Palmer Alaska

February 25th, 2015

palmer alaska max

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2015)

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” Henry David Thoreau

When Marcia and I got together eight years ago, we embarked on a fascinating process of making a studio album with the help of Peter Temple, the recording savant of Albion. I played guitar and piano and sang, Marcia wrote and arranged and played gorgeous cello parts for our original tunes, and the late great Amunka Davila supplied tasty percussion. The project took several months longer than I thought it would and used up most of the money I’d set aside for such creative endeavors.

We were happy with the results, the CD entitled When Light Is Your Garden, and when the manufacture of the album coincided with the birth of my books Buddha In A Teacup and Under the Table Books, we decided to go on a tour of the Northwest and see if we could sell some product and have fun while we were at it.

We gave concerts in bookstores, libraries, restaurants, and private homes from Mendocino to Lummi Island, our enthusiastic audiences ranging in size from three to sixty people. By the time we returned to Mendocino, our songs had changed dramatically, we had added some jazzy instrumentals to our repertoire, and we decided to make a second album entitled So Not Jazz. When that CD—more of a live affair—was finished, we gave one final concert together at Preston Hall in Mendocino, took our bows, and settled down to life without the stress of performing together.

Marcia returned to her classical music pursuits, and I embarked on a piano journey that has resulted in five CDs—43 short piano improvisations, Ceremonies, Incongroovity, nature of love, and Mystery Inventions (bass and piano duets)—with a sixth piano album in the works. That is the back-story, as they say in Hollywood.

So here I am with boxes of seven different CDs. No longer a giver of concerts, I nonetheless want to share my creations with the world. The contemporary course of action is to make little videos with the songs as soundtracks and post those videos on YouTube with links to download and streaming sites. I don’t know how to do any of that (I’m the president of the Advanced Techno Doofus Society) and I don’t have the money to pay someone to make little movies for me, though I have lots of good ideas. Our tunes are downloadable from iTunes and Amazon and CD Baby and other sites, but the challenge is convincing people to take a listen and possibly purchase the albums or individual songs.

My main course of action has been to try to get radio airplay. Not Internet airplay. Old-fashioned radio airplay. To that end, I have used the Interweb to search out the playlists of DJs all over America, and when I find one of those extremely rare people open to playing music by someone other than the hyper-famous, and that person spins music kin to ours, I send them a letter and a likely CD, wait a few weeks, follow up with a query, and monitor their playlists for a few months to see if he or she plays us.

In the past seven years I have sent my/our music to approximately three hundred DJs and music directors at dozens of itsy bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka dot public radio stations. I have discovered that if a station runs Democracy Now! for their national news, they might possibly be home to DJs open to our music. If they play National Public Radio, forget about it. As for the larger commercial stations, only corporate product need apply.

So far, my hundreds of hours of research and courtship have garnered a handful of DJs across America who play our albums on a semi-regular basis, including Tom Cairns KHSU Arcata California, Jim Roettger WMRW Warren Vermont, Cindy Beaulé WFHB Bloomington Indiana, Peter Poses KRFC Fort Collins Colorado, and Carol Newman KMUN Astoria Oregon. Alas, our own KZYX grants us a spin only once every seven blue moons, which makes me sad, in a local sort of way, but such is life.

The recent good news is that in my ongoing quest for likely DJs, I found the playlists of a fellow in Palmer Alaska, population 5,900, home of the Alaska State Fair, and his musical choices gave me hope. I sent him my piano CD Incongroovity. Months went by. He fell off my list of playlists to check. Then last month I did my annual visitation of the last fifty DJs I’ve sent music to, and lo, Mike Chmielewski KVRF Palmer Alaska had played several cuts from Incongroovity! I sent him a thank you email and shipped him our other CDs. And verily he has been playing our music like crazy, and by that I mean two or three songs a day.

True, we are not being heard by a great many people, but our tunes are wafting out into the pristine Alaskan air, night and day, and for the likes of me this is mightily inspiring. Every artist wants to be seen and heard and appreciated by someone else. The thought that Marcia’s gorgeous cello solo floating atop my rhythm guitar on “Samba For Mooli” might cause someone doing the dishes to stop scrubbing for a moment and allow those dulcet tones to tickle their fancy is gigantically pleasing to me.

So I shout to Marcia when I discover we’ve had another play in Palmer, “Honey, we’re still going strong in Alaska.”

Todd and Marcia’s CDs are available from UnderTheTableBooks.com and are widely downloadable, too.

Outage

February 18th, 2015

Django In Dark

Todd and Django In the Dark photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2015)

“Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.” Robert Heinlein

The power was out in our neck of the Mendocino woods for nearly five days last week. Can we blame PG&E? I do. With the money they’ve stolen charging millions of people ten dollars a month not to have stupid, er, smart meters, combined with the billions of dollars they spend annually responding to multi-day power outages all over the state, they could easily have afforded by now to bury all their power lines and be done with outages forever. But that’s not how monopoly capitalism works.

“Knowledge is power.” Francis Bacon

Marcia, prescient wonder that she is, long ago chose the first four of those five days of outage to go jaunting to Santa Rosa to visit her mother Opal, indulge in cuisine not to be had hereabouts, shop for things unavailable in these hinterlands, take a workshop on musical improvisation from Joe Craven in Ukiah, catch Joel Cohen starring on cello with the Ukiah Symphony, and visit various far flung friends—leaving me in the dark with the cat.

Marcia returned for the final twenty-four hours of outage and made the best of the absence of electronic distractions—email, Internet, lights, hot water—to clean her office. Intimidated by her sensible approach to our altered circumstances, I decided to clean my office, too.

