Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tales of the Freaky Tiki

The Freaky Tiki and it's red door. Just above this picture
is the non-functional streetlight (foreshadowing). 
I liked our house from the first moment I saw it, and not just because Admiral Karen and I had been searching for a new place for 18 months by then. Every weekend during that time I would get the Sunday newspaper, scan the classifieds, cut out the promising house ads and tape them to notebook paper. Then we would spend hours driving around and looking at each address. And the only thing we found doing that is that homeowners can’t count: 2 bedrooms were actually 1, 1 bedrooms were really studios, balconies were described as “backyards” and the “Ocean View” was if you ran down the street and stood on top of a ladder.

Finally it occurred to us to employ some ‘other’ tools. So we did a tarot spread and the cards were screamingly clear: “Try another way of looking”. So we went to our friend Mama Jenya and had her whip up one of her patented Happy House spells. Also I got on Craigslist (duh) and we found the Freaky Tiki a week and a half later (D’oh!).

My first impressions were that this was an old house, at the end of a dead end street near Downtown with lots of trees. All plusses. The short street ends at Branciforte Creek, which is a deep concrete channel at this point on its journey to the San Lorenzo River. May Avenue then continues on the other side of the creek. Alongside the creek is an asphalt path that curves slowly Northward until it meets Water Street. Nice. The previous tenants were still there, so I took just peeked over the back fence and saw a decent sized backyard with a tall, mature palm tree. More plusses.

The Driveway that doesn't quite reach the street.
Richard the Dick's sign at lower right.
I spent some time just sitting in the car and listening. It seemed like a quiet street. A few dog walkers on the creek path. Most importantly Ocean Street was only a half block down the path the other way, but the traffic on the Main thoroughfare didn’t seem to penetrate to our little stub of a street. A slow moving body of water next to your home is also excellent Feng Shui.

I took Admiral Karen by for a look and practical Capricorn that she is, she noticed the minuses that I had missed. No garage. Not even a carport. And – what’s this? – no cutout for the driveway. Any car parking there would have to go over a curb. Weird. Also the place was in need of an exterior paint job, and there was some serious jungle growth going on on the roof. And at the end of the tall hedge that separates our property from our neighbors, there was a small, wooden sign near the ground. It had even been placed in cement. And this sign said “Be Courteous. Be Quiet”. Hmmmm……

Initial peek over back fence. On the left is the Eastern
corner, site of future adventure (foreshadowing). In the
middle is the palm and next to it, the penis tree.
We were officially ‘undecided’. A couple of days later I went back there and sure enough the previous tenants had moved out. I climbed over the back fence and looked around. Beyond the back fence was a small ridge that continued back along the creek, creating an aviary throughway. There were also a dozen mature oak trees anchoring this end of the ridge. Beautiful.

One of the windows of the house was unfortunately missing a lock, so I opened it and climbed through to see if I could find it. And what I saw inside made me just stop, and stare, and fall in love with this house. In the middle of this large back room was a bathroom that had once been outside. It had exterior shingles on top of it and outdoor spotlights in the wall next to it. The room I was standing in must have been built around this outdoor half-bath. It remains one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in a private residence. And right there I knew that this was the place for us.
The outdoor (indoors) half-bath, with its tiki grass
and outdoor floodlights.

I brought Admiral Earthsign back for a look inside and she noted the large storage counter built into one side of this large room, and the second closet built into the other side. Two closets? Two bathrooms? Oh yeah. We were decided.

We contacted the owners, and as is always the case in a college town, we were not 19 and flaky and so we got the house right away. The Freaky Tiki, as Karen christened it, was ours to rent.

Moving in

Moving day was smoother than the last time we switched households. That time, 3 years previously, we had moved both of our separate households into one place. This one was just a straight one-to-one transfer, and it HAD to be an efficient job, because the 6 weeks leading up to June 25th were jam-packed with activities (even by our standards). It was such a nutty summer that I kept track of it:

The 6+1/2 weeks of June, 2005:

In addition to both of us working full-time jobs, we also did the following…..

Lamazi, singing your favorite Eastern European Folk songs.

