Staunch Democrats

April 25th, 2016

sometimes, it's a circus, isn't it?72

Sometimes, It’s A Circus, Isn’t It? painting by Nolan Winkler

Most humans, alas, are easily swayed by clever liars who pray on our fears, and such swaying will almost surely cause the human experiment to devolve into global chaos—possibly quite soon.

I’ve been pondering the end of quasi-viable human society in the wake of Hillary Clinton winning the New York Democratic Primary over Bernie Sanders and because a reader recently wrote:  “I, too, am a Bernie supporter but my entire family—four siblings, and a mother—are all voting for Hillary. They are all wonderful people, yet staunch Democrats. I would love to read something by you about staunch Democrats. They are mostly a fine bunch of people who believe in social justice, equality and all the good stuff. They are far better than their party, and they continue to believe their party can provide the changes that would make the world a more just place.”

In my opinion, the big block of staunch Democrats voting for Hillary represents the single greatest obstacle to positive change in our society, and I think it would be more accurate to call such people Fundamentalist Democrats because of their unswerving devotion to people and doctrine serving the ruling elite and screwing everybody else.

I have friends who are staunch Democrats, and when I present them with clear proof of Hillary’s many crimes, their response never varies. They reflexively shake their heads and say things like, “That can’t be true.” Or “Hillary will unite the party.” Or “Hillary has a better chance of winning.” Or “You’re just saying that because you like that socialist guy.” Or “You have to admit she’s better than Trump.”

As The Bible is infallible to Fundamentalist Christians so The Party and Hillary are infallible to staunch Democrats. Sit down with a Hillary supporter and carefully prove beyond all doubt that Ms. Clinton is a rabid servant of the big banks and the super wealthy, a proponent of endless war, racism, big pharma, fracking, and corporate dominance at the expense of the American people, and the response will never vary because Fundamentalist Democrats cannot, will not, hear the truth.

For some years I thought these people suffered from IDD (Intelligence Deficit Disorder) but now I think they are captives of a deeply ingrained delusion nurtured by the ruling elite. To wit: change is bad and the status quo, however rotten and amoral, is preferable to the unknown. Bernie Sanders wants to change things, and change is bad. Hillary promises to keep the stock market Ponzi scheme going, to keep robbing the bottom ninety per cent to fatten the upper ten, to keep students in debt, to keep wages low, to keep the healthcare debacle in full flower—and staunch Democrats not yet starving will support her sickening agenda over anything else.

In related news, speaking of the upper ten per cent, some anonymous person recently gave us a subscription to Sunset Magazine. I hadn’t seen Sunset in thirty years, and if you remember this magazine from the 1950s and 1960s, the only thing about the new Sunset you will recognize is the name. Gone are the articles on how to make dolls from empty toilet paper rolls, how to make papie-mâché piñatas, how to make gerbil cages from old fruit crates. Gone are articles on how to plant, harvest, and cook string beans. Gone are ads for garden tools and inexpensive armchairs.

The new Sunset is exclusively for rich people. Imagine Vanity Fair meets Gourmet meets Travel For the Super Rich. Celebrities grace many a cover and are featured inside modeling expensive togs whilst lounging by waterfalls adjacent to their mansions. Every month brings us a list of The Top Ten Most Expensive Getaways In North America and glimpses into the kitchens of new restaurants so expensive only Hillary can afford to dine there, not Bernie.

In news related to that related news, you won’t read an article in Sunset about the shocking and cataclysmic disappearance of the kelp forests along our coast from San Francisco to Oregon and the simultaneous population explosion of purple sea urchins, devourers of kelp.

Scientists are blaming the disappearance of the kelp and the rise of the urchin barrens on several factors: a mysterious “disease” in 2013 that wiped out nearly all the millions of starfish on the west coast of North America (starfish being big eaters of sea urchins), an absence of sea otters, also voracious eaters of sea urchins, the huge warm water blob off the coast that appeared in 2014 and the El Niño of 2015 that further warmed the ocean and deprived the coastal waters of the upwelling of nutrient-rich cold water that helps kelp grow as much as 10 inches in a day.

Without starfish to keep them in check, purple urchins on the North Coast are now sixty times more plentiful than five years ago, and these urchins are extremely hungry. Thus any kelp that starts to grow in their midst is quickly gobbled. Abalone feeds on kelp, too, and without kelp, abalone are shrinking and dying, and abalone may soon disappear from the local coastal scene.

I remember those reports of virtually all the starfish along the west coast of North America suddenly dissolving in 2013, and a few writers daring to suggest there might be a connection to this unprecedented disaster and the billions of gallons of radioactive water that have been continuously flowing into the Pacific from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan since 2011. These suggestions of a connection between that ongoing river of radioactivity pouring into the Pacific and the vanishing starfish were quickly dismissed by the scientific community because, well, staunch scientists are never eager to entertain the possibility that the failed nuclear power industry might play even a little part in the ruination of the ecosystem of the west coast of North America and beyond.

Staunch scientists are like staunch Democrats voting for Hillary. Confronted with unpleasant truths that should cause them to question their failed notions of reality, they reflexively shake their heads and say, “That can’t be true.”

Nuclear Giants

April 18th, 2016

on a salty day tw

On A Salty Day painting by Nolan Winkler

“Nuclear power is one hell of a way to boil water.” Albert Einstein

Listening to the Giants bombard the Dodgers last week, I decided to pay a couple bills. This year, so far, for the first time since I was a kid listening to Lon Simmons and Russ Hodges doing the radio broadcasts, the boys are winning games with strong hitting rather than great pitching. Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, and Alou were a scary battery for any pitcher to face in the 1960s, and today we’ve got Panik, Posey, Pence, Belt, Duffy and Crawford smacking the ball around the park, not to mention our ace Madison Bumgarner taking the loathsome Clayton Kershaw deep in their first meeting of the year.

