Before Weed
Randy Bechtel
Before Weed

Monday, January 31 – Call from Doug Hamilton, the day after our dinner party that included my sister, Eddie and Leslie Mars, and Doug and Corky Hamilton.

Doug “Let me get this straight. The one and only thing you could think of to say about me to your sister minutes before I met her was that I’ve spent 10 years filling potholes with chewed chewing gum?”

Me: “Oh that. Yeah, well, you don’t understand. At the time, Eddie was going on about turning my sister’s silly ministry into a reality show. I needed to change the subject.”

Doug: “Uh-huh. So, the one subject among countless subjects about countless people you could think of was how I fill potholes with chewing gum?”

Me: “I needed a subject capable of diverting Eddie’s attention.  You know what he’s like when he’s on a delusional roll. And it worked—all of three minutes anyway. In fact, it was my sister who changed the subject back again.”  

Doug: “What a shock. And here I thought she avoided me because she knew I’d been a lawyer. Interesting that Eddie didn’t once mention the reality show during the dinner party.”

Me: “That’s because when my sister left to unpack, Jane and I managed to kill his buzz. Eddie was really high on the backstory of Vivian catching Vlad—

Doug: “Who’s Vivian and-- Did you say Vlad?”

Me: Vivian is Mary. Since her religious conversion, my sister has gone by Mary. Vlad is the boyfriend I told you about who came with her at Thanksgiving. Not long ago, Vivian and Vlad broke up after Vlad was caught screwing a girl called Dodo. Eddie thought the backstory of Vlad’s cheating would be an audience grabber.  He even wanted Vlad and Dodo to appear in the show until he learned Vlad is a minister and Dodo is a minor.”

Doug: “You’re saying that Eddie would have postponed a six-week vacation to Hawaii but for Vlad having statutorily raped Dodo?”

Me: “You know Eddie.  I’m surprised he didn’t mention Vlad and Dodo after telling you about my bringing up your pothole experiment.”

Doug: “I learned about the pothole experiment from your sister, not Eddie. When we finally found ourselves one-on-one, I said to Mary, ‘I take it you don’t like lawyers.’ That got us talking. Turns out she loves lawyers because of the divorce settlement she’s expecting.”

 

Thursday, February 3—Mary Vivian is “whisked away” from my house by her three followers.

Given the brevity of our meeting, I cannot help describe Margo, Lucille and Joan according to Eddie’s criteria for their suitability as reality show personalities.

  • They are young—relative, that is, to my 68-year-old sister. My guess is all three are in their mid to late forties, i.e., too old for Hallmark romances but young enough for soap operas. Eddie informed me that his casting criteria for a reality show is very similar to that of a soap opera. I know about soap operas because, like most retirees, I tune in now and then to three types of daytime programs—game shows, soap operas, and talk shows whose stars are knowledgeable about nothing and speak about everything.

  • They are not ugly. Joan and Margo are, to use a term coined by Jackie Vernon, semi-beautiful. Based on that scale, Lucille is one-sixteenth beautiful. That’s not to say they are plain like your mama’s church ladies. Judging by Vivian, Margo and Joan, the Church of Mary Magdalene has no prohibitions against makeup, nail polish, fashion, jewelry and hairstyling—a real plus for reality TV. Lucille, on the other hand, prefers Osh Kosh B’Gosh to Versaci and bar soap to facial and skin-care products.  

  • None are married—at least, currently. I cannot say one or more is a lesbian. I can say none seem to care much for heterosexual white men, e.g., Lucille’s remark: “What social ill hasn’t been caused by heterosexual white men?”

  • They do like to talk. In soap operas, if 10 words of dialogue are sufficient to advance the plot, characters advance it with 1,000 words or more. The gab of my sister and her disciples—or at least disciples Joan and Margo—is not only soap opera worthy, but worthy of the highest level of hot air—that of the daytime talk show.

Margo and Joan arrived at the same time in separate cars and were at our house a little less than an hour awaiting the arrival of Lucille. Accompanied by a German Shepherd named Barnabas, Lucille arrived in a semi-truck loaded with sheep. The four then departed almost immediately.

Tuesday, February 8—A call from Reverend Vlad Tepec.

