Meet the Musicians

July 15th, 2019

sunflower center

Mrs. Musician, Irish through and through, her short silvery gray hair adorned with a just-picked pink rose, espies Mr. Musician at the far end of their bountiful garden—a quarter acre of vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit trees, and berry bushes surrounding a deep pond—an urban Eden they share with tortoises, frogs, fish, and a robust population of songbirds and lizards.

A handsome man with brilliant green eyes, his wiry hair mostly gray now, Mr. Musician is on his knees, thinning baby carrots. He and Mrs. Musician have become excellent gardeners since they retired from performing seven years ago—carrots, garlic, potatoes, apples, and raspberries their especial specialties.

“Darling,” calls Mrs. Musician, wishing her husband wouldn’t wear his good black corduroy slacks when he mucks about in the dirt, “there’s someone named Murdoch here to see us. Says we know him. He looks familiar, though not pleasantly so, if you catch my drift.”

“Of course we know him,” says Mr. Musician, his accent vaguely Latvian on this fine sunny morning. “And though we are unanimous in declaring him a wonderful person, we wish he would go away.”

“Shall we tell him we’re unavailable?” she asks, her Irish accent shifting in the direction of Mr. Musician’s vaguely Latvian. “He seems harried though entirely bald.” She giggles. “Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”

“Bald? Murdoch is bald? Gads. The red-haired giant sans locks. Time flies. Or he shaved his head. In any case… Murdoch.”

“Oh that Murdoch,” sys Mrs. Musician, who knew all along who Murdoch was. Is. “Of course. If we imagine red locks on the hairless dome, the Murdoch we used to know comes clear to us now.”

Mr. Musician sighs. He was so enjoying mucking about in the dirt, and now he can only think of Murdoch. “Tell him we’ll be in shortly. We’ll have coffee in the study. He drinks his black. I’ll take a splash of something white in mine.”

“We thought we were off coffee,” she says, frowning at her husband. “Didn’t we agree it makes us jittery and impatient?”

“That was before we had coffee with Murdoch,” says Mr. Musician, rising nimbly. “Thereafter we’re back on.”

“But we haven’t had coffee with Murdoch yet,” says Mrs. Musician, half-annoyed and half-amused by Mr. Musician’s tendency to comingle the present with the future. “And why should we go back on when we were so glad to be off?”

“Dear,” he says, suddenly beside her, though how he traversed twenty yards in a twinkling is beyond her, “we need the bitters.”

She thinks about this. No. She feels about this, and her feelings agree with Mr. Musician. “I’m not sure we have fresh beans. We haven’t had coffee in years.”

“Your prescient son Maxwell brought fresh beans yesterday,” says Mr. Musician, embracing his pleasantly plump wife. “We smell divine. What is that scent?”

“Mint,” she says, blushing attractively. “With a touch of cloves. We washed our hair this morning with mint-with-a-touch-of-cloves shampoo.”

“Poo, indeed,” says Mr. Musician, nibbling on Mrs. Musician’s delectable earlobe. “When we’re done with Murdoch, we’ll to bed. Yes?”

“Rogue,” she says, her voice dropping an octave. “We thought we’d never ask.”

Mr. Musician is a head taller than Mrs. Musician and most people would say he is slender rather than skinny. Size is tricky, though. For instance, Murdoch is a huge fellow, twice as big as Mr. Musician, yet were you to come upon Mr. Musician and Murdoch in Mr. Musician’s study you would feel certain that Mr. Musician was several times larger than Murdoch, which is also true, and that’s what we mean about size being tricky.

The Musicians have been married for thirty-eight years. Mrs. Musician was twenty-nine when they wed and she is soon to be sixty-eight. Mr. Musician is older than his wife, though how much older no one knows, not even Mr. Musician. Age can be as tricky as size. Nine out of nine people would surmise that Mr. and Mrs. Musician are the same age, which they are, though in strictly chronological geologic time they are years apart.

Mr. Musician’s spacious study sports a pale turquoise ceiling suspended fourteen-feet above a dark pecan floor. A gargantuan window looks out on a terra cotta terrazzo overhung by a massive oak tree, the silver-gray trunk of which resembles an abstract sculpture of a life-sized elephant.

Preceded by the scent of mint-with-a-touch-of-cloves shampoo, Mrs. Musician carries a large wooden tray into the study, the tray bearing three enormous white mugs brimming with coffee. She finds Mr. Musician in his black tuxedo, white shirt, burgundy bowtie, and green flip-flops, standing at the gargantuan window gazing out at the massive trunk of the overhanging oak. Is her husband, Mrs. Musician wonders, gazing at the oak or at the puffy white clouds in the cerulean sky? Or has the question posed to him just now by Murdoch thrown him into such a dense thicket of thought that he is seeing nothing?

What an attractive man thinks Mrs. Musician, smiling as she imagines gamboling with Mr. Musician as soon as they dispense with Murdoch. Mrs. Musician is wearing a billowy white blouse, a floor-length black skirt, red sandals, and a rhinestone tiara.

Murdoch, huge and round and bald with a huge round face and a huge round nose and huge brown eyes, is wearing a burgundy turtleneck tucked into baggy brown trousers, his high-top tennis shoes red, his wonderfully round cheeks beaded with sweat. He sits sideways in a wooden throne of an armchair, tapping his right knee with the fingers of his right hand while chewing earnestly on the fingernails of his left hand. He does seem harried, though his face is blank.

“Coffee,” says Mrs. Musician, stating the obvious.

Murdoch takes one of the mugs in his huge round hands and gulps the scalding brew as a man dying of thirst would gulp a cup of cold water. “Delicious,” he says, returning the empty mug to the tray. “May I have another?”

“Please,” says Mrs. Musician, smiling perfunctorily. “I brought two for you and one for Mr. Musician.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” says Murdoch, chuckling as he takes hold of a second brimming mug. “Delicious. Italian? French? Hawaiian? Colombian?”

“The bag was labeled Etruscan Gold,” says Mrs. Musician, frowning in alarm as Murdoch downs the second mug in one prodigious gulp. “A gift from our son.”

“Maurice or Maxwell?” asks Murdoch, eyeing the last loaded mug. “May I?”

“Maxwell,” says Mrs. Musician, nodding acquiescence. “I’ll make another pot.”

“Did you say coffee?” says Mr. Musician, turning away from the window, a bewildered look on his angular face, his accent distinctly Cockney.

“Be just a minute, darling,” says Mrs. Musician, arching a telling eyebrow as Murdoch returns the third empty mug to the once-promising tray. “Demand got the better of supply.”

“Allow me to assist you,” says Mr. Musician, following his wife to the kitchen. “We’ll be right back, Murdoch. View of the oak especially elephantine this morning.”

“Is it?” says Murdoch, moving to the window. “I’d love some coffee. If it’s not too much of a bother.”

“Do you know what he just asked me?” whispers Mr. Musician, catching up to his wife as they cross the threshold into their lovely kitchen—late morning sunlight slanting through seven south-facing windows imparting a poignant ambience to the room of many blues.

“What is the secret of life?” she guesses, filling the grinder with golden brown coffee beans. “Were the three wise men really kings or wandering minstrels?”

“Guess again,” says Mr. Musician, popping one of the golden beans into his mouth and chewing thoughtfully.

“Why are the rich so greedy?” She spoons the grind into the steel filter and ignites a flame beneath the rotund little boiler, their coffee-making machine an ancient Italian contraption designed for making espresso over an open fire. “Is there life after death, the soul imperishable?”

“You’re getting warmer,” says Mr. Musician, popping a few more beans into his mouth. “Hints of chocolate.”

Mrs. Musician sighs, for she knows very well what Murdoch asked of them—Murdoch’s coming foretold in a vivid dream. “Can anyone be truly free if another is enslaved?”

Mr. Musician nods. “And?”

“Will we return to the fray?” says Mrs. Musician, kissing her husband’s cheek.

“That is the question,” says Mr. Musician, nodding solemnly. “Exactement.”

sunflower tendrils

Election

July 8th, 2019

election

The evidence against them was overwhelming.

We explained their crimes in simple terms.

Our facts were unassailable. We exposed

their villainy to the bright light of day

on hundreds of community radio stations

and dozens of progressive web sites.

We proposed innovative programs to

restore the environment, reverse global warming,

create millions and millions of new and meaningful jobs,

provide free education and healthcare for all,

and bring about a cultural renaissance.

 

They countered with a mesmerizing music video

featuring a catchy song about freedom and hope

and the dawning of a new tomorrow.

The song was performed by a gorgeous woman

wearing a diaphanous red, white, and blue gown

clinging to the curves of her exquisite body

as she and a rainbow coalition of beautiful young women

danced to the irresistible rhythm of the song,

their eyes sparkling with tears.

This music video was shown

to everyone everywhere

through every form of media

seventy-seven billion times.

 

The vote was not close.

cloud song

July 1st, 2019

view from the deck

 

who made that blue

so deeply blue?

 

who made those clouds go sailing by?

who wrote that music in the sky?

 

maybe she who made the blue

knew our eyes could hear her too

 

 

Coney Island Dream

June 24th, 2019

Coney Island

dear Todd,

I had a very pleasant dream this morning. You’d written a short play in which a bunch of guys crammed into a cab and were driven to Coney Island (from someplace else in the 5 boroughs). Lots of talking between the guys. I’d agreed to play a small role (I was a teenager), but when I read the play I couldn’t really hear it. “Do people really talk like that?” I wondered.

But when I arrived at rehearsal, all these wonderful character actors had been cast, guys of various ages, and when they said their lines, wow, it was completely convincing and funny and smart (philosophy of the Regular Joe). I was the only inexperienced one. I hoped I’d remember my lines, but I had so few and everyone was really nice and reassuring. After the read through, we were all trying on vintage summer costumes, loud shorts and patterned shirts and caps. What a crew! I knew you were going to be really pleased with how it turned out.

Then there was a sort of espionage area, and finally I ended up looking at black & white photocopies of photos that my young pal Tyler had taken. He spread them out on the floor, and I was giving my 2-cents, thinking the photos were brilliant. I was young, and it was in the past, but not MY past. I could be young without any of the unease of youth, and I was in a past that seemed so mild because inside myself I knew about the future: I knew some bad things then would get better, and I knew that many naive hopes people had would be flattened, but this made me not so naive, which was actually restful. This past didn’t feel like an old song that can suck me back into the puddle of my old self. I woke up happy to be in the present again, but almost as if I get to have a slightly different past than the one I had yesterday!

love,

Max

dear max,

I love this Coney Island dream of yours and how you felt when you woke up. And I’m pleased to know I wrote a delightful play on the astral plane. I use the expression astral plane in reference to dreamland because some years ago…

As you know, I used to live in Sacramento. Seems like several lifetimes ago, but I have it on good authority I lived there for fifteen years during this lifetime. When I lived in Sacramento, in the days before digital photography, I took my rolls of black and white film to a photo lab and they would produce negatives and proof sheets from which I would choose photos to print.

One of the people who worked at the front desk in the photo lab was a woman named Harriet. She was single and very appealing to me, and had I not been married, I would have pursued her. My wife and I eventually divorced and I moved from Sacramento to Berkeley. A few years after moving to Berkeley, I went to Sacramento to visit old friends, and on the spur of the moment I stopped by the photo lab to say hi to Harriet.

She seemed genuinely happy to see me, and when I told her I missed her, she replied, “I would say I missed you, too, except I see you almost every night on the astral plane.”

“Really?” I said, pleasantly surprised. “And… um… what’s going on there?”

She frowned and said, “You don’t dream about me?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” I said, sorry to disappoint her, “but whenever I go to the photo lab in Berkeley, I think of you.”

“That’s sweet,” she said, forcing a smile. “Gotta run. Thanks for coming by.”

I wonder if my telling her I didn’t dream about her had the effect of ending our astral relationship, or if our relationship on that plane was strong enough to withstand any disappointment she might have felt about my not dreaming of her.

While living in Berkeley, I chanced to hear a radio show featuring a woman who was a well-known interpreter of dreams. People were calling into the show to tell her their dreams; and after listening to the dreams, she would ask the callers clarifying questions, the callers would do their best to answer her questions, and then she would give her interpretations. I was fascinated by her takes on dreams, which were often quite different than mine.

The last caller was a woman who said, “I’ve never remembered a dream, not even a tiny fragment, and listening to your interpretations, I feel like I’m missing out on something really important.”

To which the dream interpreter said, “I’m sure in the course of your life you have interesting experiences, and you witness things that might happen in a dream, and you can interpret those experiences as you would dreams. For instance, we could interpret the dream of you listening to a radio show about dreams and deciding to call the show. Your call is selected out of the hundreds of people calling in, and the dream interpreter suggests you interpret your experience of calling and getting through to her as a dream.”

“Okay,” said the caller, her voice trembling. “What do you think this dream means?”

“I think it means you have a strong desire to understand your inner thoughts and feelings, and by taking action to address that desire, doors of understanding will open to you.”

Speaking of dreams, my new CD of songs is entitled Dream of You. Here are the lyrics to the title song, which you can listen to on Youtube, download or stream from iTunes, or you can buy the entire album of nine songs from me for five dollars.

Dream of You

Woke this morning from a dream of you

And I wondered if you might be dreaming of me, too.

We were on that beach so very long ago

Holding hands, singing songs and walking slow,

only this time you say yes instead of no.

 

So we get married, get an apartment,

You write songs and I write movies.

We play our guitars in cool cafés

And live the life of urban groovies.

One of your songs gets covered by a star,

I sell my script about a car that can think and feel and understand.

We make lots of money and start a rock n’ roll band.

 

You have an affair, I have two,

And for a dicey year or so it looks like we’re through.

But then we fall in love again while touring in Spain,

get into therapy, heal lifetimes of pain,

and when we finally make it through

we start all over again.

 

We move to a little town by the sea,

Have two great kids, Susie Q and Lee,

And you write songs, and I write movies.

That’s when I woke up and you were not there

Because you didn’t say yes, you said,

“No my friend, I would not dare.

No my friend I would not dare.”

 

But sometimes I wonder how things might have gone

if you’d said yes instead of no and we had carried on

holding hands and walking slow,

and when I take you in my arms you say yes,

when I take you in my arms you say yes.

 

Guitar Case

June 17th, 2019

distance

When and Where: This morning in Mona’s, the one and only bakery/café in Carmeline Creek, a small town on the far north coast of California

What: I, Paul Windsor, fiftyish, bespectacled, shared my table with Eric Miller, a guy in his late sixties. Eric moved to Carmeline Creek from Oakland fifteen years ago. He’s a carpenter now, his specialty fences and gates, but for most of his twenty-five years in Oakland, he was a studio musician (guitar and congas) and a member of the folk rock quartet Suspenseful Animation. I recorded our conversation at the request of my son Conor (17) and my daughter Alexandra (14) who are making a movie based on Eric’s story about his guitar case and want audio of Eric telling the story to use in their movie.

Eric is five-foot-eight, stocky, with long black hair gone mostly gray. He wears T-shirts with slogans writ on the front, and today he is wearing a black T-shirt with white letters that proclaim I Saw You From A Great Distance.

Me: So… I’ve been assigned the pleasurable task of prompting you to tell your story about the guitar case one more time. You up for that?

Eric: Sure.

Me:  How old were you when this happened?

Eric: Twenty-three. 1972.

Me: Where were you?

Eric: Los Angeles. I was living in Santa Cruz at the time, but I’d gone to LA to shop some songs. Things were so different then, nobody under forty today, fifty maybe, can conceive of how different the music business was then. Our whole culture really. This was long before home computers and smart phones and the internet. The first copy shops had just opened, a decade before CDs started replacing LPs.

Me: So how would you go about shopping songs in those days? And who did you shop them to?

Eric: If you could afford it, you went into a studio, made a good recording, you know, on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and then you had cassette copies made of your recording to share with whoever, and if you could actually get your songs to somebody in the biz, you sent them a reel-to-reel version to play on their snazzy machines. If you couldn’t afford a studio recording, you did the best you could with whatever recorder you could afford. I had a couple good microphones and made recordings on a pretty good cassette recorder in my living room.

Me: What kind of music?

Eric: Folk rock. I grew up in the Bay Area and was smitten with Jefferson Airplane before Grace Slick, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Youngbloods, Dino Valenti, Buffalo Springfield.

Me: Okay, so you’re in LA. Set the scene.

Eric: So I was staying with my sister in West LA, which in those days was solid middle class. Houses and apartment buildings, nothing over three stories. I had a friend who was a singer with some recording connections and we met at UCLA in a practice room with a piano. I walked there with my guitar, a couple miles, sang a few songs for my friend, hung out in a café in Westwood for an hour or so, and then headed back to my sister’s apartment.

Me: What time of year?

Eric: Early summer. So smoggy your eyes burned. And the thing about LA in those days—I don’t know about now—but back then nobody walked anywhere, so I was an anomaly and I was keenly aware of this because people would frown at me as they drove by or roll down their windows and shout, “Get a job!”

Me: Why would they say that?

Eric: This is a little before your time, Paul, but in those days most people thought hippies were dope-smoking draft dodgers who didn’t want to work. So I guess with my long hair and guitar and tie-dyed T-shirt they thought I was a derelict hippy who couldn’t afford a car. And remember, this was before there were homeless people in LA, before Reagan closed all the mental hospitals and cut rich people’s taxes so there was less money for social services. And then he did the same thing to the rest of America, and so it continues today. But back then only poor people in LA walked anywhere, and most poor people in those days were African Americans or Mexicans. So a white guy with a ponytail walking through a middle-class neighborhood in LA was an odd thing. I know that sounds unbelievable, but that’s how it was.

Me: So you were walking back to your sister’s.

Eric: Right, and I’m on a sidewalk in an upscale neighborhood of newish apartment buildings and houses, just walking along schlepping my guitar, when up ahead of me, maybe two blocks away, I see this police car approaching. Then they turn on their flashing red light and their siren starts wailing, and I assume they’ll zoom past me in pursuit of somebody, but right before they get to me, they turn sharply, jump the curb, block the sidewalk, and two big cops jump out of the car, point their guns at me and shout, “Hands up!”

Me: Oh my God.

Eric: I was so fucking scared I thought they were gonna shoot me for sure. So I set my guitar case down and put up my hands, and one of the cops grabs me and slams me down on the hood of their car, twists my arm behind my back, and holds me down until his partner joins him and they handcuff my hands behind my back.

Me: Did they read you your rights?

Eric: No. And while one cop holds me down, the other cop gets my guitar case, brings it over to the car, sets it on the hood in front of me and asks, “What’s in the guitar case?” And the question seems so ridiculous, I laugh, and the cop holding me down, lifts me up a few inches and slams me down again and shouts, “What’s in the guitar case?” And I say, “A guitar!”

And then the other cop asks, “Can we open it?”

Why he bothered to ask my permission, I don’t know, but I say, “Yeah. Just don’t shoot me.”

This is when they realize they haven’t read me my rights, so the cop holding me down does that as fast as he can say the words, and then the other cop opens the guitar case, and there’s my guitar.

And the cop holding me down says, “Shit.” And the other cop says, “He’s not the guy.” And the cop holding me down says, “He’s gotta be. He fits the M-O exactly. This is the neighborhood he’s been hitting. It’s gotta be him.”

So then they put me in the backseat of the patrol car and head for the police station, and they get into an argument about whether I’m the guy or not, and I get up the nerve to say, “Listen I don’t know who you think I am, but I haven’t done anything wrong and my uncle is a lawyer here in Los Angeles, and when we get to the police station I will call him and tell him everything that just happened, which I don’t think is quite legal, the way you handled things, and…”

The cop riding shotgun turns around and looks at me and says, “Where were you last Saturday night?”

“Santa Cruz. Where I live. Witnesses galore.”

“Shit,” says the cop driving. “He’s not the guy.”

“Why were you walking?” asks the cop who isn’t driving.

“I like to walk.”

“Who is your uncle?” asks the cop driving.

“Howard Miller.”

“Shit,” says the other cop.

Then they pull over to the curb and the cop not driving says, “Look… we thought you were the guy who’s been robbing apartments in the area and getting away with stuff in a guitar case. But maybe we were wrong.”

Then he gets out, opens the back door, helps me out, takes off the cuffs, opens the trunk, hands me my guitar case and says, “Take it easy.”

Then he gets back in the car and they drive away.

Me: Couldn’t they have at least given you a ride home?

Eric: You would think so, but in those days… I was a hippy and they were hoping I’d just blow it off, which I did, though I was freaked out for a long time. Had nightmares for months afterwards. Always that same scenario. Being hurt by big men for no reason.

Me: If you’d resisted or run they might have killed you.

Eric: I’m sure they would have. They were young and inexperienced and God knows what else. As it was, I had a fractured rib and terrible neck pain for a long time after that.

Me: Did you tell your uncle what happened?

Eric: I did, and he said, “Whatever you do, don’t mess with the LA police department.” And then he said, “And the next time you come to LA, take cabs or rent a car, but never ever walk anywhere.”

Me: That’s insane.

Eric: That’s the way it was before jogging and walking were declared good for you. That’s how it was in LA in 1972 for a guy with long hair schlepping a guitar case.

Me: I wonder how Conor and Alexandra will capture the moment when the police car jumps the curb in front of you.

Eric: I think they’re gonna use a toy police car and stop-frame animation. Can’t wait to see it.

fin

Orange Juice and Beads

June 10th, 2019

sunflower

Where in the world: Carmeline Creek, a town on the far north coast of California, population not quite a thousand

Where in Carmeline Creek: Mona’s, the one and only bakery/café in town

When: Yesterday

What: I (Paul Windsor, middle-aged conversationalist) had a fascinating conversation with my friend Olaf Wickersham, recorded at the behest of my daughter Alexandra who is making movies with soundtracks composed of bits of conversations accompanied by accordion and guitar.

Olaf is sixty-seven, tall and fit, with a shaved head and sparkling brown eyes. He usually wears black clothing and bead necklaces, sometimes one necklace, sometimes several, the beads thereon for sale.

Me: Where have you been since I saw you selling your delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice on Main Street in August?

Olaf: I left Carmeline Creek on August 31, got a ride to Oakland and took the train to Los Angeles where I spent a few days in Santa Monica with friends. Then I took the train to Chicago where I visited my sister for a week, and from there I took a boat to Canada and trained to Halifax where I spent a week trading beads and visiting friends. From Halifax I sailed to Ireland on the S.S. Merveilleux.

Me: A freighter?

Olaf: Yes, a large freighter carrying lumber. I used to work on freighters to get to Europe and back, but I stopped needing to pay for my passage that way about ten years ago. Now I go as a passenger. September is usually a good month to cross the Atlantic by boat, though I have had some harrowing trips. One never knows about the ocean.

Me: How long does the crossing take?

Olaf: Two weeks, give or take.

Me: And what do you do to while away the hours?

Olaf: Read, write letters, play guitar, carve beads, walk, exercise, and I commune with my bead collection so I know what I’ve got to trade and how much I’m likely to ask for each bead.

Me: How many beads do you carry with you?

Olaf: Varies. This last time I set sail for Europe with about a thousand beads. Arizona turquoise, amethyst, tourmaline, bone.

Me: So you were in Ireland by mid-October?

Olaf: Yeah. I have a dear friend, Irene, with a small farm outside of Arklow. I stayed with her until Christmas. I’d take the train into Dublin now and then to trade beads and go to plays and hear live music, but I mostly stayed on the farm and helped Irene. Then I took the ferry to England, got a train to France, spent a week in Paris with friends, trained to Barcelona where I visited my nephew who married into a big family there, and in February I went to Morocco and spent a week in Marrakesh and a week in Fes buying and selling and trading beads. Then I went from Morocco to Mallorca for a week, and from Mallorca I went back to Barcelona to court a woman I’d fallen in love with. She was not amenable to coming with me or having me stay with her, so I soothed my aching heart by meandering along the Mediterranean to Italy and Greece, trading beads and visiting friends along the way. Then I went to Zurich where I sold several extraordinary beads to a wealthy collector, and finished my European journey in Amsterdam from where I flew non-stop to Los Angeles. And by the middle of May… well, here I am.

Me: And that is roughly what you do every year.

Olaf: That is roughly what I’ve done every year for thirty-five years, but I’m changing my pattern this year and staying in Carmeline Creek for at least a year without going anywhere.

Me: Why the change?

Olaf: I’m ready to try a different living pattern and I’d like to live on my little acre all the days of a year to really get to know the place and see how I feel about that. I’m tired of being a vagabond, though my vagabond life has gotten more comfortable with every passing year. I suspect my inability to create a satisfying long-term relationship is connected to my unwillingness to stay in one place for long, and I would really like to be in a good long-term relationship.

Me: Will you still sell fresh-squeezed orange juice on Main Street from May to September?

Olaf: No. I gave my cart to Ruben (Olaf’s longtime employee). He and Tania have done most of the hard work these last few years, while I became more the jovial barker. Fear not, there will still be fresh-squeezed orange juice available on Main Street.

Me: How did you get started in the orange juice business?

Olaf: I was living in Los Angeles trying to make it as an actor and a musician. I shared a garage with another guy behind a cruddy house in Echo Park before that area got gentrified. I had lots of part-time gigs and sold joints to tourists in Santa Monica when marijuana was still highly illegal. Just scraping by, smoking too much dope, and occasionally auditioning for a part in a low-budget movie. Then one hot summer day, I was working on a catering crew at the mansion of a big Hollywood producer, lots of movie stars and celebrities on display, and the wife of the producer, a gorgeous Mexican fashion model, had hired a couple Mexican guys to bring their cart to her mansion and make juice for the guests. They’d been selling fresh-squeezed orange juice on the boardwalk at Venice Beach for decades. They set up right next to the barbecue, and when I saw their colorful wooden cart and how fast they cut the oranges and pressed the juice out and filled those half-pint glasses—and how happy they were—I said to myself, “I’m gonna do that.”

Me: In LA?

Olaf: No, I had to get out of LA. I was dying there.

Me: How old were you?

Olaf: Twenty-seven.

Me: So where did you go?

Olaf: Well… my younger sister, the one who now lives in Chicago, was going to college in Berkeley and lived in a commune in Oakland. So I went there, camped in her backyard, built my first cart, and started selling orange juice in Oakland. And I did really well for a couple months until I got busted for selling without a permit. Long story short, I worked farmers markets and art fairs all over the Bay Area for three years, which meant I had to have a big pickup truck to haul my cart, and what with gas and parking and insurance and rent, I hardly broke even. So I gave up for a while, went roaming around for a year or so and discovered Carmeline Creek. A few months later, I moved here, rented a shed from Dominic Andrini a block from where I set up on Main Street, sold my truck, and settled into my routine.

Me: You didn’t need your truck for hauling the oranges?

Olaf: No, I ordered my oranges through Andrini’s and they delivered right to my cart.

Me: Why Carmeline Creek?

Olaf: Why did you choose Carmeline Creek?

Me: I stumbled on the place, bought an old house for next to nothing, and here I am.

Olaf: There you go.

Me: And you made a living selling orange juice?

Olaf: On a good day I cleared three hundred dollars. Sunny summers I made enough to live and travel for a year and then some.

Me: And the beads? When did you become a bead trader?

Olaf: Ah, the beads. The short version is that when I was in my early twenties living in Santa Cruz, I had a girlfriend, Mira, the great love of my life. She made jewelry and bead necklaces and was always looking for new sources of beads. I would accompany her on her expeditions, fell in love with the bead trade, and decided to go into the business in my own idiosyncratic way. Then Mira dumped me for a man with piles of money and a mansion in Malibu, and I followed her to southern California and embarked on my struggling-actor-and-musician phase. My goal, or I should say my fantasy, was to become a huge star and win my girlfriend away from the rich guy. But that didn’t happen, and when I left LA, I got into beads again.

Me: Will you continue to trade beads while you’re living here year-round?

Olaf: Oh, yeah. People will seek me out and I’ll communicate by phone and letters with people in the trade I’ve gotten to know over the years. However, I’m rich now, so there’s no great imperative to make money. I’ll do it because I love trading beads.

Me: May I ask how you came to be rich when you were not so rich a year ago?

Olaf: I can give you the gist, but not the deep specifics.

Me: Gist is fine.

Olaf: Well… as I’m sure you can imagine, being the imaginative person you are, there are legendary beads, just as there are legendary diamonds and legendary paintings and legendary guitars worth millions of dollars. By chance I came to possess a legendary strand of beads, and after three years of extremely careful and secretive negotiations, I was able to sell that strand for what to me is a vast fortune, which is now stowed in the Carmeline Creek Credit Union earning interest more than sufficient for my simple needs.

Me: Why did it take three years of extremely careful and secretive negotiations? Why not sell the beads right away?

Olaf: Because had it been known to anyone but the very few people I negotiated with that I possessed those particular beads, I would have been dead within a week.

Me: Jesus, Olaf. Really?

Olaf: Really and truly.

Me: But why?

Olaf: (thinks for a moment) Imagine if word got around that you had a strand of beads in your house or on your person or hidden somewhere, and those beads were worth several million dollars. Would you feel safe?

Me: No, I’d put them in a safety deposit box and sell them as quick as I could.

Olaf: And how would you go about selling them?

Me: Well, I don’t know. Go to a bead trader? Put an ad in Beads Quarterly?

Olaf: Not a good idea.

Me: Why not?

Olaf: Because if more than a few trustworthy people knew you had those beads, a surprising number of powerful, resourceful, and highly unscrupulous people would try to find you and force you, in one way or another, to relinquish those beads or they would kill you.

Me: My god, Olaf, how much were they worth?

Olaf: Impossible to say. Priceless? Worthless? Only worth something because people value them? Certainly rarer than the rarest diamond.

Me: So how did you sell them?

Olaf: It was very tricky. Much trickier than selling a famous painting or a rare guitar, because the thing about beads is they aren’t Picassos or Modiglianis or Gibsons or famous diamonds once owned by the Czar. They are beads, their identities and values known to only a small number of people in the world, many of whom are not what you and I would call honorable or law-abiding.

Me: And why were these particular beads so valuable? Were they diamond-encrusted blobs of gold?

Olaf: No.

Me: Worry beads passed down from Socrates?

Olaf: (frowns curiously) What an interesting guess. And not so far off. But… no.

Me: How many beads are we talking about?

Olaf: That I can’t tell you.

Me: Why not?

Olaf: The number is indicative.

Me: But you’re safe now, so…

Olaf: Ah but the person who bought them from me will never be safe so long as he or she possesses those beads privately rather than give them to a grand art museum or the national gallery of a large and powerful nation.

Me: Oh, so they’re works of art?

Olaf: Yes, and that’s all I’ll say. But if I ever learn that those beads are in the possession of some powerful and well-known institution, I will tell you the story of how I came to possess them and how I was finally able to arrange the sale without losing my life.

Me: Okay. And congratulations. What’s on your docket for the week ahead?

Olaf: Gardening, guitar, walks on the beach, carving, and with any luck entertaining a woman friend I hope will come up from Berkeley and spend some time with me.

Me: By the way, Alexandra has started a movie company. Perhaps you would like to do some acting in one or more of our upcoming films.

Olaf: I would love to. I always wanted to be an actor, you know.

      fin

Dream of You

June 3rd, 2019

th_dreamofyoucover-122

Hello dear readers, I’m pleased to announce the birth of my new album Dream of You, featuring nine of my original songs for guitar, piano, and voice. One of these tunes was written forty-eight years ago, and two were written in the last year. The primary guitar tracks and vocals were recorded simultaneously to give the songs a live feeling, with Marcia’s gorgeous cello and Gwyneth Moreland’s splendid vocal harmonies adding magic to the mix.

You can buy copies of Dream of You from my web site for 5 dollars each, plus a flat rate shipping fee of 6 dollars no matter how much stuff you buy from my web site, or you can download the whole album for 6 dollars from CD Baby, or download individual songs from CD Baby for just 69 cents per song. Such a deal!

The album is also available for downloading and streaming from iTunes and Amazon and Spotify and Apple Music. Or you can listen to the songs on YouTube. If you do take a listen and enjoy what you hear, I hope you’ll share this article and links with your music-loving friends.

I’m now at work on a new batch of songs inspired by the satisfying creative experience of working with Marcia and Gwyneth and Peter Temple in his Albion studio.

Here are some brief notes about the songs on Dream of You.

Wake Up Thinking About You

Written thirty years ago as a slow smoky blues, I never got around to recording this tune until now. When I was learning the song again for this album, I sped up the tempo, added some swing, some piano, some Gwyneth harmony, and I love the joyous feel.

Strange Confusion

This song is twenty years old. I’ve long imagined harmony parts and was thrilled when we got them all in place. I sang two additional vocal tracks, Gwyneth sang two, too, and I love how groovy the song feels now.

Dream of You

This is the newest tune on the album, composed a few months before we recorded the initial guitar and vocal track. After a ten-year break from playing the guitar to focus on my piano playing, this recounting of a lucid dream was the first new song to come to me as I was regaining my guitar chops.

Alone and Lonely

I wrote this song almost fifty years ago. A vagabond in those days, I spent hundreds of hours standing by the sides of roads hitchhiking. This tune was born in those long hours of playing guitar while waiting for a ride and hoping for happier times.

Nothing Anybody Says

This is my newest piano tune, written within the last year. I imagined singing this love song with a fine female vocalist, and Gwyneth surpassed my imaginings.

Whole Lotta Kissing

I wrote this tune in Berkeley, circa 2000, following a painful dismissal by a woman who clearly (erroneously) thought she was too good for the likes of me.

Hey Baby

I was broke and lonely and pining for an old love when I wrote this song in Seattle in 1977. I imagined Bonnie Raitt singing this song, and over the ensuing twenty years I tried to get it to her without success. This song also forms the basis for my novel Night Train.

Agnes June

I wrote the words for this song in 1970 in New York City. A young German composer asked me to write lyrics for operatic lieder, and this was my favorite of the several poems I created for him, none of which he used. I found the lyrics in my guitar case some years later and put them to music. Gwyneth’s beautiful harmonies thrill me every time I listen to this song.

One Last Time

I wrote this song in Sacramento in 1989 and first performed it in an art gallery as part of a two-man show with the fine poet and artist D.R. Wagner. A song of resurrection and the healing power of love.

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The Movie Biz

May 27th, 2019

firewood wall

My fourteen-year-old daughter Alexandra has launched a movie company, Windsor Montoya Productions, and I have agreed to work for her as an idea person, writer, actor, and caterer’s assistant. Elisha, Alexandra’s mother, has also joined the company as an idea person, actor, continuity maven, and caterer. Conor, Alexandra’s older brother, will be an idea person, writer, actor, art director, cinematographer, sound tech, and editor. Sylvia Espinosa, Alexandra’s best friend, who is fifteen, will be an idea person, actor, writer, and co-director of the movies. Alexandra will be the producer, co-director, and head of operations.

I thought interviewing Delia Krantz, who is ninety-six with lots of show biz experience, would be a fun way to help launch the new movie company. To that end, Alexandra and Conor and Sylvia and I meet with Delia at Mona’s—the one and only bakery/café in Carmeline Creek. Elisha is working the counter during the interview and is able to hear most of what Delia says. Conor is also recording the interview with a brand new super duper Balzini microphone plugged into his laptop so we can access the interview in the future.

Delia was born in Chicago in the 1920s and worked as the personal assistant to seven different movie producers in Hollywood in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s before moving to Carmeline Creek twenty-eight years ago. She lives in a cottage a block from the beach at the north end of town with her dachshunds Greta and Harpo.

Alexandra: Did you know Marilyn Monroe?

Delia: I did not know her, but I met her a few times when I was working for Mel Katz. Mel wanted Marilyn for the femme fatale in a cowboy remake of The Three Musketeers. If she’d said Yes the movie would have gotten made, but because the original part for Marilyn wasn’t big enough for her, Mel had his writers expand her role, and when they did, the script fell apart.

Alexandra: What’s a femme fatale?

Delia: A dangerously attractive woman.

Sylvia: What did you do for your job when you were assisting those movie producers?

Delia: I made all their appointments, attended most of their meetings, took notes during the meetings, typed up the notes, called people and gave them good news and bad news and no news. Things like that. I was on the phone constantly, juggling appointments and dealing with a thousand details. As Jerome Purcell said, I was his adjunct brain. I took dictation, wrote letters, made lunch and dinner reservations, arranged for transportation, and a million other things.

Conor: Who was Jerome Purcell?

Delia: He was one of the biggest movie producers in the world in the early seventies. He made Totally Goofing Around, Crazy Insane Killers, and You Gotta Be Kidding, to name a few.

Alexandra: I’ve never heard of those movies. Should we watch them to get ideas?

Delia: No. Watch Frank Capra movies. Watch Kate Hepburn. Watch Neil Simon. Watch Truffaut and Alec Guinness and Jimmy Stewart and the Marx Brothers.

Sylvia: Do you ever watch YouTube videos?

Delia: Sometimes. People send me links to videos of dogs and cats, but why would I watch videos of dogs when I have dogs? I mostly watch detective shows and old movies and British game shows. I’m addicted to Would I Lie To You, and truth be told, I’m still in love with Humphrey Bogart.

Alexandra: We watched The Maltese Falcon a few weeks ago.

Delia: Did you like it?

Alexandra: Kind of, but I didn’t really understand what was happening and it was kind of scary, though it wasn’t violent or anything, just creepy, especially that one guy.

Delia: Peter Lorre. It’s a confusing story. Verges on Kafka by today’s standards. You’d like the movies Bogie made with Lauren Bacall. Talk about chemistry.

Alexandra: Would you like to hear the idea for our first movie?

Delia: Love to. And by the way, Alexandra, I think it’s marvelous you’re getting into the movie business. You remind me so much of Mary Martin.

Conor: Who was she?

Delia: Who was Mary Martin? She was Peter Pan on television. In the 50s. Live. Every year. With Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook. Rogers and Hammerstein wrote The Sound of Music for her. She was the original Maria. A genius.

Alexandra: And I remind you of her?

Delia: In so many ways. Now tell me about your movie.

Alexandra: Okay. So… it’s about a man who goes on a walk, and he’s just walking along. Maybe he has a little dog on a leash. We’re not sure about the dog yet. Anyway, he keeps going by weird things and the things keep getting weirder and weirder, only he doesn’t seem to notice them. He’s just going along and maybe whistling.

Delia: Like what kind of weird things?

Alexandra: Well… we haven’t thought of them all yet, but the first thing will be a person holding a little balloon and hovering a few feet off the ground.

Sylvia: The second thing will be a cat sitting at the bottom of a tree and there will be dog up in the tree. You know, like a reversal of the usual dog on the ground, cat in the tree scenario.

Delia: And the man doesn’t notice these things?

Alexandra: No, he’s just walking along whistling.

Delia: Speaking of Kafka.

Alexandra: Who was Kafka?

Delia: He wrote a story about a man who turns into a cockroach. Dark depressing unsolvable emotional conundrums.

Alexandra: Oh. Well our movie won’t be dark and depressing. It will be funny because the man never notices these strange things no matter how weird they are.

Delia: Why do we care about this man?

Alexandra: What do you mean?

Delia: As Boris Zverev used to say, if we don’t care about the main characters, why should anybody care about the movie? And so he always tried to give us reasons to care about a person? To like them.

Conor: To identify with them.

Delia: (touches her nose) Exactly.

Conor: So maybe if we saw this man for a minute or two before he goes on his walk, and he talks to his cat or sings along to the radio while he makes breakfast or…

Delia: Yes. Humanize him, as Boris used to say.

Sylvia: Who was Boris?

Delia: Boris Zverev was the go-to script doctor in the 1960s. He saved a hundred movies from certain failure.

Alexandra: Do you have any other advice to help us with our movies?

Delia: You need a good story, to quote Frank Capra.

Conor: What makes a story good?

Delia: As Bernard Fuchs used to say… Bernard was a brilliant writer way back when… a good story involves interesting people trying to overcome an external challenge or challenges that also represent inner dilemmas. The only way the character or characters can successfully solve the mystery or win the battle or transcend the challenge is to go through some sort of internal transformation that can then be expressed on the outside. People love stories of transformation.

Alexandra: So once you have a good story, then what?

Delia: Then you have to write a good script, which means you have to have interesting, believable characters saying and doing interesting and endearing things, overcoming difficulties, falling in love, and keeping the audience wondering what’s going to happen next, all the way to the surprising and satisfying ending.

Alexandra: Do people always have to fall in love for a script to be good?’

Delia: In one way or another. The falling in love doesn’t have to be romantic, but who doesn’t like a good romance? It all goes back to creating a story and characters the audience can identify with, so we root for them to succeed. They, in a sense, are versions of us.

Conor: I think movies have changed since you were in the business. Not that what you’re telling us isn’t helpful, but movies now are more about imagery and sound and action. The story isn’t so important anymore.

Delia: (shrugs) If that’s what you like, but people will always love a good story. That will never change. It’s in our genes to love stories. (muses) May I give you a little history lesson about movies?

Conor: Yes. Please.

Alexandra: (excited) You know what we could do? We could make a movie about Delia teaching us how to make movies.

Sylvia: Yeah, and we would try to do what she tells us and fail hilariously.

Conor: A tragic comedy.

Delia: Who would play me? Don’t tell me. Me?

Alexandra: Of course! Who else?

Conor: So… the history lesson.

Delia: Okay, so in the beginning there was no sound in movies. Everything had to be conveyed with the setting and very obvious situations in which characters, archetypal characters, acted with their bodies and their faces and the occasional dialogue card. So just from looking at them you knew who was the villain, who was the victim, who was nice, who was bad. Their actions and facial expressions told the story. Then in the 1930s when sound arrived and actors could talk, most of the first screenwriters were recruited from among playwrights, people writing for the stage. And so most of the first movies were, by and large, plays or vaudeville acts turned into movies. Hence the term screenplay. A play for the screen. Now the thing about a play is, you’re limited to action taking place on a stage with one or two sets. That’s it. So those writers were very good at writing interesting dialogue because that’s what made for a good play. Movies don’t depend so much on dialogue, but dialogue is still extremely important. As is good acting. But there is a fundamental truth about plays and movies that has never changed. Which is… we learn the most about the people in the movie or the play by what they do, not by what they say. If a person walks by a person floating in the air and doesn’t notice them, we learn that the person walking by is not very observant and this influences how we think about him. In other words, actions speak louder than words. So I would say when you write your scripts, be aware of the non-verbal messages being conveyed by what people do.

Conor: Maybe the guy doesn’t notice anything because he’s lost in his own thoughts and he’s trained himself not to notice things because everything in his world is so weird.

Alexandra: Or maybe he does notice the person floating and the dog and cat reversal, but he doesn’t think it’s weird because everything in his reality is weird.

Delia: What happens at the end?

Conor: He goes by one last weird thing and we fade out.

Delia: No transformation?

Conor: We don’t know.

Delia: I don’t see the point.

Alexandra: It’s about how weirdness is normal now. What used to seem crazy is just how things are now and the man just accepts it.

Delia: Oh. So there’s no story. It’s what we used to call an experimental film. You’re trying out ideas to learn how to use the medium.

Conor: No, there’s a story. It’s about how life is now. People being oblivious to how weird everything is.

Delia: I guess that’s kind of a story. In an abstract way. Speaking of Kafka.

Alexandra: You’ve given us a lot to think about, Delia. Thank you so much.

Delia: You’re welcome, sweetheart. I’m very happy you asked me. I enjoyed remembering some of the people I knew so long ago, hearing their voices again.

fin

The Tuner

May 20th, 2019

the tuner

My daughter Alexandra, who is fourteen, recently announced she is launching a movie company, Windsor Montoya Productions, and would like me to work for her. She has already hired her mother Elisha, her brother Conor, and Sylvia Espinosa, her best friend. Pay will be deferred until our movies become popular on YouTube and someone gives us the money to make a big-budget movie. I do not question her visions of the future, but before I make my decision about joining the movie company, I have asked her to clarify what she imagines my role in her movie-making process will be, and she is currently composing my job description.

In the meantime, I continue to arrive at Mona’s—the one and only bakery/café in Carmeline Creek—every day circa 10 AM, greet my wife Elisha (she who works at the counter) with a suggestive wink, claim my customary window table, go to the counter and flirt with Elisha, return to my table with muffin and tea, write, socialize, and depart Mona’s for home and walking the dogs circa 1 PM.

Today in Mona’s, while awaiting Alexandra’s elucidation of her vision of my niche in her movie company, I am joined by my good friend Zorro Blackbird, who also happens to be our piano tuner and the accordion player in the jazzy folk trio Romantic Twaddle. I am the guitarist in that trio, Elisha our ukulele player, and we all sing. We play every Friday evening at Mona’s from eight to ten when Zorro is in town. Alexandra says she intends to use Romantic Twaddle’s music in some of her movies and may even make a few movies about Romantic Twaddle.

Zorro, fifty-three, is a burly five-foot-eight with olive skin and long black hair. He has been out of town for the last two months touring with Bailey Jones, and because I’m on a kick these days of interviewing my favorite people, I take this opportunity to interview Zorro and record our conversation in my Notebook #4: Drawings and Overheard Dialogue.

Paul: Were you born with the name Zorro Blackbird?

Zorro: I was. My mother is Wailaki, my father Pomo. My father loved the Zorro television show from the 1950s, so they named me Zorro. My three sisters are named after the goddesses Athena, Aphrodite, and Venus.

Paul: What inspired you to become an accordion player?

Zorro: I started playing ukulele when I was five and took up the guitar when I was seven. When I was ten, I heard a man playing the accordion at the county fair and thought it was the most beautiful music I’d ever heard. On the way home from the fair, my mother told me she played the accordion before she had kids and she still had her accordion. When we got home, she got the beautiful old thing out of her closet and said if I promised to practice every day, she would give me lessons.

Paul: Do you play accordion with Bailey when you tour with her?

Zorro: No. She’s a solo act all the way. She doesn’t even have other people play on her albums. My job is to keep her two guitars perfectly tuned throughout her performances.

Paul: Are you onstage with her?

Zorro: I’m on and off. After her first song, I come on and she gives me her guitar and I give her the second one. Then while she’s playing her second tune, I’m offstage tuning the first guitar, and so on. I wear black clothes and come and go like a shadow.

Paul: Why doesn’t she tune her own guitars?

Zorro: She’s not good at tuning when she’s performing and she gets extremely frustrated when she can’t get the tuning exactly right. So rather than drive herself and her audiences crazy, she has me tune for her.

Paul: How did she find you?

Zorro: Her previous tuner is an old friend of mine, Rufus Strunk, the fiddle player, and he recommended me. I went down to Berkeley and met with her, she tried me out at a gig in San Francisco, and I’ve been tuning for her ever since. Five years now. She tours twice a year and each tour lasts two months. I’ve been to England and Europe with her three times and all over America and Canada many times.

Paul: Any end in sight?

Zorro: Well… the guy she’s currently involved with thinks he can do the tuning, so she might give him a try. We’ll see.

Paul: You sound doubtful.

Zorro: I don’t think he can do it. But love is blind and time will tell.

Paul: What will she do if he hands her a guitar that’s not perfectly tuned?

Zorro: She’ll fire him and then call me and beg me to come finish the tour. (laughs) Probably offer me a big raise.

Paul: Will you go?

Zorro: Oh yeah, if she asks me. Her next tour starts in four months, and unless I find a gig I like better, you bet I’ll go. She pays me two thousand dollars per show, and we do about forty-five shows each tour.

Paul: Will it ruin her relationship with this guy if he can’t tune her guitars properly?

Zorro: I’ll be very surprised if she hasn’t dumped him before the next tour. But if not, she’ll dump him the first show he screws up, which will very likely be the first show. I know it seems like tuning guitars should be easy, but to tune those guitars exactly as she wants them, twenty times each concert, you have to have an impeccable ear and a delicate touch and not be intimidated by the magnitude of the situation. 2800 people in Carnegie Hall? That kinda thing. Every night.

Paul: Is she difficult to work with?

Zorro: Not for me. But she’s a perfectionist, and when people don’t give her what she needs, she can be… difficult.

Paul: Does Ellen [Zorro’s wife] go on tour with you?

Zorro: No. She’s happy to stay home making her art and taking care of the grandkids, and… it’s good for us to be apart now and then. We’ve been married for thirty years and we have a tendency to get very ingrown. And we’re always happy to see each other when I get home, so…

Paul: What do you do during all the hours between shows on a tour?

Zorro: We’re travelling, we’re checking into hotels, we’re setting up, we’re doing sound checks, eating, sleeping, and I accompany Bailey when she does television and radio interviews, which she does a lot. There’s not much down time. It’s a very intense two months. She’s not just famous. She’s a cultural icon.

Paul: I hope you won’t be offended, but I’ve never really understood her appeal. What do you think it is about her that makes so many people love her?

Zorro: I’m not offended. Taste is subjective. I’ve actually thought quite a lot about why so many people love her.

Paul: What have you come up with?

Zorro: Well… her voice is not powerful, but it’s warm and appealing and nobody else sounds like her. She’s very down to earth, and I think lots of people prefer singers they can identify with, you know, singers with voices that aren’t spectacular. She doesn’t intimidate anyone, yet she sings beautifully. And when she performs she seems vulnerable and very honest and very funny, too. People laugh their heads off at her shows. She’s a wisp of a woman singing songs full of longing. A sweet voice and a well-played guitar. One reviewer called her the queen of quiet angst, but I don’t think angst is the right word. I think the word is melancholy, the good kind. She makes people cry, and people like to cry.

Paul: So what are you gonna do between now and the next tour?

Zorro: Tune pianos. Play music with you and Elisha. Work in the garden, babysit the grandkids, go on some adventures with Ellen, come here for coffee, talk to you, go to the beach. See what comes my way.

Paul: Have you written any new songs of late?

Zorro: Not for a long time, and that’s an interesting thing about touring with Bailey. My songwriting stops, though I take along notebooks and a guitar and I think I’ll write poems and new songs, but nothing ever comes when I’m on tour with her. And then I get home and after a couple months the melodies start to come again and then I’m on tour again and the flow stops.

Paul: Why do you think that happens?

Zorro: I know why it happens.

Paul: Why?

Zorro: Because being her tuner uses the same creative energy that would otherwise go into my own work. I know that sounds crazy. After all, I’m just tuning her guitars during her concerts. But when I’m on tour with her, my entire focus is on facilitating her creative expression. And to do my job well, I have to give her everything I’ve got or the guitars won’t sound right. They just won’t. I can’t tell you why, but it’s true.

Paul: And you’re okay with all your creative energy going to help her? At the expense of your own creativity?

Zorro: You know, Paul, helping her is creative, and I love helping her. I love hearing her play those guitars for thousands of enraptured people. I love coming and going on the stage like a shadow. I love bringing those strings into perfect tune with each other. I love hearing how well they sound with her voice, and I love knowing she is empowered by what I do for her.

 fin

Alberto Puerto Vallarta

May 13th, 2019

balancing

My son Conor, who is seventeen, is intrigued by systems. In an earlier draft of this story, I wrote, “My stepson Conor is passionate about the interconnectedness of the myriad parts composing complex processes.” When I showed Conor that draft, he said, “I’d rather be your son who is intrigued by systems.”

A few weeks ago, Conor made an exquisite pen and ink drawing, eighteen-inches-wide and fourteen-inches-tall, of me sitting at my customary table in Mona’s, the one and only bakery/café in Carmeline Creek. With enviable self-confidence and a knack for making money from his art, Conor framed the drawing, displayed the work on the wall at Mona’s, and sold the blessed thing for three hundred dollars to an art collector from San Francisco.

In the drawing, I am wearing a gray dress shirt tucked into darker gray pants, my gray hair short and multi-directional, my reading glasses round-framed, and I seem to be smiling ever-so-slightly as I write in one of my five notebooks.

My four other notebooks are stacked beside my old leather briefcase, and next to the stack of notebooks is a half-eaten muffin on a white plate. Adjacent to the muffin is a large white mug, the contents of which are indiscernible. The pen I’m writing with is long and skinny and has an extremely fine point.

In a white space two-inches tall and eighteen-inches-wide at the bottom of the drawing, in Conor’s small-but-easy-to-read print are the following two paragraphs.

May 7, 10:43 AM. Carmeline Creek, California. Paul Windsor sitting at southwest window table in Mona’s bakery. Briefcase: brown leather, handmade in Oaxaca, circa 1976. Pen: Staedtler triplus fineliner, black ink. Five notebooks. Paul is writing in Notebook #1: Poetry (Strathmore Sketch, fine tooth surface, 100 sheets, 9 in. x 12 in. 60 lb.) Notebook #2: Prose (Strathmore Sketch, recycled paper, 100 sheets, 5.5 in. x 8.5 in 60 lb.) Notebook #3: Song Lyrics (Aquabee Super Deluxe Sketch, Excellent Tooth, 60 sheets, 6 in. x 6 in. 93 lb.) Notebook #4: Drawings and Overheard Dialogue (Strathmore Sketch, fine tooth surface, 100 sheets, 9 in. x 12 in. 60 lb.) Notebook #5: Ideas & Miscellaneous. (National Brand, Narrow Ruled Eye-Ease Paper, 80 sheets, 7.75”. x 5”)

Paul arrives at Mona’s every day circa 10 AM, greets his wife Elisha (counterperson) with jaunty wave, claims customary table, unpacks briefcase, goes to counter, effects British, French, German, or Serbian accent, pretends not to know Elisha, flirts with her. Elisha mimics Paul’s accent and responds to his flirtation with humorous non sequiturs. Paul returns to customary table with muffin and tea, writes, socializes, writes, departs Mona’s circa 1 PM (kisses Elisha goodbye if she’s not too busy.)

couple

Notebook #4: Drawings and Overheard Dialogue also contains snippets of conversations I have with friends, and I thought you might enjoy one of my exchanges with a fellow denizen of Mona’s, Alberto Puerto Vallarta.

Alberto, a renowned performance artist, is seventy-four, his wavy black hair turning gray. He is handsome and fit and reminds older people of the actor Omar Sharif. His performances include poetry, monologues, improvised scenes, dance, and songs. He speaks English with a pleasing Spanish accent, and his voice is so resonant, he often sounds as if he is singing when he is merely speaking.

Paul: Were you born with the last name Puerto Vallarta?

Alberto: No, I was born Alberto Gomez. In El Paso, Texas. My mother and father came across the border from Ciudad Juárez to have me in an American hospital so I would be born an American citizen. My mother was very clever. She waited until just a few minutes before she was about to give birth before entering the emergency room so they couldn’t turn in good conscience her away.

Paul: So…

Alberto: So you’ve heard of the artist Judy Chicago. When I was in my twenties, I was working as a bricklayer in Fresno. We were at the university there for a couple weeks putting in a big brick terrace surrounded by a low brick wall. One day on my lunch break I wandered over to the art department and came to a big studio where Judy Chicago was teaching a painting class. I was mesmerized. She was strong and funny and everything she said interested me. I secretly fancied myself an artist who had yet to make art because I didn’t have the time or the money or some excuse like that. I watched her for twenty minutes and then went back to my bricklaying. A little later one of the art students walked by and I asked her who the teacher was and she said, ‘Judy Chicago. She’s famous.’ And in that very moment, I heard the name Alberto Puerto Vallarta, which is where my mother was born, so I decided that would be my name from then on.

Paul: How did you go from bricklaying to performance art?

Alberto: I went from bricklaying to being a sculptor. A couple years after my encounter with Judy Chicago, I moved to Los Angeles and we were building a brick wall around a big estate in Beverly Hills, me and Diego Ruiz. Great guy. One day these three guys show up with a big metal sculpture in the back of a flatbed truck, a blatant Calder knockoff, and then the artist shows up. Delmore Rexroth. The three guys do something to piss him off, he throws a fit, and the three guys leave. Delmore sees me and Diego and asks us to help him install the piece. When we finish, he asks me if I want to work for him.

Paul: What did you do for Delmore?

Alberto: (laughs) I made Calder knockoffs and he put his name on them and sold them to rich people. He was in Europe and New York a lot of the time, you know, schmoozing with rich people who thought he was a great artist, and while he was gone I’d spend a few hours every day working on my own art, smaller pieces, about the size of chairs. Fanciful things. Copper and bronze tubing. Strange creatures and surreal furniture. When I had seven pieces I liked, I showed pictures of them to the curator of a gallery that showed sculptures and she put me in a group show. All seven pieces sold the first night and she offered me a solo show. I quit working for Delmore, used the garage of the house I was renting with two other guys as my studio, and at the opening of my solo show, my friend Ricardo played guitar and I improvised a speech and danced with my sculptures. They were all somewhat kinetic and the people went crazy and Alberto Puerto Vallarta became a star.

Paul: Fast-forward fifty years. Your last show was about parenting. What was the genesis of that?

Alberto: I had three children, one with my first wife, two with Carmen (Alberto’s second and current wife). My first wife felt oppressed by motherhood, whereas Carmen loved being a mother, and our children profoundly reflected their mothers’ attitudes. My kids with Carmen were happy and got along very well with other people, but Lola, you know, she was so dependent on me for approval and love that until she had some good therapy when she was in her forties, she had a difficult time relating to women, and all her close friends were men.

Paul: How did you learn to parent?

Alberto: Oh from my parents. Also from taking care of my younger brother and cousins. My parents were very calm people, so I was calm, too. And once I was walking and talking, they treated me as their emotional and intellectual equal, even if I didn’t yet know everything they wanted me to know. They taught me to love and respect my elders, to do my chores, to do what was necessary for the good of the family, and they were very patient with me. My mother was excellent at explaining things to me, and both my parents celebrated my uniqueness. And they allowed me to try on all sorts of identities so long as I met my obligations to la familia. And that’s how I raised my kids. So, to answer your original question about my show, I wanted to talk about the damage being done to our children and families and communities by the way many children are being raised in America today.

Paul: What would you say is the hardest thing about parenting?

Alberto: I don’t think in terms of hard or easy. I think a parent has to take care of the child with love and consistency so when the child begins to develop the skills and confidence for self-care, love and consistency are ingrained in them. And then comes the transition phase where the child needs to be given more and more responsibility for taking care of herself and taking care of other people. That’s a big thing missing today. Taking care of other people. Taking care of the old ones who need help, the younger ones who need help, the sick and the hurt. Whoever needs care. And at the same time, the child’s uniqueness needs to be celebrated, along with everyone else’s uniqueness. Equality. You know. In this society, the media and the social system ingrain in people the idea that life is a hierarchy. We’re told we’re better than some people, not as good as other people, and we’re told winning is a virtue and losing is a shame, that some people are stupid, some are smart, some good, some bad. My children grew up knowing everyone has value and no one is less than anyone else. It’s not hard to teach that if you start right away, if you build that truth into the learning of language and in the development of social skills, but most parents don’t do that now. Everything is about superficially aggrandizing the individual while actually compressing their individuality into little boxes.

Paul: How did you handle your kids’ teenage years?

Alberto: What do you mean?

Paul: Well… their need to rebel, to break away from you… all that.

Alberto: There’s no need to rebel if you haven’t been enslaved.

Paul: But surely you disciplined them.

Alberto: Discipline, sure. But never punishment. You can’t accomplish very much without discipline, but punishment is never helpful, never productive. You can shower a child with love without spoiling him, and you can deny a kid something, some crap food or a smart phone or staying up too late without it being a punishment.

Paul: How do you do that?

Alberto: You honor their intelligence and present everything in the larger context of family and community and what’s good for them. The worst thing a parent can do is impose rules and limitations without thoroughly discussing the complicated reasons for those rules. Language! Look at Conor and Alexandra. They are far more sophisticated than most adults. Why? Because their mother raised them as her intellectual and emotional peers. She did not infantilize them, which is what is happening now more than ever because our culture, our books and movies and everything is aimed at the infant mind, or at best the adolescent.

Paul: You mentioned smart phones. What…

Alberto: Listen, there is so much proof that these things are poison for the developing brain, there shouldn’t even be a discussion. Do you let your three-year-old smoke cigarettes? But this is what the parents are doing now. Handing these phones to babies. I see it all the time. The little child in the stroller fusses, the mother or father hands the child the phone. Silence. Brain captured and it can’t form properly. This has been proven in countless rigorous studies. It should be a serious crime to give a child a portable computer before their brain is fully formed. It’s insanity on a massive scale, and it creates people who don’t know how to relate to each other, people detached from reality and separated from the miracle of life. I feel so sad about it.

Paul: Do you have a smart phone?

Alberto: Yes, I do. They took away all the pay phones and the camera on my phone is very good.

Paul: Yet you think these phones are poison.

Alberto: For the developing mind, yes. My mind is well developed and I mostly use my phone as a phone and camera.

Paul: And you make videos that people watch on their phones.

Alberto: Yes, I am entwined with the cultural matrix as it is currently manifesting. Before there was an internet and videos, I was only known to people who saw my shows or read about me in reviews. And now millions of people watch my performances on their phones and pads and computers. I want to connect with other people, and this is one of the ways I connect.

Paul: You don’t feel you’re part of the poison?

Alberto: I feel I am part of everything.

fin