Boiling Doll Clothes


When I married Marlene McDonald in 1967 she was teaching art and English at North High School in Bakersfield, CA, on a provisional teaching credential, and I got a job as a social worker with the Kern County Welfare Department.  The provisional credential was only good for three years and this was her third year.  With her three years teaching experience she only needed one year of postgraduate study to obtain a lifetime secondary teaching credential.  We agreed that she would go to art school in L.A. for a year, then she could teach while I attended veterinary school.  The art school she applied to in Los Angeles didn’t like her transcripts.  They said they wouldn’t accept her in their regular graduate program but would take her for a probationary year and then decide whether to accept her in their graduate program.  She managed to upset the teacher in charge of admissions and never did get into their graduate program, but the one year still got her a teaching credential.

I knew a social worker in Los Angeles who assured me that L.A. was just as desperate for social workers as Bakersfield, but when I applied I was turned down.  When I asked why I was told that was privileged information, meaning they wouldn’t tell me.  I started a long search for a job and every time I got turned down I got more depressed.  This made the next interview even worse.  When both of us worked in Bakersfield we managed to save one paycheck a month and had enough to live on in L.A.for at least a year.  In hindsight I should have just relaxed and concentrated on the two courses I still needed for veterinary school, analytical chemistry and physics 1B.  But all those rejections were making me feel worthless.  Poultry slaughter house worker, livestock inspector, nursery worker, pharmaceutical representative, encyclopedia salesman – that’s just a partial list of the jobs I was turned down on.

I finally got a job as a gas station attendant with Standard Stations.  They sent me for two weeks training at a gas station in West L.A. where they taught me how to check oil, clean windshields, repair tires, etc.  They still did that back then.  A highlight came when Charlton Heston drove up in his Rolls Royce and I pumped his gas and checked his oil

I was then assigned to the station in downtown L.A. on Spring Street just a few blocks from where we were living.  I was on the night shift from 12 midnight to 8 A.M.  Business peaked every night at 2 A.M. when the bars all closed, then quieted down and we spent the rest of the night cleaning up and getting ready for the next day.  Cleaning the bathrooms was the worst – somebody usually managed to plug up the toilet and there was water, paper and excrement everywhere.

At the end of the shift the manager added up all the money in the safe and compared it with the cash register record.  It was coming up short almost daily.  I wasn’t there three days before someone got fired for it, but the shortages kept coming.  Then someone else was fired.  I figured it must be the assistant manager who was doing it, but realized it was just a matter of time before they would be blaming me.  I found another job in a medical laboratory and made my exit.

My new job paid the same minimum wage $2.50 an hour as the gas station job, but it was a lot more interesting.  The laboratory had expanded into a variety of non-medical testing and hired me for the non-medical part.  We analyzed drugs for the Vernon police department, hamburger for the State of California, tested catheters for sterility. A research scientist at Redi-Whip periodically sent us his new concoctions for analysis for protein, fat, carbohydrates, etc., but when he called for the results he invariably said, “No, that can’t be right.  Do it over again.”  I did it over and got the same results, and he kept sending new stuff to test.

About half of my work was for Mattel Toy Company, testing all their toys for toxicity, flammability and color-fastness.  We fed Barbie Dolls to rats, rubbed bubble soap on the backs of rabbits, burned dolls.  There were federal government protocols for all of these tests prescribing what animal to use, how much to give, and how long to run the test.  There was a special machine for measuring flammability that timed the rate it took the product to burn.  The dolls all passed the test, even though they produced copious amounts of thick black smoke.  The smoke was so bad they moved me to a separate room with a ventilator and closed the door.  Mattel was interested in finding out if their doll clothes were color fast.  They sent me hundreds of different doll clothes to test.  I boiled them in water and measured the color on an atomic absorption spectrophotometer.  Not many people can say they boiled doll clothes for a living.  I saved the doll clothes and later gave them to my daughter.

You should be glad to hear that it’s safe to eat Barbie Dolls, but I wouldn’t recommend burning them.  The only real problem we found was that some of the labels were printed with lead ink, and Mattel was swift to correct that.

I got lucky and was accepted for veterinary school on my first try, and that was the end of my doll clothes boiling career.

Comments on “The Help”


The book The Help is a story of a hen party that ignores the weightier men-folk matters of voting and politics and trivializes the effects of segregation.

