Elgin

August 26th, 2015

Point of Discovery 3x7

At the Point of Discovery (Zhukov Dance Theatre) © 2012 David Jouris / Motion Pictures

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2015)

“A true friend is someone who thinks you’re a good egg even though he knows you’re slightly cracked.” Bernard Meltzer

I was put in mind of my friend Elgin this morning when I heard the unmistakable sound of an old Volkswagen Beetle going by. Elgin and I met in 1966, my junior year of high school. He was a massive six-three, a formidable football player, grew up in wealthy family, had his own horse, a new VW Beetle, hunted, drank whiskey, and hung out with other football players and their cheerleader girlfriends.

I was not massive, did not play football, did not have a horse or car, grew up in a middle-class family, and hung out with social outcasts who wanted to be artists or poets or actors or musicians.

Elgin and I attended a high school with two thousand students and were never in the same class. Thus our paths rarely crossed. I had watched Elgin play linebacker and offensive lineman on our championship football team and seen him hanging out with a mob of jocks at lunch, so I knew who he was, but he did not know me until our junior year when I landed the role of Conrad Birdie in the musical Bye Bye Birdie.

Bye Bye Birdie was inspired by the historical moment when Elvis Presley went into the Army. Conrad is a fictional version of Elvis. The play takes place the week before Conrad enters military service. For a farewell publicity stunt, he and his managers descend upon a small town where Conrad will kiss some lucky high school girl, the event to be televised on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The play is frequently performed by high schools because the chorus can accommodate vast numbers of kids, and the play is largely about teenagers. At our high school in 1966, however, most people considered Drama the domain of girls and homos, as gay males were referred to in those days. I was on the basketball and soccer teams, had a girlfriend, and many people knew I was not a homo, but I was in plays, which made me at least an honorary homo. Because of this endemic homophobia, we had plenty of girls in the chorus, but almost no boys.

However, we had an ambitious choreographer who enlisted a dozen female dancers to give the musical numbers extra pizzazz. As it happened, several of those dancers were also pompom girls and cheerleaders with jock boyfriends. Our ambitious choreographer wanted male dancers who could lift those female dancers—lift them and twirl them and fill out the scenes in which crowds of teenagers cheered for Conrad Birdie.

So she asked those dancers to enlist their jock boyfriends to be the lifters, which meant those jocks would have to be in a play. At first only one football player agreed to venture into homo territory. But eventually ten of the stars of our championship team were in the play, and two of them, Elgin and Eric, were assigned to pick me up and carry me around the stage on their mighty shoulders while dozens of cute girls pretended to be in love with me.

Elgin and Eric were so strong that when they picked me up, all one hundred and fifty pounds of me, I felt both tiny and grateful I was not playing football with the likes of Elgin trying to tackle me. And as it happened, Elgin had a blast being in the play, lifting beautiful girl dancers and tiny actors.

By the time the play was over, Elgin and I were friends, not best friends or even close friends, but friends. Thereafter, he often attended rehearsals of other plays I was in, came to hear me play music, invited me to parties at his house, occasionally gave me rides home when it was raining, and saved me at one party from a huge drunk football player who was about to rearrange my face for gazing too avidly at his girlfriend.

On Grad Night at Mel’s Bowl, Elgin and I were on the same bowling team, came in third, and we all won Parker T-Ball Jotters, after which Elgin got very drunk and told me I was his hero for being brave enough to be in plays despite so many people thinking it meant I was a homo.

Fast forward to the summer after my first year of college. I was hitchhiking to Palo Alto and Elgin stopped for me in his yellow VW Beetle. After gossiping briefly about people from our graduating class, Elgin confided in me that he was considering either fleeing to Canada to avoid going to Vietnam or joining the Army and getting his two years over with so he could get on with his life.

This was in 1968 when American soldiers were dying in large numbers every day in that terrible war. I had a student deferment and would soon get a medical deferment. Elgin had quit college and was smoking lots of pot and experimenting with LSD. His father was pressing him to enlist and several of his friends had been drafted or were enlisting. He said the Army had a new buddy program encouraging pals to enlist together and then…what? Be in the same outfit? Get killed together? I wanted to hook him up with an anti-war Draft counselor I knew, but he said he’d already been to a counselor and it was either exile in Canada or join up.

And then he asked me if I would accompany him to Canada and help him get settled there. He didn’t know anyone else who would help him and he was afraid to go alone. I said I would be glad to help him if that was what he decided to do.

I never heard from him again. Six months later I learned from a mutual friend that Elgin died in Vietnam when he jumped on a live hand grenade to save his buddies. Whether that is how he died or not, I have no doubt Elgin would have done something like that.

Reversions

August 19th, 2015

Reversions

Bird Mansion photo by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2015)

“Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” Mark Twain

Something marvelous strange happened with our pumpkins this year. That is to say we are hopeful the strange turns out to be marvelous. Here’s what has happened so far. Four years ago, I bought two pumpkin starts at the farmers market in Mendocino and planted those starts in a raised bed rife with redwood roots, three miles inland from the coast. Those plants were supposed to grow small sweet pumpkins, half the size of bowling balls. I got one little pumpkin. Delicious. I saved the seeds.

When we moved to our new house a mile from the coast, I planted the seeds in a new bed, also rife with redwood roots, and got two little pumpkins. Delicious. I saved the seeds. The next year, last year, I planted the seeds in a bed less troubled by redwood roots, took great care of the plants, and we got six little cuties. Wonderful. Marcia made pumpkin pies and pumpkin soup. Yummy. I saved the seeds.

This year I created a deep rich bed, planted the seeds, and lo, the vines have set five pumpkins, four of which are much bigger than bowling balls. Where did these four mighty pumpkins come from? Why are they somewhat cylindrical? Are they reversions to an earlier type of pumpkin used in creating the hybrid little pumpkin I began with? Why did the reversion take four generations?