Vlad: “Gooodeevning! Is this Randolph?”

Me: “Hello Vlad.”  

Vlad: “Is Vivian there? I rang you, buddy, because she doesn’t answer her phone.”

Me: “She left here a week ago. What you did with Dodo, Vlad, was not good. I don’t think Vivian is ready to forgive you.”

Vlad: “Viv was always wise to my being a wolf. I tried to be on the level with her but then I cracked a bottle of hooch for my birthday.  I was three sheets to the wind on Bee’s Knees when Dodo waltzed in wanting to have a few laughs. I prayed like St. Augustine—“Please let me live without sin—just not yet.”

Me: ”The problem isn’t only your cheating, Vlad. It’s that you had sex with a minor.”

Vlad: “Miner? Dodo slings hash.”

Me: “Vlad, I’m talking about Dodo’s young age.”

Vlad: “She’s a little wet behind the ears. But dames lie about their age, see? Five will get you 10 Dodo’s in her forties if a day.”

Me: “My sister believes Dodo is only 16.”

Vlad: “Sixteen! She’s divorced with two kids! Her oldest could even be 16. I can’t figure it. I heard the door open, a scream and the door slam shut. The only way Viv could have made Dodo was by recognizing her gams in the air.”

Me: “I’m told that just before Vivian barged in she heard you cry, ‘Oh Dodo!’”

Vlad: “But why’d she figure Dodo is 16? You’d think I was in like Flynn with Dodo 2.”

Me: “Who?”

Vlad: “Dodo’s oldest, Dodo 2. Viv does know Dodo 2. Nice kid. Nice caboose! She helps out a lot at the church.  I figure Dodo 2 is trying to make up for her old lady being a tramp.”

Me: “Do people call her Dodo 2?”

Vlad: “Only yours truly. Everyone else . . . Ah-ha! . . . Most call her Ruth, but some call her Dodo too! I mean just Dodo, not with the number two.”

Me: “Then there’s your answer, Vlad. Like any reasonable person, Vivian mistakenly assumed the quota for Dodos in your community is one.”

Vlad: “No wonder she blew her top!”

 

Friday, February 18—I am driving Aunt Martha from her assisted-living condominium to our house for a weekend stay.

Martha: “My question is: What were Vivian and the other ding-a-lings going to do with a truck full of sheep?”  

Me: “Don’t know.”

Martha: “You didn’t ask?”

Me: “With that group, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. And when a semi full of bleating sheep is parked in front of your house, you want it to go away. You don’t do anything to keep it there a second longer than it has to be.”

Martha: “Makes you wonder how they could take it with them touring Northern California house hunting. Wherever they went, it had to be somewhere they could unload the sheep.”

Me: “Sounds logical. But remember, we’re talking about Vivian.”

Martha: “Yes, but this Lucille person sounds like someone who knows her business. Who would drive a semi full of sheep who didn’t know their business?”

Me: “It’s possible that during her week here Vivian communicated with her people and they decided on a place to settle. If that’s the case, the place is probably Mendocino.”

Martha: “Why there?”

Me: “You’re aware that Vivian now goes by her real first name Mary? Well, her first day here she talked about branding herself as Mary of Mendocino.”

Martha: “Mary of Mendocino . . . It does have a ring.”

Me: “We’ll see if the residents of Mendocino think so.”

Martha: “Yes, a small town. Never mind. Although, if Vivian had decided on Mendocino, why didn’t she tell you?”

Me: ”I’m guessing she didn’t want anyone in the family to know—not yet, anyway—because they might tell Vlad.”

Martha: “Jane said you talked to him this week. Did you ask him how his congregation likes his sermons now that Vivian isn’t rewriting them?”

Me: “I did, actually. He claims it’s no big deal. Seems the English spoken by most in his congregation is so bad they can’t tell the difference between Vivian’s King James prose and Vlad’s Warner Brothers gangster lingo. Why Vlad doesn’t preach to them in Romanian is beyond me.”