So I opened our PG&E bill and found two notices of requests for rate increases. PG&E wasn’t asking for my approval of these proposed increases, they were informing me that they have asked the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission) to allow them to jack up our rates again. These announcements always strike me as disingenuous since PG&E is not a public utility, though it should be, and the CPUC approves everything PG&E wants as a matter of course, though they shouldn’t.

Both rate increases are to gouge us for hundreds of millions more dollars to pay for PG&E’s ongoing nuclear power debacle, otherwise known as Fukushima Waiting To Happen Here. One of the increases will pay for seismic studies. You would think such studies were done long before they built the stupid Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, but apparently PG&E needs to confirm they built the idiotic thing on an active earthquake fault and in range of a tsunami because, I dunno, maybe they forgot. But since when does a seismic study cost a hundred million dollars?

The other rate increase is supposedly to help accrue the countless billions of dollars they will need to decommission (tear down) the nuclear power plant once they admit they never should have built the poisonous thing in the first place. It is one thing to shut down a nuclear power plant, and quite another to dismantle the massive radioactive structure and safely remove all the nuclear fuel rods that will remain dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

In fact, no one has ever successfully dismantled a nuclear power plant and safely disposed of the remains, because the only way to successfully dispose of nuclear waste is to send the deathly stuff to the original nuclear mass, our sun. And that’s not happening any time soon. So for now let’s just put the nuclear waste, um, over there somewhere. You know. Way over there.

Meanwhile, the exploded melted down Fukushima reactors in Japan continue to pour radioactive matter into the Pacific Ocean, there to accumulate in the flesh of fish born and growing and caught in that now-toxic sea—for your dining pleasure.

Baseball makes sense. Nuclear power does not make sense. Baseball is the perfect combination of explosive physicality and pleasing ritual. Nuclear power is a horrible combination of danger and stupidity.

My choice for President of the United States, Bernie Sanders, has long opposed nuclear power, whereas his rival for the nomination, the odious Hillary, has been a cheerleader for nuclear power her entire political career. This alone should convince anyone of even moderate intelligence to vote for Bernie over Hillary, but I still know people who seem to be moderately intelligent who say they support Hillary because they feel she won’t change things too much, and they are deathly afraid of change, even it turns out to be good change.

I would not be surprised if nearly all Giants fans are for Bernie and most Dodger fans are for Hillary. When I listen to the games between the Dodgers and the Giants, I imagine the Giants are playing for Bernie and the Dodgers are playing for Hillary, that Giants fans are advocates of solar power and Medicare For All and an end to war, and Dodger fans think nuclear power is fine and they like amoral health insurance companies and they adore weapons of mass destruction.

So we took three out of our first four games from the Dodgers, and three of the four games were day games, so I weeded and gardened and chopped wood while I listened, and took my little radio to town with me on my errands. Life is good when the Giants are beating the Dodgers and Jon Miller is waxing poetic and the sun is shining down on the little town of Mendocino and the Bernie Sanders mobile headquarters is parked outside the GoodLife Bakery and people, young and old, are stopping to chat with the folks manning the mobile headquarters, selling T-shirts and informing people about how they can help Bernie keep winning.

Recent polls indicate that among Democrats, Hillary’s largest support comes from frightened shortsighted people over sixty-five, rich people, and people easily duped by slick dishonest advertising. Bernie is supported by brave, optimistic, intelligent people of all ages with good senses of humor and a deep appreciation for the irony and majesty of life. Where do you fall among these demographics?

Yes, it’s a long season and the Giants’ stellar start is certainly not predictive of the final outcome, but we have reason to be hopeful. I know baseball is a distraction from the ongoing horrors, but I do not separate baseball from the rest of life. When Brandon Crawford comes to the plate, he is batting for me and Bernie and an equitable tax structure. When Angel Pagan makes a diving catch to rob the Dodgers of a run, he is taxing the super rich to pay for healthcare services for low-income folks and inspiring millions of people to send Bernie twenty dollars.

In the end, Bernie will either win or lose, the Giants will win the World Series or not, and life will go on. But as Bruce Bochy implies during every post-game interview: Yes we love to win, but more importantly we love to play the game with passion and joy and integrity.

Bernie Brigades

April 11th, 2016

calligraphic bones tw

Calligraphic Bones painting by Nolan Winkler

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.” Mario Savio

So I’m driving home from my acupuncture treatment and I come to the stoplight at the south end of Fort Bragg and here are a dozen people on the west side of the highway with signs saying Honk For Bernie, Volunteer for Bernie, Learn About Bernie, and I’m honking my little old horn, and the people are smiling and waving, and the excellent effects of my acupuncture treatment are amplified by a release of endorphins as I imagine Bernie Sanders becoming President of the Unites States and millions of people, old and young, black and brown and white, who have been disenfranchised for their entire lives finally having someone leading the country who wants to help them.

These people holding signs and many of their compadres have been coming out to this spot on the highway for months now, and you can see by their smiles and their confidence that they are not cowed by the lying corporate media saying Bernie doesn’t have a chance. Bernie recently won the Wisconsin primary by a huge margin, though you might not have heard much about that in the mainstream press. But the Bernie Brigades know. They know and they are empowered.

The odds are still not good Bernie will prevail over the entrenched rich and greedy corporate villains supporting his opponent for the nomination, a person of no apparent morals, zero compassion, and a mean streak as wide and long as the Mississippi, but don’t tell that to the thousands of Bernie Brigades all over America. The Bernie Brigades are bursting with true believers, and Bernie keeps winning to confirm their faith in him.

The corporate media still barely mentions Bernie, even when he trounces Hillary in primary after primary, and those same media louts continue to say Bernie only wins primaries in states with mostly white people, which is hogwash. Minority support for Hillary is collapsing because the message is finally getting through to everyone: Bernie Will Be Good For Everyone, Hillary Bad For Everyone except her obscenely wealthy friends.