My research suggests these pumpkins may not be reversions to an earlier progenitor, but rather a new variety. If we like the flavor of these new pumpkins, I will save the seeds of the biggest and best ones, plant them next year and see if they continue to produce these behemoths, relatively speaking, assuming they turn orange or some other pleasing color. Could this be the birth of Coastal Toddkins? We hope so.

In other news of change, we are on the verge of completing the transformation of the smaller of the two bathrooms in our house into an actual room in which one can take a bath. The outer wall of this small room previously featured a skinny horizontal window near the ceiling that gave no view and was, we assume, for ventilation and nothing more. Replacing that narrow strip of glass with a large picture window gave us a view of a circle of majestic redwoods embracing a not beautiful and not majestic red outhouse with a crescent moon in the door.

This outhouse was there when we moved in and had not been used for decades. And though I wanted the outhouse gone because something about it gave me the creeps, we were not sufficiently inspired to get rid of the thing until we cut the hole in the bathroom wall for the picture window and found we had created little more than a frame for a three-dimensional rendering of an outhouse. I’m sure there are those who would find looking out a new bathroom window at an old haunted outhouse amusing, but I prefer looking at trees, so we gave the outhouse to a family of local homesteaders glad to get the luxurious pooper.

With the outhouse gone, we discovered it had been cradled in the lovely remnant of the burned out trunk of an old growth redwood, the mother of the four huge trees now forming a circle around her. I have subsequently cleared out masses of dead branches from the circle, and now when I look out my office window or out the new bathroom window, the scene is inspiring and inviting. Yesterday I looked up from writing and saw a doe and her two fawns exploring the newly liberated space.

We also excised forty shoes surrounding one of the massive trees adjacent to the outhouse. Filled with dirt, these shoes were once home to non-descript succulents, their desiccated remains tangled in the rotting leather and nylon. Tennis shoes, work boots, walking shoes, loafers, cowboy boots, bedroom slippers; these forty rotting pieces of footwear were a small portion of the several hundred such shoes the previous owners of our property deployed around shrubs and trees, and to line walkways. We hope the forty outhouse shoes were the last of the unsightly buggers, but something tells me there are more dirt-filled shoes lurking on the premises.

The previous owners also left behind seventeen large wooden birdhouses sitting atop posts scattered around the property. Some of the houses were a few feet off the ground, and some were as high as seven feet off the ground. No view from anywhere on our land was free of one or more of these birdhouses. These multi-story homes, featuring porches and shingled roofs, bird mansions really, were rotting and falling apart when we arrived, and when I dismantled them, I found they were filled with the nests of rats, not birds. Many of the mansions held spent packages of D-Con, an edible rat poison, and, yes, I found rat carcasses, too.

And there were large wooden archways standing here and there around the property, nine of them, no view of our two acres free of one or more of these freestanding vine holders leading nowhere and festooned with dying honeysuckle or dead potato vine or struggling wisteria. Oh, yes, and blocking the view from every window of our house was dense shrubbery, hundreds of non-descript bushes marching away in close ranks in every direction, filling the space between the house and the surrounding forest.

I’ve gotten rid of the archways and nearly all the useless water-sucking view blockers, and we have attained spaciousness and light and can now see the trunks of the big trees, fruit trees, and lovely Japanese maples. The rat infestation we were warned about by our neighbors has not yet materialized because we have removed most of the ready-made nesting facilities, and when we moved here we brought our cat Django, an excellent ratter, though our great hunting cat recently died and we will not get a new cat or cats until spring.

Now it’s time to take a bath with a view of trees and sky, perchance to dream of pumpkin pie.

Django

August 12th, 2015

Django

Django On Todd photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2015)

“There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” Albert Schweitzer

On this first day of August, 2015, as darkness gives way to daylight and the cobwebs of sleep are swept away by a slowly dawning clarity of mind, I wonder what this deep silence is all about. Our thirteen-year-old cat Django is what I refer to as an alarm cat. Like clockwork, promptly at seven every morning, rain or shine, he begins to yowl for his humans to feed him. Marcia does not hear the morning yowls of our large gray shorthaired kitty, or so she claims, thus I am the human who most often rises to feed Django at the beginning of each day.

But today, when my expectant ears hear no feline cries for sustenance, my brain presents me with two options: the time is not yet seven or Django has gone hunting and will be home soon and start yowling. Upon rising, I find the time is 7:22, no cat in sight. I dole out a modest portion of food into Django’s empty bowl, and step outside into the deep quiet of the fog-enshrouded forest.

“Django. Django,” I call. “Come get your breakfast.”

By ten o’clock, Django has not yet appeared, and my brain reminds me that there have been a few times in the eight years I’ve been with Marcia when Django was gone for as long as twenty-four hours.

At quarter to eleven, fifteen minutes before Marcia is scheduled to leave with our neighbor Marion to attend a wedding in Eureka, Marion phones to say she just came home from visiting a friend and noticed the body of a large gray cat on the side of the road where our lane meets Little Lake Road, and she fears the cat might be Django.

In the next moment, Marcia and Marion and I are running down our quiet lane to Little Lake Road, and just to the east of our street lies the body of Django. Marcia bursts into tears, and I can barely see through mine as I lift the already stiff body into the box I brought to carry him home, one of his back legs badly broken and nearly separated from his body.

Because Marcia and Marion have to leave very soon to make the long trek from Mendocino to Eureka to be in time for the wedding, we hastily choose a place in our flower garden next to the agastache—the cones of purple flowers swarming with bumblebees and honeybees—and I dig a deep hole, bury Django’s body, and Marcia makes a beeline for a large brown stone on the north side of our house, a stone she wants to put atop Django’s grave. We fetch the dolly, load the big stone thereon, wheel the stone to grave, and together place the stone atop the freshly turned earth.

