was relieved.

PanhandlingFlyerIn lieu of giving strangers money, I prefer to donate to organizations that help the homeless and those in need. But as the town’s panhandling situation escalated, I felt pressured. It got to the point where I couldn’t go grocery shopping or walk downtown without being asked for spare change. When I finally mustered the nerve to deny one guy, he told me to “Have a nice day, bitch!” Well there he went, ruining it for everybody. With few exceptions, spare change has stayed in my wallet from that moment on.

Some years ago, I drove around Spokane, Washington, with our son Harrison collecting what he needed to move into a dorm at Gonzaga University. On our one hundredth trip to the Valley Mall, I pulled onto the freeway off ramp and stopped at a light. A short, stout woman with hair the consistency of a bird’s nest stood in the dry weeds next to the street holding a sign that stated, “I need money to get out of here.” Perhaps it was her extreme twitchiness that prompted me to roll down my window and ask, “Where are you going?”


She was only twelve miles from the Washington-Idaho border. Her chances of success were quite high.

“And then I’m going to the state after that and then the state after that and the state after that….”

I reached into my wallet and pulled out the first bill I touched. It was a five.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” She shouted as she took the money.

The light turned green and I proceeded to the mall.

“You know she’s going to buy drugs with that money, don’t you?” Harrison said.

“I suppose.” I didn’t tell him I had experienced times in my life when I wanted to make a run for the border and keep going to the state after that and the state after that.

mycarThis past spring, about a month before a van tried to run me over in The Purity parking lot, I found a dollar on the sidewalk. I put it in a cup holder in my car. I would give it to the first street person who asked for money, preferably someone encountered in the parking lot at The Purity.

I was surprised how long it took to pass along that dollar. Seven months after finding it, I was downtown on Laurel, walking along the north side of the street. As I approached Pippi’s Longstockings, a young man and woman crossed the street from the alley.

Both were tall and lean, the kind of lean that borders on emaciated. Despite the warm weather, they wore sweatshirts, the hoods pulled over their heads and down to their eyebrows. His was gray, hers a faded red. There was a dark desperation about them, the kind of look I get when I’m denied my mid-morning sugar fix. I gave them a nod of acknowledgement, a smile of understanding. I’ve been caught without cookies in the house when I dearly need them.

As if I’d tossed a lasso and pulled her in, the woman approached. “Do you have a dollar?” she asked.

I do.” It’s difficult to describe the joy that came over me. Someone had finally answered my call and I was able to relinquish the responsibility of being a good steward of found cash.

The original Purity dollar was in my car, but I had a substitute in my wallet. I pulled it out and handed it to her along with a big smile. She snatched it from my hand. “Thank God,” she said, with a deep sigh of relief. It was the same relief I feel when, hopeless, I remember a stash of mini-muffins in the freezer.

Her man friend had continued north through the alley. She quickened her stride to catch up.

Perhaps she’d use that dollar to feed her addiction. Maybe it would help her buy some food. Possibly it would help get her to the next state, and the state after that, and the state after that.

Parking Lot Grace

mycarI exit The Purity and walk across the parking lot towards my car. An eighties-style mini-van with patches of missing blue paint whips around a line of parked cars and screeches to a halt as if to avoid hitting me. It is several feet from making actual body contact, but screeches nonetheless. Burning cigarettes dangle from the corners of the lips of both the driver and his passenger.

The passenger jumps out like he’s late for an important interview. He takes a few sprinting steps and stops in front of me. With his thumb and forefinger, he pulls the cigarette from of his mouth. His face is bright, lit by a smile of anticipation.

Perhaps he’s a fan of It Happened at Purity.

I’m on my way home from the veterinarian where I’ve learned the sad news that our dog Lucy has to have another Luxating patella surgery. I’m in no mood to sign autographs.

He’s of slight build, about my height, short blonde hair, wears a camo T-shirt, and looks vaguely familiar. He pauses and opens his mouth. Perhaps he’ll say My buddy wanted to run you over, but I told him not to.

Instead, he says, “Ma’am?”

I’m thinking here it is—he’s going to ask for money. A couple months ago, I found a dollar in The Purity parking lot. It’s in a cup holder in my car. I keep waiting for someone to ask so I can give it away. This could be the day.

“Yes?” I say.

“Have a nice day.”

This makes me smile. “Thank you. And you, too.” I start to walk past.

He takes a drag off his cigarette and with smoke exiting his nose and mouth, says, “I really like your blouse.”

My heart fills with gratitude for him. He has lightened a very dark day.