Perhaps this is necessary to ease the reader into the subject.  The shock of facing the real Mississippi of the time when black churches were bombed on a nightly basis and blacks were routinely arrested and beaten for trying to register to vote is just too much for many readers.

The COFO/NAACP headquarters in Jackson on Race Street was within walking distance of the capitol and most of the events of the story, but one would never know it from the book.  COFO, the umbrella organization for civil rights groups in Mississippi, sponsored a Freedom Summer in 1964 and invited over 1,000 volunteers from around the country, mostly college students, to participate in a statewide voter registration drive.  They also sponsored Freedom Schools and formed the Freedom Democratic Party to challenge the all-white regular Mississippi Democratic Party that publicly disavowed its connection to the national Democratic Party.

The problems of black maids were prominent in the weekly mass meetings.  The maids of The Help were privileged high society maids, earning three times as much as other maids and getting more respect.  Black maids in the rest of Mississippi didn’t fare as well.  For most black women the position of maid was the only job available.  Nearly every white family in Mississippi had their maid.  Those that didn’t were looked down on as white trash.

The plight of the black male was even worse.  Usually the only work available was as field hands, and that for only half the year, in the spring “chopping cotton” (hoeing weeds), and picking cotton in the fall.  The introduction of cotton picking machines was rapidly reducing even that.

The segregated black schools didn’t use textbooks and didn’t teach the needed skills for better employment even if it was available.

One last comment on the alcoholic carousing in The Help:  Mississippi was still on prohibition and all that alcohol was illegal!  No one ever got arrested as long as the sheriff got his cut.

Barfaroni, the San Francisco Treat


The memory is still vivid. On July 4, 1976, the bicentennial of the start of the American Revolution, I went with my wife to San Francisco to see the play 1776. It was presented outdoors in Golden Gate Park with actors in period costumes. Then we went to visit my aunt and uncle in Half Moon Bay. We all went over the hill to see the fireworks in Hayward. On the way back I was suddenly hit with diarrhea. The car stopped, I jumped out in the bushes, and exploded at both ends. I was better by morning, but now I was itching all over. I had jumped out into poison oak!

My training had taught me this was a classic example of food poisoning, most likely from Staphylococcus aureus. But what food was the staph in and how did it get there? We all had eaten the same food and no one else was sick. Then I remembered – I was the only one to buy a cup of coffee at a concession stand at the play. Coffee? Not likely. But I added some cream from a pitcher that had been out in the sun all day. Cream was the perfect media for staph to grow in. How did it get in the cream? I didn’t follow it any further and didn’t report it to anyone who would. I didn’t seek medical attention from anyone who would report it. I didn’t need medical attention, the illness was over.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in the United States food poisoning causes about 48 million illnesses each year. This is just a guestimate because, as in my own case, most are never reported. Even if they were, the overworked county health departments in charge of the initial investigation wouldn’t have the time to investigate. They concentrate on more important hospitalizations and deaths. The CDC reports that 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths occur each year from food poisoning. The big three causes are Salmonella, E. coli, and Norivirus. Seventy-five per cent of food poisoning comes from these three.

Only 10 per cent of reported cases are successfully traced to their source. It usually takes a week or more before the incident is reported to the county health department and CDC, and two weeks at the earliest before an investigator starts knocking on doors. CDC has a standard questionnaire asking what foods were eaten and what restaurants were visited. People seldom remember everything they ate yesterday, much less two or three weeks earlier. All the information is fed into a computer that collates the most common foods and restaurants encountered to provide a list of the most likely suspects. Tracing it back to a farm or other source is a matter of luck and good detective work. Rules of thumb are often used, but these have proven to be more distracting than helpful. Salmonella typhimurium comes from mice and rats. Salmonella enteriditis comes from poultry and eggs. E coli H7O141 comes from cows. Norivirus comes from people.

Very often mishandling in food preparation has more bearing than the source itself. Donald Trump once gave a party for 1,000 guests and hundreds came down with food poisoning. The most likely suspect was egg custard. The caterer took a week to make all the custards and never refrigerated them! They never did find the source of the eggs, but egg producers took all the blame.

Undercooked pork can be a source of Trichinosis. My parasitology professor related that whenever he needed a sample of Trichina worm while he was at Berkeley he just asked the janitor for some of his sausage. The janitor had developed immunity. A veterinary student I knew wasn’t so lucky. He licked the knife he was using to cut up the bear he had killed and almost died from trichinosis!