“Makes me feel better knowing he’s in the ground before I go,” says Marcia, giving me a farewell hug.

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.” Sigmund Freud

Django had a near death health crisis two years ago due to his extreme obesity, and thereafter I became his strict dietician, doling out small portions of cat food, four times a day. He lost seven pounds, regained his energy, and became much happier and more loving—but he was always hungry and not shy about letting me know. Thus it became my daily habit to feed him when I got up in the morning, and again at noon, five, and ten.

With the advent of his persistent hunger, my regimen of late evening stretching exercises became an exciting event for Django—the unfurling of my yoga mat meaning Meal #4 would be served shortly after the mat was rolled up and put away. Thus whenever I would look up from my routine on the living room rug, there would be our big hungry cat on his footstool, watching my every movement, a cat who prior to the change in his culinary reality would sleep through my stretching because it had nothing to do with him.

After some weeks of observing my nightly stretching, the new slender Django apparently decided that if he stretched, too, his chances of being fed would improve, though I always fed him whether he stretched with me or not. In any case, he developed a series of cute flirtatious poses, our favorite being when he would lie on his back on his footstool, and hang halfway off, upside down, kneading the air with his mighty claws and making a high clucking sound.

“Cats are connoisseurs of comfort.” James Herriot

Django sat with us during supper every night. His designated chair was to Marcia’s right, and he often fell asleep while we ate and talked. But the moment, and I mean the very moment, Marcia put her fork down after taking her last bite of supper, Django would wake up, often from a deep snoring slumber, and reach out to Marcia, his paw suspended in the air.

What followed was unquestionably Django’s favorite time of every day, lap time, the lap in question Marcia’s. She would pull Django’s chair close to hers, he would cross to her lap and assume the pose of the famous sphinx of Giza, facing forward, his eyes closed, purring profoundly. And he would stay in that pose on Marcia’s lap for as long as she would let him, his bliss so huge and obvious, it never once occurred to me to ask Marcia to put Django back on his chair and assist me with the dishes. How could I possibly disturb Django’s ecstasy? I could not.

In my experience there are few things as marvelous to see as a big handsome cat meditating splendiferously on a lovely woman’s lap, and that is the memory of Django I will cherish for as long as I live.

Skid Marks

August 5th, 2015

200dpi

Escape photograph by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2015)

Monday. July 27, 2015. I’m coming home from Fort Bragg, heading south on Highway One in my little old white Toyota pickup truck, going fifty-miles-per-hour. The time is one o’clock on a warm sunny day. I have just been to the doctor and I’m thinking about the long wait, the hurried examination, and the course of antibiotics I have agreed to embark on. I have just crested the rise at the southern exit to the little town of Caspar and I’m on the downhill slope crossing the bridge over Caspar Creek, when a giant white pickup truck loaded with kayaks sitting at the stop sign on the west side of the highway on Road 409 suddenly pulls out and completely blocks my lane.

Before conscious thought, I slam on my brakes and yank the steering wheel to the left, and now, as I have experienced a few other times in my life, everything happens in slow motion.

My little truck arcs to the left, the steering wheel locked, brakes locked, and I numbly await the terrible collision. The nose of my truck passes so close to the nose of the giant white pickup truck I can see into the cab. There is a young man wearing sunglasses sitting behind the steering wheel and beside him is a little boy, not wearing a seatbelt. They are in bathing suits and they are both horror-stricken.

Somehow my truck does not hit their truck and I become aware of a screeching sound and can feel my little truck tipping precariously as only two of my four tires are in contact with the pavement as my truck continues across the oncoming lane where by chance there are no cars coming, and my arcing transit continues into the opening of Road 409 on the east side of the highway where by another chance there are no cars, and my truck settles onto four tires and completes the arc so I am now pointing north toward Fort Bragg and blocking both lanes of Road 409.

Now my truck rolls backwards toward the downhill side of the road and I yank on my emergency brake before I bump into the guardrail. I am alive, but not entirely here. I would be amazed I am still alive but I have apparently lost the amazement function for the time being and am seriously dazed.

Now someone says, “Shall I push you out of the road?”

I turn to my left and look into the face of a handsome young man, not the young man in the truck I almost crashed into.

I say, “Okay,” and he gets between the guardrail and the back of my truck and I release the emergency brake and he pushes me across the road into the wide parking area to the north side of Road 409 on this east side of the highway, and I notice the young man in the truck I almost crashed into is helping him push.

Clear of the road and safe in the parking area, someone opens my door and I get out. That is, my body gets out. Where most of my consciousness has gone, I couldn’t say.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you. Are you okay?” asks the young man who drove his giant truck out into the highway in front of me as I was going fifty-miles-per-hour. He is shorter than I, or maybe he just seems shorter because I seem to be looking down at him.

“I don’t know,” I say, wanting to ask why his son wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, but the words won’t come out.

“I want to make sure you’re okay,” he says, wincing. “I’m so sorry.”

“May I borrow your phone?” I ask, thinking I’d like to call Marcia and ask her to call a tow truck because the brakes of my little pickup are locked and the engine is dead as far as I know.

“I don’t have service here,” says the man who almost killed me.

Now he vanishes forever.

But the young man who pushed my truck across the road is still here. I ask if he has a phone I can borrow and he hands me a little oval thing I suppose is a phone, but in my current state might as well be an onion.

“I need to call my wife,” I say to him. “Call a tow truck.”

“Won’t your truck run?” he asks, smiling curiously.

“Are you local?” I ask him. “I’m local. I’m Todd.”

“Jalen,” he says, shaking my hand. “Yes, I’m local.”

