Why Ontario and Pomona?

Recently I wrote here about attending Ontario’s and Pomona’s, and sometimes Rancho Cucamonga’s, council meetings. Occasionally I’ll go to meetings in other cities as well.

Some people ask why the heck I go to any of ‘em. Masochism?

Well, I spent a good 10 years as a City Hall reporter in various cities in Northern and Southern California, giving me a fairly good understanding of how local government works (or doesn’t). As a reporter, I always enjoyed taking something impenetrable and dull to most people and rendering it interesting, and even entertaining at times. It was a fun challenge, and besides, people ought to know what’s happening in their community. To me it’s like a public service.

So covering meetings is enjoyable (mostly) for me, maybe especially because I don’t have to be there. During the slow parts I usually listen with one ear while reading a New Yorker.

Meetings allow me to get something current and newsy(ish) into my columns, and also to get a sense of what’s going on in our communities and meet the folks who lead them. My attendance has paid all sorts of dividends as far as learning tidbits of local lore or word of pending developments that spawned columns or items only tangentially related to government.

Also, although I try to avoid being mean to anyone, I feel I can be a little snarkier when writing about our electeds than when I write about average folks.

Some readers, I’m sure, skip my government-related columns. Others tell me those are their favorites. (Maybe because of the snarkiness.) I try to strike a balance by making sure to write plenty of feature-y stuff and not overload the column with politics. That means limiting the number of meetings I attend.

I read our newspaper carefully and in a sense track what all our cities are doing. When something is important, or weird, I’ll parachute in.

But what I did fairly early on was decide it worked best to follow a couple of councils fairly closely, so that I, and readers, would get to know those council members better. They almost become like characters — sitcom characters in some cases — and maybe seem a little more like real people than they do in our just-the-facts news coverage.

Although I don’t always write about the most “important” part of the meetings, I think at times the freedom of a column lets me give a more accurate view of what it was like to be in the room. For instance, during the Debbie Acker era in Ontario.

Now, why are Ontario and Pomona the two councils I cover most closely? A sense of duty, really.

I chose them — starting with Ontario, and later adding Pomona — because to my mind they’re our core cities, the ones where this newspaper’s precursors, the Ontario Daily Report and the Pomona Progress-Bulletin, were published. Ontario, of course, is our current home base.

Being a newspaperman makes me a part of a long, honorable (generally) tradition as well as part of a continuum of local journalism here. And of course you already know I look for connections between past and present.

Well, in a way, I feel like I’m honoring the spirit of the Report and the Prog, and the readers who followed them, by giving special attention to Ontario and Pomona. Doing so gives me a foot in both counties too.

Of course, if I weren’t getting good material from one or the other, I might rethink things, but both are pretty reliable at providing fodder, and they’re both cities that deserve attention.

I write about all our cities in one fashion or another, but this is why my council coverage, and thus my coverage in general, tends to focus on Ontario and Pomona.

Make sense?

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‘Pomona A to Z’: X is for Xochimilco

[As you can imagine, finding an X was exceedingly difficult when I was writing the "A to Z" series. (Although writing the intro was fun.) Xochimilco was one of Pomona's longest-lived Mexican restaurants -- perhaps only Tropical Mexico was older -- but a few months after publication, Xochimilco expired. Its replacement, Mariscos Ensenada No. 5, is, candidly, far superior.

But a couple of generations of diners enjoyed Xochimilco and its colorful exterior mural, so this piece has value, perhaps, as history. It was published April 24, 2005.]

X marks the dining spot in ‘Pomona A to Z’

Step away from your Xbox and turn down your X record! Your full attention is needed for “Pomona A to Z,” my love letter of X’s and O’s for Pomona, as I embrace the letter X.

From Xenia, Ohio, to Xian, China, readers are wondering how yours truly, the Inland Valley’s answer to Xenophon, will find an X in Pomona.

The answer: With X-tra difficulty. To paraphrase the country song, all my X’s are in Texas, not Pomona.

Still, even if X candidates aren’t exactly springing up through xenogenesis, we can luxuriate in these runner-ups:

* X-rays at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, where the radiology department handled more than 155,000 x-citing procedures in 2004.

