Margo St. James: A Hooker with a Controversial Cause for the Empowerment of Women

Margo St. James was arguably San Francisco, California’s most outspoken hooker. We shared an office space in downtown San Francisco when graphic designer David Wills and I were hatching up the magazine, Music Works: a Manual for Musicians. Margo was a licensed private investigator and the license gave her access to women imprisoned for sex crimes. She wanted these women to be given equal treatment under the law to their men counterparts, including access to therapists, medicines and doctors. She was a strong advocate for decriminalizing prostitution.


The one and only Margo St James. Photographer unknown.

Margo invited me out to her ‘digs’ near Muir Woods to take a hot tub under the Eucalyptus tress and go hunting for golden chanterelle mushrooms. I hoped I would meet the legendary Zen philosopher Alan Watts who lived out there. I thought chanterelles might be a psychedelic mushrooms.

Nude was the how you went mushroom hunting with Margo. She was all angles and bones, and a face that was not beautiful in the common modes but interesting for its vitality and openness. First time I ever had a friend who was a hooker. First time out naked in the woods. First time I ever ate those delicious golden chanterelles. I never did meet Alan Watts, though I did read his books.


The real gold among the trees—chanterelles. Photographer unknown.

Soon after that adventure, Margo hired me to be the producer of the first Coyote Hooker’s Masquerade Ball in San Francisco at Longshoreman’s Hall in 1974, just around Halloween. My job was to hire the bands, the sound and light crew, write the press releases, and on the night of the dance, hold a street parade, and make sure no one got out of hand. No big deal, I figured.

Margo thought I could do this because I had just quit working as an artist’s manager for legendary rock ‘n roll concert producer Bill Graham. I struck out of my own to teach musicians business and was called a revolutionary by a well-known Bay Area rag. Who would have though that empowerment for musicians was revolutionary?

But empowerment for hookers and for women jailed for sex crimes—that was much more revolutionary. I had great respect for Margo’s cause, as I did (and still do) for anyone that stuck out their neck for disenfranchised people.


COYOTE was the acronym for “Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics.”


David Willsdesigned this great poster for the first Coyote ball held in 1974 in San Francisco, CA.

That ball was one wild rockin’ San Francisco event, in a city known for them. It began with me watching the Marin County firemen that Margo talked in to helping rig Longshoreman’s Hall, while I helped a bevy of gorgeous hookers assemble mailings and lick stamps. Just before the ball, there was a pre ‘get-it-up’ fund-raising party with the same bevy of women serving canapés to many of San Francisco’s politicos, rumored to be clients of that same bevy. Sally Stanford was there, who ran one of the city’s most notorious brothels, and so was Linda Lovelace, the famous porn star.

The dance itself was a huge costume party of San Francisco’s gay men and women, bisexuals, transgenders, queens, and cross dressers. The mayor and police chief came, and the only incident was a lavishly dressed clown with a cane who had climbed on top of one of the speaker stacks and was trying to ‘hook’ the chandelier. I don’t remember how one of my crew talked him safely down.

I went on to produce the next four ‘balls,’ which became among the largest of Bay Area’s fundraisers—and the wildest. The one I loved the most was the fourth, which took place at what is now called the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. In the entry hall were tables laden with marijuana (still illegal). Inside the ceiling was hung with balloons made of condoms. Margo rode into the hall on an elephant to announce her candidacy of Presidency of the U.S. I wish I had a copy of the press release I wrote.


Sylvestor, one of the Bay Area’s most famous queens, never missed one of these balls.

My least favorite ball was the last one, held at the Cow Palace, where there as many drunk gawkers, as the costumed alternative sexual community, and I remember walking into the middle of ‘almost’ fights and trying to cool attendees down. I think they were so astonished to see a petite, short woman, not lavishly dressed, telling them to ‘chill,’ that they just did. The only good thing about that ‘ball’ was the incredible amount of money raised.

I once asked Margo about her views about prostitution. “Perhaps 99%  of our customers are married men who want to let off some energy without having any emotional involvement. They told us that by taking care of them and listening to their problems, we helped them be better husbands.” True enough until the wives found out: There was usually a big media blitz if the men were famous and only short shrift for the women who had to endure through all of it.

What is really sad is that more 40 years later we still live in a country where discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace is common, where men still want to control abortion rights, and LGBT rights are at risk.

