The 2nd Annual ‘Cheater’s Cup’

by Bob Sparrow

                                                     The Cheater Cup slogan:  ‘A family that competes together, cheats together”

cheaters cup

The ‘Cheater’s Cup’ named in honor of Lance Armstrong

     Actually, it’s the first known Cheater’s Cup event, because of a little detail during the first one – like no one even knew there was a contest going on! For those who have followed us here for the last few years, you may remember a story written by Suzanne last July entitled, JOCKO’S AND THE GREAT CHEAT-OFF (link: During last year’s Nipomo family gathering, our brother Jack and his wife Sharon, Suzanne and Al and Linda and I decided to play golf at the funky, 12-hole executive course called Monarch Dunes. It was just for fun and no one really kept score, or so we thought, but after the round, while having an adult beverage at the 19th hole, or I guess on this course it was the 13th hole, Suzanne, the self-appointed score keeper, pulls out a score card and announces that the women had won the match. “What match?” the men shouted incredulously and demanded to see the card. As suspected it was filled with cross outs, eraser marks and one hole that had been eliminated all together. Thus the ‘Cheater’s Cup’ was born. To add status to this year’s event, we’ve adopted Barry Bonds, who hit a lot of ‘fake home runs’, as our Cheater Cup spokesperson, and have named the trophy going to the annual winners, the Lance Armstrong Cheater’s Cup, so that we never forget the contributions to cheating made by this cycling dope . . . er.  I think both famous cheaters would be proud to be part of our short, albeit nefarious history.


Fake homerun hitter, Barry Bonds

This year’s event was held on a ‘real’ golf course, Santa Maria Country Club, Jack and Sharon’s home course, although Sharon, who had spent the last three weeks in France, was ‘trapped’ in Paris due to a pilot’s strike; we think she’ll be home for Christmas.  In true cheater style, the ladies tried to have Natalie Gulbis fill in for her – the men were conflicted, but finally didn’t allow it.

It was no surprise that everyone kept score this year and it was also no surprise that none of the scorecards matched at the end of the round. The round was played as a ‘best ball’ between the ladies and the guys, but because the ladies had one less player, the guys agreed that they would eliminate their best ball on each hole and take the best ball from the other two. It seem fair to the ladies . . . at first, but as the match started to slip away from them, they lodged a complaint and played the rest of the round ‘under protest’.


Blowing a putt has a whole different definition with us

I could elaborate on some of the creative golf cheating techniques that were used during the match, like Suzanne’s clandestine foot mashie to improve her lie, or Linda’s way of improving her lie by always carrying a pack of green Life Savers with her and casually placing one under her ball when no one was looking. Brother-in-law, Al would always turn heads when we finished each hole as he uttered his standard phrase, “Give me a par”. Brother Jack wore the pants with a hole in the pocket, just big enough for a golf ball to fit through, so that when we’re looking for his lost ball in the rough, he would surreptitiously slide his hand, with a new ball in it, into his pocket and push it through the hole; it would slide down his pant leg and land in a place that miraculously had an open shot to the green, and shout, “I found it!” With my long putter, I would regularly take ‘gimme’ putts that were ‘inside the leather’, of course the leather on a long putter assured me that I never had to putt anything that was within 6 feet.


Jack, Suzanne & Al

As I said, I could elaborate on these cheating techniques, but the match, the day, the weekend was really all about getting together and having some fun with a great family – and that we did. We all feel very lucky to not only call each other family, but also call each other friends, even though on the golf course we might call each other things that would suggest otherwise.


“You’re such a cheater; the best wood in your bag is a pencil”


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

AG...home of the chickens

AG…home of the chickens

One of the highlights of our yearly trips to the Central Coast of California is visiting the quaint town of Arroyo Grande.  Located between San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria, it looks like any other modern town when viewed from Highway 101.  In other words, you see a Trader Joe’s, In ‘n Out, and the ubiquitous Walmart.   But Arroyo Grande is actually as unique and colorful a town as you’ll find anywhere.  Starting with the chickens.


