Bill the Tree Man and the Cypresses: New Story by Michaele Benedict


Bill the Tree Man and the Cypresses


By Michaele Benedict


Bill the Tree Man is a little larger than life, and the nineteen cypress trees which surround my house are much larger than you want old trees to be. Bill played in these cypress trees when he and they were much younger, and once or twice a year now he comes to address a cypress emergency.

            This past Christmas, as he was dealing with yet another tree mishap, Bill told a story of pilfering lumber to build a tree house in that very same cypress, and then of having the structure collapse on him after the contractor said he had to dismantle his shack and return the two-by-fours. (Bill began the demolition from the bottom instead of the top.)

            This experience has not made him cautious. He still will shimmy up an eighty-foot tree with nothing but a rope and a chainsaw, and in fact did so a week after the Christmas episode when he noticed another enormous broken branch hanging over our house like the sword of Damocles. “I believe you are in harm’s way,” he said calmly. Since Bill is not an alarmist, we prayed for no wind until he reappeared with his rope and saw.

            Others have worked on the trees when Bill wasn’t available. He is an actor and for a while divided his time between the Coastside and Hollywood. One tree man fell and broke his jaw. Another used a cherry-picker. Yet another shook his head at a threatening branch sixty feet up. “No,” he said, and walked away.

            Bill fixed a chain around a similar branch which refused to yield to the chainsaw. He calculated just where it would fall in order to miss the fence and the other trees, he hitched the chain to his truck and inched the truck up the driveway with the engine laboring. The ground shook when the branch landed. I was too frightened to watch. When I came outside, Bill was discussing eating poison oak with a passer-by. It gives you immunity, he said. “Doesn’t it taste bad?” the other man asked. “Nah,” Bill replied. “I’ve kissed women who tasted worse than that.”

            We have had at least three major repairs to the house because of heavy branches falling in high wind. When Chuck lived next door, he said a limb outside fell on his television cable and pulled the set right off the table. We have had nervous telephone calls from all the neighbors because of the trees; the last time, Bill walked over and reassured the neighbor that once a limb hit the ground, it wasn’t going to fall any farther.

            Cupressus macrocarpa, the Monterey cypress, and in some cases the hybrid cupressocyparis, were sometimes planted as a quick-growing hedge. The trees are “picturesque in age, especially in windy coastal conditions,” according to the  Sunset Western Garden Book. The hybrid can grow to 20 feet high in five years,  usually reaches 60 or 70 feet tall, and “will quickly get away from you without regular maintenence.” “Takes strong wind,” the book adds.

            The cypresses offer gifts as well as sudden danger. At Christmas, enough green twigs with festive round cones will blow down that we can make wreaths and garlands. A raucous family of ravens lives in the trees, so fierce that they repel even hawks. At night, there is an owl who calls balefully from one tree near the road. Once three baby raccoons climbed sixty feet up a cypress and couldn’t figure out how to get down. Occasionally we see a squirrel, though I’m afraid they are rather low on the food chain.

            Our stacked log fences, five feet high, are made from dead cypresses which had to be cut down. The same logs feed the wood stove, and chipped wood from fallen branches goes back into the garden for mulch.

            In Greek mythology, Kyparissos  or Cyparissos, for whom the cypress tree was named, was  the grandson of Hercules and a protege of the god Apollo and of Zephiros, god of the winds. His favorite companion was a mighty stag, but he accidentally killed the  deer with his spear. He asked the heavens for a favor, that his tears would roll down eternally, and so the gods turned him into a cypress tree.

             As for the Monterey cypress and the tears of Kyparissos, it is true that the trees, despite their happy, hungry and sometimes raucous occupants, shed resinous tears all the time. The gummy tears stick to the cars and harden into clear patches impossible to remove. The cat comes in smelling like Christmas trees, with sticky patches of cypress resin gumming up her fur.

            I found a picture of the cypresses made in about 1949, and they appear to be small bushes. Now they are craggy giants which moan, groan and crackle when the wind blows. Bill the Tree Man says that the trees are getting toward the end of their life, but despite all the tears and the trouble, I’ll be sad to see them go.


Michaele Benedict’s latest non-fiction work is called  Searching for Anna.

Bridge Over Pilarcitos….Built in 1900, is it still there?*


Yes, indeed! Built in 1900, this bridge is famous, said to be the first steel-reinforced concrete bridge of its kind.