* “X-Files,” which filmed its Jan. 13, 2002 episode, in which Agent Doggett is in a Mexican jail with amnesia, in the 500 block of West Second Street. A Virgin Mary painting done for the shoot is still visible on a brick wall.

* The businesses Xcessories N Things, Xemco Inc., Xepa Car Wash, Xiomara Beauty Salon, XLent Technology and — hold onto your hat — Xochiquetzal Dance Studio.

X-cellent! With this bounty, it must be Xmas.

Yet the X in my little xylograph is a different choice. Before you start nagging me like Socrates’ wife Xanthippe, here it is: Xochimilco Mexican Restaurant.

Opened in November 1969 and still in the same minimall at Indian Hill and Holt, Xochimilco (pronounced “ZO-chee-meel-co”) is one of Pomona’s oldest Mexican eateries.

“People used to line up 20 minutes or a half hour outside because there weren’t that many Mexican restaurants,” said waitress Elsie Alvarez, who grew up nearby.

It’s been an oasis of stability in a changing world. The name, address, recipes, much of the decor and even the phone number have stayed constant.

“Oasis” is appropriate because the real Xochimilco is a garden and series of canals outside Mexico City known as “Mexico’s own Venice.”

Restaurant founder Carroll Gauslin loved vacationing in Xochimilco, Alvarez said. But he wasn’t from Mexico.

According to the story on a past menu, Gauslin was raised in New Mexico and Texas, where he picked up a love for chiles. He created the recipes for Xochimilco himself. A friendly, well-liked man, he married one of his waitresses, Dolores.

After his death, she kept the restaurant for a spell, then sold it in October 2001 to Carlos Argueta. Since May 2004 it’s been in the hands of David Gutierrez, only the third owner in the restaurant’s 35-year history.

Xochimilco has regulars who’ve been coming for years, first with their parents and now as adults.

Cathy Goring is one of them. She e-mailed to suggest I write about the place, which she’s been frequenting pretty much since it opened. So I invited her to lunch.

“I grew up a few blocks from here. We used to come here once a month when I was growing up,” Goring told me. Those were the days when the nearby mall, now the Indoor Swap Meet, had a Sears and a Zody’s Discount Department Store.

She recalled Xochimilco’s decor as being largely the same — quirky but memorable.

Bird cages with carved birds still hang from the ceiling. (“I Know Why the Caged Fake Bird Doesn’t Sing:?) Some diners sit under a shingled covering or a trellis. Odd, but nice.

The upholstered chairs and the beautifully tiled tables are said to have been brought from Mexico by Gauslin.

But the food is key. An online dining review says that “generations have enjoyed the chile rellenos,” and Goring said they’re among her favorites too. I tried one and liked it.

“It’s always good to come back and see the food is just as good as it used to be,” Goring said of her enchilada plate. “That was my fear when it changed hands, that the recipes would change.”

One reason they didn’t is that Serafin Juarez was the cook from the beginning until just two months ago, when he retired.

The original written recipes are still used, said manager Blanca Linebaugh, who is Gutierrez’s sister.

“I have them,” Linebaugh said. “And I make sure we’re following them.”

She might go one step further and make a Xerox.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, anxiously.)

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Restaurant of the Week: The Back Abbey

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Photo by John Valenzuela

The Back Abbey, 128 N. Oberlin Ave. (at 2nd), Claremont

The Back Abbey opened in June 2008 behind the Laemmle theater in Claremont’s Village Expansion. The building, which dates to at least the 1920s, was an ice house that chilled citrus bound by rail for other states. The small, distinctive structure was saved when the Expansion was being planned and sat, window-less but full of promise, until early this year when renovations began.

Well, it’s a neat little building and the Belgian pub that occupies it is a great addition. A friend and I went in for dinner a few days ago. It has a lived-in look, dark and rustic. The metal rafters are exposed and the hanging lights look industrial. There are tables inside, and one long high table with bar-style chairs, good for individuals, plus seating outside.

The beer menu apparently doesn’t exist. The food menu is on a chalkboard posted high above the bar. It consists of salads, burgers and bratwursts. It’s upscale bar food.