“Do you know about cars?”

“Yes,” he says, getting into my truck and starting the engine and driving forward and testing the brakes. “Seems fine.”

I thank him profusely and the next thing I know I’m driving south on Highway One toward Mendocino with no memory of anything since I got into my truck after Jalen got out.

Now I am in the post office in Mendocino, mailing some packages. I walk to Corners and purchase a dozen eggs. Walking feels odd to me. How do I know how to do this without falling over? I drive home and find Marcia and Marion working in the living room. They say they were hoping I would bring eggs so we can have egg salad for lunch.

I tell them about the near accident and the intercession of the young man and how I am not fully in my body and can’t remember things.

After lunch, I lie down and fall asleep for two hours. I wake up feeling so tired I can hardly move. But even so, I get in my little truck and drive into Mendocino and get my antibiotics from the pharmacy in Harvest Market.

Two days later, I am still spaced out and now I am afraid to drive anywhere. My friend Bob is helping me haul firewood to the woodshed. When we come inside for a water break, Marion and Marcia are working in the living room and Marion says to me, “I was coming back from Fort Bragg this morning and saw the skid marks.”

“The what?” I say, having no idea what she’s talking about.

“The skid marks you made when you swerved to miss that truck. They arc across the highway. Dark black skid marks.”

Cover Stories

July 29th, 2015

idas2-cover-sm

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2015)

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” Groucho Marx

I recently got a letter from my editor at Counterpoint Press, the daring publishing company bringing out a paperback edition of my book Buddha In A Teacup in early 2016, saying he would soon be sending me samples of their cover ideas. So I held my breath for a few days and recalled my book cover adventures with publishers of my previous books. This helped temper fantasies of a superb cover for Buddha In A Teacup. Indeed, after reviewing my history of book covers, I decided to hope for legible.

Inside Moves. Published in 1978 by Doubleday, my first novel had a basketball subplot and the cover sample featured a small airborne man holding what might have been a basketball, but also might have been a bowling ball. This ambiguous athlete, wearing slacks and a sweater, was floating through the air surrounded by gothic-like letters with enormous serifs. At a glance, the letters seemed to spell INSIDE MOVIES. I expressed my concerns and the ball problem was addressed, but the confusing lettering remained and the book was often shelved in the Hobby section of bookstores.

Forgotten Impulses. Published in 1980 by Simon & Schuster, my second novel was originally entitled Mackie, which remained the title until a month before the book was to be printed. The cover for Mackie featured a spectacular oil painting of a woman wearing a sunhat and kneeling in her vegetable garden, the roots of the plants growing down through layers of soil to entangle the name Mackie. Alas, my editor called at the proverbial last minute to say Sales felt Mackie lacked punch. Could I come up with a meaty sub-title? My brother Steve, who came up with Inside Moves, helped me come up with Forgotten Impulses, and Sales dropped Mackie entirely and went with Forgotten Impulses. The hastily assembled new cover was composed of garish yellow gothic-like letters on a red and blue background.

Not that it mattered much. Simon & Schuster took the book out of print a few days after it was published.

Louie & Women. My third novel was published by Dutton in 1983 and featured a poorly rendered painting of a short buxom naked woman standing at a window. Filling most of the window frame was a painting of a wave—a painting within the painting. On the bed in the foreground of the room lies a pair of large white men’s jockey-style underwear. I strenuously objected and my editor said, “Well, the thing is…Sales has decided to kill the book before it comes out anyway, so…”

“But why?”

“They don’t think it will sell. Sorry.”

Ruby & Spear. My fifth novel was published by Bantam in 1996 and the cover shows a black man going up to dunk a basketball into a hoop with a half-ripped net. This cover was so antithetical to the spirit of the story, I called my editor to express my disappointment and she said, “Well, the thing is…Sales has decided to take the book out of print.”

“But the book hasn’t been published yet?”

“I know,” she said sadly. “Sorry.”

The Writer’s Path, published by 10-Speed in 2000, is a large collection of my original writing exercises. The proposed cover design was hideous and featured misleading subtitles that made the book sound like a touchy feely book for people trying to access their inner artist. The cover was changed from hideous to blah shortly before publication, but the misleading subtitles remained. Sadly, the hideous proposed cover was put up on all the online bookselling sites and remains there to this day. Nevertheless, the book sold ten thousand copies entirely by word-of-mouth. 10-Speed did absolutely nothing to promote the book, and then, in their great wisdom, Sales decided not to do a third printing because, after all, the book was selling itself.

“Everything in life matters and ultimately has a place, an impact and a meaning.” Laurens Van Der Post

Shortly before the cover designs for Buddha In A Teacup arrived from Counterpoint, my editor wrote to say he had presented the book at a sales meeting and the response was positive. However, the consensus was that my original subtitle—tales of enlightenment—was inadequate because it did not say the short stories are contemporary. So I came up with Contemporary Dharma Tales, which he liked.

Ere long, five cover designs for Buddha In A Teacup arrived via email, and just as I was about to unzip the big file to peruse them, another email came from my editor saying they had selected two finalists from the five and I should ignore those five and look at the two. But I looked at the five, loved one of them and disliked the other four, and then with trembling mouse opened the file containing the finalists. And lo, the one cover I loved was one of the two finalists. My wife and several friends agreed with my choice, I sent in our votes, and…

Will the final cover be the one we want? Will the book have a long and eventful life in print? Time will tell.

In the meantime, I am about to finish writing Ida’s Place Book Four: Renegade, the fourth volume of a fictional epic set in a mythical Here and Now, the covers for the Ida books exactly how I want them because I create them myself with the help of Garth the graphics wizard and Ian the master of the color copier at Zo, the finest (and only) copy shop in Mendocino. Coil bound copies of the Ida books, lavishly numbered and signed by the author, are available from my web site until that glorious (mythical) day when some prescient publisher presents them to that great big world on the other side of the tracks.