Women are still speaking out for women’s empowerment. Here are five stories published within the last week that I thought encapsulates that fight:   Gretchen Carlson, former Fox news anchor, speaks about her sexual harrassment lawsuit against Roger Ailes, Fox News chairman. Sobering and caustically witty commentary on the Bastille Day slaughter in Nice by C. J. Grace, author of Adulterer’s Wife: How to Thrive Whether YOu Stay or Not. Jennifer Anniston speaks out. Discrimination against women film writers. Baloch, 25, murdered by her brother, was famous for her brazenly sassy, and increasingly political and pointedly feminist videos that gained her more than 750,000 Facebook followers.

My point of view?  Zero tolerance for intolerance.

Copyright 2016 by Diane Sward Rapaport

Grasshoppers Galore: Latest Invasive Species to Plague Harney County

Driving from Burns last Sunday to visit friends living near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, grasshoppers filled our windshield with gooey splats and spurts. They are getting to be a big problem this year in  drought affected Harney County. They love to eat grasses and broadleaf plants. They love dry, hot weather. They are very difficult to get rid of.  The June 29th issue of the Burns Times Herald mentioned only three solutions. One is Dimilin,. not unlike Nolo Bait, (second suggestion below), which reduces germination and won’t help this year’s swarms. Two are poisons. Sevin attacks their nervous systems and is only good for small scale use. The third is Malathion.

They’re the latest invasive species to land here—the first were those pesky armed militia Bundy Bunglers that invaded earlier this year, which liked to munch on our emotions.


These grasshoppers look positively militant! Plucked from the Internet:  photographer unknown.

During a grasshopper infestation in Jerome, Arizona in the early 1980’s, I asked our local gardeners what to do. After twenty suggestions for entirely different solutions, I stopped asking. I understood why Jerome, Arizona is sometimes called a village of 400 people and 1000 opinions. Maybe it’s that way with all small towns, but Jeromans thrive on contentiousness. Perhaps that is true here in Harney County, although these days we’d prefer to be thought of as bunches of hugging collaboratives.  An effective solution against the swarms of grasshoppers here will need collaboration and cooperation of people on or in federal, state and private lands.  Maybe this is the issue to unite everyone once and for all against a major threat here, without invoking the Constitution orneed for armed militias.

Garden Grasshoppers: Solutions for Getting Rid of Them

For those of you who are serious about getting rid of grasshoppers in your gardens, here are the solutions I heard so long ago. The first two solutions  are best. And since so many of you read my blogs (thank you all), I’d like to know if you found any solutions helpful, or whether you know of  others that worked.

  1. Shake some diatomaceous earth on your plants, which contains ground-up skeletons of algae-like plants called diatoms, which contain lots of calcium, silica and other trace minerals. When the grasshoppers eat this, it cuts their intestines to pieces and they die.
  2. Use an environmentally safe product like Nolo Bait, which infects them and cuts down on germination.
  3. Distribute bottles containing one part molasses with ten parts water. The grasshoppers will jump in and not jump out.
  4. Spray your plants with a mixture of soap and hot chile peppers
  5. Put garlic in a food blender, mix with water and spray it on the plants.
  6. Go out early in the morning when the grasshoppers are sluggish and gather a bunch of them. Put in a blender and spray the plants with the mixture.
  7. Get a battery-operated tone generator tuned to a frequency they don’t like. Of course, you’ll have to experiment to find the right frequency.
  8. Use more mulch so they can’t hatch.
  9. Plant enough for you and the grasshoppers.
  10. Pay your kids a dime for every grasshopper they collect.
  11. Put a larger fence around your garden and keep chickens. The chickens will eat the grasshoppers, and besides, then you’ll have fresh eggs and lots of fertilizer.
  12. Get toads. Toads will eat anything that moves. There’s a lot of ‘em down at the Verde River.
  13. Spray the plants with hair spray. They hate it. (I’ve seen lots of it at garage sales here)
  14. Spread powdered sugar on the ground. The grasshoppers will eat that instead.
  15. Connect a hose to the exhaust of your car, start it up, and hose ‘em with carbon monoxide.
  16. Smash them dead with a golf club or tennis racket
  17. Sprinkle bran on the plants. They eat it and explode.
  18. Poison ‘em with Malathion 50 (or other insecticide).
  19. “I don’t know. But I’m going to need an answer soon!”
  20. If all else fails, you can eat them. Fry them up in a little olive oil—crunchy and tasty if you have good stuff growing in your garden.

Good luck. Happy summer. Haven’t seen any grasshoppers in my garden yet, but I know they’re coming soon. Maybe they can duke it out with the deer and the mosquitoes.