I had the Back Abbey Burger (at $13, possibly the most expensive burger in the Inland Valley) and my friend had the Grilled Vegetable Burger ($11), a portabello mushroom with eggplant, feta cheese, zucchini, red bell peppers and another item or two I got tired of craning my neck to read off the menu. It proved far more interesting than a Gardenburger.

My burger came on a brioche bun and had mustard aioli, microgreens, caramelized onions and a type of bacon whose proper name I couldn’t read. Well, it was a heckuva burger and worth the $13, if you’re the type of person who doesn’t blanch at a double-digit burger.

The presentation and price, not to mention the setting, invite comparisons to Father’s Office in Santa Monica and Culver City.

The half-order of fries I can recommend unreservedly. They come in a paper cone with three dipping sauces. The sauces are OK; the fries are amazing.

As for the beers, the Abbey has some 30 Belgian beers on tap. This is apparently A Big Deal in the beer community, Belgian beer being considered among the best and having it on tap being a rarity. There’s no beer list, annoyingly, so you may be hard-pressed to know what to get. My friend tried a couple and liked them. Beer doesn’t appeal to me and a sip of one didn’t change my mind.

But if you’re into it, Back Abbey is almost like a wine bar for beer. It’s very non-909 and Claremont’s lucky to have it. The clientele ranged from the 20s into the 60s that night, and it will be interesting to see this fall if Claremont Colleges students adopt the place and its $7 to $9 beers or whether it remains more of a beer snob/foodie hotspot.

About my only criticism is that it’s very LOUD. It’s not TVs, it’s not music, it’s just conversation that makes the interior almost as noisy as a nightclub. I don’t know if there’s anything to be done about it, other than timing your visit to off-hours.

You can read reviews on Yelp and on the M-M-M-My Pomona blog.

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Farewell, Cande Mendoza

I met Candelario Mendoza, the Pomona educator and school board member who died Tuesday at age 89, only once.

That was two years ago at an event at Mountain Meadows Golf Course. The trim Mendoza was resplendent in a white suit, friendly and full of energy as we spoke.

He asked if I’d read Matt Garcia’s “A World of Its Own,” a history of immigrants in the Southern California citrus industry before World War II, in which he was quoted. When I said I hadn’t, he left — he lived practically across the street — and came back a few minutes later with a copy for me.

His vigor lulled me into thinking there was no rush in writing about him. I had hopes of one day sitting down with him for a piece on his very long history in Pomona, specifically about his years as a disc jockey and as emcee for dances at Pomona’s fondly remembered Rainbow Gardens night club, about which he’s quoted in “Land of a Thousand Dances,” a history of Latino music in L.A.

Well, that history has all been documented — besides the two books, Mendoza was hardly a stranger to Bulletin and Progress-Bulletin readers over the years — and yet I’m sorry other news and history pieces kept getting in the way of my writing about him.

I’m sure Mendoza would have had a lot to teach me.

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Krystal vs. White Castle

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East of the Mississippi, fans of sliders — mini-hamburgers — may be partisans of White Castle, which predominates in the Midwest and East Coast, or of Krystal, which is popular in the South. Apparently only Kentucky and Tennessee have both chains.

I’m a White Castle admirer and always make a point to eat there once in the St. Louis area on visits home. (A photo of one is above.)

I’d heard of Krystal’s but had never seen one, having limited experience in the South. Then in New Orleans in 2008 I happened to pass by one on Bourbon Street near my hotel.

So I squeezed in a between-meal snack of one Krystal burger. (The 92-cent price for an itty bitty burger was a ripoff. Doesn’t McDonald’s offer double cheeseburgers for 99 cents?)

The two burgers are virtually the same, a couple of inches across, square, served on a dinner roll with a single pickle slice. A Krystal has mustard, while a White Castle has chopped onion and the patty has holes. Is it possible Krystals are grilled while White Castles are steamed?

Well, whatever. Any of you eastern U.S. expatriates want to expound on one chain versus the other?

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The Big Greasy

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My waitress takes a break on the Cafe du Monde patio.