Martha: “Oh, that’d be a no-no! The only other language allowed in an American church is Latin. That is, if you want to play the immigration game with Uncle Sam.  That’s what Vlad’s church is all about—importing and naturalizing Romanian immigrants. To get into this country, you need a sponsor to guarantee you can assimilate. And the best sponsor you can have is a church. Even Republicans won’t attack a church. And if Vlad needs a better return on his collection plate, he just imports more Romanians. It doesn’t matter whether his sermons stink or that he chases skirts. His job is to find homes and jobs for these yahoos and make sure they keep their noses clean.”

I never fact-check Aunt Martha. Jane has occasionally and maintains my aunt has an amazing memory and ability to marshal facts. However, given 10 supposed facts, one or two tend to be off-base if not false, and may or may not undermine Martha’s final conclusion. I consequently regard her conclusions as unproven opinions.

That said, I have not encountered an explanation better than Martha’s for how Vlad Tepec can be pastor of the Romanian Baptist Church in El Segundo.


Sunday, February 20—On an abnormally warm afternoon, Aunt Martha and I are sitting by the swimming pool in the sun. Jane finally leaves the house to join us.

“Whatcha been doing?” I asked Jane.

“I’ve been on the phone with Ashley,” Jane said. Ashley is Vivian’s daughter and my niece.

Jane stood looking at us with an uncharacteristic sheepish expression, her eyes dropping, raising, dropping, raising.

“What’s wrong?” I said.

“I told Ashley the truth,” Jane said.

Jane’s manner conveyed which truth she had told.

“No, you didn’t  . . .” I said.

“Told her what?” Martha asked.

“In a second, Aunt Martha,” I said. Glaring at Jane, I said, “You’re the one who insisted we keep it a secret!”

“I know. I know,” Jane said. “I was wrong, okay? Its effect on Ashley hasn’t been what you think. It’s made her rather miserable”

“Effect of what?” Aunt Martha asked.

Ignoring Martha, I said to Jane, “You realize the dye is cast? It’s only a matter time that this gets back to Vivian—if it hasn't already.”

“Ashley said Vivian won’t take her calls,” Jane said. “She hasn’t since Thanksgiving.”

Martha slapped the top of our deck table. “What’s the big to-do?” she said.  

I informed Martha that the supposed genealogist who had traced our family tree two years ago had been an actor recommended to Vivian’s husband Gary by his practical-joking former Sacramento colleagues. Everything the man said had been made up including the claim that Vivian, Ashley, Martha and I were directly descended from a Frank dynasty whose bloodline began with Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ.

Martha cackled. “I can’t believe any of you bought that malarkey!” she said.

“Not particularly,” Jane said. “But we did believe the man was a legitimate genealogist. Unfortunately, Vivian and Ashley took what he said to heart.”

“So why is Ashley so miserable?  Martha asked. “Did she try to turn water into Pinot Noir? Although that sounds more like her mother.”

“Martha, please!” Jane said. “This is serious!”

Martha sat back, folded her hands on her lap and smiled up at the birds in the trees.

“What was Ashley’s problem?” I asked Jane.

“You know she was attending Bible classes hoping to be admitted to an Anglican seminary,” Jane said. “She happened to mention that she was a blood relative of Jesus and was spurned as a heretic and blasphemer.”

“Christians don’t like the idea of the son of God having sex,” Martha said. “A little too Pegan.”

“So how did Ashley take the truth?” I asked.

“She seemed relieved,” Jane said. “And I just thought that Vivian will too sooner or later. This tangent she’s on can only lead to disappointment! I mean, what good can come from four L.A. women, three looking like real housewives of Orange County and the other wearing bib overalls, moving in together with a semi full of sheep in a town where they’re complete strangers, and their leader goes gadding about saying to Mendocino natives, “Call me Mary of Mendocino. I’m a blood relative of the son of God,’?”

Wednesday, March 16—Voicemail and email from Doug.

Voicemail:

Your sister called wanting me to refer a constitutional lawyer in or around Weed, California. Ha! The best I could do is the son of a friend who’s a GP in Yreka. Emailing you an article Mary emailed me from a Weed newspaper.

I said to Jane: “Vivian is in Weed. She called Doug wanting him to recommend a constitutional lawyer.”

“Weed? Where’s Weed?” Jane asked.

“In Siskiyou County. Right by Mount Shasta.”

