Conforte and Me.

I was 7 or 8 years old in the mid-1950s when I met Joe Conforte at the old Sewell’s grocery store on 5th and Virginia in Reno. He was just kind of standing there at the end of a grocery aisle. I was with my older brother, who said something about Conforte’s notoriety and my brother introduced himself. Conforte struck me as a pleasant man. I didn’t know what a hood or a pimp was, yet, but I was way more interested in the parakeets.

For a short time, parakeets were a fad, kind of like Hula Hoops and Paleo and Beanie Babies and bitcoin, and Sewell’s loaded up a section of the store with parakeets and cages. The store ran a promotion offering a grand prize if anyone could teach their parakeet to say, “Sewell’s.” I don’t think anyone ever won. We bought several and none ever said “Sewell’s.” The store also sold 45 rpm records to play for the parakeets that said, “Pretty bird” over and over so the parakeets would think, “Hmm, that’s pretty cool,” and decide to say “Pretty bird.”  My mother bought a record. My brother tried to teach them to say, “Goddammit.” The parakeets never said either one but all either died or escaped. I don’t think Conforte bought a parakeet, but if he had, it probably died or escaped.

***

In the early 1980s, I met Bobby Moore in Little River, California, where a bunch of friends used to go for fun, adventure, and abalone diving. We mostly drank beer and wine and ate a lot and hiked all over Mendocino. My wife bought a mushroom-colored, oversized thick-knit sweater because it was cold there, and Bobby called her “hippie girl.” She liked that. I was a horrible diver, but Bobby was pretty good at it along with several others, so we ate a lot of abalone, too. He was a modest, gentle, kind, and subtly humorous guy maybe in his early fifties, didn’t talk much, and never said a bad word about anyone. He was an attorney living in Verdi, retired, because he was an early investor in the Boomtown Casino, and Mendocino with your friends was way more fun anyway.

I discovered our paths had crossed years ago. Not our lives so much as our personal trajectories on a single incident, which I asked him about. His eyes widened as he set down his glass and leaned in. “Was that old son-of-a-bitch your uncle?” he said. It was the first time I’d heard him swear.

He referred to my uncle, Fred Crosby, founder of Crosby’s Landing at Sutcliffe, longtime denizen of Wadsworth, Sparks, Reno, and who knows where else. My mother, born in Lovelock in 1913, was a Crosby, and she spent much of her girlhood in Wadsworth. Uncle Fred did whatever he could to get by–a bit of ranching, fishing, brokering, whatever it took. At a family reunion once, he took me to a big storage cabinet loaded with candy and let me take my pick.

***

He really looked like this.

Uncle Fred came to own a small ranch near Wadsworth where the Washoe, Storey, and Lyon county lines came together. It was called the Triangle River Ranch. Maybe the ranching business wasn’t so good–I don’t know, but Uncle Fred wasn’t one to  miss an opportunity. In 1955, he leased the ranch to Joe Conforte, and the Triangle River Ranch, housed in a trailer, became one of the more well-known whorehouses in the area. They could have had parakeets. Who knows?And I know you’re supposed to say “brothel” instead of “whorehouse,” but I’m a Nevadan.

And at the time–this would be 1957 or 1958–Bobby Moore was the Storey County District Attorney. Parenthetically, no one in my family talked about these events in real time, so I’m piecing together what I overheard in subsequent years.

The Triangle River Ranch attracted trouble. You can look it up. At the time, prostitution was illegal in all three counties. Disreputable people hung out there, Conforte paid off local officials, and it was an ongoing target of law enforcement. All three counties attempted to raid the place, but–according to legend–when Conforte got wind of county law enforcement coming from Lyon County, he’d haul the trailer across the county line to Storey County. Or to Washoe county. Wherever he couldn’t be touched. I do not know if parakeets sounded the alarm, but they could have.

Bill Raggio, the new Washoe County District Attorney, declared the whorehouse and its owner a public nuisance and threat to safety. When Conforte came to Reno, Raggio would arrest him for vagrancy (an old law on the books declared pimps were vagrants). Conforte finally had enough, and set Raggio up in an extortion sex trap with girl purporting to be 18, but who was actually 14. Unfortunately for Conforte, Raggio had wired the room, and the resulting charges took Conforte down, sending him to prison for two years.