Sometimes an investigation takes unexpected turns. An outbreak of Salmonella enteriditis in Los Angeles was traced to an oriental restaurant. They were making their own mayonnaise and keeping it on the shelf unrefrigerated. The organism was in the mayonnaise. They only had one supplier for the eggs for the mayonnaise, a small commercial egg flock. My department got involved to quarantine them and try to determine how they got infected. The breeder flock they got their birds from regularly tested for SE and all the tests were negative. Fish and Game came out and captured wild sparrows and animals but only found it in one opossum. Then they tested the water in a small stream running by the farm. Bingo! The stream was loaded with it. The stream was coming from a sewage treatment plant – the disease was coming from human sewage! Everyone with the runs dumps it in the toilet, and where does that go? The sewage treatment plant. This plant was 30 years old and handling 10 times the amount of sewage it was designed for. One of the veterinarians then tested water released from eight other sewage treatment plants in the Los Angeles area. Six of the eight were releasing water with Salmonella and/or E coli!

Human sources were finally indicated in a recent big outbreak of a rare kind of E coli in Germany. There are over 1.000 serotypes of E coli, but only seven cause disease in people. It took over two months to finally track it down to a sprout farm. First they blamed it on cucumbers. They found E coli H7O147 on a cucumber, then on lettuce. But the causative organism of the outbreak was E coli H7O104, a different culprit. They finally traced it to a sprout farm and decided the infection came from workers on the farm.

Most people are surprised to learn that the majority of foods involved in food poisoning are raw vegetables. Properly cooking meat and eggs kills the organisms, but nobody cooks cucumbers. How it gets into the vegetables is still poorly understood.

Tremendous efforts have been made to remove food poisoning organisms at the farm. “Farm to fork” security has been a buzzword for over 40 years. E coli O147 incidence has been cut in half, but Salmonella remains a big stumbling block. Salmonella food poisoning has been actually increasing. The big three, Salmonella typhimurium, newport, and enteritidis, have been successfully eradicated from commercial poultry farms. Improvements at the slaughter plant have reduced levels of other Salmonellas by 90 per cent. But people still keep getting sick from Salmonella. Back to the drawing board.

Interest has been rekindled in irradiating meat and produce to kill food poisoning pathogens. The technology was developed in the 1950s but met stiff consumer resistance to anything involving radiation. The process doesn’t make the produce radioactive, but you can’t convince some people of that. Some people are still opposed to pasteurization of milk, developed in the 1920s. When I was in Vietnam in the mid 1960s the U.S. military PX sold unrefrigerated irradiated milk with a shelf life of six months. Irradiation not only kills pathogens, it reduces the need for refrigeration and extends shelf life before spoilage. I tried some and never glowed in the dark. Researchers are also looking at using microwaves to kill pathogens.

Better control at the farm level accompanied with irradiation would greatly reduce the incidence of food poisoning, but it can’t completely eliminate it. Food can still become re-contaminated by infected food handlers, dirty water, and poor sanitation. The bugs have outwitted us so far. The experts still say the one biggest step in avoiding food poisoning is washing your hands in the kitchen.




Nutrition experts tell us the big three food sins are salt, fat, and sugar. Salt must be the worst – they say we shouldn’t be eating more than one teaspoon a day. That’s not just from the salt shaker, that includes what’s in your food. Don’t go to the beach, you will breathe more than that from the salt air.

The theory is that salt will attract more water in the blood and make the heart pump harder, creating more wear and tear on the heart. Research efforts to establish this are mixed. Some have associated salt intake with increased heart problems, others have not. None have taken a close look at the role water intake plays. With adequate water, salt is routinely excreted in the urine and sweat. Animal studies have found that 12 per cent salt in the diet has no adverse effects as long as enough water is supplied.

The key is the appropriate concentration of salt in the blood. Our body tries to maintain a constant 0.9 per cent concentration in the blood. Hospitals routinely plug inject a salt concentration at this level to prevent to prevent dehydration. They call this isotonic saline. They never inject pure water – that would reduce salt levels in the blood too low. There is such a thing as not enough salt. People die every year from inadequate levels of salt in the blood. Couch potatoes who sit in an air conditioned office all day have nothing to fear. It’s the ones who exercise heavily outdoors in the hot summer sun who need to worry. Drinking lots of water isn’t enough – they need extra salt as well.

One size fits all recommendations just don’t work. It’s absurd to recommend the same amount of salt for a 300 pound football player and a 90 pound secretary. If you work in the hot sun, take some extra salt. Go ahead, tell them I said so.

