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Springtime Sowing, Reaping, Squabbles and Plucking

Balmy April afternoons are perfect for long, contemplative walks, and I indulged in one after my Alameda High School radio shop teacher threw me a curve ball. Mr. Lynch had said, “Michaels, I could tell you how to fix your uncle’s old Silvertone, but what would you learn? You know how to fix it. Think about what I’ve taught you.”

Alameda Post - a silertone radio
Photo Joe Haupt / Flickr.

As I crossed Santa Clara Avenue and Park Street, lost in pondering the mysteries of series-connected vacuum-tube heaters, I was standing in front of the Christian Science Reading Room (55 years later, now a tequila bar) when I heard a loud “Hey!”

I turned to see a tanned, stocky girl with blonde and matted dreadlocks staring at me. Her eyes reminded me of the Asleep At The Wheel tune “Don’t Roll Your Bloodshot Eyes at Me.” She was perched atop an enormous blue bicycle. Her shabby floral granny dress was matched with a pink knit sweater, and failed to cover her very hirsute legs. She reeked of marijuana.

I glared at her, irritated at being interrupted from my brainstorming. She smiled, and through yellowed teeth said, “Hey, ain’t you that guy Gil who read that crazy story at the English class assembly? The one about the two old ladies who hijacked a bus to go to Rossmoor to pick up dudes?”

“Yeah, that’s me,” I answered, flattered that she actually liked it. “What’s your name?” I asked.

She gave me another icky smile and said, “Cantina.”

I was impressed and laughed. “Cantina? What a great name! How’d you get it?”

She proudly remarked, “My mom hooked up with some dude at a bar in Tijuana, and nine months later, me! Cantina!”

I laughed again, then said, “It’s too bad she didn’t meet a guy at a bar in Alameda. Then you might be named ‘Buckhorn’ (now Lucky 13) or ‘Driftwood!’ (now Hobnob).”

Alameda Post - a marijuana plant

She giggled, then chirped, “Smoke dope?”

I was taken aback by this, as I was unlike the many Alameda High School students of that era who had the luxury of illegal drug abuse. I had little money, many responsibilities at home, and no safety net below me if I got busted.

“No,” I snapped. “Marijuana makes me sick, and I’ve got better stuff to do than get wasted.”

Now she was taken aback. “Dang, dude, I thought you was a freak like me,” she snipped. “I just thought you’d be a cool guy to hang out and party with.”

I wanted to be rid of her so I could get back to my electronics quandary. I smiled at her and said, “Look, Cantina, on Saturday, I’m going over to my grandmother’s house on Broadway to help with the springtime tomato and basil planting. Why don’t you meet me there at noon, we’ll help, and afterward I’ll take you out for pizza at Villa Teresa (now senior housing).”

She grinned and said, “It’s a date! But I have to ask, are you gonna pay? Most of the dudes I go with are always broke!”

I assured her that I would take care of it, and gave her my Nonna Kate’s address.

Alameda Post - a tomato plant

That Saturday at Nonna Kate’s, noon rolled by with no Cantina. We couldn’t wait. Uncle Mingo and I drove down to Encinal Nursery, where he filled his big 1958 Chevy Impala’s huge trunk space with four bags of planting mix for his redwood containers, 24 Early Girl tomato plants, and a dozen basil plants for the raised beds.

When we got back, I was shocked to see that Nonna Kate had spread a tarp over the backyard patio, with a folding chair and three big plastic buckets next to it. One of the buckets was full of steaming water. Nonna Kate was standing in the tall backyard pigeon coop, fondling a squab. Suddenly, there was a loud “thwack” as the squab’s head met a wall. Nonna Kate then walked over to the hot water bucket and plopped the dead bird in.

As Uncle Mingo and I unloaded his car, I began griping, “Uncle Mingo, I thought those pigeons were my pets. I’ve named them after all my favorite pro wrestlers. There’s Dick the Bruiser, Crusher Lisowski, Ray the Crippler, the Sheik, Killer Kowalski, and Gorilla Monsoon!”

Uncle Mingo chuckled then said, “Well kid, they’re no match for Katy when she’s squab hungry. Them squabs is real fine eatin’.”

Alameda Post - a pigeon

Nonna Kate beckoned me over to her and her chair, where she had just finished plucking a squab and was now eviscerating it. She smirked as she saw my revulsion at the gore, and burst out laughing when I sobbed, “You killed Dick the Bruiser!”

“Oh, grow up, you big sissy,” she exclaimed. “Everybody should know what has to happen before they eat meat. Oh, by the way, some homely hippy chick with bloodshot eyes came by looking for you, and before she saw what I’m doing, we had a weird conversation. She smelled funny, and I asked, ‘What’s that smell?’ And she says, ‘Pot.’ And I says, ‘Pot? What kind of pot?’ Then she says, ‘Columbian.’

Then I asks, ‘What do you cook in a Columbian pot?’  Then she shakes her head, gets on a big blue bike, and takes off.”

I blanched, held my head in my hands, and thought, “Perfect, now Cantina thinks I invited her over to kill baby birds.”

Just then, I heard someone yell, “Gil!” I walked to the front of Nonna Kate’s Victorian and there was Cantina, perched on her bike, fragrant as ever with bloodshot eyes. She looked perturbed. She trained her two red orbs on me, then yelled, “Dude, only a total a**hole would invite a chick over to kill baby birds.” She then rode her bike close to me, bumping me in the rear end with her hand.

Alameda Post - a blue bike
Photo A_Peach / Flickr.

I felt my left rear pocket. My wallet was gone. I whipped around to see Catina pulling cash from my wallet. She tossed the wallet to the ground.

As she rode off, she bellowed, “Tell your creepy old grandma that you just got plucked!”

I never told Nonna Kate, nor did I eat Dick the Bruiser—or any other squab.

Gil Michaels  enjoys squabbles at [email protected]. His writing is collected at

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