Attacking a mountain (no exaggeration) of paper on one of my tabletops, the mountain wedged between a large round rock (who put that there?) and a large glass former peanut butter jar crammed with dubious pens (where did those come from?) I found most of the mountain made of material sent to me by insurance companies urging me to buy Medigap insurance from them, and several hundred more pages of material sent by various government agencies to help me make sense of the material sent by the insurance companies—further proof of why Single Payer (socialist) Healthcare would be such a better way to go.

“The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.” Edmund Burke

Weary of office excavating, I ventured out into our storm-ravaged yard and discovered a large redwood branch had fallen from on high and seriously compromised a stretch of our deer fence, while another much bigger branch had torn off a chunk of our woodshed roof. Not good. On the brighter side, a large section of old wooden fence bordering the western edge of our property had been blown to smithereens by the tempest, something I’ve wanted to do since we moved here.

As I cleaned up the fence fragments, our neighbor, a chain saw savant, came over to see if we needed his services (we often do) but this time, miraculously, we did not. I spent another hour clearing the driveway of fence shards and tree branches, then suffered an energy outage and went inside to take a nap by the fire.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

I was just drifting off to sleep when Marcia reported that a friendly recorded woman at the PG&E outage number said the outage would either be over by midnight or there would be a new guesstimate at midnight of the duration of the outage. Marcia then suggested we cook supper (on our woodstove) before it got too dark.

I’d been cooking on the woodstove (we also heat our house with wood) for four days, so I was up to speed in that department. I brought in a pile of small and medium-sized kindling to enhance temperature control while I cooked, and ere long, just as darkness fell, we were gobbling a scrumptious meal of sautéed vegetables, Basmati rice, and one of Marcia’s superb green and purple salads.

Sipping her wine, Marcia opined that a day without electricity was a welcome respite from the usual order of business, and I agreed that a day without electricity was not a bad thing, but that five days (unless one intentionally goes wilderness backpacking) was perhaps not such a good thing, though certainly profound.

“Experience hath shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” Thomas Jefferson

There was a time when a power outage meant the coming of deep regenerative silence. Not anymore. Now a power outage means people around the hood fire up their gas-powered generators (without mufflers) and simulate the sound of a major construction site in downtown Manhattan. Ah country living.

At nine o’clock, the stars fantastical in the absence of porch lights, the phone rang and a nice recorded man said that PG&E hoped to restore our electricity late the following evening. I asked him if he would like to smell my armpits after four days without even lukewarm water for a shower (our hot water heater is electric) and he thanked me for my patience and said he was sorry for the inconvenience.

“Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power.” William Gaddis

Marcia suggested we drive into downtown Mendocino, get some ice and potato chips and a chocolate bar at Harvest Market and see what was happening in our beloved burg. So we hopped in the car and coasted down the hill, noting various uprooted trees and bushes along the way, and found the amply stocked grocery store with lights blazing, only a few shoppers availing themselves of the cornucopia.

We bought our goodies and then toodled up and down the streets of Mendocino—every house and business sans lights, save for the town’s three drinking holes: the Mendocino Hotel, Dick’s, and Patterson’s. Those holy places were ablaze with light—their bartenders busy quenching the thirst of outage-weary sojourners.

And for some reason, seeing those booze joints jumping while everything else was shut down brought to mind that famous Sixties slogan: Power to the people, right on.

Mowing

February 11th, 2015

Mowing Two

Mowed Down photo by Todd

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

“In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Henry David Thoreau

A friend called last week to ask if I was aware of the recent carnage wreaked on the Mendocino headlands from Ford House down to the land above Portuguese Beach. She said giant bulldozer mowers had mowed everything, except the very largest shrubs, down to bare earth. I said I would take a look.

“All those lizards and bugs and flowers and grasses just gone,” she said. “The official word from the state park people is they did it to control non-native species, but we know they did it to make sure there’s no place for homeless people to lie down or take a pee. No more privacy, no more wildness. I’ve been crying about it for two days.”

I walked to town the next day to check out the mown headlands. On my way I passed a favorite field that had just been mowed, and my first thought was what a pity the lovely vetch and clover that had been on the rise would now not bloom to feed the bees and bugs and birds. My second thought was how spiffy everything looked—civilized. The house attached to the newly mown field has been empty and for sale for two years, the price steadily dropping from the absurd to the upper reaches of plausible. Did the realtor think mowing the field would make the place more saleable?

“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” Albert Einstein.

I love the wildness of the unkempt headlands, as do birds, lizards, snakes, gophers, rabbits, bees, bugs, birds and people who like to pick blackberries in August and September. Seeing the south side of Main Street mowed down to the bare earth was a shock. I’ve written poems and scenes in novels set here among the wild grasses and poppies and renegade callas and wild roses that abound on this particular swath of headlands, or did abound until they were rendered unsequestered carbon by the whirring blades.

Now the place looks like a raggedy golf course or a field waiting to be plowed and planted with Brussels sprouts, kin to the coastal fields north of Santa Cruz. If not for the inconvenient water shortage hereabouts and the headlands being public property, condominiums could be built here with ample parking and lights blazing day and night. Damn that water shortage and the socialist conspiracy known as state parks. Hell, with a big desalinization plant, we could have a casino here. After all, Mendocino was once the site of a Pomo village, so…

 “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” William Shakespeare

Except we like that the only human construction rising on these slaughtered fields will be the music festival tent that comes and goes every July. We like the vetch and mustard and brassica, the poison oak and poppies, the seed birds, the bunnies, the lupine, the blackberries and rambling roses, some of which will come back eventually, now that the mowers are done and gone—assuming they don’t come back for another several years.