Adulterer’s Wife and Adulterers: What a Difference an Apostrophe Makes

Ah the romantic life of a publisher! Today, I’m at war with Amazon. The book I publish, Adulterer’s Wife: How to Thrive Whether You Stay or Not by C. J. Grace, is listed on the same page as A Cuckoldry Bundle, Interracial Taboo Adultery Humiliation (Cuckolds and Adulterers Hetero Erotica); I Steal Wives: A Serial Adulterer Reveals the Real Reasons More and More “Happily Married” Women are Cheating; and Drilled by the Sergeant and His Men!!!—A Rough, Unprotected Interracial Foursome. 


WOW! These cheaters are not just into plain vanilla adultery, but kinky sex too. If I were the adulterer’s wife, I’d be screaming for divorce.

I understand. Amazon is a big corporation that outsources their customer service to India or Pakistan or who knows where else; many channels have to be navigated before a response can be crafted. You can’t just phone Amazon up. There’s an email help ‘tree.’ I use the contact form and hope I’ve gotten some of the categories right.

In the first email, I tell Amazon about the offending titles and explain that Adulterer’s Wife is a self-help book for women who need to know how to cope with their toxic emotions when they find out their husband is an adulterer.


Aaron Austin’s “Cheater Meter” illustration on works well here too as an illustration about frustration.

Amazon writes back asking me for the ISBN/ASIN numbers of Adulterer’s Wife.

In the second email, I give them the ISBN/ASIN and politely suggest that perhaps their error is due to the incorrect understanding of the difference between adulterers and adulterer’s wife. “Adulterers is a plural and refers to the cheaters. Adulterer’s (possessive) wife refers to the woman who is cheated upon.”

Amazon writes back asking for a ‘screen shot’ of the offending page. After trying and not succeeding, I write saying I do not know how to do this.

The emails from Amazon contain a “thank you” in virtually every sentence.

“Thank you for your reply.

Thank you have a nice day!

Thank you for selling with Amazon.”

Amazon sends me a fourth email with explicit instructions—

“If you are using an Apple Mac and are unable to take a screen-shot, please follow the below mentioned guidelines:

  1. Press Command-Shift-4
  2. Move the crosshair pointer to where you want to start the screen-shot
  3. Drag to select an area
  4. When you’ve selected the area you want, release your mouse or track-pad button
  5. Find the screen-shot as a .png file on your desktop

While responding to the case on your Case Log, please find the “Browse” option on the same screen while replying and click on the Browse button to add the file to the email and you will be able to send the attachment to us.”

I have to do this numerous times before I ‘get it.’ My computer screen is now crowded with a dozen ‘screen shots.’ I send what I think is the best one, feeling like some computer dope that has finally gone over the edge with old-age dottiness.

Finally, I receive a phone call from Amazon; the accent is decidedly foreign, although the name, ‘Annie’ is not, and she is polite and mostly comprehensible. “I am so sorry you are having this problem.” When we get through the fact that I didn’t send her a good ‘screen shot’ of the offending page, I persuade her to use her computer and look up the listing. As she looks at it, I hear a small, involuntary gasp, as she blurts out, “Oh, my God.” She probably never saw titles quite like that. “I see what you are talking about and I will work on this issue with the concerned team. . . “

Two days later, I am still waiting for a response.



Happy Birthday to Myself: “Getting Older, Feeling Younger.”

Getting older, feeling  younger is still my personal mantra. I’m 77 today and feeling great. And my birthday falls on a Sunday, which I try to reserve for my own writing. Thanks to so many who called and sent birthday wishes. I heard my 2 ½ year grandson Myko pitching in to sing with Max and Michelle. Awesome.

Today, I want to send healing thoughts to family and friends, many of whom who are coping with physical and emotional impairments in their older age. Fred Gordon, a Taoist teacher and friend who had terminal cancer for more years than I can count on my fingers, always counseled, “Do not become your illness.” What does that mean? When your internal dialogue and your day is taken up with whatever emotional physical challenge you are dealing with, you are becoming your illness. You are obsessed with it. Your cells glitch. Dying is about constriction; living is about expansion. Fred was an example of life expanding almost to the day he died a few years back. Fred’s joy was teaching qigong, tai chi and meditation. Every full moon, he’d send out a special meditation.

