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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

7-Foot Women

By Eric Carlson

"Roses she wore on her breast that night. Oh but their scent was sweet!
Alone we sat on the balcony, and the fan-
Palms arched above ..."

--Robert Service

THE FIRST INDICATION that 7-foot women would dominate my thoughts this week was an excited and triumphant email from Joel Wyrick, co-owner of Waves Smokehouse & Saloon in downtown San Jose, boasting that he had finally acquired an A.D.M Cooper nude to hang over the bar: "This 1898 signed and dated Cooper stands 7 feet high! That's a whole lotta woman!" Boasting is in order. And I couldn't help but think of the night Fred McBurney and I walked from Alameda, down a tunnel, and emerged in Oakland at a cowboy bar with a neon cowboy boot overhead--or was it a lariat? And we met Big Dee.

At the time, I was a swabee in the Navy, living in a leaky submarine (SSBN-598) at the Mare Island Navy Yard in Vallejo. Mare Island, by the way, is not an island--it is a peninsula. The Law of Primacy rules: People remember the first thing said or named, even if it's wrong, and ignore subsequent attempts at clarification. The same principle applies to Alum Rock Park in San Jose, which was mistakenly named for a big chunk of manganese. But I digress.

When Fred and I opened the door, a female voice shouted out, "Sailors!" The voice belonged to Barbara, who was sitting with another woman who was 7 feet tall if she was an inch--Big Dee. Barbara explained that Big Dee was "The" Big Dee, a star of the Oakland Bay Area Bombers, oh, so many years ago. These were friendly and fun-loving women, and we barhopped until about 2 in the morning. At one point, Barbara leaned over and whispered, "Big Dee likes you." And I liked her--but it was getting late. Fred and I descended once more into the Oakland-Alameda tunnel (I believe they are called "tubes" nowadays), and we returned to our leaky submarine.

Saturday, I drove to Mare Island to revisit my shipyard home of yesteryear--glorious endless days chipping paint, taking orders and standing midwatches in the bitter cold. Graciela--who is not 7 feet tall--lives in Vallejo and expressed an interest in the adventure. We drove over the bridge to Mare Island. The misty not-an-island is riddled with sloughs sporting fantastic names: China Slough, Dutchman Slough, Devil's Slough. And the Navy shipyard proper--defunct since 1996--is even more fantastical. It is an ancient place, by American standards, established in 1854. At the abandoned pier sits an abandoned aircraft carrier--the Tripoli (LPH 10). Graciela and I stood on the pier, accompanied by the aircraft carrier, and were serenaded by the forlorn tunes of wind-blown cables clanking against the hull of the Tripoli.

Mare Island Navy Yard is the oldest Navy shipyard west of the Mississippi. At the end of the island, the Mare Island Golf Course nestles in hills like an emerald, a going concern and the oldest golf course in America west of the Mississippi--1892. Mare Island is eerily unchanged from the time I was there, but as the government starts divesting the land in dollops, Vallejo has grand development schemes. So go there immediately and poke around while it is still mysterious and sloughy.

Driving back through Vallejo, Graciela and I stopped at a flower store to purchase six roses and six carnations. Graciela's aunt is concerned that Graciela is husbandless, and is going to conjure up a romance potion. The aunt will boil leaves from the roses and carnations, to which petals and three tablespoons of honey will be added and an appropriate chant chanted. Graciela will shower with the romance potion water for three days, and then position herself in an area of unsuspecting potential husbands. Graciela is not particularly interested in finding a husband, but she said if she did get a good one it would be worth the $15 for the flowers--and certainly less expensive than joining a club.

Kudos to Waves for its 7-foot nude. And wherever bigger-than-life Big Dee is--I wish her well.

Final Note: Mare Island is named after a horse belonging to Mariano G. Vallejo. It's a long story.

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From the December 20-26, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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