We doubt the mowing was done to eradicate non-native species. They mowed everything, native and non-native. I think they mowed to make the place inhospitable to homeless people and people who like to pee outside rather than suffer the slimy stench of the shameful public bathroom bunker, and because they, whoever ordered the mowing, are mean-spirited dummies.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein

On the bright side, we now have the opportunity to watch how Nature goes about re-wilding land that humans have trashed. Nature works fast around here, left to her own devices. True, she might reseed the new mown fields with Pampas Grass and Scotch Broom and eucalyptus, invasive non-natives all, but reseed the fields she will. I say lets help her by broadcasting a hundred pounds of wildflower seeds out there. Why not?

“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.” Frederick Douglass

A stone’s throw west of the scalped fields we come to a multi-acre expanse where all is grasses and mustard and lupine bushes and renegade brassica, with no large shrubs to hide behind—a place where homeless people rarely venture to rest and pee. No, this is acreage upon which valuable turísticos tread to reach the scenic shorelines whereupon photogenic waves crash, and from where whales may be espied spouting. Here in this fairly bland ecosystem (bland compared to the one that just got mowed) a tiny section of the headlands has been cordoned off with flabby orange plastic fencing for the purpose of (so says the sign) Native Habitat Restoration.

This privileged chunk of native habitat seems to be mostly mustard, a few native and non-native grasses, and vetch. What’s really going on is the footpath tracing the edge of a precipitous cliff is about to collapse into the sea, and the aforementioned dummies are hoping to delay a trail collapse resulting in the death of a tourist or two. To call this operation native habitat restoration is plain silly, especially considering the destruction of fifty times as much native habitat right over there.

Meanwhile, the myriad creatures displaced by the mowing, those that weren’t killed, are adjusting to the new reality. Earthworms continue doing their thing, snakes and lizards and rabbits have moved to safer ground and keep up their relentless search for sustenance. Ditto bees and butterflies. Gophers carry on as if nothing has happened. The homeless and the desperate pee elsewhere for now. Locals continue to walk their dogs here, and their dogs continue to sniff and pee and poop and bark.

Seeds, native and non-native, are already germinating in the scarified soil. Life, such as it is, goes on.

Reboot

February 4th, 2015

twins

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2015)

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” Herman Melville

Female-led Ghostbusters reboot gets summer 2016 release date.

Report: Disney is considering Chris Pratt for an Indiana Jones reboot.

Fantastic Four reboot: What do we think?

We think remakes and reboots and sequels and prequels indistinguishable from the previous reboots of remakes have taken over the movie industry along with movies so similar to hundreds of other movies they might as well be reboots or remakes. What’s going on here? We live in an era of cinematic redundancy on an epic scale, and the messages being repeated ad nauseam are so primitive and shallow and false, one wonders, “When was it the Not Very Bright Children took control of everything?”

Who cares? I do. I think our movies and books, those that the corporate overlords allow to reach large audiences, intentionally purvey what our overlords want us to believe and think and feel. There is method to this mad redundancy, and a purpose, which is to keep us captive in what Iain McGilchrist calls “a hall of mirrors wherein we just get reflected back into more of what we know about what we know about what we know.”

 “No man was ever great by imitation” Samuel Johnson

Original art is subversive to the dominant paradigm, and the controlling stockholders in the current dominant paradigm are especially keen on squelching anything that might upset their iron grip on the collective consciousness. Thus they employ their news media to heap praise on the unending flow of wholly unoriginal literature, cinema, and music spewed into our bookstores, movie theatres, radio stations, and our always-on computer pad phone things.

Why? What do they, those in charge of the faucets of media, think will happen if original art is allowed to flourish? What they think will happen is what will happen: they will lose control of our beautiful minds, and human society will change in ways antithetical to the dominant paradigm.

It is not generally known or remembered, but in response to that brief artistic and social revolution known as the Sixties, the most powerful multi-national corporations in the world bought up every independent publisher in America, fired every last open-minded editor, and instituted a system of selectivity that would make the most fascist of dictators envious. Control what people read and watch and you control the foundations of modern culture.

“Men often applaud an imitation and hiss the real thing.” Aesop

As I was pondering this whole reboot phenomenon, I found on Dave Smith’s valuable Ukiah Blog Live, a link to a delightfully animated lecture called The Divided Brain by the above-quoted Iain McGilchrist, a psychiatrist and brain expert. To my mind, his lecture clearly and concisely explains the reboot mania. To grossly oversimplify his lecture: our culture and society have been taken over by those who are entirely controlled by the dominant functions of the left sides of their brains, and, as a consequence, we have become a society and culture dominated by left-brain dynamics.

McGilchrist debunks many of the popular ideas about differences between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and he is adamant that the two sides need each other to function optimally. He also has a nifty explanation for the importance of the frontal lobe in mediating the collaborations of the left and right halves of the brain.

I highly recommend this animated lecture (you can find it on YouTube) and suggest you may want to pause the flow occasionally because McGilchrist presents a great deal of information in a short amount of time. I will not try to recapitulate his many startling facts and observations, but I will list some of his characterizations of the two halves of our brains.

Left brain: narrow sharp focus on what is already known, prefers simplified models of reality, chooses virtual over real, static, isolated, fixed, decontextualized, ultimately lifeless.

Right brain: sustained broad focus, openness to what is not yet known, interested in the living rather than the mechanical, changing, evolving, comfortable with what is never perfectly known.

McGilchrist concludes his lecture by quoting Einstein—“The intuitive mind (right brain) is a sacred gift, and the rational mind (left brain) is a faithful servant.” McGilchrist then responds to Einstein’s insight by saying, “Our society now honors the servant, but has forgotten the gift.”