  • Friday, May 20th, 2005: Pele’s Paradise costume party at the Louden Nelson Center.
  • Saturday: Heather Party, Penelope Party.
  • Sunday: Lamazi gig. (Karen’s singing group)
  • Tuesday, May 24th: See new house for first time. Start packing.
  • Thursday: Angus band practice.
  • Friday, May 27th: Meet Ellen the Broker, tour new house. Bobs show at Kuumbwa.
  • Saturday: Julianne Party.
  • Wednesday through Friday, June 1-3: Lamazi rehearsals and gig.
  • Saturday, June 4th: Energy walk. Shelly’s baby shower.
  • Sunday: Community Seed Summer Yard Sale.
  • Monday: Karen rehearsal.
  • Wednesday: Lamazi gig.
  • Thursday: Costco Shopping for Solaris, Angus band practice.
  • Friday: Solaris meeting.
  • Saturday, June 11: Surprise party for my 40th birthday.
  • Sunday through Tuesday: Mom and Jan here, in the half-packed up old house.
  • Wednesday through Sunday: Solaris (camping out in Madera).
  • Monday through Friday, June 20th-24th: Packing overdrive.
  • Saturday, June 25th: Move from Live Oak to Downtown.
  • Sunday, June 26th: Pick up Karen’s niece Kelsey from Airport. Begin unpacking.
  • Wednesday, June 29th: Clean up Kinsley Report House.
  • Thursday, June 30th: Lamazi gig, hand over keys.
  • Friday, July 1st: Kelsey Mandolin Concert.
  • July 4th, 2005: Kelsey airport run, and the celebration of freedom.

For Moving Day we called in all of the favors we had with our friends, rented a big truck, actually packed everything BEFORE our help arrived, labeled the boxes with their future rooms, issued maps to our help and had pizza and beer waiting at the end of the day. In fact our only problem was that we actually had too many people helping and too many trucks. We had also purchased our first cell phones a few days before, so there was that learning curve too.

First Morning

Kitchen (the backstretch), as viewed from the Rumpus
Room(Turn 3), the morning after the move.
The Freaky Tiki is laid out in a large circle. Stepping through the front door deposits you into the middle of turns 1 and 2. From the front door the Parlor is on your left and the Dining Area on the right. Continuing around counter-clockwise puts you into the backstretch – the kitchen. Turns 3 and 4 are the back half of the house – the Rumpus Room. The front straightaway is the bedroom and this leads you back into the Parlor. The full bathroom is in the middle, opening into the bedroom.

The circle is a fun way to layout a house – no wasted space with hallways. It also leads to a periodic Bugs Bunny routine with Karen and I when we’re in opposite ends of the house, and one of us needs to speak with the other. If we both move, say, clockwise, we end up circling each other, round and round. We’ve even stopped at the same time and reversed course, with similar results.

The Pile in the Rumpus Room. Half-bath on right.
The storage cabinets are along the back wall here.
I was awake early on the morning after the move. I took a careful walk around the Tiki in the pre-dawn gloom. The main pieces of furniture were kinda in place (couches, dining room table, bed), but the rest of our belongings were precariously stacked in a long, thick pile down the length of the Rumpus Room. It was impressive. And intimidating. About the only things not in the pile were mirrors, artwork  - and 7 large bookcases, which were scattered here and there throughout the house.

With these in mind I walked the circle of the Tiki again, tip-toeing through the bedroom where Karen was sleeping. The house has an impressive number of windows. Two huge ones on either side of the front door – the Parlor and the Dining Area, and two old-fashioned double hung windows on the side walls of these two rooms. The kitchen has 3 windows and the Rumpus Room has 4, plus the sliding glass door. This is great for views and natural light, but difficult for placing large, tall pieces of furniture against the outside walls. There’s just more window than wall in this house.

My bookcase on top of the cabinets. No stooping!
The bookcases were all different shapes, and it took a lot of measuring, but I finally found wall space for 6 of the 7 bookcases, which I moved very quietly. The oddball was my lone bookcase, which was just too wide to fit anywhere on the floor of the house. Eventually I found a place for it ON TOP of the cabinets at one end of the Rumpus Room. It’s a little strange there – the top shelf is 7 feet off the ground, but we’ve grown used to it. By the time Karen woke up at 9am I had the bare bones of our house all laid out.