At the Circus


PETA/HSUS wants more than to remove the animals from the circus. They want to end all animal agriculture, including horses. They’re against keeping animals in captivity, much less killing them for food. Most of their funding goes to suing livestock producers. If they had their way, there would be no bacon and eggs on the table.

Peta lost its lawsuit claiming Barnum and Bailey mistreated its elephants because their primary witness was caught blatantly lying on the witness stand. Their attorneys knew it and had their licenses suspended.

Barnum an Bailey filed a countersuit for damages and obtained a judgement for twenty-five million dollars.

PETA and HSUS have interlocking directorships and they transferred most of PETA’s funds to HSUS. Barnum and Bailey hasn’t seen a dime.

And they’re still trying to take away our bacon and eggs.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves



The lotus seed shoots up in winter’s gloom

Blind faith believing in the summer’s bloom

Ah, glorious faith that aims for the unknown

Attains the sun, victorious flower full blown

What shameful mortals we who scarce can see

Beyond hard truth to be what we must be

Are terrified and leave our petals in the mud unborn

My Daughters Cars


They told me to cheer up, things could be worse. So I cheered up, and sure enough, things got worse.

My daughter Tina’s first attempt at driving lessons ended in disaster. The car involved belonged to her boyfriend’s mother. She then proceeded to wreck four more cars of her own in succession. She didn’t wreck the fifth one, it wrecked itself with repeated starter problems. I should just be glad I still have a daughter, but at the time the horse and buggy was starting to look like a good alternative.

It all started when Tina’s boyfriend, barely old enough for a driver’s license himself, took it upon himself to teach Tina to drive. She didn’t even have a learner’s permit. He didn’t take her to some vacant field where she couldn’t get into much trouble. No, he took her to ritzy Haggin Oaks. She missed the brake and hit the accelerator instead and rammed an olive tree in the front yard of a million dollar home. The owner wanted $1,000 to replace the tree. He explained it wasn’t just the tree. He needed a crane and crew to carefully remove the tree and replace it without disturbing the rest of the landscaping. He added that if he reported it, Tina couldn’t get a license before she was 18. If I had known what was to come that wouldn’t have sounded so bad, but I ponied up. No vacation that year.

When Tina got old enough she got her learner’s permit and license. She then got a job at Burger King and needed transportation. I bought her a $1500 used car, just basic transportation. She didn’t have the car a week when someone ran a red light while Tina was turning left. We were lucky there was a pedestrian witness to verify Tina’s version of events. The driver of the other car claimed that Tina was the one to run a red light. The car was totalled, but all Tina got was a one inch cut on her forehead from hitting the steering wheel. A plastic surgeon sewed it up and charged $1,000. He did a good job. When the bandages came off there was no sign of a scar. But $1,000? The insurance company settled for $10,000 plus medical expenses.

Tina had her next car three months when she threw a rod going over the grapevine. She wouldn’t tell me how fast she was going. Then she found a cute little Fiat convertible for only $2,000. I suspected there was something wrong with it to be so cheap, but it ran fine.

After she finished her first year at Bakersfield college she celebrated by taking her son Joey and a friend to the coast for a week. Their last day she missed a curve on Highway 1 known locally as Dead Man’s Curve and drove off a 180 foot cliff. The car bounced twice on the way down and landed upside down. No way anyone could have survived that trip, but the seat belts broke on the first bounce and all three were ejected. Joey broke his arm. Tina landed on her head and had a concussion. The other passenger wasn’t injured.

The first I knew of it was a phone call from the hospital in Lompoc saying Joey was being released and demanding someone come get him right away. I couldn’t go because of work. A friend went and got Joey and he stayed with my mother. Tina was in the hospital for another two weeks.

I got another phone call, this time from a towing company saying they had recovered the car and wanted $800. They offered to take the pink slip instead.

When I went to see Tina I didn’t even recognize her. She was black and blue from head to foot and the right side of her face was all swollen.

The car had been lowered to three feet and was undriveable. I gathered up what was left of Tina’s belongings and handed over the pink slip.

It took a year to finally get my insurance company to pay off the hospital. No explanation, I just kept getting the bill and calling the insurance company. They kept saying it was being processed.