Grand Avenue is the Main Street  in town and is filled with Victorian buildings and cute shops selling items both old and new.  There is even a life-sized Elvis statue outside the guitar store and just about everyone stops to pose for a picture with the King of Rock. Gina’s is our favorite restaurant, serving Italian food with friendly service.  And nothing is more fun than wine tasting at Phantom Rivers wines, which is in an old Victorian house  with a beautiful lawn outside.  You can while away the afternoon  with a sandwich from the deli next door, a glass of wine, and watch the people and chickens go by.   CHICKENS??  Yep – if you spend more than ten minutes strolling the downtown streets one thing will become very apparent – there are a lot of chickens in Arroyo Grande. But why? Well, according to a city representative (who, for good reason wished to remain anonymous) there have been chickens and roosters wandering around town longer than anyone can remember. Do they cause problems? Well, “If a rooster gets rowdy and tries to attack visitors, we have to take care of the problem.” Which I think means that several of the restaurants in town have chicken as their “special” that night.   She said that roosters are welcome in town, but they have to act nice with guests. They are not allowed to terrorize, attack or challenge you to a dual for sidewalk rights.

The AG Town Council

The AG Town Council

As you wander the village in search of roosters, you’ll notice them everywhere. They are down by the creek, in the back parking lot of the storefronts, and occasionally crossing the street. You’ll notice the “Chickens Crossing” signs throughout the village. They DO have the right of way. Cars will stop and wait for them to slowly stroll across the busy streets. At nearly every boutique, home furnishings or antiques store there are tributes to the roosters and chickens on everything from cards and hand painted artwork, to kitchen towels and antique porcelain trinkets to take home as souvenirs.

Of much greater interest to me, being an inveterate sweet-tooth, is Arroyo Grande’s fabulous ice cream parlor, Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab. Really, the name says it all. It sounds so scientific. Clearly they have taken ice cream to a new level. There is no slap-dash mixing here. They take developing ice cream flavors as seriously as the guys working on nuclear fusion. In addition to the wonderful handmade ice cream, they have special events, like “Ice Cream for Breakfast Day”.

Abandon hope, all ye that enter here.

Abandon hope, all ye that enter here.

Really…it’s as if they made up a day just for me. As a kid, I would get up before my parents on Saturday mornings and pour myself a bowl of Wheaties topped off with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. Even at the age of eight I was good at rationalizing my binge eating. After all, ice cream and milk both have calcium, don’t they? But my favorite event at “Doc’s” (we’re now on a first name basis) is the “All You Can Eat” night. Every Tuesday for just a measly $6.99 adults can have all the ice cream they can eat. I think the lovely people at Doc’s seriously miscalculated when they established that event. People like me, who look perfectly sane and reasonable on the outside, lose all remnants of self-control when faced with “all you can eat” challenges. I may gain five pounds in the deal but I’m determined to amortize that $6.99 down to a buck a scoop!

So, if you find yourself driving between San Francisco and Los Angeles and need a great place to take a break, consider stopping in the village of Arroyo Grande.  Where else can you find chickens, Elvis and a bottomless bowl of ice cream all in one block?

The Scarlet Shirt

by Bob Sparrow

                               “The pang of it will always be in the heart”

                                                                                                                                                        Nathanial Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

 Red R     My travels last week were supposed to take me to Salt Lake City for, what I must say with all false modesty aside, an induction into the University of Utah Athletes Hall of Fame. OK, it wasn’t exactly me being inducted, it was the entire 1964 Liberty Bowl football team, of which I was a member. OK, I wasn’t actually a regular member – I was a ‘red shirt’ member.

     For those unfamiliar with the term ‘red shirt’, it is a college athlete, who is on the team, but does not suit up and play in games for the entire year in order to save his or her eligibility.  As a ‘red shirt’ quarterback, I ran the offense of our opponents that week, against our first team defense. I felt it was my job to give our defense confidence with my inept play – I apparently succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. “That was a feckless performance Sparrow”, the coaches would shout and I would beam with pride until I learned the definition of the word feckless.  The origin of the term ‘redshirt’ is sketchy at best, but my experience tells me that these non-playing athletes were so bloodied from getting beaten to a pulp in practice that their jerseys were red.


Picture Day – The only time I was allowed to wear a University of Utah uniform

   My red shirt never came off; I came to Utah from junior college and transferred after my redshirt year to play for George Siefert, who had taken his first head coaching job at Westminster College in Salt Lake; yes the same George Siefert who coached the San Francisco 49ers to two Super Bowl championships. The same George Siefert, who at a reunion was quoted as saying, “Yes, I coached Joe Montana and Steve Young, but Bob Sparrow was my first quarterback.” I approached him afterwards to thank him for the recognition and he said, “No, I didn’t say first quarterback I said worst quarterback.”  Oh.