Tree Hugger

Unpacking created the sun-blotting mountain of boxes.
2 nights later I had a vision about the house. It was only a few seconds long, but it told much: I was in the bedroom, looking out from the back of the house (The Rumpus Room was added decades later). My gaze was out to the backyard and the copse of oaks that dots the hillside behind our house, except there were more trees than now. The tall wooden fence that is here now was missing, and in its place was a small, white railing fence. Coming down from the oaks was a young woman. She was running in slow motion. She was wearing a white flapper dress, the kind with various bands of fringe running from the bust down to the skirt. She was wearing a tight, beaded skullcap, white, in the style of Charles Lindbergh’s flight cap. And she was laughing. When she reached the white railing fence she placed one hand on it and gracefully vaulted over it, the sun glinting off of her polished white pumps. Then the vision faded.

Judging from the age of the house, I believe the woman in this vision is the initial owner of the house, and her playful essence still pervades the place. What I took from this vision though, was how important those trees are to this property. The next day, before going to clean up our old house, I walked around the block, up the hill and approached the Oaks from the top. I picked one at random, sat down with my arms around it – and listened. I had never had any special affinity for trees before this, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

The Oaks over the back fence.
What the tree(s) told me, what they always tell me, is that they miss their fallen comrades. I was given a picture of an energetic grid pattern, with the hillside and the creek, but each was subtly changed. The hillside was steeper, and the river was flatter and slightly farther away. (This is how the land looked about 100 years ago, I’m guessin’. And what the surface looks like makes very little difference to a tree. Their world is mostly below ground.)

Also in this energy grid were the glowing absences of trees gone by. Later I went to some overgrown places in the backyard, and, sure enough, under the vegetation there is a stump for each spot on the grid. The trees remember. And they mourn.

I asked what I could do for them and they said that the one thing they really hated was – ivy. So at the first opportunity I took my clippers back up to them and cut away all the ivy from their trunks. And I get up there and give them a trim at least once a year.

Richard the Dick

The day after we moved in I stepped out to the porch to place the spell sheet that we had received from Mama Jenya. (under two weights the piece of paper spent 6 years there until the Spring storms of 2011 finally blew it away.) After I placed the spell, I found a piece of cardboard on our front porch. It was from our neighbor, Richard, the fellow who had cemented the sign out front that said “Be Courteous. Be Quiet.” The note printed on the cardboard was also curt and to the point. It simply said, in 72 point font: “No Students. No Dogs. No parties. Please.”

On the back of the cardboard was a copy of the Municipal Code about Noise. Hmmm. I showed the paper to Admiral Karen and she christened our neighbor “Richard The Dick”. In that same spirit of Neighborly Love I made a copy as a reply and amended his note with a Sharpie. It now said “No Students. (Okay, fine - We’ve dropped out.) No Pets. (We had them killed.) No Parties. (Now you’ve gone too far: We’re hiring The Who for our housewarming.)”

Then I put that piece of paper in a desk drawer and kept it there.

Tiki Lifestyle

The Freaky Tiki fit right in with our busy lifestyle. Almost every night there was something going on: Band practices, video game night, knitting minions, coven meetings, ritual rehearsals, and so on. Karen and I would meet on Sunday night and review the week’s activities, always trying to carve out a night or two for just the two of us.

Pirate Party in the Rumpus Room.
Sometimes we even had two different things going on at the same time, one back in the Rumpus Room and the other out front in the Parlor. Most times these cross-nights would be in strange sync with each other: My ritual rehearsal in the rumpus room would reach a climactic moment just as Karen reacted to a Home Run out in the Parlor. Or her coven in back would uncast the circle just as me and the boys out front did something really stupid in Resident Evil 4 and we all fell off the couch laughing.

We enjoy living downtown – mostly. Movies and restaurants are nearby, as are the San Lorenzo river and the Beach and Boardwalk. We can walk to the Santa Cruz Derby Girls bouts, and then stagger home again with sore throats from yelling and screaming. Karen’s work is also a five minute walking commute for her, allowing her to walk home on her lunch hours.