And it was the end of the Triangle River Ranch. Bobby got the court order, Raggio got the torch, and the Triangle River Ranch was burned to the ground. I asked Bobby what my uncle Fred did to deserve his contempt, but, true to his character, Bob refused to say anything.  Coincidentally, Bill Raggio pretty much refused to talk about Joe Conforte for the rest of his life. The silence of parakeets, I guess.

***

I haven’t seen Bobby Moore in twenty-five years or more, nor Bill Raggio for that matter, my having departed the land of the setting sun a couple of decades ago. Bill passed away, and I presume Bobby is fine. My father used to say if he’d known he was going to live so long, he’d have taken better care of himself, and Bob pretty much did that.

Joe Conforte, as best as I can determine, is alive and well in Brazil. So it goes.

 

Update: This screed isn’t an attempt to lionize Joe Conforte. People have differing views on him, ranging from seeing him as a benign scofflaw and supporter of charities to a petty hood, corrupter of public officials, and sex trafficker. My own views tend to the latter, and I’d even add Accessory to murder (Google Oscar Bonavena).  But bad people do some good things, and good people do some bad things. As my father put it, “There’s so much bad in the best of us/And so much good in the worst of us,”It ill behooves any of us/To talk about the rest of us.”

Whatever else Conforte is (or isn’t), he’s a part of Northern Nevada’s history.

 

 

 

She Was Here, Until She Wasn’t

Whoever expects the dentist will be funny? You’re on your back in that clovey-smelling room, fingers clenched, tense, on edge, bright light in your face awaiting the moment when that chrome toothpick starts going rih-rih-rih in the most vulnerable crevasses of your teeth, and the dentist says something like, “Hey, isn’t today the best day of your life to this point?” and then starts laughing at her own corny joke, not just a laugh, but a deep hyuk-hyuk-hyuk, and you laugh, and the hygienist laughs, not so much at the joke itself but at the dentist’s uncontrolled and infectious laughter.

I hooked up with Dr. Kate Brokaw about six years ago, quite by chance. You knew she was walking down the hall because you could hear people laughing as she went by, so that by the time she got to your cubicle, all she had to do was talk and you’d laugh.

And she was a pretty good dentist to boot. In her mid-thirties, she found a couple of things our prior dentist had missed. She recommended a root canal one time, declining to do it herself even though she felt capable, sending me to an endodontist instead so the procedure would be done as well as it could. “She sure keeps this place loose,” I said to the receptionist, who replied she didn’t know what they’d do without her.

Then there was the time Dr. Brokaw asked if I was doing anything fun over the weekend while poking through my molars and bicuspids. No, I said, did she? “My boyfriend and I are going to the Garth Brooks concert,” she said, “and I better get a ring out of it.”

She did, becoming Kate McDowell. She left the office and bought her own practice in Boulder, and I was happy for her.

A few days ago, she was killed, the victim of a murder-suicide by her husband. She was just forty, and as I read the news clip, I kept hoping it was someone else, a different Kate McDowell, that it was all a big mistake. It wasn’t.

Anyone who’s lost someone close, especially a young person, knows the feeling of stunned shock and cosmic betrayal. Dr. Brokaw (I never got used to McDowell) was about the same age as my own kids, and when I read of her murder, I had much the same feelings I experienced years ago, when my nephew, another bright star and about her age, was killed by a drunk driver. You go through all the Kuebler-Ross stages, but the one you can’t get past–and never, ever will–is the feeling of measureless injustice. There is no answer, and never will be, to “why.”

Looking for answers leads to the what-if’s. Authorities cited domestic violence but haven’t revealed the cause of death, though I’m assuming a gun was involved. One thing about gun ownership is that someone with a gun is more likely to do something he (or she) wouldn’t otherwise do when conflict erupts. Moreover, domestic violence events are seldom one-offs, and more than half the women killed in 2017 died at the hands of a partner or family member. What if Colorado had a Red Flag Law? Would her death have been prevented?

