Category Archives: Oddballs

Posts about the weird or obscure occuring in the Conejo Valley

Chillin as a Grass Eater in the Conejo Valley


Shortly after the new year my daughter asked, “what’s a vegetarian?”

Someone who chooses not to eat meat,” I responded.

Here’s a handful of questions from my kids that my answer prompted:

  1. Does that include chicken nuggets? Because, you know, chicken is not meat.
  2. What about Yak?  Does that mean I can’t eat Yak?
  3.  Do I have to eat brocolocoli?
  4. Can we still go to Tommy’s?
  5. Animals eat meat.  We are animals.  Why wouldn’t we eat meat?
  6. What is a turnip?
  7. Is fish meat?  Or is fish something fishy?

Back to the Yak.  We’ve never seen a Yak in the Conejo Valley, let alone having never ate one.  So regardless of eating meat or not, Yak has never been and will probably never be a dietary option.  And as for Tommy’s, the holy grail of chili cheese burgers, as a vegetarian its no longer an option….damnit.

The personal reasons why someone becomes a vegetarian is personal.  The moral, practical and environmental implications to change your diet to plant based is significant and profound.  The simple yet compelling fact that excluding meat from your diet lowers your carbon footprint should be reason enough to become vegetarian….even if its only one day a week.  I know that the whole lower your carbon footprint is meaningless to someone who still insists on driving a Hummer.  A funny image: A monster truck owner enjoying a bowl of Quinoa, string beans and home brewed Kombucha.  Our entire socio-economic and political system can easily be summed up by our dietary choices.  Isn’t it Dan Bern who cleverly sang: “Red states got the Waffle House, Blue states don’t.”  Regardless of the pros and cons, I challenged the family to be vegetarian for a week as a more practical answer to my daughter’s initial question of what is a vegetarian.

Here’s what happened: the family failed miserably.  My son didn’t last a day, followed by my wife who on the second day made herself a turkey sandwich, and lastly my daughter, who made a genuine effort for almost a week.  Me, on the other hand, continues to abide by the challenge and am a vegetarian.

There is much to be said about the lessons I have learned.  Here’s a few.  First and foremost, my gut is no longer my worst enemy.  The jihad inside of me has subsided to a dull uprising.  No more Maalox and bicarbonates.  I have noticed measurable physical changes inside and out.  I have become compassionate…even towards a-hole drivers who still insist on tailgating you even though you’re parked.  I spent more time with my food, preparing, cutting, dicing, and cooing.  I court my food like every meal is a first date.  I have also become more aware of the sources of my food and how it goes from seed to plant.  My gardening has become less Home Depot and more food based.  Most of us rather not face the sickening truth about how we treat our livestock and how it gets to our plate.  Think of how a chicken becomes a nugget.  Parts is parts….right?  Wrong.  Very wrong.

And now a question for the Right for Life folks: how is it so easy for you to denounce abortion on the premise that it kills life when eating meat also kills life?

And now a question for the vegetarians like me: how can you claim to be a vegetarian when the birkenstocks glued to your feet are made of leather?

Oh.  The beautiful contradictions of life.

And so?

And so the gist of why I write this is not to persuade or pose a convincing argument that we should all be vegetarians…..although I believe that there are more reasons to be one than not too.  The upshot of this, this trifle, this bagatelle, this mouth full of sawdust and rutabaga is this: A question, any question, and its relative answer can become action, that in turn becomes an experience, that in turn brings on change, and change is what life is all about.  If we go the extra mile to answer our questions, the extra mile becomes another extra mile, and another, and eventually we go to new places…..places that make our lives and or world a better place to be in.

Cheers to both the Yak eaters and the grass eaters.  Cheers to harmonious opposition.

How does one chill as a vegetarian in the Conejo Valley?  Simply.  Here are some resources to help:

thousand oaks farmers market

Whole Foods

Rabbit Hole Foods

Apna Spiceland

The Portrait

IMG_1655 IMG_1654I like Brian’s enthusiasm.  It’s infectious.  No…..really……being around a positive soul is good soup.  Brian’s experiences as a Deadhead is who he is.  Deadhead is an angle of him.  If you look at him through a different angle you still get the same results.  What makes Brian interesting is how many angles you can view him from.  Each angle is a piece of a whole.  Sometimes in our frantic lives we look at pieces but not wholes.  For so many of us we never get the chance to see the whole of life.

I’d like to present another angle of Brian.  An angle that takes place before Jerry’s death but after we were undergratuates.  Brian, A.J. and me are low hanging fruit.  It’s upwards of 26 years I’ve known them.  They have been a part of my conscience for over a quarter of a century.  I met them through Alex who was the drummer of their band.  A.J. and me also know each other from a creative writing course.  I showed up at Brian and A.J.’s house to see Alex drum and there was A.J on guitar and Brian on bass.