     The Utah Liberty Bowl team was honored at half time of this year’s Utah-Fresno State game and at a banquet held the previous night – I imagined my ‘redshirt invitation’ to these events would look something like this . . .

 Dear Redshirt,

     The 1964 Liberty Bowl football team (and you) will be inducted into the University of Utah Athletes Hall of Fame. There will be a banquet Friday night at 8:00 p.m., could you please get there an hour early so you’ll have time to eat before hand and then serve and clear dishes for the regular team? We have sent commemorative blazers and rings to all the regular players, and have enclosed for you to wear that evening, a double extra large commemorative red shirt. As a special favor, we’re asking that you please plan on sticking around afterwards to help clean up.


The shirt says it all

     The team will be honored at half time of the game on Saturday; would you mind getting to the stadium a little early to wipe down the seats after you finish lining the field? Don’t forget to wear your redshirt to all events, as we don’t want anyone to confuse you with any of the regular team members.

    Maybe I was letting my imagination run a bit wild , but I was just trying to get something off my chest . . . and back – it’s that damn red shirt! Truth be known, I actually got a nice invitation and would have loved to attend, but had other commitments.  I actually had a good experience at Utah and a great experience at Westminster College, where I played football, wrote for the college newspaper and met my first wife . . . OK, two out of three’s not bad; I think she was just a red shirt anyway.


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By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Bella Sera nightHearty appetites are the hallmark of our family.  That,  and drinking.  When we can combine both we are like pigs in slop.  No one in our family says things like “Seconds?  I couldn’t possibly” or “Gee, I’m so full I couldn’t eat another mouthful”.  In fact and practice, we all eat like we are going to “the chair”.  So how fortuitous that Bob’s daughter, Dana and her husband Joe, now own a restaurant (with a lovely bar) in downtown Monrovia, California.  In our family, Joe is the rock star of cooking.  For Bob’s 70th birthday he cooked for days and presented cuisines from five diverse countries.  We think Dana married VERY well.

Dana and Joe during rennovation

Dana and Joe during renovation

In May they took over an established Italian restaurant – the Bella Sera Trattoria-  and completely renovated it.  It has been a great success, with all tables full on many nights of the week.  In a business that is notoriously tough, they have been a rousing success.  Which goes to show that good food, beautiful surroundings and hard work are still appreciated in this day and age.  We have been anxious to visit ever since it opened and this week on our way over to the Central Coast, we finally had our chance.   I wrote Dana ahead of time to let her know we were coming, and would be meeting Bob, and his wife Linda, for dinner.  We are simple people, but we do have a few requirements for any restaurant so I wanted her to be prepared.  They were little things like:

  • We can only eat salmon that has been caught on a Thursday, preferably by a native Eskimo.
  • Salad greens need to come from California (of course) but need to have been carefully picked by a Swedish woman who uses Dial anti-bacterial soap.
  • Our wine should come from Chile, with grapes grown on a south-facing slope, and from a vintner who also weaves his own serape (I like to incorporate my love of needlework whenever I can)
  • For dessert, we LOVE chocolate but only if it’s been flown in that day from Belgium.

Oh…and we needed a separate chair for Dash the Wonder Dog, who loves to sit at the table and pretend he’s “in” on the conversation.   Dana didn’t blink an eye.  I think she already considers me “her crazy aunt”.

At last the evening arrived!  We were amazed at how beautifully they have completely transformed the space.  It is warm and inviting with a contemporary flair.  But the main attraction was the food.  We didn’t eat all day in anticipation but I think we didn’t start early enough – we should have starved for a week.  Dana thought we should begin with some wine.  I’ve always thought she was a very smart girl.   Next, she brought out a plate of bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with ricotta, mascarpone and a blueberry reduction.  That “light” little starter was followed by Portobello mushroom fries with a fabulous sauce that should be named “Straight from Heaven”.

Me - with Bob - who thinks he can turn water into wine.

Me – with Bob – who thinks he can turn water into wine.

Then we had more wine, followed by entrees that were all varied and all mouth-watering delicious – pastas, lasagna, halibut – each dish looked better than the last.  And then as if we were in need of more food, Dana emerged from the kitchen with tiramisu and her special dessert creation of the evening, a chocolate cookie filled with marzipan cheese and then smothered in a chocolate ganache.  I forget what she was calling it but I think it was “Watch Aunt Sue gain 10 pounds”.  I wanted to lick the plate but some deep-seated shred of dignity kept me from making a complete fool of myself.  Although in retrospect I’m thinking it would have tasted awfully good and besides, I’m never going to see those other customers again.  Next time I won’t be so constrained.