I would argue that we have not so much forgotten the gift as it has been wrested away from us by our punitive system of education (left brain), our highly controlled media (left brain) and an economic system that pretends to support innovation but is primarily interested in refining what we already have in place (left brain) while intentionally inciting our deep-seated fears (left brain) to keep us from taking creative risks (right brain).

When I walk around downtown Mendocino on my errands or in search of a sunny perch, I will often encounter people—young, middle-aged, old—who seem to be looking for something they cannot find. They peer down alleyways, frown at buildings they fear to enter, exchange troubled glances, and stumble on until they grow tired and return to their vehicles or find a place where they can sit down and eat something.

I imagine they are doing battle with the left sides of their brains. They have come here, knowingly or unknowingly, to escape their left-brained realities in hope of finding a right-brained reality. Intuitively, they know their spirits are being strangled by mechanized redundancy, and their inner voices have directed them to this place whose name was once synonymous with counter culture.

Of Cats and Food

January 28th, 2015

Django Yoga

Django Yoga photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser January 2015)

“The story of cats is a story of meat, and begins with the end of the dinosaurs.” Elizabeth Marshall Thomas from The Tribe of Tiger

We have one cat now, a twelve-year-old shorthaired gray named Django. We almost lost him eighteen months ago to complications arising from his extreme obesity—he weighed over twenty pounds—and in order to save him we became draconian masters feeding him half as much as we used to and splitting that lesser amount into four meals a day to encourage stomach shrinkage. The results have been good. Django has lost nine pounds, is noticeably more energetic and agile, and our veterinarian recently declared him fit as a fiddle.

However, there is a new development with Django. Accustomed to eating much more than he needed for the first eleven years of his life, Django now feels hungry all the time except when he is sleeping. He would, I gather, prefer to feel how he used to feel: fat. To that end, he has become a big talker, if you know what I mean.

Django asks to be fed by persistently reciting in cat language the famous line from Oliver Twist, “Please, sir, I’d like some more.” Telling him to be quiet has no effect whatsoever when those hungry excess fat cells get the best of him. Fortunately, we have found that if we pet Django for a few minutes and explain in soothing tones why he has to wait a little longer for food, he is often mollified. This suggests that he is not so much hungry as insecure about not being fat anymore.

“If you want to save a species, simply decide to eat it. Then it will be managed—like chickens, like turkeys, like deer, like Canadian geese.” Ted Nugent

In other food news, in case you hadn’t noticed, the price of eggs has skyrocketed. Why? Food prices should be going down along with the plunging price of gasoline. But they aren’t, just as our utility bills are not going down, though they should be, too, since a large percentage of California’s electricity is generated by power plants burning oil. But I was speaking of eggs.

Egg prices have gone way up because Proposition 2, passed by sixty percent of California voters, mandates that all eggs sold in California must come from chickens that have enough room in their cages to fully extend their wings and turn around. Predictably, the egg barons are suing the state for unusual kindness to hens because such kindness means the egg barons must replace their current commercial henhouses in which egg-laying chickens cannot spread their wings and turn around, especially with ten hens jammed into a single cage—a common practice in the industry.

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” George Bernard Shaw

It was reported today that Max Scherzer, a very good pitcher of baseballs, has signed a seven-year deal with the Washington Nationals for 210 millions dollars. That comes to thirty million a year, a million dollars per game, and approximately ten thousand dollars per pitch. His record-breaking deal is also cleverly structured so Max will pay almost no income tax on the gargantuan fortune.

Also in today’s news was an article stating that by 2016, the wealthiest one per cent of human beings on earth (wealth measured by dollars) will have more wealth than the combined wealth of all the rest of the people on earth. That staggering news was juxtaposed poignantly with news that nearly a third of the people on earth now survive, somehow, on less than a dollar a day.

A good head of lettuce costs $3.49.

A little can of kidney beans costs $2.85.

A large gluten-free blackberry muffin costs $4.25.

A small package of faux crab sushi costs $6.95.

Organic almonds are now seventeen dollars a pound.

Organic brown rice is three dollars a pound.

“Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.” W.C. Fields

Walking up the hill from downtown Mendocino, a quartet of chicken legs secreted in a little ice chest in my knapsack, I come to a field rife with gophers and stop to admire a gorgeous orange tabby sitting still as a statue as she peers down at an entrance to the gopher kingdom, otherwise known as a gopher hole. The sight of this patient hunter reminds me that Django used to be quite the hunter of rats and mice until a broken tooth and a snaggletooth conspired to make it nearly impossible for him to eviscerate his kills, and so he became even more reliant on his humans for sustenance. In the wilds, Django would not have survived past his prime, and the same can be said for me.

The dry gopher-ridden field also reminds me that the drought is not over, not here or anywhere in California—the vegetable and rice and almond basket of America. I shudder to think how high food prices will go in the coming months should the meteorological consensus prove correct and the effects of the drought worsen. As if to echo my fears, a big shiny water truck rumbles by on its way to deliver water to someone with a dry well in January. Oh the things we take for granted.

I arrive home to Django singing multiple choruses from Oliver, though his next meal will not be served for another two hours. I put away the groceries, give Django a tummy rub and promise to feed him at five. He gives me a doubtful look, hunkers down in a pool of sunlight, and begins to assiduously clean himself with his tongue. I look out the window and watch in dismay as a dozen robins gobble my recently arisen Austrian Field Peas.

“You don’t have to kill and eat those birds,” I say to Django, “but couldn’t you at least chase them away?”

He gives me an ironic smile and resumes his toilette.