You think I’m being overly optimistic? Consider where I’m coming from. I haven’t seen a grassroots movement like the Bernie Brigades since the early 1970s. That’s almost fifty years ago. I was young and idealistic and had lots of hair on top of my head in those days. As a young teen, I participated in protests to speed the integration of our local schools, and by golly the schools were integrated. As a young man, I joined the ferocious protests against the Vietnam War, and by golly that war ended.

Yes, the damn warmongers started up more insane wars, but millions of us remember a time when organizing and boycotting and getting out on the street and protesting and making good noise made a difference. Activism worked.

That is what the Bernie Brigades remind me of: the civil rights and anti-war movements of the Sixties and Seventies. And the millions of young people involved in the Bernie Brigades and organizing on college campuses and canvasing neighborhoods for Bernie remind me of that exciting era, too.

We stopped buying grapes and lettuce at Safeway, millions of us did, and the United Farm Workers were victorious because of that successful boycott. Yes, Hillary’s despicable husband undermined much of that progress by pushing through NAFTA and other trade agreements that undermined American labor and rendered our economy moribund for the bottom sixty per cent of the population, but millions of us still remember when our economy was not moribund, still remember a time when our actions had an impact on our so-called elected representatives, and so we hold signs for Bernie, give him money, call our friends and urge them to support the good guy against the rotten sellout.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media couldn’t resist giving the movie star Susan Sarandon a little time in the limelight recently, though she is a staunch supporter of Bernie and artfully calls Hillary a liar and a Monsanto lackey and a hedge funder’s wet dream. I imagine Hillary raging around her castle shouting, “Who let that bitch get on national television? It’s one thing for me to go up against a dumpy white-haired guy with a Brooklyn accent. But Sarandon is regal and charismatic and…argh!”

Yes, for the next few weeks anyway, we Bernie believers can wallow in the possibility that despite everything against him, Bernie will prevail. My more cynical friends like to ask me, “What will you do if Bernie loses?”

“I will go on with my life. Somehow.”

“And you won’t vote for Hillary against the evil Republicans?”

“I will not.”

“Even if Bernie asks you to?”

“I am not voting for Bernie to tell me what to do. I’m voting for Bernie because he might actually beat the monsters and start spending money to help everyone instead of just a few of Hillary’s fat cat friends. Why would I turn around and vote for the monsters if Bernie loses?”

The media dopes asked Susan Sarandon the same thing. “If Bernie loses, will you vote for Hillary in the general election?”

And she said, “I don’t know. Maybe not.”

This flummoxed the “liberal” pundits who are so far right of what used to be called liberal, the term is now essentially meaningless.

What You Can Do To Help?

Give Bernie money. Even ten bucks will help. Call your friends, especially in states with upcoming primaries, and convince them to vote for Bernie. Organize a Bernie Brigade and let your neighbors know Bernie is determined to institute Medicare For All and spend money on America instead of on foreign wars. Hold signs for Bernie at a busy intersection. However you can, spread the word that Bernie will help usher in a new age of equality and fairness and positive change—before it’s too late.

Favorites

April 4th, 2016

sunstruck tw

Sunstruck painting by Nolan Winkler

“The diamond-bright dawn woke men and crows and bullocks together. Kim sat up and yawned, shook himself, and thrilled with delight. This was seeing the world in real truth; this was life as he would have it—bustling and shouting, the buckling of belts, and beating of bullocks and creaking of wheels, lighting of fires and cooking of food, and new sights at every turn of the approving eye. The morning mist swept off in a whorl of silver, the parrots shot away to some distant river in shrieking green hosts: all the well-wheels within earshot went to work.” Rudyard Kipling

Reading Kim by Rudyard Kipling for the tenth time in the last twenty-five years, I’ve been thinking about why this novel and no other of the thousands I’ve read calls to me again and again, and why, again and again, I am enthralled from first word to last.

There are books I loved in my teens and twenties I revisited in middle age—Zorba the Greek, The Last Temptation of Christ, Parnassus On Wheels—and a handful of other novels I’ve read a second or third time over the years; but Kim is the only novel I am eager to read again every few years.

This is not a recommendation, however. There was a time when I urged my friends to read Kim and quickly learned that women, for the most part, do not like this book, and some women loathe it. A few men I touted on the book enjoyed the tale, but I was repeatedly cautioned that Kim was out of date, racist, misogynist, and juvenile. Never mind that the writing is exquisite, those charges against the book—none of which I agree with—are prevalent today, so I do not recommend Kim.

One friend suggested I love the book because the character of Kim resonates with some vision of who I imagine I am in relation to the larger world. Perhaps. But I think the greater draw for me is the relationship between Kim and the lama with whom he travels, and through whom he discovers the spiritual side of life. Also, Kim is beloved and revered by not one but four fascinating older men, something I did not experience with my own father or any older man, and I longed for that in my life.

The words in Kim sing to me—glorious prose poetry—else I would not return so often to those pages.

Kim got me thinking about movies I have watched multiple times, as in more than three times, and one movie jumps out before any other: The Horse’s Mouth starring Alec Guinness. I saw the movie when I was eight, eighteen, twenty-five, thirty-seven, thirty-nine, forty-eight, fifty-three, and sixty. And I was enthralled from first frame to last, moved to tears, and greatly inspired each time.

Again, not a recommendation. Having touted this film to many people, I know The Horse’s Mouth is not to everyone’s taste and many women find the movie sexist. Be that as it may, The Horse’s Mouth is still the best film I’ve ever seen about what it is to be an artist of the kind Guinness portrays—a person for whom making art takes precedence over everything else in life. Everything. And the movie is screamingly funny in parts, as well as profoundly moving.

Another film I have seen four times and would gladly watch again tomorrow is Mostly Martha, the German film about a hyper-controlling German chef who is melted out of her emotional isolation by unexpectedly becoming mother to her sister’s young daughter, while having to share her high-end restaurant kitchen with her emotional opposite, a sensual funny guy chef from Italy.

The other food-related film I love and have watched multiple times is The Big Night.

Then there is Danny Kaye in The Court Jester. I have seen this movie at least ten times, from when I was a boy until a couple years ago when I couldn’t resist renting it again. I love everything about this movie. Never gets old for me.