The Ida’s Place books and the original self-published hardback of Buddha In A Teacup are available at Underthetablebooks.com

Brutalizing Greece

July 22nd, 2015

Passion Play Nolan WInkler

Passion Play painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2015)

“Greece should go back to a national currency to have more autonomous decision-making with regards to it own economy, which it needs if it wants to pave a more sustainable path.” Jennifer Hinton, co-author of How on Earth: Flourishing in a Not-for-Profit World by 2050

Near the top of the list of horrible things I’ve witnessed in my life are the beatings of small weak defenseless people at the hands of big strong brutal people. We had two big vicious bullies at my elementary school, and when I started Third Grade, I was sick with fear for days after I saw those two brutes pummel a little boy. And the more I read about what the international hedge fund criminal banking consortium and their elected lackeys Merkel and Obama are doing to Greece, the more I feel the same disgust and hopelessness I felt when I watched those giants beating that little boy.

“The Greek government should nationalize the banks and encourage people to start credit unions.” Jennifer Hinton

Mainstream American media outlets are reporting on the Greek financial crisis in the same way they report on everything: falsely. Yes, the situation is somewhat more complicated than how points are scored in baseball, but not much more. Greece had a corrupt government further corrupted by entanglement with Wall Street bankers and investment firms, specifically Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs. Lloyd got the Greek government to borrow billions of dollars to invest in the great stock and toxic asset bubble that burst in 2008. Rather than punish Lloyd or the corrupt Greek bankers and the corrupt government officials for their folly, the international banking system demanded that the Greek government pay off the astronomical debt by cutting pensions, raising taxes on everyone except the rich, selling public property and public utilities to multinational corporations, and forcing Greece to borrow more money to keep paying the interest on the money owed to the criminals who had ruined their economy.

That’s what happened. Today Greece is in a deep economic depression because hundreds of thousands of doctors, computer programmers, engineers, college professors, and other well-educated and employable people fled the country rather than stay there and starve under the heel of the vicious bullies who keep beating the crap out of Greece, though Greece is already supine and literally in its economic death throes.

“Greece should keep for-profit interests from buying up its common wealth.” Jennifer Hinton

Sadly, as Robert Reich reminds us, “People seem to forget that the Greek debt crisis—which is becoming a European and even possibly a world economic crisis—grew out of a deal with Goldman Sachs, engineered by Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein.”

Lloyd Blankfein is the current CEO of Goldman Sachs, an American Wall Street banking and investment firm that is the headquarters of the supranational financial overlords. Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton are the current darlings of Goldman Sachs, which suggests, barring a Bernie Sanders miracle, that Hilary will be the next President of the Unites States. The Republican candidates are so silly and/or terrifying that it should be no great trick to scare the voters of America into voting for Hilary, who will campaign on a platform of…wait for it…helping the beleaguered middle class, never mind about anyone lower than the shrinking middle; they don’t vote much anyway.

We will be told that Hilary will appoint better Supreme Court justices than her Republican opponent, she will be better for women’s rights in general, and that she really cares about the people of America. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you and I’ll give you the name of my very good friend who will build you the tollbooth after your check to me clears. We will not be told that Hilary has been chosen by the international oligarchy currently destroying the earth and forcing the Greeks and anybody else who defies them to suffer and starve and die needlessly for lack of basic human services and decent medical care. And if you don’t believe that, you live in a different dimension than I do.

“The Greek government should encourage not-for-profit enterprise in every sector to prevent the extraction of profits from the real economy and encourage social entrepreneurs and innovators to start up their own not-for-profits. These enterprises would help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Greece, create a more stable economy and keep the financial surplus in the real economy.” Jennifer Hinton

During recess at the beginning of Fifth Grade, I happened upon those two big bullies beating the crap out of a kid who had just skipped Fourth Grade and was now in my class. He was half the size of the bullies and was being badly beaten, while a gaggle of boys and girls stood nearby watching in horror and feeling helpless.

I liked this kid who was getting beaten up. He was funny and smart and he laughed at my jokes. So because I liked him, and maybe because I’d had a recent growth spurt and was feeling cocky, I grabbed one of the bullies by the arm, pulled him away from the kid and said, “Leave him alone,” which inspired the bullies to start pummeling me. I, however, was a fairly large kid and started swinging wildly at those big idiots and one of my swings connected with one of the bully’s cheeks and he yelped like a dog when you accidentally step on his tail, and the next thing I knew four of my pals were fighting the bullies with me, and lo and behold the big meanies ran away.

If only there was some way for us, you and I and a few hundred million other people, to come to the aid of the Greeks against those big greedy sadistic idiot money monsters. I’m not talking about helping Greece pay off the criminally created debt. I’m talking about helping them start anew after the bullies finally leave them alone.

Cherry Tree Myth

July 15th, 2015


BUT SHE HAD WINGS

But She Had Wings painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2015)

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Charles Spurgeon

The Fourth of July has always been a mixed bag for me. As a boy, I loved the barbecue and fireworks party in our neighbors’ backyard. My friends and I ran around in the dark with sparklers, ate potato salad and burgers and corn and watermelon, and a man smoking a cigarette and drinking a martini set off spectacular fireworks smuggled into California from Montana.

But my father always got especially drunk at the Fourth of July barbecue because he imbibed much more hard liquor when he drank in the company of other alcoholics, and he would become vicious, so the fun of running around with sparklers was dampened, and the hours after we got home from the barbecue were about hiding in my room.