Trillions

January 21st, 2015

31 In The Field of Gold

in the field of gold by Ellen Jantzen

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser January 2015)

“All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk.” Ronald Reagan

Yes, those were the words spoken by a man who was Governor of California and President of the United States, a man revered by millions of People With Small Brains. I stumbled upon that example of Reagan’s snotty idiocy while hunting for cogent things people have said about waste, and though Reagan was rarely cogent—and the world might be a better place had he, in his youth, sat for a few hours at a desk under which was stored a year’s waste from a nuclear power plant—his remark struck me as an apt preamble to the problem I want to discuss with you.

“Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” Henry David Thoreau

Not so long ago, when Americans in relatively large numbers (one per cent of the population?) still actively protested the dastardly wars sponsored by the imperial supranational overlords—before voluntary servitude to cell phones won the day entirely—I attended a big peace march and rally in San Francisco at which the brilliant historian and political scientist Michael Parenti spoke.

Early in his remarks, Parenti enumerated the good that could be accomplished if money spent to build the latest species of fighter jets for the American arsenal was spent instead on education, healthcare, and helping those living in poverty. And I noticed that the moment Parenti intoned the words billions of dollars, the crowd lost all interest in what he was saying and he might as well have been speaking to five people instead of the fifty thousand gathered to protest the wasteful stupidity of war.

Since then—my Parenti epiphany—I have confirmed on numerous occasions that while many people can hang with discussions involving one or two million dollars, any sum larger than that has little or no meaning to most of us. Why? Because money is real and important in our lives, and real money to most people is much less than a million dollars.

When we enter the realm of billions—a billion is a thousand million—we might as well speak of neon gorganzalids. Huh? Neon whats? The imperial overlords are well aware that we cease to pay attention when talk turns to hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, and not paying attention is what they want us to be doing while they rob us blind, year in and year out.

“Why waste time learning, when ignorance is instantaneous?” Bill Watterson

In 2008, when the worldwide Goldman Sachs-created toxic derivative hedge fund Ponzi scheme bubble burst all over the world, the imperial overlords ordered their operatives at the Federal Reserve to spend an initial trillion dollars to prop up the collapsed financial regime (while doing nothing for the unwashed masses) and thereafter ordered the Federal Reserve to spend a hundred billion a month to re-inflate the bogus stock hedge fund derivatives bubble. You’re getting drowsy aren’t you?

That’s my point. Government-condoned financial thievery of epic proportions goes on every day in America, thefts totaling at least ten trillion dollars in the last seven years, and we the people have no concept of what those thefts mean in relation to our collective and individual lives. You and I could sure use seventy dollars or seven hundred dollars or seven thousand dollars—wouldn’t that be nice?—but millions and billions and trillions…snore.

Add to the stolen ten trillion another trillion a year spent on the military and…Huh? Sorry. Dozed off.

“After a certain point, money is meaningless. It ceases to be the goal. The game is what counts.” Aristotle Onassis

On the other hand, sports, sex, food, violence, death, and the breasts and penises of famous celebrities and fashion models, these are things we are hardwired to be interested in. Penelope Cruz in an itsy bitsy bikini. Tom Cruise wearing skimpy underwear. See? You woke up. The overlords know this and have structured modern mass media to inhabit your television computer tablet phone as a never-ending stream of lurid high-definition images and videos of sports, sex, food, violence, death, breasts, and penises, or the bulges therefrom.

The media moguls keep the titillating deluge raining down on us day and night so you and I will pay no attention to the men behind the curtains (referencing The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland version) robbing us of billions and trillions of…your eyes are closing.

“Free will is an illusion. People always choose the perceived path of greatest pleasure.” Scott Adams

The perceived path of greatest pleasure. Hence, Las Vegas. Hence the election of Ronald Reagan and so many others of his kind to positions of great power over us. Hence the dominance of amoral bankers and hedge fund criminals who do grasp the terrible significance of redirecting trillions of dollars representing the collective wealth of the earth into the coffers of a relatively tiny number of Incredibly Greedy People.

What if those trillions had been wisely used for the good of everyone? Hard to imagine. Indeed, our minds boggle when we begin to imagine what our world might become should those stolen trillions ever be spent on reversing the current trends. Yes, our little hardwired breast and penis and food and sex and sports-loving little minds boggle when we try to envision a future in which all the clichés about freedom and equality and sharing the wealth come true. And that’s just how the overlords want our minds to be. Boggled.

Satire

January 14th, 2015

14zoom

Homage to Kokopelli photograph by David Jouris

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser January 2015)

Satire has to be done en clair. You can’t blunt the edge of wit or the point of satire with obscurity. Try to imagine a famous witty saying that is not immediately clear.” James Thurber

Reading about the murder of twelve people and the wounding of eight others at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the continuing violence as the murderers have taken hostages in two locations in Paris, I recall Satan in Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger saying, “No sane man can be happy, for to him life is real, and he sees what a fearful thing it is.”

“Satire works best when it hews close to the line between the outlandish and the possible—and as that line continues to grow thinner, the satirist’s task becomes even more difficult.” Graydon Carter

When I was in the Eighth Grade, I was momentarily seized with the satirical urge to claim I was God. You may remember how it was before the onset of high school. Having finally gotten the hang of childhood, and for a few glorious months before being knocked senseless by puberty and being placed at the bottom of the teenage heap, we experienced a brief epoch of self-confidence, which for me took the form of satirizing everything and everyone.

“Yes,” I proclaimed to one of my fellow junior high satirists, “I’ve used the name Todd up to now, rather than God, so the world wouldn’t know who I really was until the time was right to reveal the truth. Now that time has come. Let us sally forth and spread the good news. Want to be my first disciple?”

Yes, I was conflating God and Jesus, but so have lots of people.