In that same vein: Young Frankenstein.

I once knew a man named Jack who used a particular film as a preliminary test for establishing friendships and relationships. If the man or woman being tested did not like the French film Toto le Hero, Jack would have nothing more to do with the person. If the person being tested had not seen the film, which was usually the case, Jack would screen it for them and judge them according to their reaction.

As it happened, I loved Toto le Hero, but made the mistake of raving about it to many of my friends, and with few exceptions they hated the movie. I did not hold this against them, so some of them remained my friends, whereas Jack had almost no friends. But I understood why he felt as he did. When a movie or book or work of art is precious to us, there is undoubtedly something in the work representative of our feelings and spirit, and so another’s rejection of our favorite can feel like a rejection of us.

I’ve been struggling with this very thing regarding Bernie Sanders. I love Bernie Sanders. Yes, I know. He has this flaw and that flaw and he voted wrong on this and that, and he should be better than he is, but I love him. I have never in my life liked a candidate for President of the United States remotely as much as I like Bernie, and I have a hard time feeling friendly toward people who do not share my love for him. For me, Bernie is the reincarnation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his opponent the female embodiment of the plutocracy.

Yet some of my favorite people do not love Kim, do not love The Horse’s Mouth, would rather do anything than watch The Court Jester, and do not think Bernie has a chance in hell of unseating the reigning overlords.

But one of the important things I’ve learned from reading Kim ten times is that it is far better to rejoice with others who share our enthusiasms than to waste our precious time feeling bitterly toward those who do not.

Forty Years Ago

March 27th, 2016

crossroads tw

Crossroads painting by Nolan winkler

I completed my novel Inside Moves in 1975, the year the war in Vietnam ended. I had a medical deferment that saved me from going to that war. I lost friends to that needless conflagration and had friends who came back from those horrors emotionally disturbed. And long before the Vietnam War, my uncle Bob was severely disabled in a car accident, and spending time with him as a boy and a teenager was a huge influence on how I looked at the world.

Before I wrote Inside Moves, I lived in Santa Cruz and played music in a tavern in which one of the booths was reserved for a group of disabled men. I like them and they liked me, and I wrote a short story about them and then attempted without success to craft the story into a one-act play.

These were all antecedents to my writing Inside Moves, though the largest influence was being disabled as a teenager and spending half a year unable to walk and several years with terrible hip and back pain and a pronounced limp before regaining normal physical functioning in my late twenties.

I would like to share the opening chapter of Inside Moves with you. If I had not succeeded in publishing Inside Moves—a miraculous saga in itself—and if it had not been a modest success and made into a motion picture, I almost surely would not have had a career as a professional writer. The gods, I believe, wanted me to keep writing books and so engineered the unlikely process that brought Inside Moves to the world in 1978.

Reading these opening lines today, forty years after I wrote them, they feel as relevant to me today as they did in my youth when the voice of a man began to tell me this story and I wrote it down.

1.

My name is Roary and I’m the kind of person that scares people just looking like I do. I’m the kind of person people see coming and lots of times they’ll cross the street rather than walk by me, or if they do walk by me it’s quick and nervous, like they’d walk by a dog they weren’t sure of. I don’t blame them at all because I am pretty gross-looking and I walk funny because I’m a cripple.

I got hurt in Vietnam. This land mine blew a hole in my upper back and destroyed some vertebrae and part of my spinal cord and part of my brain. I was paralyzed for about a year. Then one day I was talking to this guy Schulz, who was just an orderly, and I told him I felt okay, that I was pretty sure I could walk and use my arms. Next thing I know, this psychiatrist is there telling me that I’ll just have to accept the fact that I’m gonna be paralyzed for life. He was trying to help me face reality, which I suppose was his job, but since I knew I could walk he just irritated me. Sometimes you just know something, no matter what anybody else tells you.

So I told him, “Really, Doctor, I can walk.” He’s a young guy, luckily, so he still has some energy and curiosity. He goes off to talk to a surgeon to find out if I can be disconnected from the bed and the tubes they had going into me. He wanted to let me try to move so I’d know I couldn’t, which he figured would help me accept my paralysis. So the surgeon comes back with the psychiatrist and a couple orderlies and couple nurses and some patients come in too. It was a big event. I could write a whole book on that hospital, but they’ve already written so many like it, there wouldn’t be much point.

The surgeon says go ahead, unhook him. The nurses pull my tubes and then very dramatically this one nurse throws back the covers and there I am in my crummy, piss-stained bedclothes. Nobody’s changed me in over a week. Like I said, I could write a book about that place, but don’t worry, I’m not going to. It wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

Anyway, after the surgeon says what a disgraceful situation it is, me not being changed and my tubes not functioning properly, and the nurses and orderlies get done passing the buck to some boy who works the graveyard shift, I swing my legs off the bed, push off with my hands and stand up for a few seconds before my legs, which I haven’t used in a year, give out and I sit back down on the bed.

I’d give a hundred dollars right now to have a picture of all those people staring at me.

But I can’t really blame them for not changing me. What difference does it make when you think somebody’s just a vegetable anyway. I was just a raspy voice coming out of a scarred up face to them. Most of them didn’t even know I had a body.

So that’s why I shuffle when I walk and why my head leans to the side a little. I grew a beard and let my hair get long because that covers the scars front and back, and also my head leaning isn’t so noticeable with all that hair. I guess I’m fat because when I’m lonely I tend to eat to fill in for whatever I’m lonely for. Sometimes it’s a girl, sometimes I just need somebody to talk to So I eat.

But I don’t want you to get the idea this book is about me, because it isn’t. It’s about Jerry, but I thought I’d better say something about myself so you’d know what kind of an angle you were getting. In a way, you’re getting a cripple angle, but then again I wasn’t born a cripple. There’s a big difference between a born cripple and somebody who gets crippled. The main difference seems to be how bitter they are. That isn’t always true, but take Jerry, he was born cripple and he’s the sweetest guy in the world. Me, I was born straight, played fullback in high school. Me, I’m bitter. I’m no sweetheart.