One year after the Fourth of July party, my mean-drunk father found a sickly bat clinging to a low-hanging branch of a pine tree, and he broke the branch off and brought the bat home to torture my mother by bringing the frightened creature into the kitchen. My mother screamed at my father to take the bat out of the house, and when he refused, she got a broom and drove my father into the garage where we could hear him crashing around, shouting and cursing, and then he started hammering on the wall. A few minutes later he came into the kitchen, got a bottle of wine, and returned to the garage.

I followed my mother as she ventured into the garage armed with her broom—I was nine—and we discovered my father had nailed the branch to the wall just a few feet from the doorway into the kitchen—the sickly little animal still clinging to the bough.

“Get it out of here,” said my mother, her eyes slits of fury. “It might have rabies. You’re endangering the children. Get rid of it. Now!”

My father took a long drink from the bottle and slurred, “My new pet. Bats are very intelligent.”

And my mother said, “If you don’t get rid of it right this minute, I’m divorcing you. Don’t think I won’t.”

Then she shepherded me back into the house, closed the door to the garage, and locked it. I got up early the next day and went into the garage and the bat was gone, though the branch was still nailed to the wall and would remain there for decades, an armature for thick tapestries of cobwebs.

When I was in my late twenties and visiting my parents at Christmas, I asked my father if he remembered the incident with the bat, and I was only mildly surprised when he accused me of making up the story to fulfill my chronic need to vilify him. So I brought him into the garage and pointed out the pine branch nailed to the wall and asked him how it got there.

“I’ve often wondered about that,” he said, frowning at the branch. “I assumed you did it to spite me.”

“The truth is more important than the facts.” Frank Lloyd Wright

As you probably know, the young George Washington never chopped down his father’s cherry tree, was never confronted by his father about the destruction of the tree, and did not say, “I cannot tell a lie, Dad. I did it. I’ll take my punishment. You may beat me cruelly now. Please do.”

The story was entirely made up by an unscrupulous biographer some years after George Washington died, and this balderdash immediately became the one so-called fact every American could recite about George Washington, the mythic Father of America, with Betsy Ross the purported Mother of America because she was said to have sewn the first American flag at George Washington’s request, though there is no proof she ever did any such thing.

The subtext of the cherry tree lie is that our political leaders are profoundly honest and willing to suffer grievously for what they believe in. And it is this honesty and courage of their convictions that make them so special and worthy of our support. Indeed, so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche is this fundamental falsity that tens of millions of people who should know better, I among them, have voted for and elected heinous criminals to control our government and make our laws, many of those laws designed to rob us of our wealth and our freedoms.

And the Fourth of July always reminds me of this sad truth about our species: we are as gullible as yellow jackets flying into a death trap, the sweet smell of raw meat irresistible to our hardwired brains. We cloak the needless deaths of millions of innocent people and the ongoing ruination of the world in red, white and blue flags Betsy Ross never sewed, red the color of the cherries that never grew on the tree George Washington never chopped down and never told the truth about.

“Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing the matter with this, except it ain’t so.” Mark Twain

This Fourth of July 2015 we made an East Indian potato salad to take to the barbecue at our neighbors’ house two doors down, a vegetarian feast, the earthlings there a mix of people born all over the globe, the gathering a celebration of our independence from the stultifying concept of competitive nations, what Buckminster Fuller called blood clots in the body of humanity. The current Anglo-German strangulation of Greece is a perfect example of the destructive power of the asinine notion that one nation is more important than another.

And we celebrated the harvest of the first wave of vegetables planted in early spring, our potato salad made with just-dug potatoes, the lemon juice from the first lemons grown on our young trees planted two years ago, the cilantro leaves from volunteers springing up among our lettuce—the coconut milk linking us to our fellow earthlings in more tropical climes.

Bubbles & Blobs

July 8th, 2015

3 skips to each stone

Three Skips To Each Stone painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2015)

“In the San Joaquin Valley, pumping now exceeds natural replenishment by more than half a trillion gallons a year.” Marc Reisner

As I was walking home from town today, it occurred to me that nothing can prepare us for what is going to happen very soon in California, because nothing like what is about to happen has ever happened before. Forty million people did not live in California the last time, if there ever was a last time, so little water flowed in our rivers. Millions of cows were not being raised here, and millions of acres of water-hungry crops, including alfalfa to feed those millions of cows, were not being grown here during previous mega-droughts. Yes, there have been a few longish droughts in the last century and a half, but nothing like the current drought.

Shortly before he died in 2000, Marc Reisner, author of Cadillac Desert, the great opus on water and politics and greed and stupidity in the American West, suggested that when the current chronic drought eventually took hold in California, tens of millions of California residents would be forced to move elsewhere. He predicted most of them would move to the wetter eastern side of the Mississippi River.

Meanwhile, California farmers are up in arms because state water controllers are telling them they cannot have their usual allotments of water because there will soon be no water to allot. Curtailment is the official word for when a decrease in the expected amount of water is imposed on a farmer or city. The state recently issued hundreds of new curtailments, one of which severely limits San Francisco’s allotment of water from the Tuolumne River that supplies a large part of San Francisco’s water. How will San Francisco replace that allotment? They won’t.

Here’s an interesting factoid. If every American abstained from eating meat one day per week, more water would be saved than the annual flow of the Colorado River in a high-flow year. By the way, California’s allotment of Colorado River water is soon to be curtailed. Here is what Marc Resiner had to say about that:

“If the Colorado River suddenly stopped flowing, you would have two years of carryover capacity in the reservoirs before you had to evacuate most of southern California and Arizona and a good portion of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The river system provides over half the water of greater Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix; it grows much of America’s domestic production of fresh winter vegetables.”