In any case, after making a silly show of publicly blessing a dozen or so giddy disciples, I tired of claiming to be God and resumed my obsessions with baseball and girls. But satire once loosed upon the world is not so easily withdrawn. One day after school, I was cornered by three large boys intent on punishing me for daring to claim I was God and/or Jesus.

“Think you’re God, huh?” said the largest of the three, punching my shoulder. “Hurt, didn’t it? If you were God, wouldn’t hurt, would it?”

“I’m not God,” I said, gladdened to see a posse of disciples coming to my rescue. “I was joking.”

“Not funny,” said another of the boys, taking a swing at me.

I ducked, his fist hit the cinder block wall, and off I ran.

For the first two years of high school, several of my chums persisted in calling me God. Among these chums was a delicious young woman who greeted me every day with, “Hey, God. What’s going on?” in a sleepy sexy voice that always made me glad I’d been a satirist in junior high. On the other hand, I continued to be confronted by outraged Christians who felt I should be punished for mocking their beliefs. To defuse their righteous indignation, I would sincerely apologize for having been an idiot in my long ago youth, beg their forgiveness, and exit before I started to giggle.

“Satire is focused bitterness.” Leo Rosten

Speaking of bitterness, I recently read most of the stories in The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh, a thick collection of bitingly satirical short stories, and found I most appreciated his few stories in which satire played a part but was not the point. No matter how brilliant the writing, and Waugh was a brilliant writer, when every person in a story is a caricature and every plot twist the result of cruelty or stupidity, I could care less.

“Music is my religion.” Jimi Hendrix

When I got to college in 1967—UC Santa Cruz in its infancy—I made the erroneous assumption that my college comrades and I would be free to say whatever we thought and felt without fear of reprisal. We would, I imagined, delve deep into myriad questions and mysteries arising from our studies and shared experiences, and as the result of such delving our wisdom would grow by leaps and bounds.

A few weeks into my college life, I attended a dance in the Stevenson College dining hall and found myself boogying with a gang of exuberant gals and guys from Los Angeles. We had a wonderful hilarious time, and after the dance retired to the groovacious dorm room of one of the gals, the décor a triumph of paisley, a grandiloquent lava lamp center stage, and heaps of glistening bud to be smoked.

Someone took the Beatles (Rubber Soul) off the turntable just as the boys were getting warmed up, and put on a record by a discordant Los Angeles band I’d never heard of, the drummer rhythm deaf, the guitarists out of synch, the bass player hopeless, the singing god awful. After the first cut, I commented that they sounded like The Grateful Dead meets Sonny & Cher in a dark alley on a bad night. I might as well have declared to a sect of violent Christian fundamentalists that Jesus was a homosexual snake oil salesman.

The knowledge I gained from the anguish and vitriol my insensitive remark aroused has served me well, for I never again made the mistake of saying anything critical of the music beloved by those playing or listening to that music. I learned then, and have confirmed a thousand times since, that a person’s favorite music is sacred to them. To defame the sacred is dangerous, especially nowadays when so many people are willing to use violence in the service of whatever they deem sacred and therefore inviolable.

New Year’s Intentions

January 7th, 2015

Fruit tart mandala 1 - 1:1:2015

Fruit Tart Mandala photo by Bill Fletcher

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

“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” Sigmund Freud

Sitting on the big old fanciful redwood bench overlooking Portuguese Beach on the southwest edge of the little town of Mendocino—the venerable perch falling apart, a thousand carved initials and names worn away by the inexorable machinations of sun and rain and fog and wind and time, oh especially time and her microbial allies—I gaze down upon the placid waters of Big River Bay.

The gentle winter sun is smiling on dozens of migrant ducks sharing the heart of the peaceful cove (Portuguese Cove?) with grebes and cormorants, while a steady stream of voluble tourists rushes by me. Two big pelicans glide into view, circle the assembly of bobbing ducks and grebes, and make splash landings quite close to shore.

“What are those?” asks a little boy, stopping directly in front of me and speaking to his companion, a very wide man talking on his cell phone.

“Hold on a minute,” says the man to whoever he’s talking to. He glares down at the boy. “What do you want? Can’t you see I’m on the phone?”

“What are those big birds who just landed?” asks the boy, pointing at the pelicans. “Those ones with the big noses.”

“Sea gulls,” says the man, resuming his phone conversation. “Sorry about that.” He listens for a moment. “No, we’re gonna wait and see it in Imax. They have 3-D here, but no Imax.” He snorts derisively. “The boonies.”

“I don’t think those are sea gulls,” says the boy, shaking his head.

“Those are pelicans,” I venture to say.

The man on the phone shoots me a nasty look and gives the boy a shove to make him move along.

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

2014 came to an end just as I was getting comfy writing 4 at the tail end of 201. Now I must unlearn the 4 and entrain my brain to write 5. How swiftly time flies when one is old, but not ill. I struggled through a serious health challenge in 2014, and for those months of illness the hours were days, the days weeks. Now that I’m well, months fly by in no time, thus confirming the psychological nature of time.

“If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.” Oscar Wilde

A gang of tourists, four women and two men, gather in front of me. One of the women asks her cohorts, “Do we have a destination or are we just walking around?”

“Spotty reception,” says one of the men, frowning at the screen of his phone.

“When I was here with Richard last year,” says another of the women, “we saw whales. Well, spouts. But I think we were further out on the headlands. They call this the headlands.”

“Richard,” says another of the woman, spitting the name. “What does he know?”

I saw the spouts,” protests the woman who was here with Richard last year. “Regardless of what Richard knows or doesn’t know, I saw them.”

“Can we please not talk about Richard?” says the man with the spotty reception.

A silence falls. Waves slap the shore. The gang moves on.