And then, the explosive anger. What kind of anger erupted for a guy to end her life and think it was some kind of answer? In my lifetime, it has seemed that many men are put off by certain women. Smart, well-educated women. Funny women. Financially-successful women. Dr. Brokaw was all of these and more, but was the guy so threatened and vulnerable in his own mind that he crossed the line from merely put off to obscene rage? Was a flight to anger for him a thing?

Might a friend or relative noticed something wasn’t all copacetic and somehow intervened? Again, a what-if. Looking for answers where there may not be any.

Maybe there’s a larger question of a rise in anger throughout society. Indignant rage proliferates on cable news, for example, and every day, the newspaper has a series of stories on someone getting pissed off outside a bar or whatever and shooting someone else. About eight months ago, some guy in Westminster got pissed off in a road rage incident and shot a mother and her 11-year-old son in a shopping center parking lot, killing the boy. I could go on and on with similar stories, but it seems as though anger has become the strongest cultural force in our society.

Maybe no firearm was involved in this tragedy, but that doesn’t undo the fact that someone tried to solve a problem by killing someone. Rage, rage, the dying of the light, wrote Dylan Thomas.

So anyway, where am I going with this? I don’t know. I wish I did.

I Opposed Brett Kavanaugh and Support Susan Collins

Look. The presumed approval of Judge Brett Kavanaugh is enormously disappointing. I believed Christine Blasey Ford when she accused him of assault, and in the brouhaha that followed, I found his flight to anger consistent with someone who’s been privileged all his life finally getting busted–a de facto admission of guilt.

I thought his angry eruption accusing “the Democrats” of a plot ought to have precluded him from serving on the highest court in the U.S. 

In general, I find so-called textualist legal interpretations–corporations are people, the Constitution doesn’t confer privacy rights (i.e., Roe v. Wade is bad), the Second Amendment confers an individual right to firearm ownership, and so on–to be disturbing, and Kavanaugh is a textualist. Not that it matters, but Kavanaugh’s vetting felt incompetently handled, and that incompetence resulted in a stinking match. Get in a stinking match with a skunk, and you come out smelling just like he does, and all parties to this circus emerged with a new stink–including the Supreme Court.

Susan Collins delivered a cogent and forceful speech on why she decided to support Kavanaugh. Most of her reasons had to do with her confidence in his future rulings, and I can’t dispute that. But she also said, “The allegations (against Ford) failed to meet the ‘more likely than not’ standard.” I most viscerally disagree with that statement.

But here’s the thing. She came to the Senate to do a lot of things. She has been pretty good for both Maine and the nation, I’d wager, and I’m sure she has an agenda going forward. If you were her, would you allow one yea or nay vote to derail what you hope to accomplish down the road? It’s an assessment every politician has to make, and while I don’t agree with her vote, I honor her right and responsibility to do her work as she sees fit.

While Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, among others, have expressed discomfort with Trumpism, I don’t expect them to suddenly turn into Democrats. The whole drama, in my view demonstrates the only tried-and-true way to pick Supreme Court nominees to one’s liking: Win elections.

The Decency Project: Apples

Maybe it’s the golden light at dawn and sundown, or maybe the coppery glow  from the daytime slants angling through the trees. Maybe it’s the breeze and the earthy scent and the patches of yellow or red or orange seeping through the leaf-green foliage on the trees. Baseball is winding down, and football is winding up. Whatever. The tropes of early fall are reassuring, reminding us of the constancy of seasons even as they continue to astonish. I suspect each of us has a favorite.

My favorite might very well be apples. I love apples, and the scent of mounds and mounds of apples in the farmers markets and in stores is pure heaven. The crunch of a McIntosh, the tough, green skin, the near sourness. The richness of my favorite, the Honeycrisp, as its tart sweetness permeates your senses with the weight of hot fudge. Hold an apple before you. It’s nearly heart-shaped, as though it knows it’s meant to share the love.