Bernie Blackout

March 22nd, 2016

over the rainbow  tw

Over the Rainbow painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser March 2016)

“I think perfect objectivity is an unrealistic goal; fairness, however, is not.” Michael Pollan

Last week, Bernie Sanders gave a major speech in Arizona on the eve of a day of primary elections in which he, by the way, was one of the major candidates. And not a single cable or network channel mentioned the speech or carried even a portion of his stirring address. This is not surprising, but maddening. The corporate media is called the corporate media for a reason: they do the bidding of the rulers of the large corporations currently ruling the world, and that bidding right now is to defeat Bernie Sanders and elect Hillary Clinton who has been their loyal puppet for her entire political career.

What about Donald Trump? In my opinion, Trump is part of the designed strategy to elect Hillary. She would struggle against any moderate Republican candidate, but against Trump she will easily win California, New York, and most of the states outside the South, and she might even win there. Bernie would beat Trump easily, too, so it is incumbent upon the corporate media to make sure the Bernie Blackout continues.

My grandmother Goody, who was what I call an optimistic fatalist, would have responded to my outrage about the Bernie Blackout by saying, “Don’t worry about Bernie. He’ll be fine.”

And I would say, “But Goody, this is not about Bernie being fine, this is about our country and the world being fine. We need Bernie to become President so we can begin the return to a society where more than privileged wealthy people get everything at the expense of everyone else.”

And she would say, “Thus it has always been, but look, things are better now than they were a hundred years ago.”

I have friends who are already angry with me for not voting for Hillary Clinton should she be the Democratic Party nominee for President. If Bernie doesn’t win the nomination, I will vote Green. My friends believe the media nonsense that Trump might win unless we all rally around Hillary. I’m not saying Trump isn’t a disturbing person or that his popularity with a certain sector of our population isn’t frightening. I’m saying he is yet another red herring, another Weapons of Mass Destruction lie to get us to go along with the game plan of the puppeteers.

My grandmother was right to say ‘Thus it has always been.’ Those in power have always done whatever they feel necessary to maintain their power, and that means identifying people who threaten the status quo and either co-opting those people or eliminating them. In Bernie’s case, they are trying to eliminate him by blacking him out. If people can’t hear him or experience the excitement he generates, they will be unlikely to vote for him. We would like to think we have moved beyond such primitive machinations, but by and large we have not.

My friends who are pre-angry with me say, ‘But Todd, Bernie has forced Hillary to the left. She’s starting to sound more like him now.”

Hello? She has changed her campaign rhetoric to obscure who she really is and to steal some of Bernie’s thunder, and we’re supposed to believe she is sincere about being in favor of things she was opposed to last week?

I am put in mind of my time in Hollywood in the 1980’s when a novel of mine was made into a movie and I was hired to write screenplays. I was eager to have more of my books made into movies and to sell my screenplays, and to that end I spent a good deal of time in Los Angeles and New York and had many meetings with producers and directors and agents and movie studio executives.

Time and again, whenever the person or people I met believed my little star was in the ascendancy, or if they thought my book or screenplay might become a hot item, I was treated like royalty, fabulous promises were made, I was wined and dined lavishly, and told with convincing sincerity by men and women, young and old, including several famous and powerful people, that my work was the best thing they had read since (name of a famous movie) and would make an equally great film. And I, little me, was the person they had been waiting to work with since the day they got into the business.

Myriad eyes filled with seemingly sincere tears as these charmers professed to a soul connection with me, and a sense of destiny about our meeting and working together. But when the deals didn’t happen, I couldn’t get past their receptionists. What astounds me, in retrospect, was how many times I fell for their baloney. And why did I keep falling for it? Because I wanted so desperately to believe they were speaking the truth.

That’s the secret of manipulating people: saying what they desperately want to believe—and not allowing them to hear anything to the contrary. Which brings me back to the Bernie Blackout. So long as the majority of people are not allowed to hear anything other than the same old corporate baloney as presented by seemingly sincere people with good hair and nice clothes appearing in profusion on our myriad screens, we will believe the stuff that comes closest to what we desperately want to believe.

The last time I took the Hollywood bait was in 1996. I was broke and scrambling to pay the rent. A big time agent called about my novel Ruby & Spear. He said, “This book completely changed how I think about the world. I feel my life finally has a meaning and a purpose. If ever a deal was going to happen, this is that deal. Send me ten copies of the book, signed, to give to the major players lining up to make this film. And send those copies Fed X, Brother, Friend, Savior, and I’ll reimburse you.”

Near and Far

March 15th, 2016

I promise moderation tw

I Promise Moderation painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser March 2016)

“There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.” Eugene O’Neill

We’ve had quite a series of storms this past week and the rain is continuing to fall. Several huge branches came down from the giant redwoods near our house, and we are fortunate none of those branches struck home. We’ve had two power outages, one lasting an hour, another five hours. In the absence of electricity to power our kitchen stove, we cooked an evening meal on our woodstove, and with our computers and lights kaput, I wrote a few letters by candlelight and Marcia practiced her cello.

The day before the storms began to arrive, our local chain saw savant dropped by and cut down two smaller redwood trees and many sky-obscuring branches from the aforementioned giants. Thus I now have several days of work ahead of me making kindling and firewood from the fallen goodies.

The very local water news is good as the storms continue to roll in from the Pacific, our home rain gauge telling six inches in a week, the recent downpours swelling the neighborhood aquifers. The Sierra snowpack, however, is still not exceptional and statewide drought conditions are expected to resume at the end of the rainy season.

Further afield, Bernie Sanders, my choice for President of the United States, is doing remarkably well for someone virtually unknown to the general public a year ago, but maybe not well enough to overcome the long-planned ascendancy of Hillary Clinton to that position of power over the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

I am most sad—but not surprised—about Hillary garnering such enormous support from those population sectors—African Americans, seniors, and women—that she and her husband abused for decades with policies intended to serve rich white males at the expense of those people now voting for in large numbers.