I get into my car and pat Lucy on the head. “It’s amazing how little it takes to keep us going, isn’t it girl?” She wags her tail, looking out the front window, excited about where we might go next.1385952_10152162649041844_1036009523_n

Life Inspires Art Inspires Life

Guest blog post by Jennifer Hotes
Author of “Four Rubbings”

DSC02589Stopping by “It Happened at Purity” is akin to walking around Fort Bragg with Kate, perhaps on the way to pick up groceries for dinner. As we wander the streets with her, we come to understand the soul of this special place and its residents.

Though seemingly tough and nonplussed on the outside, the people of Fort Bragg are tender, sentimental, proud, modest beyond belief and honest, oh God they are honest. If Fort Bragg were a presidential candidate, it’d have my vote.

There is a special woman behind those stories, someone who watches and cares for this community, then takes her observations and coaxes the details into stories—ones that make us laugh, or bawl to the point of ruining our computer keyboards and most powerfully, make us feel like residents of Fort Bragg, too. Like the groceries at Purity—cans, loaves, and bottles—they are merely ingredients until a cook lovingly crafts them into a meal. Kate is that chef.

jenn@6For decades, Kate has been feeding me. My first memory is of a bowl of split‐pea soup. It was summer in Sherman Oaks, California and we were in the midst of a record‐breaking drought. Residents were instructed to flush toilets sparingly and the grass outside was yellow and brittle.

I lived most of the year with my mom in Washington State. Even though Sherman Oaks was hot and dry, I was delighted to be visiting Kate and my dad. But I was not happy to eat that bowl of thick green soup sitting in front of me on the kitchen table. I was six at the time and green food wasn’t my thing. The soup smelled like sweaty feet and looked lumpy and odd. The water bureau would’ve certainly approved of me flushing that down the toilet.

There were countless visits after that, all tethered to Kate’s amazing cooking. At Christmas time in Fresno, she made homemade lefse filled with a pat of butter, steamed potatoes and fresh halibut. Oh golly, it was delicious the first night, but even better the next day. Homemade pastas, ice creams, salads—there was always something decadent and savory at the table. It was understood that if Kate cooked, then my dad, brother and I cleaned up. I was never happier to do dishes than after enjoying one of her meals.

Every visit I’ve made to Fort Bragg is consistent in one detail—Kate makes me feel like the only person in the world. After driving the twisty Willits road, I am shepherded into the kitchen with hugs and conversation, handed a cookie and told to sit and rest while she finishes dinner. No matter how delicious the meal, she never takes credit for the end result. Yes, she’ll concede that it was a good recipe, but she’ll not admit that she has exceptional skill in the kitchen.

If I watch Kate like she watches Fort Bragg, I notice she savors having company around the table. She delights in watching her guests enjoy her food and though it makes the tips of her ears blush red, she relishes in compliments.

fourrubbingsHer way of caring for people through food made its way into my first book, “Four Rubbings.” Don’t tell my lawyers, but Kate is the person behind Grace, the cemetery caretaker who nurtures her loved ones with food and stories. Grace bakes brownies and cookies when people feel low. She cooks meals that fill the air with heavenly scents and cause people to linger over conversation as they try to make room for seconds.

Kate is Grace, stronger than she knows, squeamish about compliments, nurturing, and profoundly wise. She is the reason we all gather around the table. She is the thing we are hungry for—the meals are simply a bonus.

There is one recipe in “Four Rubbings” that readers constantly ask for—Pioneer Cranberry Pie, a recipe clipped from The Fresno Bee by her mom Donna. Kate made it a few years ago for my daughter Ellie and me. It is as good as it sounds. pierecipe

She’ll never tell you, but I will. There is a special person behind “It Happened at Purity.” I am honored to know her and call her Mom. The character she inspired—Grace—will be in my second book. Look for it in Spring 2015.

Visit Jennifer’s website:



It’s the end of the workday and I’m thinking ahead to tomorrow. I remember drinking the last of the almond milk with my morning snack.

DSC02939I hate to admit shortcomings, but confess I have some quirky rituals surrounding food. For example, I must have a latte and a treat around ten o’clock each workday morning or I get more than a little fussy.

Another food ritual involves the refrigerator. It must contain only the bare necessities. I become disturbed when it gets packed during the holidays or when we have visiting guests. The requirement to eat all that food is overwhelming. I feel the need to quickly rotate food in and out like a cafeteria vending machine. My comfort zone lies in seeing the glow of the light bulb through the empty spaces of glass shelves.

So I’m out of almond milk and won’t have time to buy any in the morning to prevent a guaranteed no-latte-meltdown at ten.

mycarTime to hit The Purity.

