ARCATA, Calif. (AP) - Sixteen years ago, Kevin L. Hoover chanced across
newspaper item about someone stuffing cheese into the ears and nose of a
statue of William McKinley in the Arcata town square.
Hoover was intrigued on two counts: that a small town with a square and
statue actually existed outside of TV, and that someone would feel moved
With three days to kill, he came up for a visit and "just totally fell
love" with Arcata, an old logging town of about 16,000 set in coastal
redwoods of Northern California.
He quit his job near San Francisco, where he had been working in "let's
just say retail," and took a job at the Arcata Union newspaper. There, he
worked as a production assistant until the day a harried editor made a
fateful decision. She asked Hoover to do the police log for the day.
Hoover looked at a police account of a car full of drunks (toasted) which
crashed (coasted) and a poem suggested itself. Shrugging off the
straitjacket of conventional journalism, he wrote it.
"I started kind of chiseling away at the seriousness of it. I mean, how
can you not? This town is so wacky," says Hoover of Arcata, a nuclear-free
zone that for a while had the distinction of a Green Party majority on its
Sixteen years later, Hoover is Arcata's master of rhymes and
misdemeanors, the writer of a newspaper police blotter so good it's
Like other crime reporters, Hoover gets his raw material from the daily
bulletins filed by police in stern, telegraphic prose. The difference is
what he does with it.
A report of a stolen bike becomes wistful: "That nice green 21-speed
Austin Way is just a memory now."
An out-of-towner's drunken-driving arrest gets the folksy treatment:
"Possession of marijuana, possession of alcohol, possession of a
driving-impairing liquor buzz. These are things that make an Arcata Police
officer grow a big ol' frown. Being from Visalia is somewhat excusable."
A case of shoplifted steak becomes a sizzling slice of life: "Equipped
with opposing thumb and forefinger, an ingrained hunter-gatherer species
tradition and a crazy dream, a man entered a 24-hour supermarket and, say
police, stuffed some animal parts under his jacket and fled the store."
Some police business isn't remotely amusing, of course, and Hoover knows
it. "If there's a family problem or ... any kind of real violence obviously
that's not very funny."
On the other hand, the fellows who decided to trick-or-treat sans
costumes - any costumes - last Halloween were simply begging to be
"A half-dozen near-naked dudes
Were out trick-or-treating all nude.
A cop found the lads
Somewhat scantily clad
And sent them away freshly clued."
In 1995, the Union went under. So Hoover, working with not much more
his desktop computer, started the Eye, which today is up to 3.5
It police log is a devious delight, not only for Arcatans but also for
the many out-of-towners who follow it by Internet.
"Every once in a while there's that jewel in there. You go, `Wow! This
great!"' says local businessman Bruce Hamilton.
Names are withheld to protect the presumed innocent, but occasionally
Eye gets an angry letter from someone who has recognized his or her most
embarrassing moment. Hoover figures some people don't like seeing their
pratfalls in print, with or without laughs, so, "I might as well bring out
Longtime Arcata policeman Bob Murphy calls Hoover's column "cool."
Murphy, the hero of a recent item, "Stoned souls harvested by the Grim
Ranger," doesn't mind a bit if people are laughing as they're learning about
the doings of the ranger program, a relatively new police park clean-up
"It's neat to see it publicized," says Murphy.
The log has its own lexicon.
The county jail in nearby Eureka is painted pink, meaning miscreants
to the Pink House or simply get Pinked. Skipping out on a restaurant bill
a scarf-n-scram; doing something similar at the gas station is a
Arcata isn't exactly a crime capital. There were no murders and only
attempted homicide last year. But there was plenty of log fodder.
"I try to let the items tell themselves," says Hoover. "My favorite ones
are just the anecdotes where there was some little interaction between
people, people with all their mixed up ideas about the way things should
Thumbing through a stack of recent reports in the tidy lobby of Arcata's
police station, he pauses at an item about a woman reporting that magnetic
forces from space are controlling her mind - "Do I make this stuff up or
what?" - and then skims on.
At some point before his 7 a.m. Monday deadline, Hoover sits down at
computer with a mission to inform and entertain.
Sometimes, he gently scolds:
"In retrospect, it would have better for the bicyclist to have actually,
you know, stopped at the Eighth and G streets stop sign."
Sometimes only a haiku will do.
"I try never to repeat myself," he says. "I'll sit there ... for 20
minutes saying, 'No, I can't say that. No, that's too easy.' It forces you
into more and more abstruse types of expression, but then you still have
exercise that discipline of reporting it clearly enough so people can
Most readers catch on, he hopes.
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"I am," says Hoover, "celebrating the ridiculous."