Oh, the food in New Orleans! I knew eating would be a highlight and read up in my Lonely Planet guidebook and in Jane and Michael Stern’s “Road Food” for tips on where to go so I’d be prepared.

The afternoon I arrived, there was a Creole Tomato Fest, a Zydeco Fest and a Seafood Fest all winding down simultaneously in the French Quarter. Best food item I tried was a crawfish pie, a little 3-inch diameter pie with filling like a crab cake.

One evening I had crawfish etoufee at the Bon Ton Cafe, a 1950s-era spot with exposed-brick walls on Magazine Street in the Central Business District. In etoufee, the meat is served with rice, whereas in jambalaya, the meat is cooked with the rice. The crawfish was like tiny little shrimp except more tender. Mmmm.

(Food, by the way, automatically improves at any restaurant one can reach by antique streetcar, and many of the places I ate at qualified.)

I had po-boy sandwiches at several places. Johnny’s in the French Quarter is almost like a deli, with red-checked tablecloths; there I had the oyster po-boy. Mother’s, on Canal Street, is reminiscent of L.A.’s Philippe the Original, a great social leveler in which we all line up at a counter, businessmen and laborers alike. Mother’s Ferdi Special (roast beef and ham) was very good, and its bread pudding was delicious too. And I had a catfish po-boy at the Trolley Stop.

Tried to go to Domilise’s, reputed to be the best po-boy restaurant, but it was closed the day I went, darn the luck. And Casamento’s, recommended for oyster loaves, was closed for the season.

(Incidentally, I look forward to my next visit to the Gumbo Pot at L.A.’s Farmers Market, a favorite of mine for a dozen years, although I don’t get there often. After New Orleans I now have more of a basis for comparison. The Gumbo Pot’s catfish po-boys, served on a French roll with shredded lettuce and wafer-thin slices of lemon, rind and all, is hard to beat.)

The conference I attended — for the National Association of Newspaper Columnists — included two buffet meals with multiple Big Easy specialties. One was at Dookie Chase’s, one of the most beloved restaurants in town, located in the Treme district. That meal and the other included blackened catfish, red beans and rice, jambalaya and gumbo.

I had beignets at Cafe du Monde, the famous 24-hour coffee house in the French Quarter, but no cafe au lait, having never developed a taste for coffee. (What sort of journalist am I??) Beignets are square donuts without a hole, puffy and dusted with powdered sugar.

Napoleon House had a gloriously ancient bar area but my seafood gumbo was only so-so. I splurged for one fine meal at K-Paul’s, the restaurant founded by Chef Paul Prudhomme, where I had blackened beef tenders in debris gravy, plus a cup of turtle soup, which proved to be like a thin chili, with a turtle-like snap to it.

At Central Grocery, the self-proclaimed inventor of the muffuletta, I ordered a half-sandwich, knowing from my research that one is big enough for two people. It’s on a big round loaf of bread, sliced lengthwise and stocked with ham, salami, provolone and an olive salad. With a bottle of Barq’s root beer in hand, I walked a block to the riverfront to dine al fresco in the late afternoon sun on the banks of the muddy Mississippi.

Ah, New Orleans!

If you’ve been there yourself, you’re encouraged to post about your dining experiences.

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Secret menu in Chino

New Orleans was, as you’d expect, awesome. Also, still devastated from Katrina and Rita. I’ll write about both aspects in a column or two in the coming days. I’ll probably blog here about the food.

In the meantime, comments left last week have been posted. Let me direct your attention in particular to a belated comment for the Cock-a-Doodle calendars post left by an unnamed server there. He offers some informative comments on the venerable Chino restaurant, including a report on its “secret menu.” Shades of In-N-Out!

No, you can’t get the biscuits and gravy Monster Style, but the inside tips about the strawberry shortcake and other items is well worth a read, as well as his fond remarks about Albert the cook and Dotty the waitress.

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I’m back

Just flew back from New Orleans, and boy are my arms tired. (From flapping, not from lifting drinks.)

I’ll be posting real stuff, or as real as this blog gets, on Tuesday. Meanwhile, today I’ll try to catch up on whatever comments you’ve left, and any comments you leave starting today will be read soon. Not that I’m giving you anything today to comment on, admittedly. I’m just sayin’.