The almond and other faux milks are located opposite the entrance on the far wall of the store. It’s five pm with a rush of people who need to replenish their cache of bread, cereal, and beer.

As I leave the car, I brace myself to navigate the obstacle course of dawdling old people, candy-begging children, short-tempered mothers, and itchy alcoholics.

Just inside the entrance I encounter a man standing behind a card table wedged between the doors and a refrigerator case.

Hark! What is this?

My first thought is that he’s a petition signature gatherer. In Fort Bragg, there are always controversial issues that spur people to erect tables and ask for your autograph.

mendosoupBut this guy is offering samples of soup. In 22 years of being a Purity patron, I’ve never encountered a food tasting.

His name is Dan and he owns Mendocino Soups. As I toss back a shot of Thai Fish Stew, he explains that each variety is gluten free and made from organic ingredients. It’s super yummy. I grab a quart jar from his table and head for the almond milk.

After going through the checkout line, I walk towards the door. A scruffy-looking young fella wearing a black hoodie topped by a worn jean jacket and draped with an impressive number of heavy metal chains enters the store. Trailing behind is a mid-size black pit bull mix.

The fella pauses to give Dan an inquisitive look. Dan offers a sample which is declined as the fella moves past. Dan then says, “I don’t think your dog is allowed in the store.”

beercornerBy this time the fella is about five feet away, heading towards Beer Corner. He turns his head, cocks it slightly, and narrows his eyes with a look of you’re not the boss of me. “I know the owners,” he says and continues on, the dog by his side.

Dan chuckles and shakes his head.

He’s been Purified.soup

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!

Taaka Taste Test

In mid-December, alert reader Laine enlightened me with a scientific fun fact: if you take a bottle of really cheap vodka and pour it through a Brita Water Filter, you can turn it into expensive-tasting vodka.


DSC02395If you’ve read this blog or followed my Facebook page for any length of time, you know I’m a fan of Taaka Vodka. I have never consumed it, but did use it to invent a fabulous all-occasion gift that can be made for under $5 (see the July 25, 2012 post). Taaka’s parent company Sazerac was so impressed that they sent me a tee-shirt.

DSC03278On Christmas Eve, I had a captive audience of liquor enthusiasts in my home who were willing to test the theory:

Taaka + Brita-filtering = Expensive-Tasting Vodka.

I spent a great deal of money on Ketel One ($26.99) and $6.99 on a similar-sized Taaka. The Brita Filter cost about $5.00. DSC03275

When I purchased the Taaka at The Purity, I felt the need to explain the pending experiment to the cute little pixy checker. (I’ve alerted all Purity clerks that if I ever claim to buy Taaka for personal consumption they are to call the police and request a mental health evaluation).

The clerk advised that it was best to run the cheap vodka through the filter three to four times. What a great suggestion! Thank you cute little pixy clerk!

DSC03281With the help of my friend MW, I set up a blind taste test. The four volunteers—Harrison, Laine, Jacob and Erica—were each presented with three shot glasses.

The first was unfiltered Taaka Vodka.

The second contained the expensive vodka.

The third held the four-time filtered Taaka.

Are you ready for the unanimous results?

DSC03283The unfiltered Taaka was chosen the most expensive! Each of my vodka connoisseurs claimed it flowed smoothly across the palate.

The Ketel One tasted like rubbing alcohol yet was voted #2. (I learned something about my volunteers that I’m not sure I want to know—apparently each has sampled rubbing alcohol.)

The filtered Taaka was rated #3.

So there you have it. Why spend $26.99 on expensive vodka (or $5.00 on a Brita Filter) when you can simply pour Taaka directly from the bottle and have a smooth, satisfying experience?

(I think alert reader Laine deserves a tee-shirt.)DSC02589


Lucy and I cross Franklin Street at Alder, from the post office to The Purity. We walk north on Franklin. Up ahead, a large woman with tightly curled gray hair and black-framed glasses gets out of a blue van. She moves to stand on the sidewalk and looks in our direction. She’s obviously waiting for some puppy lovin’.

Lucy's impression of The Flying Nun

Lucy’s impression of The Flying Nun

As we grow closer, I notice her expression differs from that of most people who see Lucy for the first time—she does not smile and giggle at the goofy dog with the brown eye patch. There’s a deep crease between her eyes. She gnaws her lower lip.

“That your dog?” There’s a muscle to her tone that would have frightened me in my younger years.

“Yes ma’am.” I smile. “Would you like to pet her?”

She squints and gives me the once-over. “Just saw a missing dog poster. Looks exactly like the dog on the poster.”

“She’s not. She’s mine.” I continue to smile.

She raises one eyebrow. “Where’d you get her?”

“The Humane Society.”