 

Not to be overlooked are the otherwise forgettable Red and Gold Delicious apples. Halved and crowded into a round enameled pan, they carmelize  butter and sugar with their juice into a thick, golden syrup. Sprinkle it with cinnamon and lay sweet pastry dough across the top, and it bakes into a soothing Tarte Tatin, the warm smell permeating the house. It’s pure heaven.

And it all recalls a recent Facebook post, which goes, “I wish everyone could get rich and famous and have everything they ever dreamed of so they would know that’s not the answer.” Actor Jim Carey said that. As a rule, I don’t much like these inspirational quotations, finding them banal exhortations for salespeople to motivate themselves to sell more stuff, or some other vicarious identification to a higher order. Nonetheless, I find myself enjoying posts from Thinking Art and Thinking Humanity.

Really, I don’t think the sappy posts I like are any better than the sappy posts other people like, but anything that reminds me that what you are, and not what you have, is the important thing.

It’s a concept foreign to politics. It’s something Donald Trump will never, ever understand, since this kind of decency is a greater thing than the sugar high of his perception of victory.

Sad. Because apples. Because fall.

The Decency Project

This is a guest post. Pretty much, anyway.  A good friend, Nate Manning, wrote the following on his Facebook timeline, and I shamelessly ripped it of, posting it here without edit.

It’s kindness and decency in action.

“Rant alert: On the way to work I saw a woman with her baby standing on the side of a busy intersection next to her broken down Explorer in the left lane. When I pulled over and asked if anyone was coming to help her, she said her husband was coming up from the Tech Center (about an hour away with rush hour traffic) and no one had even asked her if she needed help. So another woman and I got out to help. The issue was we were on a busy street during rush hour right before a large intersection in the left lane, and we had to get her over into the right lane to get the car out of the way. I got in the middle of the right lane to get traffic to stop, but people just kept going around me. Finally, I got right in front of a car and yelled at her to stop, and was rewarded with a dirty look. The mother got her baby in the Explorer, put the car in neutral and the other woman and I pushed it a couple hundred yards to a parking lot where she would be safe and out of the way until her husband arrived.

“I’m not posting this for props. I just wish it’s what most people would do, but I’m not so sure anymore. In the Colorado I grew up in there would have been 10 people stopping to help as soon as her car broke down. Now I feel like the Colorado I know has changed and people don’t help people, much less even smile or say hello. I guess the people who care about complete strangers must have moved down to Houston. If total strangers can wade through chest high contaminated flood water to help someone stuck in their car and save their lives (and this same scenario has played our countless times over the last couple of days all over Southeastern Texas), helping a stranger with a broken down car on the side of the road is nothing. What the hell is wrong with people who couldn’t be bothered to help, much less stop their cars to let those who were helping through?

“So, take some time today to do something nice for a stranger. I don’t care if it’s smiling at them, letting someone in during traffic or buying the person behind you a cup of coffee in the Starbucks drive through. Do it in honor of all the bravery being shown in Houston and those surrounding communities. Do it to help us bring this divided country together. Do it because it’s the freaking decent human thing to do.”

Trump  would not get this, which, once again, recalls the pathos of his existence for which we should all have compassion. He won’t get it, but most of the rest of us do.

Tomorrow,  let’s each of us perform a random act of kindness. It’s the decent thing to do.

The Decency Project

We do not fight Trumpian outrages with logical arguments or WTF outrages of our own, because they don’t seem to be working. Instead, we counter with decency, love, and kindness, and hence The Decency Project. Among the many mundane joys one will never find in T-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s household are dogs.

The shelter dog above expressed several changes when she learned the White House was thinking of adopting her. As you can tell from the final frame, she’s asking to please just stay in the shelter. I totally made that up, of course, but hey. It could be true.

And who can tell us more about love, kindness, and decency than the furry fellows below? But again, they also speak to the pathos accompanying decency: Trump will likely never experience the unbounded, simple joy a dog brings home, and yes, that’s sad.

Here are a few Trumpistanian remarks reflecting an intrinsic ignorance of the dogness that so many of us know and love.