At 96, Katie is celebrating a short new film,”Kickass Katie Lee” by Beth and George Gage, previewed at Telluride’s MountainFilm festival a few weeks ago. If she lives long enough, Res Foul dam may get taken down! (

Katie on her bike copy 2

Katie Lee streaking Jerome immortalized by Jerome artist Jane Moore (

My friend Richard Martin who spends his time running Gulch Radio ( in Jerome, said, “The road may be bumpy, but the view is still great.” He has a cam on his radio tower that turns its lens on Jerome and the red rocks. I’ve already seen some spectacular lightning bolts streaking the skies there. He has quite a few fans in Harney County.

Gulch Radio logo

Gulch Radio logo created by their art department.

Yesterday JoAnn Braheny called to wish me Happy Birthday and reminded me that I was an over-achiever. I’m still there, even as I tell my tai chi and qigong students to remember the 70% rule: less is more; the no pain no gain culture of our society leads to a lot more pain and no gain. After more than 20 years of teaching, I know this to be an absolute truth.

I have two huge book projects this year. What was I thinking?

I published my friend C. J. Grace’s book Adulterer’s Wife: How to Thrive Whether Your Stay Or Not.AW_Cover_front-cover_V8-sm-RGB-web It’s quite an incredible book about how to not let toxic emotions grab your life away from you and how to regain independence and peace of mind. It’s been out two months and so far I feel like I’ve failed this project. Although I tune in to other blogs or other conversations about adultery, hard to gain any traction or sales for her book. C.J. is doing what she can by posting good articles on Huffington Post Reviews are hard to come by. If anyone has some cool ideas about changing this dynamic, send them my way. Hard for this subject to rise above the noise of a very strange Republican nominee for President whose name I refuse to use; the almost daily mass shootings and killings, here and in other countries; and the ravages of climate change. Women, whether they are victims of adultery or rape, get short shrift in this country (and in many others as well). And it doesn’t help that Amazon lists her book with seamy, quasi-porn books about adulterers. I’ve sent many emails trying to explain the difference between a possessive and a plural.

And then there is the production of the fifth revision of The Musician’s Business and Legal Guide: A Presentation of the Beverly Hills Bar Association for the Arts, edited by Mark Halloran, a very pre-eminent LA attorney known for his work with major independent films. So far this project is going very well: Julie Sullivan ( is designing the cover and interior—more than 25 years of having her design books, ads, brochures for me and my clients. The new chapters on indie recording, YouTube, legalities of Social Media and contracts for TV Talent Shows are going to give this book a big edge over our competitors.

My penchant for politics caught up with me: I was appointed to the Hines Town Council to replace a member who had to quit. Dove in feet first to help deal with two major challenges: hiring a new town manager and approving a hydroponic pot industry (very controversial here), I’m also on a water board that tries to help ranchers cope with drought. Our city (and sister city Burns) are still coping with the aftermaths of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, about which I posted many blogs,

So much for not over-achieving. But I do try to mellow my days with tai chi and work on my garden; and a nap in the afternoon, and drives into this incredible and empty country around us.


A bouquet of iris from my yard. They bloom in June. Photo by Diane Rapapoart

Walt is building a sculpture garden under some acacias in the back yard, trying to replicate the patio garden he built towards the back of our Jerome house. He got into digging up some of the runaway rose hip plants. Will post pictures when I can.

Going to sign off so I can make a rhubarb custard pie from Harney County rhubarb. Then perhaps a ride into the country.

Happy birthday to me and love to you all from the outback. So blessed with family and friends.


Saving the Owhyee Canyonlands: A Call for Rational Dialogue


My first introduction to the Owhyee Canyonlands was a five-day private river trip from Rome to the Bitch Creek Historical Ranch near the Owhyee Reservoir. The river was as scenically magical as trips taken on the Green River through Desolation/Grey Canyons or the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. But emptier. More stark. This part of the river (and other parts) are designated as Wild and Scenic. On the long ride out to the highway, we saw a lot of cheatgrass and wondered how ubiquitous it was.

Montgomery 1

Walter and I and our friend Glen at Montgomery Rapid on the Owhyee river circa 2009.

My husband and I have been to the popular campgrounds at Leslie Gulch, Succor Creek and Three Forks. They are very beautiful, and these, days, almost always crowded on weekends. They’ve been ‘discovered.’

We’ve also explored some of the dirt roads East between McDermitt and Burns Junction, trying to get to the river overlook about 30 miles away. Each of the roads (and there aren’t that many) got worse and worse and we felt uncomfortable not having another vehicle with us. We’ve taken what can only be called a rough track for 30 miles above the canyon rim following the river to Rome: stark and forbidding.