“Oh my gosh! I do hope she isn’t calling herself Mary of Weed! You said she wanted what—a constitutional lawyer? What can that mean?”

“Doug emailed me an article from the Weed newspaper.” 

I accessed the email and then its attachment. The newspaper was The Weed News, not the most imaginative of names but one that was probably to the point, i.e., Weed News has cornered the market on Weed news.

I read aloud:

Taxpayer Assn. Says Sacrebleu to Sister City Proposal

A temporary injunction has been granted to the Mount Shasta Taxpayer Association to stop the Weed City Council from exploring the possibility of Weed becoming the sister city of Cannes, France.

Jane chortled.

I read on:  

So what’s problem? you may ask, aside from the endless debate over whether our 2,862 population qualifies as a city or just a town. And yes, the claim by Taxpayer Association President Rutherford B. Hayes VII that “Weed would be playing footsie with the Frogs,”?

According to the Tax Association’s complaint, the Town Council is violating the constitutional separation of church and state. Although the resolution to pursue sisterhood was introduced last Tuesday by Mayor Millie Punter, it arose from the lobbying of the Church of Mary Magdalene. Spearheading the lobbying was Margo Butkus, who was a high school classmate of the mayor 30 years ago in Wheatland.

For many Weed residents, the church’s name draws a blank. This is understandable because the Christian denomination is not only new, but its founders arrived in town little more than a month ago. And yet, who here has not seen its members along Highway 97, or in Byrd Park, or along our roadsides singing, chanting, preaching and strumming ukuleles as their sheep feed on our parched grass? It was to curtail fire hazards in an unending drought that the City Council unanimously retained the so-called Magdalenese and their sheep shortly after their arrival here.

“Where was Rutherford B. Hayes VII then?” Mayor Punter asked.

But unlike the grazing sheep, the sister city proposal is a “boondoggle targeting town taxpayers to benefit a church,” argues Taxpayer Association attorney Dick Smith.

“If the mayor gets her way,” Smith said, “she and the head of the Magdalenese church—a woman who calls herself Mary of Jefferson--will travel to Cannes to propose sisterhood to that city’s ruling body.”

“Mary of what?” Jane asked.

“Mary of Jefferson,” I said. “I’m sure that alludes to the State of Jefferson--counties in California’s far north and in Oregon’s far south that have a history of wanting to form their own state.”

“How enterprising of Vivian,” Jane said, "although isn't that name awefully political?"

"Vivian doesn't make a distinction between religion and politics," I replied.

I read on:

“Mary of Jefferson has resided in Weed little more than a month and already she wants our taxpayers to treat her to an all-expense-paid vacation to France!” Smith said.

According to the mayor, Mary’s church represents the leading common denominator between Weed and Cannes—the Biblical Mary Magdalene—whom legend says fled the Holy Land after the Crucifixion to settle in France.  

“Mary of Jefferson, in fact, is a documented blood relative of Mary Magdalene,” Mayor Punter said.

“Oh no!” Jane groaned. “Ashley still hasn’t told her.”

"At least Vivian didn't claim to be a blood relative of Jesus Christ," I said.

I read on:

“She gives Weed the opportunity to link arms with one of the world’s most glamourous cities. Who here would not want that?”

Rutherford B. Hayes VII acknowledged that for many Weed residents the answer to this question is no one.  “The question not being asked is: Why would Cannes residents want Cannes to be a sister city of Weed?” Hayes said. “Cannes is the Hollywood of France, full of uppity white-wine-sucking weenies. The only thing that will come of this sham is a nice little junket for Mayor Punter and Mary of Jefferson.”

Disagreeing with Hayes is a celebrated author and recent Weed resident who thinks Mary’s presence makes Weed a destination for a wide range of celebrities. “Already people of extraordinary accomplishment have set their sites on our community,” said Mickey Bitsko—"

“No!” I erupted so loudly that Jane flinched.

“What?” she gasped.

“Mickey Bitsko is an Old Timer!”

“Oh, you don’t think . . .?”

“I do.  Eddie isn’t in Hawaii. Eddie Mars is in Weed!”

 

Copyright © 2022 by Randy Bechtel

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