Thanks to John Vonderlin for sending this from the Call Bulletin


Splendid New Bridge Over Pilarcitos Creek – Structure Now Completed and Will Probably Be Accepted by San Mateo Supervisors.”

Halfmoon Bay, Oct. 7. The new concrete bridge recently constructed over Pilarcitos Creek has been officially examined for acceptance by the Board of Supervisors.

The structure cost about $10,000, and it is the intention of the supervisors to cause heavy rock to be placed along the sides of the earth fills so as to protect the banks and prevent them from being washed away. This extra work will cost approximately  $1000.

The dimensions of the bridge are: Length: 124 feet; width, including a 20-foot roadway and a 4-foot sidewalk, 25 feet height above ground level, 22 feet; arch span, 60 feet.

Work on the structure was commenced April 7 and it was thrown open to the public August 21. To Supervisor Joseph Debenedetti is due the credit of having secured for the city the splendid structure which is not only an ornament but fills a long felt necessity. All the help practically employed on the bridge was engaged here. This meant that there was a disbursement of several thousand dollars among the people of this vicinity.


*Built in 1900, is it still there? U bet.

19th Century Storm: Condition of things at Half Moon Bay (after “the late storm”)


Thanks to John Vonderlin

Email John ([email protected])

From the  January 14, 1862 issue of the Daily  Alta, published in San Francisco

Condition of things at Half Moon Bay

 From a gentleman who arrived this afternoon from Half Moon Bay, we learn that considerable damage was done at that place by the late storm. Three-fourths of the bridge at Spanish Town was carried away by the floods. A man named Ransom H. Wood, recently from Contra Costa, and originally from Vermont, was drowned in an attempt to cross the Creek, on Saturday morning.

 The surf struck his boat and capsized her. He was then carried out by the undertow, and all efforts to save him proved unavailing. Our informant also tells us what the Peruvian bark, the loss of which was narrated in the “Alta” this morning, went to pieces twenty-four hours after she struck. She is a total loss. He knows nothing of the other vesselwhich, it was said, went ashore further south.


 Such a fierce storm deserves an entry in “Wikipedia.” To read, please click here


The bridge mentioned in the above Daily Alta article may very well be the concrete one built in 1900—that’s still there, near the Pasta Moon restaurant. The bridge was said to be the first steel-reinforced concrete bridge in the world.  Before that, it must have regularly washed out during winter storms.


[This story, also published by the Daily Alta, comes from a correspondent in Purisima!.)

The Flood of 1862.


Half Moon Bay District.

We are indebted to Messrs. Miller & Hopkins” Half Moon Bay Express for the following from: Purisima, January 10, 1862

The flood has been most disastrous on this creek, especially to M.N.C. Lane. About two or three acres of ground slid into the creek above the saw mill, overwhelming th barn, and killing instantly tow valuable horses and four oxes. It then struck the Suelling House, completely demolishing it.

Mr. Lane had just completed his house and furnished it with new and costly furniture, which is all a perfect wreck.

The family saved themselves with difficulty, having only four or five minutes notice before the water bore the house away, and dashed it in piece among redwood trees, hundreds of feet long, and many of them six or eight feet in diameter. The most remarkable incident that occurred during the disaster was the saing of the piano forte. While almost every other article was either crushed to fragments, or borne away by the resistless torrent, the piano was lifted on the top of a large redwood log, and deposited unharmed, some distance below the general wreck.

All along the creek, roads and bridges are completely washed away, or much injured as to be impassable, and every hillside bears evidence, in numerous slides, of the devastating power of the storms.


Saturday morning presented a scene seldom witnessed in our quiet community. After Purissima has a fall of about seventy feet over the bluff, into the ocean. Over this cataract, borne by the turbid flood, were hurled in wild confusion the debris of denuded ranches, dwellings, outhouses and fences, mixed with giant redwood trees and logs, and the whole precipitated into the boiling surf and thrown high upon the jagged rocks of this ironbound coast.


Gray Gardner: Best Place to Watch a Coastside Storm


June-The best place for me was our old Beach House,on the beach below the Distillery,with the Waves breaking against the Reef and the”Pillar”,with the Lights of Distillery illuminating it all. The house was built  on the same lava formation as the Reef,and would shake with the wave hits .If  it was High Tide,the waves would fill the depression in front of the house………we would fire-up the  cast-  iron Fire Place, put Wagner on Bob’s Stereo  (Which was one of the best on the Coastside at that time).Turn the lights off and drink Hot  Spiced Rum until  Dawn!