Then we began hearing about designating some of the Owhyee Canyonlands as wilderness study or conservation areas and went to a meeting in Adrian, Oregon last fall. Some 1000 people crowded into the high school gym. At that meeting ONDA made a twenty minute presentation about those designations, which would make possible for collaboration with local ranchers and other groups to have some say in how these lands are managed.


Stark, tortuous and beautiful.

Then the meeting literally erupted.

Ranchers and some mayors within some of the cities in Malheur and Harney County were not talking about the ONDA proposal. They were protesting monument status. Perhaps as many as 600 ranchers and those mayors had already decided that President Obama was going to swoop in and make the proposed areas into a national monument and by golly they were going to say no. It was as unreasonable a fear as that of President Obama unilaterally taking their guns away. Their fear was that the ‘monument’ would obliterate new logging, mining or cows. And some made clear it might open up what is now used as their personal, private hunting grounds. They mentioned how the towns near the Grand Staircase Monument fared badly, a falsehood with a life of its own. Here’s an article that tells quite the opposite story.

Anger and fear shook that room and left other opinions and  options hanging three sheets to the wind. And has continued to do so. For sure, it left me scratching my head. How did monument status suddenly preempt quite a different proposal?

Today, media coverage (perhaps because of the controversy it inspires) about national monument status obliterates all other options and even rational conversation.

Full page photo

The map ONDA presented in Adrian,Oregon showing the area that could be either designated as a National Conservation Area or a Wilderness area. The areas that are brown would continue to be owned by the BLM and be exempt from those designations. ONDA at that meeting did not present the idea for a national monument. Where did that idea originate?

Any study the map of what ONDA originally proposed—the same map now used to show what might be monument status—makes obvious that most of this land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (not other agencies); and that private holdings are not included; and niether are lands leased by ranchers. There aren’t a whole lot of roads and many  are brutally difficult. The land is tortuously beautiful. No wonder those early Hawaii fur trappers that were part of the McKenzie expedition got lost. The stream they were exploring was named “Owhyee” in their honor. (Owhyee is an early spelling of the name Hawaii).


A land of rocks and pinnacles.

If these lands were less arid or had water resources, ranchers would already have cows or sheep grazing on them. Lava bedrock doesn’t lend itself to minerals that could be economically viable. There are virtually no trees suitable for lumber. There’s a lot of empty, sage, step landand lots of buttes and rocky crags, ideal for bighorn and other critters, but nota  lot of land for cows.

Yes, any designation will open the area up to more recreation, camping, hiking, horseback riding, biking, etc. and open up economic opportunities in one of the poorest counties in Oregon. But frankly, these lands are accessible only a few months a year. It’s either too hot, too cold, too arid, and in thunderstorm and rainy/snow seasons, too dangerous to visitors who venture out into the less accessible, stark areas. In wet seasons, roads turn to some kind of thick puree and getting stuck is a major possibility. Fires are common. One lightening-caused fire has already burned out some 25,000 acres in a stark and remote area. The Owyhee River is only raftable a few months a year.

Before more angry sentiment is thrown at national monument or any other kind of designation, we need some rational information about this specific area. The word ‘save’ is used frequently with proponents of some kind of status: but this implies that something is being ruined or destroyed or might be. Coal or other minerals that night plunder the environment?  Is too much cheatgrass invading areas within the proposed wilderness?  Illegal roads have been cut by ATV’s and four-wheelers, but where and how many? There is some evidence of overgrazing near fragile water resources, but the BLM has yet to make a resource assessment. They  have no money. Before any designation, shouldn’t money be found for just such an \ assessment. Have some of the fragile archeological sites been damaged? Some of the area is known for sage grouse population: is it threatened? What kind of impacts would increased ‘recreationist’ visitation mean? Not just to the area itself, but to communities surrounding it.

What would be protected and where would funds come from for any kind of designation?What do the various designations (monument status, wilderness, wilderness study, national conversation area) imply? What kind of collaboration and local input is possible? What would be the likely consequences of no designation?

Here’s a new idea:  This one isn’t about a national monument, but about preventing rape of mineral resources from foreign exploration.

Right now, the conversation is smoke and mirrors.

Vacuuming the Desert: John McNerney Tests His Idea for Finding Gold

During the early nineteen seventies, John McNerney prospected for gold in the northern Nevada deserts during summers. He came up with an idea to use accurate measurements of mercury vapor to find gold. “Mercury and gold ore often exist near one another,” John said. “Mercury is easier to detect because it lets off gasses— volatilizes—in the soil. Under a hot desert sun, the soil heats up, causing the mercury vapor to rise upward. If I figure out how to accurately measure the amount of mercury vapor, I would have a window deep down into the earth that could lead to a deeply buried gold deposit.” After many experiments, he wasn’t having any luck translating his idea into a practical system.


