Next / Previous / Shipman's Home Sweet Homepage / Site map

Robert Rosenthal: California stories

These stories are taken from letters Robert Rosenthal sent me. I have edited them very slightly but most of it is pretty much what he wrote.---JS

In our county health department in Cal. we had about as many sanitarians as did all of New Mexico. So many housing problems. Our Russel City (not a city) was the prime example of what can happen in an area with no building code restrictions. Leaving out the structures themselves, which ranged from acceptable to deplorable, we had the water supply problem. There was no public supply, so most homes had their own well. Lots were narrow and not too deep so there they were in an area where the adobe layer cracked in the dry season, using water from a well close to home. My supervisor worded it very well: ``They just strain out the lumps and drink it.''

This was an area close to the bay mud flats, very close to an operating hog ranch. Rats were so plentiful that they wouldn't run -- they'd just sit and look at you. The hogs were fed garbage cooked at the dump, which was another of the environmental joys of the area. Rats, flies, odors all competed for one's attention.

Just one more in that vein. Remember, this was bordering on San Francisco Bay. I checked a house occupied by a very clean black lady. The house was immaculate, but the privy appeared full, almost up to the seat. I mentioned it to her. Her reply was that it appeared so at high tide, but at low tide things settled down. I never cared much for privies, particularly one in New Guinea where there were black widow spiders under the seats.

That reminds me of one of Louis Grizzard's tales of his life in rural Georgia. His aunt went to the privy and something stung her on the tweenie. What's that? Well, it's halfway between your little thing and your bottom.

One cannot be a sanitarian and have a sensitive stomach. In my California meanderings, I had enough stomach challenges for a lifetime. Ex: There were many mom and pop chicken ranches that had become surrounded by residential development. They were classified as ``pre-existing, non-conforming use'' so couldn't be condemned, and were truly fly-breeders, mainly because they had no paving and thus the manure hauler couldn't get in to clean out the place. I got to the point where it was routine to dig, bare-handed, into the manure pile to find what pupa cases which would thus identify the problem. Dried manure harbored one or more breeds, excessively wet meant another kind.

My encounters with overflowing septic tanks didn't exactly help my appetite, either. One day the mosquito abatement district gave me a list of 70 of them, for the mosquitoes were breeding in the effluent.

Speaking of the abatement district -- I caught one lone mosquito in our house and took it to the abatement district office for identification. A few days later I heard from them; going from house to house in my residential section they found some redwood planter tubs which were filled with water to prevent their drying out, and that solved that problem.

Checking a slaughter house wasn't pretty, either.

My activities in California were more in the area of precedure, not much in equipment. I do recall one incident, however, in a small restaurant run by Hispanics. They were required to have a 3-compartment sink (wash, rinse, sanitize) and because they were a marginal operation I let them get by with a dishpan for sanitizing. On a return visit I noted the dishpan was conspicuous in its absence and inquired what had happened to it. ``We're using it to bathe the bay-bee.''

Speaking of Mexicans, one lady down the street was sweeping the lawn, which was sand. In our most run-down section in California the Mexicans were the best housekeepers, the Anglos the worst -- poor white trash.

A really touching case in Cal -- got a complaint about an elderly man living in an area where flush toilets (not privies) were required. He turned out to be an ex-hobo, clean as could be. He showed me his toilet facility, a large frying pan full of sand. When he used it he took it out into his back yard and buried it (the contents, not the pan!). Please, he told me, don't make me leave this place. It was the only home he'd ever owned. I told him that I had to turn him over to social services, and promised to help if I could. I'm glad to say I was transferred to a different district so never heard of the outcome. Same applied to a complaint about a lady with 27 cats. I tried to duck those complaints when I could, but with that many cats, the nuisance was bound to leak out into the area.

Once in California, along with Lt. Stan Peterson of the sheriff's department, we gave talks to PTA groups, he on emergency procedures in case of attack, and I on how to be sanitary in spite of it. He said ``You might as well stop looking at your watches -- I go a long a time on one winding -- and I don't mind if you keep looking at your watches, but when you shake them and hold them up to your ear, I get upset.''

See also: The Robert Rosenthal stories
Previous: Robert Rosenthal: New Mexico stories
Site map
John W. Shipman,
Last updated: 2000/07/29 00:42:08