“@GlennBeck got fired like a dog by #Fox.”

“I hear that sleepy eyes @chucktodd will be fired like a dog from the ratings starved Meet The Press?”

These go on. Just change the name of the individual being “like a dog.” Who can forget the time he recalled watching Sen Marco Rubio “sweat like a dog?” Mitt Romney “choked like a dog.” Brent Bozell came to Trump’s office” begging for money like a dog.” Kristen Stewart cheated on Robert Pattinson “like a dog.”

To refute the above: Dogs don’t sweat, they pant, so Rubio’s off the hook. Dogs choke now and then, but they’re far more likely to puke, which Romney only did in private while watching the Republican primaries. And a dog would never beg for money. Cat poop, okay, but not money. And if a dog were going to cheat, in a carnal way, it wouldn’t be with just one other dog.

The message, then, is this: If Trump is annoying you today, pet your dog.

The Decency Project

It’s one of those times when the mundane becomes the sublime, which is why this photo is part of the Decency Project.

My past few days have been blessed by pictures neighborhood parents posted of their children starting their first day of school.  Admittedly, it’s a retrograde passage of my life, since I recall the first day of school for each of my children as though it just happened.  It’s one of those seminal moments in a parent’s life that lasts forever, and like hashmarks on the door jamb showing the rate of your child’s growth, these instances mark the growth of your personal history and lend it worth. An objective correlative, it you will.

An unfortunate fact of the Decency Project is the inherent pathos invoked when juxtaposed alongside on Donald Trump. Can you imagine a picture of him as a grinning little boy off to his first day of school? Did his parents even want one of him?

Can you imagine him having one of his own children? Or, for that matter, his children of their children?

For me, the answer is no, and it’s pretty sad, really. The rest of us, the 99.9999 percent of Americans, enjoy lives packed full of these cherished moments, and the likelihood that Trump does not and will not invokes a certain compassion for him, at least for me.

 

 

 

The Decency Project

Day 283 or so of The Apocalypse, and T-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is still the American president. Every day since he began his evil journey from the bowels of Trumpistan, people, pundits, politicians, you name it, have proclaimed, “He can’t last–he’s finished this time.”

Well.

Refuting him with facts doesn’t seem to work. In fact, as George Lakoff has pointed out,  logical refutation is not only useless, it instead reinforces the outrages Trump utters. Snark and satire amuse, but haven’t slowed him a whit. Those speaking principled opposition create their own echo chamber and seem to feed the beast more than wound it. It’s very frustrating.

It’s time to try something different, and I’m proposing the Decency Project, whereby we offer up ideas and notions that replace Trumpisms rather than simply oppose them. Even the name itself–Decency–suggests replacement, since nothing decent exists in Trumpistan. The idea comes from something one of my neighborhood groups, the Family Co-op, did recently with its Kindness Project, whereby members painted rocks with kind or inspirational sayings and hid them like Easter eggs throughout the neighborhood.

The Decency Project will post pictures or videos or whatever of decent events, people,  or actions that happen in the U.S. every day that Trump and his ilk can only look at with envy. Without further explication, I post the following, of fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara swearing in 30 immigrants as new American citizens and leading them in the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s an ironic and sublime moment Trump will never, ever be a part of.

If you like this project and feel compelled to join me, please do so!

Day 281 of the Apocalypse

My father used to tell the story of the guy who rounded the cliff too fast in his new car and tumbled over the edge. He was lucky enough to grab a branch as he fell down the mountain, but after hanging onto the branch for a few hours, he became quite tired. “Can anyone hear me?” he shouted. No response.  “God? Hello, God? Can you hear me?” he yelled.

A voice boomed down from the heavens. “I can hear you,” the voice said.

“Can you help me?” the man said.

“Do you believe in God?” the voice replied.

“Oh, yes! Yes!” the man said.

“If you believe in God, let go of the branch,” said the voice.

The man thought about it for several seconds. “Can anyone else hear me?” he said.