It would take several years of normal (whatever that is) or above-normal rainfall in California to replenish our surface water supplies and superficially ease the drought, though no computer models by any meteorologist suggests such replenishment will occur in the foreseeable future. But the Central Valley aquifer, which is nearly gone, will take centuries to replenish should the state ever be inundated with water and snow again.

And check this out: scientists have been puzzling over the 2014 discovery of what one report referred to as a “warm patch of water” off the coast of California and Oregon thought to be linked to the “weird” weather being experienced across the United States. This warm patch is more than 1500 kilometers in every direction and over a hundred meters deep. Meteorologists have never found such a “blob” in this part of the ocean and they are certain there is a link between this blob and the persistent high-pressure ridge keeping Pacific storms from reaching California and Oregon and Washington.

A recent study links this “warm Pacific puzzle” to the big freezes in the eastern United States in 2013 and 2014, but several scientists hasten to add there does not seem to be any obvious connection between the blob and global climate change. Huh? However, the blob and its devastating effect on human society in California and the American Southwest is “a taste of what the ocean will be like in future decades.”

As one politic scientist opined, “The blob wasn’t caused by global warming, but it is producing conditions that will be more common when such things are caused by global warming.” Why are we not reassured?

Then there is the global financial bubble that good old Greece and a bankrupt Puerto Rico are about to burst. As the world’s stock markets and fragile economies wobble in the face of myriad debt defaults, the Bank for International Settlements has issued a report warning that low interest rates not only undermine economic health, but by allowing greedy amoral banksters to take trillions of just-printed dollars at zero interest from our so-called government in order to keep the stock bubble inflated, when that bubble does burst, any day now, central banks will have no means to counter the ensuing economic collapse because the main counter measure is to lower interest rates. Oops.

Which is to say, we are in the eye of a perfect storm. We’re running out of water, the financial markets are on the verge of collapse, and if there was ever a time to plant potatoes, this is that time. If you plant potatoes now, you should have a good crop in October. Plant several kinds in case you incur the wrath of the potato gods against one of the varieties you’ve chosen.

Other measures to consider now are buying several cases of canned beans, a couple big bags of rice, before rice gets insanely expensive, and a good supply of olive oil. Along with your potatoes, plant lettuce and kale and chard.

If you live in Los Angeles or inland California, you should quickly look into buying a house east of the Mississippi while prices there are still reasonable and your house in California is still worth something. When twenty million hyper-thirsty Californians try to relocate to Missouri and Iowa and Tennessee and Pennsylvania, real estate prices there are going to soar. And it won’t be a short-term bubble.

Well, that’s all for now. Gotta take a long shower, wash my car, water the lawn, grill some steak, and top off the swimming pool before I hose the dust and leaves off the driveway and drive to the store to get some snacks and stuff. Ciao!

We’re In It

July 1st, 2015

presidio medium

We’re In It  ⓒ Copyright David Jouris (Presidio Dance Theatre)

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2015)

“So make sure when you say you’re in it but not of it, you’re not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell.” Stevie Wonder

We’re in it. Those thousands of articles about the coming consequences of global warming, over-population, and environmental pollution? Those consequences are here. Yes, things are going to get worse, but unprecedented climatic events are not coming sooner or later, they are here. Hundreds of millions of people are starving or about to starve. Insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers will not one day wreak havoc on the world, they are wreaking havoc now, big time. The oceans are rising and acidifying. We’re in it.

There is a drought in Brazil that we know is the direct result of humans cutting down too much of the Amazon rainforest, yet the cutting down of that rainforest continues at a frightening pace. Brazil’s agricultural sector is suffering terribly from the water shortage and Brazil is building archaic fossil fuel power plants to replace the loss of electricity from hydroelectric sources because the nation’s rivers are drying up.

NASA recently released the results of their satellite assessments of the world’s aquifers. The most depleted aquifer on earth is the one beneath California’s Central Valley, and the second most depleted aquifer is the Ganges Brahmaputra aquifer. California’s drought may last decades, and the monsoon that feeds a billion people in India and Pakistan and Bangladesh was late again this year and will provide less than the minimal amount of water needed by farmers in those badly overpopulated countries.

Scientists have also proven conclusively that the collapse of honeybee populations worldwide is caused by the use of insecticides containing neonicotinoids, yet the supranational chemical-pharmaceutical companies responsible for producing these poisons refuse to remove them from the market. With the exception of a few European nations, national governments are apparently powerless to force these poison-manufacturing corporations to do the right thing.

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” Sylvia Earle

I went to the farmers market in Mendocino last Friday and was surprised to find local egg producers asking eight, nine, and ten dollars for a dozen eggs. This seemed exorbitant to me, so I passed. But when I went to buy eggs at Corners, where last week I was shocked to find a dozen eggs selling for six dollars, the price had risen to nearly eight dollars.

Yes, the new state law requiring bigger cages for mass-produced chickens and chickens confined for the purpose of mass producing eggs has caused an increase in egg prices, but that doesn’t explain why local free range chicken eggs have nearly doubled in price in the last year. Inquiring of a few chicken owners I know, I learned that feed prices have skyrocketed due to less production of key grains due to the ongoing drought. We’re in it, and one-dollar eggs could be the new norm, and eggs, as you know, are key ingredients in myriad foodstuffs, so…

In other local climate change news, this past winter was the first in my nine years in Mendocino when we did not have a single night of freezing weather, the lowest temperature being thirty-four degrees, with only a week or two when the temperature got below forty degrees. Oh joy, sing the millions of mosquitoes and fleas and earwigs whose eggs did not freeze to death this past winter.

Speaking of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, thousands of people have died of heat stroke there in the last couple weeks, with temperatures topping 115 degrees for several days in a row. Crops are wilting in the fields and animals are dying along with humans. We’re in it.