The Six Day Race, Paris, 1938: Story by Erich von Neff

erich[Author/Poet Erich von Neff is a San Francisco Longshoreman.]

Les Six Jours au Vel D’Hiv
Paris 1938

Par Erich Von Neff

Table des Matieres


Day One

1. Fat Henry

2. The Hundred Dollar Prime
3. The Sprint
4. Triumph
5. Yeah Babe
6. The Jam Is On
7. The Lap
8. At the Cabaret du Chat

Day Two
9. The Hop Sing Tong
10. Willy the Whale
11. Madame Yang’s
12. Insight
13. The Gatto Brothers
14. The Right Price
15. The Tire
16. Against All Odds
17. Retribation

Day Three
18. Letourner and Guimbretiere
19. Up a Notch
20. The Gap
21. Their House
22. Over the Top

Day Four
23. A Big Prime
24. The Bets Are In
25. Let the Good Times Roll
26. Later Inside the Horch
27. Fini

Day Five
28. Not So Fast
29. Center Stage
30. The Prefect of Police
31. To the Morgue
32. The Scorpion
33. Awakened
34. Thunder
35. Fang Marks Were Left Behind
36. The Transient Hotel
37. A Floating Memory
38. The Silent Fan
39. We’ll Blow the Joint Apart

Day Six
40. The Morning After
41. Get Wise
42. A Damn Good Idea
43. Lights Out
44. At Knife Point
45. Then Flash
46. The Scene
47. This Bullshit
48. Scram
49. The Lament
50. Hey
51. Time is one with Wing
52. Rendezvous
53. Twilight of the Gods


Les Six Jours au Vel d’Hiv, 1938

Pearls around her neck
Champagne down her throat
A cheer for Letourner –Guimbretiere
And a wild fling with the American team*
Steps into her Delage
Roars down rud de Rivoli
Paints the town red
Pulls up to the Cabaret Chez Regine
A jazz band and a revue
Throw her head back
Champagne down her throat
Les six jours
Les six jours
A cheer
A cheer
Les six Jours
Au Vel d’Hiv
*Oscar Juner & Bobby Walthour

The Teams*
1. Australia: Reggie McNamara and Hubert Oppermann
2. Belgium: Rene Boogmans and Marcel Boogmans
3. England: Reggie Fielding and Syd Cozens
4. France: Alfred Letourner and Marcel Guimbretiere
5. Italy: Gus Gatto and Vince Gatto
6. Holland: Piet van Kempen and Ernst Muller
7. Germany: Hans Krause and Werner Miethe
8. Luxembourg: Nicolas Frantz and Marcel Ernzer
9. Norway: Knut Knudson and Edward Kasputis
10. San Francisco: Willy the Whale and Tony Chocolate**
11. Switzerland: Frieddie Zach and Ernst de Buhler
12. USA: Oscar Juner and Bobby Walthour, Jr.

*Some teams are fictitious; some teams have been re-teamed
for this race.
Reference: “Six Days of Madness,” 1993, Ted Harper.
**Based in the Afro-American six-day cyclist of the time, Harry Hollis.

Day One

Fat Henry

Fat Henry and the boys sat above the north banking of the Vel d’ Hiv
With him the blonde babe, Vivacious Veronica
Delages, Isotta-Fraschinis…and Hispano-Suiza* limousines
Pulled up to the Vel d’ hiv.
Beautiful women entered escorted by fat rich men.
The riders rolled around the track, lap after lap.
And sprinted for the primes
While Bunk Johnson’s Band played “Moose March”
“This I like. This is my style,” Fat Henry said
As he guzzled a beer
And with that he reached for his wallet

*Delage, Duesenberg, Isotta-Fraschini, Hispano-Suiza, Horch, Packard, and Pierce-Arrow were classic cars of the era.

The Hundred Dollar Prime

Fat Henry rolled up a hundred dollar bill
And handed it to the usherette
“Give it to the chief referee.”
“For the next prime,” Fat Henry said.
“Also tip off Letourner and Guimbretiere”
And with that he put ten dollar in her red garter belt
Bunk Johnson’s Band* played “Down by the Riverside”
While Vivacious Veronica jiggled her breasts and rolled her buttocks
Heavy set men turned their heads and puffed on their cigars
The laps whirred by at the Vel d’ hiv
Through the haze of cigar smoke, beer and jazz
Vivacious Veronica was very much in tune

*A New Orleans jazz band of the era, one of the best.

