Sunday, October 25, 2009

10,000 Word Vacation, Day 2

Saturday, October 24
Day 2

There are a lot of men I look up to. My childhood hero was Larry Bird. As I grew older, I fell in love with the music of Bob Dylan. Now, in my early 20s, I have learned to embrace the greatness of Huell Howser. Huell, for those who don't live in California, is the host of PBS' California's Gold, a documentary show featuring the lesser known aspects of California's rich cultural tapestry. Unfortunately, the reason most of the places Huell goes are unknown is that they suck. Not only do they suck, but he sucks. He's a terrible, terrible host. There was a fantastic clip they used to play on the old Adam Carolla morning show where Huell spends 20 minutes interviewing an 80-year-old man about a bucket of rocks he has collected over the years. Some of my favorite episodes include a trip to the Colossal Colon, an interview with a woman who makes sculptures out of laundry lint, and a ride-along with a ladybug hunter and his oft-ridiculed son on their weekly ladybug hunting excursion.

Huell goes to other, more mundane places, too. These are the episodes where he truly gets to shine. Huell exhibits the same amount of excitement when presented with a pizza oven as he would if you told him the meaning of life. My favorite pizza place in Los Angeles is the Hollywood Village Pizzeria, on the corner of Yucca and Ivar. First I fell in love with their pizza, then I met the owner - then I saw the photos on the wall of Huell tossing some dough with the owner.

One of the more interesting places to be featured on California's Gold is the Forestiere Underground Gardens, in Fresno. The Forestiere Underground Gardens is tailor-made for somebody like Huell. It has all the indicators of a fantastically boring episode of California's Gold. First, it needs to be in a boring shit-town in the middle of nowhere - Fresno. Second, it should have a backstory that on the one hand is interesting, but on the other is kind of pathetic (more on that later). Finally, it ought to be a family-owned operation, which means the terribly boring shit is generational!


My wife found the website - - and was immediately smitten. She called her mom and declared that the moment we set foot in Fresno, we were to head to the Underground Gardens. When I asked what it was, she explained that about a century ago, some guy moved to Fresno from Sicily - major downgrade, by the way - and couldn't stand the deadly hot summers. Because there was no air conditioning, he started digging holes to live in, and eventually he started planting trees in the holes. Sound awesome, right? I can see the headline now - Crazy Loner Digs, Lives In Holes. Fascinating.

Sadly, as it turns out, the Underground Gardens was pretty interesting. Baldasare Forestiere, working alone and using only a shovel and wheelbarrow, spent his entire life digging an elaborate system of tunnels and rooms underneath the hardpan layer, and eventually moving underground. Now, you may ask why he needed to be underground, but the answer is obvious - it's too fucking hot in Fresno. Once down there, he began planting fruit trees, leaving holes in the ceiling so that sun and rain could get in. He grew hybrid trees - I saw one today that grew both oranges and lemons - and even defied the laws of God Himself, creating a strawberry tree. In his later years, Forestiere decided to open the Underground Gardens to the public, and created an entire underground resort.

Everything about this place was interesting. In addition to showing us the crazy underground trees, our tour guide took us to Forestiere's living chambers, including his two bedrooms - one with a stove to keep warm in the winter, while the other was an open air room to keep cool in the summer. There was a kitchen, a beautiful outdoor bathing area with a cast-iron bathtub and even a small altar, at which the Roman Catholic Forestiere could worship. There were various religious symbols throughout the gardens, and even an aquarium that sadly wasn't part of today's tour.

The only thing that bummed me out was Baldasare Forestiere's personal life. Although the tour guide insisted this wasn't true, Forestiere seems to have been an insane loner who started digging holes to get away from people, like the episode of Seinfeld where Dana Gould dug a hole in Central Park because Jerry didn't want his van. Anyhow, he never married, and as such never had any children. When he died in 1946, his brother took over his work, finishing the grand ballroom for the resort. To my knowledge, Forestiere's plans for a resort were never fully realized. Today, his family keeps the property, harvesting the fruit. We couldn't figure out if the two tour guides we saw today were volunteers or employees, though my inclination is to go with employees. I mean, they had name tags.

The real problem I had with the Underground Gardens was that while it wasn't life-changing, it also didn't suck enough. It was only pretty cool. There was nothing there to make fun of. I know it says very little about me that the most important attribute something can possess is mockability, but it's how I get through life. I suppose it kind of serves me right that what I was hoping would be a massive suck-fest turned out to be a nice day with my wife and her family. I even signed the fruity guest book. I even even took a small amount of pride when I took the pushpin and stuck it in the part of the map that said “Hyannis,” signifying that I was the first person from Barnstable County to have set foot in the Underground Gardens, despite the fact that I haven't lived there in years. What they don't know won't hurt them.

I even even even bought a bumper sticker. Maybe someday, I'll have a car.


Sascha said...

In my opinion, Steinbeck sucks. Ever since I had to read an entire chapter about a turtle crossing a road (Chapter 7, "The Grapes of Wrath"). Actually, I never even read the chapter. I was told about it by my friends in 10th Grade Honors English. I'd abandoned Steinbeck during 9th Grade Honors English after unsuspectingly reading "Of Mice and Men". During the course of my public school education, I'd never been steered wrong in my reading assignments. How was I to know that "Of Mice and Men" would leave me a total sobbing disaster? Anyway. I held it against Steinbeck, not my teacher. Especially after I read "The Pearl", which ends with a baby being shot. Seriously. Sorry to ruin the ending if you haven't read it. Fool me once, shame on me right? Well, Steinbeck has the honor of having gotten me twice. Or three times, now that I think of it. I had to read some other short story about a mentally handicapped kid. Steinbeck had issues. Now that I think about it, I guess I should have held it against my freshman english teacher, but she was blonde and young and that meant she was honest. "The Grapes of Wrath" can suck it. But, should you want to continue your visitation of shitty California cities, the home of Steinbeck is somewhere up the 5 in NorCal. Salinas, I think? Maybe it's up the 101. Not sure, but when you get there, there's a sign on the freeway proclaiming it as such. It's the little things that count in NorCal. Maybe someday, if everything goes right, some town will have a sign that says "Home of Josh Grimmer" and chicks in their 20s will think you suck, too. Good luck with that. Really.

Josh Grimmer said...

If I get lucky, I'll have a few signs. Falmouth, MA - Birthplace of Josh Grimmer. South Yarmouth, MA - Childhood home of Josh Grimmer. West Barnstable, MA - The place Josh Grimmer moved when his mom got remarried.

As it is, women in their 20's aren't huge fans of me.

woman in her forties said...

Women in their forties, however, think you are fucking adorable. Not that that should make you feel any better.

CLockman said...

Is it weird that I lived there for twenty-four years and never visited the gardens? No, no it isn't.

And spoiling the ending of "The Pearl" not only didn't ruin it for me, but made me want to read the thing.