 “We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inward at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.” Stephen Hawking

So yesterday I’m coasting down the hill in my little old pickup on my way to the commercial sector of Mendocino, and I’m thinking about The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, a book I read when it came out in 1968 and naively hoped would change the world, when a snazzy new sports car speeds up behind me and the driver starts madly revving his engine. I check my speedometer and see I’m going five miles an hour over the speed limit, this being a school zone.

I can see in my rearview mirror that this older male driver is apoplectic and wants me to pull over so he can speed by, but I’m only going a half-mile to town and I don’t want him careening recklessly through our neighborhood full of children and people walking their dogs, so I keep my speed at thirty and try to ignore the guy, but he starts swerving out into the oncoming lane as if he’s going to pass me and then zipping back in behind me and riding my bumper.

Thirty seconds later, we reach the stop light at Little Lake Road and Highway One. I am first in line at the red light with Insane Man right on my tail hysterically revving his several hundred horsepower engine. When the light turns green, Insane Man hits his horn and keeps honking as we cross Highway One and cruise into town. Now Insane Man rolls down his window, sticks his arm out and shakes his fist at me, flips the bird, and by reading his lips I determine he is saying many unkind things about me.

As fate would have it, when I turn left, Insane Man turns left. When I turn right, Insane Man turns right, and now I’m getting mad because Insane Man keeps almost crashing into me and shaking his fist at me, when all I’ve done is drive to town a little faster than usual.

I park in front of Zo, the best and only copy shop in Mendocino, and as Insane Man speeds by he screams, “Die you motherfucking scumbag!”

And by a remarkable coincidence, his words echo my wish for him.

Trust

June 24th, 2015

Question & Reply

Question & Reply painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2015)

“You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible.” Anton Chekhov

Trust is a tricky thing. Long ago, I held writing workshops for groups of eight people meeting for two hours once a week in my living room, each course lasting eight weeks. At the outset, I would reiterate what I had explained to prospective participants when they called to sign up for the process: we would be doing my original writing exercises and there would be no lecturing or criticism or analysis of anything we wrote, by me or anyone in the group, and no one had to read aloud anything he or she wrote unless he or she wanted to.

Of the hundreds of writers who participated in these workshops over the years, nearly all believed there would be lecturing and analysis and criticism and judgment of their writing, despite my proclamations to the contrary. And almost all believed if they did not read aloud what they wrote, they would be made to feel stupid and ashamed.

By the end of the first session, there were usually two or three participants trusting they would not be criticized or shamed when they read or did not read aloud what they had written. But there were always people who needed three or four sessions to fully trust they would simply be listened to when they read what they wrote, and so they had to wait a long time to find out that being listened to by a group of non-critical people can be a deeply illuminating and inspiring experience.

And it was only when everyone in the group fully trusted that no one would criticize or be criticized, that we truly became a group and not eight individuals separated by fear and mistrust doing writing exercises. Everyone in the group would feel this momentous shift when the last doubter surrendered to the embrace of non-judgmental group mind. Talk about synergy! Talk about people taking chances, going deeper, and discovering things about their expressive talents they would never have experienced without trusting that anything they wrote was allowed.

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” William Shakespeare

I make a part of my minimalist living selling my books and music and art. Customers can buy things from me using their credit cards via my web site or they can send a check to my post office box or they can bump into me at the farmer’s market and give me cash. I have a policy, established two years ago, that I no longer send or deliver orders until I have the money in hand. Had I established this policy ten years ago, I would be thousands of dollars richer than I am today.

Why did I continue to trust people after numerous people did not pay me for goodies received? Because I prefer trusting people to not trusting people, and I was embarrassed to imply to my friends that I didn’t trust them. But the fact is, since most of my customers are my friends, most of the people who stiffed me, knowingly or unwittingly, were my friends. I think poverty and forgetfulness, rather than malice and greed, were behind most of the stiffing, but still.

Yet it wasn’t until a very close friend ordered several hundred dollars worth of books and music CDs to give as Christmas gifts, and I gleefully sent off the big package to her before I received her check (money I was counting on) and then I never got her check, though she claimed it was immediately cashed yet was unable to confirm who cashed it, that I finally installed my policy of having the money in hand before shipping the goods.

And, yes, I have since lost sales to friends infuriated with me for not trusting them, which is why I say trust is a tricky thing.

“Trust, but verify.” Ronald Reagan

When I moved to Sacramento in 1980, my neighbors told me that our neighborhood was so safe no one ever locked their doors and there had never been a theft of anything for as long as anyone could remember. And so I never locked my house or my car and I left my bike unlocked on the front porch, and for several years what my neighbors told me proved true, and life was groovy.

Then one night somebody stole a neighbor’s Volkswagen. And in a twinkling, everything changed. Everyone started locking their cars and locking their doors. I continued to leave my bicycle on the front porch unlocked, but then it was stolen, and thereafter I kept my bike in the locked basement accessed through a padlocked gate.

And the unexpected result of this rash of thefts, this new economic reality, was that my neighbors began to mistrust each other and me, and there were fewer block parties, life became less casual, and people spent more time indoors. It seems that once mistrust becomes the overriding modus operandi, it permeates everything.

Then I moved to a working class neighborhood in Berkeley and my neighbors told me there hadn’t been a theft of anything in the hood for as long as anyone could remember, at least fifty years. And until rent control ended and the dot com explosion rendered Berkeley unaffordable for most of my neighbors, our neighborhood was blissfully safe and crime free. But once the street was gentrified, robberies became commonplace and gloomy mistrust descended and life sucked.

Then I moved to Mendocino, and the first joke I was told by two gregarious locals who sat with me in the café and paid for my tea was, “Why do you lock your car in Mendocino? Because if you don’t, someone will leave a bag of zucchini on your front seat.”

So far no zucchini, though I never lock my truck.