Admiral Karen and the
view out the front door.
But being downtown also has other, more dubious charms. The path up the creek to Water Street ends across the street from Callaghan’s bar. So, at 2:30am we often hear the chattering classes continuing their sloppy conversations as they pass by our bedroom window. Sometimes they pass out on the path. Sometimes they attempt to have sex. Sometimes they pass out while attempting to have sex. And sometimes they have these hilariously heated arguments where you can’t understand a word that anyone is saying.

Most people are basically decent though, even if they are hopeless drunks who are sleeping in the road. During the day a gentle toe and a word from me is enough to get ‘em up and moving, with a slurred “Sorry, Man”. During the night Admiral Karen opening the window and shouting “Shut the fuck up!” is usually sufficient to elicit quiet apologies and shuffling feet.

Animal House

We live at the junction of several roads and highways, all of which get heavy traffic both day and night. No, not cars: animals. There is a direct line from the oaks, to our back fence, to our roof, to the power lines that go across the creek. Squirrel superhighway. All day long, from dawn to dusk, and they don’t migrate or take any days off. Also the front yard redwoods/roof/fence/oaks is the byway for a family of raccoons that finish up their foraging at about 4am every morning and head back to the forest to rest.

Our trees are home to many birds: Mallards, Hummingbirds, Stellar Jays, Quail, Orioles, Mourning Doves, Swallows, Hawks, all the way out to Egrets and Great Blue Herons, who like to fish in the creek. None of these birds like each other, and all of them want the others to know about it. Well, the hawks are quiet. They just make their point by picking off the baby ducks in the creek.

The creek channel out our front door. Broken and bumpy
street in the foreground (foreshadowing).
Speaking of ducks. Every March Karen and I have ringside seats to the loudest sound I’ve ever heard an animal make, outside of a Siamang. Recall that Branciforte Creek is a walled, concrete channel where we are. This makes for a smooth, efficient way of getting rid of flood waters (and we have seen it completely full a few times), but it also acts as a world-class natural amplifier. So every Spring, always late at night, we are serenaded by the orgasmic cries of duck fucking. In SENSURROUND!

Some of our visitors make no noise: The bats eat all of the mosquitoes and then vanish. alligator lizards are fine until I open the garbage bin, and then it’s me who makes the noise. A few times at dawn I have seen a pair of fog colored foxes up on the hillside, and they are the quietest animals on earth. Moles and gophers tunnel over from the hillside to eat my lawn, and they only make their presence known when the very ground you are walking on gives way underneath you.

Let the flying bug rodeo begin!
Rainy Season brings the ants in, and this makes us very clean and tidy about our kitchen and living areas. Every Fall seems to be spider season, when lovely, enormous webs go up in the backyard. We have interior spiders too, of course, but I train them as to where they can, and cannot live.

The oddest visitors we get at our house though, are feral pigs. A couple of times every year whole families of pigs come down the creek late at night and they like to dig around our sideyard, which is directly underneath our bedroom window. You can’t get too mad at ‘em though; they don’t do that much damage, their squeals are really cute, and they sound like they are having a ball.

One night however, we experienced some monumentally bad timing: The family of pigs arrived at our window at the same moment that the family of raccoons was moving from the roof to the fence. An endless cacophony of screams and squeals erupted from above us and below us and then the raccoons attacked, launching themselves one by one from the roof directly onto the pigs below. Bedlam.

Happy spider. Arachnisus Shelobus
The raccoons had made a tactical mistake though – on even ground few things are as formidable as a pig protecting its young. The masked bandits retreated to the fence, where the war of screams and squeals continued for several minutes. And then the raccoons heard something about their Mothers and attacked again, cannonballing enmasse into the pigs and scattering them for good. And as soon as THAT epic chase scene faded into the distance the birds and squirrels decided that they might as well get up and discuss this news with each other until dawn broke. Oy vey.

The Oddball House

In 2007, about two years into our rental we got word from the owners that they were thinking of selling the Tiki. We devised a counter strategy for this. We asked a realtor friend of ours to come over and assess the house with an eye for selling it, and then we presented the owners with a letter detailing ALL of the things that they would need to do in order to make the place suitable for selling. It worked perfectly. The owners sent us back a very nice letter saying that we were right.