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‘Pomona A to Z’: W is for Westmont

[For W, I focused on a whole neighborhood, one that has a certain fascination for midcentury architecture buffs because of its tracts designed by Cliff May, creator of the ranch home. Oh, and the two people who run Westmont Hardware turned out to be a couple of authentic characters and well worth meeting. This column was published April 10, 2005.]

‘Pomona A to Z’ watches over Westmont

Welcome! “Pomona A to Z” today wades into the letter W, as we seek to become well-informed about Pomona, and not in a willy-nilly way.

To which W shall we bear witness? Try not to become weepy as I wistfully whisper of these wonders:

* Willie White, a former councilman, youth advocate and current neighborhood activist whose name is on a park.

* Winternationals, the largest drag-racing event in the world.

* Wilton Heights, a neighborhood of Craftsman bungalows and stately homes designated as a city historic district.

* Western University of Health Sciences, a school of osteopathic medicine that now occupies much of East Second Street, including the old Buffum’s department store.

Wild!

As is my wont, though, our W is different: Westmont.

That’s the western Pomona neighborhood that exemplified post-World War II optimism. Some 1,200 homes sprung up from 1946 to 1954, along with a shopping center, park, community center, elementary school and church.

With a little imagination, you could picture the superfamily from “The Incredibles” here. Homes along Wright and Denison streets have a similar, if smaller-scale, look to the movie: open floor plans, floor-to-ceiling windows, clean lines and side patios.

And take a gander at Westmont Community Center, Westmont Elementary or Westmont United Methodist Church, all on West Ninth Street. Is that Elastigirl and the kids driving (or flying) by?

Westmont got its start when home builder Edwin A. Tomlin began work on newly annexed land south of today’s Mission Boulevard and bisected by today’s Corona Expressway.

Most of his homes were standard stuff for returning GIs, but then Tomlin got experimental, hiring architect Arthur Lawrence Millier to design 50 affordable modern homes. Another 100 were prefab modern homes by Cliff May and Chris Choate.

May and Choate’s work was described by House and Home magazine as “almost the first low-cost house to offer the kind of California living everybody back East imagines all Californians enjoy.”

Maybe W should be for “whoa.”

Bruce Emerton has become a neighborhood archivist and booster since buying his home in 1995 for $130,000. He painstakingly restored his 1954 May home to its original look.

An art and architecture librarian at Cal Poly Pomona, Emerton drove me around on Wednesday, pointing out nice homes and shaking his head over ill-advised remodeling.

“A lot of them have been stuccoed and bastardized,” Emerton admitted. “A few are in good shape. Even a lot of ones that are messed up could be brought back.”

Speaking of messed up homes, people still talk about the 1982 city-sanctioned dynamite blast to close a dangerous cave in the Westmont Hills behind the neighborhood.

Fifteen homes were blown off their foundation and more than 500 were damaged. Oopsie!

A commemorative T-shirt quoting “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” put it this way: “Think Ya Used Enough Dynamite There, Butch?”

Westmont, though, is best remembered as home to General Dynamics, a missile factory that employed 13,000 at its peak. The plant opened in 1953 as Convair and closed in the early 1990s, the victim of Southern California aerospace cutbacks.

In its heyday, the plant produced missiles with such fun-lovin’ names as Red Eye, Mauler, Terrier and Advanced Terrier. Does Jack Russell know about this?

Unlike General Dynamics, one neighborhood icon remains. Westmont Hardware is a cozy store dating to 1949 that’s hanging on in this era of Home Depot and Lowe’s.

It has just two employees: owners Russell Riedel and Patsy Koenig.

Riedel was hired at the store out of high school in 1967 and has been there ever since, buying it in 1989 from its second owner. He remembers General Dynamics employees crossing Mission Boulevard “like herds of cattle” on lunch breaks, then the bad times later.

Things are more stable now. When the expressway becomes a freeway with a Mission interchange, big changes will come.

“I’ve been hearing about it 30 years,” said Riedel, who’s not exactly holding his breath.

Well, that’s the story of Westmont.