A friend who shares my appreciation for Bernie called to ask me what I thought about the success of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I replied, “I avoid listening to or reading about the debates because accounts of jabbering liars make me furious and depressed. I do read articles detailing which sectors of the population support which candidates, and what policies the majority of Americans support. I deduce from these articles that a sizeable majority of the population should be supporting Bernie Sanders, but do not. There seems to be a bizarre disconnect between what people want and the candidates they vote for. Put another way, we seem to be a nation of the confused.”

“I think in terms of the day’s resolution, not the years’.” Henry Moore

Yesterday I spent two pleasurable hours taking care of ten-month-old Vito while his parents bottled their latest batches of homemade wine and beer. Vito is on the verge of walking and talking, and he finds the various noises I can make with my mouth and lips and tongue hilarious.

Part of what made hanging out with Vito so much fun for me is that he does not care even a little bit about who becomes the next President of the Unites States. Nor does he care about the huge branches that thankfully missed our house. He cares about eating crackers, drinking water, wrecking towers of blocks, attempting to pull apart and eat books and magazines, crawling into areas of the house where he is not supposed to go, throwing things and shouting triumphantly as he throws them, trying to rip my glasses off my face, and watching rain drops pelt the window.

Returning home from my two hours with Vito, I strolled around the yard assessing the various tangles of redwood branches that will occupy me for the near future, and it occurred to me that by the time Vito can vote, Hillary and Bernie will be long gone from the spotlight, I will be eighty-three, should I live so long, and the history books will say little about Ms. Clinton except maybe she was the first woman President of the United States, just as they will say little about Barack Obama other than he was the first African American to hold that office. Their policies will be seen as virtually identical continuations of the greedy and violent agenda of the ruling oligarchy, unless Hillary happens to be in office for the Great Collapse, and then she will be remembered for that, too. Only Bernie has the chance to be mentioned as a latter day Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

This is one of the many strange things about being human in this era of global connectivity, when something of huge import today to hundreds of millions of people is of little or no importance to those same millions tomorrow. History becomes irrelevant in the context of a never-ending media flood.

Things that directly and immediately impact us—the water supply, the plum and apple crop, the almond harvest, Vito trying to break my glasses, whether or not we got a good night’s sleep, a call from a friend, power outages, ocean waves rushing up to tickle our toes—get shuffled into the continuum of flickering images and data bits on our various screens—Hillary lying through her teeth and cackling like a dybbuk, a dog catching a Frisbee, Bernie angrily decrying corporate abuse, bombs exploding in Gaza, a kitten falling off a sofa.

This incessant shuffling makes us schizoid and antsy and neither here nor there; a population of shattered psyches.

“Never make predictions, especially about the future.” Casey Stengel

Predictions for 2016: the statewide drought will continue, but in Mendocino most wells will not run dry, the plum and apple and huckleberry and blackberry crops will be stupendous, the earth will continue to respond to the excesses of our species with climatic catastrophes, the Giants will win the World Series, naps will be scientifically proven to be good for you, Bernie Sanders will pass the baton of his socialist agenda to younger politicians, whales will continue their marvelous migrations, and popcorn will make yet another big comeback.

Two Stories from Buddha In A Teacup

March 8th, 2016

buudha-pb

Change

What was her name? She modeled for him twice. The four paintings he made of her sold before the paint was dry. Something about her angularity—a hunger in her bones. Or was it the sorrow in her eyes—the first glimmering of old age?

A gigantic face looms before him, startling him. “Hello Boo Boo,” says a voice coming from enormous lips on their way to press a kiss against his cheek. “You poopy? Need a change?”

Huge hands close around his middle, lifting him from the cushioned chair. He moans softly, a sound his mother hears as the beginning of language.

I’m Walter Casey he tries to say. The artist.

But only the most primitive sounds escape him, his brand new larynx yet untrained.

*

Helpless on the changing table, his mother frees him from his itchy pajamas and lifts away his soiled diapers. He sighs with relief to have his bum free in the open air. She wipes him clean, cooing as she pulls the string on the musical bear—Twinkle Twinkle Little Star playing for the thousandth time.

Mendelssohn he tries to say. Mozart. Anything but this ice cream truck twaddle.

*

She sits with him in dappled shade, chuckling at how ravenously he feeds on her.

Maria. That was her name. She wanted to make love with me. All I had to do was ask. But I was too arrogant. No. Afraid.

His mother pulls him off her nipple. He begins to shriek in despair.

“Hold on, Boo Boo. Switching breasts, that’s all.”

*

He falls asleep and drifts through layers of time to

a snarling dog lunging at him

his father saying You Are No Son Of Mine

forms appearing on his canvas as if by magic

mother clutching his hand as death takes her

his lover kissing his throat

*

The man who comes to visit every day is not the baby’s father. The baby’s father is bearded and stays in the house throughout the night. This other man has no beard. He only stays for an hour or so, speaking out loud to the baby, but conversing silently with Walter Casey.

How are you feeling? asks the man.

I forget more than I remember now.

Yes says the man. Soon you will forget almost everything that came before this life.

But I don’t want to forget.

What do you wish to remember?

Everything.

Choose one thing.

The baby laughs. The man laughs, too.

*

The creek tumbles down through the wooded gorge—a sensual chill in the air. Yellow leaves drift through slanting rays of sunlight and settle on the forest floor. Walter stands at the water’s edge, the tip of his fishing rod pointing toward the sun, his line disappearing into a deep pool. Tomorrow is his seventeenth birthday.

His mother appears on the ridge above him. She is small in the distance, lovely and strong. She waves to let him know it is time to come home for supper. Walter waves back to her and reels in his line. Now he looks up at the falling leaves, at the branches of the aspens, at the billowy white clouds in the gray blue sky, and he begins to weep.