We still had enough insurance money for one more car. Things settled down and almost got back to normal. Then one night Tina drove out to the family farm and swerved to miss a rabbit. The wheel caught on the edge of the pavement and the wheel was pulled off. She locked the car and walked the mile and a half to the farm. By the time the tow truck got there someone had smashed a window in the car and stolen everything in it.

We were out of insurance money, so my mother bought the next car. A month later the car wouldn’t start and the starter was replaced. A month later the car wouldn’t start again and the mechanic said it was again the starter. He said that sometimes new starters are defective. The third time we took it to a different mechanic who said the firewall was missing and burning up the starter. He said he fixed it. The fourth time my mother said, “Fix the blank thing and sell it!”

Then Tina got married and I stopped keeping track of here cars. She went through more cars in three years than I did in fifty. The good news is we all survived her teens and she made it to become a productive member of society.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves

A Day at the Office


Early Thursday, to avoid the crowds, I arrive at Western Stockman’s for another trace-back. A cow slaughtered at BPI had TB. The information from the slaughterhouse only named the sales-yard. Now I need to learn where the cow came from.

The brand inspectors are in their break room. Darn! Can’t get by without saying hello.

“Hey, Doc, what’s up?” Jerry calls out.

“The usual. Find any hot brands?” I respond.

“No, but we do have a dispute over an unbranded calf in Isabella. Could you take some blood samples for us?”

“Do you have the parents?”

“Just the mother. At least, he claims it’s the mother.”

“No bull?”

“No, it’s AI’d. That’s the only cow he has.”

“Well, that only gives you a 50-50 chance of establishing paternity. And someone will have to pay the $100 for the test.”

“Got it covered. When can you do it?”

“How about Tuesday? I’m going to Camp Owens then.”

“Too soon to contact them. How about a week from Tuesday?”

“OK, a week from Tuesday. Say, what do you know about Garcia? Someone reported three hundred cows died there, but he denies anything happened.”

“Yeah, he fed them raw onions and the onions killed them.”

“But why would he deny it?”

“You ask him too many questions, and you’ll get a pair of concrete boots.”

“Then I could really kick ass!”

“Not at the bottom of the river.”

“So why aren’t you doing something about it?”

“Like I said. That guy’s trouble. We don’t mess with him.”

“Well, I still have to see Yolanda. Take care.”

“See you.”

The office is empty. “Hello! Is anyone here?”

“Be out in a minute,” Yolanda calls from her inner office. Emerging, she says, “Dr. Hargreaves! What can I do for you?”

“I have a suspect from BPI, dated January 11.”

Yolanda goes through her files and pulls up the record. “Here we are. We sold thirty-two head to BPI. Got the back-tag number?”

“Here it is. Hereford cross.”

“Right. It came from John App II in Glenville. Here’s his address.”

“Phone number?”

“Here you are: 805-327-4826.”

Now for one of their to-die-for hamburgers and on to the dairies.


Copyright Robert C Hargreaves



Have we forgotten that the police were the chief enforcers of segregation at the height of the civil rights movement 50 years ago? They weren’t very nice about it. Arrests, beatings, even murder were the order of the day.

Could anyone forget Bull Connor and his dogs? Three civil rights workers were killed in Mississippi and six Neshoba County Deputy Sheriffs were convicted of their killing. Or rather they were convicted on federal charges of violating the civil rights of the three after local and state officials refused to try them.

Times have changed. Segregation laws are gone from the books. Sit-ins and Freedom Rides are long gone. Race relations have never been better.

But now events in Ferguson remind us we still have a long way to go. The police in Ferguson act as if nothing has changed in 50 years. They concentrate more on keeping blacks in their “place” rather than performing normal police duties. Their response to mostly peaceful protest has been totally out of place. There is no justification for riot gear, smoke grenades, and rubber bullets under the circumstances. The only riot has been a police riot.

Attorney General Eric Holder must have talked some sense to the authorities in Missouri. The police seem to be quieting down now. But it will be a long time before this is over


copyright Robert C Hargreaves

More Drug Rehab


Gary was different from the others in the drug rehab center. Unlike the others he wasn’t an addict himself. He was referred for drug possession but was actually a dealer. I suspected he stayed in the program to hide from other dealers who were after him.

He was educated and didn’t need my services, but came to my class anyway for something to do. He helped with the other students.

When he learned I was a chicken doctor he told of his weekly visits to the bank to deposit a big roll of cash. “Where did you get all this cash?” the teller asked. He leaned over the counter and whispered “Chickens!”

copyright Robert C Hargreaves

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