Audrey Headframe, Jerome, AZ. In the nineten eighties, a small gold strike deep under this head frame cause new mining to occur for a very brief few year.

John’s chance encounter with an entomologist in a bar in Tuscarora, Nevada supplied a possible solution. “He was counting bug populations by driving down the highway with a large tube stuck out of the window of his truck,” John said. “At the end of the tube was an electrified screen. As bugs stuck to the screen, the electrical resistance of the screen increased and he was able to measure their concentrations. Who knows how he came up with this novel idea. I got to thinking about it when it occurred to me that the bugs were like the mercury gas atoms. Maybe their adsorption onto a gold-plated screen would cause an electrical interference that could be measured.”

It was John’s eureka moment.

With the help of some Arizona State University (ASU) professors, John put together some gold-plated screens and headed back out into the desert. He would use the screens to collect mercury vapor. As he headed into the desert on his motorbike, he had the ingenious idea for collecting higher concentrations of mercury vapor over the soil by hooking up the gold screens to a portable car vacuum cleaner.

“This seemed to be working quite well,” John told me. “I’m out there vaccuming the desert, looking for mercury vapor. “

Then, out in the distance I notice two cowboys on horses. I figure they’re looking for stray cattle. They notice me on my hands and knees and start coming closer. Maybe they think I need help. Maybe they’re flashing on those Western movies where some bedraggled guy is dragging his ass across a sandy desert because he’s out of water. They urge their horses closer.

“That’s when the cowboys notice I have a vacuum cleaner in my hands and seem to be hosing the desert. The cowboys are dumbfounded. Nobody could think of anything to say. There is no common language for what is happening. The cowboys turn and ride away.”

(Excerpted from my book: Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City

The Incredible Hamster Cage

The previous blog told about how John noticed qualities in people that would help him with his manufacturing processes. John hired artist Paul Nonnast to design the detector’s case based on a hamster cage that Paul had designed for a child’s pet—an incredible labyrinth full of spinning balls and intricate ramps all done with phenomenal craftsmanship and imagination. “I didn’t know much about Paul,” John said, “but that cage made me want to. It was as though he had gotten inside the head of a hamster and designed from there.”

Paul was working as an apprentice for master sculptor John Waddell in Cornville  His daughter Amy tells this story.

“Ah, that hamster cage,” said Amy Waddell. “You don’t know how many times I’ve told this story of a tall man—whose intensity scared me as a kid—eyes fixed on whatever he was working on, always sweating a little from that innate focus. I remember tiptoeing up the steep narrow splintered steps to his apprentice studio and pushed open the trap door to see all of his colorful spheres floating above me. He created magic worlds.

“Perhaps it was his idea to make it, perhaps mine, and perhaps I knew nothing about it until the moment I walked upstairs to his room one day and he unveiled it. I was very young, maybe seven or eight years old. The circular cage was a thing of beauty—about two feet in height and two and a half feet in diameter. A thin mesh ran all the way around the circular top and bottom plywood plates. There was a pole up the middle of the cage, and tiny pegs created a circular staircase from top to bottom with little kidney bean-shaped platforms that extended out at various levels. there was a large gourd strung up about an inch from the bottom, acting as a little womblike screen. Paul made a rather large habit trail in there, as well. A find ramp start at floor level, then wound up all the way around the cage.

“I was beyond thrilled. It was so beautiful. I couldn’t wait to put my hamster inside.

The hamster was in Nonnast heaven. It ran the habit-trail, drank from the large botle ffixrd to the side of his cage, ventured up the rap I rmember his little black eye and his ktle pik ears and the little fuzzy body as he traispe around his magnificangt  new digs—from pauper to royalty for no apparent reason.”

 Prospecting for Gold

Two ironies  here. The first is that although John’s mercury detector was useful as a prospecting tool, the market wasn’t large enough to bring in big sales. Nor was the market dentistry, where John’s brother Rick thought the detector might sell. In those years dentists used a lot of mercury in their fillings, and there was a big suicide rate among them. The big market turned out to be U.S. Navy submarines.


First ad created when JIC rigured the market was dentists and gold prospectors.

The second irony was that when John retired from Jerome Instrument Corporation, he turned against gold mining. One of his biggest regrets is finding the Jerritt gold mining prospect near Elko, Nevada, which John described as a most beautiful canyon that began filling with mining waste as soon as the mine opened. The Jerritt mine was shut down after it contaminated the Owyhee River and other streams with atmospheric mercury used in gold processing. The mine could re-open when it installed better mercury emission control equipment. “By that time the damage was done,” said John.

