Queen of the Southern Mines

My dad still lives in our hometown of Sonora. Folks call the area different things, depending on what they want to sell you. It’s “God’s Country” if the license-plate frames on the new cars at the local Chevy dealership are to be believed. Signs in town all bear something to the effect of “The Mother Lode” or “Sierra Foothills.” One proud “Welcome to Sonora!” sign on the edge of town also touts it as “Queen of the Southern Mines,” whatever the hell that means.

Sonora is quite a bit like San Diego in that the local politicians are crooked and act for the sole benefit of their own interest, but don’t leave much of a trail. In both gorgeous cities, we the tolerant and forgiving denizens possess no other options except the silent suspicion that we’re getting screwed.

My dad retired last week from his job as a maintenance-crew laborer for the City of Sonora. Up until Friday afternoon, he trimmed hedges in parks, paved streets, and repainted intersections. “I know what this city pays for things,” he says. “That ‘Queen of the Southern Mines’ sign cost us $1200. I picked it up and put it in myself. It’s a two-foot by four-foot sign; you tell me how that’s worth more than a hundred bucks. That new road up to Phoenix Lake cost millions; half of that went to developers, who are friends of city council members. But their own names aren’t on any receipts, of course.”

My dad crosses his legs out in front of him and watches the TV news through the V of his feet. A pretty brunette holds a microphone and says, “Workers broke ground on a new stoplight today, a project that should be completed by next week and cost the city over 14 thousand dollars.” The ol’ man drinks beer from a can and grumbles.

To catch my flight back to San Diego, my dad drives me two hours to Sacramento, the closest airport. Crumbling parts of the 5 North rattle and beat us so much that our kidneys ache. Migrant Mexicans cut grapevines in vineyards along the freeway. We pass a sign that welcomes us to Sacramento. A limousine passes us.

“Nothing you can do about it,” my dad says.

“What’s that?” I holler over the wind in the cab of the pickup. “You mean the roads?”

“Yep. Nothing you can do.”


Thursday, March 13
College Basketball
ESPN 9:00 a.m.

Before any college sporting event there should be a mandatory spelling bee. If the player can’t make it past “glove,” then he has to sit the game out on the bench wearing a dunce cap and holding a baby blanket. Egregious misspellings will require thumb-sucking, and heaven help you if you can’t get past the first word, which will always be “cat” because — whoa — you’re in college.

Lipstick Jungle
NBC 10:00 p.m.

This is a particularly sensitive subject, so please, bear with me while I do the ol’ soft shoe. Am I the only one who thinks of a certain, peculiar part of a dog’s anatomy when confronted with this title? I mean, it looks like a lipstick, doesn’t it? Am I the only one who thinks this show is about that? Am I letting crazy out of the box on that one? Is it just me? Wow. My eggs must be really scrambled.

Friday, March 14
Dateline NBC
NBC 9:00 p.m.

Holy cow! Digging around for information on this show, I found that the Japanese lady who anchors the program was born in 1956. 1956! According to my perfect calculations, honed by years of California public education, she’s 148 years old. She must eat orphans in magic rituals or a delivery of one industrial-sized tub of pancake makeup makes its way to her studio every day because I think she’s still pretty tasty. I mean, if I was a sound guy on that set, I’d try to sneak under her desk and lift up the front of her skirt a little. “Just checkin’ this, Granny. Don’t mind me.”

Saturday, March 15
The Guru
USA 9:00 a.m.

Coincidentally, I’ve named the hairy patch of skin between the crack of my can and my lower back “the Guru.” When a coffee jockey or gas-station immigrant yells, “Get out of my shop! I’m tired of you stealing little things you don’t even need, weirdo!” I drop my pants a couple inches and yell, “Hey, Cat Stevens, speak to the Guru!”

American Masters
PBS 9:00 p.m.

PBS, of course, drags its feet on recognizing anything modern in its series chronicling America’s best artists, writers, and musicians. When, PBS, when will Foreigner receive this honor? Sure, half of them are British, but who else made us feel like a Jukebox Hero? Who else recognized the stars in our eyes? Until this program is produced, I will keep on rockin’. Yes, I’ll keep on rockin’, baby.

Sunday, March 16
Oprah’s Big Give
ABC 9:00 p.m.

Oh, cram it in your clingy yoga pants. I could really do with less Oprah. I don’t mean she needs to lose more weight, I mean she needs to shut her generic, pontificating, mega-rich champagne hole. Even worse than Oprah, and worse than the women who idolize her, are the men. I’d like to beat every Volkswagen-driving, tofu-loving, Macbook-devotee faux-male in Oprah’s audience over the head with a copy of In Pursuit of Reason and scream, “YOU ARE A DISGRACE TO US! YOU NEED TO STOP!”

Monday, March 17
New Amsterdam
FOX 9:00 p.m.

It seems the kitschy, blunt gags of a modern immortal won’t stay dead. Like Connor McCloud before him, and every Dracula story before that, this elbow-and-wink plot just won’t stay dead. We’ve cut off its head, buried it, and burnt the remains, but this season we’ll be treated, once again, to drollery about 617 ex-girlfriends, 945 years, and 5762 previous deaths. It would please me to no end to see this sheet lie quietly in the morgue after it’s final shuffling off.

Tuesday, March 18
It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown!
ABC 8:00 p.m.

I love the holiday classics. My favorite Charlie Brown special episodes are “It’s Madonna’s Birthday, Charlie Brown!” “Put That Cookie Down, It’s the Holy Month of Ramadan, Charlie Brown!” and “Look at the Humdingers on That One! Throw Her Some Beads! It’s Mardi Gras, Charlie Brown!” Ah, that one’s the best. I remember it from when I was a kid.

Wednesday, March 19
Dinner: Impossible
FOOD 10:00 p.m.

I’m going to come up with a cooking show called “Last Days of Rome,” in which I eat until I vomit three times, then get fitfully drunk, pull up my toga, and throw my sandals at the camera. The parting scene each night will be a rambling screed where I’m too close to the camera and I say things like, “I’m going to learn to play the guitar (hiccup) because, you know, for...chicks just don’t dig you unless you play guitar.”

Thursday, March 20
Don’t Forget the Lyrics!
FOX 9:00 p.m.

Shut the TV Off and Read a Damn Book, You Stupid Masses, Inebriated by Flashing Lights and Lulled into Complacency by the Unentertaining Opiate of Humdrum TV! is the way better show.

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I can't wait to see "Last Days of Rome"! I suggest three different chefs, one for each vomit session. I'd volunteer to be one of them. I know just the sandwich for the pilot show - peanut butter, jelly, bacon...mmmmm!

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