Was I too wordy?

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, three washouts.)

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Poetry corner

Allan Lagumbay of the Pomona Library Special Collections room was paging through a folder labeled “The Poems of P.C. Tonner” — Patrick Tonner being one of Pomona’s pioneer residents, and apparently one of its pioneer poets to boot — and found verse he thought was up my alley.

Tonner isn’t exactly Lewis Carroll but his tragic acccount of eating away from Pomona is fancifully amusing. And to think, this was before Pomona had Donahoo’s. Here’s the poem in full:

I’ve Done A Lot Of Eating

I’ve done a lot of eating,
In two and fifty years;
I’ve eaten Chili peppers,
Until my eyes rained tears;
I’ve eaten potatoes by the score,
Produced from Irish bogs,
And then I’ve yum-yummed with delight,
O’er luscious snails and frogs.

I’ve ate the rancid porpoise,
Atlantic tempest tossed,
When fishing near Newfoundland,
All other food being lost;
But in ten days thereafter,
I touched at Doublin Bay,
And dined from beef from Mullingar,
And drank my pousse cafe.

And so I’ve been accustomed,
To take things as they come,
When lacking Irish Mountain Dew,
I’m satisfied with rum:
And if the chicken’s old and tough,
But fair and cleanly served,
The langour of my appetite,
Can scarcely be observed.

But, Shade of Epicurus!
My hungry jaws rebel,
Against the tasteless cooking,
Of this high priced hotel.
Against the lack of beefsteak,
With platter cold as stone;
The scarcity of bread and tea,
Would make an hermit moan.

I came from close to Baldy’s Peak,
My appetite was fair,
But weary of my mountain home,
I sought the ocean air,
And came to Santa Monica,
To swell a Sunday throng,
But in a careless moment,
Brought my appetite along.

And this is why I sadly write,
Of what befell me there
I never thought the landlords fed
Their transient guests on air,
And so when in my innocence,
Returning from the Beach,
I sat me down to breakfast,
And asked in joyous speech, –

Just for a bowl of mush and cream,
While they would cook my steak;
I found my joy was all a dream,
And I was full awake, –
And then I almost fainted,
My eyes grew blurred and dim,
The mush was tapioca,
The horrid milk was skimmed.

I turned me to the waitermaid,
And thus to her did say,
“Oh, waitermaid, just take that stuff,
And cast it in the bay;
Let it be food for fishes,
Or for the Leopard seal, –
I fear me much from this entre,
I’ll have a sorry meal.”

She looked at me with pity,
And archly turned her head,
But as she reached the kitchen door,
She rubbernecked and said
“Don’t be so awful dainty”,
(It struck me like a screech),
“You ought at least remember,
That you’re camping at the Beach”.

But soon the waitermaid came back,
A trencher in her hand,
Four plates were set upon it,
She placed it on a stand,
That stood hard by convenient,
And she brought them all to me;
I wipe my swimming eyes with grief,
To tell what I did see. –

A grizzled oal potato,
One little plate did hold,
Another had two biscuits on,
That made my blood run cold;
The third one was a beauty,
It held an ancient steak.
I pointed to the fourth and asked –
She answered “Flannel Cake.”

And then I thought of Hamlet
And mused the royal Dane,
Had never had such fearful cause,
To drive him full insane;
The skull of ancient Yorick,
I swear by great St. George,
Could not affect his royal throat,
As this drew up my gorge!!

I looked around for sympathy,
But to my shocked surprise,
I saw but smiling faces,
With laughter lighted eyes,
And when I left the table
And bolted for the door,
The smiles were changed to laughter,
Then broke into a roar;
When I met the guilty landlord,
And shook my fist in hate,
And pointed to my vacant chair,
And to the ancient steak.

But I thought upon the holy day,
And of the name I bore,
But frankly, friends, I must confess,
That inwardly I swore.
I swore by the Great Horn Spoon,
And by the mermaids’ caves,
I swore by Neptune’s trident,
That stills the stormy wave;
That when I left Pomona next,
E’er thitherward I’d roam,
I’d pack my grip, and then I’d leave,
My appetite at home.

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