And by that time, John was living in Todos Santos, Baja, Mexico, where a large corporation wanted to mine for gold. John helped spearhead a successful grass roots movement against it. “You could say that my life has come full circle,” John McNerney said. “I used to be involved in helping mining companies find new sources of gold. The world needs metals, but mined responsibly. No one needs any more gold.”

(Some of these stories were derived from interviews with John over the years and from my book Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Rrichest Copper Mining City.  The book is the story of how Jerome AZ came back to life after it big copper mining abandoned it in 1953.

Adios, John McNerney

John McNerney, founder of Jerome Instrument Corporation (JIC), Jerome, Arizona in 1979, died on May 20 at his home in Todos Santos, Baja, Mexico. Iris, his wife was with him, as were a few of his closest friends. The lung infection he had battled with for many years finally caught up with him. He was 78 years old.

He was a 40-year friend. The sadness I feel is compounded with the recognition that as we grow old, our friends disappear around us. They become memories we carry in our hearts, but they cannot substitute for the comradeship, wisdom, stories and laughter that wove in and out of our histories as friends.

John and Iris moved to Jerome in 1973: “We bought a house for $13,000 in a desolate and empty town,” John told me. “It was all we could afford and the view was astounding. The first winter was brutal, there was one wood stove for four rooms, and no insulation. When the wind blew, the upstairs floor rippled. The cast of characters was astounding, old school bohemians and hordes of hippies that always seemed to be talking about how stoned they were. I had a patent on a mercury detector I couldn’t sell, my geology pick, and an old rusty saw. I bought a few tools and set myself up as a furniture maker.”  (Excert from “Arrival Tales” in the book Home Sweet Jerome:

John volunteered to help re-invent the planning and design policies and reorganize the fire department. Iris took a job waitressing at the old Candy Kitchen restaurant (now Mile High).

JIC: Lifting Jerome out of Economic Depression

JIC was one of the catalysts that lifted Jerome out its economic depression and ghost town ‘appearance.’ (The others were the beginnings of a burgeoning art colony and a guerilla marijuana growing business.)

JIC Circa 1980

Photo of John and Iris and JIC’s employees in 1980, just after they moved into the old Jeorme high school. Front step left: Nell Moffett Second Step: L-R: Paul Nonnast, Ester Burton, Darrell Fellers (Karen Fellers’ son) Third step: L-R: Iris McNerney, John McNerney, Kathy Davidson Fifth Step: L-R Ron Ballatore’s daughter Stephanie; Karen Gorman, Mary Nickerson, Susan Kinsella, Barbara Blackburn Sixth step: Lindsey Waddell (John Waddell’s son); Ed Dowling; Randy Murdock; Upper step: Sandra Strong, Carol Nesselrode, Pat Montreuil, Roger Davis. Photo courtesy John McNerney collection.

John invented and began manufacturing a superior mercury vapor detector. One of JIC’s biggest buyers was the US Navy, which installed them on its submarines. Their closed air environment meant that breakage of mercury-filled instrumentation could cause nerve disease. “There’s a reason for that ‘mad hatter,’ John used to joke. ‘The reason those hatters got shaking fits is they used mercury-laden felt. “

Between 1981 and 1983, John recruited fifty employees and many sub-contractors from the four hundred people living in Jerome. The need for paying jobs was enormous, particularly for many people who stayed on the sidelines of Jerome’s burgeoning pot industry, participated in town politics and wanted to find a way to support themselves and their eccentric life styles in this quirk of a town.

John had an instinctive knack for recognizing someone’s skills in one field and assuming they could adapt them to another. “Maybe tourists only saw hippies, but in the four years I had lived here, I knew that many of my employees would be those so-called hippies. Many were geniuses. This tiny town was able to spit out all the talent I needed.”

Barbara Blackburn was a former VP of Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco, with special skills in managing personnel and setting up computer systems for tracking them. When John hired her, the only job she had been able to find was bartending for less than minimum wage. She became president of JIC. “She was a cut-loose hippie on weekends; but an extremely sophisticated financial professional during the week. She helped us grow into a first-rate company.”

Artist Paul Nonnast designed the detector’s instrument case on the basis of a hamster cage that he designed for a child’s pet hamster—an incredible labyrinth full of spinning balls and intricate ramps all done with phenomenal craftsmanship and imagination. “I didn’t know much about Paul,” John said, “but that cage made me want to. It was as though he had gotten inside the head of a hamster and designed from there.”