And then they raised the rent. Oh well.

But the cool thing about having a Realtor out to the house is that many of the suspicions we had about the history of the house were confirmed. There are 10 housing lots on our little deadend street, as well as a car repair place and a Hotel. Two of the houses are modern and seven of them were simultaneously built in the 1920’s in a kind of a bargain Craftsmen Bungalow style with horizontal clapboard exteriors.

Modern roofline, archaic front porch.
Our house is the oddball. The Freaky Tiki is slightly later in design, late 20’s to early 30’s, with vertical wood boarding on the exterior and more gentle slopes to the roofline. (Houses older than ours all have steeper roofs, I suspect because they were designed by people from back East, where there is snow.)

I told the realtor about my conversation with the Oaks, and how they carry a memory of Branciforte Creek running not in concrete walls but in its natural banks. She took me seriously, which was nice, and then confirmed that the creek was channeled sometime in the 20’s, which would have created more usable land adjacent to it, since now there would be no seasonal flooding. Our house then was built after the creek was channeled, on the small spit of land that was now available right next to the creek.

Further evidence is provided by a U.S. Army corps of Engineers Survey Mark in the sidewalk in front of our house. This was put there no doubt to assist in the channeling of the creek and to monitor how the land would react to not having the creek shaping the land. Unfortunately the survey mark is on the sidewalk in front of our driveway, which may be a reason why there is no cutout there to allow us to actually use our driveway.

The Army Corps of Engineers Survey
Mark on the sidewalk. Behind is the curb
that is painted red: Don't you dare park in
front of the driveway that we can't use!
Indoors our house was equally wacky. The large and airy Rumpus Room was an obvious late addition to the house, but what about the half-bath in the middle of it? According to the realtor this probably began as an outdoor hot-water heater, built off the plumbing in the full bath on the other side of the (then) exterior wall. This was probably added soon after the house was built (perhaps to make room for the washed and dryer). From there an outdoor shower was added, probably in the late 1950’s she thought. (Hmmm…..Surfing was popular in Santa Cruz at that early date. Was this a place to rinse the sand off of body and board?)

Then sometime in the late 60’s or early 70’s the hot water heater was moved to one side, the shower dropped and a sink and toilet was added, as well as walls for privacy. Since this was exterior to the house, shingles were added and around this time outdoor flood lights were placed high up on the big wall. This is the configuration that persists to this day. And then in the 1980’s the entire contraption was enclosed by building the Rumpus Room as an extension of the main roofline. A second closet, storage counter and wall heater was also added within this new room.

And that is why there is an outdoor half-bath in the middle of our living room. All of the plumbing fixtures are a bizarre amalgamation from four different decades. The Realtor was quick to point out, with a smile, that this was “SO not up to Code”, an observation seconded last month when I had two plumbers out to fix a broken handle on the toilet. One of them looked at the museum of pipes behind the tank and remarked to the other “Not exactly ‘Union’ is it?”

What? It's my bathroom,
I'll decorate it as I wish.
The Freaky Tiki is still the oddball. It is the last house on the right of a dead end street, hidden behind the high hedge that separates it from Richard the Dick’s old place. The street itself was also old and broken up here at the dead end turnaround. There is also an enormous redwood in the front yard that looms over the house, and a shorted out streetlight out front. All of this made our house virtually invisible to outsiders.

Especially pizza delivery folk. They heard “May Avenue” and figured we lived on the main part of that street, across the Creek. I would have to go out into our street with a flashlight and get their attention.

But then, a miracle happened: In 2010 The Giants won the National League West pennant. That night the streetlight outside of our door popped on, for the first time since we had moved in 5 years earlier, and it’s been working fine ever since. We joked that something awesome would have to happen here if the boys won the World Series.

The Giants won it all on Monday, November 1st. One week later city crews appeared outside of our door and proceeded to remove and replace the broken and buckled end of our street with a smooth plane of new asphalt. Do you believe in miracles?