*

“Don’t cry, Boo Boo,” says his father, lifting him from his crib. “Here we are. Don’t be afraid.”

I am not afraid. I was remembering the happiest moment of my other life.

“Don’t cry, Boo Boo,” says the gentle, bearded man. “Mama will feed you. Everything is okay.”

 

Beginning Practice

Joseph, a self-conscious young man with a shaved head, sits at a small table in the darkest corner of the café, writing a poem. The first two lines came easily to him.

broken glass, green and brown—

a necklace round the tree trunk

Beyond that, he has drawn a blank. He wants to say something poignant and meaningful about the trees that grow up through the sidewalks of the concrete city, but every new line he writes sounds trite.

He puts down his pen, rubs his eyes, and decides to have a cup of tea. He prefers coffee to tea, but the three people he admires most—his mentor at the Zen center, his yoga instructor, his favorite poet—all drink tea, so he is trying to develop the habit. His father, from whom he is estranged, drinks quarts of coffee every day.

Stepping to the counter, Joseph smiles at the word BUDDHA printed in large block letters across the pale blue T-shirt worn by Irene, the young woman who works the morning shift at Café Muse. Irene is a voluptuous brunette, each of her carefully plucked eyebrows pierced with seven gold rings, her dark brown eyes enormous. The U in Buddha rides atop her right breast, the H atop her left.

“Green tea, please,” says Joseph, raising his eyes from Irene’s breasts to her eyes. “Are you a Buddhist?”

“Sort of,” she says with a shrug. “Are you?”

“Absolutely,” he replies, his chest swelling with pride. “I’ve been going to the Zen center for years.”

This is not precisely true. Joseph has been going twice a week for three months.

“Is that, like, free?” asks Irene as she prepares his tea. “Can you just…go in?”

“We have regular meditation times.” Joseph’s voice deepens with authority. “I generally go in the evenings. Seven to nine.”

She hands him a white mug and a small black teapot. “I’ll check it out. That’s two dollars.”

“Cool,” says Joseph, eager to prolong the conversation. “So where did you get your T-shirt?”

“They’re my favorite band,” she says, turning around to show him the back. The word GROOVES is written in crimson Italics. Irene turns back around and peers down at her breasts. “Buddha Grooves. They’re kind of world beat reggae with some metal and hip-hop. Very danceable.”

“Are they Buddhists?” asks Joseph, his tone disdainful.

“Is that like a big deal?” she asks, frowning at him. “Knowing if someone is a Buddhist or not? I thought Buddha loved everybody no matter what? Wasn’t that why he stuck around instead of going off to nirvana? So he could spread the light?” She looks deep into Joseph’s eyes. “Isn’t Buddhism about becoming more and more open to what actually is, instead of just following some old dogma?”

Hearing these words from her, the blockade between his mind and his heart—an amalgam of fear and sorrow—begins to crumble.

 

 

Town Life

March 1st, 2016

there is always more life tw

There Is Always More Life painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser March 2016)

“Life is a long lesson in humility.” James Barrie

I have now lived in Mendocino for ten years, nine of those partnered with Marcia. Our little town gets flack for being a tourist trap, and there is no question that tourism and cannabis fuel the local economic engine, but so do carpentry, plumbing, school teaching, real estate, dentistry, nursing, doctoring, selling groceries, photocopying, and writing speculative fiction to name a few of the many things humans do hereabouts to make money. Which is to say, having lived in Berkeley for eleven years and Sacramento for fifteen, if Mendocino is a tourist trap, I’ll take it.

This past Saturday night I gave a reading at Mendocino’s Gallery Bookshop to celebrate the new Counterpoint Press edition of my book Buddha In A Teacup. Twenty people came to listen. I knew half the twenty and didn’t know the other half, but everyone got along, enjoyed the complimentary wine, and when I finished reading three stories, the audience requested another story and then another.

After reading, I sat at a little table and signed copies of the book and chatted with some of the people I knew and some of the people I didn’t know. One fellow introduced himself and said, “I enjoyed your stories. Thought I’d say hello because we both live here and…why not?”

I asked him what he did and he said, “Oh, nothing linear.”

“Did you used to do something linear?” I asked, not wanting to be too nosy. “To make a living?”

“Oh, quasi-linear maybe,” he said, shrugging. “Not really.”

I liked him, though I’ve never been great at non-specific small talk.

A woman I didn’t know said she wanted to hear me read all forty-two stories from Buddha In A Teacup and I said she could download my reading of the book from iTunes or Audible or the Audio Bookstore, as well as my readings of three of my novels. She frowned. “How do you do that? Download something?”

I said I didn’t know, but I knew it could be done because I’ve heard of people who do that sort of thing. She said she would ask a friend who knew about computers.

A woman I do know, the force behind the Mendocino Gluten Free Baking Company, bought two copies of Buddha In A Teacup, one for herself and one as a birthday gift for a friend. I couldn’t help calculating that my take from the sale of her two copies, according to my publishing contract, would be two dollars and twenty-two cents, which would not quite pay for one of her delicious gluten-free oatmeal cookies. However, my take of the sales of the book for the night would buy four cookies, which made me feel fat and sassy.

Another woman I didn’t know said, “You mentioned you were a voracious reader of short stories and on the lookout for good ones.” She then rattled off the names of several writers she thought I might like, but I couldn’t hear her clearly because the next person in line was telling me how she wanted me to sign her copy of the book.

I thanked the bookstore folks for hosting me, and then Marcia and I went to Harvest Market and bought chips and salsa and went home and got a fire going and drank beer and played cards, and I had to laugh about how nervous I was prior to the reading. I hadn’t done any sort of public anything in many years and I had nightmares for three nights prior to the reading. Silly me. My imagination helps me write stories but it also turns innocuous things into giant monsters.

On the Monday after my bookstore appearance, I walked to town thinking what a neato friendly place Mendocino is, and then I came to the beautiful field across the street from Friendship Park, the field I have walked across every day for the last four years to avoid walking on the narrow shoulder of the road. Dozens of people have walked across this field every day for decades and possibly centuries, but on Monday, planted in the ground at either end of the narrow footpath traversing the block-long field, were two menacing No Trespassing signs.