“We are divided into two categories of people: those of us who are trying to escape from something, and those of us who are trying to find something.” Ileana, Princess of Romania

Heading home, my knapsack full of cukes and zukes and eggs from Corners, I bump into a friend coming out of Harvest Market, a woman I haven’t spoken to in a good long year. She smiles sheepishly and says, “I see you walking everywhere and I always think I should be walking, too, but I’m always in a hurry and I don’t know why. I mean…what’s the rush?” She laughs shrilly. “Why am I so busy?”

“You must enjoy being busy,” I suggest. “Nothing wrong with that.”

“But then I have no time to walk, and when I do have time, I’m too tired.”

“I know how that is,” I reply. “Fortunately, I like to walk, so it’s no great sacrifice for me.”

“I watch too much television,” she says, giving me a quick hug. “But my New Year’s resolution,” she shouts as she runs to her car, “is to watch less and walk more.”

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

Nowadays I prefer intentions to resolutions—much easier on the psyche. For 2015 I intend to be more regular and enthusiastic about my stretching regimen, to plant my first round of summer vegetables earlier than last year, to grow more pumpkins, and to stay healthy. I further intend to resume my practice of handwriting at least one missive to a friend every day, even if the missive is merely a postcard. I intend to produce a new album of piano-centric tunes, to complete Book Three of the Ida’s Place saga, and to bring out a coil-bound photocopy edition of the sequel to Under the Table Books, a sequel I wrote six years ago: The Resurrection of Lord Bellmaster. And I hope to be less cranky and more upbeat.

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

Predictions for 2015: the California drought, slightly dented by a wet December, will go on, the apple harvest will be stupendous, the earth will accelerate her climatic catastrophes to express her displeasure with the behavior of our species, wholly unexpected events will change the course of human history, the race between cruelty and kindness will continue apace, and pelicans will continue to splash down on Big River Bay.

See’s

December 31st, 2014

sees

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2014)

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Charles M. Schulz

Marcia and I are standing in line at See’s Candies in Santa Rosa, two days before Christmas 2014. See’s Candies is owned by billionaire Warren Buffet and has more than two hundred outlets throughout the west, most of them in California. Some of my earliest memories are of chocolate caramel lollypops from See’s. Hard as rocks and long lasting, those delicious teeth-rotting suckers were two for a nickel when I was a little boy—gateway drugs to a lifetime of chocolate addiction. Warren Buffet did not own See’s when I was a boy, and when he bought the business from the founders, he was wise enough to retain the winning formula: rich chocolate candies sold by matronly women in shops reminiscent of small-town bakeries.

We are in line here at this inopportune time of the year—the holiday season now synonymous with a mass fixation on buying warm clothing and useless crap—because Opal, Marcia mother, was given a gift certificate for one pound of See’s chocolate candy, all creams, please, and we said we would pick the pound up for her on our way to get takeout pizza for our supper with her tonight.

Santa Rosa, for those of us with weak psychic shielding, is a gigantic madhouse of malls and snarled traffic—a testament to stupidity, greed, and bad city planning, though people from Los Angeles find the place bucolic. And where is the pinnacle of madness in this insane city? See’s Candies.

As we wait our turn in the brightly lit shop with its black-and-white color scheme, we are accosted by a small hunchbacked lady in a blue granny dress with matching bonnet and thick-lensed glasses that magnify her bugging eyes and give her the look of an albino goldfish. With creepy urgency she asks, “When you leave here, if you’re going anywhere near the Flamingo Hotel, could you give me a ride?”

I defer to Marcia, not knowing where in Hades we are or in what direction the pizza parlor lies or that the Flamingo Hotel is only two blocks away.

“We’re going in the opposite direction,” Marcia explains. “Sorry.”

“No need to apologize,” says the woman, turning to another recent arrival and repeating her request for a ride, to which the recent arrival says, “We’re not from around here. We don’t know where we’re going.”

The line is not moving. The three matronly women behind the counter are boxing chosen chocolates and wrapping the boxes in reddish orange wrapping paper that stands out like neon against the pervasive black and white. See’s is a full-service last-minute gift-fulfillment center for people who can’t think of anything else to get friends who already have too much of everything, but never enough chocolate.

An enormous woman is ordering large quantities of many kinds of chocolate candies. She tells her matron she does not want her candies boxed because, well, I only catch part of her explanation because she is speaking under her breath and glancing around furtively, ashamed to be so obviously ordering hundreds of dollars of chocolate candy for herself—helpless in the grip of her addiction.

Meanwhile, the weird gal in the granny dress keeps letting people go ahead of her in line because she wants to be waited on by a particular matron who clearly dreads the coming of the albino goldfish. When Goldie finally gains the counter, she makes a great show of buying four pieces of candy, demands a large handful of the club mix for her free sample, and writes a check for four dollars and fourteen cents before resuming her quest for a ride to her apartment two blocks away.

We finally reach the counter and meet our matron from whom we purchase four dark chocolate raspberry creams to go with Opal’s one-pound of mixed creams and a box of dark chocolate molasses chips. At the cash register Marcia says to our matron, “What a busy time of year for you.”

“Yes,” sighs our matron. “And I thought this would be fun.”

“I guess it could be,” says Marcia, “if the customers are nice.”

To which our matron responds with a sweetly sorrowful look that speaks of innumerable customers who are neither nice nor fun.

“For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.” John Greenleaf Whittier

Over pizza in Opal’s commodious apartment, I regale Marcia and Opal with the true story of how, if not for my great grandfather’s inferiority complex, I would be heir to a huge candy fortune. Here is the story.