St. Christopher Medal
hanging from top hinge
of the front door. On the
left, our house besom.
Witchy house

But there was another history to the Freaky Tiki that was equally as intriguing. Admiral Karen and I were not freaked out by my vision of the original owner of the house. Her presence was minor compared to Harry, the ghost who lives at our old place, the Kinsley Report House. But there WAS something here at the Freaky Tiki. An echo of something.

We had noted that the Tiki had a bright red door, which must have been a REALLY bright red when it was first painted. Also, hanging from the top hinge of the door is a well worn Saint Christopher medal. Out front, in the exact center of the yard is an old Atropa Belladonna plant, more commonly known as Deadly Nightshade. Nightshade is incredibly poisonous – every single part of it is deadly. Cunnigham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs has this to say: “Today Belladonna is little used due to its high toxicity. Safer alternatives are available. BEST AVOIDED.”

Nightshade. Don't fuck with this plant.
As if to emphasize the Mortality angle, surrounding the Belladonna plant – at a safe distance - are swarms of beautiful white lilies. No doubt about it, someone in this house’s past was BAD ASS.

All of this seemed to point to the Freaky Tiki being a Voudon household at some point. I have some affinity for the Paths of Santeria, so I made the offerings to Oshun, Yemaya and my man, Chango. I also dressed two Papa Elegba candles and placed them on either side of the front door, where they seem to fit right in.

In our early days here there was some problem with homeless folks camping in the Oak Grove behind the house. I understand that everyone has to have a place to sleep, but I wasn’t happy with this site for three reasons:
  1.  They left huge piles of trash and waste.
  2.  They tended to have really loud, incoherent arguments late at night.
  3.  They could see right into every room of our house from up there. Not good.

Secret, mystical rites.
For a while I removed them one at a time with Wicca cunning, but that was tiring for me, and not very nice for them either. So I went up and asked the Oaks to help me out with this. We’ve rarely had a visitor since, and when we do, they don’t stay long.

Also, for whatever reason, Our neighbor, Richard the Dick, who had lived there for 20+ years, moved out within the first year. He was replaced by a bunch of students with dogs who like loud parties, so maybe ol’ Dickie was onto something.

When it came time then to do some House Magick for the Freaky Tiki I styled the spells to be more Voodoo than Druid, even though the house is watched over by 12 Oak trees. Every year or so I whip up a new batch of Juju sauce and I paint the property line of the house, with special care taken at the corners. This works very well as Protection Magick. The only problem was the Eastern corner of the backyard, which was almost completely blocked by tree branches, vines, ground creepers and decades of leaves. Placing a jar of Gris-Gris there was more of a hope and a prayer.

The cleaned up East Corner of the backyard.
The jars are hidden by the palm frond.
In September of 2011 I was laid off from my job of 7 years and suddenly had lots of time for Household projects (Of which this 5,000 word post is one). One of them was to finally dig out the East corner of the yard. It took several days with shovel, clippers and saw, but I finally made it back to the junction of the back fence and the side fence. Once there I started raking. I quickly uncovered one of my spell pots and I put it aside. But about two feet down, nestled in the dirt and rocks and leaves what do you think I found?

Somebody else’s Juju jar.

It was so old that the rubber top to the glass jar was being slowly eaten by the elements. The inside was hard to make out, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to open it (Or even take a picture), but I could make out sticks of cinnamon, silver and copper coins (not pennies) and various plants and herbs that had been mashed up. I laughed, bade it welcome and carefully put it aside. Nearby I found a large rock with a flattish side. I made a place for this in the corner of the fences and then placed the two spell jars side by side on it. They seem to be getting along fine.

So that’s our weird and wonderful house, the Freaky Tiki, nestled between the Oaks and the Creek, and between this world and the Other. We’ve had 7.5 good years here (as of the end of 2012) and we hope to have many, many more.

Angus McMahan


  1. Loved reading about your home and life in it. And while I wasn't part of the move into the Freaky Tiki for you and the Admiral, my thanks to you for being good to your movers!

  2. Proper moving procedures is an upcoming post (wink).

  3. Wonderful. The difference between a house and a home.

  4. I could live in this story. Wonderful. And I do so envy you your wonderful, freaky home.

    1. It was a fun one to write, and I'm glad I had some 'before' pictures from when we moved in.

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