The Sprint

“A hundred dollars. A hundred dollars.”
“For the next prime,” the referee announced.
“Ten laps to go. Ten laps to go.”
The pack thundered around the track
With Willy the Whale* well tucked in
And Letourner in the lead
And Juner on the pole
The crowd shouted for their favorites
“Come on, Willy, Come on.”
“Hans, Hans, Hans.”
Hey, Hey Letourner. Pour it on.”
Throaty Annette yelled
While Fat Henry lit up a big cigar
Bunk Johnson’s band Band played “Panama”
Pour it on. Pour it on.” Throaty Annette yelled
The bell clanged. One lap to go. One lap to go.
Letourner around Hans, Willy and Juner
Letourner, Letourner. Yes, Letourner.

*Hazily based on an American Six Day Rider of the era.

Yeah Babe

“Let’s have some real action,” Fat Henry said.
And with that Fat Henry put up $1,000 for the next team to gain a lap
Vivacious Veronica gave him a kiss on his puffy cheeks
And pressed against him with her breasts
While fingering her pearls
“Yeah, babe, more pearls, but first I gotta make a deal
With One Eye Joe at the Cabaret du Chat.”

The Jam Is On

What would have passed simply
As lap stoled on a field tired from the sprint
Now became a jam in earnest
One would feel the electricity in the air
As Willy the Whale picked up his partner Tony Chocolate
His black legs whirling
In full pursuit the pack thundered around the boards

The Lap

“Tony Chocolate, Tony Chocolate”
The cry went up
Bunk Johnson’s band played the “Muskrat Ramble”
Josephine Baker* leaned over the banking
Rooting for the black and gold
Of Willy the Whale and Tony Chocolate
The San Francisco Team
The gap widened with each lap and exchange
“The “Bolden Medley,” Josephine Baker, the Black and Gold
Tony Chocolate, Willy the whale closing on the pack
Frenzy, a lap gained by Tony Chocolate and Willy the Whale
Josephine Baker dancing to the Muskrat Ramble
Other women dancing, men swilling beer
“My kind of action” Fat Henry said chomping on his cigar
“Because of you,” Vivacious Veronica replied.
“Because of a thousand bucks
Because of a thousand bucks.
It’s as simple as that.”

*Known in Paris as La Baker

At the Cabaret du Chat

The boxer Pig Iron sat with his latest.
The flaming redhead Throaty Annette.
Judith Piaf had just finished singing, “La Vie en Rose,”—and now
On stage the chorus girls kicked up their heels, revealing, revealing.
To the tune of a seedy jazz band.
In walked Louie the Weasel.
He had parked the Duesenberg outside.
“Gotta see One Eye Joe,” he said to the hat check girl.
She pointed with her breasts toward the back door.
Louie gave the knock. Two short one long. He was frisked as he walked in.
Joe and the boys were playing poker.
“Making a bet for Fat Henry,” the Weasel said pulling out a roll.
And a folded piece of paper.
One Eye Joe put his cigar on the table.
He took the cash and put it in the safe.
“I gotta phone a couple of guys,” One Eye said.
“I gotta make sure things happen. I gotta make sure things turn out right.”

Day Two

The Hop Sing Tong

Sitting above the south banking

Beneath dim lights

Sat the shadow figure of Chang Wo

The reputed head of San Francisco’s Hop Sing Tong*

Singsong girls and damsels in distress sat on either side of him

Behind Chang Wo were more shadowy figures

“I like the Black and Gold,” Chang Wo said solemnly

Shadowy figures nodded agreement

“It would be a disgrace if the San Francisco team lost”” lost”

“Indeed boss. Indeed.”


* Roughly, Chinese “mafia”

** A country, state, and city could have a team.

Continue reading “The Six Day Race, Paris, 1938: Story by Erich von Neff”

Collin Tiura’s New Project: Restoring the 1932-Depression Era– Work Truck


collintiuraStory by Collin Tiura

Email Collin ([email protected])

We’re starting to prep the cab for paint inside and out, then the bed. We’re going to put the motor and tranny together and in the frame and run the exhaust and wiring and all the rest of it.
We may be burning rubber this coming summer. It’s going to be a work truck, none of that show stuff for us.

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