Seeing these signs, I felt more than sad, I felt sick at heart. Neato friendly Mendocino was instantly transformed into elitist, anti-homeless, anti-pedestrian, anti-dog, pro-rich people Mendocino. I suppose whoever owns this lovely field had an unpleasant experience with a dog owner not cleaning up pet poop, or a homeless guy taking a dump in the bushes, or something equally horrendous, but I still felt sad about those No Trespassing signs.

Now when I come to the field and see those threatening signs I take a different route to reach the commercial sector of town. We own a house on two acres and if people we didn’t know were walking across our land every day, we would probably feel intruded upon and want them to stop. This field in Mendocino I’m speaking of isn’t adjacent to anybody’s house, but I no longer walk there because I don’t want to get hassled by gendarmes alerted by the owners of the field.

However, as a result of bypassing the lovely field, I now go down streets I rarely used to go down, and I frequently meet people walking their dogs or working in their gardens or pushing their babies in strollers, and nearly everyone I encounter is friendly and open and as sad as I am about those No Trespassing signs on the field everyone used to enjoy walking across.

Thus kindness and generosity and friendliness have transformed Mendocino in my mind from an elitist, anti-homeless, anti-pedestrian, anti-dog, pro-rich people place into a hotbed of super-neato people—every last one of them supporting Bernie Sanders for President of the United States.

What Stood Out

February 23rd, 2016

Rembering What Spring Can Bring

Remembering What Spring Can Bring painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2016)

Todd. Max here, writing from snowy New Hampshire.

At 7:30 this morning I went out the door of #518 on my way to work. I usually come and go via the stairs, but today, my hands full, and thinking the wood I was carrying might prove awkward in the stairwells, I came down by elevator instead.

I went into the elevator and pressed 2, but the elevator slowed to a stop at 3. When the doors opened, I waited for a fellow passenger to appear, but all that came in was some pleasantly warm air and the scent of perfume. The doors stayed open. Nobody arrived. I wondered: Had a woman on the Third Floor pressed the button and then remembered something she’d meant to bring and walked back to her apartment to get it? Or, while waiting, had she grown impatient and decided to just run down the stairs?

In any case, I rode down to the Second Floor accompanied by her hallway’s warmth and her fading perfume. Then I got off with my wood and walked down the long hall to #202.

In other news, Kate and I went to see the Joseph Cornell show, and after the show, Kate asked what stood out most for me, and I immediately said, “The women waiting for the light to come on in the dark owl box.”

This was my second time seeing the Cornell show, and I especially wanted Kate to see one particular box, one with an owl in it. I loved the quality of darkness this box had, a certain mystery. It was just so black and quiet. I hadn’t understood that most of what made me love this box was that no light illuminated it, unlike the other boxes in the exhibition.

Three women stood a couple yards back from that dark box, gazing intently at the mysterious piece as if it was speaking to them. They stood there unmoving for many minutes. Kate read the printed explanation on the wall next to the box and learned that a light only came on in this box for one minute every half hour.

We moved on to the next display, leaving the women still standing there. Then we heard voices behind us and turned: the box was lit and we went back to look. The women had moved closer, their steadfastness rewarded. A small, candle-shaped bulb inside the box cast a wonderful glow behind the owl and revealed a pattern like raindrops on the box’s old glass.

I wondered why this box required special handling. Did the curators fear too much light would harm the piece? How did the owner of this box find out about this vulnerability? How did the museum decide on the safe amount of light? I thanked one of the women, explaining that only because of their attention had I known there was something else to see.

When I told Kate that the owl box was what stood out most for me about the show, she asked, “Do you picture the box lit?”

I said, “No, I think of it dark. I liked it better dark. And mostly what stays with me is the way those women were willing to wait and wait so patiently for that light to return.”

Max. Your two stories reminded me of the day I went to the Whitney Museum in New York to see the Calder retrospective. My favorite piece in the show was an arrangement of seven orange bowls, two-inches-high and ranging in size from three inches in diameter to ten inches in diameter—the rims of the bowls curving inward slightly. The bowls were arrayed on the floor in a seemingly random way.

Suspended from the ceiling high above the bowls was a one-inch-diameter rod about four-feet long hanging parallel to the ground. Suspended from one end of the rod on a thin string was a round chunk of white clay about the size of a golf ball. This ball hung down to a foot or so above the bowls. Suspended from the other end of the rod and hanging down to about seven feet above the ground was a small leather sack filled with sand.

When a crowd of people had gathered around the bowls, a museum guard gave the leather sack a push, and the swinging of this sack caused the rod high above to both twist and seesaw up and down, which in turn caused the round chunk of clay to fly around above the bowls, rising and falling and occasionally tapping the floor and striking one or another of the bowls, each bowl sounding a different tone when struck.

Sometimes the ball of clay would come very close to striking a bowl but would miss. Sometimes the ball of clay would strike several bowls in succession. And best of all, sometimes the ball of clay would hop into a bowl and spin around for a moment before hopping out. A single push of the weighted sack kept the little ball dancing around the bowls for many minutes.

The emotions aroused in me by watching this ball strike, almost strike, get inside the bowls, and jump out of the bowls, were suspense, joy, disappointment, amazement, elation, admiration, hope, and satisfaction. At one point, the ball landed in the smallest bowl and whirred around for an instant before flying out. The crowd reacted to this fortuitous event with laughter and cheering. I watched the show for half-an-hour and was never bored.

When I emerged from the Whitney, I walked by a newsstand where the headline on the front page of the New York Times announced that Calder had just died.

What stood out for me most about Calder’s bowls and dancing ball of clay were the people watching so intently as the little ball interacted with those bowls—the cries of delight when the ball went into a bowl, the groans of disappointment when the ball would almost but not quite land in a bowl.