My father’s mother’s mother, the novelist Katharine Grey, married at nineteen. Shortly thereafter, her husband left her pregnant in Oakland and ran off to join the Alaskan gold rush circa 1897. Nine months later, Katharine gave birth to my grandmother Helen, and not having heard a peep from her husband (who had vowed to come back rich within six months) bought a big sturdy wagon, piled it high with the fixings for making candy, and set sail for Alaska with her newborn child.

Upon her arrival in Skagway, she paid a man with two strong horses to pull her and her baby and her wagon full of candy fixings to Dawson City in the heart of the Klondike where she opened a candy shop and started making money hand over fist. Several months later, Katharine’s starving penniless husband came staggering into her wildly successful candy shop, and after partaking of a hearty meal, told his resourceful wife that the Klondike was no place for a woman (other than a prostitute) and insisted they return to Oakland. Katharine revealed her enviable profits to her hubby and suggested they would be rich if they kept the candy business going for another year, but her husband was humiliated by his failure to find gold juxtaposed to his wife’s remarkable success, so they returned to California.

Thus whenever I see a See’s, I imagine the sign says Katharine’s.

East of Eden

December 24th, 2014

for East of Eden

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2014)

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” John Steinbeck, East of Eden

We recently watched the movie version of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Our main motivation for renting the movie was to see the village of Mendocino as she was captured on film in 1954. Mendocino exteriors were used to represent Monterey circa 1917, and if you’ve ever been to Monterey and Mendocino you’ll wonder why anyone, let alone an acclaimed filmmaker, would do such a thing; and if you’ve never been to Monterey and Mendocino you won’t give a hoot.

Directed by Elia Kazan from a putrid screenplay by Paul Osborn, the movie is a big mess, though the first half-hour of the film does feature some neato shots of the village in a time before many of the streets were paved and when there were still several buildings on the south side of Main Street. The space now occupied by Out Of This World was a bank in those days and a scene takes place therein, a scene in which, incredibly, two different women who own whorehouses are congratulated by the teller for their “nice deposits” and for being “in the right business.”

Wooden planks cover the stretch of sidewalk just west of Gallery Books that sixty years after the film was made still slopes steeply down to the street, several unmoving people with fishing nets occupy an alley near Crown Hall, and James Dean sits on the curb in front of where Dick’s bar is today, that hallowed curb unchanged since those famous buttocks lingered there.

Indeed, seeing James Dean traipsing along Main Street sporting a 1950’s hairdo and wearing 1950’s clothing (when the story is supposed to be taking place in 1917) is beyond surreal. Historical and geographical veracity meant nothing to these filmmakers, so if that sort of thing is important to you, avoid this movie. Nevertheless, we enjoyed seeing our village appearing so sunny and empty, vacant lots abounding—the population of Monterey in 1917 imagined by the filmmakers to be hovering somewhere around twenty-nine.

There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.” John Steinbeck from East of Eden

East of Eden, the movie, is very loosely based on the second half of John Steinbeck’s verbose allegorical novel that reimagines the myth of Cain and Abel, among other things. Steinbeck said of his novel East of Eden, “It has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years. I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.”

As much as I love Steinbeck’s short stories and some of his earlier novels, I fear his writing powers were on the wane when he wrote East of Eden, an overblown, preachy, poorly edited work, brimming with moralistic platitudes Steinbeck previously spared his readers.

“Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.” John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Much has been written about James Dean’s performance in East of Eden, largely because James Dean only made three movies before he died in a car crash at the age of twenty-four, after which he became a cultural icon, his name synonymous with disillusioned youth. The bad reviews that greeted his performances when he was alive were quickly forgotten and replaced with posthumous raves and a posthumous Academy Award for his role of Cal in East of Eden, an award that says much about our idolatry of the dead and little about Dean’s acting ability.

“When a man says he does not want to speak of something he usually means he can think of nothing else.” John Steinbeck, East of Eden

I am curious to know what James Dean was aiming for with his performance in East of Eden. At the beginning of the movie, he seems to be imitating a petulant five-year-old trapped in the body of a Hollywood heartthrob. A few scenes later, he exhibits symptoms of brain damage resulting from a severe blow to the head. And then he acts like a sullen idiot who, despite his mental deficiencies, knows more than anyone else in the movie. Did Dean and Kazan hope to portray Cal as emotionally damaged as a result of his father telling him his mother was dead when she was really alive and making nice deposits in Mendocino, er, Monterey? Was Dean forever falling silent and doing crazy violent things to show the effects of the father, played in monotone by Raymond Massey, never loving his son? Or was Dean just a cute guy with nothing much to say?

“A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to. And there were no limits to anything. And the people of the world were good and handsome. And I was not afraid any more.” John Steinbeck, East of Eden

The real star of the movie is the prototypical girl-next-door played by a relentlessly upbeat Julie Harris. Talking a mile-a-minute, bathed in golden light whether day or night, she strives valiantly to make up for the movie’s massive deficiencies with rivers of earnest blabber about good and bad, love and hate, truth and lies—and she does so in scene after scene with her face about four inches away from the adorable mug of James Dean. Indeed, so close are their faces in dozens of scenes, that when Julie and James finally kiss, I sighed with relief that the inevitable collision was a fait accompli.

“Perhaps the less we have, the more we are required to brag.” John Steinbeck, East of Eden

The movie East of Eden begins with something called Overture. We know this because overture is spelled out in huge letters that clog the center of the screen for several minutes and obliterate the lovely shot of the village of Mendocino (ostensibly Monterey) seen from the south side of the mouth of Big River Bay. Yes, while cloying pseudo-modern 1950’s orchestral music sets the scene for 1917, a giant graphic turd—OVERTURE—hangs in the sky and blocks our view of paradise. And so the stage is set, the style and pace of the movie established, the trouble about to begin.