As I sat back in my food stupor I watched as Dana and Joe bustled about, making sure every dish coming out of the kitchen was perfect and each customer was happy.   The evening really was magical, not only because of the food and drink, but because it is really wonderful to see two young people, working hard, and realizing a dream.  You can’t buy the look of satisfaction and happiness that is evident on both of their faces.

So if you happen to find yourself in the cute little town of Monrovia, be sure to stop by the Bella Sera Trattoria.  You will be treated to delicious food, great service and a fun atmosphere.   Just don’t blame me if your pants won’t button up the next morning.




The Freaks at Venice Beach

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by Bob Sparrow


Venice Beach circa 1905

On July 4, 1905 tobacco mogul, Abbot Kinney dug some canals, opened a few shops and launched ‘Venice of America’ next to Santa Monica Beach, hoping to ‘recreate’ Venice, Italy and attract lovers of art, music and culture – it did not.   Being the ever-astute businessman, he quickly scraped the idea of bringing the Renaissance to America and instead brought in exhibits, amusements and freak shows that attracted young counterculture artists, poets, and writers. I don’t know about artists and poets, but I’m here to tell you that the freaks have definitely survived – I was one of them last week, when I made my first visit to Venice Beach.  With summer drawing to and end, the usually packed boardwalk had thinned out, the freaks were fewer in numbers, but no less freaky and it seems that even some of the homeless people had gone home. What I noticed was a lot of older guys walking around taking pictures – I guess we were the freaks.

Muscle Beach

“Stop, no wimps allowed on Muscle Beach!”

In the heart of the Venice Beach boardwalk is ‘Muscle Beach’, where guys can workout in the open air on the sand. I thought it would be fun to drop in and do a workout, pump some iron, maybe throw in a clean and jerk. I was stopped at the entrance and told that I would give ‘Muscle Beach’ a bad name if I took off my shirt, and was admonished that if I tried to enter the workout area, a ‘jerk’ would certainly be part of my future.


“Most of your future is ahead of you”

Curious about what my real future looked like, I moved on to a nearby Psychic Fortune Teller.  I knocked on the door to the psychic’s office or séance room or whatever it was, and a pregnant young lady, with a cell phone to her ear, appeared.   She whispered that she was on the phone with the water company, who was threatening to turn off her water, and asked me to sit down. As I sat there for about 10-15 minutes I got to thinking, didn’t she know I was coming,  and, do you really have to be a fortune teller to know that if you don’t pay your bill, they’re going to shut off your water.?   I may be parsing words here, but isn’t it an oxymoron to have a pregnant psychic woman ‘expecting’ – shouldn’t she ‘know’?


Chinese Fortune Cookie

With some trepidation I paid to have both palms and my face read. She examined my palms and told me, I was married and had 2 to 4 children. I think my wedding ring gave her a clue to my marital status and I’m guessing 80% of married people my age have between 2-4 children. I wanted to play along to see what other amazing revelations she had in store for me, so I said, “That’s unbelievable!” She smiled knowingly and droned on for about ten minutes, giving me such gems as, “You’ve had some conflicts in the past”, “You’d rather give orders than take them”, “You will travel somewhere” and other phrases she had memorized from Chinese fortune cookies. The only thing I really remembered hearing was “You’re going to make a lot of money next year” – I think that one was accurately divined. After rattling off hackneyed phrase after phrase, she suddenly stopped, got up and walked out of the room. It was like the meter had run out and my time was up, or she suddenly looked into her own future and saw the guy from the water company at the side of her house preparing to turn off her water. I left and walked down the boardwalk with a little more spring in my step, comforted by the thought that I was going to make a lot of money next year.

Venice canal

There’s canals here???

I asked about 10 or 12 people on the boardwalk where the canals were, and mostly I heard, “There are canals here?”  I started to explain the Venice connection, but no one seemed really interested.  I finally found the canals inland about two blocks off the beach. There are only six canals left, there were about twice that many originally, and they are only deep enough to accommodate very small boats and kayaks, but the homes around them were small, but quite nice.

If Abbot Kinney were alive today, he might be a bit disappointed that poetry and art are found on tee shirts, the music comes from homeless street musicians and the culture does not evoke the Renaissance, but the business man in him would probably appreciate the fact that millions still comes to see the freak shows every year.

Rolling guitar

A Renaissance Man?


Homeless piano

One jar for tips, the other for his 401(k)