A.J. had bought a raffle for a charity and won a free portrait. On a sunny Spring Sunday in San Luis Obispo, Brian in tie-die, A.J. in a t-shirt, Whitney (a.k.a the Demon Weed) in the back and me on the left, found ourselves in a motel room having a group portrait taken.  All the details allude me.  How we got there, what we were thinking and feeling.  Brian and A.J. had hair.  Whitney looks mischievous, and I look twelve with Jew hair.  Less then a decade later A.J. produces the portrait at my wedding, and the four of us take another group portrait with me holding the original.  And although there are the noticeable physical differences, we are still the same four with the same shared experiences with the same reasons to smile.

After the picture was taken we walked across the street and sat in a restaurant bar having margaritas and salsa and chips before noon.  We probably laughed about the portrait and we probably drank and we probably did whatever it was we did.

Periodically we reminisce about the original portrait, trying to fill in gaps where most of the details are forgotten.  Brian, in his always effervecent way keeps the memory positive and full of laughter; A.J. tells the story like a journalist, loud and boisterous, and I tend to be an idealist, looking for meaning in the span of time passed between both photos and the time passed now.

The original portrait is on my bookshelf.  The wedding portrait beside it.  And beside that perhaps a third photo documenting the span of at least thirty years.

Keep chillin………….




OK, I’m a Deadhead…

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My name is Brian Stark, and I’m a Deadhead.

Maybe I’m dating myself, or maybe I’m making a confession, but I’m a Deadhead. Although the Grateful Dead as a full band have been gone for a decade, the years I spent immersed in their music and traveling circus will be with me forever. I was a relative latecomer to the party, but from about 1985 through 1995 I was pretty-much plugged into the Dead full-time.

My first attempt to see them live was in 1986 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. I had tickets ready and had managed to get the day off work, which was a chore. I worked for Adventure 16 in West LA, and since all the employees were going to the shows, you had work within a schedule that would keep the store open somehow. As a newer employee, I only got to go to one show. The day of the show finally came, and that was the day Jerry Garcia went into a diabetic coma and the show was cancelled. I didn’t stop trying though, and I eventually attended about 100 shows in the ensuing years, and collected hundreds of live shows on cassettes (remember cassettes?).

Unless you were there, it’s likely that you wouldn’t understand what the deal was all about. I’ve met hundreds of other Heads over the years and there were as many reasons to get into the scene as there were Deadheads. For me, the band’s lyrics and musical style hooked me quickly. Somehow it seemed that they were always singing just to me. Jerry’s guitar style also has a unique and hypnotizing effect. There was also a subcultural appeal and a feeling that you were part of something bigger than just an audience. I’ll be the first to admit that not every show had the same magic, but it was worth the trip just to see if you could be there when the proverbial sh*t went down. I am still a regular listener. Just yesterday at the office I listened to 3 full shows on the “Archive”. I can still listen to a snippet of a live show and tell you what year it was played, and maybe even the month.

Every Deadhead has their favorite era of the Dead, and has a favorite year. I’m one of those that gravitate to 1977. Specifically, April of 1977. That was the pinnacle of their sound to me. My favorite show is from the Auditorium Theater in Atlanta on April 21, 1977. Other favorite years are 1973, 1970, and 1989 (mainly because I was there). If you want to hear the Grateful Dead for the first time, or get reacquainted, head over to the Archive Site.

My days with the Dead gave me more than entertainment though. Here are some of the things I gathered along the way.

1. When my car leaves me stranded in the middle of nowhere, I never panic. Being stranded is just part of the journey. Once my friends A.J., Tim, and I had a breakdown at a rest stop on the I-5. We were in my dad’s old brown pickup. The place was full of heads on the way to shows at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds…none of which had any mechanical knowledge. We did finally get the motor running after parting with foodstuffs we used to feed hungry heads that tried to help. I remember AJ handing them a box of cereal out the window as we drove off. At another show I dropped the transmission on my old ’65 mustang a few blocks from the Oakland Coliseum. I was with my sister, it was her first show. We had to walk a mile or two through the roughest neighborhood to get to the show and just left the car behind. Today, I can handle any road emergency.

2.  I’m pretty good at not judging other people, and I feel thankful for what I have. I was part of the group I called the college deadheads. We traveled when we could get away and we weren’t living on the road for very long at a time.  Others lived on the road though, and they didn’t have the security we did. But, we all mixed at the shows. I met lots of people with different stories, but we were all brought together by a love of this band. When we were at a show, we were brothers and sisters. We shared and traded what we had even when we weren’t getting the best of the deal. Sometimes life is just about sharing and helping those that we can without the judgement. If you had a “miracle ticket” to share, you could be a saint for a day.

3. Somewhere along the way, I learned about the value of discretion. Not everyone sees deadheads as harmless, and that would include law enforcement personnel. So, sometimes you need to be discreet. I can remember going to shows with my brother and we would bring preppy oxford shirts to the show and leave them in the car. Before leaving the show, we would ditch the tie dye and change shirts so we could plausibly deny being at the show.

4. The human digestive system is amazing. I can’t tell you how many veggie burritos I ate after shows, and I lived to tell about them. One can imagine that these burritos were probably not prepared under the most hygienic conditions. The parking lot scene was always fairly dirty, and I never saw a health inspector at a show.

Are you a Deadhead?
What’s your favorite show or memory?
What’s your favorite year?