Lucy does all she knows to entice this woman to pet her—fanatic tail wagging, piddling on the sidewalk and wiggling into a sit. She throws herself on her back to offer a submissive tummy, mopping up piddle with her fur.

“What’s her name?”


Lucy looks up at me.

“Good thing for you that she knows her name.” The woman takes a few steps away before stopping and turning around. “You live in town?”

“Yes I do.”

“Give your dog bottled water. City tap water is polluted.” The woman points west towards the former Georgia Pacific mill site. “Because of all those years of toxic waste they dumped into the land, there’s a high incidence of cancer among dogs in this town. Don’t risk it. Give her bottled water.”

“I will.” (No I won’t.)

“You should drink bottled water, too. A lot of people in this town get cancer from drinking tap water.”

I give her a thumb’s up and coax Lucy away.

“You’re sure that’s your dog?”

“I’m sure,” I holler over my shoulder.unnamed

I Wonder

Every now and then I wonder about people. This is usually provoked by the Crime Blotter report in the Fort Bragg Advocate News. I wonder about their lives, so foreign from mine. I wonder how they get themselves into such pickles and what course of action could have prevented their being listed in the Crime Blotter.


On August 30, about ten in the morning, officers were called to 140 E. Oak Street “for a report of theft of money.” The victim claimed that “a man unknown to him” came into his apartment and asked for a cigarette. He was invited in by a friend who was visiting at the time.

The unknown man, sat down, “grabbed approximately $1,000” that was on the table and “ran out of the building.”

The unknown man got away in a black Infinity SUV driven by a woman.

NinjasI wonder if this crime could have been prevented had the victim done a “scared straight” treatment on his friend by insisting he read my July 19 blog post “The Europeans Are Coming! The Europeans are Coming!”

I wonder what would have happened if the victim had no spare cigarettes. What if he only had one to get him by until he could walk to The Purity and buy a pack? Without a cigarette to smoke, the stranger may not have sat down at the table where he spotted the $1,000 in cash sitting there plain as day and begging to be taken.

I wonder if the victim is doubly angry that the dude who took his money also has a relationship with a woman who drives a black Infinity SUV while he lives in a crummy apartment on Oak Street.


BaptistChurchOn September 2, again about ten in the morning, a police officer observed a suspect “standing in some bushes next to the First Baptist Church.”

“He was cutting bushes and told [the officer] he felt [they] were a fire danger and wanted to remove them from the property.” When he was finished doing that, he planned to unclog the drain pipes. Apparently this was not the first time the guy had engaged in this type of activity on property not his own.

It was the third time.

After a church member confirmed that the guy had not received permission to trim the bushes, he was arrested.

Lucy doesn't have to worry. I won't let him hack at her favorite hiding place.

Lucy doesn’t have to worry. I won’t let him hack at her favorite hiding place.

I wonder if there might be better therapies available other than throwing this guy in jail. He’s obviously a frustrated landscaper. Perhaps the police could escort him to a property, such as mine, where he could be put to work on an overgrown section to hack away to his heart’s content. When he’s finished, he could clean out my rain gutters.

The community could organize a fundraiser to supply him with canisters of salt. He could travel around Fort Bragg sprinkling salt on sidewalk crack gardens. He could earn the nickname Johnny Crack Garden Destroyer and become a hero throughout the town as he saves sidewalks from being eroded by weeds.

My vision goes beyond the criminal. I see a future sidewalk preservationist.


As sympathetic as I am with the eccentric landscaper, I’m equally unsympathetic with the following report. I have a problem with adult males who ride round town on their skateboards. I want to tell them to confine their riding to a skate park. And you might consider getting a job—a real grown up man kind of job.

On September 2, about two in the morning, an officer was flagged down in the 400 block of south Main Street. The victim—age 26—claimed that “two males had taken his skateboard and assaulted him with it.”

I first wondered why a 26-year old was riding a skateboard at two in the morning. I read on—

skateboardApparently, the victim met a couple of guys—ages 22 and 28—in a downtown bar. When he went to the restroom, the two out-of-towners took his skateboard.

The victim located them in the 400 block of south Main Street where they beat him with the skateboard.

Fortunately, the responding officers were able to apprehend the two bad boys from out of town and they were thrown in the slammer.

I wonder if the victim’s parents ever warned him about talking to strangers, let alone trusting strangers with his property.

The 22-year old was from Lower Lake; the 28-year old from Cloverdale.

I have two words for them: Stay home!

And nine more: We don’t want scum like you in Fort Bragg.

And a final 11: If you come back, I’ll douse you with salt, you weeds.


Thanks for listening to me wonder.