Each of us has experienced those moments in which we feel ignored by an impersonal, even unjust universe. We shout our frustrations to someone who may or may not be in charge, because it’s the best we’ve got and it’s all we can do.  But nothing happens. Nothing changes.

Today is the 281st of the Apocalypse known as the election of one Donald Trump, whereby the hordes from Trumpistan rode in shouting their racist, sexist, nationalistic cant and stole the reins of our country. The outraged among us have marched, attended town halls, contacted our elected representatives, and otherwise done whatever we could think of to resist, only to be answered with silence as the outrages continue unabated.

On Friday, August 12, a white Nazi sympathizer plowed into a crowd of anti-white nationalist protesters. Two police officers also died when their helicopter crashed. A handful of elected leaders offered statements of outrage, though most politicians were either silent or uttered a few hackneyed, anodyne syllables of CYA.

Of note, though, was pharmaceutical giant Merck’s CEO, Kenneth Frazier, who resigned from Trump’s Manufacturing Advisory Council as a matter of conscience. Trump, if you’ll recall refused to call out white supremacists or white nationalists.

More noteworthy, though, are the other members of the council who said nothing. Ms. Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup, issued an Orwellian newspeak response, saying, “…Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is unwavering, and we will remain active champions for these efforts. We believe it is important for Campbell to have a voice and provide input on matters that will affect our industry, our company and our employees in support of growth.  Therefore, Ms. Morrison will remain on the President’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative.”

Below is a list of the others on the council with hyperlinks to contact them. It was the best I could pull together, but let them know what you think in a respectful way.

UPDATE: Under Armour’s Kevin Plank has stepped down and made a forceful statement!

UPDATE: Brian Krzanich Intel CEO, has exited the council and made a statement!

UPDATE: Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing has resigned, citing conscience.

UPDATE (8/16/17): Inge Thulin, CEO of IBM, has resigned from the council. So did Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup. A few minutes ago, Trump tweeted that he was disbanding the council.

Andrew Liveris, The Dow Chemical Company,  anliveris@dow.com

Michael Dell, Dell Technologiesmichael@dell.com

Bill Brown, Harris Corporationhttps://www.harris.com/about/contact-us

John Ferriola, Nucor Corporation info@nucor.com

Jeff Fettig, Whirlpool Corporation  https://www.whirlpool.com/services/contact-us.html

Jim Hackett, Ford Motor Company, media@ford.com

Alex Gorsky, Johnson & Johnson  https://www.ccc-consumercarecenter.com/UCUConfiguration?id=a0758000004NIaL

Greg Hayes, United Technologies Corp.  makethingsbetter@utc.com

Marilynn Hewson, Lockheed Martin Corporation  http://m.lockheedmartin.com/m/us/contact.html

Jeff Immelt, General Electric  https://www.ge.com/contact/general

Jim Kamsickas, Dana Inc. , jeff.cole@dana.com

Klaus Kleinfeld, Arconicmediainquiries@arconic.com.

Brian Krzanich, Intel Corporation  https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/forms/corporate-responsibility-contact-us.html

Rich Kyle, The Timken Company  http://www.timken.com/contact-general/

Thea Lee, AFL-CIO  pressclips@aflcio.org

Mario Longhi, U.S. Steel  https://www.ussteel.com/newsroom

Denise Morrison, Campbell Soup Company, https://www.campbellsoupcompany.com/connect-with-campbell/email/

Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing  http://www.boeing.com/contact-us.page. Scroll down a bit.

Doug Oberhelman, Caterpillar. New CEO is Dave Calhoun.  http://www.caterpillar.com/en/contact.html

Scott Paul, Alliance for American Manufacturing  http://www.americanmanufacturing.org/pages/contact

Kevin Plank, Under Armour  mediarelations@underarmour.com

Michael Polk, Newell Brands  Corporate Communications

Mark Sutton, International Paper  http://www.internationalpaper.com/contact-us

Inge Thulin, 3M, https://www.3m.com/3M/en_US/company-us/help-center/

Richard Tumka, AFL-CIO  pressclips@aflcio.org

Wendell Weeks, Corning  https://www.corning.com/worldwide/en/contact-us.html