Memories of Big Red

In my early 20s, I purchased a used car from a friend for $300, a red ’59 Chevrolet Impala with faded paint and many dents that he had named “Big Red”. Big Red ran well, and gas was cheap back then.

Big Red served me well, but one day it wouldn’t start, and instead of paying for a repair, I bought another cheap car. Big Red sat unnoticed on a Stanford parking lot while I moved a couple of times, traveled some, and got a job at a Pizza Parlor in Palo Alto.

It was part of a chain, “Straw Hat Pizza” — we wore styrofoam versions of a traditional boater straw hat as part of our uniform. As of this moment, Straw Hat is still in business, with, according to Google, 23 outlets. I haven’t been in one for maybe 35 years.

The kitchen was in the northwest corner, with large windows on either face. During the day, we could watch the parking lot and the street while we made pizzas. At night the glare from the interior lights blocked the view, and only passing headlights were discernible from inside.

Some nights we played old silent movies with a jangly piano soundtrack — mainly Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. We saw them a thousand times, and the soundtrack became a low-grade annoyance of the job.

One evening the parlor was quiet; everything was clean, there were no to-go orders, the dining area was empty. The movies were off.

Through the window, I watched a pair of car headlights circle the parking lot and come to a stop. The entrance door flew open. Two young men rushed to the counter, where my co-worker leaned on the cash register.

But they were, as it turned out, looking for ME.

Brief introductions, then one of the young men asks:

“Do you own a red ’59 Chevrolet Impala”?

Images of unpaid parking tickets, towing charges, and other potential liabilities flooded my brain. But it’s public record; I couldn’t lie.


The Stanford Police, it seems, caught him late at night removing parts from Big Red. Taking parts from a parked car is illegal unless you own the vehicle. Hence, if he didn’t want to go to jail, he had to produce evidence of ownership, even though it was currently registered to me. A bill of sale would do.

He pulled out a bill of sale form and placed it on the counter.

“You want to buy my car??”

“Yes. How much do you want for it?”

He was at my mercy. But also, he was relieving me of a tedious burden. I thought for a minute.


Relief flooded his face. “Deal!”

I never saw Big Red again.

Dr Strange vs Shuma-Gorath

“Before all was, I was. Before time was, I waited. I fed on the screaming souls of the universes. I drank the spoiled milk of dead stars. I am the emptiness outside all understanding. I am Shuma-Gorath.”

In my early twenties I, a recovering Stanford graduate out in the real world with a worthless degree in psychology, worked as the assistant manager of a now-gone pizza parlor in south Palo Alto.  It was in a bad location on San Antonio Road, with nothing around but light industry. We got noon business and night shift workers on their lunch break, not much else. Sometimes a biker group would roar into the big parking lot late at night and drink lots of beer.

This was the early 70’s.  No cellphones, no laptops, no home computers, but we had one of the first video arcade games, Pong. Actually, we had two of them. Put in a quarter, and two people could play until one of them missed.

Management supplied employees with quarters marked with red fingernail polish that were recycled indefinitely. I think the rationale was for employee activity to attract customer interest, but mostly we played after hours.  An informal hierarchy developed, and I had the distinction of being the best Pong player. I could rally indefinitely — if I concentrated, I never missed a return. Some might have disputed this claim.

The game went on until someone missed, and sometimes the contest became one of bladder pressure, or simple fatigue — we were playing after closing, after a full shift of slinging pizzas. When I say I was the best, it was on average over a long time. Sometimes I lost.

My closest competitor was a fellow refugee from the Stanford Group Mind, and a gentle soul. Even though it’s been 50 years, he is someone whose name I deeply regret forgetting.  Maybe it will come to me.

We were both serious fans of Bob Dylan and Marvel Comics. For competition purposes he called me Dr. Strange — “Strange” for short. He called himself Shuma-Gorath. “Now, Strange, feel the might of Shuma-Gorath!” and the little blob of light would dart across the screen to a difficult corner…



Applicatio in C Major, BWV 994, by JS Bach

This is the first piece in “Introduction to the Performance of Bach”, by Rosalyn Tureck. I’ve worked on it for years — only blew one trill. After a decent short pause the recording transitions to “Cat on the Keyboard” improvisation, and continues for a couple more minutes.

Play the Music

I should note that there is a youtube video of Tureck playing this (just the Bach), to which you should by all means listen.

The Great Conjunction of 2020

I have a little telescope:

Celestron 5 inch telescope

As astronomical telescopes go, it’s pretty small: a Celestron NexStar 5 SE.  If the seeing is extremely good, I can see the rings of Saturn with it.  Unfortunately, where I live the seeing is almost never very good.  I tried my best to get pictures of Jupiter and Saturn as they danced close to each other.

Jupiter and Saturn on Dec 18 - kc-pc186049a
December 18
kc-pc196328a - Jupiter and Saturn on Dec 19
December 19
pc206338a December 20
December 20 was the night with the best seeing; through the eyepiece I could see the rings clearly, but I couldn’t capture it on camera.
pc206337a Jupiter and Saturn Dec 20
December 20.  If I try hard, I can imagine that there is a hint of banding in the disk of Jupiter…

December 21 was the night of closest approach.  Unfortunately the air wasn’t very clear; drifting clouds sometimes blocked the view entirely.

em130198a A regular camera with a telephoto lens.
Dec 21 — a photo taken with my regular camera and a telephoto lens.
pc210005b - Dec 21
Dec 21 Through the telescope, again.

On December 22 I tried again:

pc220027a Dec 22, now drifting apart
Final image — they are drifting apart.

In passing I sometimes tried to get pictures of the Andromeda Galaxy, but I had difficulty with the targeting:

Off-center photo of the Andromeda Galaxy - pc186052a
Andromeda Galaxy in the upper left. The telescope really isn’t set up for long exposure deep sky images…

100th Birthday

Christina and Mom
Nyan-Nyan at 100, through a window with a reflection of Christina.

2020-12-09.  Wednesday. Christina’s Mom died this morning at 0310.  There was a 100th birthday celebration for her a little while ago, on 2020-11-28. “Celebration” in quotes — socially distanced masked small groups from different family units took turns standing in front of the lobby window waving to her. She was in her wheelchair, eyes almost closed.

Two days ago she tested positive for COVID.

Birthday celebration
Celebration in front of the Nursing Home.

I didn’t get pictures of everyone — there were 30 some people all together.

Great Grand Children
Great-grand children

Old Coffee (2)

I have a love/can’t-stand relationship with coffee.  I bought a new bag of Peet’s “Major Dickason’s Blend” beans at my local Peet’s a few days ago that fell firmly into the can’t-stand bin.  I’ve consumed many bags of the Major’s blend in the past, and generally considered it OK, so this is an unexplained change.

Do I have crypto-covid with the only symptom being deranged taste buds? No, that can’t be, because toast tastes the same.  More likely, I think, is that Covid has affected the Peet’s delivery chain, and the beans that were supposedly roasted on 2020-11-02 were actually very old. In any case, the flavor was virtually identical to the year-old beans I wrote about yesterday.  Eeew de old boot.

Today I am trying a bag of Peet’s ‘Espresso Blend’, which, while not great, at least isn’t foul…