JIC hired my company to write their manuals and provide advertising and public relations services. (I got my promotional and writing skills in the music business when I worked as an artist’s manager for Bill Graham’s Fillmore Management.) My business partner was artist Gary Romig, my partner, who was known for his watercolors of birds (


The poster for Jerome Instrument Corporation was created by my advertising agency and illustrated by Pam Fullerton ( The Einstein quote fit John McNerney’s philosophy throughout his life.

Jamie Moffett, a renegade computer engineer, put together wiring harnesses and internal software. Jewelers and artists were hired for assembly work. “Engineers who visited JIC and looked inside the instrument were always amazed at the meticulousness of the work,” John said. “Many commented it looked like a piece of art.”

Hiring an all-Jerome crew did have an unexpected downside. “I soon found that I was hiring not just their skills but their idiosyncrasies, many of which I couldn’t even have imagined existed,” John said. “Nothing was secret; everyone hung out their eccentricities like so much laundry on a line. After work I’d meet my employees and their friends in one of the town’s two bars. A few hours later, I’d be at a meeting to figure out how to raise money for fire safety equipment. To live and work in Jerome was to experience togetherness on a scale you’ve never even dreamed of.”

In 1989 John sold his company to Arizona Instrument Corporation in Phoenix. They continue to sell the mercury analyzer:

New Life for the McNerneys

After selling JIC, John pursued his dream of building a sailboat to use on the bays near Seattle, Washington and Baja, California. I wish I had a photo of that beautiful hand-made boat. My husband and I sailed on it when we went ‘boat camping’ with John and Iris on some of the islands near La Paz. That’s where I learned the term, ‘ fishing with pesetas. ‘ John would approach a fishermen camped out on one of the shores and ask to buy one of the fish they caught for our dinner.

In the nineties, John built a new home in Todos Santos, now a somewhat quirky tourist and art haven, not unlike Jerome. Many of the old timers that still live in Jerome knew of the beaches there as surfer heaven. We knew them for their emptiness and for the whales that would come up close to shore and say hello if we stood on the beach long enough. It was as though we had summoned them.

McNerney the Activist Against Gold Mining

While living in Todos Santos, John and Iris became activists against two major threats to the well-being of Todos Santos. One was a gold mine that would have been built close to the location of the water sources for the town and in a biosphere reserve. “The proposed mine near Todos Santos was a preposterous idea: the mine would have needed to move a million pounds of rock to get a pound of gold,” said John. The ‘rallying’ slogan was Agua Vale Mas Que Oro!” (Water is Worth more than Gold!).” Carlos Mendoza Davis, the governor of Baja Sur, who was elected in October 2015, put the final governmental kabash on the mine. He agreed with protesters that it threatened to suck up water reserves and potentially pollute the aquifer with processing chemicals and mining wastes.

The other was an ambitious building development that proposes to double to size of Todos Santos. The audacious plan began with the bulldozing of thousands of mangroves flanking the beautiful crescent shaped beach at Punta Lobos and flattening the sloping dunes. Developers built a 1000-foot long, low concrete sea wall and buttressed it with large rocks on the ocean side. Not twenty-five feet from the sea wall, they began constructing the hotel and a few homes.

The beach all but disappeared. In less than a day, hundreds of years of nature’s work was destroyed by a construction boondoggle, and with it, the livelihood that had sustained many generations of fishermen and their families. The damage is irreversible. The fishermen refer to the developers as ‘tres cucarachas’ (three cockroaches).


The old beach at Punta Lobos, Todos Santos, Baja CA

sea wall:rocksP9129082

No more beach. Walls and rock. The proposed development at Punta Lobos.






Last October, a strong storm surge—not unusual there— washed away the beach right up to the large rocks and wall. “The sea wall is like the Footprint of Godzilla—blocking the drainage from a large watershed to the east and interrupting the natural ebb and flow of the sea,” said John McNerney. “Thirty foot waves from new storms will wash away the sea wall and surge right into the new hotel. Hotel owners will need to supply life preservers in the guest rooms.”

That was John: he had an uncanny ability to capsulize the absurdity of the developers in a pithy, funny statement. 


Adios, amigo. I like to think you are floating somewhere up there among the giants in the Milky Way and have found some landing for your great soul among the stars. Muchos besos. Que te vaya bien.

(If you like this story,you may want to read about the Jerome that John helped rebuild: Home Sweet Jerome: