March 19th, 2018


Tilly, Molly, and Flynn photo by Todd

Harbor seals have spotted coats in shades of white, silver-gray, black, or dark brown. They grow to six feet in length and weigh up to three hundred pounds. Males are slightly larger than females. They are true crawling seals, having no external ear flaps. True seals have small flippers and move on land by flopping along on their bellies.

A few days ago I met the Golden Retrievers Tilly and Molly, and their Chihuahua-mix pal Flynn, along with their humans Sally and Robin at Big River Beach for a morning constitutional—walking for the humans, chasing tennis balls for Molly and Tilly, trotting along being sociable for Flynn.

Whilst flinging tennis balls for the retrievers, we spotted a big harbor seal in the waves offshore, the surf raucous, and to our delight, this seal dazzled us with expert body surfing, something I had not previously observed the seals doing at Big River Beach, though I have fond memories of watching harbor seals surfing the waves in Santa Cruz.

In California, harbor seal pups are born between February and April and weigh about twenty-two pounds at birth. Pups are born knowing how to swim and will sometimes ride on their mothers’ backs when tired. Pups are weaned at four weeks. Adult females usually mate and give birth every year, and may live thirty years.

I used to be a zealous body surfer, and I know the exact moment I gave up the sport. I was in my mid-twenties, living on Lighthouse Avenue in Santa Cruz back in the days when you could rent a four-bedroom house near the beach for a couple hundred dollars a month. When the weather was good, I would walk or run the four blocks to the beach just north of Lighthouse Point and body surf if the waves were good. Just south of the lighthouse is the world famous surfboarding spot Steamer Lane, where spectators can stand on the point and be incredibly close to the surfing action.

One late summer day I arrived at that oh-so-convenient beach, smiled in delight to see what looked like perfectly-formed body surfing waves, ran out into the surf, dove under a few breakers, and found myself caught in a powerful current that dragged me way out to sea as if I were floating down a fast-flowing river. By way out, I mean the people on the beach were ant-sized by the time the current released me. The water was very cold, I had no wetsuit, and I felt fairly certain I was going to drown.

I flopped onto my back and tried to swim back to shore, but I kept encountering that outflowing current. I tried to swim parallel to shore, but I was quickly growing too weak to make much headway. And then, miracle of miracles, my friend Bob Smith, who had come to the beach with me on that day, arrived on an air mattress he’d borrowed from a sunbather when he saw what was happening to me, and I clung to that air mattress and kicked with Bob, and we got to shore where I collapsed in exhausted ecstasy, so happy to still be alive.

Pacific harbor seals spend half their time on land and half in the water. They can dive to 1500 feet and stay underwater for up to forty minutes, though their average dive lasts three to seven minutes and is typically shallow. They sometimes sleep in the water. They feed on sole, flounder, cod, herring, octopus, and squid.

Harbor seals like to watch people playing Frisbee on the beach. One day at Big River Beach, I fell into an impromptu Frisbee exchange with another beachcomber, and a seal popped her head up out of the water to watch us. Then another seal popped up beside that first seal, and eventually there were four harbor seals in a little group watching the disc go back and forth between the two humans, those four beautiful heads moving synchronously from left to right, like spectators at a tennis match.

The worldwide harbor seal population is estimated to be 500,000, with 34,000 in California. They are usually found in small groups, but sometimes congregate in the hundreds.

My favorite connection to the seals at Big River Beach involves singing. Shortly after almost drowning in Santa Cruz, I started a musical combo called Kokomo. The group was composed of: Todd playing guitar and singing his original folk rocking bluesy songs, Jon playing violin and mandolin and singing harmony, and the occasional bass or dobro player noodling along with us. After Jon and I rehearsed a few of my songs, I called around to the various venues in Santa Cruz where such ragtag combos performed in the 1970s, lined up some auditions, and off we went.

Most of our auditions involved going into the prospective bar, pub, or café in the late afternoon and doing a couple tunes for the manager. The first place we auditioned was Happy’s, an upstairs bar in an alley off Pacific Avenue. When Jon and I arrived, there was a quartet of early drinkers at the bar and the bartender/manager on hand to listen. We launched into a groovy tune of mine called Should Be Better In the Morning, and when we finished, one of those early drinkers slapped a dollar bill on the bar and slurred, “For you do dat again.”

So we did the tune again and the bartender said, “You free tonight?”

I said we had another gig, which was true in the sense that we had to get busy rehearsing more tunes so we could play for forty-five minutes without repeating ourselves, and voila, we had our first gig: every Thursday night at Happy’s until further notice.

Then we went to Positively Front Street, a much bigger tavern, a stone’s throw from the municipal pier, and we auditioned for Terry, the owner/manager, and a lovely young woman and a handsome young man who were Terry’s pals. We played Should Be Better In the Morning and followed that with a skanky blues called Loose Woman, and Terry said, “Friday and Saturday nights, twenty bucks plus tips, all the burgers and fries and beer you want.”

The young woman and young man introduced themselves as Mouse & Timber. They had been the Friday/Saturday night act at Positively Front Street for the previous year, but they were moving on to a casino lounge at South Lake Tahoe paying three hundred a night, plus tips, five nights a week, plus a free hotel room. Timber said, “You guys would kill at Tahoe. Come on up and we’ll get you a gig.”

We never did get up to the casino, but we eventually rehearsed twenty of my tunes along with a few Hank Williams classics and a handful of other standards for lonely drunk people, and for most of the next year we were the house band on Friday and Saturday nights at Positively Front Street and the Thursday night attraction at Happy’s.

And once I’d earned actual dollars for singing, the world would never be the same. Making money for singing is like making money for being human—which can be both wonderful and confusing, depending on, as we used to say, how together you are.

Speaking of which, there I was a couple years ago, standing on the shores of Big River, inland a couple hundred yards from where the river meets the sea, and I sang out over the smooth surface of the water and a seal popped up to have a look at me. When she heard me singing, her eyes grew wide, she dove under the water, and a moment later popped up again with two friends. Ere long there were seven seals listening to me sing my song Real Good Joe, Hank Williams’ Cheating Heart, and another song of mine called Beautiful.

And though I would like to say those seven seals especially liked my songs, the truth is, just as with the mob at Positively Front Street, they favored Hank Williams. How do I know? Oh you can just tell when your audience really locks in with you.


March 12th, 2018


sharp photo by Max Greenstreet

When I taught writing, long ago, one of the most illuminating exercises I gave my charges was to have them write a little something in First Person, and then rewrite that little something in Third Person.

When Todd was in his forties, nearly thirty years ago, he gave writing workshops for adults and oversaw a Creative Writing program for teenagers. One of the more helpful exercises he gave his writers was to have them write a paragraph in First Person, and then have them rewrite the paragraph in Third Person.

Then I would ask my writers to change the tense of the paragraph.

Todd is in his forties, a novelist making his living by leading writing workshops and overseeing a Creative Writing Program for teenagers. He especially enjoys asking his writers to write a paragraph in First Person and then have them rewrite the paragraph in Third Person.

Then I might ask my writers to turn their paragraph into a fairy tale.

Once upon a time in a kingdom by the sea, there lived a scribbler name of Todd. A goodly fellow in his forties, his hair going every which way, Todd was not having much luck gaining patrons for his verse, so to keep food in the larder he set up shop as a teacher of writing. His teaching method was to deploy clever writing exercises that tricked his students into waxing poetic rather than staying stuck in the mundane. And by golly, his method worked.

Another related exercise was to have my writers write a brief story about someone going somewhere to get something.

Michael wakes up craving coffee and something sweet and doughy. Finding he is out of coffee beans and anything resembling a pastry, he dresses warmly and sets forth on this cold winter day for Muffins Galore, his home away from home, conveniently located just around the corner from his studio apartment.

Entering the deliciously warm little bakery, the display cases brimming with muffins and cookies and scones, the air redolent with the divine admixture of coffee fumes and just-baked bread, Michael forgets he is eighty-three, and for a long delightful moment thinks he is twenty-five again, the pretty young woman behind the counter his age peer, his life just beginning.

“I’ll have a bran muffin and a large coffee,” he says, smiling at the young woman—the sound of his raspy voice bringing him abruptly back to the present.

“As per usual,” says the young woman, winking at him.

Story written, I would ask my writers to rewrite the piece using short sentences.

Michael wakes in his lumpy bed. His studio apartment is freezing cold. January he thinks. I hate January. His back aches as usual. With a groan, he arises. “I crave coffee,” he says aloud. Michael lives alone and often talks to himself. “And something sweet and doughy.”

“Damn,” he says, finding no coffee beans in his little refrigerator.

He decides to go to the bakery around the corner from his place. Muffins Galore. He dresses slowly. Getting his socks and shoes on is his greatest challenge. Warmly attired at last, he sets forth into the wintry day.

The blessedly warm little bakery is Michael’s home away from home. He comes here two or three times every day. He sighs contentedly when he sees the display cases brimming with pastries. He breathes deeply of the coffee-scented air. For a short infinity, Michael forgets he is eighty-three. He thinks he is twenty-five again. He imagines the pretty young woman behind the counter is exactly his age. He is suffused with warmth and happiness.

“I’ll have a bran muffin and a large coffee,” he says, smiling at the young woman.

Hearing himself speaking, he is brought back to his present reality.

“As per usual,” says the young woman, winking at him.

I was put in mind of these exercises when I recently had a telling experience with the novel I’m writing, tentative title Flagon With the Dragon. I wrote the first hundred and fifty pages in First Person, Past Tense, and while reading those pages for the first time, I felt the narrator loomed so emotionally large that the other characters were insignificant by comparison, which was not what I’m ever after when I write a story or a book.

So I rewrote those pages in Third Person, Present Tense, and the several main characters were transmogrified into emotional equals (though entirely different from each other) and the story took several surprising turns that never would have happened had I stayed with First Person. What fun!

Having slowly made his way through the thick sheaf of pages of his new novel, Todd realizes his First Person narrator looms so psychically gigantic that the other characters in the novel pale by comparison. This inequality of emotional weight, so to speak, is the quantum opposite of what Todd wants for the characters in this novel, which is, or so it seems to Todd, a study in synchronized rebirth.

Whilst taking his morning constitutional, Todd has another realization about his writing. All the novels he ever sold to big mainstream publishers were First Person novels, yet he much prefers the last ten novels he’s written and failed to find publishers for, all of them Third Person novels. He concludes this is a largely irrelevant line of inquiry except for confirming his preference for writing books in Third Person.

Returning to his studio after his invigorating stroll, Todd decides to rewrite what he’s written so far of his new novel in Third Person, Present Tense—tentative title Flagon With the Dragon.


Todd sets down his pen and applauds the unseen forces of the universe for inspiring him to change the person and tense of his new novel so the several main characters are now on equal emotional footing, though wildly different from each other. What fun!

Used copies of Todd’s book of writing exercises, The Writer’s Path, abound online, and Todd has a small trove of new copies for sale. Email inquiries welcome.


March 5th, 2018

headland sky by Ian of Zo

Headlands and Sky photo by Ian of Zo

“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself.” Conan Doyle

In 1972 I was living in a twelve-person commune in Santa Cruz, part of the commune movement that sprung up spontaneously across America as the housing component of the cultural revolution known as the Sixties. And from 1968 to 1975, I was very excited to be part of that housing component and hopeful about the positive social, political, and cultural impact that widespread communal living could have on American society.

The first commune I lived in was an eight-person affair I started with a friend. I left after a year of frustration because my fellow communards were extremely reluctant to subsume their individual needs, even a little, for the betterment of the collective. We gave lip service to that idea, but aside from shared meals, it was largely every man or woman for him or her self.

So I was excited to join a commune with much more collectivity built into an operating system that quite effectively served twelve members and our many guests. I planted a huge vegetable garden and organized the eager volunteer gardeners, we shopped and cooked and cleaned collectively, and the entire group met once a week to discuss practical and emotional problems.

I felt there were a few duds in the dozen, but overall the communal living experience was economical, ecological, healthy, and emotionally satisfying. Four heterosexual couples and four singles, two straight, two gay, composed our twelve, and my only secret complaint was that most of my fellow communards were not particularly creative.

After a year and a half in that commune, my girlfriend and I were on the verge of breaking up, and our dyadic divide coincided with two members of the commune moving out, thus creating two vacancies to be filled through our well-established selection process. Our commune was famously successful in Santa Cruz, we were right on the beach, and we had dozens of people applying for those two spots on the roster.

Eventually we winnowed the applicant pool down to four finalists, three men and one woman. One of the men was Ted, twenty-five, boyishly handsome, charming, a fine musician and actor, a graduate student at the university, and one of the most brilliant, funny, interesting people I’d ever met. The other two men were boorish stoners and I was baffled every time either of them made the next cut. The woman, Tina, was twenty-four, a zealous gardener, poet, yogini, dancer, professional cook, and bright and funny.

I assumed we would immediately and unanimously elect Ted and Tina, and I was so excited about them joining the collective that I kicked off our final group discussion before we voted by extolling their many virtues and speaking of Ted wanting to host a Drama night and Tina wanting to help me expand the garden and lead a daily yoga session.

To my horror, only one of the five women in our commune voted for Tina, and only one other man joined me in voting for Ted. All the women voted for Ted, and all the men voted for Tina, but since eight votes were required to win a place in the commune, Ted and Tina were not invited to join, while the two boorish stoners got the nod. Two weeks later, I broke up with my girlfriend and moved out of town.

But before I moved away, I spoke privately to each of the men who voted against Ted, and I spoke privately to each of the women who voted against Tina; and I asked them why they voted against such wonderful people and for such boorish dopes?

Three of the women admitted to being threatened by Tina’s charm and talent, and especially by how much the men liked her. One of the women said she felt Tina was too good to be true and didn’t trust her. One of the men said Ted was “hyper”, another of the men said Ted was “too intellectual”, and the third male dissenter said he was intimidated by Ted’s talent and by his girlfriend’s attraction to Ted.

Thinking about that turning point in my life—I might have written a hit song with Ted and married Tina and had three kids and moved to Denmark—I am reminded of when George W. Bush was running against Al Gore. In a large national poll conducted a month before the election, seven out of ten American men said they would rather have a beer and hang out with George than with Al, and in that election 75% of all male voters, Democrats and Republicans, voted for George, and 75% of all female voters voted for Al.

And that reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from the movie Blazing Saddles when Gene Wilder is explaining to Cleavon Little why the townsfolk won’t accept an African American as their sheriff.

“What did you expect?” says Gene to Cleavon. “A welcome sign? Make yourself at home? Marry my daughter? You’ve got to remember these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know…morons.”

And that reminds me of a recent and shocking study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center that found only 8% of high school seniors across America today identify slavery as the main cause of the Civil War, while 57% say tax protests caused the Civil War. How can this be? And isn’t it interesting that this phenomenon exists throughout the United States, not in isolated areas of the former Confederacy.

I am often chided by friends for being a conspiracy theorist, so I will not elucidate my theory about how and why one of the most important historical facts in American history is not properly taught in our schools. I will say that this monstrous educational lapse cannot, in my opinion, be accidental. Who would be best served by misleading entire generations of Americans about the cause of the Civil War?

And that reminds me of when I watched Jimmy Carter debate Ronald Reagan prior to the 1980 Presidential election, the last Presidential debate I ever watched. I howled with delight as Jimmy made a fool of Ronald at every turn in the debate, and I danced out of my house overjoyed that Jimmy would soon be re-elected, only to read the next day that multiple polls revealed well over 90% of Americans, Republicans and Democrats, felt Ronald easily won the debate.

Which is why, conspiracy theories aside, it didn’t surprise me even a little bit when Donald Trump was elected President of these United States.

Olden Days

February 26th, 2018

still I'm still here

Still I’m Still Here painting by Nolan Winkler 

A friend recently (2018) sent me an article about a small vacant lot zoned for a single-family dwelling in Palo Alto, California, just a little plot of land, selling for seven million dollars. In another article about a housing development the San Francisco Giants are financing in San Francisco near their ballpark, the big excitement about the project is that 40% of the 1300 units of housing will be rented to working-class families only earning 80-150 thousand dollars a year.

Hmm. I have never been a big fan of science fiction. As a teenager I enjoyed I, Robot and a few other classics, but in general sci-fi has never been my cup of tea. For one thing, we can’t go faster than the speed of light, so we’re stuck here. Why can’t we just accept that and fully embrace the here and now and figure out how to live sustainably on this planet instead of dreaming about going to other planets we will never get to? For another thing, who can relate to a reality in which a family with an annual income of 150 thousand dollars is thought to be working class? In that reality would a homeless person be pulling down fifty grand a year?

In any case, these nutty financial figures got me thinking about my youth in Palo Alto and San Francisco, when seven million dollars would have bought you two hundred nice houses and their lots in Palo Alto, and a hundred grand a year would have made you filthy rich in San Francisco. Yes, I know, inflation and all that, but not really. According to our government, and you’ll know this if you depend on Social Security income as I do, there is no inflation to speak of and hasn’t been any inflation for the last decade. (Oh, that’s right. They don’t count food prices or rent or much of anything in their calculations. I wonder why not.)

When I attended Woodside High School, my pals Rico and David and I put out a mimeographed counter-culture magazine called Lyceum. We had several dozen subscribers and sold copies at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, and when, after eight issues, we folded up shop because David and I were going off to college and we’d run out of things to say, Rico reported we had amassed a profit of eighty dollars. We decided to celebrate by taking three lovely young women for a day and evening of fun in San Francisco.

The year was 1967, the month was June. Our budget was eighty dollars. For the six of us. The three writer editors dressed as wannabe North Beach poets, the three lucky women, under the command of my girlfriend, wore saris. By the end of our long day, the gals would regret that clothing choice. We took the train from Menlo Park to San Francisco, took the bus from there to Chinatown, and after a splendid meal in a Chinese restaurant, we wandered around for a few hours shopping for volumes of poetry and gaudy scarves.

Exhausted by our wandering, we had lattes and biscotti at Caffe Trieste in North Beach and then went for all we could eat supper at the Spaghetti Factory. Well-stuffed, we waddled across North Beach and saw The Committee perform. And though I didn’t understand most of what those witty people said or why the audience found them so riotously funny, I felt sophisticated and worldly and adult and hip. Then we caught a bus back to the train station and rode home triumphantly out of money, our eighty dollars covering everything the six of us did and saw and consumed on that day.

Over the ensuing fifty years, I have only twice earned more than a hundred thousand dollars in a year, my average annual income being in the fifteen to twenty thousand dollar range, some years less, rarely more. I have scraped by, so to speak, yet whilst scraping by I lived in a beautiful room in a big house right on the beach in Santa Cruz and my rent was thirty-five dollars a month, and I lived in a lovely house in Ashland, Oregon, my rent sixty dollars a month. And fairly recently I lived in a nice house in a quiet neighborhood in Berkeley before the erasure of rent control ended the era of reasonable rents. And Rico lived for many years in a prime location in San Francisco and paid 270 a month for a spacious two-bedroom flat.

When I dropped out of college in 1969, I didn’t worry about money, though I had almost no money. The reason I didn’t worry was that in those days it took very little effort to earn enough money to rent a room and buy enough food to eat, and by very little effort I mean a few hours a day earning a couple bucks an hour covered my expenses. A visit to the doctor was ten bucks, and if he or she prescribed antibiotics, a few dollars more. For some years I made my living playing the guitar and singing in taverns and cafes. Ten bucks and a hearty meal and free beer plus tips amounting to another ten bucks all for a few hours of strumming and singing. Three such gigs a week meant I was making around sixty dollars a week. I was rolling in dough!

I was able to pursue my writing and music because things, the necessities of a decent life, did not cost much. Money was important, but not all important. Today, however, when a loaf of bread is seven dollars and brown rice is $2.50 a pound, and when we visited Portland and saw vast armies of homeless people living in the streets, and when I stand in line at the grocery store and watch the high school kids spending ten dollars for a bottle of pop and a bag of chips and a candy bar and my friend’s daughter pays 1200 a month for space in a house in Berkeley she shares with five other people, I wonder what the young Todd I used to be would do in today’s world to survive and still be able to work at writing and composing music.

I have no idea what I would do if I was twenty today and embarking on my life as an artist. Everything I did in my life was predicated on being able to live on next to nothing. I travelled by hitchhiking or bus, I never went to Europe, I rarely ate at restaurants, I didn’t own a car or have health insurance. I just got by. And that was enough for me so long as I had time to make my art. But what if I hadn’t been able to live on next to nothing. What would I have done?

Foreign Accent Syndrome

February 19th, 2018

Todd and Abi

Abi and Todd photo by Marcia

In case you missed this widely disseminated news report from a few days ago, a woman in Arizona woke up speaking with a British accent, though she was born in the United States and has never been to England and doesn’t have British relatives. She went to bed with a blinding headache and woke up sounding British. Previously, the woman went to bed with blinding headaches and woke up sounding Irish and Australian. She has been diagnosed by actual licensed medical doctors as having Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS).

I know what you’re thinking. This is a spoof, a lampoon, a bit of silly whimsy. Yet this story was reported as fact in dozens of reputable newspapers and news outlets, several medical experts were interviewed about the woman’s condition, and these medical experts testified with straight faces that she manifested these foreign accents as the result of Foreign Accent Syndrome.

In less widely disseminated news, I have FAS. In spades. Two of our good friends, Marion and Abi, are from England. They were born in England and raised by English parents. Thus they are, in technical terms, totally English. When I’m around either one of them for more than, oh, thirty seconds, I begin to speak with a British accent. So convincing and authentic-sounding is my British accent that neither Marion nor Abi snickers when they hear me speaking in the manner of their native tongue, though they do occasionally snort.

Furthermore, my grammar becomes British when I speak with my incredibly real-seeming British accent, my sentences grow longer, and I feel eloquent and wise and…British.

I’ve had FAS since I was a wee tyke, the malady erupting, minus the headaches, hundreds of times in my long and checkered career as a human. Many years ago, I had a fling with a Serbian siren, and for the entire seven weeks we were involved, I spoke English with a Serbian accent so credible that the siren not only didn’t snicker or snort, on multiple occasions she gave me incredulous looks and said, “How do you do that? You sound exactly like my Uncle Boris.”

When I’m with Mexican people, I speak English with a Mexican accent. When I’m with French people, I speak English with a French accent. When I’m with Texans, I speak with a Texan’s drawl. When I’m with Jewish people from New York, I speak with a New York Jewish accent. I can’t help myself. I have FAS and I’m not ashamed to let the whole world know.

In seemingly unrelated news, my web site has undergone a transformation and I invite you to visit the new-look site and enjoy the goodies thereon. One new addition I think you’ll especially enjoy is on the Films page. Along with Bums At A Grave and Stripes, I am proud to present Kate Greenstreet’s videopoem The Magician, featuring my piano piece “The Magician” from my solo piano CD Ceremonies.

The Ceremonies CD and all our other CDs are available from my web site for a mere five dollars each, plus a flat rate shipping charge of six dollars, so order lots of CDs and books and cards to make that shipping charge seem like practically nothing. Or listen to “The Magician” on YouTube as often as you’d like.

Did I put “The Magician” on You Tube? No. All the tunes from my five piano CDs, and all the tunes from the two CDs I made with Marcia, So Not Jazz and When Light Is Your Garden, were posted on YouTube by CD Baby.

The individual drones from Marcia’s Cello Drones for Tuning and Improvisation are massively popular on YouTube. Thousands of people are hooked on her groovacious drones.

In more seemingly unrelated news, the stock market recently lost a whole bunch of value and subsequently gained back much of the value it lost. There are many theories about why the stock market went down, a favorite theory of silly people being that the Fed is going to raise interest rates. But if that were the cause of the decline, why did the market suddenly go back up? I’ll tell you why.

The stock market goes up and down based on the collective mindset of those who invest their money in the stock market, not on Fed interest rates. When the collective mindset becomes doubtful or fearful, the stock market goes down. When the collective mindset is optimistic, the stock market goes up. Since the big crash of 2008, most of the stocks, as in virtually all of them, have been bought and sold by the richest people in the world, otherwise known as the 1 per cent. Their collective mindset has been, “Everything is for us. We control the government. We get everything we want, including tax breaks and bailouts and loopholes and gobs of free money from the Fed.” Thus the stock market has gone up and up and up.

Recently, however, more and more not so wealthy people have been getting back into the market. Many of these newbies to the current historic market upswing are the same people who were ruined financially in 2008, and these newbies were also the investors most hurt by the recent downturn in the market, so much so that many of them left the market completely once again.

You see where I’m going with this? The collective mind of the 1% got adulterated by a bunch of not-so-confident investors, and the market went down. Now that those less than super-wealthy people have been chased out of the market, the collective mind is pure optimistic greed again.

As one very rich person told me long ago, “When the market crashes, the smart money is already out of there.”

Or, as was the case in 2008, when the market crashes, “We will have the government we control bail us out and make everybody else pay for our greedy gambling.” And that is what the Obama administration did. They gave trillions of dollars to the thieves who ruined the lives of millions of people and then they did nothing for those millions of regular folk who were so badly hurt by the folks who are once again stealing trillions annually from the national coffers.

By the way, I wrote all that about the stock market with an indignant British accent, which made me feel certain I knew what I was talking about. But now, writing with an apologetic Brooklyn accent, I opine, “How should I know? Do I look like a stock analyst? With these shoes? Don’t make me laugh.”

Recipes of Alexander Skåll

February 10th, 2018


I am very happy to present here the first two chapters of my new novel The Recipes of Alexander Skåll. In a nutshell: Andrea Valeraine, a French photojournalist, has been searching for the legendary chef Alexander Skåll for over a decade, though many people think Alexander is dead. When Andrea finally locates the elusive chef, he agrees to meet with her on one condition: that she not reveal his whereabouts to anyone. The Recipes of Alexander Skåll is a contemporary novel set in a coastal town in northern California—a comedy drama love story rife with cooking and drinking and eating and philosophizing and picture taking and personal transformation. Handsome coil-bound copies, each copy signed and lavishly numbered by the author, may be purchased via my web site.

September 27


Dear Alexander Skåll,

Hans Ryder gave me your mailing address and said he would contact you on my behalf. My name is Andrea Valeraine. I hope you will allow me to photograph and interview you in your kitchen and garden. Over the last eleven years, I have photographed and interviewed forty master chefs, seventeen of whom will appear with you in my book to be published by Tantamount Press.

I understand you do not like to be photographed. I hope you will make an exception in my case. I will only use photographs of you that meet your approval. I hope to visit you in October when it is convenient for you.

Andrea Valeraine


Dear Ms. Valeraine,

I’m only responding to your note so you will know Hans followed through on his promise to contact me on your behalf. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I cherish my privacy and do not wish to be included among your chefs. I’m sure your book will be a success without me.

Evasively Yours,



Dear Alexander,

I understand your reticence. I, too, cherish my privacy. Having interviewed many chefs, I think you may underestimate your importance in the pantheon of famous chefs of the last half-century. Your whereabouts will not be divulged in my book. For that matter, we could write that you live in Canada or Europe now, not in California. Thus your appearance in the book will enhance your privacy.



Clever Andrea,

I can assure you I am of no importance as a chef or anything else. My celebrity results from the bizarre nature of our culture, a mass psychosis that creates deities out of people who step in buckets of shit and come out smelling like roses. Not that I smell like a rose. More like a sachet of bitter herbs.

However, I like the idea of your book throwing the crazies off my trail. Let us connect at Harmony Books & Luthier in Fort Orford on October 22 at 1 PM. The north coast of California can be quite chilly and rainy in late October so I suggest you dress warmly and be prepared for rain.

If Hans can come with you, I would love to see the old idiot again.




Thank you so much. As you know, Hans rarely leaves his apartment now, but I will implore him to come with me.




October 22 

History Of Sex

Twenty-five years ago, Harmony Books was the cultural epicenter of Fort Orford, a town on the far north coast of California. Today Harmony Books is two bookcases in a luthier shop—a few hundred vestigial volumes of poetry and fiction—and the legendary bookshop next door to the luthier has been replaced by three shops: pizza parlor, hair salon, and marijuana dispensary.

Twenty years ago, the luthier shop employed three luthiers. Today there is only one luthier in Fort Orford: Harmon Green, fifty-eight, six-feet-tall, his longish brown hair going gray, his handsome face detailed with smile wrinkles and lines of sorrow.

Wearing brown trousers and a faded red T-shirt—Harmony Books writ across the chest—Harmon sits on a cushioned stool at his large worktable putting new frets on a seventy-year-old Gibson guitar, his close-up vision enhanced by green-framed magnifying glasses.

The little bronze bell atop the front door jingles and Harmon removes his glasses to inspect his visitor—a woman, long-limbed and graceful, her reddish-brown shoulder-length hair touched with gray, her eyes bluish green, her lips voluptuous—her face expressionless. She is wearing a purple parka over a black turtleneck, gray trousers, brown walking shoes, and she is carrying a gray canvas camera bag.

“Excuse me,” she says, her accent French. “I’m hoping to meet someone here. Do you mind if I wait?”

“Not at all,” says Harmon, glad of the company. “You will find either armchair comfortable, the blue somewhat firmer than the green, there are books of poems and stories to peruse if you are so inclined, or you may chat with the luthier who is, incredible as this may seem, capable of conversation while he works.”

“My name is Andrea,” she says, smiling ever so slightly as she approaches the large worktable on which two guitars, a ukulele, and a violin are in various stages of repair. “Andrea Valeraine.”

“Harmon,” he says, receiving her attention as a kiss. “Harmon Green. Welcome to Fort Orford.”

“I am a photographer,” she says, admiring the ensemble of instruments and tools spread out on the big table. “Would you mind if I take pictures while you work?”

“I don’t mind,” he says, though he does a little. “I am often photographed by tourists. Must be something irresistible about a scruffy fellow engaged in pre-industrial handwork.” He chuckles at his self-description. “May I offer you a cup of coffee? Tea? Cocoa? Wine?”

She fishes her phone out of her camera bag and checks the time—12:37. “I would love some coffee. Thank you.”

Harmon rises with his characteristic ease, and Andrea is alarmed to feel sexually aroused, a feeling she has kept at bay for many years.

“Please make yourself at home,” says Harmon, gesturing to the entire store before he disappears behind the large shoji screen that divides the room.

“Merci,” she says, moving to the front of the store where she takes off her parka, settles into the blue armchair, and tells herself she is not attracted to this man but merely excited about the prospect of finally meeting Alexander Skåll.

Perusing the books on the shelves, she is pleased to see several volumes published by Tantamount Press, her publisher. Now she startles at the name Harmon Green on the spine of a slender volume from Tantamount, removes the book from the shelf, and cringes at the title—History of Sex.

Despite her aversion to the title, she opens to a random page.



Comfortable together in their aftermath she says I never

come the first time with a new partner. But I came so hard

with you. Maybe you’re the one I’ve been waiting for.

Next day he calls her madly in love and she says

I made a mistake. Don’t ever call me again.

His heart aches for days until one morning she calls to say

Am I crazy? Get over here you wonderful guy.

Astride him she shouts God you are the best, the best ever!

Next day he leaves a love poem on her answering machine

and when she doesn’t call him back he goes to her house

and she growls Go away. Don’t ever call me again.

For weeks every sound murders him

until one morning he wakes to her

leaving a message on his answering machine:

Ready to go again?


Andrea reads calling a second time and finishes just as Harmon emerges from behind the screen with two steaming mugs.

“Would you like your coffee way over there?” he asks, sounding sad about her being so far from him. “Or will you join me at my table?”

“I will join you,” she says, bringing History of Sex and her camera bag to the worktable and sitting on the chair closest to Harmon.

“I guessed you’d like yours black,” he says, pleased she chose the chair nearest to him. “Yes?”

“What else did you guess about me?” she asks, sipping her coffee and humming a note of approval.

“You are French, not Swiss,” he says, setting his coffee down. “You are fifty-two, six years younger than I, you’ve lived in North America for a long time, in a city, you are a successful photographer, currently single, the wedding band a ruse to dissuade suitors, and you just read one of my poems and did not dislike it. I wonder which one. Old poems. Haven’t read them in twenty years. Maybe I’ll read them again now that you’ve awakened the book. You may have that copy if you’d like.”

“Merci,” she says, reddening ever so slightly. “I hope you will sign it for me. I didn’t like the title at first, but now I do. And I agree, we do awaken books when we read them, just as we awaken paintings and photos when we look at them.”

“Instruments, too,” he says, indicating the wall decorated with violins, guitars, ukuleles, and one intriguing tenor balalaika. “They love to be touched and played.”

“How did you know those things about me?” she asks, frowning. “You are correct, but…how did you know?”

“I don’t know how I knew,” he says, shrugging. “Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve had a knack for guessing people’s ages and birthplaces and other things about them, the information arriving in my brain once I get a good look at them and hear them speak.”

“Are you always right?” she asks, this talent fascinating to her.

“Pretty much always, yes.” He frowns and nods. “Strange, isn’t it?”

“I don’t think so,” she says, liking him very much. “You are just highly intuitive and extremely intelligent, and this is one of your gifts.”

“Yeah,” he says, his frown turning to a smile. “A gift.”

A pleasant silence falls.

Harmon puts on his magnifying glasses and resumes his work.

Andrea gets out her camera, stands up, and takes several pictures of the worktable.

Now she frames Harmon in the center of her viewfinder and asks quietly, “What are we striving for?”

“Do you mean why are we striving?” he asks, looking up at her, his magnified eyes frog-like. “Or do you mean…what are we striving to accomplish?”

“Mostly I mean why are we striving. But also what are we trying to accomplish?”

“You go first,” he says, comically arching an eyebrow.

“I don’t know,” she says, laughing at his funny face. “That’s why I asked you.”

“Ah,” he says, removing his glasses and setting them beside the old Gibson. “We strive because we are habituated to striving and because there’s a certain joy in striving. We strive to get money for food and shelter and warmth for ourselves and those we love.”

She lowers her camera and says, “I’m tired of striving.”

“Well to quote my old pal Tyler Gray,” says Harmon, thinking of his friend who died some years ago, “a little striving goes a long way.”

“I don’t know how to strive just a little,” she says, thinking of Alexander Skåll and the completion of her book. “I seem to be one of those all-or-nothing people.”

“Somehow I knew that,” he says, his eyes narrowing. “There’s nothing tentative about you.”

She sits downs and says, “No one has ever said anything like that to me before. Why would you say such a thing?”

“Because that’s how you strike me.” He gazes at her, unafraid. “You seem undisguised and wonderfully calm and very sure of why you’re here.”

“But now I’m not so sure,” she says, meeting his gaze. “I thought I was meeting someone else here, but now I think…” She takes a deep breath. “Maybe I came here to meet you.”

“Ah, but who am I?” He laughs self-consciously. “No need to answer that.”

“Oh but I want to. You are someone I’ve longed to meet. Someone…a man…who will be my good friend for the rest of my life.”

“Case in point,” he says, folding his arms. “Nothing tentative about you.”

“But you are not so sure if you want to be my friend,” she says, giving him a comical smile. “You who know so many things about other people so quickly.”

“I’m sure I like you,” he says, enjoying the intimacy of their exchange. “I’m just not in the habit of entertaining rest-of-my-life scenarios with people I’ve known for less than ten minutes.”

“Nor am I,” she says seriously. “I have never in my life been so forward with anyone, man or woman. But I feel powerless not to say these things to you.”

“Yet you are so obviously powerful,” he says, matching her seriousness. “Not to mention frighteningly attractive.”

“I am not attractive,” she says, looking away. “Nor am I powerful. If I were powerful…”

The bell above the door jingles and a young Mexican woman enters the shop—red parka, blue jeans, long black hair in a ponytail—a singular beauty.

“Hola hija,” says Harmon, raising his mug. “Come meet the enchanting Andrea Valeraine. Andrea, my daughter Dolores, known far and wide as Dolly.”

“Hola Dolly,” says Andrea, reddening at Harmon’s flattery.

“Hola,” she says, smiling shyly. “I came to bring you to Alex.”

Andrea gasps. “He sent you?”

“Yes,” says Dolly, glancing at her father. “He sent me.”


February 5th, 2018


Perception pen and ink by Todd

Descartes wrote, “I think, therefore I am.” Which is the English translation of the French “Je pense, donc je suis.” Which is Descarte’s translation of the Latin, Cogito ergo sum.

I remember the first time I thought about my existence being a matter of thinking I existed, and feeling a bit confused. I was twelve. What if I stopped thinking I existed, would I stop existing?

Lately I’ve become convinced by reading books about neurobiology and being in therapy again after eons of not being in therapy that: I sometimes feel how I think I feel, and sometimes I feel fine because I’m not thinking; but I’m not sure I exist because I think I exist.

Several times in my life I’ve been rushed to hospital emergency rooms in cars and ambulances, and whilst en route and feeling my life force ebbing, I felt I existed because my body was alive and if my body stopped being alive I wouldn’t exist. I’m alive, therefore I’m alive.

About two years ago, due to a nasty run-in with some incompetent medical doctors, I began to experience panic attacks for the first time in my life. If you’ve never had a full-blown panic attack, trust me, you don’t want to have one, not even just to say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve had one of those.” I would describe a panic attack to you, but such a thing is beyond the power of words to describe. I might say: Imagine you are hurtling on a plank down a steep hill toward jagged rocks and your body is vibrating so tremendously you feel you may explode before you hit the jagged rocks, and that would not be the half of it.

The idea that: I think I’m having a panic attack, therefore I am having a panic attack, might be true, but doesn’t help much in the midst of a panic attack. Or maybe it does help. Or could help. Maybe if one could convince one’s self that the panic attack is merely a figment of thinking, and one could stop thinking in that way, then the panic would subside. That is how drugs made to quell panic attacks work. They interfere with the brain thinking we’re panicking, so we stop panicking.

Anyway, I’ve been having all sorts of helpful feelings and experiences and shifts in self-perception as a result of therapy, and I’ve actually gone some months without too much anxiety impinging on my life. So when visitations from the old anxiety tendrils began anew recently, I was not thrilled.

I wrote to my therapist: Last night, first time in a long time, my anxiety returned. Dreadful feeling, like the return of someone I really don’t like and hoped never to see again suddenly walking into my house. I was physically exhausted, so I knew that had something to do with my vulnerability to feelings of anxiety. At one point, I felt so angry about my ongoing anxiety, I shouted, “Get out of my life. Let me be happy. Just get out of my life.” And I was greatly relieved, a kind of mini-rage release. I couldn’t bring to mind parents or abusive people from my past. It was more a feeling of being victimized by the idea that for some reason it is not okay for me to have a happy healthy life.

My therapist wrote back, and I paraphrase: “This actually sounds very ‘normal’ (whatever that is!) to me and I want to say, “So, what’s the problem?” Yes, you have a habit or a propensity for anxiety.

“Stop narrating your mood. Feelings come and go like the tide. Let them move through you without judgment. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU! Perhaps you want the narrator to get out of your life?

“I understand it is not a pleasant feeling. Stop fighting with it, though, because that just gives it more power over you. Do you check the weather as much as you check your mood and feelings? Do you try to control the weather? Do you judge it? Your feelings are your own atmospheric experience. Let them be what they are and keep on living and Being!

“Who are you? What are you without the narrative? Who is aware of the anxiety? What is the experience of the experiencer? Put your awareness on itself and let everything else take care of itself. Make sense?”

I was reminded by those words from my therapist of a time twenty years ago when I was going through great physical difficulties, and I went to a body worker and she would be working on my shoulder or my hip, and the pain would be tremendous, and I would inform her of my pain, and she would say, “Stay with the pain. Go into it. Really try to experience everything that composes the pain. Really stay focused on that pain.”

And if I put my awareness on the pain, by golly, the pain would either go away or jump to another part of my body, which amazed me and made me wonder: what is pain?

Twenty years later, I regularly go to a superb acupressurist who invariably discovers blockages in my meridians and unblocks them so that for a few days at least I feel vastly improved compared to how I felt before she manipulated those points of interest.

The truth is, I would benefit greatly from a thorough massage every few days, weekly acupressure, weekly psychotherapy, and a sauna every day during the winter and twice weekly during the summer. Who wouldn’t benefit from that regimen of healing help? Who has that kind of money?

I remember during an anti-war demonstration long ago, a speaker reported calculations made by smart people at a renowned university that for the same amount of money the United States spent every year building weapons and waging needless wars, every person in America could afford a full-body massage every few days, weekly acupuncture treatments, weekly psychotherapy, free healthcare, free education from nursery school through graduate school, free food, and so much more. Every American. And if you don’t think creating a system providing such goodies for everyone would cure our social and economic and emotional ills, you and I would not be in agreement.

How’s this for a variation on the basic Descartes? I receive vast amounts of physical and emotional tenderness and approval and love, therefore I am happy and not at all anxious, and I want the same for everyone else.

I Will Play Chico

January 29th, 2018

Moments that we save TW

Moments That We Save painting by Nolan Winkler

I Will Play Chico

        a cinematic poem

I want to make a movie, a modern variant of the Marx Brothers.

My brother will play Groucho, you will play Harpo, and I will

play Chico. The movie is a classic comedy mystery chase love

story. We race around being ourselves in myriad situations—

basketball games, delicatessens, hardware stores, museums,

pizza parlors, schools, post offices, gas stations, taquerias,

coffee houses, traffic jams, ice cream parlors, prisons,

art galleries, trains, psychotherapists’ offices, hotels,

noodle joints, laundromats, sporting goods stores,

bistros, police stations, zoos, churches, houses,

hotels, corporate headquarters, jungles—

and everywhere we go we encounter men

who are enraged at us for daring to be

ourselves and they will stop at

nothing to try to kill us.


Several times during the movie we take breaks from being

pursued by the men who want to kill us, and we perform

for audiences of women and children and unusual men

who are not enraged by us being ourselves. I play

piano, you play harp, my brother strums a

ukulele, and we sing songs in three-part

harmony. We read poems of mystery,

tell funny stories about unlikely

tender-hearted heroes, and

paint intriguing pictures of

a society free of cruelty

and jealousy.


In the end we are captured and jailed and charged with

the crime of being ourselves. The trial takes place in a

spooky courtroom presided over by a judge wearing

a mask and a hood. We are sentenced to death and

are about to be executed when all the women and

children and unusual men we’ve met along our

way rise up to save us. And in the fabulous

song and dance finale, the men who

wanted to kill us for being

ourselves wake from their

trances and see that

they are us.


Todd Walton

Of Birds and Irony

January 22nd, 2018


tracks photo by Max Greenstreet

“For when you see that the universe cannot be distinguished from how you act upon it, there is neither fate nor free will, self nor other. There is simply one all-inclusive Happening, in which your personal sensation of being alive occurs in just the same way as the river flowing and the stars shining far out in space. There is no question of submitting or accepting or going with it, for what happens in and as you is no different from what happens as it.” Alan Watts

We’ve had several hummingbird sightings in the garden these last few cold winter days, and these first visitations after two months of not seeing the brilliant little hovering blurs always remind me that spring will soon come creeping over the windowsill, to cop a phrase from a song from My Fair Lady.

Did you know that an adult hummingbird visits an average of 1500 flowers per day, and that same adult hummingbird will eat six to seven hundred bugs a day in order to survive? Most people don’t realize that hummers are such voracious insectivores, but they are, for which we should be immensely grateful and not spray our gardens with bug poison.

Decades ago on an early summer backpack trip on the Lost Coast, my five pals and I reached the beach at Little Jackass Creek at dusk after a long day of hiking up and down the coast range through heavy brush. We found a fine camping spot a couple hundred yards up the creek from the beach, and also found multitudes of mosquitoes—this concentration of mosquito bait, six humans where no other humans were, attracting thousands of hungry blood suckers to our camp.

We lathered up with repellant, but we needn’t have. As we sat by our nascent fire, recovering from our strenuous trek, a vast array of diminutive super heroes materialized around us to gobble the swarms of mosquitoes. There were swallows, dragonflies, tiny sparrow-like birds, bats, and hummingbirds harvesting the air with such thoroughness and efficiency that within twenty minutes there were virtually no mosquitoes left in our vicinity. If I hadn’t been in the midst of this blessed annihilation, I wouldn’t have believed such a thing possible.

Along with the hummingbird sightings, I recently had a communication from a hawk, though I didn’t see her. Walking to town through the woods west of our house, I heard her shrill cry and looked up into a thick tangle of pine boughs to determine where the sound was coming from, imagining a hungry Red-tailed Hawk perched atop the tangle, as eager for spring as I am.

You probably know that raptors have incredibly keen eyesight, but did you know that an eagle flying a thousand feet high can spot a rabbit on the ground three miles away, and that the eyes of birds of prey weigh more than their brains?

As I was reading and writing about birds, I got an email containing the text of a speech given by a famous actress at one of the women’s marches that took place on the anniversary of the current President of the United States being in office for one year, a march protesting all things anti-women, most especially the current president. This super-famous actress was decrying the male-sexual-power-over-women ethos of Hollywood and America and the entire world, and admitting, while decrying, that her success was the result of acquiescing sexually to powerful men who then gave her the chance to play sadistic murderous sex sirens in many movies for which she became incredibly rich and famous.

Perhaps because I was reading and thinking and writing about birds and the fantastic complexity of nature, this woman’s speech struck me as an account of a natural process rather than a description of something terrible and wrong. Male mountain lions, for instance, do battle for control of large territories within which female mountain lions have smaller territories they protect from other female mountain lions. When a new male mountain lion takes control of a large territory from another male mountain lion, his first order of business is to find the litters of kittens fathered by the previous male mountain lion, kill the kittens, and then impregnate the mothers of those now dead kittens with his own offspring.

Which is not to say I don’t deplore the sexual-power-over ethos of Hollywood and America and the entire world, but to say I think it behooves us to examine this long-standing reality in the context of the evolution of humans and human society, and not merely as something we find abhorrent today. How did this ethos get established? How did sexual power-over serve the evolution of the species? Does this seemingly unfair and yucky ethos still have an evolutionary purpose? Is this power-over way of relating to one another inherent to our species?

Meanwhile, my friend Max recently sent me some photos he took of tire tracks in the snow. I found these photos stupendous and wrote the following to Max.

“I love those tire-track snow pictures. If you were a famous artist, you could blow those up to six-foot by four-foot prints, or twelve-foot by nine-foot, and frame them in huge black frames and they would go nuts over them in New York at the Museum of Modern Art. The New York Times would say they reveal the “genius of accidental movement of mass-with-treaded-tires colluding with the crystallization of nature’s communication modalities.” And The New Yorker would call them “brilliant calligraphic collaborations of mindless humanity and ironic natural positing.”

Think of a rabbit enjoying a tasty patch of freshly sprung grass on a sunny day in spring, little suspecting that three miles away and a thousand feet above the earth, an eagle has spotted the rabbit and is about to descend at a hundred-and-fifty-miles-per-hour to kill and eat the rabbit; neither the raptor nor the rabbit knowing that female humans are frequently the victims of predatory male humans or that Max’s photographs are not huge and hanging on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art—ironic positing of no consequence to eagles and rabbits doing what they were born to do.


tires diptych by Max Greenstreet


One Thing Leads To Another

January 15th, 2018

white winter permain

White Winter Permain photo by Todd

For several years in my childhood, there was a sentence I repeated to myself when I was riding my bike or walking home from school or climbing a tree; and I realize now, sixty years later, that I repeated this phrase as a way of countering my mother’s basic life philosophy, which was something along the lines of, “No matter what you do, it isn’t good enough.”

The sentence I repeated to myself was: “One thing leads to another.”

I was reminded of that favorite sentence yesterday when Susan Waterfall, the pianist and musical historian, and her orchestra conductor hubby Allan Pollack, came over for Marcia’s scrumptious cornbread and coffee, and brought with them the beautiful White Winter Permain apple tree, bare root, that Susan purchased for me from an heirloom apple tree nursery.

Susan gifted me with the apple tree, and got one for her orchard, too, after reading about the White Winter Permain in an article I posted seven months ago entitled Of Apples and Accordions. In that article, I copied a paragraph from the Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory that read: “PEARMAIN, WHITE WINTER (Winter Pearmain) — Oldest known English apple; dates back to 1200 A.D. Medium to nearly large, round to oval, light greenish fruit turning pale yellow with numerous dots. Fine-grained, crisp, tender, juicy flesh. Pleasantly rich, aromatic flavor. Fine quality, all-purpose apple. Excellent keeper. Tree is a healthy, vigorous grower; bears regularly and heavily. Splendid vitality; widely adaptable. Excellent pollinator. Old favorite dessert apple of the Middle West in early 1800s. Today is grown primarily in warm winter areas where its low chilling requirement renders it one of the few possible apples there. Ripens in late October.”

I have now planted the White Winter Permain in the center of our little orchard, and a few Octobers hence I hope to be eating apples from this tree. Thank you, Susan!

One thing really does lead to another.

A couple months ago, Marcia and I were visiting Carolyn Steinbuck, the pianist, and her husband Francis Rutherford, the cellist and fixer of just about anything needing repair, and Carolyn mentioned she was going to be selling her six-foot grand piano. Having wanted a grand piano for most of my adult life, but never imagining I would own one, I inquired of the price. Carolyn named a reasonable amount, and I replied without conscious forethought, “I might be interested.”

Hearing those words coming out of my mouth was startling to me, as was Carolyn’s response, “If anybody should have a grand piano, you should.”

What did she mean? Why should I, the past president of the Society of Undeserving People, have a lovely grand piano? A few days later, I returned to Carolyn’s house, gave the grand a good tryout, thought to myself I am unworthy of this piano and shouted, “I want it!”

With Marcia’s enthusiastic support, we bought Carolyn’s grand and had the six-foot beauty carefully moved from Carolyn’s house in Elk to our digs in Mendocino, a crew of three formidable and good-natured men accomplishing the daunting task.

the movers

The Marvelous Movers photo by Todd

But before that formidable trio brought the behemoth to our house, we had to do some serious rearranging of furniture and stuff in our living room, resulting in ridding ourselves of a gigantic old armchair, taking things down from walls, one thing leading to another, so when the grand piano was in place, our living room felt more spacious than ever before, and I still had my beloved upright piano.

When the marvelous movers were gone, I sat down at the grand, played a run of notes, and was immediately besieged by buyer’s remorse. I hurried across the room to the upright I’ve had for forty years, played a run of notes, wondered if I’d made a terrible mistake, and…

Weeks went by. The grand and I became better acquainted, but there were things about the sound and action I was unhappy with. I needed the expert advice of my tuner, Richard Kane, to determine whether those unhappy things could be made happy, which is why I so eagerly anticipated his January visit.

A few days ago, Richard came to tune the grand for the first time, gave her a test drive, and assured me that everything I felt was problematic could be rectified with proper regulation. We then discussed the subtle buzzing and somewhat metallic sound of the otherwise grandiloquent bass notes, and he said there was something he could do on the spot to solve those problems.

So rather than tune the piano, he loosened the bass strings, detached them one-at-a-time from their anchor posts (pegs?) and gave each string a bit of tightening twisting and self-Rolfing (my term) to remove accumulated stuckness before reattaching them. Then he tuned the bass strings and promised to return two weeks hence to tune the whole piano.

bass string fix

Bass String Fix photo by Todd

Alas, Richard no longer does the regulating my piano needs, but he will endeavor to find a technician willing to make the long trek to these hinterlands to make the grand right.

Now here is a deeper thing that led to those other things. I am absolutely certain I never would have even considered buying Carolyn’s piano had I not recently been through some hugely transformative experiences via psychotherapy. A fundamental rule of my former psychological operating system was to never allow myself to be my whole big self. To survive the slings and arrows of my unhappy parents, I learned to make myself small and to severely restrict my bigness and wholeness to avoid, as much as possible, verbal and physical abuse.

However, emerging as I am from the old constricting carapace of my former operating system, I am replacing many of the fundamental rules composing my operating system with new rules. And though I am still in a major reconstruction phase, the day I played the grand at Carolyn’s, Todd who shouted, “I want it!” was more than big enough to have a grand piano.

the player